February 24, 2010

What To Eat With Tamales?

My earlier blog tells about the origin of tamales and how to eat one, but if you want to make a supper party featuring tamales you might need some guidelines for a menu. A traditional meal in here in Mexico, the ancestral homeland of the tamale, is an accompaniment of Pinto beans (frijoles). Black beans would work well too. Where I grew up in New Mexico this meal would also include a simple tossed green salad with tomato, lettuce, a chopped avocado, some onion and oil and vinegar dressing. You would want to have a tomato salsa on the side to put on the beans. I would add a loaf of garlic bread as well. Lemon meringue pie would be my Mother’s pick to serve for dessert; I would probably have brownies with ice cream.

Pinto beans are to the Southwest what Boston baked beans are to the East Coast. In the 1930’s when my Mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Rocky Arroyo, New Mexico, she boarded with local ranchers. Their supper every evening was Pinto beans (without the tamales), served with fried salt pork, blackstrap molasses and sourdough bread. The beans were topped with canned tomatoes and fresh sliced onions. It is a simple meal and quite nutritious as well. Someone who didn’t grow up eating this kind of food might think it sounds awful or boring, but for me it is comfort food.

Colorado is lucky to have Adobe Milling, a grower of Pinto beans and Anasazi beans. When we are in town we bring back lots of bags of Anasazi beans that we get at King Soopers Market. They are also available from Adobe Milling on the internet. These beans have an interesting history. They are a 1,500 year old variety: the popular story behind their modern origin is unusual. In the 1980's a member of an archeological team from UCLA was looking for remains of Pygmy elephants that roamed the earth thousands of years ago in New Mexico and came upon these beans. The beans were in a clay pot sealed with pine tar and were determined by radio carbon dating to be over 1,500 years old, yet some still germinated and it is from those that we today can share the harvest of heirloom beans of ancient Americans! The beans are a beautiful splotched brown and white that taste a lot like Pinto beans but more buttery. When they are cooked they look alike.

I grew up eating Pinto beans at least once a week. My father always cooked beans with salt pork, and some people like to use ham hocks, but I tell you if you have never had beans cooked just for themselves you are missing out on a fabulous low fat meal. I consider Esperando to be a master bean cooker. Here is his recipe (--first a word of caution, we like our beans really garlicky so cut back on the garlic if that is not for you).

Esperando's Pinto Beans

2 c Pinto beans
1 bay leaf
1 T epizote (available at specialty Mexican markets and maybe Whole Foods)
1 T oregano
1 T thyme
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 T coarse ground black pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cloves minced garlic
2 T salt

Pick over the beans (now and then a rock gets in there, great for tooth cracking!) and rinse them under water. Put everything except the salt together in pot, bring to boil and simmer for 3-5 hours until done, add salt at the last. Beans can also be prepared the night ahead by covering with boiling water and letting sit overnight shortening the cooking time the next day to 2 hours. They can also be cooked all day in a slow cooker. Beans should be cooked until they are completely soft and a few are showing signs of falling apart. This same recipe works for black beans as well.

Side Salsa
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 yellow onion
1 c packed fresh cilantro
1 serrano chile, stemed, seeded and finely minced
1 tsp salt
1 T olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon or lime

Put in food processor and process until pieces are bean sized.

Now you can have a tamale party! Buen aprovecho!

February 23, 2010

Flying out of Santa Rosalia--and Gingerbread

It is very blustery today. I’ll bet Winnie-the-Pooh knew nothing about rattling windows and blowing sand in the face! I hope the wind doesn’t affect Esperando’s flight. He is flying on Aero Califia out of Palo Verde today (airport 45 minutes south of Santa Rosalia) to Hermosillo to wing his way to meetings in Los Angeles. I am ‘batching’ it until Friday in our new house. Esperando had been waitlisted on the Aero Califia flight and also on Alaska Airline’s flight out of Loreto for the last month. The Aero Califia flight finally just cleared last night, Alaska Airline’s still hasn’t. We are finding it really difficult to get flights on Alaska out of Loreto anymore. Alaska Airlines flights have been solidly booked as far ahead as three months ahead with few cancellations recently. We don’t know why they haven’t added additional planes or brought down a larger one like they did last year to accommodate an obviously greater demand. I don’t think they realize how much revenue they are missing out on. Why would he want to drive 2 ½ hours to Loreto instead of 45 minutes to Palo Verde, you ask? Ah there’s the rub. Well if he gets to Loreto he will have a direct flight to L.A. When he goes the Palo Verde route he has to make a connection in Hermosillo to get to L.A., and the Aero Califia flight can often be several hours late arriving here to make the return flight back across the Sea of Cortez.

