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Recipe – DWB Falafel with Cucumber Sauce

For this month’s Dinner without Borders (DWB), we decided to make one of our favorite dishes – falafel. As Cristin and I are veggies (and Daniel and Kayla have veggie tendencies), we have always loved the complexity and heartiness of falafel. Yet somehow, despite being somewhat of an amateur chef, I’ve always shied away from this dish as it has always seemed difficult to make. I’ve left it up to my favorite Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants to keep me filled and happy.

Until last night!

I’ve decolonized falafel. No longer are they feared in my kitchen! With Cristin and Daniel’s virtual assistance, Kayla and I had an enjoyable adventure in the kitchen in preparing this meal. It was easier than we both expected and will definitely be a much-accepted addition to your kitchen repertoire. Our falafel turned out delicious with an undeniable homemade quality you can’t find in local restaurants. These tasted healthier, lighter, and just as good. We used several recipes we found online and altered them accordingly. We added a kick of sriracha to ours to give them an extra kick. For the cucumber sauce, we used Greek yogurt for extra protein and a tangy addition to the meal.

Prep Time – 20 Minutes
Cook Time – 10 Minutes per batch

For Cucumber Sauce:
– 1 (6 ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
– ½ cucumber – peeled and finely chopped
– 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
– Dash lemon juice
– Salt and pepper to taste

For Falafel:
– 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained
– 1 onion, chopped
– ½ cup fresh parsley
– 1 tablespoon sriracha
– 3 cloves garlic
– 1 egg
– 2 teaspoons ground cumin
– 1 teaspoon ground coriander
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 dash pepper
– 1 dash red pepper flakes
– 1 tablespoon lemon juice
– 1 teaspoon baking powder
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 2 cups dry Panko bread crumbs
– Oil for fying

– Pita bread
– 1 cup chopped tomatoes
– Hummus


1. In a small bowl combine yogurt, cucumber, lemon juice, dill, salt, and pepper. Mix well and chill.

2. In a large bowl mash chickpeas; don’t use a blend because the consistency will be too thin. In a blender, process onion, sriracha, parsley, and garlic until smooth. Stir into mashed chickpeas.

3. In a small bowl combine egg, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and baking powder. Stir into chickpea mixture along with olive oil. Slowly add bread crumbs until mixture is not sticky but will hold together. Add more or less bread crumbs as needed. Form balls and then flatten them into patties.

4. Heat 1 inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry patties in hot oil until brown on both sides.

5. Serve falafels in pita topped with cucumber sauce and chopped tomatoes.

Healthier option – Instead of frying, bake the falafels in the oven at 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet and the falafel patties with vegetable oil cooking spray. Bake 10 minutes on each side. Then broil each side for 2 minutes.

RIP Tato Laviera (1951-2013)

I wrote this poem a few weeks ago and my friend Sarah told me it was “very Tato Laviera” and suggested the title.

“If Tato Laviera Lived in Montrose”

To Tato

I’m reading Russian theory based on French theory in Spanish while thinking in English at a Mexican-American-run coffee shop empire with a Montmartre French feeling on a German-named avenue in a Texan neighborhood.

Skype Supper, or Dinner with Friends

Last night we had dinner with our friends Cristin and Daniel who live in Boston. No, we weren’t visiting Bean Town and they didn’t come back to Houston after only a few weeks. We had a Skype dinner; one dinner, two time zones, 4 friends, and a little help from the interweb.

Cristin revealed a few weeks ago that she had always wanted to do a Skype dinner with someone else in which both sides would make the same exact meal and eat it together as if they were in the same physical location. Naturally, Kayla and I thought this was brilliant. After a week or so of group text message deliberating, we landed on Thai food. Kayla and I love Thai food, but we rarely cook it ourselves (Ok, we do make curry a lot, but I wouldn’t call it Thai by any means) so we were excited to expand our culinary horizons.

The menu: spring rolls, Pad Thai, and coconut rice with grilled pineapple.

The spring rolls turned out to be fun to make, albeit difficult to make properly. I don’t know how people can make perfectly-sized and wrapped spring rolls. It reminded me of making sushi and, as with sushi, even though it may not look ideal, it still tastes delicious.

