Tamales and Clay Pots

January 1, 2009

The family came and went and we ate and ate and ate.  There was turkey and bacalao and romeritos with shrimp cakes and escargot and panela and sopes and on and on and on.  Adolfo and I are trying to radically shift our eating habits back into the norm, but we have so many leftovers in the fridge that we are still eating lots of meat and very few vegetables.

Yesterday a friend invited me over to her house to help make tamales for New Year’s Eve.  I grabbed a box of picadillo out of the freezer and headed over for the afternoon.  She did a couple things with the dough that I don’t remember seeing before, but that make a lot of sense.  The first is the addition of some baking powder.  I think this makes the dough steam up a little lighter.  And the second is the addition of some rice flour.  I’m not sure exactly what the rice flour does, but I like the end results.  She also added a few ice cubes to the mix while we were beating the lard and masa (dough) together.  Keeping the dough cold is probably good for the lard and makes for a slow addition of icewater, which was also needed.

In addition to the picadillo tamales, we made some of beans and cheese, pinapple and strawberry.  I haven’t tried the pinapple or strawberry, yet, but I’ve been promised a couple.  The dough turned out better than many tamales I have tried.  And, my friend’s son (14 mo. old) whipped through half a picadillo tamale before getting fussy and needing a nap.  I think that was an endorsement.

The other exciting thing that happened recently was that Adolfo and I happened upon an abandoned nursery with a crew of guys hauling stuff away.  We stopped and asked if we could take some of the left over pots and they said no problem as they were headed for the dump anyway.  So, I came home with seven new clay pots of various sizes and shapes.  I’ve already planted lettuce, radishes and onions and I’m making plans for the rest of them.

Happy New Year to you all.

I can smell it in the air

December 6, 2008

Well, it’s Christmas time here. How can you tell? Well, aside from the regular stuff like trees on top of cars going down the street, stores selling twinkly lights and the like, yesterday I saw salt cod in the supermarket.

Salt cod is traditionally made into a dish called Bacalao. And, like turkey is assigned a holiday. I’ve never had Bacalao at any other time of year. I’ve never made Bacalao before and in fact have never made anything with salt cod. However, I quite like the Bacalao that Adolfo’s mother makes for Christmas. So, when she asked if my family liked Bacalao for Christmas, I said, I don’t know, but I like Bacalao for Christmas.

a new taco spot

November 22, 2008

We tried a new taco spot last night and it was excellent. We have been casing this place for a while now. The puesto (term for a non-permanent place for something like tacos) is on the corner of a street we pass occasionally on our way to the center of town. Also, a friend once told us they were her favorite tacos in Guadalajara. We were warned that they often ran out of the best fillings early in the evening.

We arrived, after attending a reception at one of the schools where Adolfo teaches, at about 10:30. Which, I think, is prime taco-eating time. At this point, they were already out of cheek, but still had al pastor, asada, head, mixed (which could be anything), stomach and lips. (They use every part of the animal here.) Cheek is really good, so I was disappointed that they were out, but I ordered two asadas and two head tacos and Adolfo (who claimed to not be very hungry) ordered two mixed.

They were REALLY good. These tacos were better than our regular taco puesto. Although, the specialty of our favorite place is tongue and we didn’t see any tongue at the new place.

The puesto can be found at the intersection of Paseo de la Arboleda and El Sol in Colonia Jardines del Bosque an area of town designed by Luis Barragán.

back from the big city

November 18, 2008

We got back from Mexico City last night and everything went well with the whirl-wind tour.  It is a little bit difficult to show students a city of more than 20 million people in two and a half days.

My students and Adolfo’s students came on the trip and by strange coincidence Adolfo’s brother was in town on business.

We were able to eat some good tacos and by accident we had some surprisingly good hamburgers, but I wasn’t very impressed by the rest of our food choices.  Part of the problems was that we had to go to restaurants where we could walk in a say “party of 14” and they wouldn’t pass out.

