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Nancy in Pátzcuaro

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  1. Specifically, what to do with the little bits of nutmeg after you've grated most of it. There's a point when I don't want to risk the skin on my fingers and I just grab a new piece, but now I have a collection of little pointy bits of perfectly good nutmeg. Any ideas? Maybe embed them in sugar the way you'd do with a truffle in rice? Nancy
  2. I agree--she's clearly proud of her ponche. I especially loved at the end when she said that a little tequila or what they add in the countryside, "pikete," would be good. I'm not sure what that is--sounds dangerous! She was fearless while peeling and cutting the caña (sugar cane). I intend to buy it already peeled because I have less confidence in my knife skills than she has. There are huge amounts of sugar cane in the mercado, in 10-foot lengths, that are being sawn into smaller chunks on a table saw. Naturally there is plenty of protection for the operator (ha!). Also in the mercado are generous amounts of forest moss (harvested locally) and mountains of Spanish moss, which are used to decorate a wood-framed creche populated by plastic animals and the Holy Family. And strings of twinkling lights have migrated south from the US. More and more of our neighbors have decorated their houses with lights. Given that electricity is expensive here, it's a good thing that someone invented LEDs! Last night we attended a group posada, though it was a day early--they officially start tonight, on the 16th and go to the 24th. This was more than the usual posada, in that it included all parts of our colonia (larger than a neighborhood). There was a sound system blaring at top volume, tables and chairs in the street (blocking it, of course), and lots of food. Chicken tinga (my weakness), guacamole, vegetable salads, lots of ponche, soft drinks and something extra from various hip flasks (mezcal). Other neighbors, opting to have a more personal, definitely quieter, evening, built fires in the street and grouped chairs around them so folks could gossip and enjoy the evening. I saw a bottle of Johnny Walker Red being passed around to add to the ponche. Aguinaldos (bags of candy) were passed out to all comers, not just the kids, and then there was a piñata. The littlest kids go first, and it's really cute to watch them poke feebly at this thing bouncing around on the rope. Older kids get blindfolded and spun around 3 times before they're released to have a try. Sooner or later, after a lot of frustration and laughter, someone gives it a big enough whack to break it and the candy spills out. I always feel sorry for the kid who breaks it because by the time they realize it and take off the blindfold most of the candy has gone to the bystanders.
  3. I'm interested in the answer too, Smithy. I still remember the prickly pear creme brulee we had at the Farview Lodge restaurant in Mesa Verde many years ago. Using the juice in place of all or part of the sugar might be worth pursuing. But now that I think about it, probably the juice could be reduced and then mixed in with the custard. Or maybe with the sugar? My memory of the creme brulee was that it was in the custard.
  4. We are hosting our neighbors for one night of the traditional posadas, and I'm going to make ponche (pronounced "pon-che"), among other things like a piñata and bags of candy for the kids (of all ages). I've looked at recipes online but I think my best option is to ask the people in the mercado for their advice. I know they sell all the ingredients, and I know there are things like long sticks of sugarcane, cut up fruit, jamaica flowers for color and flavor, cinnamon sticks, piloncillo, and so on. And there's always a guy at the posada walking around with a bottle of mezcal in case the ponche's not up to snuff. Even if it's good--he's there just in case. I'm more confident about the piñata and the aguinaldos (candy bags), but I think I'll be able to figure out the ponche. This is one of the traditional elements of Christmas in México, along with tamales and atole on Christmas Eve or Chiles en Nogada in September to celebrate independence and Pan de Muertos for Noche de Muertos in November. Our street is quite traditional, unlike others which put on a big noisy event with banks of speakers and loud music until the not-so-wee hours of the morning. So we'll walk from house to house, asking for a room for the night, until we get to our house and are invited in. There's a small representation of Mary and Joseph and the donkey that is carried around from house to house. In more affluent areas Mary and Joseph are young children and there's an actual donkey for her to ride on.
  5. Thanks--I've never understood what happens to spuds to make them have brown streaks in what should be white flesh. I've seen this in both the US and México. I haven't had the nerve to taste them. Just a little too weird.
  6. I came home from the mercado today with some white potatoes, which are the only ones we can get here (other than sweet potatoes, which are available in white, orange and purple varieties). When I cut into them I saw that many of them had brown streaks that made me reluctant to use them. I've seen this over the years and never knew what this means or whether the spuds are safe to eat or good tasting. Any ideas what this is and how potatoes get that way?
  7. After several days of prep and sore feet, I'm ready for tomorrow. The turkeys (my husband insisted on 2 big ones) are cut apart, which is a story in itself, slathered with olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, and stashed in big plastic bags to marinate in the fridge. There is also a ham (boneless, unfortunately) ready to be seasoned and cooked on a v-roaster on the grill, and a side of Costco salmon to grill after the ham comes off. No shortage of protein! I've made the dressing, a lot of it because it's my favorite part of Thanksgiving, and a corn pudding that I baked this afternoon and will reheat in the oven when the turkey comes out. The wingtips, backs and necks are in the stockpot with the usual suspects (carrot, celery, onion, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, black peppercorns, garlic) and will simmer on the stove overnight. I'll use that for the gravy. Instead of the usual 60+ people we have pruned the list to only (!) 40. Two reasons--until very recently it has rained every day, sometimes quite hard, and because we have to put tables outside we couldn't be sure of the weather and had to think about how we could cram people into the house if necessary. But according to our local weather station it will be dry for the foreseeable future. Second, our street is being repaired and we weren't sure it would be open in time. As it turns out, it won't be. Probably Friday or Saturday, but not tomorrow. Oh well-- I always enjoy what our friends bring to the party. One friend is bringing 2 loaves of her sourdough with honey butter, which I'm eager to try. I love Thanksgiving--it's my favorite holiday. I hope your holiday is a happy one, that the snow doesn't make travel difficult or impossible, that there are no political arguments around the table, and that everyone leaves in a food coma, full of good food and friendship.