Even though Kayla had a rough experience with Pad Thai the first and only time she ate it, she agreed to give it a shot. This Pad Thai wasn’t hard at all. We made it with tofu since I’m a veggie and Kayla has veggie tendencies (Cristin is a veg as well so they made it the same and added some chicken on the side for carnivore Daniel). We altered the recipe a bit by adding mushrooms and zucchini. I think it worked well, but next time I would add more veggies because at times it felt like there was too much noodle (but I love noodle!). Kayla started the noodles and sauce off and I took the dish into the home stretch. It was the best thing we had all night. I had very little control; couldn’t stop eating it.

The coconut rice made me nervous. I find rice very difficult to cook. I grew up on mushy rice and tend to make mushy rice (sorry, Mom). However, this time my rice turned out perfect. No mushy at all! Paired with some fresh pineapple, it was quite good. We were both surprised at the result.

While the food was quite tasty, the best part was the Skype/Friends in two places aspect. We set up our computers in our kitchens and cooked alongside each other. Kayla asked a question about hoisin sauce and I didn’t even get to answering it before Cristin was giving her the info. It honestly felt like we were in the same kitchen cooking together instead of just “cooking together.” When our meals were ready, we set our tables (complete with Skype open on Kayla’s computer), and sat down for the “same” meal even though we were 1,850 miles apart.

Boston, MA

Boston, MA

Our Place

Houston, TX

Book Review: This is How You Lose Her – Junot Díaz

Last September, I finally read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I had been beating around the bush for months, maybe years, and after going to a Junot Díaz reading and talk-back, I finally plunged into the book. The novel blew me away and quickly became one of my favorites. If you haven’t read it, stop reading this immediately and get yourself a copy of Oscar Wao!

Díaz’ latest book, This is How You Lose Her, while not quite up to the level of Oscar Wao, is almost as compelling a read as his masterwork. I loved reading the different short stories and I even managed to get Kayla to read a few of them. This is How You Lose Her consists of 9 stories that feature Yunior, of Drown and Oscar Wao fame, at the center. I love Yunior. Everyone I know who has read the books loves Yunior. If anything, this collection humanizes him even further. Even though he is a world-class Dominican-American macho male, these stories show us that he just wants to be loved regardless of his “stud” persona. The reader sees the ways in which Yunior is able to love and be loved while demonstrating the effects of his relationships on his unwavering masculinity.

Yunior may come off as a typical macho Dominican male, but he is more than that. While all of the men in his life are serial cheaters and the collection’s most prominent male influence, Rafa, is abusive to women, Yunior does not exactly follow down this path. Even though he frequently messes up, cheats, and loses the girl, he doesn’t particularly seem to learn anything. Nevertheless, I interpret the work itself as his recognition of his failures and the poor decisions he has made in his life. The last story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” presents Yunior years later. After being rightfully dumped by his fiancée due to his typically womanizing ways, he seems to finally learn from his mistakes. He becomes depresses and must fall into the abyss before he can finally emerge a wiser and better person, one that does not repeat the mistakes of his youth. Essentially, the stories are as much about failure as they are about growth. Yunior cannot truly grow and become a better person until he experiences failure. True, he frequently makes the same errors and typically credits them to his being a Dominican male, but the repetitive nature of his mistakes forces him to see them for what they are. They aren’t a reflection of his Dominicanness or his maleness; they are a result of who he is. Yunior is an addict, thus explaining the repetitiveness of his mistakes. I see the collection as a sort of rehab in which he must “come clean” about who he truly is in order to move on and make amends with his past.

Even though I generally want to dislike Yunior due his typical machismo behavior, I genuinely like the character. I think I owe this to Díaz’ style of writing. His writing is real to me. He effortless intertwines different languages, dialects, linguistic registers, and even sci-fi and pop culture tidbits. I’m always wanting to read more. And perhaps no other contemporary writer makes me want to write myself more than Junot Díaz. His writing makes me want to drop out of school, take some creative writing workshops, go to Agora, and make magic happen.

