(I thought something uplifting and culturally educational was in order so I'm reposting this from Mexperience
. I hope they don't mind. Papi)
December 12 is one of Mexico’s most important religious holidays. It is estimated that a million or more Catholic Mexicans will visit the Basilica de Guadalupe, in north-eastern Mexico City, to pay homage to the country’s most revered religious icon: the Virgin Guadalupe (The Virgin Mary).
Some people begin walking to the Basilica – in some cases from towns and villages miles away – hours or days before the 12th. Many of the pilgrims crawl the last few hundred yards of the journey, from the gates of the basilica to the church itself, on their knees; a symbolic, painful experience. The pilgrims will arrive late on the eve of the day, or in the early hours of the morning, to ensure that they are at or near the shrine at sunrise.
The history which led up to this occasion goes back to the time of the Spanish conquest. When the Spaniards arrived, they found indigenous peoples with strong, deeply rooted belief systems of their own.
The story of Juan Diego, a young indigenous boy, takes place on December 12th, 1531. According to narratives, the Virgin Mary appeared to him when he was walking on a hill named Tepeyac. The apparition is described as a young woman with black hair and darkened skin, which is why the virgin Guadalupe is sometimes referred to as “la virgen morena
” (the brown-skinned virgin).
The virgin told Juan Diego to go and tell the local Bishop to build a church on this hill, so Juan Diego did as he was told: however, the Bishop was left unconvinced by the story and gave the boy short shrift.
So the virgin appeared once more, and on the second occassion told Juan Diego to collect flowers from the top of the hill. Being December, Juan did not expect to find any but, upon his arrival there, he found the hill was covered with beautiful flowers. As instructed, he collected some flowers and, using his overcoat to carry them, returned to see the Bishop.
The Bishop, seeing the unseasonal flowers, also saw an image of the Virgin Guadalupe imprinted onto to the coat. Convinced it was a miracle, he ordered the building of the church on the hill of Tepeyac – at precisely the location where the current-day basilica resides in Mexico City.
Today, Catholic Mexicans bring gifts and offerings to the virgin, petitioning her for help and good providence; for example, when a family member is ill, when there is conflict in their life, or when they are to embark upon some personal or business venture.
For those who cannot make it to the basilica in the country’s capital, private vigils are held at homes and churches across the nation. Fire crackers are often let-off, filling the night sky with light and sound; celebrations also include fiestas with dancing and music in the virgin’s honor.
Juan Diego was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002, at which time the Pope said, “Christ’s message, through his Mother, took up the central elements of indigenous culture, purified them, and gave them a definitive sense of salvation … facilitating the fruitful meeting of two worlds and becoming the catalyst for a new Mexican identity”.
The Virgin Guadalupe is omnipresent in modern-day Mexican culture. Images of the virgin may be seen everywhere: at churches, at street shrines, in taxis and buses, in homes, stores, bus stations and airports; in people’s cars, in offices, and even tattoos. Nearly five hundred years later, the Virgin Guadalupe continues to be adored and revered as a guardian, minder and savior by millions of Catholic Mexicans.
I'm more than a week late in updating my blog if one goes by my totally arbitrary, absolutely self-imposed goal of writing every Sunday morning. On the other hand, I'm right on time.
That I was traveling and sick to boot should sufficiently explain my failure to put virtual pen to paper. Indeed I was "On the Road to Belize" but Bob Hope had left the building and a straight man without a sidekick just isn't near as funny overall. Further adding injury to insult, within a few days I was reminded that no good deed goes unpunished and suffered the indignities of a body-breaking, mind-fogging, flu-like attack.
Near a week post-deadline I was reminded, once again, via email, it was time to write but the gentle exhortation failed to motivate. I was in an illness-induced funk with my mind as cloudy as my sinuses were clogged. The blog had to wait for it wouldn't be fair to my readers to post simply for the sake of posting. No wine before its time, yes?
Which sets me up nicely for failure for a two-week delay in writing should produce something worthy of an extended interlude, yes? No.
Through the fog of flu a few vignettes float and flitter in my mind's eye as a record of my travels and travails. These I offer to you with but a modicum of editing for decorum's sake...
Belikin sucks. It really does. Anyone who says it's a great beer is lying or suffering from dysgeusia. Yes, at one time I even said it was an OK lager. Fact is, I was lying through my teeth and I admit it. Mea Culpa. Mea Ultima Culpa. It's a freaking' monopoly! It's more bottle than beer and the only thing that saves it is its alcohol content and the fact that it is a superb colon cleanser. Good as it is for it's cleansing abilities, the only reason I wouldn't recommend it for colonoscopy patients is that lemon-lime crap cleaner they give you at clinic the day before isn't too bad with sufficient vodka. Belikin and vodka would be an abuse upon vodka. I'm reminded nostagically of the old Schaefer song..."Belikin...is the...one beer to have when you're having a beer in Belize!"
Social medicine sucks. Oh sure, it's free. But like advice, you get what you pay for. Oh, except Radiology...billed separately and...where no English is spoken because the tech was from Guatemala and the assistant was from Mexico. Seriously. Recommended for CatScan...but the machine was down and Merida (dare we say Mexico?) was closest. Phlebotomist...they can't even spell the word but they can poke an arm just like an orange. What the hell, you can't see veins in an orange either. Vacutainer...you know where they stick a needle in the vein then plug a test tube like thing to draw blood? The test tube has a built in vacuum held in place by the plastic top which, by the way, is coded based on the type of preservative or other chemical in the tube. I'm sure anyone who has been in the ER in a 1st world place has heard "Tiger top, red top, purple top, etc." Come on, it was invented in 1949!!! Well, at Karl's they take the tops off and fill from a needle aspiration. They don't seem to care that the lab results come back with no readings because the blood was improperly collected. At least my cholesterol was good. Always important in an emergency to know one's cholesterol levels.