  8. It's quite true. Not only are the cartels taking over the avocado industry in Michoacán, the environmental impacts are significant. Water use, pesticide use, burning the forests to clear for new groves--it makes buying avocados seems like a betrayal of one's principles. In theory, forest trees are not allowed to be cut without the appropriate permit, but we all know that this is a law more ignored than followed. Once a forest burns the law says it must not be replanted for 20 years. If you believe that I have a bridge you might be interested in. Many of us have our own trees or know someone who does, which solves that particular problem, but for the rest of the world it's a different story. We see truckloads of young men returning from the avocado groves--they stand up in the bed of a pickup--and they are all smiling. Avocado harvesting pays very well, well enough that these guys quit their jobs in construction or other useful occupations to make 500 to 700 pesos a day picking avocados, much more than any builder can afford. Our Spanish teacher's son was recruited and did it for a couple of weeks, but quit when he was told he had to carry a gun in case a rival gang attacked. He said the money wasn't worth it. He's now in university, studying agriculture. The real pity is that when one drives to Uruapan, the center of the industry, the roadsides are lined with nurseries selling young trees. There are thousands of them of all sizes, which makes me wonder who's buying them and where they will be planted. These trees are grafts, with Hass trees grafted onto Criollo (the local less desirable variety) rootstock. Criollos are suitable for our altitudes so the resulting plant is hardier and able to produce a crop at 7200 feet. I only buy avocados from the people in the mercado selling from a 5-gallon bucket, the product of their own trees, if I don't get them from a neighbor. We used to have a tree but it got diseased and we had to take it out.
  9. Right now we have some new choices: Santa Huacal, run by a husband and wife. Miguel works front of house, pours drinks, serves each course (5) and converses with patrons. His wife, Samantha, is a genius in the kitchen, introducing some intriguing flavor combinations that are always surprising and uniformly successful. There are usually 2 choices per course, and always a vegetarian entree option. Fixed price, with wine and other libations extra. Open Thursday through Sunday. They have been in business for about 4 years, so they're not really "new." Al Forno, a pizza/pasta restaurant that is a cut above. Long list of pizzas, including pizza bianca (a favorite of mine), and an equally long list of pastas. We shared the putanesca the other evening and devoured it, making ummy sounds that we hoped weren't audible to our neighboring diners. We started with what I consider to be the ultimate test of an Italian restaurant--bruschetta. Cherry tomatoes, black olives, lotsa garlic, olive oil, fresh basil, on house-made bread, all working together in complete harmony to make a very good experience. I won't even mention the greed-inspiring tiramisú. We will have this restaurant on permanent rotation. Also only open Thursday through Sunday. Open slightly more than one month and already popular. And last but not least, an unnamed taquería. No sign on the door--the only reason you'd know it's open is that the door is open and the lights are on. A family runs it, with Dad overseeing the dining rooms and taking drinks orders (they have the most delicious horchata), Mom making gorditas, sopas, enchiladas and quesadillas, the older son making delicious tacos, and the younger son serving and busing tables. Also open on Thursday through Sunday, though like most taquerías they aren't open before 5 or 6pm but close much later at night than other eateries, so if it's 10:30 and you're starving (and it's Thursday through Sunday) this is your salvation. There are many other less noteworthy restaurants in town that are open more than 4 days a week, serving breakfast, comida and cena until about 9pm. One of them is a block away and is reliable if not exciting, though I sometimes crave the fish tacos. More elaborate dining is available in Morelia, an hour away. But that's another story.
  10. It's amazing how much dissension there can be over holiday traditions. Food seems to be one of the most contentious, as in "These people put corn bread/oysters/sausage/kale/green chile in their stuffing!" We've all heard it before. The point of sharing meals is sharing traditions that might not be what we're used to, in the hopes that someone else's favorite might taste pretty good to us if we give it a chance. Unfortunately it's the "give it a chance" part that turns out to be the problem. I think your compromise, taking Thanksgiving to your mom at the nursing home, will be very satisfying. Wish her a happy Thanksgiving from us. Nancy in Pátzcuaro
  11. You could be right! Except I know we'll get another huge squash next year.
  12. I've also been thinking about the situation in Ambato, whether it's improved or has stayed unsettled. Curious minds want to know. Hope it's better now. Nancy in Pátzcuaro
  13. You guys are cracking me up! Right now I'm leaning toward the chain saw for its comedic value, but I think I'll use dcarch's one-handed method. Very clever! I just hope this beast isn't too big for that. I'm still open to further suggestions, of course. N.
  14. The problem with a machete--well, there are 2: first, we don't own one, and second, I've seen way too many people with missing fingers on the non-machete-using hand. But I kinda like the hacksaw idea. I'm pretty sure that our Spanish teacher's husband uses a machete. Thanks-- N in P
  15. Every fall our Spanish teacher brings us an enormous winter squash, a sort of hubbard/acorn type that the local indigenous population grows from seeds saved from previous years. I've asked for the name, but she tells me it's just "calabaza" (squash). My dilemma is always how to cut it apart without needing a trip to the emergency room. I have a distant memory of putting it in the microwave to soften the hard skin, but this puppy is way too big for most microwaves. Can I heat it in the oven? Normally I cook it uncut in the oven and scrape out the flesh, but I'd rather have slices to use in gratins or cubes for risotto, that sort of thing, instead of a puree--I still have some left from last year. It's a lovely dry squash very similar in taste to acorn, and I'd like to be able to cut it apart into manageable chunks. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Nancy in Pátzcuaro
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