Friday, October 26, 2012

A Brief Lesson On The History of Guacamole and Salsa

This weekend will be host to tons of parties, most of them being of the Halloween costume kind and some of the birthday variety like yours truly's.  With any kind of party, there are several factors to consider like the decorations and the perfect play list.  But one of the most important things to consider is what you'll be feeding your hungry guests to keep them from passing out on the dance floor.  You could opt for the sit down affair consisting of several laboured courses, but this weekend will probably have your guests party hopping so I wouldn't recommend that route.  Instead opt for a few things you can make ahead of time that are crowd pleasers.  My go to's are a giant bowl of salsa and guacamole.  Cool thing is that the ingredients are practically the same and they're both naturally vegan.  These two are so easy that I would be ashamed of anyone who took the Costco shortcut and bought the ready made stuff.  All you need is ripe avocados, tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, cilantro, limes and salt.  For the salsa, omit the avocado. 

Since everything good is made to taste, I won't proceed with a recipe but rather a brief lesson on your staple ingredients. 

First is the avocado, or alligator pear, which is native to Central Mexico.  The word avocado comes from the Spanish aguacate, which in turn derives from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl.  I wish I could tell you what "part", if you will, the Nauhatl were referencing.  But as this is a PG blog, all I can say is google it (hilarious)!  Next we have tomato, whose name is also descendant from the Nahuatl.  They called it tomatl, which translates to fat water.  Tomatoes are from the Americas, possibly originating from the highlands of the occidental South American coast.  It's believed that they were first brought into popular culture after the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and took back a yellow tomato as a souvenir to the Spanish Royal court.  Therefore causing their widespread cultivation and use in Europe.  Texts dating back to 3000 B.C. show that onions most likely originated in Asia and were then taken to Greece and Egypt, then pretty much every part of the world after that.  Chili peppers also come from the Nahuatl word Chili.  Who would have guessed you were speaking so much Nahuatl all this time?  Fun fact, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion currently holds the Guinness world record as the hottest pepper at 2.0M SHU.  To give you an idea of how hot that is Habaneros, or Scotch Bonnets, aren't even in the top 5.  Cilantro, or coriander, has been around so long, that it has even been found in Tutankhamen's tomb.  Lime comes from the French and Arabic word Lim and is actually a fruit which was first grown commercially in Babylonia.  Lastly, salt, which is essential, in small quantities, for animal life.  Even as far back as 6050 B.C., our Neolithic ancestors were boiling water from a salt-water spring in order to extract.  Salt is such an important ingredient that when the British placed a "salt tax" in India, Mahatma Gandhi and at least 100,000 people marched to the sea in protest and made their own salt.
Now you have plenty of historical tidbits to use as ice-breakers, you're welcome.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Turning Of The Leaves

Fall is here (even though it's still 100 degrees) and with it comes the turning of the leaves.  Which in and of it self gives way to some pretty fantastic photo-ops.  But first let's get into why leaves turn in the first place.

Leaves are essentially the food manufacturers for their corresponding plants.  During the warmer seasons the leaves are full of chlorophyll, which is what causes their predominantly green color.  Chlorophyll is the magic ingredient that makes photosynthesis possible.  It does this by converting sunlight into solar energy which it then uses to manufacture the plant's food, simple sugars, from carbon dioxide and water.  During the growing season, the plant itself replenishes the chlorophyll, which keeps the leaves looking green and masks the reds and oranges that already exist within the leaf.  As daylight and temperatures dwindle, the leaves' veins begin to close themselves off reducing water and mineral intake to the leaves.  Thus reducing the amount of chlorophyll, or green coloring, in the leaves.  With the absence of green in the leaves, the once hidden yellows and oranges take center stage.  These colors come from the ever present cartenoids, which are also responsible for giving carrots their color.  The shades spanning from red to purple are a result of anthocyanins. 

