Mexican Chocolate Mousse Bars

Like chocolate mousse bars only better.

For these, I started with a recipe for chocolate mousse bars and gave them a Mexican twist by adding cinnamon, Mexican vanilla and a bit of Kahlua. Yum!

Why Mexican vanilla? Because, my friends, it’s WAAAYYY better than regular vanilla. I use it in all my baking, and it has a much more distinctive smell and deeper taste. It’s hard to describe, but, trust me on this–you’ll never go back once you start using it in your baking. You can easily find it on the web, but make sure to read the reviews. There are imitators out there who sell Mexican vanilla but watered down or with added ingredients you don’t want.

Ingredients

For the Crust:

  • 18 whole graham crackers (about 9 1/2 ounces)
  • 8 tablespoons/113 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

For the Filling:

  • 1 pound/4 cups semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (or use good quality chips)
  • 3 cups cold heavy cream (separated), plus more for serving
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup Kahlua
  • 1 tablespoon pure Mexican vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream

Preparation

  1. Make the crust: Line a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 sides. In a food processor, or in a resealable plastic bag, crush the graham crackers until you have fine crumbs (but stop before you have dust). You should have about 2 1/4 cups. A food processor works best to get a finer, more even crumb. Transfer the crumbs to a medium bowl. Add the butter, sugar, cinnamon and salt and stir until evenly moistened. Tip the crumbs into the prepared pan and press them down into an even layer on the bottom. Transfer to the freezer while you prepare the filling.
  2. Make the filling: Set the chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup cream, espresso powder and salt until hot but not boiling. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and let it stand for 2 minutes. Add the Mexican vanilla and Kahlua and whisk until smooth. Set aside to cool completely.
  3. In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the remaining 2 cups heavy cream until you have stiff peaks. Add the chocolate mixture and gently fold to combine. Pour the mixture over the prepared crust, and spread it out into an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours. To serve, cut the two edges without parchment free with a sharp knife then use the parchment overhang to transfer the bar to a cutting board. Cut into squares and serve with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.
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Asian American K-12 Tools & Information

One of the coolest webpages I’ve seen in recent memory, and a much needed one. Click on the image to check out the site with its varied and easy to use resources.

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Chances in Disguise and the Blurb!

My 2nd young adult historical fiction, the sequel to Evangelina Takes Flight, now has an official title: Chances in Disguise (which happens to be the title I gave it early on in the writing process).

And here’s the 1-paragraph blurb:

In the spring of 1915, seventeen-year-old medically trained Evangelina de León is called upon to deliver a baby, but a physician from a neighboring town arrives and throws her out. The next day, she is arrested for the woman’s death and her historic fight for racial justice begins.

Now, onto round 2 of copy editing, and soon, cover art!

Publication date: October 31, 2021

Publisher: Arte Público Press

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RECIPE: Mexican Style Roast Potatoes (and a book update!)

Okay, the title here is a bit misleading because I’m going to start with the book update.

The publication date for the Evangelina Takes Flight sequel is October 31, 2021. Woo hoo! It’s now in the copy editing phase (3 separate rounds). The title will be finalized in May and the blurb (think back of book) will be, also. Things are heating up, and I can’t wait to see it and hold it in my hands.

And now for the RECIPE:

I love roasting potatoes this way now – I stole the idea from a recipe for Greek potatoes and applied it to my own Mexican repertoire.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Ingredients:

3 lbs Yukon gold potatoes

1/3 C chicken broth

1/3 C fresh lime juice

1/4 C good light olive oil (golden, not green in color)

1 1/2 t salt

1 t fresh ground pepper

1 T toasted cumin seeds (or use 1 t ground cumin if you must)

1 t garlic powder

1/4 t dried red chili flakes

1/4 c finely chopped cilantro

1/4 c chopped chives

Instructions:

If using cumin seeds, set in small skillet on medium-high heat and stir until browned and fragrant. Set aside.

Wash and cut each potato in half lengthwise then in half again crosswise.

Put chicken broth, lime juice and olive oil in rimmed baking sheet.

