Wednesday, January 03, 2007

californio mac-n-cheese

Translation: I'm a Californio, and this is a version of mac-n-cheese inspired by the "local" items we had from two different farmers markets, plus what was in the pantry (TJ's whole wheat penne), and some chorizo (also local) that the monkey suggested we use, saying emphatically "yeah, mac-n-cheese with the meat daddy!" Consider yourself warned, this dish is of mixed ancestry. I'll explain in more detail a little later.....

Half-n-half, sage cheddar, cream cheese, penne (a macaroni product remember, and pictured here cooked to within minutes of done), chorizo sauteed with red and white onion, shitakes, and a few cloves of garlic. And for topping, sliced quarters of the leftover mushrooms and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. I heated the half-n-half and whisked in the now, very soft cream cheese. With these well blended I combined them with the penne into another mixing bowl and gave it a stir. Then I added the chorizo mix and finally the grated cheddar.

I poured the mixture into the oval dish, placing the mushroom pieces around the rim and the thyme sprigs in the middle. (I had steeped them in the half-n-half before adding the cream cheese, I almost forgot to mention.) With this complete, I placed it into a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. It was getting a touch brown, but still appeared juicy, so I turned down the heat (325) and left it in for around ten more minutes. It was nice and crispy on the top at this point, so I put it on a rack to cool for a bit and told the monkey that lunch was ready.

She took one look at it and requested milk. At this point I think she knows from experience that milk is one of the best things to extinguish the flames that accompany chorizo laden products becuse she picked at some of the noodles, and a few choice meat bits, declared "ooooh, that's spicey daddy" and commenced chugging her milk, afterwards excusing herself from the table to finish "camping out on our holiday" in her room.

Overall, I agree that this one was a little on the spicey side. As I'm sure a few of you know already, cream cheese may lend great flavor in this application, but without chemically binding it together with the rest of the ingredients, it is prone to turning into curdled bits during the baking, as it did in this case. The final outcome (in my humble, I ate half of it during the first seating kind of way) was thus summarized: fun flavors in a unique combination, but overall lacking in texture.

Is it worth sharing with the rest of the foodblogging community? Sure. Because the whole time I was preparing it, I was thinking of my family history. Of how my personal tastes reflect my bloodlines, not necessarily how I was fed as a child, and how spicing it up a bit is something I relish in doing. If food is anything beyond simple nourishment, as I'm sure many will agree, it is at the very least a way of sharing our past. With that said, if you want more explanation about the Californio thing read on......if not, I hope you enjoyed the post and find comfort in the fact that someone out there is putting together dishes that make sense to perhaps no one but themselves. And writing about them anyway.

And now for the rest of the story....

You see, my maternal grandma's name was Garner, one that can be traced to an English fellow who was part of a mutiny aboard a whaling ship in the mid 1820's off the So-Cal coast. This type of behavior was usually grounds for your captain to kill you, but if he didn't and instead manacled you and left you ashore, you were stuck wherever that may be. And so it was that my great, great, great grandfather found himself in "Alta California" in 1824, then part of the newly independent country of Mexico. He soon converted to Catholicism (baptized at Mission San Juan Bautista), married a local (herself a blend of native american and spanish ancestry), went on to become a prominent businessman and personal friend of many notable folks in early California around Monterey (he was the translator/secreatary for one of the first American Alcalde of California, Walter Colton) and was later killed in a raid by a local tribe, somewhere near the Fresno River, while he was making another killing of sorts: supplying early gold prospectors with provisions, and trying to find a source of the precious metal for himself.

It was learning about this ancestor and his progeny, that have made me pround of being a Californian with "roots" that pre-date statehood. I now have a better understanding of my place in modern American society as a Californio. So, being the scientist that I am, I started thinking about what else this meant. Although just about anyone would look at me and decribe me as a tall white male (a likeness toward Jesus I've been told several times, prompting my joking with it in an earlier posting), and it is true that my name is highly anglo, when it comes right down to it my basic cellular functioning carried out by my mitochondria were likely inherited from the indigenous population residing in California before European contact. Or in another scenario, it was inherited from a mestizo past, carried north from present day Mexico, and mingling with the former scenario, making it of indigenous origin still quite possible. How? While H was pregnant with the monkey we learned that although we inherit our DNA from both of our parents, a small portion of that, our mtDNA (if you didn't guess already, our mitochondrial DNA) is only handed down from our mothers. This fact allows modern geneticists to look at something with a set continuity in our genes, allowing them the ability to establish some deeper family genetics that is one of the key elements in our modern understanding of the distribution of peoples around the globe. It is this matrilinial genetics applied to my family that leads me to believe, through one way or another, that my mtDNA came across the Bering Land Bridge during the end of the Pleistocene. Geologically speaking this was only a few moments ago, but culturally speaking, a looooong damn time ago. As a geologist myself, I really dig this, and with the advances in genetics and the various genome mapping projects out there, I hope to confirm my hypothesis in the future.

