Spring Break 2010 Gets a Little Bit Better

March 16th, 2010

More settled into the house, we asked Juanita to take us shopping and to teach us how to cook something. She wanted to know what we wanted to eat. The answer was “Mexican food” which wasn’t really that helpful. We decided on “sopes de pollo” and off we went. At the mercado we bought lettuce, onion, garlic, tomato, tomatillo and some chile peppers. Then we went to the tortilla store and bought some raw masa. I didn’t know you could do that, so that was pretty cool. We bought a roasted chicken from the guy on the corner - his chicken is better than anything I can make. They are fed Marigold flowers which makes the skin very yellow and then roasted on a spit while being bathed in chicken fat.

Back at the house, she put tomatillos and two chiles in a pot w/ some water and started that cooking. Then she roasted two dried peppers on the stove until they puffed up. She removed the seeds from the dried pepper and then put half the tomatillo mixture in the blender w/ the dried pepper and it became our red sauce. Then she put the rest in the blender w/ some raw onion and cilantro an that became our green sauce.

She added water to the masa “until the consistency is right” and pressed them into small, thick tortillas. These are called sopes. These were cooked on the griddle until firm on the outside. While still hot, she pinched all around the edges of the sopes to make a raised lip, so the topping doesn’t spill.

I’ll point out that she did this with her bare fingers. She also put her bare fingers directly on the griddle to test to see if it was hot enough (it was) and flipped the sopes with her bare hands. She later fried the sopes in oil, turning them with her bare hands. I couldn’t do any of it - it was far too hot for my sensitive fingers.

The chicken got pulled into bits and the sopes are topped with beans, chicken, the crumbly kind of cheese and a bit of crema. You use whatever salsa you prefer. The strawberries are amazing here. We bought a kilo of gorgeous strawberries for about one dollar. She added a bit of sugar and water and blended them into aquas fresca de fresas.

Ohmygosh it was really wonderful. And I can now make all of it assuming I am willing to either adapt to using tools or lose all the nerves in my fingertips.

We repeated the procedure last night and a friend from up the street came over to visit. Mary Ellen has a fever and has not been feeling well, but she is getting better now. We went out looking for flowerpots but came home empty handed.

Next we are going to Irapuato (source of all these strawberries) and then to a waterpark called La Caldera in Abasolo.

Spring Break 2010 - The Beginning

March 14th, 2010

OK, we did not get off to a great start. In fact, I think you could say we were thwarted by the universe at every turn. Our plan was to leave for Guanajuato on Friday afternoon, stopping in Buda to have dinner with friends on the way out of town. Packing took longer than expected, even after I doubled my estimate to account for the fact that it ALWAYS takes longer than expected. We couldn’t find the keys to the house in GTO. I couldn’t find my passport. You get the idea.

Our poor starving friends called around 8pm, wondering if we were meeting for dinner or breakfast. We assured them we were actually getting into the car to drive, which was true, except for that is when we noticed a very small red puddle under the car. Yes, the car was bleeding and automotive stigmata is never a good sign. We decided the leak was minor - we would head south and fill fluids in Buda and go on our way.

We did enjoy a lovely dinner at a wonderful family Italian restaurant in Buda. I would have had wine with dinner if I had known how the rest of the story was going to go. Back at the car, there is a bigger red pool plus Jamie forgot her medication, which we have to go back for. We decide to go home, have the car looked at in the morning and try again.

Next morning most of us sleep in, while Steven takes the car to get fixed. He returns and we get in the car and head south. We are downtown when J realized she forgot her medication AGAIN, so we go back to the house. Then on to Target to buy some things for the house in GTO. The car is stuffed to the brim. Not even one thin mint is going to fit in this car.

We head south.

Caitlin drives for 100 miles on I-35 and is marvelous!

We get to the border. The crossing into Mexico is easy but I notice with concern the very long lines to get back into the US. We get to the customs place in Nuevo Laredo - we have to get our visas and paperwork for the car. This is where we notice a large river of red fluid running out of our car.  We turn around and spend an hour in line, waiting to cross the border. Mustering all of our powers of technology (cell phone, Garmin GPS) and on the phone with our trusty mechanic in Austin we head to a mechanic in Laredo. He diagnoses a loose drain pan plug. He tightens it, we buy more red goop at an auto supply store and head back to Mexico.

We stop again at the customs place and do our paperwork plus add two quarts of red stuff to the car. It’s labeled “Automatic Transmission Fluid” but we have a manual transmission, so why are we even using it? Anyway, it seems to work. At this point, our entire planned schedule is a mess. If we drive straight through, we will arrive at 3am. We decide to spend the night in Monterrey.