Luis Valdez’ Actos and El Teatro Campesino

In 1965, Luis Valdez ushered in a new movement of civil rights protest with his formation of El Teatro Campesino, or the Farmworkers’ Theatre. Valdez’ theatre movement served as the cultural ambassador to Cesar Chávez’ civil rights activism by creating actos and performing them for other farmworkers in an attempt to bolster the strength of the union.

El Teatro Campesino was a troupe of striking farmworkers who performed brief actos, or commedia dell’arte-style sketches as a form of agit-prop theatre. This was a political theatre firmly based on improvisations of socio-political issues of the time. Nothing was traditional about this movement; these were Mexican-American/Chicano farmworkers who were eager to develop theatrical statements about their condition in an effort to ignite change.

On the surface, actos are essentially skits, but they transcend the simplicity of skits due to their social justice background. Valdez states, “We could have called them ‘skits,’ but we lived and talked in San Joaquín Spanish so we needed a name that name sense to the Raza.” Valdez’ actos were for the people by the people created to both educate and entertain. Its roots are in Bertolt Brecht’s lehrstucke (learning pieces) and agit-prop theatre of revolutionary Russia. Chicanos had issues that need to be expressed and the acto was the most efficient way to make a political statement and demonstrate the growing dissatisfaction with the status quo in the United States.

According to Valdez, the 5 goals of the acto are:

  1. Inspire the audience to social action
  2. Illuminate specific points about social problems
  3. Satirize the opposition
  4. Show or hint at a solution
  5. Express what people are thinking

Perhaps most notable is that the actos were created primarily through improvisation based on the experiences of the participants. Therefore, there was hardly a distinction between the worker and the actor; they were one in the same. By utilizing the personal experiences and stories of the workers, El Teatro Campesino was capable of creating theatre that accurately reflected its participants and audience. Valdez affirms, “In a Mexican way, we have discovered what Brecht is all about. If you want unbourgeois theater, find unbourgeois people to do it.” This aspect helped the Teatro to be more effective.

The acto in its most basic form only needs 2 characters and a conflict – information about who they are, where they are, and what they are doing. The conflict is the essential element that is necessary; through the acto, the participants seek a solution to the conflict. The actos worked to expose the problems of Chicano/Mexican-American workers. For decades, if not centuries, they had been an important workforce in the United States, especially in California. Far too often, their struggles had gone unnoticed or ignored. The Chicano Teatro Movement sought to eradicate their absence from history by giving the group voice. El Teatro Campesino marked the birth of the contemporary Chicano Theatre Movement and inspired other similar groups to follow their lead and illustrate the problems surrounding the farm workers.

El Teatro Campesino would travel around California and perform their actos at farms, fields, college campuses, churches, theaters, and community halls in an effort to create a cathartic experience for theatergoers.

Book Review: Thirty an’ Seen a Lot – Evangelina Vigil

Evangelina Vigil was one of the first writers to offer an intimate perspective of daily life in a Chicano barrio/neighborhood. This unique viewpoint is seen in her poetic series of barrio snapshots, Thirty an’ Seen a Lot. First of all, I love the title and picture of Vigil on the cover. It says it all. She is a confident Chicana decolonizing Hispanic women formerly seen as passive wives and girlfriends. The neon sign reads “Ladies Welcome,” inviting Vigil’s audience to join her and break free of patriarchal social constraints.

Thirty an’ Seen a Lot, published in 1982 by Arte Público Press, is a collection of bilingual poetry written during the years she lived in Houston, San Antonio, and Galveston. Subsequently, it demonstrates her growth and evolution as a poet. The principle themes of the work include daily life in the barrio, criticism of machismo, and the culture of the working class.

Notably, Vigil, as a poet, occupies a place formerly dominated by her male counterparts during the height of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 70s. Through her poetry, she is able to impose herself on Chicano Culture and take over a space typically reserved for men. She inverts stereotypical gender roles by embodying an aggressive persona. She acts, demands, orders, speaks, and decides; she is active.

