Not too many people still celebrate the Epiphany, the twelfth day of the traditional Christmas celebration made famous by that most annoying song (I disappear whenever people start singing it -- same with "American Pie"). Perhaps you didn't even know that there are twelve days of Christmas (for real). Now you do, bobo. In fact, Latinos all over the world still celebrate the Epiphany, for the very good reason that it provides us with the mandate (excuse) to keep the party going, long after everyone else has given up and returned to being their normal grouchy selves. That's the kind of people we are (you're welcome). Some Puerto Ricans take this responsibility so seriously that they (we) keep cooking through and past the holiday break, until every last trago is swallowed, every last lechon is consumed ("no pernil left behind," as we like to say on the West Side of Santa Clara). Starting today, I will begin posting a Puerto Rican holiday recipe each day, starting with something I posted last year on Christmas. Enjoy, bobo, because on the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me ... a coquito right under the tree.
1. Sautee the peppers and shallots with Adobo in a pan with olive oil, for five minutes. Let them sit. Drink your beer (but hurry up, bobo, the peppers are cooling).
2. In a large ungreased non-stick pan, heat each tortilla for 30 seconds on each side, over a high flame.
3. Lay each tortilla flat, and lay down the ingredients above, in this order (they will hold together better): cheese, eggs, peppers & shallots, beans, avocado, yogurt.
4. Fold carefully, bottom side up about 1/3 of the way, then the long side across the whole pie, from right to left. [For help in learning how to fold (a critical life skill) go here.] Place on a large plate, with pico de gallo (the salsa) on the side.
5. Carry the dishes into the dining room, sidle up to your honey, push her iPad away, and enjoy the look of shock on her face. Sure never saw that on Epicurious. Right? Right.
OK, this has happened to me before: first, I tweet that I am going to stir something up in the kitchen. Something difficult, something ancient, something Puerto Rican. Then I realize that I actually have to do it. The effort sometimes is so great, it seems a shame I cannot share the meal (or drink, like the one I'm about to describe) with more people. So I then decide to post the recipe.
This is what happened this week when after an innocent tweet, I took all the physical, emotional, and intellectual steps to make coquito -- a Puerto Rican drink which the New York Times recently described as “something like eggnog on a beach vacation" -- in a style I can share with the world. Not just with my wife (who is not Puerto Rican). Not just with my family (who are as Puerto Rican as they come). But also with you, bobo, who may be looking for a way to make this drink in your very own home.
Maybe there's a muchacha you're trying to impress. Maybe there's a spouse you are trying to win back. Or maybe you got a bottle of rum as a gift in a Secret Santa exchange and are wondering how to put it to better use (classier than a Rum & Coke, more serious than aPiña Colada). Whatever it is, I am here to serve, and you're gonna make coquito this Christmas. And no worries about the timeline -- the Puerto Rican Christmas is more a season than a holiday, and it ends on January 5th or 6th, depending on which side of the party you are on.
OK? OK. But before we get started, there are three things I must warn you about:
Making coquito is messy: Seriously. Lots of sticky substances. Various and sundry liquids. Many glass receptacles, which tend to drop when people are sampling the stuff. Twenty years ago, I raided my parents' refrigerator for a small sample -- un traguito, as my drink-happy Uncle Israel used to say -- on a cold Winter night when everyone was asleep. I dropped the fancy half-gallon vessel on the kitchen floor, and it took three full days to clean up the debris, which splattered everywhere. It took way longer to get my family to forget the incident, so I strongly urge you to map out your coquito cleanup plan well in advance. But thank God for modern conveniences, bobo -- I've got you covered with a Web 2.0-style approach that will not fail. Seriously.
Making coquito is dangerous. Most recipes for coquito fail to mention what happens to coquito chefs -- the coquiterros, if you will -- midway through the preparations. They tend to get distracted. They get confused about the exact amount of rum they are supposed to add. Because the resulting mixture never quite tastes like a very strong drink ("mijo, this tastes good .. . dame otro mas"), it's a quick sprint to partytown. Three recommendations here: (1) make sure you have a designated driver; (2) prepare two batches, and make sure that one is far stronger than the other; (3) if anyone, for any reason -- OK, perhaps your aunt from Long Island -- starts to dance the pachanga, give her a non-alcoholic Coco Rico. That should calm her down.
Making coquito is almost sacred ... don't mess with it. This is a good rule for most Puerto Rican cooking. But it applies with special force for coquito, a drink that has been passed down so long -- from generation to generation -- that it's almost sacred. Not sacred with a capital S, of course. This is not the blood of Jesus Cristo, the ultimate focus of Christmas celebrations. But it is the condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut cream, egg yolks, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and yes, rum, of Jesus Melendez, or whatever cunning Latino invented this concoction ages ago. Be respectful, and understand your place in this long, unbreakable chain of being. And remember to cut off your aunt.
Note: as always, click on the photos to see the truth up close.
ONE: THE RUM. Before we get too distracted, it would help to do a quick review of the ingredients.
