Thursday, December 28, 2006

La Fiesta en El Jaguey

Yes; yet another fiesta. Yesterday, we had to choose between a large celebration in El Jaguey, about 3 miles east of Las Cuevas, or the local one, at Mateo and Chucha's house. As we had already committed to attending the El Jaguey*, so we went.
(*Jaguey- a pond or charca.)

First, we picked up Mari, her mother and her son, Alejandro at their house. When we arrived at the crossroads entry to the pueblo, several people excitedly rushed up to our Ford Windstar. It turned out that they were expecting the imminent arrival el Obisbo de Morelia. There was a small band, there were dignitaries, there were señoritas bonitas vestidas como guarecitas, there was a police pickup to act as an escort.
The Obispo was late, but eventually arrived. The band struck up, the march commenced, the
cohetes launched skyward, and 10 minutes and one half mile later, we arrived at the church. We left our camioneta at the crossroads but later brought it in closer.

This time, Susan and I sat outside with Alejandro and did not attend the Mass, which was already far beyond the capacity of the larger church. I wandered about, talking with the men cooks in the dining area across the street. They were preparing two huge cazos each of barbacoa a la penca y carnitas. As it turned out, we didn't get to eat any of this, as Mari had an invitation to some friends' home on the outskirts of El Jaguey.

After the Mass, we went to the car and drove less than a mile down and unpaved side road. This area is notable
for its extensive irrigation. A small acequía ran alongside the road.
Soon we arrived at the rancho of Sr. Águstin and Sra. Ángela. They have extensive farm holdings by the look of it. Their several grown daughters were in attendance and displayed great enthusiasm and offered us plates abundantly heaped with mole rojo de pollo (o de guajalote—no estoy seguro de cual), arroz y tortillas. There were plentiful cervezas y refrescos a la mesa, and several dishes filled with pickled chiles Jalapeños of especially fresh, crisp, snappy character. I should have asked where they bought them.
The mole was especially appreciated because it was rich but not excessive, and did not have much, if any sweet taste in it. Further, to our benefit, the bird in question was skinless.

I was still dipping rolled tortillas in my mole when a plate heaped with carnitas arrive. I was just able to try a modest slab of chewy, tasty fried pork. These are the kinds of Mexican foods I most appreciate: relatively simple but well-prepared, unpretentious fare served among friends and family.

We were preparing to leave, when the desserts arrived: a huge sheet cake and at least two large basins of gelatinas. Of course, we had to stay to sample these, although Susan and I had no gelatina. The Primera Comuníon girl, her mother and aunt cut and served the desserts.

After thanking our hosts for their generous and warm hospitality, we drove Mari and family home. Then we had a few minutes to catch our breaths before going over to Chucha and Mateo's house for a sip and some conversation. Their son-in-law, the man married to Verónica, asked me my opinion of the demonstrations
that had taken place in the US by Latinos. I replied that I had a policy of not discussing politics. But, when pressed, I ventured to say that although I was sympathetic to their cause, I thought that the method they had chosen was no effective, but perhaps alienating US citizens. The conversation ended amicably.

Click image below for more photos)

Monday, December 25, 2006

La Noche del Pozole

How we celebrated Christmas Eve

Last night, we were invited to a pozole supper at the house of Santos and Teresa, halfway down the street. Their son, Armando, is married to Emilia, an interesting American woman. They have 2 teenage sons. They are working on finishing the house above Teresa and Santos so that they may move here to live full time in a few years when they retire.

The pozole was cooked in a big, clay olla over a wood fire, on a raised platform in the small kitchen, even though Teresa has a pretty modern stove. Talk about atmospheric! Her husband, Santos, is a weather beaten ranchero, but on top of that, the Abuelito, whose name I didn't retain, was there also. He looks like an 89 year old, Mexican Clint Eastwood. He had the serape and a beautiful, gold-banded cowboy hat. (Unlike the accompanying picture, Abuelito hads no scar.) It was just too cool.

The dining room table was limited in capacity, so we ate in turns. We, the guests, were served first.

