Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Paletas de Coco

A summery treat for readers living south of the equator, where the mercury is rising and the sun taking longer to set. Of course, a ripe coconut is key so be careful when choosing. If you can get your hands on a peeled (meaning white and entirely edible, not just de-husked and looking like a chimp's cranium) coconut, you will know its fresh by checking if its dried out or slimy. If either of these symptoms can be diagnosed, move on. If you can only find the hairy monkey's head style coconut, be sure to shake it and see it has a lot of juice inside. This will show it is properly mature, sweet and tasty.

This simple recipe delves into some kitchen science that is quite interesting, dealing with proteins and and sugars. The protein aspect is the very real possibility of curdling the milk by introducing the coconut juice too early. Curdling occurs when proteins in the milk bind to each other, coagulating and squeezing out the water. Both a catalyst and heat are required to start this process, and the specific acids in coconut juice do the trick very well. So unless you want to make coconut flavoured cheese curd, don't add the juice until after you have boiled the mixture and let it cool.

The second part of the science here is as follows. Sugar inhibits freezing due to the nature of its cellular structure, hence why if you have ever frozen a sweetened drink the sweet syrup is the first to melt as you drink it, leaving behind a bland and perforated block of ice in the shape of the can or bottle you froze it in. I mention this because the recipe is quite sweet, and if you would like to reduce the amount called for go ahead by all means, but be aware you may achieve a rock hard result. In addition, our palettes do not perceive sweetness well from a low temperature range, which is why a sorbet or ice-cream mix can taste insanely sweet at room temperature yet only mild to sweet when served frozen. So, if you do reduce the sugar, make sure it is still a little sweeter tasting than you like it. Enjoy.

Paletas de Coco

1 whole coconut, peeled and at room temperature
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature*
110g raw sugar
1 inch cinnamon quill
1/2 teaspoon good vanilla

  1. Cut the top from the coconut and drain the juice. Place the flat side down and carefully half the nut. Grate one half and cut the other half into eight even pieces.
  2. Place the milk and coconut pieces into a blender jug and puree until smooth. This may take a minute or two, depending on how ripe the coconut.
  3. Pour the mixture into a non-reactive saucepan with the grated coconut and remaining ingredients (barring the coconut juice), then heat gently. Simmer the mixture for around 15-20 minutes or until the grated coconut is quite tender. Remove from the heat and take out the cinnamon quill.
  4. When cool, add the coconut juice and mix well. Pour into icy pop moulds and freeze for 6-8 hours before serving.
*Coconut has a lot of natural fats, which when cold are solid like butter and don't blend easily. The mix will blend quicker and smoother if at room temperature.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

With a little bit of luck...

The Sonora Market, Mexico City.

I have always supposed soap to be quite a good thing, of large practical consequence but of little spiritual measure. As it turns out, this is simply not the case. The former assumption is patently clear, but the latter is more a question a symbol, and how it can inhabit a peculiar place in our daily lives. Take the rather heavily scented objects you see below. The blue bar promises to boost the trade of your business, the other offers no less than to triple your luck (the variety of said luck was promised to be general). In the daily life of a resident of Mexico City, these symbols can be worth collecting.

Scented and pressed palm oil blocks to wash the blues away.

Syrups and honeys that produce love, reduce hauntings, or even get that rich client to call.

These are the kind of items you will find at Mexico City's Mercado Sonora. Amongst caged birds, glazed pottery and cheap toys resides a huge outlet of commodified luck. Sachets of love powders, aerosols of atomised spells, luck soaps and success perfumes are just a peek into what goes on here at Sonora. Bunches of medicinal herbs and seeds occupy a large proportion of the market, as do statues of Santa Muerte and scented candles.

The function of most of these items is quite within the realms of reasonable demands: to help your grades at school, calm a jealous boyfriend or help you meet your debt payments. Though these are far from the biggest problems people face here. The current state of affairs in Mexico spell hard times, at least for those on the lower rungs of society. The economy has shrunk by 7% in the past year, and poverty rose for the first time since the mid nineties. Tourism crumbled after the H1N1 virus (which is now known to have originated north of the border) was renamed the Mexican swine flu, and the drug wars claimed yet more lives.

Supernatural powders to rid you of jealousy, begin a friendship or help you with your studies.

As such, it isn't too much to ask for a little help and many do. So nearing the eve of our return to Australia, we thought we would do the same. The preparation and use of the herbs are somewhat beyond both our needs and the facilities in our Mexico City B&B, so we opted for the soap as advised. In their little boxes adorned with promises of more secret herbs and spices than you can poke a Colonel at, they looked quite promising.

Unfortunately, we had to put them outside our room after taking the photos of the unwrapped specimens as they seemed to be inspiring some fairly serious headaches. Only minutes later as the pain started to leave and the clouds parted, I could barely believe it. I was getting luckier already.