One of the things I was determined to pick up in Mexico was a molcajete - a traditional mortar and pestle carved from volcanic rock. I've never been one for kitschy trinkets so if I want to bring something home from a trip I try to make sure it's something practical that I'll actually utilize. That way every time I use it I can remember the good times I had.
Upon purchasing it I was given a set of instructions on how to season it since the bowl had only been freshly carved a few days ago and was a total mess. The inside felt like sandpaper and the slightest touch left your hands stained black with oily soot.
The following is my own altered set of instructions which every American, and probably Canadian and Englander, should utilize should they find themselves in possession of a new molcajete.
Step One: Get it Into the Country
Due to people armed with nail clippers and crotch bombs this is surprisingly difficult to do, even when you're checking your bag. Apparently the pestle is seen as two types of dangers to Air Marshals and the U.S. Government. The first being, I kid you not, an agricultural hazard. Volcanic bowls are apparently so hot they're viral.
The second is a fear that in the middle of the flight I may rummage through my carry-on, grab the pestle, and then go postal and use some little old lady's skull as a mortar, mashing her brains into a salmon colored dip for tortilla chips before taking out the other passengers.
Step Two: Once state-side convince U.S. customs that, no, you are no going to use the bowl as a weapon.
I claimed my bag in the U.S. and was told to check it again for the next plane from Phoenix to Sacramento. Apparently lobbing a stone bowl like a softball at a little league game is a leading cause of death on planes. Seriously, they actually said that I might try to crush someone's head with it. I told them I had a book to keep my attention which would prevent me from killing someone. They took this as a valid reason to let me carry on the bag.
No, I'm not kidding.
Step Three: Soak
Get a large stock or soup pot and fill it with warm water. Place the bowl inside it and let it soak for about an hour. This will help lift and soften the outer layer of volcanic dust and loose rock.
Step Four: Scrub It Like You're Cinderella
This dust is surprisingly fine and greasy and will get everywhere. At this point you should be wearing an apron or some clothes you once though were cool but can't seem to give up. (For me this is a tight pink t-shirt that says "Learn How to Pimp!" and seemed like a smart purchase when I was nineteen.) Get a wire brush and go at it from all sides for about 15 minutes or until your hands no longer become black at the touch of it.
Step Five: Grind Rice
Place a few tablespoons of rice and a tablespoon or two of water into the bowl and begin pestling like you'll win a prize. Keep grinding until the rice is a fine paste. Your arm will get sore. Your elbow may need a pin in it afterwards. The purpose of this is to smooth out the inside of the bowl and polish it up a bit.
Step Six: Mash Garlic
This is to season the bowl and put a little bit of oil into the rock. By far the most fun part as it's easy to grind and smells wonderful.
Your bowl is now ready for whatever you're gonna mash into it. I highly suggest grabbing some avocados, a key lime, and some cilantro and making yourself some guacamole. At this point you've worn out your arm, your hand is numb, and you're probably on a government "No Fly" list - you deserve it!