Category Archives: small town life in Mexico

Racing The Weather

RACING THE WEATHER

It’s planting time in Central Mexico. For regular farmers like us, (“regular”, hah! Joke) it’s time to plant corn. If a farmer came out financially ahead on the wheat crop, there are funds available to invest in corn-planting expenses, and early June is the time. This year we began on the 6th. When we got out to the fields we were noticeably alone. There were no other tractors or planting teams with pickups loaded with fertilizer and seed. We’re in charge of seven fields, and they’re not all located adjacent to each other; we have a good view of the neighbors’ fields. Nada. There was no movement – only us. And we heard the talk (and jeers) about town. “Too early!”

Our team was headed by Chon The Guitar Player (boss), Me (driver), a tractor operator, and two loaders. Loaders load (duh) the pickup with the seed and fertilizer sacks, and then move that heavy stuff to the canisters on the planter behind the tractor. Each sack of granulated fertilizer weighs about 100 pounds. The seed sacks weigh less. It’s a heavy job but there are long resting times between the carrying and loading, and to me that balances it out – long hours, but a reasonably pleasant day.

That was the first day. It took us a week and a day (and then another two weeks) to finish the planting, and I won’t write a boring blow-by-blow chronicle for something that should have taken 5 days. Damp fields, hot weather, nightly rains, not-dry-enough leftover wheat stalks that got stuck in the planter wheels, lack of fertilizer (the supplier ran out!), but workers who wanted to Get Things Done by working at odd hours; all these contributed to a final acceptable outcome.

And then, like farmers do, we had to hope that the rain would arrive to keep the corn sprouts alive.  They were already poking up out of the ground in some areas. The most costly thing that could happen is for all the millions of sprouts to die of thirst. And if it happens to us, it will happen for most of  the farmers in our area.

If you were paying attention, the “Too early!” comment turned out to be true for nearly everyone. And by the end of the month (including on my birthday) many of us were re-planting. For three long weeks we waited for the rain we expected at the beginning of June, and with the exception of small sprinkles of rain in certain micro areas, they didn’t come.

A comment about my birthday – it was pleasant! We had casually planned a short-distance trip to somewhere new, thinking we’d just drive somewhere. Instead, since it was Tuesday, we decided – why not? – we decided to go to our go-to Tuesday place, where two-for-one is the magical word. For big plates of breaded fish filets served with rolls, salad, rice, and tostadas with chíle oil, and just about any kind of salsa you could ask for.

A dash to the ag supply place with money freshly withdrawn from the bank account preceded a stop at our tractor driver’s house. Yes, he said, he’d come to reseed a field.

And that’s what we did, until rain began to splatter the field, thunder sounded, lightning flashed, and – we finished the section of the field that had sprouted but not lived!

It was a day like many others, but somehow – just right.

Music Sunday!

OK, yes, it’s loud. We use our big speakers, and I’ve heard that it can be noticed in a town less than a mile away.

Right now we’re hearing The Eagles. People are on their way to mass. They just can’t miss it.

Time for breakfast of tamales at 5 pesos apiece. With beans, and café de la olla – check it out! Delicious!

Accidente Musicál, Dos Histórietas Y Una Receta

We had a music accident the other day. We were practicing for a Valentine’s Day party, and we were excited, because, well, it’ll be musica romántica. And what could be more fun than learning or re-learning beautiful music for a three-hour gig? We were deep into a rehearsal when The Guitar Player’s pick was mistakenly but enthusiastically thrown across the room. In an effort to protect the drum machines (we use drum machines), they were bumped off their stand, and hit the tile floor. 

These were no ordinary drum machines. They’ve been programmed to hold the rhythms and tempi (speeds) of hundreds (really!) of songs we play. And they’re (ahem!) vintage. If you’re interested, I can name models and ages. The older one broke. Some outside parts (little feet, sliding adjuster knobs) broke, and something inside broke, too. The rehearsal was, well, over, and The Guitar Player began to look for whatever was causing the machine to not work. We were making plans to visit La Plaza De La Tecnología in León, or to call a friendly repair guy we know in León, or ? There was a teensy little copper coil inside (OK, it had been inside, but wasn’t any more). We swept the floor. We looked underhand on top of furniture. Finally The Guitar Player took the rest of the guts of the machine apart, and – gasp – he found it! But that didn’t solve the problem. After all, it was broken. 

We have a back-up drum machine, wisely purchased from eBay a couple of years ago. We studied the manual (yay! we had a manual, and we found it!) and remembered that there was a way to dump all the sounds and all the patterns/songs into another device or into the other drum machine. It’s two days later, now, having had to take a day off of practicing to play for a church service in a nearby town.  End of first little story.

Two drum machines “talking to each other” via midi.

So what are we doing today? The Guitarist/drum machine programmer/composer/singer extraordinaire is getting together a few (a few hundred!) seed and fertilizer bags that a neighbor wants to buy (one peso apiece). And I got a chance to get into the kitchen and make something good. I felt liking creating a memory of meals out of my past – something comforting to help us get past our musical accident and some disturbing personal financial news from California.

