Archive for March, 2008

Hotcakes a la Mexicana

March 29, 2008

These have become the specialty of the house around here. It seems that every time we have company for breakfast, I make these. And, they are usually a big hit. Also, I have learned that the Spanish word for Pancakes is Hotcakes, so add that to your Spanish vocabulary list!

A word about the yogurt, here the yogurt is quite liquid. In fact it’s so liquid I can usually substitute it 1-for-1 with any recipe calling for buttermilk. You can use buttermilk or if your yogurt is not so liquid, you can mix it 50/50 with milk.

This recipe is adapted from Buttermilk Pancakes in The Joy of Cooking.

½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup
masa harina (corn flour for tortillas)
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1 cup yogurt

Sift all dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, beat egg and add vanilla extract and yogurt. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix.

Cook pancakes on a hot griddle or skillet, to which a little butter or oil has been added. The pan should be hot enough that the batter sizzles when it meets the pan. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup or large spoon to make a good sized hotcake. When bubbles appear on the hotcake or when you lift it a little and the underside looks brown, it is time to flip it. Wait an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute before removing the hotcake from the griddle.

I like to add some vanilla to these hotcakes because I think it complements the corn flour. I used to use the corn flour in the states occasionally. However, since I’ve been here, I’ve been using the masa harina and it is fantastic. The corn flour is treated so that it easily absorbs liquids and forms a dough. But, because corn contains no gluten, the hotcakes are delicate and light, instead of heavy and bread-y.

Also, most pancake recipes caution you against mixing too vigorously, or advise you to let the batter rest for a while so that the gluten relaxes. Because half the flour in this recipe is masa harina, they don’t contain enough gluten to really do more than hold the hotcake together.

Marbled Brownies

March 27, 2008

Emilie asked me for advice as to how to use her freshly acquired German Philadelphia cream cheese. This is what I would do. Em, I tried to include as many ounce measurements as I could find, but it is not consistent. I hope you have some measuring spoons!

This recipe is based on the Double Fudge Brownies from “King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking”

Temp 350F
Baking time 30min

1 cup (8 oz.) butter
1 ½ cup (12 oz.) light or dark brown sugar
¾ cup (2 ¼ oz.) dutch-process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 ½ cup (6 oz.) whole wheat flour

For Marbling:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
⅓ cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
teaspoon vanilla extract

Grease 9 x 13 inch pan.

Melt the butter in a medium microwave safe bowl. Add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the microwave briefly, until it’s hot and starting to bubble.

Stir in the cocoa, baking powder, salt, and vanilla. Cool the mixture until you can test it with your finger: it should feel like comfortably hot bath water. Wisk in the eggs, stirring until smooth, then add the flour, again stirring until smooth. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Wisk together ingredients for Marbling in a small bowl until smooth. Drop by spoonfuls over the brownie batter, swirl with knife or spatula to create “marble” effect.

Bake the brownies until a cake tester or sharp knife poked into the center reveals web crumbs but not raw batter, 30 minutes. The brownies should feel set on the edges and in the center. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack; cover when cool.

I tend to make the Marble part of the brownie first and then set it aside while making the brownie batter. The original recipe suggests letting the brownies sit for 24 hours before cutting them, thus giving them a better texture. I’ve never been able to actually test this theory.

Love from Japan

March 24, 2008

Today I received a box from Louise with fabulous Japanese mystery treats!  Thanks Louise!

We particularly enjoy the treat with the picture of the guy pounding something (maybe rice) with a large mallet.

Also, sensing my need for cultural sensitivity (ha!) she sent two pair of Japanese chopsticks so I would not continue insulting the great nation by eating sushi with my Chinese style chopsticks.

We are very excited about the possibilities, both with the mystery treats and the sushi.


March 22, 2008

This past week we skipped town with the rest of Guadalajara and headed out into the countryside. More specifically, we spent most of Semana Santa in Tapalpa, Jalisco. During Semana Santa, most of the big cities in Mexico empty and the beaches are packed with all the people from Guadalajara and Mexico City.