Down below at Casa Boleo, the guesthouse is full of guests from one of the engineering companies. So I voted not to have dinner with the guests but cook for myself this week. I am loving have the more privacy up here, even though Sr. Jueves is constantly knocking at my door. And I am not forgotten in the way of meals. Oh no, the cooks insist they must bring dinner up to me when I am alone. Talk about spoiled! Last night they brought a delicious meal of several new recipes including ropa vieja (shredded seasoned beef in a rich chile sauce) and a divine new recipe for gingerbread that I found online. One of the things Esperando and I were looking forward to was cooking our own meals so that we can stay skinnier. Without a lot of hurt feelings I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Here is the a delicious recipe from the San Francisco Chronicle

Very Gingery Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Caramel Glaze
Serves 12

This is a deep, dark, moist, spicy cake that's loaded with fresh ginger and coated with a rich caramel glaze. Dark baking pans retain the heat and can cause the exterior of a cake to get too brown. Watch baking time and if sides and top brown too quickly, reduce oven temperature 25°. Thick, heavy baking pans retain the heat more than lighter ones. If using a heavy pan, begin to test for doneness after 45 minutes. I find this is better served room temperature, rather than warm, with a dollop of whipped cream on top of each slice.

The cake
1 cup vegetable oil (such as canola oil)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup golden brown sugar, packed
1 cup mild molasses
3 large eggs
3/4 cup peeled and finely minced fresh ginger (about 4 ounces)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour + more to flour pan
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup boiling water

The glaze
1/2 cup golden brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter + more to grease pan
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 325°. With room-temperature butter, grease a 12-cup Bundt pan with a paper towel, smearing butter into all the pan's crevices as well as the center tube. Add spoonfuls of flour and holding the pan over the sink, rotate it to coat it with flour. The inside tube will not be completely coated. Knock excess flour into the sink by tapping the pan lightly. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, sugars and molasses until combined. Add eggs and whisk until smooth. Whisk in ginger to incorporate. In another large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mustard and salt. Whisk in molasses mixture until combined. Stir baking soda into boiling water and whisk into batter until blended. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until sides begin to pull away from pan and cake tester inserted into cake comes out clean. Remove to a rack and cool in pan for 15 minutes.

For the glaze: In a small saucepan, stir brown sugar, butter, whipping cream and salt over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir until smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Invert cake onto rack over a baking sheet. Using a small skewer, pierce holes all over top of warm cake. Very slowly pour glaze over top, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more. Cool cake at least 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Cake may be stored at room temperature well wrapped overnight.) The cake may be baked in a 91/2-inch springform pan. Grease the pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Per serving: 505 calories, 5 g protein, 67 g carbohydrate, 26 g fat (5 g saturated), 70 mg cholesterol, 391 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

February 18, 2010

Casa Abeja, a Stuff Story

A friendly little Talavera bee greets visitors at our front door

You may remember that Esperando had been remodeling Casa Abeja (so named Bee House because when we bought it the attic was full of bees and honey.) Well, after a year of hard labor he has finished it! We have spent the last four days moving over. Right now it looks like a disaster zone, with loose Stuff, and bags and boxes of Stuff piled up everywhere. It brings back memories of past moves, every one of which I have hated--packing and unpacking is the pits! My feelings about this haven’t changed one whit. I feel like I am trying to solve one of those hidden object computer games but one of my own devising. You’d think with all the practice I have playing those that finding things would be a snap. But it isn’t. This was not one of your anal organized moves itemizing the contents of each box, but a random Stuffing of items into empty cartons and bags. Today I finally got the last pickup load of Stuff packed up from our two rooms in Casa Boleo. I never could have imagined that we could have so much Stuff crammed into our two small rooms there.

Our new home

Maybe I should explain a bit. Half of our Stuff was purchased when we lived in Australia and were planning a move to Ghana six years ago. Esperando was working in Ghana at the time so all our Stuff was moved from Australia to Ghana and stayed with him for several months there before we realized that the Ghana thing was going to south. Then all that still packed Stuff was sent back to Denver where it sat in it’s unpacked boxes in our basement for the next 5 years. Well--except for some minor tweaking of boxes trying to figure out which one might hold Esperando’s wet suit. (We finally decided that had been pinched by the packers in Australia). The trouble is, that other than a general idea of what sort of Stuff I bought in Oz for our Ghana house, I couldn’t remember the finer details; and I had NO desire to open and repack boxes just to inventory Stuff.

