Archive for February, 2008

Teaching culture

February 26, 2008

I have a friend who is very interested in cinema and has been lending us various documentaries and other movies to watch. Recently, we were discussing learning about culture and cultural references through movies and this weekend she lent us a Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete movie, to teach me about Mexican culture. We’ve already had long conversations about Cantinflas.

So, now I’m making a list of movies that I think teach or explain US culture or contain cultural references. I think they need to be from before the 90s, since she’s seen a lot of movies since that time, also she’s already seen the Muppet Movie, the Wizard of Oz and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (which she didn’t like).

So here’s my short list so far:

To Kill a Mockinbird
The Cradle will Rock
Some Like it Hot
Roman Holiday
Bull Durham
Pretty in Pink or 16 Candles
Blazing Saddles
Say Anything
American Graffiti
Once Upon a Time in the West

What do you think? Any glaring omissions?

I think I am not including the War genre, but I don’t much like it – or I could recommend that she watch Apocalypse Now and not tell me about it.

Lunchroom questions

February 24, 2008

On Friday, I was heating up my lunch and a co-worker, who I don’t know very well, asked me, “So what do people from the US eat?”

I thought, uh oh, I’m not going to give her an answer she will like, and said, “Do you mean, what am I having for lunch?”

She said yes and so I responded, “Well today I’m having Tortilla Soup.”

Probably not what people from the US are usually eating. I think she was disappointed that I was eating Mexican food, instead of something more exotic and interesting.


February 24, 2008

Adolfo’s brother passed us his recipe for Nopalitos and I made them for lunch today. I have eaten this recipe before and I liked it quite a bit. However, people are always cautioning about cooking nopales, which are cactus pads from a certain kind of prickly pear cactus, nopalitos are literally “little nopales” – basically they are cut up. The caution is generally because nopales are famous for their babas, or drool. If not properly cooked they ooze a goo similar to that of okra. And, it is not at all appealing when your salad looks like it’s covered in drool.

Last week, when I went to the market, I noticed for the first time that they had nopales. The market, and to a lesser extent the supermarket, is very seasonal. I may not know the particular seasons for some things, but at the market it is stark – either it’s there, it’s not there, or it’s there and looks really bad (which is the case right now with the guavas, they are out of season and look horrible). So the nopales have appeared, and they look good, so it must be nopal season.

In case you are able to get nopales where you are, I translated the recipe below. Remember, it’s a salad, so measurements are difficult to come by and it’s up to your taste.

Nopalitos Salad

Wash the nopales and look them over carefully for needles. Cut into large dice. Add to salted water, which is boiling with a piece of an onion. Boil for 20 minutes. Drain and remove onion pieces.

Mix in a medium sized bowl: finely diced onion, finely diced chile serrano, chopped tomato and cilantro. Add the drained nopalitos and add to your taste: salt, olive oil and vinegar or lime juice. You may also add diced avocado. Finally on top sprinkle queso fresco, or other similar cheese.

You can refrigerate the salad before serving, because it is much better cold.

I would say that refrigeration is not an option, you must at least serve the salad at room temperature, so a quick refrigeration helps you get there faster. Of course, you can add the tomato, cheese and avocado right before serving. I used about 1 ½ – 2 cups of nopales, the onion was red for color and I used probably 2 T., one whole avocado, which I also believe is not optional, and a roma tomato. I also used probably 1 T. of lime juice and I seeded the chile.

It was quite successful and not at all drooly.

Happy Valentine’s Day or The Secret Chinese Menu Strikes Again!

February 14, 2008

So, first of all, and since I’m thinking of Louise and she posted about Valentine’s Day in Japan, I’m sort of surprised by the non-issue that is Valentine’s Day here. I work in an office FULL of women and I expected a little bit more of an event. There was no asking about plans for the night, no little candies passed around, nobody appeared to receive flowers. I was at least expecting people to ask me if I was going out to dinner. Nothing.

