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.
The street dog that is at our house most of the time, seems to prefer The Moody Blues. He sleeps through the Beatles.
You say you can’t imagine being interested in hearing a lot of hearty men’s voices singing in two-part harmony with acoustic instruments, or seeing middle-aged dancers in almost medieval costumes, moving gracefully to that same sound? A little bit Spanish, a little bit European, a little bit Middle Eastern?
We used to watch a very pleasant program on Saturday mornings, and then it got moved to a (much!) earlier time before it disappeared completely. Now it’s back in Mexico on Saturday mornings again, so we have a reason not to lounge around in bed when we’re not tending the crops.
Tenderete, a forty-year-old program from Spain, offers a varied palate of music to appreciate. From the Canary Islands, featuring local groups of singers and dancers, performing traditional music not just from Spain, but from many Latin American countries, it’s produced by Spanish public television.
Imagine your local university choir or chorale. Now put the group in traditional costume from Old Spain, which is very likely different from what you might imagine.
The harmonies may be simpler than you’re imagining – two-or-three-part instead of up to eight parts. But the singing is mostly excellent. The men’s voices especially, are good – manly and easy.
From wikipedia: “In the Canary Islands, Isa, a local kind of Jota, is now popular, and Latin American musical (Cuban) influences are quite widespread, especially with the charango (a kind of guitar). Timple, a local instrument which resembles ukulele / cavaquinho, is commonly seen in plucked-string bands. A popular set on El Hierro island consists of drums and wooden fifes (pito herreño). The tabor pipe is customary in some ritual dances on the island of Tenerife.”
There’s instrumental accompaniment. Mandolins. Guitars. Charangos. Timples. Percussion. Dancing. What’s not to like?
If you watch a video or a whole program, try not to be impatient. You’re probably accustomed to slick music videos with tons of effects. Just watch and listen. You’ll begin to hear things. (If you speak Spanish, even just a little, it’ll help.)
You’ll hear song forms, and they’re OLD ones – perhaps hundreds of years old. There is musica tipica (folk-type) and popular music from other countries, including Mexico, Cuba, Peru. Try it. You might find that you like it, as I do.
But you have to persevere! You may think at first “Oh, this is boring.” If you want to win the prize you must listen. Pay attention to the instrumental playing. Really look at the dancing and costumes! Listen, really listen to the voices!
There are new and cached performances on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Tenderete-TVE-en-Canarias-154748447901578/, and maybe you can find it on your local public access, as well. When we continue our Saturday morning on the same station we get news and travel from Spain.
Let me know if you like it.
Long-delayed post, I know.
I do it all the time – nearly every day. I have been without an oven for over 6 YEARS. It’s a difficult situation for a person who really enjoys baking.
Disclaimer – this is not intended to be a cooking blog. But in my everyday musings and archiving of events, it’s bound to happen, no?
Lately there are many online recipes featuring roasted vegetables, and they look so lovely (and so easy!) that they have a clear appeal. I was tempted by a roasted cauliflower recipe, and I decided to prepare a slow cooker version. I was fully aware of the differences and limitations of slow cooker cooking, but hopeful that I might end up with an edible and possibly deliciously satisfactory outcome. I was hoping!
This photo was my goal. I began with a lovely cauliflower purchased in a nearby town at a Thursday visit from a traveling vegetable vendor. You can check out the recipe at this pleasant site: http://karacarrero.com/how-to-eat-make-roasted-cauliflower-recipe/. I liked the idea of the butter and flavorings mixture, which would make a beautifully browned top in an oven. I used some room temperature butter, rubbing it onto the cauliflower, and then sprinkled all the exposed areas with a Penzey’s spice mixture called Mural of Flavor. You’re not yet acquainted with Penzey’s, you say? Check them out online. They have many scattered locations, as well as an inspiring business ethic.
I had trimmed the stem end on the cauliflower and set it in the bottom of the slow cooker with a little water (about 1/2 c). I cooked it for about 3 1/2 hours on high, and checked it when we were ready to eat. It was ready too. It was not browned, just as you would expect from slow cooking.
But it was delicious. Let me know if you try it.
While you all are preparing your braises or rubs, or planning your special seafood recipes for Valentine’s Day, I’ll be – can you guess? – soaking pozole corn. The day before Valentine’s Day, corn soaked and scrubbed of its skins and such, I’ll be cooking chicken for deboning, and blending chiles, onions and garlic to cook it all together. No big deal, huh? I’m only making it for 20 people.
We’re having a party at our house, and our band is playing musica romantica. Only love songs! How fun does that sound? You are cordially invited.
I’m a little nervous. I’ve only cooked pozole before, and I’ve never soaked the pozole corn or put it all together myself. Usually one of The Guitar Player’s sisters makes it, but this time I’m doing it on my own, with the help of one friend. I’ll let you know how it turned out.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.