Queretaro: Colonial Charm in the Highlands of Mexico

My first morning in Queretaro, about a 90 minute drive north of Mexico City, I walked along the cobblestone streets in the city’s historic center to the fairy tale castle-like La Casa de la Marquesa, once a private home built in the 1756, now a restaurant and hotel. The menu reflects the vast citrus groves, ranches, cactus and cornfields that are part of the highland landscape here. Periodistas USA y dueno Casa de la Marquesa (1)

Plump figs, recently picked, sit on platters in the ornate dining room. Fresh oranges squeezed with cactus or beet juice are served on silver platters by waitresses dressed in garb that I at first thought was from another era of Mexico history but which I am told were designed to look like what Mary Poppins might have worn if there had been a Mary Poppins.

My host recommends Encarcelados – layers of fried eggs, beans, and ham topped with green sauce and crispy pork skins (a very popular food here and though not at all healthy, much more tasty than the pork rinds sold in the U.S.).Q 1

Accompanying breakfast and served in delicate cups are endless servings of hot coffee and crema caliente or hot cream. I decide not to worry about calories as I will be exploring the historic district, known for its fountains, city gardens and brightly painted buildings with wrought iron balconies, oversized carved wooden doors and, of course, this being Mexico, the most wonderfully ornate churches, many in a Spanish style characterized by elaborate engravings and known as Churrigueresque.

There’s an over the top creativity in this ultra clean city (there always seem to be uniformed groups hosing down the streets) and I peak into a restaurant and bar that was once an old apothecary shop whose interior walls are still stacked with the small drawers that once held pills and another one made of stone where water cascades down the length of a wall. The city is made of public squares, each with a fountain and often a statue or two as well. Food vendors sell candies, cook tacos on hot griddles and slice fruit that is then rolled in spices. A gaggle of school girls in uniforms ask if they can take my photo and want to pose with me. Most restaurants, if there is space, have outside seating since the weather is almost always fair.Periodistas USA y Enlace

Queretaro, though it has sophisticated cuisine, is also famed for its enchiladas, which are stuffed with beans, Oaxaca cheese, potatoes and topped with a red chile sauce or a cream sauce and often served with horachata, a sweet rice water drink common in Mexico. Guacamole with pork rinds for scooping are served with almost every meal, including the oyster and octopus tacos (much better than they sound) we taste later that night at Harry’s Bar, which features a blend of New Orleans and central Mexican cookery. Q 3

Evenings, after exploring the cathedrals with their 24 carat gold interiors, end with a stop at one of the many hot chocolate and churros (fried pastries) shops that dot the walkways. And each night I promise myself that I will walk an extra mile or so tomorrow not only to see more sights but to hopefully leave a few calories behind before I go home.

Enchiladas Suizas
(Creamy Enchiladas with Chicken, Tomatoes and Green Chile)

Ingredients:

2 28-ounce cans good-quality whole tomatoes in juice, drained
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (roughly 3 serranos or 2 jalapeños), stemmed
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil or rich-tasting pork lard, plus a little oil for brushing or spraying the tortillas
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth, plus a little extra if needed
Salt
1/2 cup homemade crema, crème fraiche or heavy (whipping) cream
About 2 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken, preferably grilled, roasted or rotisserie chicken
2/3 cup shredded Mexican melting cheese (Chihuahua, quesadilla, asadero or the like) or Monterey Jack, brick or mild cheddar
12 corn tortillas
A few sliced rounds of white onion, separated into rings, for garnish
Fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish

In a small dry skillet, roast the chiles over medium heat, turning regularly, until they’re soft and splotchy-black, about 5 minutes. Place in a blender or food processor along with the drained canned tomatoes. Blend to a smooth puree.

In a medium-size (4- or 5-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), heat the oil or lard over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, and, when noticeably hotter, stir in the tomato puree. Cook, stirring, until darker in color and thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in the broth, partially cover and simmer 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. The sauce should be a slightly soupy consistency—not as thick as spaghetti sauce. If it is too thick, stir in a little additional broth. Keep warm over low heat.

Other preliminaries. Stir the crema into the sauce. Put the chicken in a bowl and stir 1/2 cup of the sauce mixture into it. Taste and season with additional salt if you think it needs it. Have the cheese at the ready.

Heat the oven to 350°. Smear about 1/4 cup of the sauce over the bottom of 4 to 6 nine-inch individual ovenproof baking/serving dishes or smear about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a 13×9-inch baking dish.