One of my favorite poems from the collection is por la calle Zarzamora. This poem is well representative of Vigil’s active and aggressive style of poetry; she fully occupies the domain typically closed-off to Chicana women.

                entro a una cantina

                y como ciega busco mi lugar

                eso es muy importante

                luego ordeno una cerveza

                y me acomodo

After ordering her beer, she goes on to describe her fellow bar-goers: “los batos y señores.” Her presence here is completely normal and accepted by the male majority.

                y de rato a mi presencia se acostumbran

                y siguen con su onda natural

While Vigil breaks traditional feminine stereotypes, thus forcing her audience to question traditional Chicana femininity itself, the poem includes two other women who seem to typify a more stereotypical version of Hispanic women. Nevertheless, it appears that Vigil is celebrating who these women embody. She writes:

                entran por la puerta dos mujeres

                muy arregladas –

                o como decían más antes, bien ‘jitis’

                con olores de perfume

                y de aqua net hairspray:

                pues, se ven bien

Rather than relegate these women to second-tier status behind her own confidence existence, Vigil presents these women as strong ones. In fact, when a man hits on these women and offers them a drink, they kindly decline his offer. Similarly to ¡es todo!, Vigil is able to create a snapshot through her poetic language. In 30 or so lines of poetry, she paints a complete portrait of this particular aspect of life in the barrio while breaking down gendered stereotypes about who a Chicana woman is and can become.

Evangelina Vigil represents one of the many Chicana voices that emerged during the 1980s in a movement to include women in the greater Chicano Movement. Women such as Vigil, Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Norma Alarcón, Sandra Cisneros, Carla Trujillo, etc. revolutionized the way we looked at the Chicano Nation. No longer was this a male dominated, exclusive patriarchy. While there still remains issues of sexism and inequality to this day, these women paved the way for other Chicanas to have agency and voice. This is a history that is still being written today. Writers Gwendolyn Zepeda, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, and Josefina López, among others, are still working on decolonizing Chicana women and including “her” story in “his” story (history).

To German Grammar or not to German Grammar?

To German grammar or not to German grammar? I have been constantly asking myself this question since I amped up my Deutsch lernen this summer. The grammar question always seems to come up in language learning circles. Even though I always stress Spanish grammar in my classes, I do believe that my students don’t need to possess excellent grammar to be understood in Spanish. Sure, they need to understand it to perform well on tests, but if their goal is to simply speak Spanish, then it can be done without mastering the grammar. On the other hand, if someone wants to achieve perfection, then grammar is essential.

Seeing as my main goal in learning German is to pass a reading exam, I’m not worrying too much about grammar. Thus far, I haven’t found the majority of German grammar to be too difficult, but there are a few things that I simply don’t have the time, energy, or desire to master – the different cases and their corresponding endings and prepositions (!!!). Oh, and I tend to guess on noun gender (oops!). At first I tried to understand the cases, but after puttering along I quickly realized that if my ultimate goal is to pass a reading exam in German then it isn’t necessary to be able to produce them to perfection. All I need to do is understand what is being said or on the page and, thus far (fingers crossed), this hasn’t been an issue. For example if I see “ein, eine, eines, or einen,” I know it is some form of “ein” and means a or an in English.

Furthermore, if I want to order an apple strudel or a beer in Salzburg or Munich, I don’t need to know the accusative case. I will be understood regardless of my grammar. I know this might sound lazy and make me come across as a poor speaker, but that does not bother me. As long as I am eating that apple strudel and drinking beer form a stein then I will be satisfied.

Nevertheless, I like grammar far too much to completely disregard it. I hope to someday come back and relearn everything in its entirety. While I don’t need to know every single aspect of German grammar to pass a reading exam, I still am far too interested in it to never truly learn it. As long as I maintain my level while I finish my PhD, there will be “more time” later. Grammar is important. There is no denying this. The more grammar you possess, the more proficient and more fluent you become. It is too much of a disservice to myself to know tons of German without being sound grammatically and not sounding uneducated when I order that beer and apple strudel.