While we were walking toward the center of Coyoacan in the south of the city we passed a truck selling products from Oaxaca.  Adolfo’s brother bought some really good Oaxacan cheese and one of Adolfo’s students bought a small bag of fried crickets.  One of my students had the courage to try them and I was impressed.  I passed on the crickets.

How to become wide awake at 4am

November 11, 2008

A couple weeks ago I was in Xalapa again for work.  It was lovely as always and every time I go, I try to do or see at least one new thing.  This time I was in town for Day of the Dead and there were lots of alters and invitations to tamales and hot chocolate. (and I didn’t get one single tamal!)

I was able to go see the Symphony.  The Orquestra Sinfonica de Xalapa is one of the best symphony orchestras in the country.  About 90% of the performers are of foreign origin, which is amazing for such a small town (Pop. 500,000 is a small town when compared to Mexico City).  We heard a Bassoon solo played by a guy from Illinois!  The concert hall was packed with a wide variety of concert goers.  The price for tickets is $70 pesos and I believe there must be a student discount based on the number of student-aged audience members.  The audience was also musically educated and there was no clapping between movements and people were very enthusiastic and polite at the same time. 

That night I prepared to return to Guadalajara and laid all my clothes out for my 4am alarm, in order to catch my 5am bus.  When I woke up I started brushing my teeth and getting dressed.  I went to put on my pants and sort-of shook them out in front of me and as I started to put my leg in my pants…. a scorpion crawled out of my pant leg and went directly under the bed!!!  I had never seen a scorpion live and in person and this one was about 4 inches long and black.  I was immediately wide awake.

As, I had packed all my clothes and had no other clean pants, I had no choice but to put on the pants that had housed a scorpion all night and head out to the front desk for my taxi.  It was quite a send off.

What a night

November 4, 2008

We gathered with some friends and family to watch the returns on CNN tonight and eat some chicken wings.  My friend told me that we had to eat “gringo food” for the election night, so I made some nachos and we ordered wings.

But mid way through the evening, Adolfo’s mother arrived and told us that a plane had crashed in Mexico City and they thought the Interior Minister was on the flight.  (The Interior Minister is sort of like our Vice-President.)

So, we spent the evening watching the celebrations in the states and feeling hopeful, and the confirmation of the death of the Interior Minister in Mexico City and feeling stunned (he was 36 years old and a rising star in the PAN party).

What a night.

Gingerbread

October 24, 2008

I made the Dromedary Gingerbread last weekend and Adolfo HATED it.  

The gingerbread was green and fuzzy this morning and I had to throw it out.

Ice Cream

October 19, 2008

I made ice cream for the second time, first time vanilla custard, second time chocolate custard. Sometime around the beginning of the summer I decided to stop buying ice cream. The majority of the ice cream in the grocery store is not very good. They do have a selection of Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s, but they cost something like $7 USD per pint. (This supermarket selection is not to be compared with the ice cream you can find in the street or in ice cream parlors. That ice cream is excellent – fresh and natural (mostly).)

I don’t eat a lot of ice cream, but sometimes I like to have a spoonful after dinner. This was ok when I was working like a crazy person, I would buy the really expensive imported ice cream and it would last me about 3 months. But, now I have a much more relaxed schedule and I need to think more about saving money.

In the first ice cream experiment, I tried to use the Harold McGee’s “Ice Cream in a Bag” recipe (sort of). I was more interested in a custard-type ice cream than the egg-less one he offered. I used the salad spinner bowl and everything else he recommends, and the ice cream did not freeze.

I think I just don’t keep enough ice on hand to do this. I tried to make some more ice cubes of unboiled water, but then I had to remember to keep the unboiled from the boiled (non-potable vs. potable). And, after the experiment, it made me really sad to throw all that water down the drain – it was way to salty to put on the plants.

So, I had to finish off my vanilla custard ice cream in the freezer, which seemed to work just fine. Still in the zip-lock bag, I took it out of the freezer every 30 minutes and mushed it up and stuck it back in the freezer as flat as I could make it. When it was about the consistency of soft-serve, I put it in a freezer box and stuck it back in the freezer. I stirred it one or two times more after the transfer to the freezer box. The next day we tried it out – and it was really good!