If using toasted cumin seeds, grind in spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle. Sprinkle over potatoes in pan.

Mix salt, pepper, garlic powder and chili flakes together. If using ground cumin, add it to the salt mixture.

Sprinkle spices over the potatoes. Toss potatoes and spices together in pan ensuring all the potatoes get coated with the broth/oil.

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on top, flipping each potato over half way through. If they become fork tender before they’re crispy, run them through the broiler.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with cilantro and chives. Serve!

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Evangelina Takes Flight Sequel Coming Fall 2021 With an Afterword by John Morán González

ETFTBD

The Evangelina Takes Flight sequel is set for publication by Arte Público Press–Piñata Books, in fall 2021.

You may wonder why I refer to it as the “Evangelina Takes Flight Sequel.”

When an author sells their manuscript to a traditional publisher (as opposed to a self-publication uploaded on a platform such as Amazon), the ownership of the work transfers to the publisher. While I have a working title, Chances in Disguise, the publisher, with my input, will determine the final title, format and cover art.

For this book, an afterword will follow, providing the true historical background and relevance to what’s happening in our world today. I say, “true” because the racial violence portrayed in 1910s Texas has not been fully acknowledged in history books or elsewhere.

I am thrilled to announce John Morán González, Ph.D. as the author of the afterword. Dr. González is the co-founder of the Refusing to Forget non-profit organization, a Frank Dobie Regents Professor of American and English and Director of the Center for Mexican American Studies, the University of Texas at Austin. I am deeply honored that he agreed to contribute.

A snippet of the afterword follows:

Chances in Disguise operates at two distinct but related levels. The first is to restore to public knowledge a critical history of anti-Mexican violence not otherwise taught in the national educational system. The second is to urge a strong, collective response from today’s readers to take up the challenge of ensuring justice for all, and not just for the privileged few.

A role model in this effort, Evangelina is indeed a strong, feminist hero, as she, together with her community, transforms the challenge of racial and gendered injustice by the legal system into a chance, in disguise, to strive for a better future.

revised 2.9.21 1:40 pm PST

 

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I’m Lost. Again. And Don’t Tell Me I Should Look at a Map!

Okay, this post has nothing to do with my author life. It DOES have to do with a little known psychological condition from which I suffer. It’s called: “ABSOLUTELY-NO-DAMN-SENSE-OF-DIRECTION-SYNDROME,” and to me, it’s as real as the bad taste you get when drinking milk after brushing your teeth. (Trust me, don’t do it!)

I am not kidding folks. I am heinously bad at knowing where I am going. For example:

  • I walk out of a familiar department store bathroom and ponder which direction to turn. “Do I go left? Right?” Next thing I know, I am looking at mattresses and draperies, asking an employee how to get to the shoe department, where I came from in the first place. At least my hands are clean.
  • I cannot drive anywhere further than ten miles from home without the GPS. And these are places I have been to MANY times. “Which exit do I take?” “Which way do I turn when I get to the light?” “Do I recognize this gas station? I think so… Then again, maybe I don’t.” “Yeah! This school looks familiar. I’ve driven past this school before. Haven’t I?” My breath becomes choppy, a light sweat covers my forehead and upper lip, my mouth’s dried out, and I need to pee. And guess what? Once I’ve gotten there, I have no freakin’ idea how to get back. I cannot retrace my steps to save my life!
  • Being tied to my chair and forced to watch CATS on the big screen a thousand times over would be better than my experiences with…(imagine scary sounding music)… parking garages. “Which floor did I park on?” “Should I push the 1 for the first floor or the L for Lobby? OMG! Which one is it? 1 or L? Oh, right! I took a picture on my phone of the floor number. I even took a picture of the parking space number. But oh, holy mother of the Big Compass in the Sky, which way do I go when the elevator door opens?”
  • Looking over a sea of cars in large outdoor parking lots is the equivalent of having my fingernails pulled out with pliers. “Where did I park? Oh, there’s a tree. Yippee! I parked by a tree! But, wait. There’s another tree. Hell’s bells–there are three, four, five, six trees! Stupid trees!”
  • Zoos! “I found my way to the cheetahs alright, but I’ve been wandering around for an hour now looking for the exit, and I’m at the penguin sanctuary for the fourth time.” Nightfall is setting in. Vultures are circling overhead.
  • Recently, my father, who lives in another city, sat in the passenger seat when I drove him to the local Costco, and of course, he had to direct me, one step at a time. The next day, my mother asked me to go back and return something, and it was like I’d never been there before. My brain must have gotten wiped while I was sleeping by international bad guys named Big Dog and Igor with yellow teeth and cheap pinstriped suits.
  • Maps! Eeeewwww! Nasty! Evil! Just looking at a map makes my blood pressure soar. I swear that maps around the world have been conspiring against me to tangle my brain matter into knots like an old necklace that’s been lost in a drawer for a decade. Please, I beg of you, don’t ever ask me to find something on a map!

