Category Archives: small town life in Mexico

Caldo De Res In The Afternoon

Afternoon clouds behind the house. See that dark spot above the left high window? That's a panál, a bee hive that's getting larger every day.

Afternoon clouds behind the house. See that dark spot above the left high window? That’s a panál, a bee hive that’s getting larger every day.

We both had been thinking about beef soup, Mexican style. It’s something that is cherished and admired by Chon. The corn is ripe, and it’s an important element in caldo de res. I had heard many times about the wonderful soups The Sisters made (and make), and I was a little intimidated and at the same time I was thinking “How hard could it really be?” I mean, really! Water, beef, carrots, celery, potatoes and any vegetable that appeals. So I decided to give it a try.

In our rancho, beef is sold on Sunday mornings. I asked Elena if I could go with her when she bought her meat for the week, and she told me we’d go at 8 a.m. on Sunday. We walked to the corner where the vendors set up, and immediately I could see why the time was important. There were three people waiting in front of us, and the line grew and grew behind us. Elena said to buy about 3/4 of a kilo of ribs, costillas, and (I believe) cross cut hind shank or en español, chamorro. The meat was all beautiful, very clean, and being sold by two young women I had met by purest coincidence only two days before in nearby Jalpa.

I had 20 pesos left from the 100 peso bill I had taken, and I bought 3 tamales from Lola on the way home, leaving me with 5 pesos left over. One hundred pesos these days is about $5.40 USD, in case anyone is wondering. The meat was the only thing I was wondering about. The beef here is not aged, and is therefore tougher. I bravely forged ahead, simply boiling the meat as instructed for over an hour with salt before adding the vegetables. I had some slightly sad carrots, nice celery, and some pre-cooked potatoes, and they all went into the pot. The meat was still tough. I worried a bit. After another hour the meat was less tough, and the flavor was excellent. i stopped worrying, kept the heat low, and kept it cooking.

It was very good! I served it with some lovely slices of avocado, and a toasted roll, bolillo. Chon was happy – caldo de res was probably made on few occasions while he was growing up. He asked for a second serving.

And today we had leftovers for a pleasant afternoon meal. Here you go. As you can see, I’m not in the running for best food photos, but I think the soup tasted even better today, sitting at a table in our patio.img_4456The view from our table:

img_4458

Our untidy fall garden that still threatens to overtake the patio.

if you read this far, won’t you consider subscribing to my tooky little blog? You could be the second person! It’d make me happy.

Just Another Irrigation Day

Chris suggested I translate some words, so I did. Good suggestion.

img_4284

It was one of those awful, good days – a little bit of everything! It was cloudy and warmish when I got up before 6. We got an early start and got to El Joconoistle at 7 a.m.( All the fields around us have old, official names you can read on the deeds, and there are maps of them. I’d love to put a copy of the old, fragile map right here – one day I will.) We own a field in El Joconoistle, named for some cacti that used to grow there. Another field in El Joconoistle is rented from a friend. In La Tabla Grande, the big board, we own two fields that lie next to each other, purchased from two of Chon’s uncles.  El Melonár, named for the melons grown there many years ago and La Tierra Blanca, or white dirt, named for its light-colored earth, are also rented, from Chon’s godfather.

Chon is irrigating a section of a parcela we farm so as not to pay a peón to work. (Parcela is the word used here for a parcel of land.) Irrigating is the most highly paid job here, because the irrigator is supposed to be there 24 hours for each turn. The section we were watering had flooded a little bit in the night, and we went there (in the night) forgetting to take a shovel, but Chon had closed the boquilla with his hands and mud, and it was OK in the morning. (A boquilla is a sort of notch in the side of a ditch where the water is managed. To open it and let the water into the field, you shovel away the wet dirt. To stop the water, you just build it back up again. Or use a costál, a large , woven plastic bag that can hold about 100 pounds of fertilizer, or sand, or dirt.)

Boquilla - little mouth. And a costál.

Boquilla – little mouth. And a costál.

Then we went to La Tierra Blanca to make sure that one of our father/son teams were taking care of the water there. The night before we listened to extremely upsetting stories of how the water was taken from us by a well-known peón of the most well-known farmeraround, who removed the boards we had put in the compuerta to divert the water to our ditch. We heard more details of that story.

This is a compuerta with a valve wheel in the main ditch. No boquillas here!

This is a compuerta with a valve wheel in the main ditch. No boquillas here!

