October 24, 2009

Mining dejavu

Once again we are off to go traveling. On Tuesday we will drive to La Paz to catch the plane to Veracruz for the XXVIII International Mining Convention, a technical meeting of Mexico's mining elite and the only trade show covering Mexico's exploration and mining market (held every other year there). I have to start focusing on packing—ugh! Last time we went I took in a lot of the sights with some of the other wives while the men attended the convention. Evenings were spent out to dinner, or at a fun party sponsored by Caterpillar, or the last night a formal dinner with entertainment afterwards by a noted female singer whom the audience loved. I never found out her name but people were lined up all around taking her picture with their cell phones, or pulling flowers out of the the table arrangements to toss up on the stage or hand to her. She was a real honey, I think her clothes were painted on. The men all thought she was a winner. We were told variously by the Mexicans that she had been a stripper who performed at the racetrack, or that she was the up-and-coming new popstar, or that she was this or that. No one seemed to have the same story. Too bad she only sang cumbias, I hate cumbias. They have a pronounced annoying beat and if you've heard one you've heard them all; but probably they are the best music to strip to.

Veracruz has some interesting sights. During the day we drove to Antigua which was actually the original site of Veracruz, it is where Hernan Cortez landed and has a very interesting ruin of massive stone walls overgrown with strangler figs that was his first administration building. It is quite incredible and worthy of a James Bond movie. The pueblito itself is situated at the mouth of a deep river, with a bridge crossing to the other side. An open air market sells foodstuffs and shells. It is also the site of the oldest church in the Americas. The local Mexican families like to rent a boat, and row up the river with a picnic to be enjoyed on the beach.

In Veracruz proper we saw San Juan de Ulúa, the fortress/prison protecting Veracruz harbor established in 1519. You can take a tour; it’s pretty depressing to think of anyone being held prisoner in those horrid dungeons. This is the fortress with the alligators featured in Romancing the Stone with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner (and that was supposedly set in Cartagena). Downtown by the zocalo is a fine old stone church with tiled dome, a nice leafy plaza lined with restaurants and bars for the evening’s entertainment provided by strolling musicians: mariachis, marimba bands, lone guitarists, and other combos all playing different songs simultaneously and creating a riot of music and good spirits. Veracruz was the home of Augustin Lara, the Cole Porter of Mexico, and his house can be toured. They also have a notable aquarium regarded as the finest in Latin America.

After the convention we are going to take a few days to see Puebla (noted for its fine food and mole sauces) and Cuernavaca before returning for a few days stay in La Paz so Esperando can go scuba diving. I wonder how much weight I will gain?

October 20, 2009

An essay on yay!

I have been bugged for some time now about how to spell ‘yay’ this being a shortened version of hurrah or hooray. I had been spelling it ‘yeah’ but somehow that didn’t seem right. I tried 'yeh' and 'yah' but those definitely looked wrong. Today I finally went to the internet to see if I could find the answer. Since the word is a slang expression I didn’t think it would be in the dictionary, guess again bright angel!

‘Yea’ or ‘yeah’ are valid slang expressions meaning ‘yes’ while my word ‘yay’, which until this very moment I knew the sound of but not actually how to spell, means ‘hurrah’. I came across a Yahoo chat room espousing the spelling ‘yay’ and said to myself this is way wrong; that is obviously the way some illiterate person would spell this word, but then there it was in the dictionary ‘yay’ so I now stand corrected and have added it to my vocabulary. Henceforth I will use ‘yay’ except I believe hurrah and hooray are more robust words, and not in any danger of confusion.

Yay! I just returned from getting Frida her rabies and distemper shots here in town with the local vet; it cost all of US$30! (Pretty good deal if you have healthy animals, not so great if you really need serious care as his capabilities are limited). But, yay! It was cheap, cheap, cheap and we even have a shot card with her photo scanned on it if we need to take her across the border. He's great for protocol on getting animals back across the border.

