Friday, April 25, 2008

1500

After spending significant time in Houston pursuing my Mission:Burrito, I began noticing that Texans are not the most food responsible people. Spanish Omelette for breakfast, Whataburger for lunch, brisket and potato salad for dinner – not the most healthy of diets. Though my roommate knew this already, as his subscription to Men’s Fitness informed him weeks ago, but I just began to fully comprehend the extent to which this affected my home. To put it in perspective, 6 of the top 10 fattest cities are in Texas. I began imagining what my life would have been like had I returned to my place of origin. Would I have been another victim to great food and poor fitness culture? Words of my previous post began floating through my head, and I wondered, is it possible to satiate your desires for delicious, diverse and filling foods, and get into shape? The short time I spent home wreaked havoc on my body, so I shudder to think what would have happened had I lived there longer. Given the approaching beach weather and my pervasive fear of having a gut, I decided that it was time to get in shape. But alas, what of my blog?! What of my life?! Could I stomach giving up the rich and lush foods that I need to sustain my very existence?



This quagmire nearly toppled me, until I recalled the blockbuster of last summer that caused a stir in the workout community. 300, with its sculpted Adonis-like men, gave everyone a powerful and popular example of what consistent and intense workout can do for a person’s physique. As we all know, an intense workout regimen can only be effective when coupled with a nutritious and managed diet. So again, I ran into the dilemma of healthy vs. fulfilling foods. Are there recipes out there that satisfy the inner hunger while satiating my taste buds? I set off to discover the truth – can you “diet” and still eat delicious foods?

After doing a bit of scientific research, I found that 1 lb of fat carries 3500 stored calories. It is recommended that if you seek to burn fat, you should eat 500 calories less than you burn in a given day, so that every week you burn the equivalent of 1 lb of fat. I would assume that in a day I burn 2000 calories, so that requires that I only eat 1500 calories.

So the stipulations are:

1) Average 1500 calories a day in a given week (all forms of alcohol must be taken into consideration)
2) Cook at least once a week
3) Salad or smoothie for a meal 3 times a week
4) Exercise 4 times a week
5) Fast food (defined in the traditional sense) only allowed twice in the whole month
6) Eating out allowed only if caloric intake allows
7) As often as possible, eat natural or organic foods, avoiding all processed foods

So now, to ascend to Olympus and join the side of Leonidas and his Spartan gods, I will fight my own epic battle, more for Tone than Thermopylae. This is the battle for 1500


-The UE

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Mission: Burrito Part 3

Deceit is the act of intentionally fooling a person through disguise, lies or trickery. There are many an imposter in the world of Tex Mex – places that claim "original" or "authentic" as though simply the moniker lends the bearer some semblance of legitimacy. Nay, I argue that it is the substance - the actual product - that validates a brand's prowess. In this vein, my anger and frustrations were for the longest focused on faux burrito chains. Houses of ill repute seeking to cheapen and sully the brass name of true Tex Mex burritos. Many people have easily been lead astray by mass burrito marketing, attempting to pass itself off as a quick, cheap meal in a tortilla. The audacity! Is a Van Gogh simply a splash of colors serendipitously strewn about a canvas?






The burrito first came about during the Mexican Revolutionary period, when Juan Mendez, simply trying making a living selling tacos, had the genius idea of keeping the food he served warmer for longer by wrapping it in a tortilla. People loved this dish, and affectionately called it “burrito”, for the little donkey which pulled Juan’s food cart. Through evolution and passage of time, we have been privileged with this awe inspiring, hunger satisfying, hangover curing gift. And how do we thank it? By bastardizing it through mass marketing, slanderous false name calling, and large scale production. A lay person, unknowingly ignorant of the falsities to which they have been subjected, would have no other evidence or reason to further question its creation, thus negating any artistic or creative intentions the original culinaries intended through their genius.








Because of my departure from home for greener pastures, I had been forced to walk amongst the valley of the blind, slowly stripped of my birthright by desperation. In being transplanted so far away from the Lone Star State, I have been continually subjected to a barrage of subpar and unauthentic Tex Mex from places such as Moe’s, Qdoba, and the vilest culprit of all, Chipotle. Mass production and a McDonalds ownership have converted my highly coveted tortillian treat into a Model T assembly line product. And the worst of it was that slowly, but surely, these generic impersonators were eroding my valiant protests, reducing me to crave these vile creations in substitute of my forlorn love.

Days...

Months...

Years...

Soon a
chasm lay in the place of my love for Tex Mex, the tides of chain-mex ebbing away at my armor. I thought all had been lost....

But lo! What sweet rewards perseverance through the madness reaps! My birthing of the UE marked the beginning of a reclamation. The rumblings of my long dormant Southwestern identity began to tremble the walls in which they were housed, calling to its master to free it. At 3pm on March 12, 2008 I arrived at Houston IAH airport, hungry and humbled by the smell of lime, cumin and jalapeños. I had come home. My agenda was simple: remind myself through ingestion of the wonders Texas has to offer.

Preparing for this trip found me reaching as far back as my memory would allow, searching my soul for the delights which influenced me so consummately. Like a
broken levy, my brain was awash with flavors, aromas and names that I had suppressed during the years of my unrealized imprisonment. Highest on the list was a place I had frequented during my high school years, when a certain senior, destined for an urbane epicurean reincarnation, parked on the street and would leave a cone in his spot so usurpers would not covet the prime real estate. All so that he and his charming, guitar playing, classic car driving brethren could partake in this utopia’s spoils.

