Thursday, May 5, 2011

Viva Cinco de Mayo

Today is Cinco de Mayo, a day which is not the official Mexican Independence Day (that's Sept. 16, or Dies y Seis), but which perhaps should be. 
On the morning of May 5, 1862, 4000 Mexican rebel soldiers smashed a French army twice their size at Puebla, Mexico, 100 miles east of Mexico City.
Of course, it was just the French, but still...
The French had landed in Mexico five months earlier on the pretext of collecting Mexican debts from the newly elected government of democratic President Benito Juarez. 

Under Emperor Napoleon III, who detested the United States, the French came to stay. They brought a Hapsburg prince with them to rule the new Mexican empire.  His name was Maximilian.

The French Army had not been defeated in 50 years (hard to believe, I know, but this is ancient history), and it invaded Mexico with the finest modern equipment and with a newly reconstituted Foreign Legion.  The French were not afraid of anyone, especially since the United States was embroiled in its own Civil War.

Under the command of Texas-born General Zaragosa (in an ironic twist, Zaragosa was born in Goliad, where a massacre in 1836 helped trigger the Texas War for independene), the Mexicans won a great victory.

That victory kept Napoleon III from supplying the southern Confederacy rebels with arms and supplies, helping the Union to win the War of Northern Agression. The Union won the battle of Gettysburg just 14 months after the battle of Puebla, essentially ending the Civil War.

Union forces were then rushed to the Texas/Mexican border under General Phil Sheridan, who made sure that the Mexicans got all the weapons and ammunition they needed to expel the French.  American soldiers were discharged with their uniforms and rifles if they promised to join the Mexican Army to fight the French.  The American Legion of Honor marched in the Victory Parade in Mexico City.

It might be a historical stretch to credit the survival of the United States to those brave 4,000 Mexicans who faced an army twice as large in 1862.  But who knows?

In gratitude, thousands of Mexicans crossed the border after Pearl Harbor to join the U.S. Armed Forces.  As recently as the Persian Gulf War, Mexicans flooded American consulates with phone calls, trying to join up and fight another war for America.

Mexicans, you see, never forget who their friends are, and neither do Americans.  That's why Cinco de Mayo is such a party -- a party that celebrates freedom and liberty.  These are two ideals which Mexicans and Americans have fought shoulder to shoulder to protect ever since the 5th of May, 1862. 


I've always been fascinated by the possibilities of alternate history, from the personal level ("What if I'd never gone to that donkey show in Tijuana? I'd never have met my second ex-wife") to the global level ("What if there were a few hundred more votes for Al Gore in 2000? Where would we be today?"). So speculating on the downstream effects of Cinco de Mayo is fun for me. Especially when fueled by an adult beverage or two.
Osama's death just kick started our Cinco de Mayo celebration. Margaritas for anyone wearing red white and blue!
Speaking of margaritas, I have a fondness for the classics. Here's a time-tested margarita formula that should satisfy anyone and everyone.
This is the Cadillac of Margaritas because you need to use all the best ingredients. Put that tequila blanco away and pull down a nice reposado from the top shelf. (Reposado, or "rested" tequila, is aged a minimum of two months but less than a year in oak barrels. Añejo - "aged" or "vintage" is aged a minimum of one year in small oak barrels.) I'm partial to Añejo, but it may be because I myself am Añejo.

    1 1/2 oz premium tequila (Reposado or Añejo)
    1 oz Grand Marnier
    3/4 oz lime juice
    salt for rimming (get your mind out of the gutter)

Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with salt.
If you have an aversion to tequila (and who among us hasn't done something off the wall when under the influence of tequila), try some Sangria (Sangria is Spanish for "blood" or "bloody" but don't let that throw you off. It refers more to the color of the wine than the aftereffects.)
Sangria is a traditional Spanish drink that combines wine with fruit and a little sugar. The Mexican version is a similar fruity concoction but has a higher level of alcohol. Always use a decent wine when making sangria, as the wine will be the most prominent flavor.

    * 1 bottle Red Wine, preferably Spanish such as a Rioja
    * 1 cup Grand Marnier
    * 1/2 cup Brandy
    * 1 cup Orange Juice
    * 1 Orange, cut into wedges
    * 1 Lime, cut into wedges
    * 1 cup Pineapple Chunks, drained
    * 2 4-inch sticks Cinnamon (optional)
    * 24 ounces (2 cans) Lemon-Lime Soda
    * Ice

Put all the ingredients, except for the lemon-lime soda and ice, into a large pitcher and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours.

Just before serving stir in the lemon-lime soda and top off with ice. Pour into wine glasses or other nice glasses, straining off the fruit. Garnish each glass with a wedge of orange or lime if you like.
And finally, I love guacamole, and I love bacon. Put the two together and I'm in hog heaven (pardon the pun).

Bacon-and-Tomato Guacamole
Serves 8 to 10

- 5 strips medium-thick bacon (full-flavored smoky bacon is great here)
- 3 medium-large ripe avocados
- 1/2 medium white onion, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
- 2 or 3 canned chipotle chiles en adobo to taste, removed from the canning sauce, stemmed, slit open, seeds scraped out and finely chopped
- 1 medium-large ripe tomato, cored and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (thick bottom stems cut off), plus a little extra for garnish
- Salt to taste
- 1 or 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1. In a large (10-inch) skillet, cook the slices of bacon in a single layer over medium heat, turning them occasionally, until crispy and browned, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels, then coarsely crumble.

2. Cut around each avocado, from stem to blossom end and back again, then twist the two halves apart. Dislodge the pit. Scoop the flesh from the skin into a large bowl. Using an old-fashioned potato masher or a large fork or spoon, mash the avocados into a coarse puree.

3. Scoop the onion into a small strainer and rinse under cold water. Shake off the excess water and transfer to the bowl, along with the chipotle chiles, tomatoes, cilantro (save a little for garnish if you wish) and about two-thirds of the bacon. Gently stir to combine all of the ingredients. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon, and enough lime juice to add a little sparkle.

4. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate until you're ready to serve. Scoop guacamole into a serving dish, sprinkle with the remaining bacon (and cilantro if you have it) and serve. of the guacamole and refrigerate. To serve, scoop the guacamole into a serving dish and sprinkle with the remaining bacon (and cilantro if desired).
If you've made it this far down the post, I should tell you that today is not only Cinco de Mayo, but it's my last class day as well.


I think not...

1 comment:

Harper said...

Had to settle for Fuzzy's garlic shredded beef tacos and a schooner of Shiner Black. It was nice to have somebody else do the cooking, though.