Michoacán, among other things

May 8, 2010

Last weekend we took a short trip through Michoacán. We stayed at a cute little hotel in Patzcuaro and explored the pueblo one day, passed through Santa Clara del Cobre and then made our way to Morelia for another day. The sights were nice and the shopping was very good.

In Patzcuaro we bought some artisan chocolate, a nice tablecloth and I finally was able to buy some dried whole linden flowers for tea. I have seen this in Guadalajara, but always in really busy markets and it is hard to ask vendors lots of questions when the crowds are so large. There were no such crowds in Patzcuaro and I was able to quiz the lady selling the flowers in front of the basilica. I asked her so many questions; she gave me a half packet of fresh linden flowers for free. She said the fresh ones were only good for adding to necklaces and painting the petals with nail polish. She said the tea from the fresh flowers is too bitter to drink.

We had lunch at a fabulous little lunch place, which served strawberries and cream for desert. We were so full we were unable to eat dinner.

The next day we headed over to Santa Clara to shop for copper things. Many of the pueblos in this area are still specializing in one item, material or style of artisanal work. Near Santa Clara del Cobre are pueblos specializing in wooden chairs, guitars, lacquer or something else. I came home with a burnished copper vase.

After the shopping we headed on to Morelia, the capital of Michoacán. We walked around some more and saw the sights. My favorite walk in Morelia is the pedestrian walk parallel to the aqueduct and leads to our favorite restaurant in town, La Inmaculada. The next morning, we had breakfast on the main square and then headed back to Guadalajara.

The very next day, I presented an hour-long talk in the class I’m auditing about my thesis work. It was very rewarding and I really liked the dynamic – lots of good questions and the professor helped me out with some questions which were outside the scope of my work. This was the first time I ever presented this work in Spanish and it went pretty well. Where to go from here…. Hmm….

Meanwhile, I just finished my third week of running. I’m working off a program called Couch to 5K and so far, so good. The program is really helpful and I’ve found a good route.

We in the midst of the hottest part of the year now and we are sweltering. I’m trying to keep the garden watered as much as possible, but haven’t tried to plant any seeds for the next go round. I’m mentally preparing some things, but I need to wait for a break in the weather first.

I finished two knitting projects, the shawl and the gift, and am now working (slowly) on the sweater and trying to remember how cold I was in January.

Class, cat and other projects

March 10, 2010

Well, once again, it’s been a while.  But, I thought an update on all the New Year’s plans was in order.

I have been attending the class Migracion Internacional since the beginning of the semester.  The professor is great and I’m having all kinds of conflicting feelings like: I’m talking too much in class, I should be teaching a class on migration, I should be studying at a higher level than undergraduate (even though it’s all in Spanish), maybe I should really get my butt in gear about this doctoral degree idea, I want to tell them all about the research I did for my MA and thesis, I should sit back and listen more, if I don’t understand something is it because of the language or was it a difficult concept?, and many other things.  So, it’s very invigorating.  I return home for lunch after my class and I feel a strange combination of tired and charged for the rest of the day.  I think this is good.

We adopted a small kitty who immediately doubled in size (ok, maybe it took a month).  We looked into an organization a friend of the family used to adopt her cats and went to their monthly fair.  Now Eco has been with us for a couple months and is master of the house, yelling at us all morning and sleeping all afternoon.  Also, he’s very pretty.

The sweater project died and had to be put on hold, but the knitting continues.  Mom hooked me up with a knitting website and now I can find free patterns.  I’m currently working on a shawl with the yarn that would have been the sweater but wasn’t enough.  And, a present for a friend, so I won’t say much about it here – especially in case it doesn’ t turn out well and I’m too ashamed to send it.  As soon as I finish the shawl, which is also the first lace pattern I’ve ever attempted, my needles will be freed up for the renewed sweater project attempt – with new yarn.

The garden shuffles along without much assistance from me.  With the lone exception of the first tomato plant.  I saw it was trying to put out new leaves and decided to cut back all the older, dying leaves.  I now have a full-on second round of tomatoes coming on the first tomato plant!  I’ve never had this happen before – it always got too cold.  The second tomato plant is staggering behind.  It put out flowers, but is half the size of the first plant and seems to have an infestation of something which I have not researched and have not taken any action other than squishing a few bugs and spraying more soapy water.  The peas continue to be very unhappy with their lot in life.  Adolfo and I ate a total of 5 peas from the 5 plants.  I saw one more sad little flower yesterday.  Maybe we will both get one more pea.  The serano chile has also decided to go another round and is putting out flowers and chiles like crazy.  I picked a LARGE, ugly worm off the plant this morning and threw it over the balcony (my pest prevention plan).  The chile plant seems to not mind at all, even though some of the leaves were chewed off.  I made three cups of pesto (not all at once) from the basil plant and need to cut it back again.  It continues to insist on flowering.  Also, the gardenia is not happy and I don’t know why.  I’m sure I could read about it, but I haven’t.