Tropic Air is great. OK, they could improve their routing a little. After all, going from Belize City Municipal to Corozal requires stops at Caulker (sometimes) and San Pedro first (hey, last time I had to stop at Caye Chapel too!) and somehow there was time to transfer my bag but not my body to a connecting flight, but otherwise, a truly well-oiled machine. The rubber bands are tightly wound and they hold fairly well to schedule. Kudos.
The roads in Belize are horrible. The rains...the inundation...the wet apocalypse of November 2013 will be remembered until the next record-setting period but these rains were, by all accounts, the worst since 1955/56. The roads suffered with potholes appearing everywhere. Potholes inside of potholes. Reports of kangaroo sightings and lost VW's in potholes. Chetumal had problems too. Fairness demands honesty. The potholes in Chetumal have been fixed. The potholes in Belize have been named. Big difference.
Hopkins. May God forgive me but I still like Hopkins.
Belize City. Speak softly and carry a big stick. Seriously messed up place with gangs operating in plain sight. Kudos to the current mayor trying to cleanup the streets by paving them...going from asphalt to cement in many places. Sadly. he's getting screwed by the contractors and it will be evident in short order. Hopefully the faults won't be discovered until he's safely esconsed in some ministerial position. Poor guy...his predecessor managed to build big houses in Belize and Miami during her tenure. He, not so much. China Syndrome: Sum Ting Wong.
I remarked to friends, as we were driving down Insurgentes the main drag running west/east through northern Chetumal, how good it felt to be back in Mexico. They commented it was the feeling of "coming home" because this is my home...there where I hang my hat. But no, that wasn't it. Yes, it's where I live but the concept of "home" as most people understand it is foreign to me. I have no "home", just places where I live. But I feel...different...in Mexico. I feel as though I belong despite the language, despite the culture, despite the time...I feel good in Mexico with all the emphasis on "feel". I never quite felt comfortable in Belize. I'm no less on the "qui vive" when I walk about but here it's an exercise. There is was de rigueur.
I was with my friend Gerry today and we had a cup of coffee and a sandwich at Cafeteria Milgaros. It was called a "Zofritas", essentially a local version of the Cuban pressed sandwich. Tasty. But for some reason it gave me a hankering for a meatball sub. Which is odd because that's not something I would normally order. Wifey likes them, me, not so much. That written, I made some meatballs. I made some small ones for spaghetti and I made some large ones for meatball subs. All will be frozen until their time. Putting them away, I see it's time to buy a chest freezer...
Bread crumbs. I make my own. In this case since I use the oven to finish the meatballs, I simply toasted some bread slices then finished them in the oven. Then I put them through the food processor. Perfect dry bread crumbs.
1 very large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
3 large eggs
1 cup grated Parmigiano
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Crushed red pepper to taste (big pinch for me)
Double pinch cumin
1 TBS Mediteranean spice mix
1/2 or so cup water
Saute onions in olive oil, season with salt and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and the crushed red pepper and saute for another 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool.
Combine the meats, eggs, Parmigiano, parsley and bread crumbs and mix by hand. Add the onion mixture, more salt, and water. The mixture should be quite wet. Test by making small burger and frying. If flavor is weak, add salt.
Shape meatballs into golf ball size rounds for spaghetti, larger for meatball subs. Brown on all sides then finish in oven. Use or freeze.
I ran out of coffee and it's not a good thing. Mornings and coffee just go together so well that even though there's no stopping morning from happening, it's not the same experience without a cup of joe to awaken the synapses.
Having fed the beasts I put off cleaning the front and rear piazzas to hail a cab downtown to Los Milagros for their strong, always freshly-brewed ambrosia. We were only slightly delayed by the many potholes along our route.
The Spanish word for potholes is 'baches'. Sounds like 'patches', making it relatively easy to remember given the end result should they ever get around to repairs. These serious hazards are growing by leaps and bounds with all the rain. Some are quite deep, most all are filled or even hidden by water, and only the most egregious are marked by a branch or advertising sign some good Samaritan has placed to warn others. Detours are common. Even the Chetumal airport is shutdown as I write due to the baches on the runway. Normally there are two flights per weekday, one on weekend days, to Mexico City. Those who need to leave or come to the capitol of Quintana Roo must now travel by car or bus to the airport in either Merida or Cancun. A significant black eye for the local Administration.
So the coffee at Los Milagros fully met expectations, the hotcakes with honey (from the owner's beehives) were filling, and the place wasn't crowded. Not a bad way to start the day after all. Normally I do this in conjunction with paying utility bills as taxi rides each way add significantly to the expense of a leisurely morning. That written, it was worth every penny to get out of the castle and into the real world to enjoy some sunshine. And coffee.
Yes, the clouds have parted and the sun is shining at last. I have some hope that it will continue at least through the day. Enough maybe to dry the rain-soaked grass so that I might mow it down. Tomorrow. Today's my day and it doesn't involve operating machinery of any sort. Well, maybe a corkscrew.
I've started reading the local papers to improve my Spanish comprehension. In one, I must admit the editorial was a little daunting. The first paragraph consisted of 67 words. In one sentence. In another I thought I was losing my attention span seemingly reading the same information more than once in the same story. Turns out that is a style of writing news in one of these mackerel wrappers. Reminds me of the military style of teaching: "I'm going to tell you what I'm about to tell you. Then I'll tell you what I want you to know and will finish by summarizing what I told you." Yes, it was just as painful as it sounds.
A year or so before leaving the USofA, my then dentist told me I needed caps on my back molars to protect my teeth long term. Well, this is the sort of preventive dentistry that makes sense. Perform a root canal on all the teeth, cap them with something stronger than Mother Nature could provide with no chance of cavities or breakage. Obviously I resisted. Some things may make sense but are just wrong. Fast forward to 6 months ago and #2 molar became problematic with a cavity so I had the root canal done in preparation for a cap. US$115 and I was good to go for the cap. Long story short, I pushed the temporary filling to its limit and had a small piece break away. Yes, I fear dental work. Back to a new dentist to see what could be done. The small piece was removed and the next day I had a metal cap installed for US$139. If you look carefully deep into my mouth it might remind you of Jaws from the 007 movie but you'll need a flashlight. Vanity intact and wallet not seriously lightened. Perfect.
