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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Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos

The Day of the Dead altars touched me. We saw some set up on the street, outside of people’s houses or businesses. They featured photos of deceased loved ones, flowers, food, candles, cut-paper decorations, items significant to the family or the deceased. I looked at the photos, some recent, others old black and whites. I thought about how much the family was still thinking about these folks, how much I still think about my relatives and friends who have passed on.

What a great holiday, to honor and remember your deceased loved ones. I don’t claim to know much about this holiday nor will I explain it to you. I will only say what we saw and how it moved me.

But first, Halloween, the North American holiday. Many kids here have discovered it and we had more trick-or-treaters than we expected. All cute, all dressed up, and shouting “Queremos Halloween!” If we are here next year, we will know to get more candy. I’ve heard some ex-pats say that they don’t participate in giving kids candy, as Halloween is “not a Mexican holiday” and they don’t want to contribute to kids here “losing their culture.” I think they’re just too cheap to buy the candy. Because, in any culture, what kid wouldn’t want to dress up and get some candy? Really. (And to the ex-pats who went to the cemetery on Dia de los Muertos and tried to give candy out to the kids — just no. These are two different holidays. Keep the candy-handing to Halloween.)

In the cultural exchange that goes on between locals and foreigners, I (a foreigner) sincerely hope that the culture here rubs off on me, enters me. As a practioner of earth-based religion, I believe that the veil between the living and dead is thin at this time of year. Communing with ancestors is a longtime part of Samhain and other celebratons. So Day of the Dead is spiritually familiar to me. I recall from my Catholic upbringing that there is All Souls Day, but I don’t remember us ever celebrating it or honoring ancestors in any way.

But I digress….

I felt very emotional, visiting the cemetery as the day was approaching, seeing families sprucing up graves. Some with new sod, some with flowers, plants, other decorations. I feel bad I am not near my parents’ grave now to do the same.

In addition to the doings at the cemetery and the altars, we saw catrina statues at the plaza and paintings made of colored sawdust on the road. We saw a procession from the cemetery to the plaza, with two bands, many people with candles and catrina face paint, folks on horseback. We saw the crowds at the plaza, food stands, music acts, thousands of candles on the ceramic skull art project.

Big fiesta, yes, but the small altars with their well-loved photos and intensely personal decorations touched my heart the most and I am grateful.

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.

Futbol Sunday

Futbol Sunday

Sundays, there are futbol games on the field by our house. Saturdays, the elderly caretaker mows the grass and refreshes the lines with some kind of white powder. About nine, a car comes and brings tables, coolers, drinks, supplies, and a canopy for the concessioners. The first game starts at ten, the second one at noon. There is a set of bleachers near the concessions but most folks sit in the shade on benches, chairs or the grass along the sidelines.

From the bleachers, we have a nice view of the mountains. This week, there were firecrackers being set off periodically on the top of or on the other side of the mountains. I was reminded of the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound. Once we saw the flashes of the fireworks, it was a good three seconds before we heard the booms.

I like watching the futbol but also enjoy watching the birds — this time, white pelicans circling and then roosting in a tree near the field — and most of all, people enjoying their Sunday. My favorite to watch are the succession of groups of small kids running toward the concessions, often with a look of glee and a blue 20 peso note crushed tightly in a hand. They return with one of the many forms of sugar available — bolsitas of a variety of candies, small bottles of sugary liquids, or plastic tubes of flavored syrup that look like narrow, unfrozen Fla-Vor-Ice popsicles.

Instead of sugar, we chose beer, papas and pepinos for our snacks. The potato chips are crunchy home-style and you can get them with salt, chili sauce, or fresh lime added to your packet. The cucumbers are sliced longways, put into a plastic bag and served with Tajin (the salt, chile powder, deydrated lime combo that is so delicious and popular).

One can learn a lot of curse words by watching the local futbol games. The team coaches can be the worst offenders, hollering at the referee, but fans can have some clever obscene commentary for the opposing team or referee too. I’ll let you use your imagination about what was said! Our neighborhood team, the Asturias, unfortunately lost this week.

Maybe we will have better luck next Sunday!

Sensory overload

Sensory overload

Most mornings, I walk over to the malecon for some exercise — either Zumba class or running. It’s a short walk, maybe 10 minutes, down Ocampo, a relatively busy street, then down Flores Magnon (which we keep referring to as Filet Mignon) to the Lake, through the futbol field, through a vacant lot where they are horses, playground equipment, and a semi-permanent structure where some folks live and sell fish.

This morning, there were some dogs out, doing the things dogs do — barking at other dogs, scavenging tidbits from the garbarge bags that are piled up for today’s pick-up. There is one pair I see often, a lovely Belgian shepherd and his buddy, a medium-large white dog with a few black spots. The white one really wants to be my friend, but I am not getting involved with any dogs!