Now that you've gotten your botany lesson for the day, we'll move onto the fantastic photo-ops, or leaf peeping, as it's called.  If you're fortunate enough to live on a street lined with maple trees then you don't have to travel far to get a beautiful picture.  Whether it's a single leaf, a tree across the street or kids playing in a freshly raked pile of colorful leaves, you are guaranteed a gorgeous shot.  If you chose to venture out, you'll need to pack a little gear.  With the shorter daylight hours and the shooting options ranging from vast landscapes to up close shots, I suggest a camera backpack that has room for all of your gear.  Make sure to pack a few different lenses, a sunshade, lens filter and because of the shorter hours a solar charger that doubles as an LED flashlight to keep your camera charged and light your path home. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Planning a Halloween Party

A couple of years ago we had an epic Halloween party.  Tons of people dressed to the nines, great music, great food, games, drinks, etc.  All of those things combined would make for a great party but what pushed it over the edge into epic territory were the decorations.  We were fortunate enough to personally know the prop master for the hit show Dexter, yeah that one!  The floors were completely covered in clear plastic with random pools of blood and strategically placed limbs, including a gruesomely realistic severed head on the counter.  All of these items were actual props that were used on Dexter. 

While you may not have that kind of hookup for your decorations, here are some suggestions for your own epic Halloween bash.

Get ready early!  Start gathering decorations beforehand so you're not still decorating when your guests arrive.  You can turn this into a pre-party event by having friends and family help you decorate.  You can also set up a pumpkin carving station where everyone can carve pumpkins that you can light up the night of your party.  If you're on a budget, second-hand stores are a great place to find decorations or knick knacks to make your own.

One of the best parts of a Halloween party are the costumes your guests arrive in.  To encourage everyone to be creative, set-up a costume contest and make sure you mention it on the invitation.  You can have different categories like most creative, best couple, etc.

To keep every ones energy up make sure to have plenty of "finger foods".  You can actually find molds in the shape of skeleton finger bones, severed fingers, etc.  These make great candy molds.  There are also Halloween themed recipes all over the Internet.  

Finally, music.  No Halloween party would be complete without the creepy soundtrack of creaky doors and screeches.  If you really want to set the tone I suggest you get a couple of portable speakers and set them to play whatever the horrifying sounds are in their location.  Example, we had one speaker hidden by the front door that was the creaky door and screeches to set the tone for the pools of blood and severed head that greeted our guests upon entering the house.  We had another speaker playing ghostly groans and rattling chains in the fake graveyard on the side of the house and lastly we had speakers inside and out playing actual music.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Zombies and NyQuil Don't Mix

In preparation for the upcoming Season 3 premiere of The Walking Dead I decided to finally get around to finishing the second season, thank you Netflix instant for making that possible.  Unfortunately I also have a stubborn lingering cold that is feeling more like the bird flu since it won't go away.  Yes, I get dramatic when stricken ill.  So I took a dose of NyQuil too.

So here's what happened, SPOILER ALERT!  In Episode 17 entitled "Judge, Jury, Executioner" the group tries to help a questionable individual named Randall, who they end up holding prisoner because of the possible threat he may pose.  From what he confesses during his torture sesh with Daryl we find out that the crew he rolls with is bad news.  This revelation only serves to further convince members of the group that executing Randall may be the most sensible thing to do.  This is when every one's reminder of what a pre-zombie apocalypse father, Dale, was steps in to remind everyone that executing Randall would only serve to kill what little humanity they have left in themselves.  While Dale is going from person to person trying to sway the vote, our little friend Carl is playing Cowboys and Indians in the woods.  Outfitted in dad's big hat and a stolen gun, Carl stumbles upon a Walker that's stuck in the mud.  So he does what any kid does, throws rocks at him.  Which is all fun and games until the Walker starts to get unstuck.  Carl tries to kill it and fails so he runs back to mom.  Don't think I'm hating on Carl either, stuck-in-the-mud Walker was particularly creepy and shirtless to boot.  I would have run to mommy too.  Now its dark and Dale hears an animal in pain.  Always the humane one, he finds a cow that's been ripped apart and dying.  Just then the extra creepy shirtless Walker, who is also a cow thrasher, attacks Dale ripping him open just like poor Bessie.  Now our last vestige of humanity is put down like the animals we've become when Daryl puts a bullet in Dale, who is now the agonizing beast.

This was an especially difficult episode to watch, even though it was on my smart phone screen with a little portable speaker so I could actually hear what was happening.  All made even more difficult because I took a dose of NyQuil before the opening credits.  By the end of the episode I was well on my way to a deep sleep in an effort to vanquish this cold.  Unfortunately the combination of zombies and NyQuil proved to be exhausting since I spent the entire night dreaming that I was awake and that zombies were coming towards my house in the middle of the night.  To the point that in my delirium I heard distant car alarms and assumed that it was Walkers stumbling into parked cars.

Moral of the story- Don't take NyQuil before a zombie show.  Especially if it turns out to be real.