The monkey and I sat down to this mornings breakfast of scrambled eggs with chorizo and homemade english muffins. I was struggling with how to best discuss this latest experiment. I looked at the muffin and thought about my wife's English and Scottish heritage. (Okay, so they really eat things more like crumpets, but we're in the right ballpark with the approximate size and shape.) I looked at the chorizo and eggs and thought about my own heritage (limiting it to the matrilineal for our purposes here), and it hit me. Our breakfast was in some bending of the imagination, representative of our kid, who ended up devouring all of the muffin and most, but not all of the chorizo flavored scrambled eggs. Yeah.....kind of like that whole thing about getting ALL of your mom's genes, but only most of your dad's. Our monkey is the product of the genetic union of paternal Californio genes and maternal British genes. Like Garner and his wife a long time ago, only backwards. With all of this in mind, the name came easy: californio mac-n-cheese.

Sorry guys, but what you were probably taught in school ain't quite right, because on a cellular level, you really are more like your mom than you are like your dad. It's really not that hard to imagine, if you consider how your being here speaks of a time when you lived in symbiosis within your mother, where having the same mitochodria was of critical importance to your miracle of being, according to modern theory.

Thanks Mom, for making me possible. And handing down some mtDNA that likes eating ALL of the chorizo on my plate, whether it is in scrambled eggs or put into less "conventional" things like mac-n-cheese.

9 comments:

Kevin said...

D-man,
Very cool, amd very nerdy, post on mac-n-cheese. I wish I had a monkey like yours. Very well done. That was a fun read.

abby said...

nice story d-man. i have a question - what is half & half?

Stacie said...

great story and chorizo and mushrooms sounds wonderful to me!

D-man said...

Kevin, thank you for your compliments. Using the word "very" had me wondering which one was the bigger though, until I saw the word "fun" and then the idea hit me: the nerd part comes from experience no? Hey, I just had my leftovers, so mac is on the mind; i'm guessin' your post will be dinner tonight?

Hello Abby! and thanks for the question. They must call it something else where you live because Half & Half is simply half cream and half whole milk in equal proportions. So 1 pint (roughly 500 mililiters) of it would really be 1 cup (roughly 250ml) cream and 1 cup milk. But really, it is alot more. I would not be the quiche-hound that I am without it. You got the mixer beating in my brain so there will be more to follow...........

sher said...

What a great post!! You are a true (and very rare) Californio! I'm a transplant living in Davis. I loved your mac-n-cheese. It's full of flavor and history

Lannae said...

Wow, I love chorizo, and I have never thought of putting that in mac and cheese. I bet it was good! Great job for putting the ultimate Californio flair into your mac and cheese!

cookiecrumb said...

Well, I'm so sorry your cream cheese curdled. Probably a chemical reaction to heat and the "whatevers" in the chorizo (I can say that; my dad makes chorizo).
I'm with you -- if not the monkey -- on narsty flavors in my food!
Nice job.

abby said...

thanks for the explanation d-man, i don't know what the british equivalent would be... maybe single cream (we have single and double). and thanks for making it over to my blog to say hi!

D-man said...

To all who dropped by: A big thank you. It was nice to actually have someone beside my family members read a post for once (thanks Aunty, you're still our number 1 fan!) And to share with those in other countries, oh my! More specifically though:

Kevin and Cookiecrumb: Thanks for the warm invite to reach out and post something that is a lifestyle choice.

Abby: yeah, if you can get away with it, use the cream.

Stacie: I tend to put mushrooms in everything. And chorizo......someone (sorry, I forget) pointed out to me once that one of the hallmarks of great cuisine is the use of chorizo as a condiment. When I heard this, I was liberated and now feel free to put it in just about anything.

Sher: Davis? Cool place (although where are you coming from for relativities sake )that I would like to spend some more time in, especially riding my bike. I hear it's the friendliest place in america for that. Thanks for your kudos.

Lannae: Like with Stacie. Think: If I can't use chorizo as a major component in this dish, then how about a little sprinke on top. Maybe some for garnish. It's just like putting a little crack or two of fresh pepper, yeah like that....

Please come back y'all, and continue sharing your thoughts. Now I have to go, and get to documenting a minestrone recipe for anyone who is interested.