Forgive the quality...all done with the phone...which is why I don't take near as many pictures as I should as there is much to see. Two cruise ships arrived on the last day of this month's visit and the malacon was alive with tourists, vendors, and wait staff running between the bar/restaurants and the beach serving guests. Made the drive up to Uvero to visit some folk and see what's what up there - about 38 KM north of Mahahual - and how bad the road could be. Enjoyed some truly delicious croissants and "Pain au Chocolat" at Panaderia La Tarteleta, delicious seafood at Nohoch Kay and El Delfin, pizza at Papi's Pizza, and cold beers at several other spots. Chilly mornings, nice sunny days, and another good weekend in Mahahual.
Last year I posted about a visit I made to Mahahual (also nearby Xcalak) and am happy to report we've returned several times since. And we will return regularly in the future as there is much to do and see. There's not much to the town of Mahahaul proper - a few streets with hotels, condos, and lots of restaurants along the malecon (boardwalk). It's mostly swamp land behind town with only a few areas suitable for building.
Despite it being a cruise ship destination, it certainly doesn't feel crowded when a ship is docked north of town but it is livelier with every restaurant open and hawkers, itinerant vendors, and more eking out a living.
It's also not terribly far from Chetumal - about an hour and a half of good road and we go from the bay to the sea with its sandy beaches and waves breaking on the reef.
This last trip we stayed at Koox Matan Ka'an, a very pleasant, clean hotel right in the middle of town and just a short 60 meters or so from the Malecon and beach. As you can see from the larger map, Chinchorro Banks, a large atoll, is not that far offshore and will be the subject of far more scrutiny in the near future. I'm looking forward to some serious diving again.
In the below picture you can see how little there is in the way of "town", comprising only a few streets with its back to the swamp. There's a good paved road to Xcalak and another heading north but if your car (and bottom) can handle it, the coast road is were you'll find the beautiful beaches and many B&Bs for those looking for a bit more solitude. Click on the picture to see the live webcam.
A quote from Albert Camus...
"We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know that we live in contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. Our task as [humans] is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks [we] take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.
Let us know our aims then, holding fast to the mind, even if force puts on a thoughtful or a comfortable face in order to seduce us. The first thing is not to despair. Let us not listen too much to those who proclaim that the world is at an end. Civilizations do not die so easily, and even if our world were to collapse, it would not have been the first. It is indeed true that we live in tragic times. But too many people confuse tragedy with despair. “Tragedy,” [D.H.] Lawrence said, “ought to be a great kick at misery.” This is a healthy and immediately applicable thought. There are many things today deserving such a kick."
Written in 1940, it holds true today...
''Twas the night before Christmas and all through the casa,
Not a creature was stirring -- Caramba! Que pasa?
Los ninos were tucked away in their camas,
Some in camisas and some in pijamas,
The stockings were hung with mucho cuidado
In hopes that old Santa would feel obligado
To bring all children, both buenos and malos,
A nice batch of dulces and other regalos.
Outside in the yard there arose such a grito
That I jumped to my feet like a frightened cabrito.
I ran to the window and looked out afuera,
And who in the world do you think quien era?
Saint Nick in a sleigh and a big red sombrero
Came dashing along like a crazy bombero.
And pulling his sleigh instead of venados
Were eight little burros approaching volados.
I watched as they came and this quaint little hombre
Was shouting and whistling and calling by nombre
"Ay Pancho, ay Pepe, ay Chucho, ay Beto,
Ay Chato, ay Chopo, Macuco, y Nieto!"
Then standing erect with his hands on his pecho
He flew to the top of our very own techo.
With his round little belly like a bowl of jalea,
He struggled to squeeze down our old chiminea,
Then huffing and puffing at last in our sala,
With soot smeared all over his red suit de gala,
He filled all the stockings with lovely regalos--
For none of the ninos had been very malos.
Then chuckling aloud, seeming very contento,
He turned like a flash and was gone like the viento.
And I heard him exclaim, and this is verdad,
Merry Christmas to all, and Feliz Navidad!
Hurricane Patrica, as everyone should know by now, was the strongest recorded hurricane in the western hemisphere. The storm landed as a Category 5 hurricane on the shores of a very mountainous region of Mexico. That is, no where near us.as the Yucatan is as flat as a tortilla. The red line connects Hurricane Patricia's approximate landfall position in the west with our location in the east. Two impressive mountain ranges, a bit of water, and the more flat land separates us. It was a fine day for us. Not so fine for the folk out west but, thanks to the mountains, apparently not a deadly storm as MX authorities started evacuations early. Lots of areas without phone service so we're still learning how some of the smaller villages and isolated communities fared, but so far, so good.
