A Week of Parties

The hotter the temperature rises, the quieter our little town becomes. Most of the tourists have now gone home and many of the local restaurants and shops have either closed for the summer or reduced their hours.  The ones that are still open are offering great discounts.  We are enjoying eating out more, supporting the locals who are hoping to hold on until the tourists return.  Yesterday at Los Tejabanes we had a full lunch with vegetables soup, rich and delicious Chile Rellenos with rice and a drink for only 70 pesos –  $4 CDN.

The summer slowdown definitely does not mean the Mexicans have stopped partying however, and we had two great parties this week.

First was a surprise birthday party for me at the orphanage.  I am usually not there on Wednesday afternoons, but I have some new English teachers and was showing them the ropes.  We held our 5 classes – 3 hours of singing “Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes” while teaching body parts (when did I stop being able to comfortably touch my toes?) and I really can’t believe that none of our little students gave away the secret.  While we taught the oldest class during the last hour, the staff and younger children were busy blowing up balloons, decorating the house, stuffing a piñata and putting a LOT of candles in the cake.  Just before 5:00, the classroom door opened, and Grant came in carrying a cake followed by a crowd of little ones wearing crowns and masks and yelling “Happy Birthday Karen”.  We spent the next 2 hours singing and dancing and eating cake and piñata candy and of course the obligatory Mexican tradition of smashing my face in the cake.   This is called “Mordida” – literally “taking a bite” – everyone yelling “Mordida, Mordida” while the birthday girl or boy takes the first bite of the cake.  Gael thought it was hilarious to really shove my face in that delicious chocolate icing.

The next day I looked through all the cards that the children – and the grown ups had made – and I was moved by their love, their openness and their artistic abilities.  They had worked hard to make beautiful messages of love and I am so grateful.  Perhaps my favorite came from Mareli who is one of our weekend children.  This is the card she wrote:

This is the translation:

“I love you and I give thanks for all that you have given us Karen. I love you very much.  Karen with all my heart I thank you for giving me the opportunity to go to your house.”

Sometimes it’s hard to love children who have really tough lives and families, who struggle and who can never truly be my own, but this message just made it all worthwhile.  Not because they are grateful for the ‘stuff’ we give them, but because they feel loved and are able to share love.  That is good for them and also super good for us.

On Friday night we were invited to another party.  You remember Gloria?  I told you about the house she built and the pit her husband dug to be an oven for their birria.

Gloria Builds a House!

Well this week Gloria invited us to come and share the deer that one of their friends had hunted up in the mountains.  I have never seen a deer in Mexico, but apparently they do exist.  Gloria and Adrian put the gifted deer meat in a large pot with chilis and spices and slices of oranges and buried it all in the ground with hot charcoal and wood and waited a few hours.   It was exciting to watch Adrian take off the coals that had been heaped on top, remove the metal covering, hoist up the hot, heavy pot, unfold the layers of foil to finally reveal the meat.  The mouth watering smell hit us first and although I wasn’t very hungry and hadn’t planned to eat much, I ended up with a heaping plate of beans, tortillas and tender shredded deer meat.  It was a feast and of course the night ended with karaoke and laughter and I even blew out my shoe dancing!

 

Thank you for the many birthday wishes I received this week from all over the world – Canada and the US and Sweden and Mexico and Cuba.  I couldn’t be more excited to see where this new year takes Grant and I.  All I know for sure is there will be children, there will be delicious food, there will be adventure, there will be love, and there will be DANCING!

Gloria Builds a House!

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I’d like you to meet my friend Gloria and her husband Adrian.  In fact, I’d like to invite you to join me for a Fish Feast at their new home!  I know Gloria won’t mind if you come with me – she’s proud of her new home and loves to cook and entertain.

 

I met Gloria at Manos de Amor.  She works part time in the kitchen and helps clean the home.   She speaks no English, but we are friends and I have been cheering her on for the last year as she and Adrian build their dream home down the river on the outskirts of town.

Life has not been easy for Gloria.  Just over a year ago she lost her oldest son in a car accident and she has never fully recovered.  What mom could?  Her oldest daughter has a learning disability.  But Gloria is strong and resourceful and over the past few years she has been paying tiny sums of money each month to buy a piece of land.  Her dream was to own her own home, so she would not have to pay rent.  On her small salary, the rent was killing her, and she was determined to create a better life for her family.