Once we arrive, the trusty GPS confidently directs us to the Holiday Inn - except there is no hotel or anything looking like it might have ever been a hotel at the destination once we arrive. Driving late at night through a not-so-nice-part of Monterrey is stressful. We are not in particularly good moods. We eventually find the hotel, check in and go to sleep.

Sunday morning arrives and we have only gotten as far as Monterrey. *sigh* We have breakfast and get in the car again. The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. We are listening to an audio book - “Sophie’s World” and it’s keeping us mentally occupied during the boring bits.

I’m driving when we arrive in Guanajuato. There are two routes to our house. One is easy and takes us to Calle Alonzo. We have to stop, blocking traffic while we unload the totally stuffed car, and the someone parks the car while the rest of us haul all this stuff up a steep hill for about two blocks. The town is at about 6500′ above sea level, so you notice the uphill bits. At least, I do.

The other route brings us closer to the house on a street with less traffic, so it’s not so stressful while you unload, but the road began life as a donkey trail and is narrow enough that you have to bring in your side mirrors on both sides in order to not scrape them on the walls of the buildings. It’s a very narrow road. It’s not only narrow, but it also curves in ways not designed by an engineer and goes up and down and at one point looks like it once had stairs.
In fact, the buildings along this road are scuffed with scrape marks by the cars that did not quite get it right. All of the cars parked on the road, on the bits that are wide enough to pass two cars, are covered with scratches and most have their side mirrors attached with duct tape.

Steven has always done this part before; I have said often I’m not driving it. We have had tourists take pictures of our car on this road on previous trips. For whatever reason, I decided to go for it. The trick is to keep the left side of the car so close to the left wall that you are pretty certain you are one inch away from scraping the wall at all times and then just assume the right side will attend to itself. It really wasn’t that bad; in fact it was empowering. Sorta like driving to the airport in Baghdad. You just have to learn to ignore the snide remarks.

We unloaded very quickly and Steven found the parking space to beat all parking spaces. In fact, we can’t leave now. We just have to take a taxi everywhere in town and then fly home, because this parking space is so good we can’t bring ourselves to move the car out of it.

I think things are looking up.

More About Food

January 28th, 2010

I’m really spending a lot of time cooking and thinking about food recently. I can’t afford to turn into a “foodie” so I’m hoping this is a phase and it passes quickly.

Used the pork joint left over from the Cochinita Pibil and made ham and pea soup. I was aiming for something like the Potage St. Germain that they used to have at the Magic Pan back when that restaurant was in business because I have always loved that soup. It was just pea soup, but somehow more so. They put a dollop of creme fraiche on top and served it with a tiny glass pitcher of sherry. When I was a kid, the Magic Pan was my favorite restaurant. I thought the sherry was kinda gross but the soup was wonderful and the dessert crepes were wonderful. And you could go watch the person making crepes on the little rotating grill thing. As a child, I was very envious; I wanted to grow up and be that person. Alas, that restaurant is no more.

I asked Steven to buy some sherry on the way home. He called me later - “What kind of sherry do you want? There is cooking sherry, dry sherry, sweet sherry…” Um. Hmmm. I have no clue. I want the kind that The Magic Pan used to put in the tiny little pitcher so I can put it in soup.

We guessed. He brought home a bottle of “Lustau Solera Reserva (Fine Sherry Wine) Dry Amontillado Los Arcos” which I’m sure is good enough to be put into soup. Knowing Steven, it’s probably much too good to go into soup.

I’m still making bread in the “5 Minutes A Day” method and it’s still turning out well. It’s starting to get more of a sour dough effect when it ages, which is nice. I’ve been working with AP flour and I’m about to start experimenting with whole grains

Cochinita Pibil

January 19th, 2010

I decided to make Cochinita Pibil the other night. It’s a slow-cooked pork dish that originates in the Yucatan peninsula. The recipe came from the Fonda San Miguel cookbook which is a favorite of mine. It took forever, but I have some ideas on how to shorten the process.

I started with achiote seeds. Next time, I will buy achiote paste. You soak the seeds in vinegar for an hour and then grind them in a mortar and pestle. Except I don’t have one and they really are hard as rocks. I tried just smashing them with random kitchen implements and finally Steven took pity on me and started chopping them.

You make a marinade with the achiote paste, garlic, orange juice and vinegar and let the pork marinate. I bought a 4 pound pork shoulder and chopped it into cubes myself. Next time I will buy cubed pork because it took for freaking ever and I don’t have knives good enough to do home butchering.

While the pork is marinating, you make red onion pickles - slices of red onion, garlic and spices in vinegar. They turn bright red and are the traditional accompaniment to the dish.

I lined a dutch oven with fresh banana leaves (you have those at your local grocery store, right? No? Me neither. This recipe required a special trip to Fiesta. Wow, they have wonderful produce and a really great fish section.