Beginning of second little story. A couple of years ago we were invited to play a few hours of music in a big fiesta nearby. The woman who had contracted us is a friend. We finished the night, marred as it was by a gang group of young guys who have a history of (sometimes violent) differences of opinion with the town we were in, and who had been making comments and throwing bottles. We didn’t have to hide behind our speakers as we have on various occasions, (don’t ask!) but we were tired that night anyway. It had been stressful, and the sound we got from our system wasn’t as we had hoped – things like that can really tire you out. 

We were invited to our hostess’ house for a late night supper following the gig. She said, “I made a nice cream of squash.” I wasn’t exactly sure what that might be, but running through my mind was,”Cream of squash? Pumpkin? Yellow squash? Zucchini?” but we couldn’t politely refuse. And besides, we like her, and her very, very pleasant old style mother. We sat at their comfortably large table in the comfortable kitchen (probably not like anything you might be imagining) and she served us bowls of pale green soup. I hesitantly tasted it, and goodness! it was absolutely delicious! After awhile (another bowl, please), I asked how she had made it. It sounded extremely simple, and I imagined that she must have left out some steps. 

But here’s a very, very similar recipe I recently received from Mely Martinez by way of her blog called Mexico In My Kitchen. Don’t worry – I’m not trying to make this a food blog (I save that for my sister)!

Soapbox: (hah! I wrote soupbox first!) I’m a native Californian (a small minority), and proud of it. Californians are familiar with Mexican food. And here comes the opinion: most Mexican food you may eat at a restaurant or at a potluck (all of which I’m inordinately fond of), just isn’t what you might find in a Mexican town. As much as I enjoyed my mother’s homemade enchiladas, with tomato sauce, canned green peppers and Jack cheese, they just weren’t like enchiladas I’ve eaten in Mexico. Too much cheese! (used in Mexico more as a flavoring)! Too much tomato sauce! And when I search for authentic recipes, they’re not readily available, in my opinion, unless they’re in Spanish (and then, not always). End of soapbox – returning to the topic.

I’ve jealously attempted to create salsas and foods like the ones you can find in any little Mexican hole-in-the-wall restaurant, with some successes and many not-so-successful attempts. 

So I was pleased to see this recipe. In English. It looked so similar to the way my friend described making Crema de Calabaza. It’s so simple that you may not be attracted to it (just like I wasn’t), but I recommend making this for you and your family when you’re tired after a long gig, or a disappointment. It’s perfect for a medium-sized party. It can stand alone, with toast, bread, or cheese, or maybe a rice dish. It can be a first course. It’s smooth. It’s delicious. It’s creamy. I really, really like it. The ingredients and instructions are simple, and there are clear photos to help you if you have any doubts.

http://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/2017/02/cream-of-zucchini-soup-sopa-calabacitas.html

This blog photo is so much prettier than mine, but the flavor of mine was just as good! Swear! Hope you can tell.

Church Musicians At Rancho Fiesta

Patronal festivals are an important part of rancho life. They are major events, lasting several days, and they serve to gather family and friends together. People from nearby towns come, and people from faraway places as well. There are plenty of ways to spend money. Colorful booths with vendors offer food, products, artisanal candy, and regional items.

Today we went to play for a mass in a not-too-far-away place where we’d never gone before. It’s a rancho called Sitio de Maravillas and maybe someday I’ll find out why it’s named that.The name means place of wonders/marvels. It looked like a typical rancho, and there were no wonders in sight. It did look typical, if there is such a thing, but the guitar player said, “These people look like they’re from Michoacan, and most of them have the same faces as my family.” As it turns out, the rancho is an ejido. From wikipedia: In Mexican system of government, an ejido (Spanish pronunciation: [eˈxiðo], from Latin exitum) is an area of communal land used for agriculture, on which community members individually farm designated parcels and collectively maintain communal holdings. And the area is only two or three miles from where many of the guitar player’s cousins live. There are some good photos of Sitio at this site: 

http://mexico.pueblosamerica.com/foto/sitio-de-maravillas

It was a rather typical-for-us first time visit. We arrived more than an hour early and began our set up. It was difficult to find a power outlet, and there was no one to let us know where we should sing and play from. 

The colorful umbrellas are masking the equally colorful vendor booths. And that spindly-looking tower is for – fireworks!

Anyway we were a bit nervous, and the church began filling up about a half-hour before the mass was to begin, which was not exactly a calming influence.

Although you can’t see the silent watchers, they’re there – right behind the photographer.

We were surrounded by people, some praying, but mostly silently watching us set up.  We felt more nervous. But when the priest entered, we knew we could relax, because we knew him, and he’s a helpful guy (not a person who corrects you or gives mean looks or cuts you off in mid-sung-syllable). And we went on getting prepared, guessing at which kind of music they might want for whatever saint was being celebrated. There were several Maria statues in the front area of the church, which is not necessarily a clue. But we did the Ave Maria for communion (the guitarist made a good call on that one, because as it turned out, the patron saint was Maria). In the last 6 years I’ve sung Ave Maria more times that I had previously accumulated in my lifetime of church singing.