I have a lovely backlog of books to read which I am savoring or devouring depending on my mood.

The cooking has not been very interesting since my stomach is all messed up and I’m on a very boring diet – so boring I’m losing weight even though I’m eating potatoes at practically every meal.  The one bright spot today was that Paty and I made the Oatmeal Chippers out of the Farm Journal Cookies book.  She had asked me to teach her a cookie recipe.  I told her my big secret was halving the sugar.  They turned out great, as usual.

New Year

January 6, 2010

Christmas and New Year’s Eve were a whirlwind of family and friends and food and visits.  Except for the unexpected absence of my father (lost passport, I’m sure you’ve heard), it was a very nice break.

It was also an appropriate time for reflection and planning.  I have started some new projects and am planning to start a few more.  I’m working on knitting my first sweater and will hopefully be able to wear it around the house when I’m done.  We have been looking at pictures of the cats on the Adopta Guadalajara web page and are getting a little bit closer to getting a small furry friend.

But, the bigger plan I’m working on is a plan to audit a course this coming semester.  The semester starts in the first week of February and I have decided (with the pushing and prodding of family) that I should sit in on an undergraduate level course at the UdeG.  I haven’t asked the professor yet, but I know him and I think he’ll say yes.

The bigger picture to this plan is the elusive doctoral degree.  I’ve been looking and pondering for a while and I think the idea of getting a degree in the US is just too expensive right now.  I don’t want to quit my job, I quite like it, and I would have to do a program arranged so you are doing distance learning for the semesters and spending the summers in Minnesota.  However, without the possibility of doing work-study, the aid will be all loans, and this is scary.  Especially scary since I earn an income based on living in Mexico.

So, I’m going to check out the UdeG and see if I can handle it, if I like it and if I can remember how to write academic papers in Spanish.  It will be a new challenge for the new year.


December 5, 2009

I’ve been having an exhilarating time at the FIL.  Since the invited area is Los Angeles, many of the panels and round tables are of authors I’ve read, I have their books, and/or they provided the foundation for my thesis.  Needless to say, I’ve been there a lot and have been asking lots of questions and coming home breathless with excitement.

After posing one question, an author I admire posed a question back at me and I have been thinking about how to respond for the last couple days.  Héctor Tobar writes for the LA Times and he is best known for his debut book “The Tattooed Soldier”, which I didn’t read because it’s about tortured Guatemalans.  His second book, “Translation Nation” was lent to me by Iliana and it was fantastic.  He travels throughout the US focusing on the Spanish-speaking US, but not just in the big cities of LA or Chicago, but in the little towns in Alabama or Kansas where they are having an influx of Spanish-speaking people because they have a meat packing plant or a chicken processing center.  It is a very interesting and important read.

I thought he did a very good job of capturing the culture of the Mid-West, not something that many LA writers can do, and when I told him this, he asked me where I was from and also for some recommendations on books that have good representations of Mid-West culture. So…..

I’m assuming he’s looking for something beyond Mark Twain or Laura Ingles Wilder, the first things that popped into my head.  The best book I can think of is called something like “Farm” which makes it impossible to find in any book search.  I got it from the MU library and it was guy who spent a year living with a farmer and family somewhere near Warensburg.  He goes into great detail about the difficulties of modern farming and the social fabric of these communities.

Anyone else have any suggestions?  Héctor asked me to email him when I had something.

Yeah, sorry about that…

November 29, 2009

Oooh this blog thing is getting the best of me.  So many things have happened, time has past, gardening and cooking have progressed.

We harvested the very first tomato the other day and yesterday I took the second one off the plant.  I’m impatiently waiting for the mother load to ripen.  The plant is loaded down with green fruit and this morning I re-worked some of the supports so the vine is not doubling over quite so much.

I recently transplanted two more tomato plants and we will see if I can finally get my perpetual tomato production plan in action.

I’m also trying to get a plan together for some Christmas preparations, which includes cookies and bread baked and in the freezer, and some small meals stashed away.

We’ll see if I manage to get the Christmas cards out this year.  It didn’t happen last year, so I’m still stocked up on cards.

And, now the FIL has started, so we are going to be at the book fair all week long!


September 25, 2009

So as soon as I post about the successes in the garden, the worst storm of the season rolls through town.  I managed to rescue the chile plant when I saw it rocking back and forth in the pot.  The roots looked like there were going to come right out of the dirt.  I propped it up in a corner of the patio behind a chair and it was pretty safe from the rest of the storm.  The tomato, however, was a different story.