In fact, while Patricia was doing her thing out west, good friends from Belize came up for a "Cooking Class" sponsored by a local department store with two well-renowned Mexican Chefs. It was a standing-room only crowd despite the many chairs. Although all in Spanish, I managed to follow along well enough. Master Chef Herrera along with very popular Chef Molina talked of the many cultural identities Mexico has through its cuisine noting that here in SE Mexico, we have a Caribbean influence. But it took someone from the audience to remind him of the strong Maya culture and its cuisine.
Meanwhile, he was preparing a dish using ingredients from other parts of Mexico one of which I've never seen in the local markets - a sweet pepper from Tabasco. The cameraman was too short and poorly situated so we really couldn't see what was happening in the stage kitchen,and compounding the problem was the stove was set against the back wall - so we saw a lot of his back. We left early, abandoning our chairs to some happy folk tired of standing, and went to Calderitas for a fine lunch, digging our toes in the sand to relax, sipping a couple of cold beers, and enjoying a fine conversation between friends.
Over 200mm (that's almost 8 inches) of rain these last 24 hours. One month's worth of rain in a day. Which means, of course, lots of flooding. But first, the weather map. We were under the westernmost (left) point of the upper dark red section in the yellow circle. Lots of wind with the rain...certainly gale force at times.
That amount of rain in such a short period of time led to a significant amount of flooding, canceling the day's activities at the Fair Grounds, and actually resulting in a Disaster Declaration for the capitol of Chetumal. More pictures in the slide show below.
We're doing fine although there is a roof leak in one of the bathrooms. The roof was recently tiled, as is common here over cement roofs, but there's water dripping. Now we have to wait for the rain to stop to make repairs. The dogs and cat are indoors fighting over the most comfortable seats, and various stews and, of course, chili are on the menu for meals this week. This low pressure system is supposed to hang around for a few more days - most of the week actually - but it is most welcome as everything trying to grow in the garden was so dry.
Some interesting words from 14th-century North African Muslim scholar and philosopher Ibn Khaldun, sometimes considered the forefather of sociology, who claimed that empires rise and fall in three generations:
In the first generation, Ibn Khaldun wrote, an empire is founded by rough-hewn bedouins, thirsty for power, closely tied together, and always wary: “Their swords are kept sharp, their attack is feared, and their neighbors vanquished.” In the second generation, things are still good: “Possessing dominion and affluence, they turn from nomadic to settled life, and from hardship to ease and plenty.” Yet the close bonds of kinship and family that made the empire so resilient start to erode. The dynasts begin to hire outside managers and mercenaries to maintain their empire. They rely ever more heavily on bureaucracy. This generation oversees the peak of the empire’s glory, but things tend to stagnate a bit, and while what they bequeath to their heirs looks powerful on the outside, it is hollowing out underneath.
In the third generation, the empire tends to fall apart. The second generation was raised in splendor, but its members were reared by the same rough and ready desert natives who had founded the empire. The third generation, however, has known nothing but the palace. Its members don’t have the same enterprising spirit, and they fall short of their ancestors’ models. “Their national spirit is wholly extinguished; they have no stomach for resistance, defense, or attack,” Ibn Khaldun wrote. “Nevertheless they impose on the people by their bearing and uniform, their horsemanship, and the address with which they maneuver.”
Any semblance to the USofA since WWII?
From master story-teller Jack Hitt via a recent article in The Atlantic...
" Begin by over-reporting and over-researching everything. If the story involves talking to people, talk to them as long as they will stand to have you around and then talk to them some more. Keep reading. Outline a structure to the piece. Set that aside for now. Realize you don’t know enough.
Go over all your interviews and research notes again, only this time, make a laundry list of all the great details, large and small, along with the best quotes. Look at that list a lot. Begin the process of re-reading all of your research. Bail out of re-reading all of your research by convincing yourself that what you really need is a long walk to think about “structure.” Walk toward your shoes and look at them. Blow off the walk altogether. Descend into a shame spiral.