Tapalpa is about an hour and a half from Guadalajara and up into the mountains. Tapalpa is known as a place with really good cheese and very large rocks. There are quite a lot of cabins for rent and most people seem to stay outside the town and in cabins in the pine forests. We stayed at the cabin of my friend’s aunt.

The first day we arrived we unpacked the car and then headed into town. By chance we stopped in front of a house with a sign proclaiming “Productos Lacteos”. We entered off the street into the sitting room of the house. The smell of boiling guavas filled the room, we walked through the sitting room, filled with family photos into a small room with a refrigerator and stove opening onto the courtyard. The room was filled with preserves and rompope, and the guavas boiling on the stove. The owner, Carmelita, came through the courtyard to give us the big sell. She showed us the various kinds of cheese she had – queso fresco, panela, aged panela, aged queso fresco. Carmelita told us that she aged the cheeses for more than a month before they were ready to sell.

We were given taste tests of the cheeses and samples of the different flavors of rompope; we smelled the guavas and opened our wallets. We bought fresh and aged cheeses, two different flavors of rompope and peach preserves. I felt like I was operating with great restraint.

After the shopping spree, we wandered around the center of town and checked out the market and the church. We sampled the local specialties, which included tamales de acelga (or chard tamales) covered in cream and queso fresco. Across the street from the woman selling the tamales, there was a family selling churros. So we had desert, too!

I eyed the pots for boiling beans in the market and bought a new wooden spatula. We bought honey from a man loaded down with honeycomb and surrounded by bees. My friend laughed at the people asking the man if the honey was “all natural”.

We relaxed at the cabin and ate good food and played dominos while keeping warm by the fire. On our last day, we returned and left town loaded down with more cheese.

We also went to visit the big rocks, or Piedrotas, which were impressive to some people, but I was more impressed by Carmelita’s. We took her card which reads:
Productos Lacteos
Quesos, Panelas, Pegostes, Conservas, Rompopes, Ponches y Repostería
Carmelita’s Toscano
Hidalgo no. 248, Tel. 43 200 57, Tapalpa, Jalisco.

Life plans

March 11, 2008

I have had quite a few of those “what am I doing with my life” moments since arriving here. Most of them are answered with certainty and a smile; however, the job front seems to get more and more uncertain.

A few weekends ago, Adolfo, a friend and I had a long discussion about this. What my friend called a therapy session with a few bottles of wine. I confessed that I’m a little bit lost.

I originally got into this line of work because I wanted to help create better citizens of the United States; citizens who were worldlier and culturally competent. Young people who would return from their experience and be inspired to continue learning languages, or learn more about migrants, the incarcerated, or poor in their own country and do something to make the situation better.

I knew exactly why I was doing my job.

I am less sure of what I am currently doing.

They had several suggestions but they boiled down to one – they think I should teach. I was always sure I didn’t want to teach. Now I’m less sure of that.

In fact, I’m a lot less sure about most everything related to jobs. One of the things I told my friend was that in the States, I knew what the options were and where. I knew what the paths were to reach the goals I had. Now, I don’t know what all the options are, or where they are, or even how to get to them and I seem to have lost track of my professional goals.

Some people think I should teach, other people mention writing a book. I am viewing both these options with a romanticism that I just don’t think is very realistic.

My current job is ok and I am fine for the moment, but I can’t see my future there and it doesn’t help that everyone has a Plan B in case of getting fired. I feel like I should be getting my Plan B together.

Ok, I give up

March 10, 2008

For the last time, I tried once again to win the battle with fake meat. I lost. I have some sort of reaction to fake meat products that leads to terrible stomachaches and intestinal distress. I don’t get it.

I purposely tried the fake meat this time while Adolfo was out of town. Also, because it is hard to just buy one small serving, I knew there was a chance I would need to throw the rest of the package out, and for some reason that was something I didn’t want Adolfo to be around for.

