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Baby Jesus pee (milk liqueur)


Remember when I told you about the awesome Azorean cookbook we got from our neighbors? Well, I've dabbled in a thing or two beyond the molha. One of the recipes that intrigued me from the beginning was one for a milk liqueur. The name alone is enough to pique one's interest. But lest you think this is a creamy drink like Irish cream, let me disabuse you of that notion. 

Rather, the idea here is that milk is combined with liquor and other ingredients, most importantly citrus. The acid from the citrus causes the milk solids to coagulate, and the milk liquids that are left behind give the liqueur a viscosity and weight that you cannot get from alcohol and sugar alone.

Best of all, as with nearly all the recipes in the book, is the grace note: 

Around Christmas, it was traditional to make, quite in advance, various homemade liqueurs, destined for the friends who were to come round. These liqueurs, characteristic of the Christmassy period, were tenderly named the "wee of little Jesus" or "o xixi do menino Jesus." This tradition, with the passing of time and  the running around for time, is now starting to disappear, although it is continued by inviting friends over for the so-called "xixi" that now, at the best of times, is no more than a gin, a whisky or any other purchased drink.

So, if you, like I, are interested in keeping this treasured tradition alive, read on. 

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Not made of stone

Azorean stewed pork ©DPaul Brown

So yeah, I had surgery.

Back in July, right around the time of the main BlogHer conference in Chicago (which, luckily, I stayed home for), I began having abdominal and urinary tract pain. Thinking I had some kind of infection, rare though UTCs are for men, I made an appointment to see the doctor, who suggested I might be passing stones.

NaBloPoMoThis should have come as no surprise. I had a kidney stone attack in 1987, back when I was in high school, and have always known that this day would come. Yet somehow, when the obvious signs were there, I didn’t recognize them.

That night, the pain that had until then been merely a nuisance began to escalate until I was a blubbering mess, shuffling around the house trying to walk the pain away. We ended up in the emergency room. A CT scan confirmed a not insignificant stone in my right ureter … and a boulder of a stone still in the kidney.

Long story short, over the ensuing three months, I endured lengthy waits between urology appointments until treatment could be indicated and scheduled. In the meantime, I referred to it as the Stone of Damocles, a weighty concern that hung figuratively over my head. Ultimately, Dr. Stoller at UCSF had me scheduled for percutaneous nephrostolithotomy (PCNL), where they go into the kidney via a small incision with a tube and break the stone down with lasers. It’s considered minor surgery, but believe me when I say there is no such thing. But, I am better now, free of both pain and stones. For now.

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Carne de porco com amêijoas à alentejana

No Iberian meal is complete without pork. The importance and prevalence of the meat in the national cuisines of Spain and Portugal cannot be overstated. In fact, had I not already been weaning myself off my fishetarian ways, I would surely have starved to death during our month-long sojourn in Spain.

But that’s okay, for the pork in Iberia is exceptional. There are of course the cured hams, such as the famous jamòn serrano and jamòn iberico, the latter of which comes from pigs that dine exclusively on the acorns of black oak trees in central Spain. Iberico in its uncured state is succulent and tender, and unlike anything we have here in the states. The meat itself is darker, with a strong nutty flavor.

I knew the main course of the dinner had to be pork, but sought inspiration. I turned to the trusty Time-Life Foods of the World series, expecting to find a Spanish recipe that would transport me back to our trip. In fact, the recipe that spoke to me was Portuguese.

Pork and clams: What a delightful turn on the classic surf and turf. It sounds incongruous at first, but the two proteins have a strange affinity, as if they were long-lost cousins, star-crossed lovers from different worlds. Only in the sweet afterlife, and on the dinner table, could they be united.

A sidenote about Spain v. Portugal. Despite their tightly linked heritages, there is a clear tension between the two cultures. Whilst in Granada, enjoying a sherry at a local restaurant, we were entranced by the music. The bartender informed us it was a Portuguese group, Madredeus. We loved the soulful, fado-inflected songs. Later, in Madrid, we were perusing a record store, looking for a few choice items to bring home; Madredeus was at the top of our list. We searched through pop, to no avail. Asking one clerk after another, we ended up working our way through several sections, down floor after floor, until we finally found them in the “World” section, alongside tribal drumming and chanting. Keep in mind we are talking about a contemporary popular group from a country that shares the same peninsula.

Intra-Iberian politics aside, this dish is a keeper, though I cannot help but feel like it constitutes a culinary “screw you” to the Jews and Moors so maligned in Iberian history. I mean, pork and clams? Why not throw some milk in for good measure? Gentile that I am, I take no exception.

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