There was a pretty ceiling treatment there. The only difficult thing in creating it would be using a long, long handle for the paint brush.

Pretty ceiling treatment, done with paint.

Afterwards, the same silent watchers converted in front of our eyes into friends! and wanted to know WHERE we were from, and WHY they hadn’t heard of us before, and, and, and…And WHAT is our phone number so they can call us for upcoming events. They were welcoming, and invited us to eat móle, a famous Mexican dish often served at big gatherings.  

As we were leaving we had to hurry to get the car moved because there were about 40 Aztec/Indian dancers in wonderful costumes setting up for a show right in front of the church, which I don’t recall seeing before. Not right there in front of a church.

Fireworks image from YouTube.

When we got home we took a nap, and now I’m sitting here with a little headache, yawning, and it’s only 8 p.m. I’ll bet they’re getting ready for the fireworks in Sitio De Maravillas.

Time Is (Not!) On Our Side

Yes, we’ve been practicing, but – life happens. Our next gig is coming up fast, and we’re trying to stay ahead of it. On December 8, we’re playing for The Guitar Player’s birthday party and concert. Here, at our house. Yes, we’ve had the very best of intentions, and we’ve made schedules.

Work list:

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Clean up the garden, which is rapidly returning to its natural state. (store the big squashes, haul the dead and dying vines to the lot behind the house, dig the weeds – they show no signs of dying, protect the chile plants from children running through the garden.

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Clean up the yard, which is lined with hand-made-by-us bales of the large sacks our farming salts and fertilizers come in, and sad looking cardboard boxes, and sacks and sacks of plastic bottles and containers. That requires hauling the heavy trash to a recycling center in our big truck.

 

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Get the invitation posters printed.

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Make sure the food people are prepared – yes, we serve a meal to our guests! At least this time we don’t have to go grocery shopping the day before the party.

Practice, many more hours. We have a list of well over a hundred songs that are at the ready, but this time we’re featuring brand-new-to-the-public original songs. We’ve planned a set list of 60 songs, about half of them originals.

We’re also preparing our annual Christmas/Posadas Parties set list, of about 30 songs that we alternate from night to night.

And one of the band members just doesn’t feel good. He’s got a sort of flu-ish thing that’s lasted a few days. What to do? Except for practicing and memorizing lyrics, the rest of the band can’t practice alone, by herself.

What Beautiful Chayotes!

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On the left are two chilacayotas. We can discuss those later. On the right – a “different” type of chayote. Larger, and a darker green color than the ones I’ve seen in markets.

It took me several distinct steps to get to the point of saying that, over a period of a few years.

Step 1: What’s this in my soup? Bleh. What’s a chayote?

Step 2: Chayotes are OK, I guess.

Step 3: What else can you do with chayote besides put it in soup? What’s “agua fresca?” OK, I’m just kidding about not knowing what agua fresca is. I liked that right away. Who wouldn’t? Fresh fruits blended into gorgeously colorful drinks are wonderful in the summer alongside a meal, or just by themselves. Some of them may sound a bit unusual – agua de pepino, for example, is a cucumber drink. I was skeptical, but it was just  as delicious as lemon, or strawberry.

Chayote (chai-OH-teh) – it’s a pear-shaped squash with (usually) thin, pale green skin. It can be eaten raw or cooked. It has little flavor of its own, and picks up the good flavors in soups. Some people make agua fresca with it, and some people put it in salads.

Today I prepared albondigas (Mexican meatball soup) for Thanksgiving, not having had much opportunity to purchase a turkey, and not having an oven to roast it in. I do have a 6-quart slow cooker, but….

A friend, hoping for a favor from us (thank goodness it didn’t involve money), gave us these chayotes the other day. I put one in the albondigas, and blended one with some guayabas for a fruity, vegetable-ish drink.

Ready for Thanksgiving!

 

Quiet Sunday, Except For The Practicing

img_4963It’s cold this morning – 40 degrees! That’s 4.44 Celsius. We’re a little concerned about the two baby ground doves that have been sitting on the tile floor of the patio for two whole days. But we can’t see them, so we’re hoping for the best.

We haven’t been feeling our best, either, but today we’re going to practice anyway (that’s what musicians DO!)

if you haven’t made your Thanksgiving plans yet, well, make them. I’m thinking albondigas, Mexican meatball soup. Have a good day, all y’all!

REAL Day Of The Dead

I love the photos I already posted, but this is what it was really like:

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These women stayed nearly all day. Ask me how I know.

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People – visiting their families, dead and alive.

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Flowers for Don Antonio, a humble and warm man. RIP.

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It’s a large cemetery, and there’s no map. You’ve just got to know, or know somebody who knows.

I felt comfortable here.