Calle Ocampo is quiet in the morning, but there are still plenty of folks on the street, mostly picking up something for breakfast from one of the little stores — eggs, milk, whatever. A few delivery guys. People waiting for the bus. Some gringos walking their dogs on leashes. It’s a small town so everyone says “Buenos dias” to each other, or “good morning” if it’s two gringos making the greeting.

There is a fruit tree, guyaba I think, in front of the billiard hall. The small green fruits are ripe now and many have fallen and are smashed onto the cobblestones. The sweet smell of the ripe, maybe rotting, fruit followed me and I was glad for it.

The caretaker of the futbol field was watering the field with sprinklers this morning, in preparation for tomorrow’s mowing and Sunday’s games. In the vacant lot, two guys were sitting and talking near the house/shack. A young guy with a take-out coffee cup was leaning on the wall near the malecon, watching his cute little grey pit bull.

I must have been a few minutes earlier this morning as I saw the sun as a big red-orange disc near the Lake, reflecting in its surface. Ususally, I arrive when the sun is already more yellow, higher, more like the small hot ball we see all day. This morning was lovely for a few minutes, the orange-red reflecting disc, rain clouds gray and purple to the West over the mountains. A flock of white pelicans floated past as I stood waiting for Zumba to begin. Regretfully, I don’t generally bring my phone(camera) to Zumba so this post will have to make do with a picture from Thursday’s run.

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.

Romeria in Guadalajara/Zapopan

Ave Maria

We Uber-ed from Ajijic up to Guadalajara on October 11 and checked into Hotel Morales. The hotel is in the historic center of the city and is classic and lovely. Courtyards with fountains, four stories of rooms, a pool, restaurant, and bar. Our room was very well-appointed with a spacious walk-in shower, lighted make-up mirror (!) and comfortable bed. We didn’t have much time to enjoy the hotel or explore on this trip, but the area around there is very walkable — lots of department stores, shoe shops, historic buildings, churches, and many, many stores with wedding and quincenera gowns. We look forward to returning!

We met up with some Oregon friends who became our tour guides. We had drinks at a nice bar overlooking a plaza and then saw the preparations for what we had travelled to Guadalajara for: la Romeria de la Vergin de Zapopan. The Romeria was to take place the next day, October 12, but some streets were condoned off the evening before and processions were headed to the cathedral for Mass. Many people with flags and long lines of men and women in religious order garb.

We had dinner at a restuarant called La Chata, very near to our hotel. We had good timing — the line looked hours long when we exited. The restaurant kitchen is in the front of the building, gleaming clean, filled with cooks (all female, it appeared, the night we were there) clothed head to toe in white, including white hoods over their hair. While we waited for a table, we got to see the cooks in action and check out the different types of food. I loved watching them! I was grateful to find an enchilada assortment that was all vegetarian (I will write another post about some of my struggles to eat well while travelling). It was might good, featuring enchiladas with beans, cheese, and (I think) panela (fresh cheese). My husband is a flan connoisseur and declared theirs very good.

We made it an early night as we wanted to see the beginning of the Romeria, which was reported to start at either 5:30 or 6:00. Either time is considered 0dark30 to me. We met in the lobby at 6:00 and joined the crowd at the cathedral. In a short time, the statue of the Virgin, in a glass or plastic case, was brought out and secured to a float covered with flowers. Another float and people with flags proceeded the Virgin and the procession began. We followed along, sometimes cutting down side streets to jump ahead and watch different parts of the procession. Walking through Guadalajara in the dark with about a million people (literally; they were expecting 1.5 million for the event) was a great experience, otherworldly.

Evidently, the statue of the Virgin has a home base in the Zapopan Basilica but travels to other churches in Jalisco from June until October 12. The Romeria is her procession home. According to what I have read, the icon of the Virgin is a small corn-husk statue and is credited with many miracles. The total route was about 8 kilometers and ended near the Zapopan cathedral. Along with multitudes of priests, nuns, seminarians, etc., the procession had several bands and many groups of dancers in different types of indigenous dress. As it got light out, a variety of vendors set up along the route with a special type of bread (looked like of like challah with some red and green candied fruit on top), ice cream, sodas, Romeria calendars, leashes so you don’t lose your children, and other items.

We waited behind barricades near the entrance to the Basilica grounds. Over the loudspeakers, a man led the crowd in choruses of Ave Maria (Catholic friends, it’s a different melody from the one we grew up with in the US), cheers, and prayers. The Virgin came in on her float and was then transferred to another float that was hand-carried onto the grounds and (though we could not see this) into the Basilica. We attempted to go toward the Basilica after this, but it was too crowded so we headed back. In our hotel bar, however, we were able to see some of the Mass on TV.

Ave Maria, salve Maria!