My history with fake meat began in grad school. I was starving and wanted ready to eat food that wasn’t horrible for my health. I was surviving on quesadillas with the occasional bagged spinach leaf or spoonful of refried beans out of a can and frozen vegetarian lasagna. I needed another option.

I thought that a little Boca/Morningstar burger or nugget would provide some much needed variety. And it did. Hours after eating any of these products I would develop horrible stomachaches.

I don’t know why. I have no other food allergies, not even the family food allergy. And, apparently the rest of my family is able to eat fake meat products with abandon. I eat soy products regularly (tofu, soy sauce, the occasional edamame). I don’t generally have a sensitive stomach. I eat chile and drink tequila (both in moderation). I even eat street food and since moving here I’ve had hotdogs off the street, with chile! (Now, that really should have given me a stomachache.)

So for some reason, with all that experience, I decided to give it one more shot. They sell a lot of fake meat products here. I don’t believe they are exceptionally healthy (they seem to have a lot of fat), but I just want another option sometimes. Also, I convinced myself that maybe fake meat is different here. Well, I was wrong.

Pain and suffering ensued. And, I think I’m off the fake meat wagon for good.

What is it that fake meat has that is not found in anything else I’m eating?


March 9, 2008

Adolfo left for Mexico City yesterday and now I’m home alone for the next few days. I’ve been reading about people (in emails and blogs) who are housebound due to the winter storms hitting the Mid-west, and for some reason am feeling a little jealous. So, I think today I’m going to pretend to be housebound. There are a lot of things to do out in the city today, and I don’t feel like doing any of them.

Friends of mine are on movie marathons right now because the International Film Festival is happening right now. Last night I went through the schedule and tried to make a plan. But, honestly, although the movies look really good, I can’t get worked up enough to try to find these movie theaters and get there by myself.

I really don’t even feel like going grocery shopping. And, I know perfectly well where the grocery store is. On second thought, I have to go grocery shopping today; I don’t really think I have a choice about this.

I think part of my resistance to getting out of the house has to do with some anxiety I’m feeling about work right now. Among other things, I have one more week before the spring vacations and there are about a thousand things that need to be accomplished before we shut down.

I am excited about the upcoming vacations. I get a ridiculous amount of vacation time with this job. However, contrary to any other job I’ve had in my life, vacations are non-negotiable and non-movable. And, the entire university closes. You will take vacations when they tell you!

With the structure of our currently employment, I will almost never have the same vacation time as Adolfo. Except on the occasion of Semana Santa, which practically every single Mexican has off. Adolfo has Semana Santa and then goes back to work. I, however, have Semana Santa, Semana Pasqua AND the following Monday. So, I’ll be returning to work for the 1st of April.

But, until the end of the day on Friday, I’m panicked about how much needs to be accomplished before the lights go out.

So, today I think I will try to focus on vacations instead of panicking about work. We are going to stay in a cabin of an aunt of a friend in a little town called Tapalpa. So, I think today I’m going to plan a menu and maybe pick out some books.

Container Garden

March 1, 2008

I was able to leave work about a half hour early on Friday and made it to the Nursery before it closed. Finally, I was able to pick up a couple pots and a bougainvillea. I planted one pot with spinach seeds and have another for when my tomato seedling out grows it’s 1 c. yogurt container.

Also, this week one of the rosemary cuttings started to perk up and I think it has sprouted some roots. The other cutting still looks really stressed and I’m not sure it’s going to make it.

The mint, of course, looks great and is making an attempt to take over the terrace from it’s rather small pot. The oregano is struggling along and I’m not sure what to do to make it happy. I’ve thought about trying to divide it or putting it in a bigger pot, but it just looks really constricted although I think it should have enough space (same sized pot as the mint).

Spring has sprung, here in Guadalajara. The trees are blooming and the people are sneezing.