I can’t move the tomato so easily and one of the first things to happen was the tomato cage fell over, while trying to rip out the tomato.  Luckily the stem was not broken, it has happened before, and I was able to kind of prop it up on the fallen tomato cage for the rest of the storm.  The leaves are pretty battered by the hail, but no major damage is apparent.  We put the tomato cage back over the plant and reinforced it with two more pieces of wood.  I think it will stay put, now.

rogue squash

September 22, 2009

I believe there is a rogue squash down the street and I’ve been keeping my eye on it for a while now.  Ever since it put out a few squash/melon/cucumber-like leaves, I will check under the leaves every so often to see if there’s anything interesting going on.  It’s residing in some dirt between an empty house for sale and the street.  But, just the same, the street sweeper/gardener/concierge guys on my street are sometimes inclined to tidy up things like this.

I’m pretty sure we have a neighborhood squash plant, since there are now several yellow squash blossoms, but not enough to eat.  Maybe this is the start of my own personal community garden. (Can a person have a community garden alone?)

In other garden news, the chile serano has three open flowers and quite a few blossoms.  Every since the last big storm he’s growing a little sideways, but seems to be doing ok.  Adolfo’s father gave me three chile pods of a Tornachile and I am going to plant them as soon as I figure out where to put them.  I guess the side of the road is an option around here now.

The Health Kick Hybrid tomato has several buds on it and the tomato cage Adolfo and I made out of discarded tree parts (and modeled on my father’s wooden tomato cage) is holding up just fine.  I’m starting some Homesweet Hybrid seeds and hopefully they will be coming up soon.

The dill is infested with aphids again and has stopped growing at about two inches.  I’m going to rip it out.  I have not yet had a successful dill crop and I’m about to give up – except that it’s practically impossible to find dill in the market.

The onions are coming along, but don’t seem to be as happy as previous batches.  The lettuce is bolting and we have to eat it VERY SOON.

The gardenia for some unknown reason is very happy (!?!) and continues to bloom. It smells lovely.  And, the bougainvillea is recovering from a worm/unknown menace infestation and is refusing to bloom any more.  I’m doing my best to be convincing.

tourism at home

September 13, 2009

We had a very eventful weekend with Adolfo’s brother and girlfriend, which included the Ballet of Jalisco, a ceramics studio in Tonala, Guachimontones and raiding the lemon tree down the street.

The Ballet was nice to see and I hope they get better and better. They are a very young company, only just formed in January, and their first show was canceled due to swine flu.  Of the four pieces, one was very nice and showed a lot of promise.  Three of the pieces were kind of painful to watch.  But, I think they show promise, some of the dancers were very good, and I hope the city continues to support them.

Yesterday, we traveled out to the suburbs of Guadalajara to Tonala, a town known for ceramics.  We got a tip from Adolfo’s father on how to find a ceramics studio and with a map were able to find our way to a plain-looking door leading into a small house.  In the entryway, we met two brothers whose father, Nicasio Pajarito, started their studio and they showed us the pieces on display.  As Adolfo’s brother and his girlfriend looked over the cups and water pitchers, Adolfo chatted with the brothers.  As they chatted, one of the brothers said to the other, “Well, looks like we aren’t going to sell anything today….” and Adolfo said “What are you talking about? We’re here to buy things.”  And, the brother explained, that since their father wasn’t in the shop today, they couldn’t sell any of his things.  Adolfo suggested they call the father, but they said he was out in the fields harvesting corn and wouldn’t be available.  Finally, they decided they could sell some of their own pieces, which were purchased with gusto.  We were able to see the kiln and the areas where they form and paint the pieces.  When Mom and Dad come to visit, we are going to return and see if we can get one of the sons to give us to a tour.

The day before that, we went to see the local pyramids!  We have pyramids!  Way over here in Western Mexico.  And, the best part is – they are circular.  Check it out. They were only just discovered in 1970 and the reconstruction/reparations began in 1999.  They are currently building a museum at the entrance and when we arrived there was almost nobody there.  It was much more green than the link shows, and maybe Adolfo will put his pictures up soon.  Guachimontones is only an hour from Guadalajara and a very easy day trip for some very interesting sights.

And lastly, we stop off at the lemon tree down the street and brought home about 30 lemons – and there are many more on the tree.  This weekend, while walking to Adolfo’s mother’s house, I passed the lemon tree and the gardener was outside raking leaves.  I stopped to talk to him and mentioned that the tree looked like it was ripe for the picking.  He agreed but said, “there’s a problem with this tree”  I said, “oh really?”  and he continued to explain that the problem with the tree is that it’s not a lime tree and it’s not an orange tree.  He said the owner doesn’t really like the fruit and I could have as much as I liked, whenever I wanted.  Apparently, the only thing this tree is good for is making “aguas” or fruit-waters, but even then you have to add a few oranges or it’s undrinkable.  So far, I have two quarts of preserved lemons in jars.  I made a bunch of lemonade, some lemon curd (and biscuits to go with) and still have five lemons left over.  I’ll be on the lookout for more lemon-based recipes.

