I've been trying to set up this book recommendation thingie, which isn't working because I'm having trouble with the blog settings tool. I tell you this because I keep thinking of interesting books to include. Today it's Foods of the Americas. Like many books I recommend, it's not vegan or vegetarian, but acts as a starting point, ideas for flavor combinations, and different uses for foods you thought you knew how to use. Most cookbooks I'm interested in have something besides recipes to offer, and that is the case here.
I was happy to look through this book which I hadn't cracked in the past year, to think about ways to use ingredients like espazote and masa and annato and hominy that taste like home to me, and new ones, like cattail flour. Because this book is about native recipes, and native people, I'm forced to think about MY HOME, Arizona, not really being mine, and that thinking is interesting combined with very familiar smelling and tasting food. Yes, I can smell and taste just by reading. So there. There is overlap, and influence both ways. Some reviewers of this book have complained that the recipes have been altered to be "too white," which I think in this case meant able to be understood and used by the average non-native reader. Indeed, the Smithsonian was involved in the project . . . it's bound to be a little more sociological and a little less "authentic." And the Americas are kind of large get a taste of. What makes Vegan with a Vengeance, for example, such a great cookbook is not the recipes, but the context, and that is true here, though here it's many contexts. (I know, I used a wildly different book as an example, but you can think of Isa's cat Fizzle giving you Brooklyn junk store tool tips, and understand what I mean. It gives you something to think about, and play with.)
I used to go tamale hunting around Christmas in front of Safeway stores. Women would make huge batches and sell them out of shopping carts in grocery parking lots before the holiday. The trick for me was chatting up enough ladies to find one who was traditional enough to be making shopping carts full of tamales at Christmas, but nouveau enough to do it without lard, or manteca.
This year, I didn't need to hang out in parking lots, because Tucson Tamale has opened, uses only vegetable oil, and were selling tamales (and very good salsa) at the farmer's market. It's like living in a gentrified neighborhood: you're glad for easy access to good coffee, but you worry after all the old neighborhood characters who begin to disappear. Where will everybody go? Tucson Tamale took me one step further away from a familiar culture. Foods of the Americas takes me the other way, one step closer.
It's frightening to think that the shopping cart tamale women might only ever appear on book pages from now on.
While we're on the topic of "this land is not my land," see two interesting tidbits:
1) The work of No More Deaths, activists who leave water out in the desert for border crossers who find themselves in dangerous situations. It was heartening to find signs supporting them in front of many houses and businesses in Tucson this winter.
2) The closing of Arizona's state parks.
*Lostmissing, in picture two, is a project of my dear friend, mattilda, for all the things and animals and people who go missing.