The sky got darker and darker, and then it began to sprinkle, and by 8 a.m. to was raining. The sound of rain on tall corn plants is something to remember. And this time it was particularly wonderful, as the plants really really needed water. By 8:30 it was still raining. The ground there gets gummy right away, and I managed to get the pickup stuck. Both front tires were over the edge of the ditch.

One of our workers drove his decrepit red pickup over and after jockeying it around, and nearly getting it stuck, all the peónes together, and the red pickup pulled us backwards out of danger. By this time Chon was chilled to the bone, and his shirt was dripping water from the hem. I gave him my merely-damp flannel shirt to wear, and a bandana, because I nearly always wear a t-shirt underneath flannel in the mornings, and I wasn’t cold. And by that time the sun was out!

This is a small compuerta with a valve, where we divert water into one of our fields.

This is a small compuerta with a valve, where we divert water into La Tabla Grande

We went then to open the water in La Tabla Grande, and were there an hour or so, and then traveled back to El Joco. While we were there, a bump in the road that had been becoming more and more of a driving problem had turned out to be (I knew it! I knew it!) a broken pipe that crosses under the road, and Porfirio and his son started digging, and they uncovered most of the smashed part, and the water began to flow out of it, and then it inexplicably got stopped up, and Chon pulled one, two, three costales out of it. They had been used on the other side of the road at the compuerta to divert the water from the canal into our irrigation ditch. In the US they most likely would have been filled with sand, but these had been filled with mud, maybe a year or two ago. The mud had partly oozed out through the mesh fabric, and the no-longer-full costales had made their way into the 10-inch pipe. Chon also pulled a dinky little mud turtle out of the pipe, and we all laughed at that, and I took it back to the canal.

The pipe just kept getting plugged up over and over, and we finally drove to the house to get a very, very long piece of rebar (12 meters long!) which eventually was used to clean out the long piece of pipe after Chon had a brilliant idea to open one of the boquillas into the field to get the water moving better.

img_4371

We didn’t get back from the fields until after four p.m., and it was nearly all work and/or frustration!

If you enjoy reading about our life in Mexico, please consider subscribing to these very occasional posts. It’ll make me happy.

We Drove To La Presa Nueva de Jalpa

img_4281

We drove El Esqueleto to the reservoir at the end of summer. I had thought it would be a miserable drive, but it wasn’t. Anyone who has walked up that road knows about the uneven, rocky road. It’s built of rocks, and there are speed bumps (speed bumps on a rock road, you say? Indeed.) But it was fun!

The reservoir is about 120 years old, and the old presa is much older. Chon’s ancestors moved to this area to get work building it. It’s important now because it’s owned by the water industry, and all of us farmers use it for irrigation. When the water level gets up to about 26 meters, they sometimes can begin to release it to use to water crops.

img_4269

img_4279

So we got there, and walked out on the dam. There are millions of water lilies there, choking it up. There must be a way to harvest them.

Here are some photos of the area. It was a gorgeous day.

img_4271

img_4280

There’s a college there, too. If this is it, it’s quite beautiful.

img_4275img_4272

Visitas/Visitors

IMG_3998

We had company this weekend. They are the very first and most likely the only people brave enough to come visit us and to stay overnight.

Victor Vazquez is a first cousin and friend of ours, and he brought his two kids, Alex, eight years old, and Aria, thirteen. Victor became a single dad a little over three years ago, and moved with the kids to his family home in Mexico City where he grew up. The house ownership is in dispute among 13 siblings. They live there, though, pretty much avoiding the others who also live there. The kids have grown since we’ve seen them. Alex spent quite a bit of time using our big watering can that leaks (fun!), and Aria was a bit shy at first but became more confident as the hours went by.

When we heard that they were coming down from San Diego and San Julian we requested that they bring us birria, a favorite dish we haven’t had for quite some time. They not only brought birria, they brought other delectables the area is famous for. There was tequila almendrado, dark, sweet, and flavored with almond, and cajeta!

From Wikipedia: Cajeta is a Mexican confection of thickened syrup usually made of sweetened caramelised goat’s milk. it arrived in medium-sized plastic buckets with lids, and it was absolutely delicious! I didn’t read the label, but I’m almost certain that this cajeta is made of cow’s milk. I was a dairy goat farmer for years, and can tell the difference easily.  This morning we spooned some on yesterday’s bollios, the rolls we ate with the birria.