Yay! Hurricane Rick has almost evaporated and is going way south and east of us. Yay! We finally had Cocquilles St. Jacques last night and it was delicious. Yay! I have the rest of the day to myself and the girls will all leave at 3pm, no houseguests, no obligations! Yay!

Yay! I get to watch my favorite show Law and Order tonight. Esperando is back to California until Friday then we will start getting ready to leave on our trip to the Mexican Mining Convention in Veracruz, followed by a few days of being tourists in Puebla, Cuernavaca and La Paz. Puebla is a city of great food and ceramics. Yay! Two of my favorite things. In Puebla, we are going to stay in a really interesting sounding old former Jesuit monastery, La Sacristia de las Jesuitas, which is decorated with antiques in all the rooms and is said to have a very good restaurant besides. Yay! Hooray, hurrah, let the good times roll!

October 18, 2009

Here’s looking at you, kid

Well things have been a little quiet here lately what with the lack of rain and wind, so we decided to go and have another hurricane just to spice it up. This one, Rick—is the same name as the character played by Humphrey Bogart in the movie Casablanca, surely one of the best movies of all time.

Captain Renault: Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this café, but we know that you've never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open.
Rick: Oh? I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.
Captain Renault: That is another reason.

Sounds like perfect hurricane logic to me. Anyway our last hurricane, Jimena, that wrecked the town in August, was a Category 1 and Rick had rapidly churned into a Category 5 by the time we woke up this morning. These hurricanes, you know they don’t sleep at night.

Sam: Boss, ain't you going to bed?
Rick: Not right now.
Sam: Ain't you planning on going to bed in the near future?
Rick: No.
Sam: You ever going to bed?
Rick: No!

Rick is projected to be Category 2 by the time he makes landfall in Los Cabos on Tuesday. Yesterday’s projections showed Rick’s outfall extending all the way up to the border of Baja California Sur, that’s 82 miles north of us as the crow flies; today it looks like Loreto may be as far north as he gets, but the deal with all these storms is that you never know what they will do until they get here. It has sent one of our guests scurrying back to the U.S. two days earlier than planned, and Esperando has developed a wait-see attitude about his planned trip to the U.S. on Tuesday.

Captain Renault: This is the end of the chase.
Rick: Twenty thousand francs says it isn't.
Captain Renault: Is that a serious offer?
Rick: I just paid out twenty. I'd like to get it back.
Captain Renault: Make it ten. I'm only a poor corrupt official.

October 17, 2009

Food for thought

Yesterday I spent researching recipes on the internet. It all started with the monthly menu I prepare for Cook-with-an-Attitude and New Cook. It is a dynamic menu because I am always adjusting the quantities and changing the ingredients based on who will be here when; what we can and what we cannot get locally due to changing seasons; and finding a middle ground to meet houseguests expectations (i.e., diets, allergies and food tastes). I keep trying new recipes—some of them turn out so-so, some are fantastic, so I add the good ones to our repertoire. After a year our repertoire is getting pretty plumped up and I have to keep a running list so I don’t forget any of them.

Last year about this time when the weather was actually becoming liveably pleasant, I asked our errand boy, Sr. Jueves to get ice cream. “Oh, Señora, there is no ice cream now, it is too cold,” he told me. “What? Impossible!” said I, “it can never be too cold for ice cream, and it is not cold at all, the weather is perfect,” so I went with him to the store and sure enough all those freezers full of ice cream were empty now even though the weather was in the 80’s and 90’s Fahrenheit. This morning I asked him if he could get scallops at the local market. “Señora,” he said, “it is very difficult to get scallops here because people really like them and buy them up quickly, but today they have scallops and I can get them for you. They also have langosta (what we would call spiny lobster) and I can get that too, it is pure meat, but I have buy at least a kilo.” Hmm, I thought, ok, why not? He returned with the aforementioned and enormous shrimps besides, all of which are cooling their heels in the freezer for use next week—