A dear reader wrote to tell me how much they appreciate the recipes in my blog. It was a heartfelt note that I enjoyed reading. Food, as we all know, is necessary for life and, because it's a commonality we all share, a way of bonding with others. Only sometimes, that can backfire. Here's an excerpt from the recipe book I wrote for my children and family...
"I've made rabbit a few more times for the family than they even know. Some people just have a problem eating a furry little animal (or worse, Bugs Bunny!) but the reality is rabbit has a very fine taste. Once, long ago, I had a hankering for rabbit. At the time, I was a college student and thought I would impress my friends with my culinary expertise. Ah, but where to find a rabbit? Low and behold immediately behind our dormitory up on a hill was a small farm advertising rabbits for sale. I inquired and the owner showed me a couple of OK rabbits but I wasn't impressed. I told him I intended on eating the rabbit. With a look of surprise that turned to a sly grin he motioned me to the back of the yard. There was another rabbit hutch with some of the finest rabbit I'd seen in a long time. We selected a candidate, exchanged far less than the cost of a pet rabbit, and off I returned to my dorm room.
Everyone, my then girlfriend included, took a liking to Peter. After a week of feeding Peter a special diet, I sent him to Valhalla and brought the cleaned and skinned carcass to our planned double-date dinner. That time I made not a stew but a rabbit in white wine and mustard. Very simple. Everyone loved the smell. Near the end of dinner they inquired about Peter. I told them I brought him. It took a few minutes until they realized they were chowing down on and extolling the taste of Peter in white wine and mustard.
Peter wasn't quite the hit I expected. Needless to say, I left that night one rabbit and one girlfriend less. But what a meal!'
1 2-4 lb rabbit, cut into serving pieces
1/4 lb thinly sliced salt pork cut into 1/4 inch strips
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
16 very small white onions peeled or 1 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 lb small button mushrooms
1 carrot cut into rounds
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
3 sprigs parsley
1/4 cup flour for thickening (use only if rabbit blood is unavailable)
3 cups dry red Burgundy
1 cup water
3/4 - 1 cup blood blended with 1 or 2 TBS lemon juice or vinegar to prevent coagulation
Preheat over to 350
Sprinkle rabbit pieces with salt and pepper, set aside
Drop salt pork in cold water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer for 1 minute. Drain. Cook the pieces until rendered of fat. Remove pieces and set aside.
Add rabbit pieces to fat and brown on all sides.
Add garlic, onions, mushrooms, and carrot. Cook stirring for 5 minutes. Tie bay leaf, thyme, parsley in bundle and add to pan. If blood is not available, sprinkle flour over all and stir to coat pieces of rabbit, else use the blood (see below). Add the wine and water and bring to boil. Cover and place in oven. 45 min for small, 1 1/4 hours for large rabbit.
If blood is used, and if so should have been mixed with some vinegar to prevent coagulation, add a small amount of the hot stew sauce to the blood to warm it. Gradually stir this mixture into sauce and simmer gently, stirring for about 1 minute. Remove the herb bundle and sprinkle the rabbit with the browned pieces of salt pork.
We need some sunshine again!
The rainy season continues to live up to its name. 'Nuff said.
The very talkative addition to the bestiary, Joey, has taught Khan that howling is OK. And so, when Joey gets an urge to sing, Khan chimes in. Yes, Khan. He who only used to howl in his sleep with a very haunting wail that scares the bejeezus out of sleepers at 2AM. Annie follows suit albeit soto voce. Then, if it goes on long enough, the neighbor's dog joins the chorus. All that is missing are the fire trucks screaming down the street.
Met a pleasant couple yesterday in Chedraui (local supermarket) who stopped me to ask if I spoke English. Terry and Penny recently moved to Chetumal and are renting a 2-bedroom, fully furnished apt for US$550/month plus electricity (water & gas are covered). Not bad for an in-city apartment, in a new building near the University Hospital. They're happy.
Someone is throwing edible trash over the fence at night. Not every night but enough that I'm concerned they may be trying to "turn" the dogs by feeding them. Not an uncommon technique by thieves. A little paranoia is a good thing.
The plomero arrived! A leaky faucet that required removing tiles and drilling into concrete to replace the entire unit. As well, a somewhat unstable toilet needed attention. I should have been better prepared for sticker shock. Less than 5 hours after starting, two new faucets soldered in, re-bedded in cement, and an exceptionally stable toilet unit for 620 pesos (US$47.75) plus parts.
I ran out of my favorite coffee and due to circumstances, opted for a package of Blazon from the local supermarket. Expensive, good, but not near as tasty as what I can get from my local supplier/coffee roaster at Frescoffee on Avenida Veracruz. A considerable savings at 200 pesos per kilo (US$7/lb) and ground just the way I like it!
Everything is for sale in Mexico. Talk to anyone on the street, in the store, the taxi driver...and either they have or know someone who is selling something. Anything. Houses, land, motor vehicles, real/fake archeological "treasures". and a whole bunch of stuff that is probably stolen or otherwise illegal. Of course, I'm a gringo. It's well known gringos are rich.
My Spanish improves by the day though I think I still occasionally invent words or find myself throwing in the occasional French bon mot or two because it just seemed to fit at the time and flowed naturally. I haven't been diligent with my Spanish courses just more slowly learning via immersion. Except when I meet another gringo, then it's back to English. My metric for improvement? The occasions of quizzical looks and shrugged shoulders steadily decrease. When I can tell a joke in Spanish, I'll know I've arrived!
Today I'm making a very simple dish that has the house smelling so good. I'm using my cast iron Dutch Oven for this though I suppose a crock pot would work as well. HOWEVER... It seems the Dutch Oven was not quite as large as I thought so I'm cooking this is two sessions. First the mirepoix and browned chicken, then the potatoes to thicken the stew and an unexpected ingredient for an extra touch of flavor.