I exited Highway 59, and made a right on Richmond from Kirby, driving fervently towards my
destination. The scene had drastically changed since the glory days of my youth. A Whole Foods had flourished due to the region's diverse mix of health conscious youths. Woodrow’s, a favorite neighborhood watering hole, had since boarded up and gone dry. I actually missed my turn, distracted by this microcosm of Darwinism, but finally arrived at my Elysian Fields.

I walked in and paused as I recounted memories of illegal off-campus lunches, lackadaisical skipped class periods, undaunted laughter and
eternal camaraderie. I could almost see the wraith of my adolescence still seated at our regular table, head askew with carefree elation. I anxiously took my place in line, eager to place an all too familiar order, but butterflies of anxiety turned to atom bombs of fear. Would I sound like I belonged? Would they think me a tourist? Had I been away so long that the people of my hometown wouldn't recognize the life blood in my veins that they themselves helped sustain? Had I lost my accent?

"Wheat tortilla, rice (real
red mexican rice, not the butter and cilantro rice imposters peddle), corn (a staple of Tex-Mex), the red tomatillo sauce, sour cream, black beans, and lettuce. A side of chips and queso please sir. Oh yeah, and throw in a Shiner".

::silence::

::eternity::

SAY SOMETHING

..please..

"Certainly, sir. Welcome home!"

$12.97 was the cost of salvation, a toll handily paid to the boatman to cross my river Styx.

Mission: Burrito – accomplished


-The UE

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Mission: Burrito Part 2

A nacho, for those uninformed, is a delightful tortilla chip treat, mini meals on a corn platter served to satiate hunger either as an appetizer, or a full meal. The pagans would have you believe this word is synonymous for dog pile, a term for a mass of bodies haphazardly strewn about. The generic nacho, found in traitorous Faux-Mex restaurants, piles ground beef, cheese and whatever cheap toppings they can quickly dump on a plateful of chips. Some would say this is the original nacho, and worship it almost ritualistically. Religion, however, has taught us the fate destined to worshippers of false idols.

A true nacho is an individualize piece of art. They were first given to us by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, who was looking for a way to appetize the wives of some U.S. soldiers, who were passing through his restaurant after it closed, using what little he had in his kitchen. Amazingly, these gems have grown over time, and become as unique as the chefs who create them. The foundation is the same - a tortilla chip (which can be made by
frying flour / corn tortillas or by buying Tostitos) - but the toppings vary. The consistent theme is that each chip is paid individual attention, as any true artist must give his medium. The result: a colorful, delectable and irresistible meal.

Coming from my background, I had always enjoyed the nacho for its presentation and its taste. Any true Texan will tell you
"if there ain’t a piece of meat on each chip, it ain’t a nacho". They all have their personal favorite locales, and their anecdotes on how to make them, but the discovery of my perfect nacho came completely by accident. No special research was done, no word of mouth received. I was led to this discovery by the one inviolate rule of foodist culture - the nose knows. Driving down the street with a couple of friends, I was fighting with the unruly back seat driving of a ferocious appetite. In line with my characteristic flair, I was driving windows down letting the breeze blow in with my left arm hanging out of the window.


Abruptly, I slammed on the brakes. All faces in the car were wrought with fear, save one, that was both puzzled and excited. That smell...that heavenly and alluring smell. I felt uncontrollably compelled to it. Like a sailor to a siren, I found myself inexplicably u-turning to seek the source of this cosmic attraction. I turned a few more times, examining the few blocks from which I suspected the smell emanated. Finally, I decided it was time to stop at a small hole in the wall with a faded sign reading "La Tapatia".

Amongst much protest, I stepped out of the car and walked to the door, feeling my body acting under a will not of my own. I inquired the origin of the odor, and the waitress assured me I was in luck. We sat, and as I scanned the menu, one thing jumped at me – Nachos Tapatia. I trustingly ordered this seemingly overloaded dish. The description read like a battlefield of ingredients. I had my qualms about the order, but my stomach commanded, and I obeyed faithfully. The waitress returned, almost too soon, with a plate full of nachos and a
smile.

The beef was perfectly seasoned, with just a touch of lime and some spice I still can't identify. The meat was lightly grilled, cut into squares and placed atop each chip over a layer of cheese (cheddar for beef, mozzarella for chicken), refried beans, and a tortilla chip. The plate was garnished with lettuce, sour cream and guacamole, and all dinners simple MUST be served with a
margarita (truth be told, I learned this later in life as I was only 18 with a glassful of water at the time) I took my first bite, and swooned with delight. The heavenly design of this concoction was far beyond my mortal understandings, and at the time, though too young and inexperienced to comprehend why, I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, I had fallen in love. This was the Summer of 2001...

Time passed and lives went on…

My restaurant next door grew up - new signs and tables. I moved away from the city, and began exploring other foods, learning and growing from each interaction. But on some days, when the wind blows a certain way, I pause and my mind wanders through time and space, back to that day. Though we still speak from time to time, and I visit whenever I am in town, we can never go back to the way things were. I will never forget that first time - a taste that unleashed previously unknown feelings, giving me pleasure in ways I had never before conceived. The first time I had been stimulated, the first time I truly appreciated art, the first time I gave myself completely to my senses. The first...

Thank you for opening my heart, those after owe you a sincere debt of gratitude.

-The UE

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