For now, I’m learning as little German grammar as I need to in order to read. I look over the explanations of grammar and practice using it in exercises, but after that I move on to the next thing. Building vocabulary and understanding verbs is more important at this point. Therefore, I am focusing on vocabulary and verb conjugations while constantly upping my reading level and length. It is working so far and that makes me happy. I’m probably never going to write an academic paper or even a blog post in German so I’m choosing not to worry about the little things at this point. I’ll just wing it for now and that’s ok.

Houston: It’s Not What You Thought It Was

When we picked up Daniel and Cristin from the airport on Friday afternoon, I never in my wildest imagination expected us to make pit stops at a Blockbuster Video (mind blown) and a nightclub on Richmond Avenue, but we did! I should have seen this coming. After all, I had officially told our guests that this trip was called “Houston: It’s NOT What You Thought It Was.” Other people have been given a similar Houston experience by Kayla and I (Kristen! Kelsey!), and all of them can attest that on their way to the airport they understand that Houston isn’t what the rest of the country thinks it is. Sure, it is an oil boomtown that is growing at a rapid clip while the rest of the country sputters through a recession, but Houston has character. Houston has weird stuff. Houston has art. Houston has diversity. Houston has the Astros….errr….the Astros!

We were thrilled to have Daniel and Cristin staying with us for the weekend and getting their first taste of Houston. Cristin and Kayla grew up and went to high school together (Fallbrook what what). They go way back. They were in show choir together in 8th grade (before Glee made it cool – they were pre-hipsters in a way) and that pretty much says it all. Cristin and Daniel have been living in Boston for a few years after moving for work so we don’t get to see them as much as we’d like to, but when we do we always end up having a great time.

We started off the weekend at El Tiempo Cantina for their first taste of Tex-Mex. Kayla and I went there the night before with some of our family (Ciolinos) that was in town. No lie, every person that visits us wants to go to El Tiempo and I can’t blame them. The place is the best Mexican in Houston and maybe anywhere in the States. Daniel put on a fajita-eatingdevouring clinic with the help of his Aggie sister Erin (A A A A…she stayed with us Friday night). After dinner we saw some odd Houston sites such as the Beer Can House. Inspirational? Perhaps. Then we took them to Burp the Bayou. Burping the Bayou is so much fun it is sick. Right on the bayou next to the Wortham Center there is a red button. You press it and….I don’t want to give it away, but it is so wrong it is right. Post bayou-burping, we went to James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace at Rice University. I’ve blogged before about this place and I have to say that it never disappoints. Each subsequent visit adds a new layer to the experience. Daniel, Cristin, and Erin seemed to really enjoy it. The docent told Daniel that he was pissing her off because he had out his cell phone. It was a real friendly Texas welcome!

Things we learned Friday night – Kayla is not as good at Mexican Train Dominos as she believes. Collectively, we can quote the entirety of Pitch Perfect. Daniel is pitch perfect. I have absolutely no resistance to red velvet ANYTHING.

On Saturday morning, Kayla and I cooked a big breakfast for everyone. We learned who is ok with letting their food touch and who needs multiple plates (me). Daniel and Cristin were doubling up this weekend. Daniel’s boss is from Houston and got married Saturday afternoon. While they were living it up at the wedding, Kayla and I were missing them. When we got the phone call at 6:30 that they were coming back, we did a metaphorical Bryan Brothers chest bump.

Who knew there was a Blockbuster Video in the Heights? We were at the corner of 20th and Main when Cristin spotted the relic of a time gone by. We immediately lost all control of ourselves. We had thought that Blockbuster went completely out of business a few years ago. Therefore, we were convinced that we had done some form of hot tub time travel. However, we were in my car so it was probably more Back to the Future than anything else. The inside of Blockbuster could have been the strangest place in Texas. Everything was faded and looked like 1999 (or maybe 2000 if Y2K had gone as planned). They had a “Now Hiring” sign. Interesting. From there, we went to a 24-hr Shipley’s Donuts and Daniel and Cristin lost their Shipley virginity. Daniel told the woman working that he had never had one before and she looked at him like he was insane. An adult Shipley’s virgin? You better believe it!