First, of course, there's the rum. We got this bottle at a Von's in Carpinteria, on our trip from SF to LA a few days ago. It was a good sign -- Carpinteria means "carpenter's workshop" in Spanish. (Quick: who is the most famous carpenter in history?) With a Safeway card, the rum came out to less than $15. For real. Merry Christmas. You're welcome.
Technically we only need 750 ml of rum, but as I noted above, we can anticipate distraction and confusion over the required amounts.
One half-gallon of white rum. Check.
TWO: THE OTHER INGREDIENTS: When we got to LA, my mom showed us the rest of the goods:
Condensedmilk -- the most outrageously sweet stuff in the world. South Americans use it to make dulce de leche. Should be illegal, but it's not.
One can of condensed milk. Check.
Evaporated milk. Doesn't matter if the brands are different. And white label is cool. Hardly anyone cooks with this anymore, so grab it wherever you can find it, and stockpile it in preparation for the End of Days. It will come in handy.
Four 12 oz. cans of evaporated milk. Check.
Coconut cream. Oh, and it needs to be Coco Lopez. No substitutes here. Sorry, but you want to make the real deal, not something they'd serve you at Trader Vic's. Right? Right.
Two 15 oz. cans of coconut cream. Check.
Eggs. OK, let me break this to you s l o w l y. You going to drink ... raw ... eggs. But don't freak. It's not like how Rocky drank raw eggs. These eggs will be so deeply mixed, beaten, and blended into all the other stuff above that you won't likely notice them.
But more bad news, if you are inclined to think about your health. We are going to separate the eggs, and get rid of the whites. Get over it -- have a drink (8 oz. of Coco Rico, 3 oz. of rum).
Six egg yolks -- well beaten. Check.
Cinnamon and vanilla. OK, this is to make it all go down like real egg nog. Nothing special, but required. Just make sure that the ingredients were purchased in recent history. Many people I know have spice museums, not spice racks. I'd worry about that more than the raw eggs.
Two teaspoons of cinammon. Check.
Two teaspoons of vanilla extract. Check.
THREE: BLENDER STRATEGY
By now, you will have realized that you have close to one gallon of stuff, and a confusing array of sticky and sloppy mixtures in different size containers. And there's the blender problem. If you are an ordinary mortal, you are somehow going to have to divide up all these ingredients into batches.
I've seen many a coquiterro break down at this point. My recommendation is what I call 4X4X2 strategy. And as with so many things in the kitchen, you need to follow the liquor to execute this strategy effectively. Start by attempting to pour the 750 ml of rum evenly into four glasses, like this. You'll see how hard this is to do, but how easy it is to add a little extra rum to even out the glasses. Never mind. Follow your instincts.
Next, pour one glass of rum into the blender, and add exactly one fourth of the remaining ingredients. That means exactly one can of evaporated milk, one half can of the coconut cream, one quarter can of the condensed milk, one quarter of the raw egg mix, one half teaspoon on the vanilla extract, one half teaspoon of the cinnamon. Blend, then pour into one half gallon container. Repeat three times, filling both containers.
4X4X2.Get it?Divide all the ingredients by four, pass everything through the blender in four batches, then pour everything into two half-gallon pitchers. There are several opportunities here to get confused or deliberately mess with the rum amounts. But the best opportunity to adjust the amount of rum is the first tasting. And here's what you do. Pour two traguitos -- one from each pitcher -- into small glasses. Sample each. If one of them feels weak, leave it alone, but add eight ounces more to the other and label it "premium." You'll realize later why this is a good idea. It will allow you to manage your crowd like the best Puerto Rican bartender, protecting the sheep while taming the lions. Plus, it'll be more fun. Who knows, you may even get lucky (you are looking good in that guayabera, nene, in those new shoes, nena), and be present enough to enjoy it. You know it's true.
FOUR: CLEANUP 2.0
As I said, this is a messy affair. But there are three things you can do to make the cleanup at least as effective as the prep:
(1) Declare at the outset that you will do all the preparation. This will get everyone in the proper (e.g., guilty) frame of mind to help when the time for cleanup arrives. Works every time.
(2) "Crowdsource" the cleanup. After the first tasting, declare that the second phase of the prep is an old-fashioned group-driven cleanup while the coquito chills for the first real round. Remember that scene in "Witness," in the Amish country, when the whole community got together to build and raise a barn? Afterwards, they all sat down to enjoy a meal. But back to the present, in your kitchen: instead of a barnraising, this a barn cleaning, or a manger cleaning, to be consistent with the Christmas theme. This will inspire your guests to work for their coquito, which is only right and proper. Right? Right.
(3) Automate the cleanup, to the extent you can. Hey, it's the 21st century, and despite the Web 2.0 vibe, the last thing we want to see is a bunch of Latinos slaving in the kitchen. That's right, bobo. We need a robot. This one -- the Ca-Roomba -- is special. Soon it may be programmed to hunt down pernil, gandules, and Coco Lopez (no substitutes). I'm serious.
FIVE: PASS IT DOWN
Of course, don't forget to raise a glass yourself. You are now part of that unbreakable chain of rice and being, and you deserve a real trago of the brew ... at least. And you are already in a position to pass it down ... premium, regular, or virgin, at your well-earned discretion. Vaya con Dios, coquiterro, y Feliz Navidad. And don't forget to cut off your aunt.She's starting to hit on your nice single friends.