Off I went looking for a lobster casserole recipe and decided to tweak my Coquille St. Jacques recipe and turn it into Mariscos San Jack. It will lack the gruyere since that is impossible to get down here, but we can use a decent Tillamook sharp cheddar. Next I have to poll my guests to make sure that everyone likes lobster, shrimp and scallops before I have the green light to proceed. I wouldn’t want to cook all that delicious shellfish and find out people hated lobster or were allergic to shrimp, etc. The next challenge will be getting the cook to understand how to prepare the recipe. As I’ve mentioned previously gringo recipes don’t seem to translate very well. But I am so motivated by the memory of how great it tastes that I am salivating and will rise to the challenge once again.

Update.Last night’s poll did not go well, lobster, shrimp and scallops got shot down! One of our guests is allergic to fish!! Such are the trials and tribulations of running the guesthouse. I went and massaged the menu again. Beef—its whats for dinner. The Mexican equivalent of the Beef Council will be proud of me!

October 13, 2009

In search of the best Margarita

The Margarita was invented perhaps as early as the 1930’s in Mexico; rumor has it in Tijuana—or Tasca, Juarez, Acapulco, Puebla, or La Jolla. The word Margarita means ‘Daisy’ and the drink was variously named after Marguerite Hemery (wife of the restaurant owner who invented the drink); Margarita, the fiancée of Danny Negrete’s brother (who is?); Margarita Cansino who later became actress Rita Hayworth; a showgirl named Marjorie King; or Margaret Sames, a rich young Texas socialite.

If you live in Mexico, you have no excuse for not knowing how to make the best Margarita. It has taken me 15 years to fine tune what I considered to be the best Margarita, but it is living in Mexico for the last year that has given me the access to all the right ingredients. When I was in college we would buy a can of Bacardi frozen Margarita mix, dump it and the required amount of Jose Cuervo Tradicional (always adding just a little more than the recipe required) and ice cubes into a blender, and voilá. I don’t remember going to the effort to salt the rim. Blended Margaritas—sublime perfection! In fact I remember having a meeting in the sorority house in one of the girl’s rooms and her blender sat out in plain view in front of an alumnus who felt impelled to comment that she hoped weren’t using that for blending drinks (she had to know we were). No, no, we all said, never! My, my, how my tastes have changed since then. This perfect Margarita I am talking about is not something I invented, it is uses the original 1947 recipe with certain premium ingredients. It is never blended, but always served on the rocks, the rim of the glass is rubbed with a cut limon and twisted in a dish of salt. I have always been a purist, so it is tequila, key lime juice and orange liqueur—none of these nouveau watermelon or raspberry concoctions for me.

In 1996 we discovered the tequila for making the best Margaritas. We were flying Esperando’s Cessna 205 from the US to Panama where we were living at the time. Along the way we stopped in Puerto Vallarta and stayed at the El Presidente Hotel. At the bar the bartender gave us lots of premium shots or as we call them down here, caballos, of tequila. The bartender included Cazadores Reposado among his choices and he recommended it as the best for Margaritas. After comparing it with the others we agreed with him and so that has been our choice ever since.

When I was organizing for our big party the other night, I went to look up my recipe in my little red book (which also lists all the clothes I have ever taken on any trip going back to when we were first married—anal, huh?—but that way I just pull out my list and I don’t have to rethink what kind of clothes to take again somewhere.) I knew I had it scribbled in there, but darned if I could find it. So I went to the internet and looked up ‘original 1947 Margarita’ and was rescued. At the party I got many compliments from the Mexicans on my Margaritas, the gringos not so much. That is probably because most gringos like really sweet Margaritas like I used to make with lots of Persian lime (big green limes that you find in the US grocery stores) juice and sugar. A long time ago in the USA I thought I made a terrific margarita and it was one of those kinds. Then every occasionally we would go to Juarez and the restaurant at the PRONOF Center (sadly now defunct) served an incredible Margarita, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it. About then we came across a newspaper column with what claimed to be the original recipe from Tijuana circa 1947. It was not a sugary limey Margarita but the real thing, like we would get in Juarez. I tried making it but it still didn’t taste right. What I didn’t know was that I needed lots more orange liqueur and key limes, not Persian limes. Once you cross the border into Mexico the Persian lime does not exist.

