November 26, 2008

Power shopping in Santa Rosalia

Santa Rosalia keeps surprising me! Today I went shopping with Sr. Jueves to get Christmas tree lights. The grocery store we frequent most often is Moreno on Funeral Street. Although this street probably has a real honest-to-God Mexican name (something like Santos Degollados which you find in most cities and which means ‘Beheaded Saints’), Esperando and I refer to it as Funeral Street because that is where most of the funerals take place, at least that we know about. What happens is the street gets blockaded off with sawhorses so traffic cannot pass through whenever there is a funeral going on. This is because the funerals are open air with all the attendees sitting around on folding chairs. Traffic would be a distraction and probably noisy as well so they just block the street off. This is a one way street, so those wanting to get to the grocery store drive a few blocks below the funeral parlor and back up the street to get closer to the store.

In any event I was just telling Hermana that a glue gun would be really helpful in making the Xmas tree ornaments on which I have been working. First the cook brought me some really sucky rubber cement so I could get glitter on the gourds, then when I got pretty frustrated with that, I asked Sr. Jueves for something resembling Elmer’s glue. He brought me a VERY runny white glue that is so thin it easily spills on everything and makes quite a mess. Well as we were walking up the street to Moreno, he pointed out a florist shop that had some Christmas stuff. When we went into the store there was very little useful to me for Christmas purposes—except glue guns! I was so excited! I never thought I would find a glue gun here. Then we jaunted across the way to Moreno that had about 10 brand new really fresh Christmas trees on their front porch bound up with twine and quite a few boxes of strands of Christmas tree lights for sale.

Everyday the store gets more and more bounty to meet the Christmas demand. I actually found and purchased a squirty can of real Challenge whipping cream, some mandarin oranges, a few more really fresh yams as the ones Sr. Jueves brought yesterday were really tiny. But that is not all, no not all—what I didn’t buy were Bugles, chocolate covered cherries, tins of Christmas cookies, a large box of Francia white zinfandel (ugh!) Then as we were heading back to the house I noticed someone had put live poinsettias in a planter box. I asked Sr. Jueves, what is this red flower that is special here to Christmas—aaaah, a Noche Buena, he said. Do you want one, there is a man selling them here in town. Oh yes, says I. He turns the vehicle up another block and there is a man selling poinsettias right out of his pickup truck for $15. So I bought one. It is amazing what you can find in Santa Rosalia these days!

November 24, 2008

Before Christmas, Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving approaches on Thursday. Yesterday I made a pot of Rich Turkey Broth (substituting chicken drumsticks) and tore up a bunch of our Panaderia El Boleo French bakery bread into cubes to dry out for making the stuffing. I am thinking this time I will add sausage and pistachios to the stuffing. I have found an interesting Argentine style sausage that worked well the other day in my lasagna.

My thankful meal will come when Esperando gets back home from La Paz. Now that the Aero Mexico flight to and from Mexico City to Loreto has been cancelled, he has a 6-hour drive ahead of him. Fortunately a driver will bring him home. The Storyteller, I hope, is looking forward to some Yankee food —he gets two Thanksgivings this year as he celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in October when he was home on leave. I got curious about all of that and went and did a little research on Thanksgiving. It appears the U.S. colonists celebrated Thanksgiving fairly frequently and independently throughout the colonies, and when the Revolution broke out and the Royalists moved up to Canada they took that thanksgiving tradition with them, hence both Americans and Canadians celebrate the same holiday, but not in the same month.

Turns out we can have a fairly traditional Thanksgiving here in all ways but the turkey, so I will substitute chicken instead. I believe I could have ordered a turkey from a market in Mulege, an hour away. I didn’t know how to do that this time so I just went with the chicken. Our menu will be shrimp cocktail (Mexican style, made by the cook), the aforementioned bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, orange glazed yams, broccoli, cranberry sauce (I prefer fresh cranberries, but that I could even FIND canned berries down here is a miracle), and pumpkin pie for dessert. We will have to break out one of our hoarded bottles of California zinfandel to accompany all this.

Rich Turkey Stock

2 lbs turkey parts, neck, drumsticks, wings, bones
2 – 3 T olive oil
½ to 1 ½ c raw chopped carrots and onions
1 small chopped parsnip
1 to 2 stocks tender celery with leaves, chopped
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 walnut size piece chopped ginger
Handful of chopped parsley
1 bay leaf
1-2 c dry white wine

Chop turkey into pieces (i.e. bones, wings, drumsticks) of reasonable size and in a large frying pan brown them in oil, adding vegetables halfway through. Transfer to a heavy saucepan, leaving fat behind. Pour out fat and deglaze pan with wine. Pour wine into pot and add 11 cups of water. Bring to boil and simmer for two hours. Strain solid ingredients out. Degrease broth.