Sweet Pickle milling around in the Stuff
In Denver before we moved here, I bought more Stuff that I thought we didn’t own yet or wouldn't be able to find in Santa Rosalia. And that is why I have unpacked (I am not kidding): 2 can openers, 2 reamers, 6 spatulas, 10 whisks, 4 sets of measuring cups, 2 sets of measuring spoons, 25 beach towels, 40 packages of cute cocktail napkins, way too many wine glasses, 5 shower curtains (for one bathroom)--plus about 15 bath mats. What was I thinking? In the bottom of the last box we found Esperando’s missing wet suit. Yay! In addition to all of that I brought great amounts of emergency supplies. Stuff we couldn’t get down here such as Nyquil, Tylenol, Motrin, certain prescription medicines, hair dye for pale skinned women, dog food and cat food, etc. Now we can stock a store! The trailer we brought the Stuff down in has sat like a storage container untouched for the last 1-1/2 years. It turns out that we have way too much Stuff to fit all of it anywhere in this house. And my body is sore from bending, twisting, sorting and lifting. My calves ache, my back aches, my knees are broken and my brain is on sensory overload. Every time I try to sit down for a rest I think of something else I need to find or to do.

Despite the Stuff lost in boxes, Frida’s renewed interest in peeing on beds and couches to show her distain, and the piles of random Stuff beckoning to be put away, it is nice to have our new found privacy and truly our own space. Sunday, our first night in Casa Abeja, we celebrated by opening a bottle of Champagne that we hauled down from the U.S. Later, as I lay in bed I could see all the stars in the heavens through the window—and even though the motion sensor light outside the window came on for a few minutes to annoyingly glare in my eyes, I was still quite happy. I never believed we would move in.

Sour Pickle checking out the new digs

February 10, 2010

Ayyyy, Chihuahua!

“Lupita you seem awfully sleepy today. Are you sick?”

“No, I just can’t wake up much, and why should I? I am really cold! And I am so bored, I need some new toys.”

“You mean besides two cats to chase and a big dog to annoy? Lupita, you have 5 toys of your own, you have taken over all of the cats 20 little catnip mice and sundry small toys, all of Dash’s toys. You have toys strewn across the entire house. Big toys, little toys, in-between toys.”

“Ah Mom. You don’t unnerstand. I need a new toy for every day. And it is so cold in my ancestral homeland. I only have two outfits. I need more clothes. People are going to think I’m a poor dog from the wrong side of the tracks. Besides now that I am growing my clothes are starting to shrink.”

“Lupita, I used to think that Chihuahuas were ugly, stupid, yappy little dogs, and maybe they still are, but you make a really cute puppy. I so admire your fat little hairless belly, your curly pig tail, your floppy ears that are too big for your head, your bulgy little eyeballs and your sweet little face that looks like a cross between a bat and a worried old lady with frown lines. I never knew a dog before that could sit in your lap and think it was a cat.”

Comparing Lupita's face to that of a bat

“I just like to lick everyone. Licking is good—it makes friends.”

“Lupita, you know the cats do not like being licked on the face. Why do you chase the cats so much anyway? First you lick them, and then you bite them.”

“Hah! It is my plan to keep them confused. When they wants to hit me then I run around in front of them chasing my tail. It is so fun. But my most fun is to run in little circles around the trees in the backyard.”

“By the way Lupita, you know how Winnie is called Sour Pickle for the condescending attitude he gets, and Dash is called Sweet Pickle because he always wants to please us, well speaking of names in that regard yours is Little Tickle, because you tickle my heart.”

February 4, 2010

She's got the devil in her heart; No, no, this I can't believe--The Beatles

Lupita is a handful. She chases the cats and is starting to nip at them now. The cats are alternately horrified and fascinated. Winnie is still kind and bats her gently, but Frida hisses and growls. Dash helps me out when I ask him to, trying to corral her outside when she is racing around, but she leaps at him and grabs mouthfuls of his fur and yanks it. She is still just a little puppy. To her credit when I say no she will generally stop tormenting the bigger animals. We just had a major zoomie action outside racing around in circles for about 30 minutes and now she has cratered. It took three of us humans and one big dog to corner her and grab her.

Then all of us, cats and dogs and me, went to the bedroom for a nap. I crawled under the covers and turned the electric blanket on. It is cold in the house since we do not have heating, and today I am wearing two sweaters and long underwear. I put Lupita under the covers and Frida immediately jumped off her perch to come lie on top of me too. This was fine, but after a while I woke up and wanted out. I had to re-arrange everyone. I left Lupita under the covers and Frida on top of the covers. In about 5 minutes Lupita emerged and walked over to Frida. Frida got an ‘oh brother, what’s going to happen now?’ expression on her face, but stayed put. Lupita stretched and fell down next to Frida and started licking her fur. When the bath was over I went and fetched Lupita off the bed. I apologized to Frida as her fur had been licked the wrong direction and was all standing up on end. However, I think it was a good start on befriending Frida.

The last three nights the caterwauls and screams of fighting of cats has come across the ether from outside our window. The first night Dash woke up from a dead sleep and went baying to the door, ready to settle any arguments all by himself. My cats were plastered to the window trying to catch a glimpse of the enemy combatants. Bruiser has vanished and it seems we have two new male cats trying to take his place and vying for the attention of Mrs. Moustache, that hussy. Although she has been spayed, apparently both she and they are unaware of it as they are partying all over the front yard. She's going to give us a reputation for running a cathouse.