#1 The “original’ 1947 recipe I found on the internet was this:
2 jiggers tequila,
1 jigger orange liqueur
1 jigger fresh key lime juice

#2 Then I found it in my little red book, and the ‘original’ recipe was this:
2 jiggers Cazadores Reposado tequila,
1 jigger Controy (the Mexican cousin of cointreau)
1/2 jigger key lime juice.

Hmm, we had to know the truth, which was best? Last night we prepared one of both kinds of the ‘original’ recipes. The first was tarter as you would expect with the greater amount of key lime juice, and the second was a bit too strong so we poured the two together and felt it was perfect. You can't really go wrong with either one, but they are quite strong so make sure you put in lots and lots of ice—and try not to drink more than one. Its dangerous.

Margarita #1 on the left is a little more yellow colored and tarter

Margarita #2 is stronger tasting, no so tart

October 12, 2009

Getting the smarts

Carmen seems to have found her way ‘home’ finally. The last three mornings when I have gone out to feed the outside cats she has been there wanting to be fed also. She hides under the trailer so I don’t know she is there. The other two cats rush down the steps to me when I open the front door, greeting me, almost tripping me, miaowing and racing along beside me, while Carmen bounces up high like a dancer from under the trailer and in three bounding leaps ends up in the bushes behind the house where they will be fed, hidden still; its almost like having a little whirlwind riffling along beside you. She wants the food but will not come forward to eat until I have gone back inside. I guess one of these days she won’t run when she sees me looking at her from the window. If she gave it any thought to it she would realize I would have to go out the front door before I could even approach her, but I don’t think little creatures with wild hearts go to all that effort to think. It gives me peace however to see that she has come back and is settling in here as a third outside cat in my collection.

New developments on the dog front. Sweet Pickle has learned how to speak Spanish. I just realized that after living here for a year he understands the maids now perfectly. I observed this about a week ago when Favorite Maid opened the door and called to him, “Ven Dash, ven!” He didn’t really want to come, but he did, that’s what convinced me that he understood her. It wasn’t as if he was waiting or even hoping to come in. The maids asked me what Sweet Pickle looked like as a puppy. At the time he was lying under the table by my feet as I was typing on my computer. I can show you pictures of him as a puppy, I said to them. So I pulled up the photos as a slide show. Favorite Maid said in Spanish, “Oh Dash, look right here and see how cute you were as a puppy.” He leapt to his feet and ran over to the table jumping up to put his paws on it to peer at the screen. I kid you not. My jaw just sort of hung open. I do realize it was food motivated, he sniffed around a bit, but nonetheless he understood exactly what she had said.

Did you read the recent news article on the Discovery Channel that says compares a dog’s ability to understand pointing at an object to be the same as a two-year human’s? The same article pointed out that monkeys, even chimpanzees, don’t get pointing (neither do wolves). In Sweet Pickle’s case, most of the time that I point something out to him it is a food morsel on the ground, so it behoves him to see where I am pointing. Since I read that article I have been observing his ability to ‘get the point’ with great interest and marveling at the silent communication possible between us and man’s best friend, for I don’t really have to say anything except to just point.

I tried pointing out egg yolk on my plate this morning to the cat Sour Pickle, who is highly civilized for a cat, but even though it was his favorite food he just didn’t get it.

"Just look how cute you were as a puppy."