Quite an eventful weekend.


September 5, 2009

Since we’ve been back from New York we have had new help around the house.  Previously, we employed a woman who came and cleaned (swept, mopped, washed dishes) and ironed once a week.  However, she is pregnant and decided to start leaving some of her jobs and offered to have her sister come work with us.  The sister came a couple times, but we didn’t click and the job wasn’t so good.

Now we have Paty.  Paty has been working for Adolfo’s mother since Adolfo was living at home.  Adolfo’s mother trained her to cook her recipes.  Already, she has made us picadillo, lengua en salsa roja, rice (mexican style), jamaica and the famous tomatillo and chile de arbol salsa. Also, Paty is really good at what she does.

There were some recipes which I’ve eaten at Adolfo’s mother’s house and really liked and was really excited to have Paty here once a week to cook some of these very mexican dishes.  One of the first ones I asked for was the lengua.

I went with her to buy the tongue (lengua), as I have never purchased tongue and had no idea what questions I would need to answer, how much to get, or how to recognize quality.  First of all, tongue is huge!  I thought we would be getting two or three and it would be about a kilo of meat.  No.  One was plenty and weighed about two kilos.  Also, it was frozen solid. Paty and the butcher agreed that tongue was always sold frozen.  I do not know why, when everything else at the butcher shop seems to be refrigerated, or not.  (Also, Adolfo says this is not true and he remembers buying tongue with his mother and it was not frozen.)  And, the one question the butcher asked was:  Hijo o padre? (Son or father?)  Paty opted for “hijo”, and I think I would have made the same choice on my own.

So, we took the giant, frozen tongue home and I went back to work and so did Paty.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to look over Paty’s shoulder while she was making the tongue, but she did give me a few tips while I was making excessive trips to the kitchen, for example:  the tongue is boiled for a couple hours and then it has to be cooled before you peel off an outer membrane, slice it and put it into the sauce, also it starts off pretty chewy and will soften the longer it cooks.

Later, for lunch there was lengua en salsa roja, as if by magic.  It is wonderful to have lunch just appear.  We are really happy to have Paty around and one of these days I will have less work and be able to hover while she cooks – I’m not sure Paty is looking forward to this day as much as I am.

New York City vs. Chicago

August 13, 2009

We made it back from New York on Monday and I’ve been very happy puttering about the house and neighborhood for the last couple days, getting myself back on track on the home front.

New York leaves me with conflicted feelings. I love that we got to see all the good friends and family there and eat good food. We wolfed down the food, flavors and ingredients we cannot find in Guadalajara – corned beef and pastrami sandwiches from Katz deli, herring from Russ & Daughters, hole-in-the-wall dim sum in Chinatown, Pakistani food and NY style pizza. We sat around the breakfast table with good people having good conversations. We went to bookstores and stocked up on books in English. It was a great vacation.

But, New York City always leaves me feeling melancholy. The first time it happened I was visiting friends in Brooklyn and I said to my friend Max, “I know they don’t feel sorry for themselves, but I feel sorry for the people who live here.” She responded, “You’re right, they don’t feel sorry for themselves.”

So, this visit I was prepared to like the city. We were staying with family and we had a low-key agenda (books and food, food and books). But still, I can’t shake the feeling. I feel sad in New York. I feel lonely and isolated in the congested city.  I don’t know what it is and have been pondering my reaction for days.

Chicago, on the other hand, was really special and surprising.  We were there last month after our trip to Missouri.  We were shocked by the super-friendly locals, to the point that we considered them somewhat ill or in recovery from the harsh winters.  Over and over again we were treated far nicer than the usual tourists.  A friend tried to confirm our theory with a local and was told it is absolutely not the case.  We still don’t know why they are so happy and friendly.

The food was very good, if you could find the right places.  The Publican, Sweet Maple Cafe and Hopleaf Bar being the stand out favorites.  The architecture was outstanding, we went on three different architecture tours.  There was public art everywhere and it was being used by the public.  The art museum was free on one of the afternoons while we were there and it was packed.  The parks were swamped with people.  We were happy just wandering around the city.

Now, back at home, I’m trying to get the garden back on track and the kitchen back into shape.  Most of the garden survived and we’ve been getting really violent thunderstorms for the last couple nights, so I hope the seedlings can hang on through the wind and hail.  We have visitors already marked on the calendar, but we have no plans for leaving the country for a while now.  It’s good to be home.