You put the pork on the banana leaves and top it with a mixture of tomatoes and onions cooked w/ a little of the achiote paste. Wrap banana leaves on top, cover it and stick it in the oven for a long time.

Serve with rice and corn tortillas.

It was amazing. It made the whole house smell wonderful and next time it will not require several days of prep. Oh yes, there will be a next time. Yum!

Sad Owl Stories

January 17th, 2010

So the basic plan was to provide the owl with warmth and shelter and just watch him to see if he was going to be OK. If he refused to eat or couldn’t fly, we would take him to wildlife rescue. If he recovered, we would put him back where we found him, except not in the middle of the highway.

He seemed stunned when we first got him but eventually started to move more. He perked up quite a bit over a few days but didn’t fly and still seemed sore. Our best guess is that he was hit by a car, so it was an easy guess to think one side of his little owl body was bruised. He didn’t open his eye on that side all the way, although eventually he did start using that eye.

He perked up more and walked around, exploring his room. Still he wouldn’t fly and didn’t move that quickly. We decided to put a small mouse in the room to see if he would show interest. It took him an hour to notice the mouse (not a good sign because the mouse smelled and was loud). But once he saw the mouse, it was only a second or two before the mouse was an ex-mouse. He bit it’s head off and started eating. The next morning there was only a mouse pelvis and tail in the box and the owl was perched and quiet.

We thought he was doing well. Then suddenly he just fell over. Steven checked on him but he was only semi-conscious. He died soon after that. We are all very sad.

There is an Owl in the Recycling Bin, Still

January 15th, 2010

Owl is still with us. We are hoping he was just stunned and in need of a quiet, warm place to rest for a bit. If so, he can rest here safely and then go roost in our yard. He is welcome to eat all of the rodents he can find. If not, he’s off to wildlife rescue.

He is perking up a bit. He has jumped to the edge of the recycle bin and is roosting there now. He mostly sleeps but occasionally will look around. If you look directly at him, he fluffs up and does a sort of dance and clicks his beak. But mostly he just sits there. Steven is working on setting up “owl cam”.

Candied Owl

January 13th, 2010

I found myself in a situation where posting a recipe for Candied Owl seemed like a good thing to do.

Here it is:

Nonstick spray
1 pound fresh owl
5 cups water
Approximately 1 pound granulated sugar

Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a half sheet pan lined with parchment.

Pluck the owl and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandoline. Place into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the owl is tender.

Transfer the owl to a colander to drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Weigh the owl and measure out an equal amount of sugar. Return the owl and 1/4 cup water to the pan and add the sugar. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize, approximately 20 minutes.

Transfer the owl immediately to the cooling rack and spread to separate the individual pieces. Once completely cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Save the sugar that drops beneath the cooling rack and sprinkle over ice cream or use to sweeten coffee.

Now, why would I need a recipe for candied owl? Well, no good reason actually. It just seemed funny. But we do have an owl.

Steven was driving the girls to school this morning and he saw an owl in the middle of the road. He pulled into the turn lane and got out to check on the owl. It was sitting there, looking dazed, and did not fly away. Steven picked it up and put it in the car and drove to school. The owl crawled up under the dash, near the heater outlet, and sat. Once home, Steven brought it indoors and put it in the recycling bin. The owl went to sleep. It’s hard to say if it is hurt or not. One wing looks odd and Steven thought one of his eyes might not be right, but now he is all fluffy and sleeping and we don’t want to disturb him.

July 23, 1984

January 12th, 2010

This is the day I made my first skydive. Sometime earlier in the month, I walked over to the MSC to get my mail and noticed these two guys at a table with a banner that said “A&M Skydiving Club”. They had a TV and a VCR and were showing videos of skydivers and I had never seen anything like it. Back then, there were no skydivers in the popular media - nothing in movies, TV commercials, TV shows… nothing. I thought you had to be a professional stuntman to jump out of an airplane - and you would get paid to do it, not the other way around.

There was the cute guy and the funny guy and I chatted with them and watched videos for a long time. Then I got my mail and left. Skydiving appealed to me from the very first second, but it was expensive and I was a poor, starving college student. You had to put down a $35 deposit and then pay the rest of the first jump course fee ($50) on the day you went to class. EIGHTY FIVE DOLLARS! Who had that kind of money just laying around?

It took several weeks for me to find the money and in the end I’m fairly certain I wrote a check that I knew would bounce and hoped my mom would cover it. The two guys alternated teaching, so I got the funny guy as my instructor. We spent the morning at his house, doing the classroom portion of the instruction and I remember we went to lunch at the “Chicken Oil Company” (what a name for a restaurant) and our intrepid instructor ordered a “death burger” which seemed particularly worrisome to me at the time.

In the afternoon we went to the airport and began the hands-on portion of the course. We put on equipment and climbed out of airplanes and practiced hanging from the strut. At the end of the day, I jumped out of an airplane at 3000′ and landed in the field next door.