October 10, 2009

Hoarding versus Collecting

With Esperando out of town I have been watching more TV at night than I do when he is here. I don’t usually watch the Oprah Winfrey Show (which by the way is shown in the evening here, not daytime as in the US). Last night I happened upon her show about hoarders, people who can’t stop buying and collecting stuff until it piles up all around them and they have no room to live in their homes because all their floors and furniture are covered with all these things they’ve bought. I had to go look on the internet and see what they said about this and I found a website, Metropolitan Organizing LLC, that nailed it on the head with these comments:

“Collectors value and categorize their belongings, often showcasing them in display cases or archives. Hoarders often lump things together without the benefit of system or sequence.

Collectors often carry great pride in their treasures, and delight in exhibiting them to any interested party. Hoarders are often embarrassed and hide their belongings (home, car, etc.) from co-workers, neighbors and even repairmen.

Collectors house their collectibles in specific environments, and often find joy or contentment in the company of their treasure. Hoarders harbor little rhyme or reason within the muddle of their mess. Exquisite jewels might be kept with worn socks, rare books in a dirty dog kennel, or cherished photographs among old and slowly decaying magazines.”

That makes me an inverterate collector then, and still with the inordinate desire to keep buying things regardless of need. My blood is tainted. Here in Santa Rosalia I have collected several baskets full of seashells; five cats (eeeegad-really?—well 3 of them I just feed outside—they say cats are the most likely animal to be collected by hoarders); way too many clothes to fit in my drawers for the tiny space we live in; lots of textiles purchased in Loreto and Guadalajara; and the pantry full of food so we will never be caught short. I have lots of little pots of plants just hanging out waiting to be planted somewhere including four olives and a lemon tree. We have pots and pots of cactus starts that all look quite happy—but where are we going to put them all? How did I get this way? When I finally say to myself, stop this you do not need more blank, I stop buying blank, but then I find some other new thing to take the place of blank, and there I go again. After watching the TV show, this hoarding concept now nags at me. Hermana once pointed out to my niece that my home was like a store or a museum and its true, we’ve been so many places and I can’t stop wanting and buying the artesania from everywhere we go.

Esperando got home last night from being in California for a week. We are returning to Loreto today so that he can go diving tomorrow—and I will just have to do a little shopping. Gosh darn! all this introspection, but its time to aprovechar (take advantage of the situation) as we say down here.

October 5, 2009

Feral cats and swine flu

I saw Carmen again this morning in the full light of day. She showed up about 9 am and was twitching her doubled up tail around in agitation, cruising around by Mrs. Moustache and Bruiser just like Puss-in-Boots. I think she was really looking for food or a way to get back into the guesthouse from the outside windows. Sour Pickle and I were watching her through the window, then she saw us and froze and just stared and stared. We just stared and stared back. Finally I leaned over to open the window so Winnie could go inside the casement to talk to her through the screen and she ran away again.

I have been putting cat food outside our door at night and someone is eating it, I think it is she. New Cook tells me that when we were away in Loreto she encountered Carmen one morning crouched outside the patio door by our bedroom, crying and crying. She told the cat we had gone away for a few days. (Likely she understood because Spanish is her native tongue). In any event I guess she has decided to forgive me enough to come and eat occasionally and maybe even mingle with the other outside cats.

Favorite maid didn’t come today, she was at home in bed with a fever. She and Oldest Maid are sisters and live in the same house, and Oldest Maid did come, I hope the rest of us don’t catch anything. I sort of feel like I might be catching a cold, scratchy eyes, a few sneezes, a throat that’s a little off. Of course my mind goes immediately to the new H1N1 virus. It seems there is a virus of some kind going around here in Santa Rosalia, but no one seems to know whether that’s it or not. When you land or leave the airport in Loreto they scan you for fever with a thing that’s almost like a cop’s handheld radar that a nurse who is standing about 4 feet away points at you. Two other little public health nurses sitting at a table in white uniforms and wearing masks and latex gloves gather the little form the you fill out about whether you feel ill and where you are going. They write your temperature down on the piece of paper, then hand it back to you. When you leave the airport it is collected by another healthcare worker. What with all the news about the H1N1 it seems inevitable that it will come our way.

