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Nancy in Pátzcuaro

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  1. Just returned from the mercado and can report that, at least for the moment, everything seems normal. A few empty spaces where normally there have been vendors, but otherwise as usual. Whether this will continue remains to be seen. But in any case I'm confident that we will be able to find fresh ingredients. I think México is just at the beginning of the outbreak, so we'll have to keep an eye on how things progress. And we're well supplied with toilet paper (and Nutella). N.
  2. We went to the Costco in Morelia this morning. At 10:30 the parking lot wasn't very full, but inside the store was another story. Fortunately the store had an ample supple of toilet paper--mountains of it--which was a good thing, because people were loading up. A few gringos but mostly Mexican. Overflowing shopping carts, ours included. I had a list of nonperishables so as to lay in a supply, but most of my fresh food I'll get in our mercado. This assumes that the vendors will have something to sell. Vamos a ver (we shall see). I really don't know how that big jar of Nutella ended up in our cart this morning. There has been very little information from the Mexican government about the spread of the virus. I see people in the street wearing masks, but that's not unusual here--people wear masks when they're sick and nobody thinks it's strange. Given how much Mexicans mistrust their government, I imagine the number of cases will be vastly under reported. Tomorrow I'm going to the mercado to see what the impact on the local food supply has been. I've been out of touch with a broken wrist (which makes typing a challenge) and haven't gone food shopping for several weeks. I need a good supply of beans, some fruit and vegs, shrimp for the freezer (butter poached shrimp is on the menu for next week), a couple of chicken breasts. N.
  3. We use an AeroPress--delicious coffee and simple cleanup. Much easier than the French Press, too. N.
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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
  14. You could be right! Except I know we'll get another huge squash next year.
  15. 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
  16. 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.
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. Chiles Rellenos are common around here, and are always--always--made with poblanos. I've never seen Anaheims here, which I associate with California (possibly incorrectly). We have a large variety of fresh chiles but no Anaheims. In any case, you can use whichever chile appeals to you and is available in your supermarket. Some time ago I posted "My Spanish Teacher's Chiles Rellenos" in the RecipeGullet section: roasted, peeled poblanos stuffed with a thick piece of queso fresco, coated with a light batter made of separated eggs (whites whipped) and a little flour, slowly shallow fried in oil, drained on paper towels, and then finished in a thin tomato broth. Yes, it's a bit of a production, but you can do them in stages and then just finish them in the tomato broth for serving. In many ways they're almost better the next day, oddly enough. Served with white rice and beans. I also make a casserole version similar to the ones discussed above, and one for breakfast that's an egg and milk custard type that is very well received. But right now I really want the classic version! I have poblanos in the fridge but no queso fresco, so it will have to be tomorrow. I'll toast the chiles today and put together the rest tomorrow. Yum! Nancy in Pátzcuaro
  20. Well, at least it's a start. Ideally everyone will negotiate in good faith and perhaps a problem that has existed since the Spanish arrived can at least start to be resolved. Or is that too much to ask right now, given that there are centuries of mistrust and abuse to overcome? Nancy in Pátzcuaro
  21. I understand from NPR this morning that the standoff has been resolved. The president capitulated and restored the gas subsidy. Is this correct? If so, everyone must be breathing a big sigh of relief. Having been in Ecuador in the past when the indigenous were blockading roads, I can understand the feeling of insecurity and apprehension. Combining that with food shortages means everyone has been very tense. Nancy in Pátzcuaro
  22. Here's a good topping for tostadas, courtesy of Diana Kennedy: Equal amounts of good quality chorizo and white cabbage (doesn't need to be exact, but try to not skimp on the chorizo), a chopped white onion, a little garlic if you want, and some commercial salsa if things look a little dry. Cook them together for a while until the cabbage and chorizo are fully cooked. No need to add oil because the chorizo generally releases enough fat to keep things from sticking. Pile onto tostadas and top with crumbled queso fresco or crema (we prefer the cheese). Leftover chorizo mixture is good in tacos or stuffed into zucchini or chayote and baked. Nancy in Pátzcuaro
  23. We do Thanksgiving for 60+ people here in Pátzcuaro. We rent tables and chairs to spread around the house and garden, and I hire a lovely young woman to help. Chela is all of 5 feet tall, with a smile that lights up the room, and just about everyone knows and likes her. She pours wine, makes sure the buffet table is clean and well supplied, clears plates and glasses, washes dishes, and helps with the clean-up at the end of the day. I'll never do Thanksgiving without her. (She also cuts hair and does manicures and pedicures.) I make the turkeys (2), cook a ham if I can find one or a couple of slabs of Costco salmon if I can't, both on the grill , make the dressing and gravy and sometimes a side dish like my grandmother's red cabbage or glazed carrots, and cranberry sauce if we can find cranberries at the right time. Everyone else brings their favorite dishes. Three categories: appetizer, side dish, or dessert. I ask people to let me know what they plan to bring so we can avoid having too many duplicates. It works out nicely for everyone and we have a grand time. I think people enjoy the company and the opportunity to make some dish that they've always loved. Thanksgiving is to be shared, after all. Several years ago I gave up on the Norman Rockwell roasted turkey and began cutting apart the birds so I can roast the dark meat first and then lay the breasts on top to finish cooking. That way all parts are done properly and the breast meat isn't dried out. It takes some effort to cut apart a turkey--those bones are darned thick. I enlist my husband to do that, and it usually requires a mallet and a heavy knife. As October comes to an end I'll send out the invitations. I love doing this--Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I just hope our street is finished by then--we're getting new cobblestones and water and sewer. Right now there's a small army out there chipping and laying stones--the Anvil Chorus. We already have the new sidewalks. Progress! Nancy in Pátzcuaro
  24. In Uruapan, about an hour downhill from Pátzcuaro, is a magnificent national park. It's a tropical oasis in the middle of a city that is famous for being the heart of the avocado business in México--they ship millions of tons of fruit every year. There is an astonishing amount of water in the park, either as the Rio Cupatitzio or man-made fountains, some of them very impressive. The origin of the water is a spring at the upper end called La Rodilla del Diablo, the Devil's Knee, where the devil knelt and created the spring. However, there are many more springs popping out of the ground to account for the volume of water flowing through the park. Flowering plants abound, vines are everywhere, and there are many orchids and bromeliads in the trees. A group of young men dive into the stream for tips, a sort of miniature version of Acapulco cliff divers. And in the middle of this lush landscape is a trout hatchery. One of my favorite things to do is to buy a bag of trout food and toss handfuls to the fish in the raceways, but I also find myself hypnotized by the slow movements of the fish, the reflection of the trees and the sun on the water. They're segregated by size, of course, because the big fish tend to snack on the little ones. You can buy whole fish or fillets. Can't get much fresher than that. I take comfort that the volume of water flowing through the raceways keeps the water clean--it's certainly clear enough. And probably the fish poop helps fertilize the downstream foliage. I'm pretty sure that all the "trucha" sold in local restaurants comes from the park. Here's a link to a pretty good description of the park, with photos: https://www.zocalotx.com/TheNationalUruapan.htm Nancy in Pátzcuaro
  25. OK--I'll have to dig up some of those menus. If I can find them, of course. When we moved to Pátzcuaro a lot of stuff went into long-term storage, but I'm pretty sure I know where they are. This may take a while. Nancy in Pátzcuaro
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