Since I recently finished the vanilla custard ice cream, I decided to try again – this time in chocolate and no ice cubes. This also worked, it probably took longer, but I didn’t have anywhere to go, so getting up every hour to mush the zip-lock bag was not too terrible. I think it took half a day, but I wasn’t keeping track.

All in all, if I’m doing this every 2-3 months, it’s not bad. The ice cream is really tasty and much cheaper than the grocery store offerings.

Virgin de Zapopan

October 12, 2008

This morning Adolfo and I got up at 4:30 in the morning to go to mass.

I know this is not the sentence you were expecting to read when you opened this site, but there you have it. We may have gone to mass with one and a half million people, but it is kind of hard to count when it’s 5 am.

Adolfo’s students are doing a project on the Romeria for the Virgin of Zapopan. So, I went with them and we caught the last half of mass, in the plaza across from the entrance to the cathedral. The square was packed, and silent – because we were in mass – and the venders were quiet, it was really dark, and it was really fascinating.

The cardinal was giving mass on a microphone that was loud enough for us to hear in the plaza and follow along, and we could also hear some of the drummers in an adjacent square for the estimated 600 aztec dancers.

Once mass ended, the Virgin-mobile started up (on what sounded like a lawnmower engine), the bells of the cathedral started to ring (we could see the guys ringing them!), the church-goers were singing, the drummers upped the volume and the party began. This pilgrimage is a celebration because the Virgin is returning to her home at the Basilica in Zapopan.

We saw the VIPs leaving mass (including the Governor of Jalisco who was mobbed by photographers as he left). The Virgin’s body-guards assembled and the Cardinal came out under heavy security to check out the Virgin before they started the pilgrimage. The heavy security was probably due to two things, during the independence day celebrations last month there was an attack in a public square in Morelia (which is in a neighboring state), and Adolfo told me that the previous Cardinal was assassinated. So, there were lots of serious-looking guys in suits who appeared to not be paying any attention to the Virgin.

Once the pilgrimage starts, the Virgin takes off pretty fast and the Cardinal and his companions start walking at a pretty good clip. Then everyone in the plaza starts moving toward the street and the media says about 3 million people walk with the Virgin to Zapopan (about 8 km). We, however, went looking for breakfast.

Which sadly we did not find – apparently 7 am on a Sunday is not a good time to look for a snack. Also, many businesses close today for observing the Virgin’s day. So instead, as the sun was coming up this morning, we went back to bed. At 11am when we got up for the second time this morning, we made eggs with chorizo and potatoes.

Corn smut is a disease

September 30, 2008

Things are really busy around here right now.  My boss is coming to town next week, so I’m spending all my time coordinating his schedule and harassing my students (don’t forget this thing, and that other thing, and please respond if you want to do this, or that, and one more thing…..). 

Meanwhile, Adolfo took down the clothes line and hung up a hammock!  Now I have to figure out the correct posture for writing emails while laying in a hammock.  (my life is sooooo difficult!)

Also, we’ve run out of cookies, which constitutes a household disaster.  But I don’t have time to make any right now, so frozen banana nut muffins will have to do.

I bought some huitlacoche at the Abastos market this weekend, so I need to read up on my Diana Kennedy to see what I’m supposed to do with it – and just how do I clean it – and how do I know when it’s clean since it is black like dirt.

By the way, I’m not sure I would want to eat this stuff if I were first learning about it on the Wikipedia page.  “Corn smut is a disease…”

Without referencing my Diana Kennedy, I also bought a couple handfuls of squash blossoms, two poblano chiles and some cream.  I think we should be able to mix this all together somehow and eat it in tacos.

And speaking of which, the other day a friend was telling me how she cooked up some interesting looking mushrooms with some onions and a little chopped tomato.  When I asked her if she ate it with pasta, she looked at me, with her head cocked to one side and said, “No Della, I’m Mexican, we eat tacos.”  Ever since then, the phrase has popped into my head with regularity.  No Della, you’re in Mexico, eat tacos.