October 4, 2009

Curses, foiled again

While I was in California I decided that we needed to plant a Sago palm in the yard at Casa Abeja. I have always admired them for their prehistoric quality in my brother Juan-in-a-Million’s yard. I looked them up on the internet and they grow on in mainland Mexico in the same climatic zone we are in here right opposite us on the Sea of Cortez. When my brother told me his daughter had a cute little tiny one in a group of potted plants, I figured I could fit that in my suitcase and sneak it into Mexico. So the two of us got in his car and zoomed around to every nursery near his house trying to find one. We probably spent about 3 hours looking. Orchard Supply Hardware had them in 1 gallon pots, and including the leaves they were about 2 feet tall and way too big for my bag. Each successive nursery had bigger and bigger trees until we were up to 20 gallons. The price went up exponentially too. That’s when I decided that I didn’t really need one after all. And then I remembered how the agricultural guy at the airport took Esperando’s corn husk nativity away from him last year because it was ‘organic’ matter, even though it came from Mexico so I pretty much really lost my enthusiasm.

When we were in Loreto a few days ago, we stopped at the nursery to see what they were selling. They seemed to have a lot more plants than they have had in the past and right before my very eyes were at least twenty 15-gallon Sago palms, all smiling up at me waving their fronds in an inviting way. I was so happy. We found several other great plants that we wanted to buy as well, but it was pretty hot so we decided we would drive by in the morning so the plants wouldn’t be cooking in the covered tail of the pickup. Alas we were foiled by mother nature as Tropical Disturbance Olaf trotted into town and inundated everything and flooded the streets. That nursery guy that had promised he would be open at 8 am wasn’t even open at 9 am when we trundled by. Got to hand it to these Mexicans for always being closed when they say they will be open, even in the middle of a tropical storm. I guess if I came from someplace where it never rained, I might be nervous when it starts to rain heavily, but I still think he should have been more excited about the big sale he was going to make to us.

In any event we still don’t have a Sago palm and just now Esperando read to me that they are seriously poisonous. To quote Wikipedia, “One disadvantage of its domestic use is that it is poisonous to animals and humans. One skin breaking scrape can lead to a hospital visit. Cycad Sago Palm is extremely poisonous to both humans and animals if ingested. Pets are at particular risk since they seem to find the plant very palatable.” So maybe there won’t be any Sago palm in my future after all since the dog is big fan of eating leaves.

October 2, 2009

Big appetites

Carmen came back last night at 3:30 AM. I heard miaowing outside at our bedroom door that opens onto the patio and saw her sitting there outside. The other two cats were sitting on top of my printer so they could look out the window and see her. I went into the bathroom and got some cat food, then I opened the door to see if she wanted in but the sound of the door opening frightened her and she ran away. I put the food on the ground. She never came back to eat it. Maybe eventually she will get hungry enough to come forward and let me feed her.

I don’t know if she will show up again tonight, but I am in Loreto at La Mision Hotel and won’t be able to answer her entreaties. I left some cat food with one of the vigilantes, Juan Manual, in case he should have better luck feeding her, not needing to open a door. How will I know this cat he asked? Well she is gray, has a bent tail, and I will give you a photo, I said. Then he told me he had talked to the cat in person the previous night and what she really wanted five hamburgers to start with or beef machacha in a flour tortilla—it is amazing what similar tastes he and the cat share in food.

The outfall of former Invest 91, now Tropical Storm Olaf, has reached Loreto where it has pretty much been raining all day. I think Esperando’s plans for a scuba dive and mine for hanging out in the sunshine may have been washed away for this weekend. When I looked at the weather report for today it was 40% chance of rain, tomorrow is 50%, and Saturday is 100%. How dismal!! In any event we will stay another night in Loreto, cruise the appliance store for a stove and refrigerator for Casa Abeja, do some food and curio shopping and have the chance for another gourmet meal here before heading back to Santa Rosalia. It is a nice break. Esperando returns again to Mexico City and the Bay Area for the rest of next week.