IMG_4009

They arrived yesterday before noon, and we ate the birria right away, then settled down to visit, which is always interesting. Victor is widely read, and has a lot of knowledge about many subjects, and of course there was the ever-fascinating family gossip.

IMG_4006

As they came in from the street Victor commented on the many large flowers our squash plants had, and said “We should make ratitas (that’s little rats, an unlovely name for a delectable dish). And in the afternoon when we got hungry again, we did. Chon had cut the flowers before they closed for the day, leaving 5- 6″ stems, the “tails” of the ratitas. At about 5 p.m. it was a team effort in the kitchen. Please excuse me if I write the recipe here, as choreographed by Victor. I want to remember, and perhaps entertain any cooks out there. Preparing stuffed flowers is very much like preparing chiles rellenos. A team effort makes it so much easier! When I make chiles rellenos I make a big, big mess in the kitchen.

photo

Ours looked like this, but with long green tails. Nice photo from a recipe in Spanish by Chef M Isabel Quintela in cookpad.

Flores De Calabazas Rellenas A La Victor Vazquez

25 large flowers

5 medium eggs (we had enough left over to make a small omelette)

small package of bread crumbs

one-half pound of cheese, cut into slices, then strips (We looked for panela in the small store, and settled for asadero. Recipes I looked at on line suggested Mozzarella, goat cheese, ricotta, Parmesan, and others, and included herbs like basil and parsley.

Boil the clean, drained calabazas for a few, minutes, about 3-5, drain and place on paper towels

  1. Beat 5 whites until they form peaks
  2. Fold in 5 yolks
  3. Sprinkle in a “handful” of salt. (granted, it was a child’s hand, but it was more salt than I expected, and it maybe should even have been a little more).
  4. Gently open a flower (it’s quite a bit like separating two pieces of wet tissues, but they’re stronger than they look) and push a piece of the cheese inside as far as you can, folding the petals back over the cheese as well as you can
  5. Roll the flower in the bread crumbs to cover
  6. Dip the flower into the egg to cover
  7. Place the flower into a frying pan with hot oil, turning it as it browns and cook carefully until evenly browned
  8. Remove from pan and place on paper towel

Serve with flour or corn tortillas and salsa.

When you bite into one of these ratitas it’s like having a cloud in your mouth. They’re just wonderful! Tender, with a delicate flavor. I’ve never read it, or heard anyone else say it, but the flowers have a very light flavor of anise.

IMG_4012

Victor is trying to make what kids used to call a “cootie catcher”

As the afternoon and evening wore on, it was entertaining to hear the talk flowing, and the kids were funny as they served up many riddles and jokes They know lots of them, all rapid-fire. Alex gets so amused that he laughs and laughs as he asks the riddles, which is infectious. They decided not to head to nearby San Francisco to stay with Victor’s brother there, and we prepared a bed for the kids and a couch for Victor.

This morning I prepared an adequate breakfast of black beans, rice, salsa, zucchinis from the garden, and carnitas prepared right across the street, a Sunday treat. Along with bolillos, it was quite satisfying.

Both of us enjoyed ourselves and I hope they did too.

El Correo – The Post Office

images-1

I believe this photo shows a modification of a delivery truck using colors and logo of the Mexican postal service. Found on Google Images. Great colors, aren’t they?

We’ve used private mail box services in California to get our mail held or forwarded to us in Mexico. The services were efficient, but to us seemed expensive in the long run. The charges can add up quickly.

We needed to maintain an address in the US, and in December, 2014, we decided to switch to the United States Postal Service. Yes, the good ole’ USPS, in California, close to where we stay for our two-week-plus Christmas holiday gig.

Our annual PO box rental fee was due in January of this year. We figured it would be simple to make the payment online. But it wasn’t. It may be my fault, but I can’t find out. We received an email message that the rent was due. Included was the amount due, and an address for mailing. We made the payment in a timely manner. But then we received a second email, couched in sterner terms, that our payment had not been received, and if we didn’t make the payment within ten days, the box would be closed, and any mail in it would be returned to senders. We couldn’t make the payment online through the handy USPS service, because we repeatedly got the message that the name on the account had to match exactly the name of the person who had signed the contract. Hmmm. Now, where could that pesky contract be? And how many ways are there to spell the name Anderson?