Papi's Chicken Stew
1 whole chicken, cut into serving pieces
1 ltr chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine (plus a galssful for the chef)
2 large onions, chopped coarsely
2 stalks of celery, chopped coarsely
6-8 carrots, 1/2 inch slices (I like carrots. Typically mirepoix is 2:1:1 Onions, carrots, celery)
5 or 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 TBS black peppercorns
Pinch of powdered Nutmeg
Pinch of Cumin
2 tsp Marjoram, Oregano, Tarragon (mixed)
2 TSP fresh basil leaves
Salt to taste
1 large MacIntosh apple, peeled, cored, and chopped coarsely (There's nothing stopping you from leaving the skin on the apple. It's roughage. And nutrients.)
Brown chicken, reserve. Cook mirepoix (onions, carrots, and celery) and garlic over high heat to brown a few pieces. Only turn once or twice during cooking. That charred stuff is all flavor! Deglaze with white wine. Add chicken pieces, peppercorns, nutmeg, cumin, and stock. Add salt to taste. Bring to boil then cover reduce heat to low. Cook until chicken is tender. Remove chicken pieces and add potatoes and apples. Cook until potatoes are almost done. Add remaining spices, fresh basil, chicken pieces, and add salt as necessary (potatoes will have absorbed a lot of it), then simmer 10 minutes more until potatoes are tender. Yeah, that easy.
Note 1: If you want a little thicker stock you have a couple of options.but the easiest in my book is to take some of the potatoes out, mash them, and return them to the stock.
Note 2: One liter of stock may seem like a lot and it certainly won't all be used up in that first meal. After the chicken is consumed, I pulverized the lot and now have a delicious potage that only requires adding a touch of real cream or creme fraiche!.
Catrinas (© Tomas Castelazo)
Not like Halloween as it is a day, several days actually, of remembrance honoring those who have passed. From Wikipedia: "The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico
can be traced back to a precolumbian past. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors
had been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2,500–3,000 years. In the pre-Hispanic era skulls were commonly kept as trophies and displayed during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth."
"The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar
, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess known as the "Lady of the Dead", corresponding to the modern Catrina
"In most regions of Mexico November 1 is to honor children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1 mainly as Día de los Inocentes
("Day of the Innocents") but also as Día de los Angelitos
("Day of the Little Angels") and November 2 as Día de los Muertos
or Día de los Difuntos
("Day of the Dead")."Click here for some pictures from a Day of the Dead artists' competition. (No, not dead artists...
)They do have sort of a Halloween with kids in costume here. I saw/heard none in my neighborhood though I was prepared with a jar of 1 and 2-peso coins instead of candy. My friend Marvin reports that his neighborhood held a block party with streets blocked off and tables and chairs set up outside. Only the very youngest kids going door-to-door accompanied by their parents. Somewhat older kids had to eat of the pot luck fare first before sharing in the remaining sweet booty that was brought to the tables. A very orderly affair but as reported a friendly and enjoyable one.
It's one aspect of Mexico I truly enjoy, families and neighbors getting together and enjoying life and each other.Wifey is back in Belize on a mission of mercy so it's just me and the four-legged beasts on the homestead. Her appreciation of Mexico (and my cooking) grows exponentially with each passing day. Of course I miss her too yet, thanks to technology, we're in close virtual contact. Today it's raining yet again thanks to a cold front from, of course, up north. A rather constant sprinkle with occasional downpours that have our cat and three dogs laying about much like the dead.
Even the occasional rolling thunder roils them not. I'm envious but slept out so will seriously consider devoting the rest of the day to reruns of "24" and "The Big Bang Theory".After completely dismantling, cleaning, and reconstructing my
pasta machine, I didn't get to the inaugural Crab Ravioli that was on the menu. Instead, I resurrected a cast iron Dutch Oven and in short order I had a weekend's worth of chicken stew. Better than a slow cooker, once the chicken was browned, the onions and carrots softened, it was but 40 minutes later done to perfection. I do so like cooking with cast iron. It's not for every dish and I avoid cooking highly acidic foods (such as tomatoes), but for so many recipes, cast iron cookware is great.In related cooking news, I found a source for
delicious English Muffins. I had to resort to making my own in Belize even if Thomas' were found occasionally in some stores. It was just easier and better. Our local WalMart has a bakery (as do the other supermarkets) making pies, pizza, sweet pastries, baguettes (of various sizes), tortillas, etc. and now English Muffins. Six in a pack for 20 pesos (about US$1.50). Hopefully this will be a regular item but just in case, I vacuum-sealed two packs for the freezer. For those of you who would like to try your hand at making your own....English Muffins
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast (about 2 1/4- 2 1/2 tsp)
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/4 cup warm milk
2 TBS unsalted butter, melted
cornmeal for sprinkling
Some say dissolve the yeast and some sugar in the water and let it foam. That's called "proofing" which used to be done simply because one couldn't trust the quality of the yeast. I skip this and mix ALL the dry ingredients together very well then add the wet ingredients and mix well again. Start with 1/2 the flour to which you add the dry ingredients, mix very well. A
dd all the wet ingredients then mix very well again. Before adding more flour, continue mixing several minutes after everything is incorporated. I find this step important. Then add flour
to form a soft dough that just clears the sides of the bowl. You can mix by hand or with a machine but the process is the same. You may need more or less than 4 cups depending on your flour.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and springy adding flour a little at a time as necessary to prevent sticking. The softer you leave the dough, the lighter the muffin. Coat with very light spray of oil and let rise, covered, until doubled.
Yes, I keep oil in a small spray bottle...Punch down and roll
into a log about 3 inches in diameter. Cut slices about 1/2 thick.
Preheat oven to 300F. On a cooktop, heat a cast iron griddle until a drop of water sprinkled on the griddle dances across the surface. Sprinkle some cornmeal then place several muffins on the griddle, cook for about 8-10 minutes on each side, turning them when they are starting to show dark brown spots (yes, just like the ones you buy). They will swell and puff while cooking. Because English Muffins are thick, it takes a while to cook the inside so after their turn on the griddle, they go into the oven for about 15 minutes or so to finish.