Lay the tortillas out on a baking sheet (2 sheets if you have them, for more even heating), and lightly brush or spray both sides of the tortillas with oil. Bake just to warm through and soften, about 3 minutes. Stack the tortillas and cover with a towel to keep warm.

Working quickly so the tortillas stay hot and pliable, roll a portion of the chicken into each tortilla, and then line them all up in the baking dishes.

Douse evenly with the remaining sauce, and then sprinkle with the cheese. Bake until the enchiladas are hot through (the cheese will have begun to brown), about 15 minutes. Garnish with onion rings and cilantro sprigs. These are best served piping hot from the oven.

 

Silver & Tequila in the Sierra Madres: The Tale of San Sebastian de Oeste

High in the Sierra Madres, we follow the twisting road from Puerto Vallarta and the seaside on our way to San Sebastian de Oeste. Crossing the long spanned bridge over Rio Ameca, the road curves around a ridge and into the tiny village of La Estancia and Hacienda San Sebastián, a family owned raicilla and tequila distillery (for raicilla think tequila only much stronger and likely of inducing hallucinations in anyone who drinks too much).San Sebastian street

Founded in the 1930s and still family owned, their vast agave fields – called green plantations — can be seen on the surrounding hillsides. Besides making organic and flavored tequilas such as Licore de Café with its hints of coffee, chocolate and vanilla as well as almond tequila made from nuts grown in Durango and roasted here, the family also makes agave sugar and syrup, all without electricity. The peñas or agave hearts roast over an open fire as they were centuries ago and what power there is comes from solar panels.San Sebastian Comedor Lupita exterior

Sampling and then stocking up on organic tequila we continue on, taking a turn on a dirt road where cows, unconfined by fencing, have to be shooed out of the way, to San Sebastian. Here we stop at La Quinta Café de Altura, an organic coffee farm owned by Rafael Sanchez, his wife Rosa and Lola, Rafael’s sister. Five generations of the family have grown coffee here.

The family, in a building dating back more than 120 years, tend 11 acres of coffee trees, some as old as the house, handpick 30 tons of beans each year, dry, roast and grind them, making blends such as a mixture of ground beans with cinnamon and sugar for the traditional, and now often hard to find, Mexican coffee. Tastings are available and so are Rosa’s homemade candies such as guava rolls and sweets made from sweet goat’s milk. In an interesting aside, we learn that the Sanchez’s parents married early (the Don was 15), a 68-year union that produced 21 children. Their grandfather did even better, having 28 children, though that took both a wife and several mistresses.jalisco_destinos-principales_san-sebastian-del-oeste_int

Settled in 1605, San Sebastian was nominated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Lovely in its vintage charm, the surrounding pine covered mountains were bonanzas of silver and gold. Aristocratic families from Spain made the perilous travel across the sea and then land to oversee the mining of these treasures. Once here, deigning not to marry locals, they married each other. It made for interesting relationships, uncles were also cousins, sisters also grandchildren or whatever.

We hear the tales when we stop at the museum, housed in the 200-year-old Hotel Jalisco. It’s a very crowded museum–more like a fascinating  attic full of family heirloom items and the curator is a direct descendent of the founding families.In the museum, we see trunks inlaid with silver, 19th century lace gowns and jewelry boxes, china and silver that came from Spain.SS raicilla

It’s a story of glory and loss–at one time San Sebastian des Oeste had a population of 40,000; now there are about 600 and the occasional tourists. Silver was transported by horses and mules through treacherous mountain passes, robbers waited in wait. Pancho Villa and his men showed up regularly stripping away the wealth.

There were interesting family traditions. When a family member died, before they were buried (and remember it’s very hot here), a photographer had to be sent for from Puerto Vallarta to take a photo of the deceased. It could take days, but that’s how it was done.San Sebastian Cafe La Quinta Mary

Walking along the cobblestone road, past a massive 300 year plus ash tree and cascading white frizzes of el manto de la virgin, we enter Comedor Lupita. Here terra cotta platters loaded with chicken mole, fresh handmade tortillas (in America they’d be called artisan tortillas), refried beans and something I’ve never tasted before – machaca, a dish of dried beef mixed with spices and eggs, are heaped in front of us. As we eat, we watch the family busy behind the tiled counter, making even more food.

Through the windows we see splashes of bright purple from the masses of bougainvillea that drape the stone exterior walls and here the sounds of caballeros, their horses’ hooves striking the centuries old street. We sip our sweet agua de Jamaica water and feel time passing in reverse.