Finally, the day came when Gloria announced to us she had paid off the land and she was ready to start building.  And by ‘ready to start building’ I don’t mean calling a general contractor, and an architect and an engineer and an interior designer and a bunch of crews for different trades.  I mean she was literally ready to start building.  She and Adrian took a saw and some machetes and headed into the bush near their land.  They cut down trees to form the posts that would hold the structure.  Over the next few months they accumulated some cement blocks and a friend donated money for a roof.  They created two bedrooms and a tiny kitchen area for storage of food and dishes.  The cooking and eating will be done outside.  In fact, as in most Mexican homes, most of the living is done outside with family telling stories gathered around a fire.  Adrian dug a hole that will be their underground pit oven for cooking birria.  Birria is a spicy Mexican stew usually made from goat, a favorite dish from the state of Jalisco which is just a few miles from Bucerias.  The rocks in the bottom of the pit will be heated and a clay pot full of meat and chilies and other spices and covered with maguey leaves will be roasted for many hours.  Gloria also planted a garden to keep her family supplied with the important Mexican salsa ingredients – tomatoes, avocados, chilies, onions and cilantro.  To ensure her late son was not left behind as they moved into this new chapter, Gloria hung pictures of him in every room – there is no doubt he is still a big part of her family and even in her new joy, she continues to mourn.

Yesterday Gloria invited us to her home for a feast of grilled fish, homemade spicy sauces, beans and of course corn tortillas.  The entire fish was brushed with a spicy sauce made of garlic and chilies and flattened on the grill.  It was delicious and there was something comforting and liberating about pulling the white meat off the fish bones and licking the spicy sauce off our fingers.  Some of my friends popped the cooked eyeballs into their mouths – I drew the line there!

Grant and I tried to keep up with the Spanish conversation but mainly we just enjoyed sitting back and celebrating success with this family – including their 2 dogs, some cats and 2 baby parrots.  They still have work to do.  They don’t have lights yet.  Eventually they’ll have windows.   But this is their forever family home, built with their own hands and dreams and love and we say SALUD GLORIA AND ADRIAN!

 

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It’s Really All About the Food

Let’s face it.  One of the main reasons – maybe the primary reason? – people vacation in Mexico is because of the food.  Yes, the weather is perfect, the beaches and mountains are breathtaking, the people are welcoming, the culture is exciting.  But the food – well the food is amazing and addicting in both its simplicity and its complexity.  It’s generally just some kind of meat flavored with chile in a tortilla, but the flavors and the spices and the sauces come together to create heaven.

For as long as I’ve lived, I’ve loved to eat – but I’ve never really loved to cook.  I’m too clumsy and too easily distracted.  Inevitably shortly after I begin, my computer whispers to me that there just might be a super important email waiting (Is Publisher’s Clearing House Lottery even a thing anymore?)  and before I can download and delete, I smell the burning.

But recently I have been thinking it’s time for a change.  For a few reasons:

  1. 20170809_085053Money: To do all the things we want to do here, we’ve started tracking a budget.  We’re cutting back. ☹
  2. Weight: Our 6-week road trip did some serious damage to our midlife midsections.  We’ve upped our exercise game together too!
  3. Health: A recent cancer scare in our family reminded us that we need to get serious about cutting out sugar and chemicals and processed foods.

So this week I got the urge to cook some Mexican dishes. From scratch.  If I am going to do it, if I’m actually going to cook, I need to make it a fun part of our new life experience.  No lasagna, no meatloaf, no pot roast – nope I’m going Mexican!

I started by thumbing through the Mexican cookbooks I had accumulated.  (I’m so weird – for someone who hates cooking, I love to collect cookbooks) and then went shopping.  I was determined to buy everything I could at the small local shops and stands in my neighborhood.  I read about the different types of chiles – red and green, fresh and dried – but when I got to my neighborhood fruteria, they all looked the same to me.  But I did it.  For less than $20 I loaded up my basket and headed home to spend an entire day in the kitchen.  I toasted peppers, I grilled peppers, I peeled and seeded and blended peppers.  I soaked beans and boiled beans and mashed beans.   I roasted and shredded a giant chicken and made a huge pot of chicken broth.  I chopped a LOT of onions and minced many cloves of garlic.  I boiled and blended tomatillas and tomatoes.  When it was all done, I had a big pot of refried beans, a container of salsa verde (green sauce) and a container of red enchilada sauce.  I had enough shredded chicken to make dinner for many nights.  And of course, I had guacamole.

Last night we had red enchiladas and I have to say they were delicious.  Grant said they were the best he had ever had.  Not sure if that’s true, but HE SAID IT and that’s enough for me.  Tonight, the green enchiladas – pretty good too.  Both served with a bowl of guacamole and some refried beans.  And a salad.  Enough left to try a few other things this weekend.

