Category Archives: Food

Palm tree in bloom

Our palm tree is currently blooming — which reminded me of this food I ate in 2015 in Guatemala.  If only we had a pole pruner tall enough to cut the blossoms, and if only I knew how to cook them!

https://cookgardentravel.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/guatemalan-street-food/

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Art and cheese

Random observations: art, cheese, etc.

We went to a big three-day art fair held at the Chapala Yacht Club. Artisans come from all over Mexico, mostly from rural places where arts and crafts traditions are still hanging on. The fair pays for their transportation and doesn’t charge them any booth fees etc. The variety of art was overwhelming to look at — weavers (some of them weaving right there), yarn work, wood carving, bone carving, paintings, ceramics, yarn art, beadwork, masks, leather goods, and more.

We walked and looked for a long time and finally bought a few small things. We bought lunch at the food booths and enjoyed sitting on the lawn at the Yacht Club, watching birds and boats. After lunch an all-woman mariachi band played and they were fabulous!

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When high altitude gives you flat cookies, make ice cream sandwiches

When high altitude gives you flat cookies, make ice cream sandwiches

Lots of posting about our travels here in Mexico lately but not much about cooking. Yes, I’ve been cooking. Not as much as usual, but some. I will learn new things while cooking here: unfamiliar ingredients, converting Fahrenheit to Celsius, high-altitude baking, different dishes.

The other night, I made a cabbage/potato/white bean dish that I made often in Oregon. I decided to make this when my husband spotted some good-looking cabbage at the Soriana store in Chapala. An aside, Soriana is my new favorite store here. It’s not very close to the house, but I really liked it. They had nice produce, good selection of grocery staples, a bakery with fresh french bread, and (the target of our trip there) FANS. I guess it’s kind of like a WalMart or Fred Meyer (for Pacific NW readers): food plus housewares plus electronics etc. Soriana also had a bag of textured soy protein which I will try once the weather turns welcoming for chili and sloppy joes.

Back to the cabbage dish, I didn’t see any great northern or navy beans at Soriana, but did find these. Yum, were they good, and they kept nicely intact.

I picked up some nopales at the Wednesday market. Don’t know what they are? Cactus pads. The vendor was taking the spines off, so how could I resist? I boiled them up with a little onion and garlic and then my husband scrambled them into eggs. Nopales perhaps have the texture of a green bean but are much more tart, kind of citrusy. I will make a salad with the cooked ones that didn’t make it into the eggs, with some olive oil and maybe crumbled cheese.

I did some Googling about high-altitude baking and adjusted my chocolate chip cookie recipe by decreasing leavening and sugar and adding a little water and some extra flour. They seemed to take forever to bake (I turned up the oven on the second tray-ful) and came out tasting good but being flat. I deciced to made them into ice cream sandwiches and they were perfect for that.

I definitely need more cookie testing, and I am on the lookout for an oven thermometer to help in my experimentation.

Limited Menu Travel

Vege-Pesca-Tarian Travel

I miss a lot of local culinary delights by not eating meat. I miss tiny storefronts with great deals on tacos. I miss the cool hamburger places. I miss the grills roasting chickens on the street. I miss the gyros stands. The authentic BBQ joints. Often, I (and my patient husband) have to walk further and look harder to find a place that has some kind of non-meat option. When tired and hungry, this isn’t always the best thing. And sometimes it leads to really limited food options. In Mexico, maybe that’s quesadillas. They are yummy but not the most healthy choice if you are travelling multiple days. Other places, it might mean a salad. No offense to salads, but to me, they are not a meal — unless they have a bunch of beans, cheese and/or nuts on them, which is not often the case when travelling.

Dang, sometimes I wish I liked meat so I could experience the small limited-menu restaurants and local specialties. Like Chiles Nogadas, for example. They originated in Puebla, Mexico, I understand. The owner of Tio Domingo, a restaurant near our house, was telling us about them. Poblano chiles, which he says they marinate in some kind of herb mixture. They are then stuffed with a combination of minced pork shoulder, some other meat I don’t remember, nuts, raisins, apples, bananas, and other things. They are cooked and covered with a creamy sauce made from almonds and walnuts. And topped with pomegranate seeds. Oh, how I wish someone would make me a vegetarian version of this. Or again, that I could stomach meat and could enjoy it!