The streets, however, are a different world altogether. I saw lots and lots of people with balloons. Lots and lots of balloons, in fact, while I regularly pass people selling flowers in the street, I usually don’t see people selling balloons. Many more balloons than flowers. Balloons on sticks, balloons on string, I didn’t get a balloon.

Anyway, we did go out to dinner tonight. We walked over to the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, which is now the second time we’ve been and I’m starting to really like this place. It is still expensive and we can’t go there all the time, but ACTUAL Chinese people eat there.

Unfortunately, the actual Chinese people didn’t arrive until we were paying the bill, so I was not able to point to their table and ask the waiter to bring me whatever they were eating. I was also really missing Louise, I already know that the restaurant is Cantonese, and Louise could tell them to bring us real Chinese food and not goopy/saucy stuff. (Although, we quite liked our goopy/saucy stuff, as it had really good flavor and the vegetables are still crunchy.)

But, after rudely trying to listen in on the conversation behind us – in Cantonese – which was wildly unsuccessful in helping us learn what was on the Secret Chinese menu, we just went ahead and asked the waitress what the folks behind us had just ordered. I was reminded of Calvin Trillin in “The Tummy Trillogy” where he continually complains about his lack of ability to speak Chinese and how it is preventing him from a really good meal.

So, the folks behind us ordered stir-fried baby chard with mushrooms, the first of the season, the waitress explained. Making it that much worse. She did tell us that the next time we come in, ask for her and ask what the kitchen is preparing that is not on the menu. I think, with that, we just might be gaining access to the secret Chinese menu.

And, Merry Christmas to you, too!

February 13, 2008

I think some of you thought I was joking when I said you would get your Christmas cards for Groundhog’s Day. I’ve been receiving emails of shock and surprise for the last few weeks and it is really amusing me. This week we received our first Christmas card (thanks Matt, Stephanie & Isaac!) and it is now proudly displayed on our sagging bookshelves.

I think next year I’m just going to go ahead and wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Groundhog’s Day!

And, by the way, Randall – You don’t need an invitation to come visit us, we will be very happy to see you anytime you like!

We need a new plan

February 6, 2008

So, today, February 6th, my mail-in ballot arrived for the primary. Since California voted yesterday with the other Super Tuesday primaries, I did not vote.

I feel frustrated about this and worried that I won’t get the ballot in November either. I always vote. This is the first time I don’t and, for the first time in my life, it is actually very interesting vote in this primary.

My voter registration for my overseas ballot was mailed right after new years (from California, thanks to Adolfo’s brother). But, somehow I thought I had done something wrong, or I was supposed to not just register as an overseas voter, but also request my ballot. But, apparently they got it and understood that they needed to send me a ballot, slooooowly.

I have heard rumors of ex-pats being able to get their ballots by email or fax, so I’m going to have to look into that method – I think it depends on your voting state.


February 5, 2008

How can you tell if a pineapple is ripe? I can’t seem to figure it out.

Drive through

February 2, 2008

There is an intersection that we pass regularly in our driving around town that takes us from our neighborhood to a major avenue, which traverses the city. At any time of the day or night you can buy things from your car at this intersection. I have noticed that the products tend to change depending on the time of day.

In the mornings and during the daytime, you can get your windshield washed; buy a phone card or a newspaper. I have purchased both newspapers and phone cards here. The windshield washers are a family, I think, and at least two of them are deaf. Also, there is an old woman asking for money is at this intersection during the day. I gave her a couple oranges once and she asked me where I was going, I told her I was going to the center of town and she told me she would bless the roads I would take. One time, I was asked if I wanted to buy a puppy. They were very small. I declined.

In the evening you can buy roses and calla lilies, or perhaps a bouquet. But, you can’t get your windshield washed and there are no more newspapers.

Very late in the night or early morning, depending on when you are coming home, the transvestite prostitutes come out. No more roses for sale.