Red Enchiladas, Green Enchiladas and a huge pitcher of Pineapple Agua Fresca

As you are probably guessing, it wasn’t all successful.  My first round of beans was a FAIL – I blame the computer and the stupid stove.  Grant blames my basic lack of attention to the pot that had boiled dry.  Whatever.  The poblano peppers that were on their way to being stuffed hit the garbage can after tearing in half.  Meh.  That won’t discourage me.  My oven dial does not have degrees on it – it has numbers 1 through 5.  Took me a while to figure out that just past 2 is 350.  That’s dumb.  But I’ll keep trying.  I think we’ll head to the fish store next and try some seafood dishes – how about a nice grilled red snapper? Some ceviche? Some giant shrimp rubbed with the left over chile paste?  Obviously some fish tacos with chipotle sauce.

But that’s on the weekend.  I think tomorrow night we’ll head over to California Pizza for some Chicken Tequila Fettuccine – I’m exhausted and craving some Italian!

 

 

First Day Back

Here are some of the sights we saw on our first day back that reminded us why we love this place:

  • Children of Manos de Amor – as we drove up the anthem started “Karen, Karen, Karen….” and children ran to the gate to greet us with big hugs and sloppy kisses.  Some jumped in our car, Natalia barely acknowledged me but jumped on Grant and refused to let go
  • img_20160930_172243New animals in town – we have 2 new donkeys wandering around the neighborhood. We saw a donkey chasing a dog who was chasing a donkey who was chasing a dog.  The donkey won!
  • While Grant was busy unloading the truck in the garage, a chicken wandered in to check out what was happening
  • We spent the afternoon at the beach and while we were boogie boarding we saw dolphins jumping a bit further out – and a big skate or ray of some kind jumped right next to us
  • We love the kitties that wander around the restaurants looking for some loving while we wait on our food – which by the way cost us $7 for a burrito and enchilada and a rice water – all GIANT
  • The door-to-door produce truck – check out the huge grapes I bought for less than $2 right outside the door

A great first day – the simple pleasures of children and food and ocean and animals.  Really, what else do we need?

                              The view from my desk as I write this blog

You’re Invited to Dinner!

Welcome to my neighborhood! As we settle into a routine here in Bucerias, we are spending more time in our own colonia, Buenos Aires. As you know, we are planning to build a house up the mountain close to La Cruz, but for now we are happy to be renting a house in this Mexican neighborhood. So for the next couple of blog posts let me take you on a tour of where we live and tell you about our daily routine.  First of course is the food!

Morning coffee

 

We always start the day with our coffee in bed or on our balcony, blue sky and palm trees welcoming us to come awake. Breakfast is a vitamin fruit smoothie in the back garden and then we work for a few hours in our office. We have a great setup and as I work I look out the window at the cat on the roof next door or the giant iguana in the tree. Sometimes I take my computer outside to work.IMG_20160303_101548

By lunch time we’re ready to get out and explore the town. Trip Advisor tells me there are 116 restaurants in our little town and we’re determined to get to them all! Most are in walking distance – lots of them offer us a delicious lunch for less than $5. Tortas, tacos, tortilla soup, shrimp salad – those are our favorites.

Some of our favorite Mexican restaurants nearby -you can always count on being entertained by some music or shopping or chatting with a friend while you eat!  We also love the little taco stands on every corner with the Mexican abuelas (grandmas) cooking the best smelling tacos imaginable.

 

Afternoons are spent doing errands like paying bills – remember, only 1 errand per day – and volunteering or visiting at the orphanage. Some days we just explore – driving up and down all the streets in the town.  If we are cooking dinner, we stop at all the little shops to purchase fresh ingredients – just enough for today!  We also purchase food from the assortment of vendors who drive down our street, loudspeakers blaring.  I certainly don’t plan menus far ahead – it’s more fun to be surprised by what shows up each day!

Jicama Guy and Corn Guy stop right outside my door

Fish Market and Fruit Store right around the corner – we bought vegetables and mangos and Red Snapper and cooked up this feast. 

There’s the La Cruz market on Sundays – fish right out of the ocean, vegetables fresh from the garden and organic honey and eggs sold out of the trunk of a car…

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Always great food to be had at the beach….

And of course there’s no end of weird food stuff – a grilled cheese sandwich out of a vending machine?

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Our little Mini Super right across the street may look tiny but it always has just what I need – and we visit it once or twice a day to get 20 litre jugs of water ($2) or bags of sugar ($0.80) or eggs sold individually for 10 cents each.  Fresh tortillas are always warm in the red cooler.  It is open from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm every single day and the sound of its rolling door going up every morning and down every night is all the clock I need to plan my days.  There is something comforting about knowing there is always someone in those white chairs, keeping watch over the neighborhood that I was once wary of but now call home.

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So that’s a food tour of my neighborhood.  Next I’ll show you some of the other sights in the streets surrounding my home.  It won’t be the same without the sounds, but you’ll get the idea!  In the meantime, I’m starving and we have at least 99 other restaurants to check out…..