November 22, 2008

Christmas is coming

TorOur Christmas tree arrived last week. Esperando told me we would be getting a Torote Blanco or Elephant Tree, a native Baja California tree which the local population has traditionally used as a Christmas tree. It has a thick gray-green trunk with peelish bark and pinnately compound green leaves with kind of a piney scent but is shaped like a regular tree and bears no resemblance to a pine tree. We have seen some very large ones, but ours is about 6 feet high. Esperando told me he had asked the Cactus Kid (the mine has to tag and relocate thousands of cactuses as part of its environmental requirement, hence a cactus specialist familiar with the over 30 varieties of local cactus) would be bringing a tree to our house. I said, why don’t we have him bring it in early December instead of now? We were driving around in the car at the time running errands. Ok, he said, I will have him bring it later. But when we got back home the tree had already been cut down and moved into the room. When you want stuff to happen here fast it never does, but when you want to delay things it doesn’t work that way either.

So it is sitting there staring me in the face, naked. Then this weekend we went out looking for gourds so I wouldn’t have to invest any money in Christmas tree ornaments. The mine has quite a number of gourd plants here and there and we drove along stopping every now and then and only taking the ones that had dried out. We ran into a Mexican mine employee who is known to us, and he wanted to know what we were looking for. When we said ‘gourds’ he smiled and said, ‘oh for Christmas ornaments.’ We said yes. Then we went on our way. We have also been combing the beach for clam shells and sea urchins. I plan to take the whole and spray paint them gold and silver and add a little glitter.

The next day we drove to the Pacific, a three hour drive over dirt roads, to find out about the whale watching at Laguna San Ignacio. We saw lots of boarded up cabins and found out that whale watching runs from January through March. We dipped our toes in the water and sat mesmerized by the gentle surf and warming sun while we ate our peanut butter sandwiches. Then we drove back to San Ignacio, a tiny town with a lovely tree shaded plaza and an old mission church. We went into a general store off the plaza and the owner asked us if we were American citizens. We both got pretty excited because we thought he said American cheese, and we thought he was going to sell us a nice cheddar. In fact he wanted to know if we were in favor of Obama's election. He said of the 100 people that have driven through on their way to vacation all but two were in favor of Obama. He thought our election was a really good thing for the world.

When we got back to the house there was a huge bag of gourds waiting at the front door from our mining buddy. The next day in the grocery store I saw him and thanked him. How many did you find he asked? Oh about 20 I said. (I was looking for the dried out ones). I found 52, he said! -- Now I have way more gourds than I could possibly ever need and I doubt there will be any future gourds as the seed source has been drastically depleted. Still it was a very kind thought of his to supply me with all these gourds.

November 15, 2008

House party

Yesterday and today we are entertaining three Korean visitors, investors in the Boleo project. Last night we gave them gifts and they gave us gifts of some nice wood boxes with artwork on them. Our gifts were a hand-woven turquoise shawl from Oaxaca for the woman and domino sets made of Mexican onyx for the men. It turns out they didn’t know how to play dominos, but one of our other dinner guests, a Mexican man is quite the aficionado, and he taught them how to play the game. I think they enjoyed themselves a lot between that and some nice shots of Don Julio to liven up the game. It was a beautiful moonlit night, one day after the full moon, so after learning how to play dominos we took our tequila shot classes back out on the porch for moon bathing classes. Not so many boats out on the water as normal which surprised me as we didn’t have any wind at all last night. Today they will go on a mine tour to see what has been constructed with their money.

Tonight we will have a sort of Korean bbq party. The evening will start with taquizas (sort of like pigs in a blanket, but rolled in corn tortillas and fried), dipping sauce, and margaritas out on the patio, followed with skewers of beef filet that has been marinated in Korean bbq sauce and served as brochettes with bacon, green pepper and tomato. Of course we will have rice, kim chee from our dwindling supply in the refrigerator, and Korean hot pepper sauce.

Today our order of tamales showed up. It is getting to be quite the business now as the girls have a list of about 10 people wanting to get orders in on these tamales. I didn't realize this was going on, but I could hear them in the kitchen calling up people and taking orders, this one wants 2, she wants 5, etc. I thought it must be some kind of betting pool, then I realized it was the tamales. I personally didn’t find them much different from others I have had here locally, but I must be missing something because a list of 10 people attests to their greatness. They certainly are handsome in their rolls of corn husk with corn husk ties.

November 11, 2008

Marmalade Blues

We ran out of orange marmalade yesterday and the Storyteller was broken hearted. You can’t buy it here, but we have Seville oranges coming out of our ears. (Did I mention the fresh squeezed orange juice we have to choke down every morning?) So I decided to make a batch of marmalade after searching out different recipes on internet. After all, my father used to make marmalade every couple of days to feed his insatiable jelly habit, so surely I had to have some of those jelly making genes coursing through my blood.

