Monday, November 12, 2007

Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos / Day of the Dead

This was the first year our family celebrated Dia de los Muertos (DDLM) in the states. We as kids never celebrated DDLM sure my Mom and Aunts would put out fruit and bread out on the kitchen table and light a candle but there was never a "celebration". This year I decided that needed to change. Truth be told it wasn't just this year, as I get older and watch our nieces and nephews grow up I think about them growing up not knowing our Mexican culture and traditions and that saddens me very much.

So this year my sister Lucy and I got together and arranged for a pot luck style dinner and to make an altar/shrine just like it's done in Mexico. Lucky for us our Mom and our Aunts were just as excited as us. They were however very skeptical. How were we (Lucy & I) supposed to pull off Dia de los Muertos if we had never celebrated it or build an altar/shrine? My Mom as a matter of fact said, and I quote, "What do you know about sugar skull making?"

Well everyone was blown away. Not only did the sugar skulls come out good but the altar/shrine kicked butt! Which is great because I seriously was afraid of it looking like a two bit operation. Everyone did an awesome job. Lucy was the Queen being able to find Marigolds & decorations. My Mom went above and beyond by making a kick butt Pozole and then a roasted acorn squash as an offering. My Tia Nelva not to be outdone made Tinga and my Aunt Celeste provided all the garnishes for the pozole. Ryan made tri-tip & my brother in law Cesar made his famous BBQ'd ribs. And everyone brought pictures it was just too awesome for words.

Our altar/shrine consisted of "the smells" which are key, they are said to lead the deceased to the altar, and they are amazing. The strong scent of the Marigolds combined with the smell of the sugar skulls that smell like freshly iced cake and the smell of Pan de Muertos / Bread of the dead with the heavy scent of toated sesame seeds is incredible. We also had pictures of my Abuelita (Grandma) Irene, Cesar's Dad who recently passed and Ryan's beloved Pop pop.

There were offerings or things that the deceased liked and enjoyed during their time on earth. For my Abuelita we had Rompope (Mexican eggnog), cigarettes (because she took joy in this rare treat), Vaporub (because according to her it cured everything. You had a headache put some Vaporub on it, your stomach hurts put some Vaporub on it. I kid you not one time my uncle Poncho had Vaporub smeared all over his head, he was a believer too), Coca Cola (because she said it helped her digestion). For Pop pop we put out St. Patrick's Day beads, a deck of card (because he loved to play card), a bottle of wine and his sugar skull was decorated with his "signature" $2 bills.

For all of our deceased we put out glasses of water because they are thirsty after their long voyage and we also played some festive cumbias (Mexican dance music). I also included the memorial prayer card that was handed out at my sister in law's gradmother's funeral. I just had to, her funeral took place in March and the Thursday before our dinner I was cleaning out my purse and there it was. I felt it wasn't coincidence and therefore I placed the card on the altar next to Pop pop's sugar skull.

All and all it was a great night we all reminisced about our loved ones and it really felt like they were there and they were happy being amond us as we remembered them fondly and missed them so much. I encourage everyone to celebrate Dia de los Muertos in their own special way. It is a beautiful Holiday that should be celebrated more. If you ever do you'll realize that there was a good reason why the Aztecs fought the Spaniards Priest to keep it.

Again, due to my technical incompetence the slide show of our altar is in the post above.

Emeril's Shrimp Scampi

What I liked about this shrimp scampi was the addition of the crushed capers. Now I don't know how Emeril intended for you to crush capers but the only way I could think of doing it at the time was through the use of a garlic press. And boy did that require some elbow grease, so much so that Ryan had to do it.

Though I did like it, it wan't "saucy" enough for me. I think next time I would add the lesser of two evils, either more butter or heavy cream. Tough choice because they are both oh soooo bad, in an oh soooo good kinda way. Oh and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to make it a little "flirtier".

Emeril's Shrimp Scampi
Recipe courtesy of Food Network

1 pound large (16-20 count per pound) shrimp, peeled and deveined (I used colosal shrimp)
2 teaspoons Essence, recipe follows (I used his bottled Essence that you purchase at the grocery store)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon capers, crushed
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound cooked linguini
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Toss the shrimp in a medium bowl with the Essence.
Place the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over high heat. Add the shrimp and spread them out evenly in the skillet. Cook for 2 minutes and quickly turn the shrimp. Add the garlic and capers to the pan and cook for 30 seconds. Add the wine, lemon juice, and remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter to the skillet and cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Season the shrimp with the salt and pepper and add the pasta, tossing to coat well. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the parsley. Serve hot.

Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Mexican Sugar Skulls II

Mexican Sugar Skulls

For Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead I was hell bound on making these. Well I'm lying, first I thought of buying them, but they are so gosh darn expensive that making them became a non issue. And though they are easy to make there sure is a lot of waiting. For instance after you take them out of the mold you have to let them dry for 8 hours, then you have to hollow them out and then let them dry for an additional 12 hours. Then you have to fuse the two pieces together with icing and then let them dry for an additional 2 hours before you can decorate them. So as you can see although they are easy to make they sure are time tedious.

My original goal was to make 20, giving me enough to decorate our altar/shrine with & then some for the kids to decorate themselves. Needless to say due to the long process I only made six.

Here is where I found the molds. They have detailed instructions complete with illustrations showing you how to make them, so I won't write them here. But I will say I did not buy them online they have a list of retailers that carry them so lucky for me the Bowers Kidseum in Santa Ana had them so all I or should I say all Ryan had to do was drive down there are purchase one. I purchase the large sugar skull mold which consists of two parts, the front & the back of the skull, they have all kinds of different sizes and varieties.

Here are some tips:

-Don't be too over zealous in packing in the sugar, I was and therefore I only got 6 sugar skulls when I should have gotten 10.
-If you have never worked with 10 pounds of sugar before may I suggest opting out of the 10 pound bag and buying two 5 pound bags instead. Reason I say this is no matter how big a bowl you have at home there is nooooo way you will be able to fit 10 pounds of sugar in it.
-The Merengue powder I was able to find at Michael's Arts & Crafs same with the color paste.
-For 10 large sugar skulls the website advices you use 4 pounds of sugar for the royal icing. I found that 2 pounds was more than enough. Seriously though, I have about 2/4 of it still left.

I hope next year some of you try to do this or at least think about celebrating Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead. It's a beautiful holiday that allows us to remember our beloved family and friends who have passed.

P.S. Since I cannot get the slide show and the text to coincide in one post the slide show is in the post above.