No neighbors yet, just a fine, hand-built rock wall
I do believe the neighbors are worried about me. Three days of tropical rains and today, at the first break, I'm out watering a couple of plants. These are transplants, one an Aloe Vera the other some Lemon Grass, 'regalos' (gifts) from Ana and Bienvenido, that needed to go into the ground right away. Easy enough work after all the rain but the neighbors saw naught of my planting, only the watering. I could see them whispering and looking over my way. One with her hands on abundant hips the other with arms crossed and stroking her chin. Perhaps I could capitalize on the appearance of insanity? It's so quiet here, what else could they have for entertainment?
Those same two neighbors to my east, toward the sea, are friends who are often seen kibitzing about the goings on in the neighborhood. If you want to know something, just ask. If they don't know, they are full of opinions. If they do know, they are equally full of opinions. The son-in-law lives there ocasionally and, when he does, often has friends come at night to drink and talk. The dogs don't like them and let them know in no uncertain terms. Especially when those friends are inebriated and roll in at 3AM honking the horn to get attention. They like to play loud music. Fortunately it is only during the day. The have varied albeit limited tastes in music but so far, no rap. A good thing that.
Across the street, to the north, is the small tienda and hardware store. Between the two stores is the family's home with a veranda in the front behind decorative burglar bars. I know there are no customers when I see the hammock slowly swaying from side-to-side. Ocasionally the all-seeing electronic eye will alert of a customer creating a stir in the hammock. When I visit they rarely bother getting up as they see me coming from across the street. I say my good-day's, tell them what I'm buying, and leave the money on the counter.
To our west is the mechanic and his family. He stays rather busy repairing old VWBeetles and the various and sundry cars and trucks that stop buy for a quick looksee. I thought the Bugs were more reliable but perhaps age has taken its toll on them for I see the same cars coming by, sometimes for an hour, sometimes for a day or more. They all sound well enough when they leave, a bit more hesitant and hacking when they return.
This house is old and needs some attention. When I went to replace a leaking faucet I was told "Antigua, antigua" followed by a bit of air sucked between the lips which in any language is generally not a good sign except at a wine tasting. Well, up until that time, Antigua was a place in Guatemala and I knew that was just too far for a silly piece of plumbing. I learned that day antigua means "antique". What I had was an old, odd-size piece of plumbing that might well have been bought used at the time of construction 10 years ago and is now far beyond it's expiration date with no ready spares in town. Replacement will require removing tiles, chipping concrete, and gaining access to hidden pipes. A job for a pro.
Yesterday, our friend Jose informed me to be on the lookout for the plomero (plumber) who would be by to see me. Yesterday was Sunday. Surprised I asked for confirmation and hear "Mira, mira, mira (look,look,look). He's very busy and this is the only time he's available. Be here for him." I was rather hoping he would be here for me but at least we'd meet and discuss the work to be done. Invited for beers and joviality, I had to take a rain check in order to wait for the plomero. Who, of course, didn't come. After all, it was Sunday.
Today, the plomero may come. Or he may not. We've lived in this part of the world for well over 4 years now so we are no strangers to this sort of activity or lack thereof. I know he'll come,,,about five minutes after I leave to get something to eat or join a friend on the waterfront. And we will try again another day.
(Thanks to Ana and Bienvenido for a delicious duck liver!)
1 duck liver (about 3 ounces), cut into 1-inch pieces
3-4 TBS butter
1 large shallot, peeled and coarsely chopped (2 1/2 tablespoons)
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp cognac
1/4 tsp herbes de Provence
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Pinch of salt
I used a hot, cast iron griddle for this quick preparation. Melt butter and after the sizzle subsides, add shallots for 30 seconds, then the liver, herbs, and garlic, cooking and stirring a bit for 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper.
Transfer to blender, add Cognac, and blend. If this isn't smooth enough for you, push the liver mix through a fine strainer. Let cool and refrigerate 2 hours for flavors to blend.
Serve on toasted baguette slices with some real cornichons.
"I look like a Joey", he says...
It's early morning Sunday as I write and I'm enjoying the quiet respite from two very busy weeks. I'll not burden my dear readers with the details but it has been an emotional roller coaster of fun visits from old friends, other friends who have fallen ill or died quite unexpectedly, celebrations of life, and a new addition to the menagerie.
Unplanned events can take their toll but there is no avoiding them "Quoniam Stercus Accidit". Interuptions can wreak havoc on an orderly lifestyle. I vowed when I retired to avoid schedules. A lifetime of regulated living was behind me and the future was to be taken as it came. I've lived up to that fairly well, succumbing only when necessity dictated. After all, who would want to miss a party! Day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year life, however chaotic, has a rhythm and a schedule all it's own. I'm glad to be living at a time in my life and a place in this world where I can let the natural order of things take its course and not be driven into a frenzy of calendarial compliance. That written, I think Wifey secretly keeps a calendar. But she has hidden it along with the key to the strawberries.
The new addition to the menagerie is a stray female puppy, maybe 4 or 5 months old, smaller than our smallest dog, Annie, and is fitting in nicely at the bottom of the pecking order. Big ears and an incredible ability for her size to jump and grample onto the kitchen counters earned her the name "Joey". She's been broken of that habit now and is smart enough to take her cues from the other dogs to sit before getting kibbles. Interestingly, she avoids the grassy areas of the yard. I'm told this is a common problem with strays. Perhaps because they know grassy areas have scorpions and snakes whereas cement areas have restaurants and generous humans? The resultant "morning patrol" on the back piazza adds another (nonetheless, unplanned!) routine to our daily lives.
There is a lot happening in Mexico these days, some good, some bad, all interesting but which I will leave to other bloggers to report and opine. Teacher's strike, partial privatization of PEMEX (the national oil/gasoline company), drug wars, corruption, recession, obesity, poverty, etc. All interesting in their own right but one lesson I learned early on is: if you're not from around here, mind your own business. Doesn't matter whether you're temporarily living in Mexico, Belize, or Mississippi the locals know best and don't cotton to outsiders passing judgment or, worse, telling them how to do it "right". That's not to say foreigners shouldn't get involved locally, but there is a right way to do so (and many more wrong ways). Attitude is everything.