I did not see myself as someone who could jump out of airplanes. Before I even landed, I knew I wanted to do it again and part of that was because it was such a rush but it was also because it changed the way I saw myself and to this day I think it was one of those transformation moments.

There was a fork in the road of my life - I was almost paralyzed with fear. I could barely make my arms and legs move and almost refused to jump and asked to ride the plane back to the ground, rather than jump. Instead, I leaped into the wild unknown and it has turned about to be the right choice in every circumstance I have encountered so far.

Plus, I married the funny guy. It’s been 26 years now and he still makes me laugh.

I Lost My Mind (and by “mind” I mean “phone”)

January 9th, 2010

Went to lunch today and the first restaurant we tried to go to was too crowded, the second one was closed but the third one was juuuuuuust right. We had wonderful meat pies, and once you get past the whole Sweeney Todd thing, they were lovely.

During lunch, I realized my cell phone was gone. I’m struck by an absurd sense of loss. It’s just a cell phone, but I feel naked without it. We check restaurant, parking lot, car - no phone. We go back to the only place we had been since I had phone (closed restaurant) and there is no phone.

Phone is gone and I’m really really sad. Alex tries to comfort me by telling me that everyone loses their phone on occasion but that is the problem - I have never lost my phone and I realize that I associate losing things with getting old and forgetful. It’s not just the hassle of buying a phone (you can go look at past entries to recall what a horrible ordeal it was to select the phone I’m currently using) and the unpleasantness of having to learn a new device - but also the idea that I am now the sort of person who loses her cell phone.

I go to Sprint store to check out phones and find out what my options are. There is a 45 minute wait to talk to someone. I leave Sprint store.

I go home and wonderful husband has a brilliant technology solution to my problem. Sign up for a free trial of Sprint’s “Family Locator” service! I sign up and register my phone and within minutes I’m looking at a map with the location of my phone plus or minus about 10 feet.

We drive to the location and I walk over to the parking lot at the closed restaurant where we tried to eat lunch because the map says the phone is on the corner at a bakery next door but we never went near the bakery. I’m talking to restaurant employees at the back door and Alex decides to check out the bakery because it’s where the map says my phone is, even thought that’s not possible because we never went near the place.

You know what happens next.

Alex comes up to me with my phone. It was sitting on the far end of the counter in the bakery.

Best I can figure is that I dropped it on the sidewalk near closed restaurant and someone found it. They assumed I must have dropped it leaving the bakery (only open place around) and put it back there so I would find it when I went looking for it.

I tell my children I’m signing their phones up and will be tracking them (but I’m really not). Still, it’s a cool service: you can enter times and locations - the school during school hours for example, and Sprint will text you if the phone leaves that location during that time period.

Caitlin says, “Mom, I’ll just leave my phone at school and then leave. Do you really want me to ditch school WITHOUT my cell phone?”

I’m having the chips implanted in them tonight. =)


January 6th, 2010

OK, so I have given up on the idea of having urban chickens - too much work. But I still want a pet that produces something useful and doesn’t require so much care that I can’t travel. The answer is BEES!

For about $200 I can buy a bee hive (although the one am I secretly lusting for costs quite a bit more than that) and for $120 BeeWeaver Apiaries in Navasota will send me THREE POUNDS of bees plus a queen. Such a deal! And these aren’t any ordinary bees - these are bees bred to be gentle, disease resistant and mite tolerant. They are organic bees. If they could drive cars, they would drive a Toyota Prius.

I will go pick the bees up because Navasota is so close and it’s better for the bees but I love the idea of having them mailed to me. In my mind, I get a call from our local post office worker and he says “Um, we have a package here for you and it’s buzzing and it’s kinda freaking us out. Can you come pick it up? Can you come now?”

I bring my bee box home and when it is evening and the bees are calm, I take it out to the new hive. You would think the process of introducing three pounds of bees to their new home requires some sort of process or ceremony but no, you just turn the box upside down and dump them into the hive. The queen is sealed into a small wire cage and the cage goes into the hive. Then I close the hive and walk away. I remember to put some sugar syrup nearby so that they have food until the nectar starts running. That’s it.

The workers will slowly eat the sugar candy that seals the queen inside the cage so by the time she is released, she is familiar to them and they won’t kill her. So a week or so later, I don my fabulous beekeeper outfit and light up my smoker and check to make sure the queen has been released and that she is alive and laying eggs into the honeycomb cells that the worker bees are making.

I check on them every few weeks to make sure the queen is alive, that they have enough space and enough food and that they are doing all the bee stuff they should do. If I get busy, or go out of town or just forget for a while that I have a bee hive in my backyard, that’s OK too. They do need food until they get established, but they don’t really need me.

But they give me honey.

This is my kind of pet.