Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Relationship With Words And The Camera

Leticia Alaniz
It probably would have never occurred to me to write had I not been exposed early in my life to literature and films.  Two of my loves!  I have always enjoyed expressing ideas and finding solutions to stories and building on the backbone of a plot whether they were in novels, film scripts or plays.

Often, I secretly find myself analyzing scenes in a film and writing my own mental outcome if a film is lacking a little in depth or perhaps stronger character development.  There are so many remarkable writers that I hope to learn from and many new writers that I hope to live long enough to read and keep adding to my reading list.

Several years ago, I was at an audition in Los Angeles for a film.  Following the audition, I had a few days with nothing to do so I ventured out to the USC School of Cinematic Arts where many of the most amazing scriptwriters gather to develop their craft.  I wandered around several of the buildings and the hallways and stumbled upon a door leading to a screening room that had a hand written sign on the door that read: Screening for the film Glengarry Glenn Ross.  It is the film adaptation directed by James Foley of one of my favorite Pulitzer Prize plays written by David Mamet.  The screening was for students of the scriptwriting program and I assumed they were going to watch the film and then discuss with their professor a few scenes and the structure of the script.  I sat in the comfortable screening room, watched the film and enjoyed an amazing discussion afterwards.  I was drawn-in as if an imaginary rope pulled me in and I felt that is what I wanted to do in life.  

My relationship with words is intimate, yet scanning thru pages and pages I sometime find a word that entices me to fixate my thoughts on it’s meaning and writing it down on paper; even if it means the only purpose is to see how it looks in a sentence or on a blank page.  Sometimes, a good word may inspire me to write a letter to a friend and drop it in the mailbox, or it may be plugged into a little story meant to be read out-loud to children.  Writing short, witty stories for children is also another one of my passions.  

Words can reveal our inner human voice, thoughts, emotions, passions, hopes, love or un-love, loneliness, joys, secrets,  and fears.  They can be raw or eloquent, disguised or violent, or sweet and poetic, they can capture time and place and even sweep us to ancient history.  Words paint a picture and transport us to places that perhaps we may never see in person.  Words also take on a life of their own in novels and jump onto the screen and become spoken giving them a voice with the moving picture.  Words come to life for an audience and that’s the magic of the collaboration of words and one of the most amazing inventions: the camera.  

I had heard a quote by playwright David Mamet that may ring true, “Art is an expression of joy and awe.  It is not an attempt to share one’s virtues and accomplishments with the audience, but an act of self spirit.”  Therefore, following my spirit is what I do.

Writing operates thru illusion and a story can be a direct expression of a writer’s beliefs and feelings.  If you ask me where I would like to be in life I will answer you like this: I’m at the place where I feel I need to be and where my desire to write is fulfilled.  I have many things I would like to accomplish: continue with my photography, cinematography, writing, traveling, accomplishing one project at a time, and that is a life’s work ahead.

Leticia Alaniz © 2015  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Roasted Yellowtail with Mint Jalapeño Chimichurri

Roasted Yellowtail with Mint Jalapeño Chimichurri
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
Cooking fish can sometimes be daunting for many people.  It’s as if a monster has entered the kitchen, it has eyes, fins and a tail that look a little too real undermining our ability to accomplish any reasonable dish for dinner.  I have known many people that leave the cooking of fish to the professionals at restaurants rather than cook it at home.  But with fish on the menu in our own kitchens, come stories.  

My mother used to make us laugh when she cooked fish.  She always included a good dose of superstition that was well engrained in my mind for a long time.  Many of the superstitions are based on irrational beliefs and some are entertaining legendary folktales that are in any case great fun to hear.  There is one belief that says, en martes ni te cases ni te embarques, which translates to, on Tuesday don’t marry or leave port.  In ancient Roman mythology, Tuesday was dedicated to Mars, the god of war.  It was a day considered unlucky and therefore not a good day to undertake anything important, especially for the fisherman going out to sea.  

In our household my father always resolved any conflict or dilemma by saying, “Mejor me como un salmon”, which translates to, “I’ll just eat a salmon”.  He loved salmon and I think for him a good salmon dinner was much more worth the time than any argument on any given day.  I have to agree with him on that one and I kind of follow that rule too.  Sometimes, food does resolve everything!  