For more information click here

Machaca Marinade:

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 4 limes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Machaca:

2 lbs. skirt steak, cut into strips
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1/2 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (Tabasco or a Mexican brand, such a Valencia)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons oil

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together, and then add the skirt steak. Marinate at least 6 hours or overnight tablespoon Remove meat from marinade, drain, and pat dry. Bring to room temperature. Discard marinade.
In a large heavy pot, heat oil. Sear the meat well on both sides, in batches so as not to crowd them. Remove the meat as it is browned and set aside.

Drain fat. Add in the onion, peppers, and garlic, cook until tender, then add tomatoes, broth, pepper sauce and spices. Bring to a boil, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot. Return beef and simmer, covered, for two hours, stirring from time to time until tender. Cool and shred.

Lay meat on a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 250º for 20 minutes or until meat is dry.

Machaca con Huevos

2 chopped scallions (white part only)
1 hot green chili
2 tomatoes
1 cup dried machaca
2 eggs
Chopped cilantro

Sauté scallions and peppers in oil until tender, add tomatoes and beef until heated. Remove from pan, add eggs and cumin. Scramble, then stir machata mixture. Garnish with cilantro and serve with hot tortillas.

Search: San Sebastian de Oeste, Hacienda San Sebastián, agave fields
Keywords: San Sebastian de Oeste, Hacienda San Sebastian, agave fields, organic and flavored tequilas

Description: In San Sebastian de Oeste, near Puerto Vallarta is Hacienda San Sebastian where you can taste the organic and flavored tequilas such as Licore de Café with its hints of coffee, chocolate and vanilla as well as almond tequila.

 

Ann Arbor vibe: Where social consciousness meets creativity

There’s a definite vibe in Ann Arbor — one where social consciousness and creativity converge. And so I mapped out interesting places in the eclectic Westside to immerse myself in all this trendy city has to offer.zingerman camp bacon t-shirt

A first stop is the Selma Cafe, located in the home of Jeff McCabe and his wife, Lisa Gottlieb. The cafe is open Friday for breakfast in their historic home. Local chefs, such as cookbook author Max Sussman, formerly a chef at Zingerman’s and the now-closed Eve who is now chef and co-owner of Samesa Restaurant in Williamsburg, volunteered to create wonderful meals using local ingredients, sometimes serving up to 180 meals during the event.

On a mission

Proceeds from these breakfasts support the area’s Community Sustainable Agriculture operations, including building hoop houses — inexpensive structures that continue the growing season once the weather turns cold.

A moveable feast

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At my next stop, I eat freshly baked Welsh scones topped with Devonshire cream and housemade plum and vanilla rooibos tea jam at the elegant TeaHaus, on Fourth Street north of the downtown. The TeaHaus features a wall of drawers filled with more than 200 varieties of tea leaves from around the world.

Also on the same street is the People’s Food Co-op, a community-owned natural foods grocery store, where customers can stock up on at least three types of kale and four varieties of sprouts, among other items, and enjoy a Fair Trade coffee and meal at its Cafe Verde.

Across the street is Fourth Ave Birkenstock selling the low-carbon transportation alternative with just two moving parts and featuring one of the few in the nation to have a Birkenstock shoe repair team.

Around the corner on Ann Street is Vicki’s Wash & Wear Haircuts & Heavenly MetalDSC_0316 (1), a gallery and gift shop featuring a range of global art works, including furniture, jewelry, clothing, purses, shoes and gift items. Tucked away in a front corner of the store is the lone salon chair where you can get your hair cut by owner Vicki Honeyman, a film school graduate who morphed into hair styling and retail more than a decade ago.

Later, I drink lattes with Ari Weinzweig, a Russian history major who eschewed grad school and instead co-founded Zingerman’s Deli, which grew into the food empire of seven businesses. The food emporium features expensive imported olive oils, freshly baked breads, retro pimento cheese and chopped chicken liver. Each year, 10 percent of sales go toward community projects and another 5 percent goes into a community chest for employees.DSC_0047

Though so far I’ve been able to walk to all these places, all within a radius of a few blocks, for my next stop I hit the road to chat with Alex Young, the James Beard Award-winning chef at Zingerman’s Road House, part of Zingerman’s mega-business, which is located off the Jackson Avenue, Exit 172 of I-94. Young not only creates fantastic meals, he also has a farm where he raises heirloom and organic produce and animals for his restaurant. Young’s next goal is to grow ancient grains such as farro, an Egyptian precursor to wheat.DSC_0188

A jump onto the interstate and a few miles later on the southeast side of town I’m at Motawi Tileworks, where owner/designer Nawal Motawi creates tiles using local clays and glazes mixed on site and offers tile-making workshops.