We have a new addition to the outdoor grilling area. A heavy duty, three-ring gas burner that puts out some serious BTUs! I can boil oil or water in record time and cook up tasty treats in short order. If need be, I can also reduce the heat and simmer the BBQ sauce next to the grill. A perfect addition that we had to procure from Belize as none similar could be found here. Same-same Wifey's Miracle Whip and my cigars. Makes Belize a nice place to visit.And before I forget, one of the great bennies of living in Mexico after leaving Belize is the choice of beers. Oh sure, lots of Mexican beers some of which are quite highly rated internationally. But there is also a good supply of foreign beers (I still remember that Sam Adams Boston Ale a few weeks ago!). A very good friend brought me a six pack of beers from different countries and I've been enjoying them all very, very slowly. Just the other day I enjoyed a delicious Belgian beer called La Chouffe. Awesome. Check them out online here
but also buy one or more at Liverpool at Mall Las Americas!
Speaking of visiting, I was at Pueblo Vaquero Num Ka'an
yesterday. It's a ranch, sports bar and restaurant, with A/C cabanas and horses for rent. I encourage all my readers to check it out online and visit if you're ever in the area. Nice pool, but even better, at the far end of the property is the beautiful Laguna Bacalar (Lake of Seven Colours). If you go, be sure to tell Geoffrey (owner), Carlos (gen mgr), or Miguel we sent you. All very nice and English spoken as Geoffrey is an old cowpoke from Arizona.
If you're grilling food (and you should be often!), I believe a marinade is generally an unnecessary effort. Marinades can work to bring a flavor to meats of all kinds but that flavor only comes out if you are careful with the subsequent cooking. When grilling you are looking for bold flavors that will shine through the smoke and browning/caramelization due to the Maillard Reaction that comes from grilling. Best to leave the meat as is, grill it, and near the end of cooking add those flavors you want as a finish. The only exception is if you want to tenderize what would otherwise be a tough piece of meat and don't want to cook it for a long time to break down the fibers. That you'll want to do early, as much as several days in advance. But for general purpose grilling, save a few pennies and skip the marinade.Grilled Beef Ribs
Get as many meaty, beefy beef ribs as you want then simmer in a 50/50 mix of Coca-Cola and water, about 1-2 tsp of peppercorns and 1 tsp Kosher salt. Cover ribs with liquid and boil until tender but not falling off the bone.
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
2 TBS Tabasco (or other hot) sauce
2 TBS liquid smoke (optional)
1 TBS onion powder
1 TBS garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp yellow mustard
1 1/2 tsp ancho (or other) chile powder (optional)
Put the ribs on a hot grill and slather with sauce. Cook until lightly charred all around. Buen provecho!
Laundry Day Next Door
I was politely reminded that I had fallen behind in my blog writing and, sure enough, Sunday came and went absent "the moving finger...having writ". Busy with the chores that had stacked up from weeks of rain or, at the very least, enjoying the sunshine and pondering the attack of said chores, I had only a passing thought or two about the blog and what subject matter would capture not only my interest but be worthy of my faithful reader. Yes, singular. As in, he who reminded me to "write dammit!"
Despite the one reminder, my little blog gets its fair share of visitors from around the world. Every continent save one is represented and a surprising number of countries where English is not the primary language. Intrigued at this I investigated and learned there are lost souls wandering the internet looking for some vicarious thrill. I know this to be true and welcome them all even if, shortly after landing here, they but beat their poor mouse in frustration and move on. There is a 300 liter
propane tank on the roof. It's not a terribly convenient location but seems to be the norm here. Our friend Rosa insisted that she had the number for the "only" proper gas company to service the tank and so, when the time came for a refill, we started to look for the number. There was no urgency when this back and forth started two months ago as I still had tens of liters of gas and we don't use that much with just the one stove. But now the flame was ebbing and I knew that I didn't really want all my food grilled over charcoal. I had listened to or read all the horror stories warning me to carefully check the meter as I was sure to be shorted, to call well before I was in dire straights as "their time" bears little semblance to even "island time", and so forth. Steeling myself for the experience I opened the Yellow pages and called the one company I was told was "the best of the bad". After quickly warning the receptionist of my marginal Spanish skills I told her I needed gas. A series of questions (with only a few repeated) led to answers and a comment that my Spanish wasn't so bad after all. Was she flirting or would they really bring a big truck, long hose, and a ladder?Fully expecting a two or three day delay, I paid little attention to the traffic on the street until a large diesel engine idled outside the house long enough to attract the dogs. They didn't bark mind you, just sat attentive to
something not normal happening outside the fence. There seems to be an invisible boundary about 4 feet outside the fence. Cross that boundary in our direction and the dogs will bark if you are a dog, cat, car, truck, or unknown person. (Horses on the other hand only have to be in sight to elicit a response.)Corralling the
beasts inside, I met the two workers and pointed out the location of the tank and they figured out the rest. One of them took the ladder and made his way up while I inquired of the other as to the price of gas. "6.74 pesos", he replied. (US$1.97/gal) Although the price varies by location it is fixed and public record so there's no cheating. When he asked how much I wanted I rounded up and started figuring the cost, more or less out loud apparently because when I said "7 pesos" he corrected me again stating "6.74 pesos". I signaled my understanding and, more to myself after that, did the math and counted the pesos in my pocket. "200 liters would be fine", I told him. I probably could have gone to 250 liters as I had enough money but I wasn't exactly sure how much was left in the tank and such tanks shouldn't be filled over 85% of capacity. The 55 or so liters wouldn't make that much difference at my current rate of usage.T
he process of filling the tank went smoothly. Their ladder was a bit short for a two-story house but we have a rooftop patio over the first floor and so the ladder was moved up to access the upper roof. The hose followed, the meter zeroed, and the gas flowed. Filling done, the hose came down and the worker climbed down to the first level roof. He moved the ladder down to ground level and saw Annie looking up at him. Despite her non-diet, she has a habit of squeezing through the burglar bars driven by her insane need to be with people
. The worker, not knowing Annie, refused to come down from the roof. Quite understandable of course so I called Annie over, told her to lie down, and when he saw I had some form of control over the dog, climbed down the ladder yet made sure he walked out of the yard keeping the ladder between him and Annie. If they only knew how gentle she is. But it's good to be cautious when many dogs aren't as docile. "Be afraid. Be very afraid", I thought.The other day I accompanied our friend Barry to Sam's Club, picked up some M&M's for friends in Belize and a few absolutely non-essential items
I didn't know I needed, then enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Pasion Turq. The Comertme (pronounced Cho-Ker-Meh...yes, I know, don't ask) consisting of shaved shwarma over thin cripsy fries with a garlic yoghurt sauce/dip was delicious and the service was, as always, excellent. While at Sam's Club I almost bought some of their coffee in a tin. I drink a fair amount of coffee and my usual, most excellent roast from Veracruz, is hard to justify by the pot. So I thought, for the daily grind as it were, I would go with a substitute. Instead, I'm making some "Cold Brew Coffee"
and shall see if that doesn't cut down a bit on the amount of beans I use.Cold brew is simple: put the grounds in water and let it sit in the refrigerator for 12 hours.