On the other hand, sometimes I am delighted to find fun non-meat offerings. At the Clever Koi in Phoenix, for example, I had a fried chicken sandwich where the chicken was replaced with a fried (purple) cauliflower “steak.” It was topped with some kind of slaw and a wasabi dressing. Messy and delicious and …. fried cauliflower. Or, pictured in this post, beet risotto at La Mision in Ajijic.

My relatives said my vegetarian/occasional fish thing was a “fad” or “phase.” But almost 40 years later, it’s still going strong. And occasionally, that means I am tired and hungry, craving vegetables, eating quesadillas, but still feeling grateful to be fed.

Super Lake, meeting folks, lightening

Super Lake, meeting folks, lightening

Yesterday we made our first visit to “Super Lake,” a grocery store catering to ex-pats. I found the American-style brown sugar I hadn’t seen at the other stores we visited. And I was overwhelmed by the narrow aisles crammed with expensive imported goods. Need Bob’s Red Mill products? They’ve got you covered. Tillamook cheese, vegan mayonnaise, Irish steel cut oats, Pop Tarts, Red Rose tea, Gold Medal flour, Prego spaghetti sauce, every kind of cracker you could want. Anything you are craving from NOB (North of Border), they’ve got it if you’re willing to pay. The prices shocked me. I think the steel-cut oats were the equivalent of about $15 and the Red Rose tea (my usual go-to), about $8 a box. I won’t be buying any of that stuff, I can tell you that! I am happy with the Mexican brands of flour, oatmeal and tea sold at regular stores.

My husband completed his first home improvement project with the assitance of the landlord’s handyman and a very very very tall ladder. He installed a pulley (which he had brought with from Oregon) on the rooftop deck so we can raise and lower our laundry to be hung on the line, a bottle of wine, binoculars, snacks etc. Seeing him climb that ladder made me scared, but the basket system sure is nice.

Last night, we woke to a big lightening storm. It went on for quite some time. Maybe the next time, I will get up to the roof to watch it!

As we settle in and interact with other ex-pats, I observe that some move here with very little (or no) experience of Mexico — what it’s like, customs, legal rules, the language. Seemingly, they see a price tag for their lifestyle that is less than what they are paying, and decide to move. I believe this leads to an expectation (and then disappointment) that things, people, places will be the same as they are used to in the U.S., only for less money.

This country has so much to offer. I want to learn more of the history (hoping to find a child-level Mexican history book), more of the language, more the customs, more of the food, the religions, holidays, beliefs. I want to be respectful. I don’t expect locals to speak English and I greatly appreciate their patience with my Spanish. I don’t expect stores, restaurants, systems, foods to be the same as they are in the U.S. If I wanted things the same as in the U.S., I wouldn’t be here.

That said, who’s perfect? I will probably duck into Super Lake for brown sugar when I want to bake some cookies.

Pantry: today, so not prepared for the Armageddon

If the big Cascadia earthquake comes this week, we’re in a world of hurt. Of course, we would be in a nightmare anytime an earthquake came. But now, after having eaten or given away all of our pantry, we’d be in a particularly bad way. Usually we have a good quantity of dried beans, canned beans, rice, pasta, quinoa, barley, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, potatoes, onions, garlic, soy milk, home-canned tuna (and salsa and pickley things) olive oil, coconut oil, spices, oatmeal, flour, sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips — pantry staples. Now, we are down to nuts, dregs of various vinegars, a few cans of beans we might in the next few days, some minimarshmallows and rice krispies (can you guess why?) and a box of crackers. The freezer went to the storage unit today so we have no help coming from there.

This winnowing down of our pantry has made me think a lot about how I cook and how I am potentially going to cook differently in another country/another climate.