At dinner that night, chef/owner Brandon Johns of the farm-to-table restaurant Grange Bar & Kitchen in downtown Ann Arbor is serving one of his best-selling menu items — fried pig’s head served with gribiche, a French mustard mayonnaise sauce. I don’t ask for the recipe, but Johns, who stops by my table, gives me a brief description anyway, including such steps as boiling and then removing the meat from a pig’s head. I sigh with relief to learn that eyeballs are not part of the recipe. Trust me, you don’t want to know any more about the process, but the dish is delicious.DSC_0059

Creating a custom tour is easy. Go to the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitor Bureau’s website, visitannarbor.org, and make a list of what sounds intriguing. It’s a wonderful way to while away a day with an adventure both enriching and enlightening.

Chorizo with Blue Cheese and Dates

Courtesy of Chef Brandon Johns, Grange Kitchen & Bar

1 pound Spanish style dried chorizo sausage

½ pound blue cheese, Cabrales is recommended

8 Medjool dates, pitted and halved

Toothpicks or skewers

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Slice chorizo into 16 pieces and lay flat on cutting board. Fill center of date with cheese and place cut side of date on top of each chorizo. Skewer each chorizo with toothpick.

Place skewers on baking sheet and place in oven for 3 to 5 minutes, until sausage is warm and cheese is a little melted. Serve immediately.

Zingerman’s Roadhouse Mac & Cheese

Courtesy of Chef Alex Young

Coarse sea salt

1 pound macaroni

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup diced onion

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 pound grated raw milk cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons salt and the pasta and stir well. Cook until the pasta is done. Drain and set it aside.

Melt butter for the sauce in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat being careful not to scorch the butter. Add the onion and bay leaf and sauté until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf. Add the flour, and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly.

Slowly add the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly to avoid lumping. When the flour and milk have been completely combined, stir in the cream. Keep the mixture at a gentle simmer (not at a high boil) until it thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the mustard, cheddar cheese and salt to taste. Simmer for 5 minutes and set aside.

In a heavy bottom skillet over med-high heat, get the pan very hot. Add olive oil and when it begins to smoke add the cheese sauce and the drained cooked noodles. Toss thoroughly and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until you have approximately 15 % of the mixture golden brown. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Remove from heat.

 

Crazy Sista Cooking: Cuisine & Conversation with Lucy Anne Buffet

Lucy-8690-smWhen my daughter was in high school, I drove her and a friend down to Gulf Shores, Alabama for spring break. While we were there, a friend insisted we go to Lucy Buffet’s Lulu’s Gulf Shores, a bayside beach restaurant. I was pretty sure, no make that positive, that this would be some kind of not-so-good-but-my-brother-Jimmy-is-a-major-celebrity type of place. The good thing, I thought when we sat down in the very crowded main dining room was that we could see dolphins frolicking out in the water from our screened in, over-sized window. That would make the bad food worth it.

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Okay, so I totally misjudged what Lulu’s was all about. The food was delicious, whatever was fried was done just right—not greasy or heavy—and there were plenty of other options on the menu that were delicious like the crab melt, Crazy Sista’s Juicy Pot Roast Sandwich (yes, indeed, pot roast), gumbo, Lulu’s Jerk Chicken Quesadillas and, of course, this being the south, fried okra and fried hushpuppies (both of which were wonderful). I was given a copy of her cookbook, Crazy Sista Cooking: Cuisine & Conversation with Lucy Anne Buffet (Grand Central Life & Style) that included a foreword by brother Jimmy. Crazy Sista is Lucy Anne’s nickname. Now Buffet also has restaurants in Destin, Florida and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and several other cookbooks including LuLu’s Kitchen: A Taste of the Gulf Coast Good Life and Gumbo Love: Recipes for Gulf Coast Cooking, Entertaining, and Savoring the Good Life. Many of the zippy recipes are the same with new ones added. For the fried oyster recipe Dave requested, I included Mama’s Favorite Oyster Loaf. Instead of oysters, you can use fried shrimp or even fried veggies instead.

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The recipe calls for making a lot of the ingredients such as her Sweet and Sassy Icebox Pickles and Lulu’s Crazy Frying Cornmeal. I’ve included those recipes, thinking you can plop the pickles in the refrigerator and eat them at other times and save the left over cornmeal mix as well. But if you’re in a hurry, feeling lazy or just want to make it simple, you can just find comparable ingredients at the grocery store.   And since it’s good to have an accompaniment, I’ve included Lulu’s recipe for Sweet Tomato Pie.