Filter and keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or longer. When needed, dilute 1:1 with boiling water (or cold milk!) for a cup of less bitter and (up to 67%) less acidic coffee. When coffee is heated the chemistry changes and since the roaster went to so much trouble to get the chemistry right
, well, we should do everything we can to brew a great batch. We shall see.Remember the Creamed Mushrooms from a while back? Well, I cooked a variation on the theme the other day that was delicious and very filling when served with spaghetti.Pancetta and Mushroom Cream Sauce(All quantities are approximate...I was experimenting!)1/3 cup diced Pancetta2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms3/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 cup dry white wine (plus one full glass for the chef)Dash of Nutmeg1 cup Heavy CreamFry up Pancetta until just starting to brown. Add mushrooms and cook until they darken and sweat out some liquid. Add white wine and reduce until its almost all gone. Over low heat, add cream and stir. When cream is hot, add nutmeg and cheese, stirring until melted. Serve over favorite pasta!Buen provecho!
Taking advantage of exposed rebar.
The constant rain stopped just in time for our gardener to mow and rake all the grass. The wear and tear on the lawnmower when the grass is high is too much to consider rotation mowing at this point. Best to just get it done when necessary and not wait too long on any one section. Which means our once a week gardener already knows how his day go when next he visits.I finally started work on the chicken coop using bamboo uprights supported by some handy
rebar on three of the corners (the fourth corner will be an existing fence post). Exposed rebar is not something you normally see in the USofA/Canada. Rebar is the metal tension/reinforcement used in concrete work, typically on corners, foundations, roofs, etc., It is very common here in Mexico and Central American that excess rebar is left exposed on corners. On a limited budget, one never knows when the next pot of money will show up that will allow a new room extension or even a second level, so the rebar is left in place just in case. Now, I doubt any permanent structure was intended to be built over this large septic tank but, perhaps from force of habit alone, some rebar remained post construction and I put it to good use. Next come laterals and cross-beams and supports for a zinc roof and the nesting boxes. All in bamboo if my stock holds out.I started a new group on Facebook called the Chetumal Connection.
There are a number of online expat groups for Mexico and Belize but this is, I believe, the only cross-over group that caters cross-borders. There certainly aren't enough expats in Chetumal to keep such a group going but between those who are here and the many in Belize who come to Chetumal for shopping and restaurants, this one seems to have gained acceptance and some traction. Hopefully it will be a good site to share information on all that's available in Chetumal and southern Quintana Roo State. Perhaps we will share reviews of lesser known haunts. We'll see.Enjoyed some delicious grilled rabbit and pork with good company Saturday afternoon on the waterfront at Sabanitas.
Douglas bought a few rabbits from the nearby restaurant owner who raises them and Berdado grilled them to perfection along with a few slices of pork. The friendly reunion was great but I couldn't stay late as I had to run by Bienvenido and Ana's to pick up my ducks for the monthly BBQ. Following a hot cup of coffee and catching up, I left with my haul of three 4-lb ducks and a handful of tangerine's. I also went by the local store to order my rental tables for the next day. Sunday AM delivery of 6 tables and 24 chairs with pickup on Monday for US$6.50. Can't beat that with a stick!Saturday night I prepared my two sauces/glaze...one Chinese and one Orange. The BBQ sauce could be prepared on the fly the next day (but it'll remain my secret!).
It was also the night our good friends Bruce and Colleen returned from their train-riding escapades with Wanda the Lizard
in the land of the big PX. They graced us with their presence and we had a late night beer and cheese gab fest. They gifted us a bottle of Bread and Butter Pickle Spice!!! Woohoo!! I'm off to get the cukes now!Since I didn't want to be fighting duck fat flare ups on the grill I opted for indirect heat grilling using up most of the grill's available real estate. That meant having to cook two of the ducks in the oven. One of those two was set on a stand one would use for the beer can chicken and the other was in a regular roasting pan
. Cooking started at 1030AM, the guests started wandering in around noon, and we ate at 3PM just as the last of the guests arrived - perfect timing! Three styles of duck, rice, chunky ratatouille, corn bread, pita bread, green salad, egg salad guacamole, dessert cake...no one left hungry!
We had a great afternoon/evening and many opined that I will have trouble besting this next month. We shall see!
Chinese Duck Glaze/Dipping Sauce
(Use this after rubbing the duck with salt, pepper, and Chinese 5 Spice before cooking/grilling) Slather it one the last hour or so of cooking for a nice thick glaze.
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup Hoisin sauce
4 TBS Rice Wine Vinegar
2 TBS Honey
2 TBS Soy sauce
1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powderStir together in pot and allow to simmer. Keep about 1/2 on the side for dipping!Caramel Orange Glaze/Dipping Sauce
1 1/4 cups (or so) of fresh-squeezed orange juice (I picked the oranges right from the garden yesterday!)
