Friday, March 29, 2013

Welcome to Querétaro

I will always remember the last leg of my flight into Querétaro, Mexico for the spectacular night display that played out as we blasted through the heavens. The sky was so incredibly brilliant I realized I had forgotten stars could be so dazzling. I dozed off well into Mexican territory since it was difficult to detect much below, with only long sporadic stretches of darkness.  Occasionally I’d snap to and peer out my window.   Finally, nests of twinkling clusters started sprouting up and I could see small isolated communities bound together by their shared light.

As we approached Querétaro, to my left the full moon floated above the eastern horizon; and to my right there were wide swatches of twinkling lights: nightlife so brilliant they reminded me of diamonds set into a regal crown.   It was quite the welcome. 

This morning flew; by time I had sorted myself out it was late and I was in serious need of coffee and a light breakfast.  After a failed start at my own mesón, I headed toward one of the major zocalos in search of a café.  

It was still mid-morning, but by the time I settled at a table I had abandoned the idea of a light meal altogether.  Instead I opted for Enchiladas Queretanas, a local specialty of tortillas fried until soft, then dipped into a heated chile sauce and filled with various items; mine had chopped potatoes and grated local cheese.  And the food kept coming:  a basket of fresh chips and bread, more of the warmed salsa, and a plate piled high with tropical mango, pineapple and melon.  Welcome to Querétaro!

Intermittently the server and I tried to sort out the coffee con leche issue:  first take was a cinnamon flavored pre-sweetened drink similar to coffee in the Bahamas. On a second try he brought warm milk and presented me with a jar of their best Nescafe.  One more time; I simply asked for more hot coffee to add to my flavored warmed milk.  Okay, I was difficult and still grappling with US mentality: bad gringa.   I need to get over myself and embrace the local customs.  Since he was so patient, I tipped him extravagantly. 
The downtown El Centro area seems be peppered with beautiful tree lined plazas; the zócalos feature a fountain with benches all surrounded by shops and cafes. Each one reflects the people who frequent it the most.  By the time I discovered the Convento de la Cruz and its plazas, I had sufficiently gorged myself enough that I passed on the incredible food these locals were offering.   

One woman had her specialty organized in a series of colorful woven bags.  A fresh stack of deep blue tortillas cooked flat and crisp first caught my eye.  In another bag, the main topping looked to be pumpkin or squash; when asked, she explained it was potatoes,colored by a red chile sauce.  It looked similar to my earlier Querétana sauce, which must be a local specialty.  I find out and get back to you on that!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Shelf Life

The last few months have been on one wild dash with no room for blogging―and I’ve sorely missed the freedom of writing for the pure enjoyment of it.  Right now, I’m chilling at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on a lengthy layover and I’m thinking it’s time to blog!   

Fact is, I’m heading to Querétaro, Mexico for one final term of intensive Spanish Language in an immersion program, and while there I hope to post a few blogs on the food and culture of the area.Querétaro is a colonial city between Guadalajara and Mexico City, surrounded by history and plenty to see and do.  But, more on that later.  

Right now I want to share a little on one of my recent projects: one that proved far more provocative that I anticipated.  It’s difficult to get too worked up about a course in Library Science but this one was a surprise.  I worked with the library staff at the University of Oregon to create an independent studies course related to cookbook collections: what makes a good one, and the various forms that they can take.  The real attention grabber was the development currently taking place in online digital collections―thanks to technologically innovative college and university libraries.  

Often rare monographs, texts, and documents are tucked away in “dusty archives” that are not widely known to the general public.  Now, with the advent of online technology, digitizing these one-of-a-kind collections is making them accessible for everyone.   If you are into food history or read cookbooks, here are a few collections worth knowing about.

Indiana/Purdue University provides a small but well represented collection: Service Through Sponge Cake.  This helpful project is a good way to begin exploring online collections.   About 67 searchable community cookbooks and menus are easy to explore, with plenty of helpful links and curatorial information.

It’s not a surprise that Cornell University, home of the noted School of Hotel Administration would offer an outstanding site.  It takes tons of man hours and technical expertise to organize an undertaking of this magnitude.  Currently featured, Not by Bread Alone is one of several searchable collections worth checking out not only for  historical significance, but for charming graphics and solid background material.

Another project worth knowing about is the collection at the University of Texas, Austin presenting  the Knopf Archives:  Julia Child’s “the Proper Binge” Collection, which features correspondence, photos, and such between the publishers and Julia Child during the writing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. 

Michigan State University’s Feeding America, projects and cookbook collections showcase well over 10,000 cookbooks and Americana food/cookery publications destined to become even more impressive over time.  Because of its size, it can be cumbersome. Don’t miss the amazing collection, Little Cookbooks: Alan and Shirley Brocker Collection.  Also featured, many museum objects can be explored with interface maneuverability; excellent descriptive and curatorial documentation is provided. 

As libraries look for creative ways to stretch their dollars and consider how to draw in a new audience of savvy technology oriented readers, digital collections are surely to become more and more mainstream.   Digital collections make sense in wooing a younger audience: a move toward expanding their reach beyond the hallowed halls.  But it is not likely that books will disappear off the library shelves altogether, for who loves books more than librarians?  However, pragmatists recognize that the world is changing: libraries must adapt to new needs and they are surely becoming more selective in what they purchase and how it is presented.


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