Now, cooking usually goes something like this: what’s plentiful in the garden right now, and how can I center a dinner around it? Winter squash? Beets? Tomatoes? Kale? Cauliflower? Eggs? Grab it and then look into the pantry. Can I use my produce with rice or pasta or beans? Can I make it into a pizza? Can I roast it in the oven or make it into a soup or curry with a can of coconut milk?

Moving, we won’t have a garden. We won’t have our own chickens. There will be no dinner inspiration provided by something from the yard. We’ll have weekly produce markets (hooray) and stores. And it also seems like most things are in season all the time in Mexico. We will be able to eat the faw-away-from-Oregon foods (mostly fruits?) we don’t eat frequently here: bananas, pineapples, avocados, mangos, papayas, warm-from-the-factory corn tortillas, who knows what else? A new pallette/palate. I’m eager to experiment, to cook differently, to perhaps rethink the well-stocked pantry.

We’ll see.

In the meanwhile, we have no provisions for an emergency. Must be time to get out of here!

Ready, set, ex-pat

So we went to the Mexican Consulate in Porltand to apply for our temporary resident visas.

But first…..
Since we decided last winter to plan for a year’s move to Mexico, I scaled back my garden efforts this year. I also had hand surgery in March which incapacitated me for long than i expected. Still, a friend helped me shop at the Food for Lane County plant sale and I bought some most excellent starts. I grew the largest cauliflowers ever. Broccoli was good, too. It wasn’t a good pea year at our place; maybe too wet for too long. It was a productive asparagus and artichoke year, though. Summer crops, we have enjoyed green beans (mostly roasted on the grill), tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers. The garden seems small since I didn’t grow anything for canning!

Great cauli year

And great potato year

Okay, on to our upcoming travel. We put our house up for rent with a property manager and have renters lined up for a year, beginning October 1. Our stuff has been and is in the process of being divided into the following categories: sell, donate, throw out, store, or move. Carloads have gone to St. Vincent de Paul. We have sold a lot through craigslist and our yard sale, including my beloved 1995 Nissan pick up truck. I will miss that the most of everything that goes away. Still, it was a good decision as we didn’t want to pay to store a vehicle and can likely manage just fine with only one when we return from our year away.

I’ve gotten rid of some sentimental items, including a folder of old family pictures (no idea who the people were) from the 1920-50 era, sold to a woman for $2 at our sale. My army jacket, sent to me by my retired Army cousin (now deceased) that I wore every day, all winter, during high school and college. Dishes belonging to my mom. Grandma’s doilies (the better ones sent to a family member, the others sold at yard sale). The little cast-iron stove I had since I was a kid. Many many things gone.

I have such mixed feelings, jettisoning so many memory items. But how much can a person hold onto if that person also wants to have room for the future,for travelling, for moving aorund the world more easily? Don’t get me wrong; I have a big tote full of photos, my HS senior yearbook, my first pay stub from Dominick’s Finer Foods (now defunct), all the concert ticket stubs from my youth (from AC/DC to The Who to Madonna to David Bowie). So still plenty of stuff to store or lug around. But much less.

IMG_3242

Got rid of my mom’s old address book

So where are we moving and why? We are moving to Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. It’s a very ex-pat-friendly town on Lake Chapala, about 40 minutes from the Guadalajara airport.

Why? Like, many things in life, it’s a push and a pull. The pull is pretty easy: nice people and interesting culture; great weather; wonderful food; affordable cost of living; accessible health care; and well, because we can. And perhaps SHOULD while we are sill young and agile enough to have an adventure and actively enjoy it. The push? The current state of politics in the US is ugly and heart-breaking and frightening. And we are likely to either lose our health insurance completely in 2018 or be unable to afford any, given the actons against the affordable care act and its subsidies. If I am going to be uninsured, i want it to be in a country where I can afford to go to the doctor if I need to.

So away we go, leaving in mid-September and arriving at our destination on October 1.

Stay tuned.