It rather astounds me how many recipes are out there, quite different from one another. Some want you to juice the fruit, scoop out the pulp and seeds, then liquefy the whole in a blender adding shaved peels of orange rind slices to the pot when the sugar goes in—others want you boil the fruit whole for several hours then slice it in very thin slices, reserve the seeds to boil for another 10 minutes, strain them out, then add the sugar. I went for the latter recipe (less work) and ended up with two and a half pint Mason jars of chunky marmalade, not too much jelly more fruit. Next time I think I would cut the oranges up smaller, it is on the bitter side which I prefer however I think the shaved peel version would not be so bitter. I boiled it to the point they suggested on the candy thermometer, but I think I might not boil it quite so high next time as the jelly part is a bit more dense than I would like.

We don’t get grapefruit here or I might have been tempted to try my father’s version which he came by from my grandmother. I think this one from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook is similar:

Page's Favorite Marmalade

1 grapefruit
2 oranges
2 lemons

Scrub fruit, slice very thin, saving the juice. Discard the seeds and the grapefruit core. Measure the fruit and juice. Put the fruit and juice in a large pot and add three times as much water. Simmer, covered for 2 hours, then let stand overnight. Measure the fruit and liquid, then add an equal amount of sugar and a sprinkle of salt. Cook rapidly, in two or three batches, until the jelly point is reached, stirring frequently. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal.

November 9, 2008

How I spent my summer vacation

Well here we are in Santa Rosalia after a week’s vacation in that most festive of Mexican cities, Guadalajara. We stayed at Don Quinto Jose, a delightful B&B in the heart of Tlaquepaque, a suburb of Guadalajara famous for stores and galleries that are housed in old colonial casonas—grand old houses. Anyone of them would have been perfect to move into with its thick walls to keep you cool inside and shaded fountain courtyards. Those that aren’t shops are fabulous restaurants that throw singing canaries and splashing fountains into the ambiance along with unusual food and music. The main street is just for pedestrians and is lined with shops and benches where talented poor people sing their hearts out for a few coins.

Esperando and I decided that Tlaquepaque and Tonalá (another artisan suburb) are where you would want to go to furnish and decorate your home Mexican style. This means that much of what you find will not fit in your suitcase because it is furniture, chandeliers, glass or ceramic or way too big. Where I could, I bought textiles which transport more easily.

One of our missions was to find an unusual and not too expensive nativity set which we finally encountered in Tequila, an hour’s drive away and our day excursion from Guadalajara. A taxi conveyed us out of Tlaquepaque for a 25 minute trip to the car rental agency in downtown Guadalajara, making a u-turn in the middle of a busy bidirectional 6-lane street, turning from the outside right lane going west across oncoming traffic into the eastbound lane far right to place us right at the front door. Be still, my heart! Once we got in our rental car to undertake the journey, I was sure we has made a really bad decision and would become permanently lost. The full extent of the city’s 3 million population wasn’t so obvious when you just take a taxi across town. It’s once you are on the roads driving and driving and you are still in a city that you begin to realize this. We did miss our turn getting out of central Guadalajara and drove about 10 blocks the wrong direction before we got back on track. The many one way 3- and 4-lane streets seemed daunting initially, but the roads were relatively well signed and the map in our guidebook was sufficiently detailed to get us there.

We took the ‘old’ highway which took us through the little towns on the way rather than the toll road. After we got into blue agave country—much like driving through the California wine country--each little town would have stalls selling tequila along the roadside. Tequila, like Champagne in France, is an appellation limited to the state of Jalisco and a few other small areas of neighboring states and can only be made from blue agave. When we got to Tequila, a quaint and prosperous small town, we had a tour at the world class Jose Cuervo distillery and another of the Sauza family home built in the 1800’s, now a museum housing the family’s history. It was there we found a darling corn sheaf crèche to take back with us to Santa Rosalia.

They wrapped it up carefully in tissue paper and we hand carried it in a paper bag so it wouldn’t get crushed in transit. We drove back to Guadalajara and gave ourselves a pat on the back that we actually maneuvered through the one-way streets and heavy traffic to get back to the National rental counter. Taxi back to the hotel, and another taxi to the airport for our airplane to LA. Once onboard, we placed our delicate little bundle carefully in the overhead bin arguing with the stewardess that it was fragile and we didn’t want to put it in the bin until everyone else had organized their things. Finally we made it back over the course of several days, pressed the green light in customs at the airport in Loreto and almost made it out of the terminal before the agriculture guy said, “Do you have food in the bag.” “No,” said I. “Let me see it,” he said. “You can’t keep this, it is made of plant matter.” “Yes corn sheaves, we bought it in Guadalajara.” figuring Mexican corn sheaves would be acceptable. “Do you have a receipt?” “Yes here.” “But it doesn’t say what it is made from.” “Its made from corn sheaves here in Mexico.” After about 15 minutes of this dialog we finally gave up and left Mary, Joseph and the wise men behind. Because Baby Jesus and a sheep had been packed even more carefully in my suitcase, they survived unscathed, but they look pretty lonely sitting around by themselves. I think maybe the sheep sings lullabys when I’m not in the room.