COQUITO FOR BOBOS (DUMMIES) -- RECIPE
Ingredients for the drink (yields roughly two gallons)
OK, I'm not saying there's a cause and effect, or even a meaningful correlation between my decision to stop nibbling on Elsie, Porky, and Bambi (wait -- I've never even tried Bambi) and the interesting things that have happened to me these past few months. But as Freud once said, there are no accidents, and whatever you may think, all these things have happened -- or are happening -- since I stopped eating animals:
1. My cat cries less at night (perhaps in silent solidarity, but I doubt it. He's still eating meat).
2. My Twitter following has grown by ten percent (though I am not meeting any vegetarians).
3. People walk up to me, and greet me (maybe I'm just noticing this).
4. I am connecting more with my Puerto Rican roots (thinking more about other Latino "roots," like yucca, malanga, yautia -- I am always hungry).
5. My wife smiles at me more (perhaps because I'm spending more time at the dinner table -- I am always hungry).
6. I find myself picking up the phone more ... when it rings! (True story. AT&T has the records to prove it).
7. I am making more money (OK, I was able to afford to give myself a raise -- the first one in two years after two self-imposed pay cuts).
8. My car responds better to my foot on the pedal.
9. Oh, right, I have a new car (my first in ten years).
10. Why do birds suddenly appear, everytime I am near? Maybe I'm just imagining this (I am always hungry).
Tremendous event. Kety Esquivel andfive other DC Latina produced one of the best social media conferences I have attended in a long time. It was fun, informative, moving. Made a bunch of new friends and I am now exploring how I can participate more deeply in this movement.
The following post will run later this week on "All Things That Rise," a new blog which will become my site for posting professional research and opinion. The Hubbub will live, but more as a personal site. Stay tuned.
This is a post about new beginnings, and a look backward to people who have helped me think forward.
First, the look backward -- two people who influenced me in college. The great American short-story writer Flannery O’Connor was said to have been deeply influenced by Teilhard de Chardin,
the mid-20th century Jesuit theologian who perhaps is best known
today for his amateur-yet-astute insights into the theory of evolution.
In several writings and public speeches he summarized his theory of
“convergence” with the memorable phrase “everything that rises must converge” (hence the title of O’Connor’s best known collection of stories). In college, I was a student of both religion and anthropology, and for
years the phrase has intrigued me as much it has bothered me. I’ve long
thought, shouldn’t it be the other way around — “all things that converge must rise”? Whether O’Connor and Teilhard got it wrong, or whether
something got lost in translation, it recently struck me that the grand
experiment with social technology that we’ve been running for several
years should serve as good fodder for exploring a hypothesis: that the
socializing effect of these technologies (which is bringing about its
own kind of convergence) is driving the irreversible evolution of smarter, more
efficient and perhaps even more ethical organizations and systems.
At first blush, this hypothesis shouldn’t strike anyone who has been
following social tech as radical or novel. After all, the business case
for social technology — “smarter,” “more efficient” — has already been
made in very smart books like Don Tapscott’s Wikinomics, and Charlene
Li and Josh Bernioff’s Groundswell, both which have a pretty huge
following in the business community. But it’s the third item in my
hypothesis — “more ethical organizations and systems” — that I hope
will add something to the current thinking. It’s one thing to say that
social technology is good business, and quite another thing to say that
social technology makes business good. And I am quite certain that this has not yet been adequately explored -- there are so many questions about what it means to be "good," both philosophical and practical -- in a convincing and comprehensive
way. That’s the overarching mission of this blog, and if I am
successful I will take what I learn here — in my posts and
conversations with you— and use it as the foundation for a
book I’ve been sketching for quite some time — perhaps, ever since
college, but almost certainly since I first began tinkering in the world of social media.
Along the way, I will try to steer the conversation along three
broad lines of inquiry: the effects on general culture, the effects on
business, and the effects on the general citizen/consumer. Two reasons.
One, because of my hypothesis — that our experiment with social
technology plays a role in the evolution (ascent) of our world, it
makes sense to widen the lens to account for what’s happening outside
the enterprise. Two, what led me here to create a standalone blog to
explore this subject was a series of experiences that were quite
personal (I will gradually reveal those experiences as I go along);
from my perspective, it makes little sense to focus on the evolution of
the enterprise without exploring the evolution of the individual
who serves the enterprise -- an especially important perspective in social
tech which depends so much on the standout leadership, contributions and sacrifice of individuals. They don't call it DIY tech for nothing. We've known this for a long time.
But in addition to these three focus areas — culture, commerce,
consumers — I will also strive to stretch the boundaries of our common understanding of social technology. I will explore the standard definition this week, in one of my first posts. But for now, I’d like
to acknowledge that the scope of this blog might extend to a broader set of technologies that may not fit the definition
but will soon become relevant. I’m talking about the place
where AI (artificial intelligence) and IA (intelligence augmentation)
collide, a place where we are likely to see the next wave of tech
innovation that will continue the grand experiment of the last several
I hope you will follow me and support me in my own experiment — the blog and the book. I’m very excited to get restarted.