Fish was always on the table especially during lent.  Every Friday, there was a very strong and delicious aroma of fish in the house and my mother’s specialty was a wonderfully flaky white fish soup cooked with oregano from the garden.  My favorite part is that she served it with toasted, hot, buttered bolillo bread that was crusty on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside.    

Sometimes, the Friday traditional meal was at my grandmother’s house where my aunts and mother would gather with my grandmother to prepare the feast.  I’m not quite sure if it took all day, but it sure did seem like it, especially when the aromas captivate and put you in a sort of trance and you have to control your urge to steal a little morsel from the kitchen when they turn their back.  On those occasions, the fish feast was quite a big parade of dishes.  There was fish cooked in several ways.  Grilled on the flat iron or clay comal (the mexican flat griddle used to cook tortillas or roast spices, chiles and meats).  Cooked whole with lots of spices, achiote, and citrus juices, or marinated with herbs, chunky garlic and a paste of adobo, and then pan fried.  Or it was cut in chunks and covered in a fluffy, snow-white batter and fried in a fragrant chile oil.  That’s called a capeado and it’s the same batter that is used when making chiles rellenos, or stuffed poblano or jalapeño chiles.

Cooking fish isn’t difficult at all.   There are thousands of ways to prepare it and it’s so healthy!  Want to know a little secret?  Restaurants, especially the fancy ones take advantage that many people don’t cook fish at home and charge quite a bit of money for a fish that can easily be cooked.  Many fish don’t even take long to cook, at the most, in a pan on the stove six to eight minutes.  Some can be flash cooked on a very hot grill and dinner can be on the table in a matter of minutes.  So much time is spent working just to hand over the hard earned money to the restaurant industry.  Many families depend on restaurants for a fish dinner and that gets expensive because that is precisely the menu item that is overpriced.

Here is a look at a beautiful yellowtail fish recipe served with a mint-jalapeño chimichurri sauce and purple roasted potatoes.  I came up with the blackening recipe for the fish and the chimichurri sauce based on the ingredients I had at hand.  Both recipes turned out nothing short of spectacular.  As for the purple potatoes… they’re buttery, soft and they glisten like little purple amethyst jewels.  They’re so good!  

Yellowtail Fish
Photo by Leticia Alaniz ©2015

Yellowtail Roasted Fish

One or two whole Yellowtail fish, cleaned
2 tablespoons of chile powder (paprika)
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of crushed fenugreek seeds
kosher salt to taste
oil for cooking

Mint Jalapeño Chimichurri

1 large jalapeño seeded
3-4 garlic cloves (fat ones)
8-10 mint leaves
1 bunch of cilantro
2-3 sprigs of fresh dill
2 limes squeezed
3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1/2 cup of olive oil
salt to taste

Mint Jalapeño Chimichurri Ingredients
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015


Place the yellowtail fish on a board and dry with paper towels.  In a small bowl combine the chile powder, garlic powder, onion powder, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, oregano, fenugreek seeds and kosher salt and mix.  Coat the entire fish with the seasoning.  Drizzle a little cooking oil in a pan and let heat.  Dab a square or two of butter into the pan (don’t be afraid of butter).  Once hot, place the fish one at a time into the pan and let sizzle and blacken for about four minutes on each side.  It will become smokey, so ventilate your kitchen well or be prepared for your fire alarms to go off!  Remove the fish from the pan and place in a roasting pan  or large plate to catch the juices.  Season with a little kosher salt, it just feels good.  

To make the chimichurri it’s as simple as combining all the ingredients and pulsing in a blender 2 to 3 times.  Scrape down the sides and make sure te get all the ingredients combined.  Repeat the process until you get a thick sauce.  It will be a beautiful emerald green.  

Roasted Purple Potatoes 

Boil the potatoes whole with the skin on until tender.  Once they are soft but not too soft that they fall apart, take them off the stove and let cool a few minutes.  Slice them in big fat chunks.  Drizzle a little olive oil in a pan and heat.  Place the potatoes in the hot pan and proceed to roast them over medium high heat.  Season right over the pan to taste with freshly crushed black pepper, kosher salt and chile powder.  Dab at least three squares of butter on top and mix the potatoes and continue cooking for another five to six minutes.  They will start to glisten.  Taste for salt or eat a few on a little plate while you call the family for dinner.  That’s it!