What to do? We called the post office on many different days, at different hours. No answer. Finally we called a relative, who went to the post office. Yes, he discovered, he could make the payment for us, but they could not give him the contract information. Now, I’m a mature person, and I do understand about rules and regulations, but it was quite frustrating. At last we got the mailbox rent paid for another year by sending money to our long-suffering and long-standing-in-line relative. Whew! Covered for another year.

Now when I relate the next part of the story you’ll think, if you’re not already thinking it, that we’re thoughtless and irresponsible people. We’re not, but we do occasionally forget things, and we do get busy. This year, when we returned to Mexico after the longish stay in California, we jumped right into wheat farming. It took the best part of nearly every day, and well, we just didn’t drive the 15 or so miles to visit our post office in San Francisco del Rincon. We didn’t expect any mail, anyway, although we knew our rent had been due in January. Truly, we just didn’t think about it much. A few times we even drove past the post office, but we didn’t feel like we had time to stop. We had to go to the bank to get the money for the farming investment, or there was some other obligation. But it did begin to weigh on us a bit. We hadn’t paid our box rent.

Then, a birthday present was on the way. We seriously discussed the problem. Nearly six months had passed. What would the Mexican postal service do? We already knew what the US postal service would have done.

s-l225

image from ebay.com

Maybe you thought I was going to say something accusatory about the Mexican postal service?

Finally, with a bit of dread, we went to the post office. As we entered, a woman we didn’t remember greeted us warmly, saying that we hadn’t received anything. It had been a long time since she’d seen us! How were we? Where had we been?

When we told her we wanted to pay for our post office box she said – get this! “It’s already been six months. Why not wait until next January to pay for your box?  We’ll hold anything that comes for you, and you can pick it up here at the desk”.

We glanced at each other and grinned.

Only in Mexico.

 

Doña Julia’s Birthday Party

We were invited to a family party in El Toro. Our friend Ana, the person who schedules and manages things at the small church is a friend of ours, and asked us to come and celebrate her mother-in-law’s seventy-first birthday.

Here’s Doña Julia in front of her house. I’ve described the construction of the vast majority of homes in Mexico, and hers is the same – brick and mortar. Hers has a useful design, with several bedrooms and two bathrooms, side by side. Gotta love that!

IMG_3432

We were honored to be invited, as every other person there was part of her family. I’m not sure how many sons and daughters she has, but there were at least four sons and four daughters at the party, with their husbands, wives and children, including Ana’s daughters. Here are two of them, both beauties.

IMG_3433

We had a guitar with us, and we sang las mañanitas, and a few other songs, including Eres Tu, originally performed by Mocedades from Spain, and Solamente Una Vez, by the great Mexican songwriter Agustin Lara.

IMG_3434

The food was wonderful – Toñio, Ana’s husband and Doña Julia’s son, prepared tacos. There was a variety of meats including carne asada and chorizo, served up with grilled onions and smallish yellow chiles stuffed with cheese (excellent, and a new dish for me).

Naturally there was a cake, accompanied by a gorgeous gelatina with fresh fruit, which is every bit as important as a birthday cake in our part of Mexico.

IMG_3437

This guy had his very own table!

IMG_3439

Rain was threatening when we left for home, but Ana’s teenaged daughters were wangling a ride to nearby Tecuan for a “big, big dance” complete with two popular bandas. And Doña Julia sent me home with a snippet of a climbing version of corona de Cristo, a spiny plant with red flowers. I hope it wants to live at our house.

So Much To Relate! Harvesting and Planting!

Here’s the condensed version.

IMG_3305

We harvested our wheat. There was concomitant drama: parts of some of the fields weren’t mature and the grain elevator owner asked us to wait four days, causing several days of stress and worry:   Would it rain? Would the wind knock it all down? Skimming over the days of stress and wonder, it all turned out fine. We didn’t have a magnificent harvest, but it turned out to be quite respectable after four long days of hot and dusty harvesting.

IMG_3192

We had had to delay our planting dates because of other, more pressing personal and human problems, but that’s a story for another day.

IMG_3291

As immediately after the wheat harvest as we could, we began our corn planting, hiring a nephew to drive the tractor, using our brand-new planter-seeder. IMG_3328

Torn between planting an established and famous strain of hybrid corn seed, and a brand new type, we ended up using mostly Cimarron, an expensive seed we bought from a new dealer, the daughter of a local friend. Until we ran out. That caused us to scramble to order more, with delays and not-exactly-the-truth finessing by the dealer. We ended up ordering a new hybrid from a trusted dealer who even delivered the seed and loaded it into our pickup so that we could rush out to the last two fields to finish the planting before the rains came.