Now, catch up on your HBO tivo’d backlog. After several hours, take another ride on the shame spiral. Lumber over to the desk and go over the interviews again. Make notes of your notes in tiny scrawl so that they can fit on a single sheet of paper. Look at the details. Write down the big ideas that form the superstructure of the piece. Realize you are a pompous git for thinking that ideas have anything to do with it and go back to that list of details. Set it aside. Read some blogs.
The next day, re-read the single sheet of paper with the notes of your notes and wonder, what does this shit even mean? Then outline a structure. Indulge in a nice long afternoon of intense self-loathing. Start to write according to that outline. Throw that draft away. Write a new outline. Go over your notes. Re-interview a few people. Realize, as if you hadn’t realized this a thousand times before (most recently, a few minutes before) that your own big ideas about this story are pathetic, but this list of details and the more decent quotations from the interviews—there’s some pretty good stuff in there. Fiddle with writing a few more paragraphs. Microwave your cold cup of coffee for the third time. Go over your notes again. Yell irrationally at your spouse/child/dog/a bare wall. Now, kick the wall. Limp.
Review all the transcribed interviews one more time from beginning to end. Paste a large sheet of paper to a wall and, standing up with a fresh cup of coffee in your hand, outline the piece in really big letters. Realize that you’ve misunderstood the point of the entire story all this time. Scream the word “fuck” really loud in an empty room. Do this about 40 times. Wipe off the flopsweat. Look at the notes on the single sheet of paper and realize just how brilliant they are, or moronic. Espy the grime on your bike chain—it could use a good cleaning with some WD-40. Start writing the lead paragraph again. Set that aside. Find that single cartoon frame from “Peanuts” that you keep in a box somewhere, the one in which Snoopy is reading a publisher’s rejection letter for his novel that goes, “Has it ever occurred to you that you may be the worst writer in the history of the world?” Read it and laugh. Later that day, read it again and not laugh. Feel really, really sad.
Go over your notes one more time. Look at earlier drafts and passages and realize that maybe this stuff here is the lead, actually, and then if you follow that outline from seven outlines ago, it just might work. Re-read the last couplet of the first strophe of Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella. Look at those riffs in the earlier draft again and realize some are not that bad. Convince yourself that your bike chain really does need another good cleaning and what's that gunk on the inside of the rear fender? Read the latest draft-like substance and think that, with a little work, maybe this won't be too embarrassing. Feel mildly excited that there could actually be something here worth reading eventually. Look at the list of details again. Re-read the edited draft and start to feel better. Or, if not, set it aside and then repeat all of the above instructions, only this time, after each step, masturbate."
Yeah, it's kind of like that.
Late July we made it up to Puerto Morelos, a small town along the coast tucked between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. We were doing double-duty checking the place out as perhaps our next locale to live and picking up #2 son for a few days respite from his teaching job up north. We did a little diving, checked out the restaurants, caught up with our friend Marvin, and realized the hustle and bustle of the area might be a bit much for us. It was much more crowded than expected even if it was low season for tourists - lots of people out and about. I can't imagine what it's like during high season!
We left Puerto Morales for a day in Mahahual and a great meal seaside, then on to Xcalak for a couple more days of diving and R&R. I had to pass on the diving due to a sinus infection (maudit A/C!) but I heard no complaints from the others. We ate at "The Other Dive Shop" (quite nice) and slept quite comfortably back at XTC Divers. It was quite nice seeing Sean again just about five years to the day from his last visit. Hopefully not five more until the next trip!.
Xcalak was too quiet except for the most extreme introvert. I'd do just fine. But we're a team and so we'll continue to look for the place that's just right. Akumal and more are on the list for our next visit. We've been talking about maybe returning to Guam and Thailand is still on the list. So many places to choose from!
As with my keeping up this blog, the drought is over. We've had a couple of days of decent rain and what was once green but changed to various shades of brown, is green again. Wifey saved the tropical fruit trees and flowers with regular watering. You could tell what was she was trying to save - the ring of green grass at the base marked the spot.
BRIOCHE COL TUPPO
Named for the tight hair buns worn by women in Sicily. Hmmm.
4 cups all purpose flour
7 grams active dry yeast proofed with lukewarm milk and 1 tsp honey
Combine briefly by hand
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 TBS salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
Knead by hand until well-mixed
1/4 cup lard
Knead until completely blended
Turn on to floured board and knead until elastic dough forms. Transfer to bowl and let rise until double. Turn out to floured board and knead briefly. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut and set aside 1/4 of dough. Cut remaining 3/4 into 8 equal pieces and shape into balls onto parchment paper. Take reserved dough and cut into 8 equal pieces and make small balls onto parchment paper. Cover and let rise 1 hour.