The following recipes are from LuLu’s Kitchen: A Taste of the Gulf Coast Good Life by Lucy Anne Buffet (Grand Central Life & Style, $20).

Listen to Lucy talk about Gumbo Love.

Mama’s Favorite Oyster Loaf

Makes 4 sandwiches

1 quart oysters

4 (8-inch) New Orleans-style French bread or 1 baguette, cut into four pieces

2 to 3 tablespoons butter, softened

Mayonnaise to taste

Lettuce leaves

2 medium tomatoes, sliced

Sweet and Sassy Icebox Pickle slices (recipe below)

Hot Pepper Sauce

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Fried oysters (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Fry oysters in batches and place cooked oysters in oven to keep warm.

Slice bread horizontally, about three-fourths of the way through, leaving one edge intact.

Spear a little butter on inside surface of French bread and toast. I like to place mine face-down on a warm skillet or grill.

Spread mayonnaise on toasted read.

Layer lettuce, tomato slices and pickles on bottom side of the bread. Top with fried oysters, using about eight oysters per sandwich.

Add a few dashes of hot sauce to taste.

Cut into halves or quarters depending upon the bread you’re using and serve.

Sweet and Sassy Icebox Pickles

1 (1-gal.) jar whole kosher dill pickles, drained, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

4 cups granulated sugar

4 cups packed light brown sugar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

2/3 cup peeled, halved, and sliced fresh ginger

1/4 cup prepared horseradish

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

4 medium-size yellow onions, thinly sliced

20 garlic cloves, sliced in half lengthwise

8 cinnamon sticks

Place all the ingredients in a big ol’ stainless steel bowl or large plastic food-safe container with an airtight lid. Using your hands, toss well. Cover and chill overnight. The pickles will reduce in volume, so the next day you can place in a very large jar or several small airtight containers for easier storage.

Refrigerate at least 1 week before using, turning topsy-turvy every day. Pickles are ready when sugar has dissolved and all dill flavor has vanished. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks.

Perfect Fried Oysters

Make Lulu’s Crazy Crying Cornmeal (recipe below) or use regular cornmeal.

6 cups peanut oil or enough to fill a skillet, about 2 inches deep

1 quart oysters, drained

Heat oil in cast iron skillet to 355 degrees or heat until a little flour flicked into the oil sizzles

Taking a few oysters at a time, dredge through cornmeal mixture coating thoroughly.

Gently drop into hot oil. Fry until golden brown turning once or until they float to the top. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Lulu’s Crazy Frying Cornmeal

2 cups all-purpose white cornmeal

2 tablespoons Creole seasoning

1 tablespoon black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

Sweet Tomato Pie

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pastry for 1 pie crust

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon sugar

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon sour cream

1 tablespoon honey mustard

1 cup shredded Parmesan

4 green onions, including the green part, cut into 2-inch pieces

4 large red tomatoes, in 1/4-inch slices

1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 cup fresh basil, cut in ribbons

2 cups shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle flour over work surface and roll pastry dough to fit a 7-by-11-inch baking dish, making sure dough comes up the sides of the dish. Poke bottom of crust with a fork in several places. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees.

In a cast iron or heavy skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and sugar; sauté until onions are very brown and caramelized. Add garlic and stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes or until garlic is cooked through and tender. Remove onions and garlic from skillet and let cool.

Using a food processor, process cream cheese, mayonnaise, cream, sour cream, mustard, Parmesan and green onions until well mixed.

In the cooled pie crust, layer half the onions, cream cheese mixture, sliced tomatoes, salt, pepper, basil and Gruyere. Repeat. Bake for 35 minutes or until pie is bubbling and top is browned. Cool for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing.

Screen-Shot-2018-06-19-at-3.40.28-PMWHITE SANGRIA

Serves 4 to 6

1 (750-milliliter) bottle Pinot Gris or any other crisp light white wine

1/2 cup peach-flavored vodka

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 fresh pineapple, chopped into cubes

1/2 lemon, cut into wedges

2 fresh strawberries, chopped

1/2 mango, chopped into cubes

1 (8-ounce) can ginger ale

Ice cubes

In a very large pitcher, combine the wine, vodka, sugar, and fruit. Stir well. Let the ingredients steep in the fridge for 2 to 24 hours (the longer, the better).

Add the ginger ale and ice cubes about 30 minutes before serving.

Place a strainer over the mouth of the pitcher and pour to order. Garnish with any leftover fruit, such as more of the pineapple, lemon, strawberries, and mango.