Thank goodness I have patient friends and family who understand that I’m suffering from this terrible condition and help me out when we’re together.

IMPORTANT: If I’m alone and late for something, I’m probably wandering around a parking lot, losing hope of ever seeing my loved ones again, sleeping on the ground in some corner by a janitorial supply closet and wasting away but not before cursing the Big Compass in the Sky.

The journal Neuropsychologia calls it “developmental topographic disorientation.” I like ABSOUTELY-NO-DAMN-SENSE-OF-DIRECTION-SYNDROME” better. That describes me to a “T.”

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Green Chile Corn Chowder with Ham

It’s rainy and cool in Seattle (big surprise!) and the days are getting shorter. Time for soup!

Made this tonight and it came out yuuummmy! I’ve made corn chowder a hundred times but never quite like this – Mexican style. You can make this a vegetarian dish, but I like the smoky ham flavor.

Serves 4.

Ingredients:

4 T butter

1 yellow onion, diced

2 celery stalks, cleaned, ends cut off, diced

1 t diced garlic (from a jar or fresh)

Optional: 1 c diced ham (I use the ham steak from Costco)

1/2 ground turmeric (optional)

1 t ground cumin

1 t mild chili powder

1-4 oz can mild diced green chiles (such as Ortega-brand)

1-16 oz bag frozen corn or 5 fresh ears of corn, corn kernels cut off

6 c chicken or vegetable stock

1/3 c flour

1 c shredded sharp cheddar (plus half a block of cream cheese – optional)

1 c whipping cream

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Melt butter in medium-large soup pot over medium-high heat

Stir in diced onion, garlic and celery and cook until translucent

Add diced ham and cook until ham begins to brown

Add turmeric (if using), cumin, chili powder, diced green chiles, and corn

Whisk flour into chicken/vegetable stock until well-combined and there are no lumps

Add to corn mixture and whisk until beginning to thicken

Turn heat down to medium-low/medium

Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally

Add cheddar and stir until melted (tip: add half a block of cream cheese, too for a more tangy flavor)

Gently fold in whipping cream (half-n-half okay) – do not boil soup or cream may curdle

Stir in salt & pepper to taste

Great served with any or all of the following: a wedge of lime, small dollop of sour cream, diced green onions or fried onions such as French’s

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My Groundbreaking Publisher – Arte Público Press

Thought I’d share this terrific article from the Houstonian magazine about my groundbreaking publisher, Arte Público Press and its founder, Dr. Nicolás Kanellos.

“As a child, Nicolás Kanellos couldn’t find books that accurately portrayed his Hispanic heritage. As an adult, he sought out and published the ones that did.”

This embodies one of my favorite quotes, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

The Arte Público team is a passionate and talented group of folks, and I am beyond fortunate to be included in their family of authors.

And related news: I am completing the final revisions to my Evangelina Takes Flight sequel (publication date October 2021). Anxious to move forward with the remaining revisions and the fun stuff – the title and cover art! Stay tuned.

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Do You Want to Listen Or Do You Want to Be Right?

listen graphicYou may think you’re a good listener, but are you really? When someone is talking, are you listening to UNDERSTAND or to REPLY?