IMG_3365Planting usually results in long, long days, even though the work isn’t too taxing. The guys that are hired for loading have lots of waiting before they move into action, loading the canisters of the seeder with seed and fertilizer. Often one worker helps the other load bags weighing up to 100 pounds onto his shoulder, whereupon he walks to the tractor carrying it, and dumps the contents of the bag into its canister.IMG_3364

There are minimum half-hour waiting times. There were some unexpected problems (aren’t there always?). Some parts – nuts and bolts things – got lost, and we found out to our chagrin how much the tractor company charges for replacements. Since they weren’t available anyway, at least not locally, we made substitutes.

And the cycle starts over – instead of hoping that it won’t rain and ruin the crop or the planting, now we’re hopefully watching the skies for clouds to coax the baby corn plants out of the ground.

Tractor Tires

Here’s my friend Josefina and her helper – early morning sweepers.

IMG_0709

This morning, bright and early, we drove our new red tractor to the llantero, tire guy, about 3/4 of a mile from here. Since we’re going to use it starting tomorrow (already!) we had to get the tires filled – get this – with water. Water. I didn’t have a clue.

We backed the tractor out of our garage, and started up the street to the carretera, the highway that’s in the process of being reconstructed. On the gravelly, dusty highway, we made our tractorly way to the tire repair guy, Pancho. He repairs and fills all kinds of tires, and is an pleasant guy. We got to his shop and sat there for awhile as he began.

A woman we know passed by, carrying sacks full of plastic bottles to recycle. She used to come to our house every couple of weeks to pick up the bottles we save for her, but she hadn’t come lately, and we had several fertilizer sacks full of bottles. They had been there so long the sacks had begun to deteriorate.

As it so often happens, and as it turned out, she is the aunt of a neighbor woman. In these small ranchos, nearly everyone has relatives in the surrounding ones. We often see her trundling by on the highway, carrying bags of plastic bottles to sell to the recyclers.

There’s a very small hardware store very to close to the tire repair place, and we walked over there to get a couple of things for the tractor. We needed a new what’s-it-called, thingy to drop through the holes to hook the disc to the tractor. when we received our tractor, the holes weren’t properly aligned to do the hook-up,

IMG_2126      IMG_2128

and we needed to either enlarge the holes or get a smaller thing to drop in there. And one of the nipples for greasing had broken off, so we bought a new one of those. The hardware store had all sorts of things to keep me looking, as do many hardware stores:  nest boxes for parakeets, fish hooks in two sizes, rope, and fiddly little things necessary to keep your house running well.

Next to the hole-in-the-wall hardware store was a restaurant that serves seafood, and we had resolved to spend our hour-and-a-half there to have some breakfast. There was one thing on the menu – shrimp cocktail. We ordered a large one to split between us, and it was excellent! I watched as the owner prepared it for us. In the kind of tall glasses with large bases you’d expect, he started with about a half-cup of water (shrimp water?) he dipped out of a plastic bowl. Then he added the shrimp, and as I watched he chopped up onion, then tomatoes, and then avocados. He poured a red liquid over the top (probably Kermato or Clamato, maybe with some sweetener added). And then, voila! he brought them to the table and opened a cardboard box of Saltines, called Saladitas here. It was excellent, and a wonderful breakfast. It cost less than six dollars for the two of us.

The tire man finished filling the tires with water, and we headed for home on the dusty, bumpy highway. Once there, we parked the tractor behind the house and started filling the big water tank in the back of our pickup so we can dump water in the bottom of a narrow ditch our workers have been cleaning. It’s been so hot and dry that it required pick-axes to break the surface of the ground in the dry ditch.

And then, the señora showed up to get the bottles, so we helped to re-bag them in newer plastic sacks. This is the first time I’ve seen 100-lb bags that are a green color. They deteriorate rapidly in the sun. Farmers use these sacks by the hundreds and thousands, so it’s a wonderful thing that they are clearly biodegradable. This woman is a widow, and supports herself by picking up bottles along the highway. She walks several miles every day.

IMG_3264

We had six or seven sacks to fill with the plastic bottles. We have a few bottles that we buy ourselves because we purchase Coke-a-Cola to serve to visitors (that’s about all they care for), and I pick up bottles whenever possible while we’re working.