16 September officially marks Mexico's 203rd birthday. The festivities started Friday with the 166th anniversary of the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. Technically it was a significant military defeat for Mexican forces yet a source of great national pride because of the brave sacrifices of six teenaged Mexican army cadets who gave their lives in defense of their county during the battle. Every year Mexicans honor Los Niños Héroes (the Boy Heroes).
That fateful day, Chapultepec Castle was under siege by American forces. The greatly outnumbered defenders battled General Scott's troops for about two hours before General Bravo ordered retreat, however the six cadets refused to fall back and fought to the death. Legend has it that the last of the six, Juan Escutia, jumped from Chapultepec Castle wrapped in the Mexican Flag to prevent it from being taken by the enemy.
Not to be outdone, Belize started their 2 weeks of Independence Day celebrations with the commemoration of the Battle of St George's Caye (Sep 10) when, after 8 years or so of trying, the Spaniards finally gave up their efforts to oust the "Baymen" from the territory. Marching bands and dancing troupes will parade about the various towns throughout the country culminating in the Independence Day on 21 September. Belizeans treat this like Carnival time (with all that entails).
The blackberry bushes are coming along splendidly and so, in my first effort at working with bamboo, I built a very simple espalier for the long lateral branches that will soon come. Cutting laps in the cross member to fit tightly against the uprights proved to be quite easy with a handsaw and pocket knife.
I think I'll use the bamboo for the chicken coop which will be 12x12 enclosure. I'm only making it that big for the planned 3 or 4 chickens (and rooster) because there is a cement foundation that lends itself to well to the project. By using the existing rebar in each corner, I can attach the bamboo without much hassle. This space also works well should the dogs decide chicken is too tasty to mind their master and the chickens have to remain cooped up all day. Worse case scenario they'll have to take turns in the yard each day. I can see it now, dogs in the house and at the window drooling and anxious to get out while the chickens have their yard time.
The market had some nice eggplant and zucchini so you know I had to make a ratatouille. Ratatouille is a great vegetarian dish that can be eaten hot or cold, as a side dish or main course, with or without cheese, in a sandwich...amazing stuff. The recipe is easy albeit time-consuming but the result is so delicious I'll be making it more often. The recipe below satisfied two hungry people with enough left over for a cold ratatouille and pate sandwich plus a small bowl of it reheated.
1 medium eggplant, sliced 1/4"
2 medium zucchini, sliced 1/2"
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, sliced
5 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
6 tomatoes, peeled and seeded then chopped into large chunks
1/2 cup fresh sweet basil, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp Mediterranean Spice or to taste (recipe below) (Note: If you don't want to get fancy with spices a couple of bay leaves and some thyme will be just fine instead)
salt and black pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup dry red OR dry white wine
I like the vegetables chunky. I say that because many recipes will have you cutting the eggplant and zucchini into small morsels but they just fall apart and turn to mush (the eggplant sort of does that anyway but in bigger mush chunks).
After slicing eggplant, sprinkle slices with Kosher salt and give them an hour or two to let the water drain out. Rise them well to remove the salt and pat dry. Note: This is an optional step but does seem to prevent the eggplant from sucking up enourmous quantities of olive oil. Not that enourmous quantities of olive oil is necessarily a bad thing...
You'll need a fair amount of olive oil for this dish using it to brown/fry the veggies. Brown eggplant until both sides brown and set aside. Same-same zucchini. Cook onions until almost caramelized, add sugar and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, then add green pepper slices and cook for 2 minutes stirring all the while. Deglaze with wine, cook off alcohol (2 minutes) then add spices, parsley, basil, and spice mix. Add eggplant, then zucchini, then tomatoes in layers. Cover and cook for a few minutes until everything is warm again. Stir and adjust spices as necessary. Continuing cooking and stirring occasionally until it's hot. Serve with sprinkled Parmesan on top.
Optional Oven Method: Prepare and cook everything as above until pan is deglazed with wine. Then take tomatoes and mix well with onion mixture. Place in bottom of casserole. Layer some sliced mozzarella or crumbled goat cheese then the zucchini and eggplant. Bake in 350 degree oven until bubbly. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve. As I was writing this I thought of making the stove-top ratatouille then putting it into individual serving bowls, sprinkling mozarella cheese over the top and putting them under the broiler to melt. Next time!
Mediterranean Spice Mix
3 TBS dried rosemary
2 TBS ground coriander
2 TBS ground cumin
1 TBS dried oregano
2 tsp ground cinnamon