Mrs. Moustache was absent at feeding time today and yesterday so Carmen is getting to eat all the food. She has matured into a beautiful animal, funny tail and all. Her face, once too small for her body, has filled out and she is much friendlier now. Maybe some day she will even let me pet her again.

February 2, 2010

Making new friends

Rupert, a would-be friend

Well, we’re back in Santa Rosalia without mishap in our travels. In San Diego at Junior Birdman’s house we discovered that Lupita likes cats. While she was napping in my lap, the Manx cat Rupert was overcome with curiosity and jumped up on the couch to get a better idea of what this intruder was. Lupita woke up immediately to the cat breath on her face and tried to French kiss Ru who had almost accepted her until then. Cole, the outside cat could see Lupita through the sliding glass doors. He was enraged and wanted to come in and kill her. When Ru went outdoors you could see him whispering in Cole's ear that it wasn’t worth it to be so hostile and to lighten up. Cole kept darting annoyed glances over his shoulder as the two of them walked away into the garden together.
Cole, a fiesty dog hater
Getting ready for our departure in San Diego we read Baja Insider’s road reports that the highway had been damaged in several places in Baja due to the heavy rains last week. We had some trepidations starting out. And though it’s true that the road had been cut by the storms, the bad places had been repaired or detours made. At San Vicente de Ferrer, south of Santo Tomas, traffic was normal though the road had been undercut. Just past that we saw extensive low lying areas where L.A. Cetto’s vineyards were standing in about 3 inches of water. I imagine those vines will not survive with that much water covering their roots for such a long period. Too sad. Between there and Colonet three washouts had occurred but all were repaired, temporarily, and traffic moved along fine. At San Vicente Guerrero, north of San Quintin there was a major washout of the ramp to the bridge and it looked like the bridge foundations were damaged as well. Traffic bypassed into the arroyo and moved normally. At El Rosario there was another major washout of the ramp to the bridge and traffic was diverted into the arroyo, but again was moving well. They are still constructing the southern part of that bridge. A lot of water had come down but no further problems were encountered on the way to Cataviña where we spent the night. We saw a lot of large ‘standing lakes’ of rainwater in the desert's flat areas all the way to Guerrero Negro where we crossed over of the peninsula.

Newly formed lakes in the desert
As we drove along we continued to wonder how Lupita would adjust to our other animals. After reading some internet advice, we decided to leave Lupita up in Casa Abeja (our here-to-date unoccupied house that we plan move into this month). Then we both went to Casa Boleo and spent a long time greeting Sweet Pickle and the cats before bringing Dash up to Casa Abeja to meet to Lupita. The minute Lupita saw Dash, she screamed and barked in a frenzy as though her life were about to end, and she was going to be eaten. Dash just stood around looking embarrassed. After about 5 minutes of this she finally realized she wasn’t going to die after all. We took Lupita (in her crate) and Dash back to Casa Boleo and set the crate on the living room floor so the cats could sort it out too. Frida wasn’t interested but Winnie was quite curious. After 5 minutes of crate time we let her out and Winnie kept coming over to her to sniff her. Frida was terrified of Lupita and hissed and growled at her. Every time Dash thought a cat/puppy altercation was going to occur he would step between the cats and Lupita. He was amazing.

Last night Dash lay snoring on the floor, the cats slept on top of me, and Lupita stayed under the covers near Esperando. I had worried that Frida who likes to chase hands that are under the covers might pounce her, but she knew exactly where that puppy was under the covers and kept her distance. At 3 a.m. out Lupita popped and crawled out to sit on my face, quite concerned about the sounds the seagulls were making in the harbor. Did you know they squall and squabble all night long? I thought birds went to sleep at night until we moved here. The thing about Lupita is that if she is worried by a noise you can’t just say, ‘oh, it’s fine, go back to bed.” No, she has to figure it out for herself and that can take hours. Frida was about a foot away from the emerged Lupita, and was handling that face-sitting better than I was until Lupita decided she needed to bark and growl at the seagulls right in front of Frida. So Frida left but came back later.

This morning Winnie is still completely fascinated with Lupita. They have touched noses multiple times except Lupita always blows it with the French kiss thing and when Winnie tries to leave Frida wants to smell his butt. He really thinks she is rude, but just bats her away gently, although as she gets more a aggressive his bats become more hard. Frida now ignores Lupita the best she can, but is no longer a serious danger. And Dash is becoming jealous. Fortunately, Dash has a lot of other admirers in the house to make a fuss over him and get him through this. As long as we can minimize toy throwing arguments and food robbery attempts we will probably make a go of it.