1/2 cup sugar
6 TBS water
1/2 cup Red Wine Vinegar
3 cups chicken stock (hey, if you have duck stock, go for it!)
1 TBS orange marmalade
4 tsp cornstarch
4 TBS orange liqueur (e.g., Grand Marnier)2 tsp grated zest from orange (I then juiced the tangerine and added to the orange juice)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Dissolve sugar in water in large pot and cook medium-high until the sugar caramelizes (deep golden brown), gently swirling the pan to ensure even cooking. Careful - it can burn quickly! Remove the pan from the heat and add the vinegar. Hold your breath, it sizzles! Simmer on low heat stirring constantly until the caramel is completely dissolved.
Stir the orange juice and stock and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce by half. Whisk in the orange marmalade and zest. Dissolve the cornstarch in the orange liquor and whisk this mixture into the sauce. Cook until thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Serve sliced duck with orange slices if you want to be fancy!Buen provecho!
Simon heard "Ratatouille" and came to supervise
As if I really needed an excuse but it has been a very wet week putting a damper on getting much of anything done outside. A break from the rain yesterday morning allowed us to get most of the grass cut before the afternoon deluge. This morning as I write, a new yard man, Jonathan, is having a go at the lot next door. I doubt he'll be able to put in a full day's work what with the outflow from Hurricane Ingrid in the Bay of Campeche sending lots of moisture our way but he's making the most of it.
16 September officially marks Mexico's 203rd birthday. The festivities started Friday with the 166th anniversary of the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. Technically it was a significant military defeat for Mexican forces yet a source of great national pride because of the brave sacrifices of six teenaged Mexican army cadets who gave their lives in defense of their county during the battle. Every year Mexicans honor Los Niños Héroes
(the Boy Heroes). That fateful day,
Chapultepec Castle was under siege by American forces. The greatly outnumbered defenders battled General Scott's troops for about two hours before General Bravo ordered retreat, however the six cadets refused to fall back and fought to the death. Legend has it that the last of the six, Juan Escutia, jumped from Chapultepec Castle wrapped in the Mexican Flag to prevent it from being taken by the enemy. Not to be outdone, Belize
started their 2 weeks of Independence Day celebrations with the commemoration of the Battle of St George's Caye (Sep 10) when, after 8 years or so of trying, the Spaniards finally gave up their efforts to oust the "Baymen" from the territory. Marching bands and dancing troupes will parade about the various towns throughout the country culminating in the Independence Day on 21 September. Belizeans treat this like Carnival time (with all that entails). The blackberry bushes are coming along splendidly and so, in my first effort at working with bamboo, I built a very simple espalier for the long lateral branches that will soon come. Cutting laps in the cross member to fit tightly against the uprights proved to be quite easy with a handsaw and pocket knife. I think I'll use the bamboo for the chicken coop which will be 12x12 enclosure. I'm only making it that big for the planned 3 or 4 chickens (and rooster) because there is a cement foundation that lends itself to
well to the project. By using the existing rebar in each corner, I can attach the bamboo without much hassle. This space also works well should the dogs decide chicken is too tasty to mind their master and the chickens have to remain cooped up all day. Worse case scenario they'll have to take turns in the yard each day. I can see it now, dogs in the house and at the window drooling and anxious to get out while the chickens have their yard time.The market had some nice eggplant and zucchini so you know I had to make a ratatouille. Ratatouille is a great vegetarian dish that can be eaten hot or cold, as a side dish or main course, with or without cheese, in a sandwich...amazing stuff. The recipe is easy albeit time-consuming but the result is so delicious I'll be making it more often
. The recipe below satisfied two hungry people with enough left over for a cold ratatouille and pate sandwich plus a small bowl of it reheated.
1 medium eggplant, sliced 1/4"
2 medium zucchini, sliced 1/2"
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, sliced
5 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
6 tomatoes, peeled and seeded then chopped into large chunks
1/2 cup fresh sweet basil, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp Mediterranean Spice or to taste (recipe below) (Note: If you don't want to get fancy with spices a couple of bay leaves and some thyme will be just fine instead)
salt and black pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup dry red OR dry white wine I like the vegetables chunky. I say that because many recipes will have you cutting the eggplant and zucchini into small morsels but they just fall apart and turn to mush (the eggplant sort of does that anyway but in bigger mush chunks).
After slicing eggplant, sprinkle slices with Kosher salt and give them an hour or two to let the water drain out. Rise them well to remove the salt and pat dry. Note: This is an optional step but does seem to prevent the eggplant from sucking up enourmous quantities of olive oil. Not that enourmous quantities of olive oil is necessarily a bad thing...
You'll need a fair amount of olive oil for this dish using it to brown/fry the veggies. Brown eggplant until both sides brown and set aside. Same-same zucchini. Cook onions until almost caramelized, add sugar and garlic and cook for 2 minutes, then add green pepper slices and cook for 2 minutes stirring all the while. Deglaze with wine, cook off alcohol (2 minutes) then add spices, parsley, basil, and spice mix. Add eggplant, then zucchini, then tomatoes in layers. Cover and cook for a few minutes until everything is warm again. Stir and adjust spices as necessary. Continuing cooking and stirring occasionally until it's hot. Serve with sprinkled Parmesan on top. Optional Oven Method: Prepare and cook everything as above until pan is deglazed with wine. Then take tomatoes and mix well with onion mixture. Place in bottom of casserole. Layer some sliced mozzarella or crumbled goat cheese then the zucchini and eggplant. Bake in 350 degree oven until bubbly. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve.
As I was writing this I thought of making the stove-top ratatouille then putting it into individual serving bowls, sprinkling mozarella cheese over the top and putting them under the broiler to melt. Next time!Mediterranean Spice Mix
3 TBS dried rosemary
2 TBS ground coriander
2 TBS ground cumin
1 TBS dried oregano
2 tsp ground cinnamon Buen provencho!