Make indentation in top of large balls with thumb and place small balls into holes. Brush with egg yolk/milk mixture.
Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.
Today I am suffering from the unfortunate consequence of eating my own rillettes. Brad and Christina were visiting on their way to Cancun and I brought out the goat cheese, sausage, and, of course, rillettes, for a snacking dinner. Unfortunately, somewhere in the process I left a piece of bone in the rillettes and managed to crack a molar. Better it happen to me however rather than to our friends who were just starting a long trip.
A few days ago, after having made a delicious Pate de Campagne (recipe to follow soon!), I decided it was time to return to one of my favorite French recipes, rillettes. Pronounced (in English) REE-YETS, it's a delicious form of pottted pork. I know that doesn't sound terribly appetizing. This is why we use the French word!. Very similar to Mexican Cochinita, it is pieces of pork cooked in fat similar to a confit, a few extra spices for flavoring, and shredded before serving.
I was fortunate to grow up in an region of France known as Touraine where the very best rillettes are made. Many will say the best come from Le Mans, but there are none to compare to those from the Department of Indre-et-Loire of which the town of Tours is the capitol. The basic recipe dates from the period of Rabelais, 16th century, and those from Indre-et-Loire are recognized officially as Les Rillettes de Tours and are certified much like specialty wines from the various regions of France. It's a big deal. Now, even within Indre-et-Loire there are variations...Azay le Rideau, Montlouis, and Blere (my favorite) as well as other small towns have charcutiers (butchers specialising in pork) who may vary their recipes slightly and everyone seems to have their favorite. But the actual recipe differences they say are more subtle than a French existentialist argument. Frankly, I think it's the wine used that makes all the difference. There are some excellent white wines in the region, each a little different from the next.
The Rillettes de Tours, because they are certified, are made with a combination of pork cuts that vary only slightly: 50% pork belly and pork shoulder, 50% ham, and pork loin. For certified Rillettes de Tours the recipe cannot have more than 75% (combined) pork shoulder and pork belly. The meat is cut into pieces about 5x5 cm square and very slightly browned in pork fat after which we add the spices and wine then let the whole thing cook for about 4-16 hours depending on quantity, oven temperature, and the patience of the chef. When cooled enough to handle, the meat is shredded, much like American pulled pork, and then potted with a good covering of the reserved fat to protect it from air. If you want to freeze rillettes, it is better to freeze the raw meat, rather than the cooked meat. Same-same pates.
Finally, rillettes are just a method of preserving meat so feel free to experiment a bit with the flavors. I've seen recipes that call for chopped white onions, whole purple onions, leeks, shallots, celery, mace, Chinese 5-Spice, and more. Next time I'm going to do the big brother of rillettes known as rillons!
So, here's the recipe and watch out for those bones!
3 kg mixed pork meat. If you only use one cut, shoulder is the best but throw in a little quality loin if you can!
3/4 -1 kg real pork lard (approximately depending on how much fat is in the meat cuts you use. The ratio should be about 40-50% fat overall)
1 bottle minus one small glass dry, white wine
1 heaping TBS Kosher salt
1 TBS black pepper corns, slightly crushed
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 laurel leaves, whole
3/4 tsp dried thyme
Cut the pork into 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inch squares and brown in pork lard in a large pot that can also be put into the oven. Browning is an important first step to give flavor! After browning, add remaining lard, spices, and wine then bake, partially covered at very low temperature 80 degrees Celsius or 180 Fahrenheit until the wine is cooked down and the pork is pull-apart tender. Sip the small glass of white wine and see if you can make it last the 6-8 hours of cooking time.
Remove from oven and drain the melted lard through a sieve and set aside. Then, using a pair of forks, pull the pork pieces apart, shredding all the large pieces. If you had any bones, make sure you get them all! During the shredding process you want the pork to stay visibly moist so occasionally add some of the reserved, liquid lard to the mix.
When all is shredded, put the pork into sterilized jars and cover with a good portion of the strained lard. This will keep the meat away from air and preserve it for several weeks in the refrigerator.
Serve with toasted French bread slices and tiny cornichons!