And then the night took an interesting turn. Apparently, they like to country line dance and two-step and where better to do that (Thanks, Yelp) than Wild West on Richmond. Yes, we went out to a club on Richmond Avenue. The whole time I felt like I was in a Gwendolyn Zepeda short story. “For one more song, dollar fifty Tequila shots. Get your picture taken with Ashley the sexy shot girl as she pours it into your mouth.” Oh dear Lord, I wish I was joking. I wrote that quote down. We didn’t get shots, but not because of Ashley. She seemed wholesome enough. She really knew how to pour a tequila shot. Daniel and Cristin showed us how to two-step and we TORE IT UP. I had to pull Kayla off of the dance floor a few times. She was a woman possessed….with a newfound love of country music!

Things we learned – The Wobble is a line dance. It isn’t the best line dance. Jack n’ the Box at 2:30am is delicious! We like when our friends come in town, but we miss them when they go to weddings. Blockbuster Video does exist, albeit in a strange way. Parking at Wild West is difficult, but Kayla handles adversity well.

Needless to say, we woke up at 10am on Sunday. I got up and Kayla begged me to go back to sleep because it was “too early.” We decided to take them to our favorite breakfast place (and maybe just favorite in general), Empire Café. There was a line out the door, but it moved along just fine. Breakfast was absolutely delicious. We ordered Italian Toast for the table!!! We had wanted to try it and saw this as the perfect occasion. Delicious.

Root root root for the Astros! We went to see the ridiculous (in a bad way) Astros. Wow. If you want to know what it looks like for a professional baseball player to miss routine ground balls and generally suck then please, without hesitation, make your way to Minute Maid Park! I knock them, but we had a lot of fun and there were a lot more people than we expected. We bought the cheap seats, but moved to better ones. This is when I learned that Cristin has some acting chops. She pulled out her ticket and had a mini conversation with herself about how these were the right seats. The Astros lost. Kayla kept cheering for the Mariners and I had to remind her that we live in Houston. It was Kayla Classic. Love that woman!

Houston, It’s NOT What You Thought It Was Trips are never complete without a visit to the Art Car Museum and the David Adickes’ giant president heads near Target in Sawyer Heights. First, we went to the Art Car Museum. We love love love this place and I think this exhibit was one of their better ones. There were animal heads along the wall and the 3 cars being showcased were so cool. One had garden gnomes all over it. Love it!

They seemed to really get a kick out of the Art Car Museum, but the president head sculptures seemed to be one of their favorite things from the weekend. This place is so random that most locals don’t even know that it exists or at least don’t know where it is. Essentially, it is a barnyard of sorts with 30+ statues/busts of US Presidents that are about 20-30 feet high. There is a 60 foot Beatles statue(s) as well. We spent a good 20 minutes wandering around the place and at one point I parkoured off of George W. Bush’s shoulder. Daniel and I climbed up on W’s shoulders and took an “ironic yolo” picture. Good times!

Things we learned Sunday – Kayla and Cristin are convinced that the police will come when you climb onto George W. Bush’s shoulders. If you run at a cat, it will run further away from you. We can’t name any Astros. I make good dog faces. Cristin has an interesting way of putting food in to-go boxes. We all love cheesecake….and donuts warmed up in the microwave at 10pm.

The aftermath – We were sad to drop Daniel and Cristin off at the airport this morning. We had a ridiculous (the good kind) amount of fun this weekend with them and are now chomping at the bits to visit them in Boston. On the way back from the airport we talked about how lucky we are to have good friends like them. The only downside is that we live (everyone lives) so far away. Our country is massive and I wish it were easier to travel around so that we could see our friends more often. We hadn’t seen them since we got married (13 months ago). That’s too long. If anything, I think we realized how important these types of friendships are and that we need to make more of a dedicated effort to see our far-away friends more often. We can at least start with some regular Skype sessions!

Kayla and Cristin contemplating the existence of Blockbuster

Kayla and Cristin contemplating the existence of Blockbuster

Texas Two-Steppin on Richmond Avenue

Texas Two-Steppin on Richmond Avenue

Ironic W YOLO
Ironic W YOLO