 

Think about it. If someone is talking to you about something emotional on a topic that you feel strongly about, are you trying to understand them or are you preparing your rebuttal?

“Listen or your tongue will make you deaf.” ~Cherokee proverb

Some time back on this blog I shared a few concepts from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I taught the material in corporate America for 20+ years, and it fundamentally changed how I think and behave for the better.

Now is the right time to share another habit–Habit 5, Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.

People are passionate about politics, the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, amongst other things, and that’s good. Passion combined with persistent action drives change when change is needed.

However, constructive, fully-informed, and sustainable change will NOT occur, no matter how passionate you are, if you’re not truly listening to the other person’s position.

What do I mean by “truly listening?”

I mean setting aside your own beliefs and emotions long enough to hear and fully understand the other person. This requires you to leave your ego at the door.

It does not matter if you agree or disagree with the other person; what matters is that you understand their ideas, grievances, experiences and position on an issue.

To communicate effectively, we must first understand each other. This can create solutions to complex problems, clarity on the issues and effective problem-solving. Once you understand each other, move to a solution around your commonalities, your shared wants. The best change is rarely one person’s idea or the other’s.

Social Media Can Hurt in Times of Conflict

I see a lot of passionate Facebook posts on the important topics of the day. I also see a lot of counter-arguments. These posts can go on and on, often with no one changing their position or seeing things in a new way. That is because people do not want to change their opinion–they are set in their own. They don’t want to learn the other person’s position–because their position is the right one. PERIOD.

One study by Mehrabian and Albert says that:

  • 7% of our meaning is understood by the words we say.
  • 38% of our meaning is understood by our tone of voice and style.
  • 55% of our meaning is understood by our facial expressions and body language.

When you combine the commentary of a person who is not interested in learning anything new or understanding a different perspective with the statistics above, how effective is the social media exchange?

opinionated

Relationships can easily be damaged when these exchanges happen. If I have a serious disagreement with another person, I pick up the phone to talk it out or go see them in person. The first thing I do is try to understand their position, not to judge it. I find this much more effective, it preserves the relationship, and sometimes even improves it.

Bottom line: It’s great to feel passionate about a topic, but you must listen to understand the opposing view, not to refute it. Once the parties on each side of an issue understand it from the other’s perspective, and feel respected, constructive change can begin.

“It seems rather incongruent that in a society of super-sophisticated communication, we often suffer from a shortage of listeners.” ~Erma Bombeck

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Recipe – Zesty Chicken Soup

Hola from Houston, Texas!

I am in Houston visiting my folks and doing the cooking while I’m here, which is fine by me! I love cooking and baking as much as I do writing. (First draft done of my sequel to Evangelina Takes Flight — working on revisions!)

Today I made a zesty, Southwest chicken soup, and it came out TASTY! Some of you might enjoy trying the recipe.

Serves 4-6.

Ingredients:

  • 2 c roast chicken meat (store-bought works fine) – cut/torn into bite-sized chunks
  •  4 T butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced or 1 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1 jalapeno – de-veined, de-seeded and minced
  • 1 t ground cumin (optional)
  • 2 medium limes – zested & squeezed
  • 1/4 c mayonnaise
  • 1/4 c sour cream
  • 2 boxes chicken broth (approx 8 cups)
  • 1 10 oz. bag frozen corn
  • 3/4 c chopped cilantro — divided (okay to include the stems)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Melt butter in large pot over medium-high heat
  2. Add chopped onion, jalapeno and garlic — cook until translucent
  3. Add cumin (optional), stir
  4. Mix lime zest, juice, mayonnaise and sour cream — set aside
  5. Add frozen corn and half of cilantro to broth mixture — stir until corn is incorporated
  6. Add chicken broth — bring to a boil on high heat then reduce heat to medium
  7. Fold in chopped/shredded chicken
  8. Remove pot from heat — let cool 5 minutes
  9. Stir in half of mayonnaise/sour cream mixture until soup looks creamy
  10. Add salt and pepper to taste

Add a dollop of sour cream/mayonnaise on top of each bowl of soup and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Excellent served with warmed tortillas or cornbread.

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