The pozole was the thick, red kind, with dark chunks of what might have been beef. Later, a bowl of cooked boned chicken breast was passed around to enrich the pozole.

The accompaniments were chopped onion, coarsely shredded cabbage, and a bowl of coarsely cut Chiles Manzanos, the very hot yellow kind. Armando, caught a stray seed the wrong way and was trying various folk remedies, such as salt, banana and lime wedges to squelch the heat. (I, on the other hand, was careful not to eat any of the black seeds and was fine.) Paquito, a 9 or 10 year old boy, took a dare from his American cousin too eat a little piece, then went running outside to wash out the heat from the pila (outside tap). They jokingly told him to go outside and lick the dirt!

Emilia gave us White Zinfandel when we arrived, from the vineyard in South Carolina where she works. Then we had champurrado, a mildly chocolate form of atole, the corn-thickened and flavored hot drink popular night or for breakfast. It was pretty good, until it started to set up like pudding in our plastic cups. Susie and I brought freshly baked Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Rugelach and some wedges of Panettone. Oh, and a neighbor or another relative came with a plate of buñuelos in syrup, which looked not so unappetizing to me. Imagine gefilte fish jelly chopped finely over well-browned matzo brei, except that this is a sweet dish, not at all like my description. Susie tried a little, but I passed. She reports that "It was definitely sweet."

We left at about 9:50, thanking our friendly hosts, walked home and
at once fell into bed .

Sunday, December 17, 2006

La Fiesta Marcha

El Día de La Virgen de Guadalupe...continued.

Just before noon, we went to the little chapel down the street. Susan was dressed in her almost full rig (less braids and ribbons) as a guarecita. The church is a modern building, not of the old, Spanish Colonial churches which to many of us represent México. But this church was as "Real México" as could be. It is a church of and for the people of Las Cuevas in which to worship.
It is a building of simple, block construction, painted in blue and white, with the forecourt decorated by garlands of pine needles and colorful banners. Inside it is tranquil, plain, and beautiful.
The congregation was called in by Doña Chucha ringing the church bell from just outside the door.

We were seated inside toward the back. There were not enough seats for all the congregants, so we squeezed in to our bench to allow more to sit.
Little girls, dressed in white, wedding-dress style outfits whirled about in their hooped skirts while the little boys clustered in suits and ties. There would be a first Communion for them this day.
The priest arrived, the perfect picture of a genial and somewhat plump Mexican padre. He heard the confession of first the primeras comunicantes, then of anyone else who wished to confess.

Soon, the service began. I could follow much but not all of it. I did enjoy listening to the sermon. Before it was over, María beckoned us to come outside. She wanted to let us know that our friends, Luis, Lety and their two sons had arrived. As we sat chatting, there was a rapid fusillade of ear splitting explosions not 12 feet from where we sat. We were pelted by shell casings and ceramic plugs from the string of cohetes that had just been ignited. These blockbuster firecrackers are fused together in a string for maximum effect. Fortunately, no lasting damage resulted.

Soon, the services were over, and we waited briefly to take seats at long tables. Before long, our hosts and hostesses were ladling up generous platefuls of copper kettle simmered beef in red chile sauce; rice, and beans. (I think that the "recipe" called for 1 medium sized yearling calf, cut into 2-3 inch chunks, a whole lot of water, enough chiles, soaked,pureed and strained; a gunny sack of onions, cut up; sufficient garlic for a year, salt, vinegar, and possibly, freshly squeezed orange juice.) It was tasty and tender, to my taste needing a litle more salt and "picante", yet very good. I didn't complain!

Thick, homemade-looking tortillas arrived, stacked high in towel wrapped baskets. We had Pepsi to drink, until the Padre turned around from the adjacent table and offered me una cerveza. Excellent fellow! Soon he was opening and passing beers to whoever wanted one. After we got the supply line going from another source, the older fellow at our table would open the bottles by prying the caps off with another bottle. We lacked for nothing.

After comida, there was a break, allowing people to go rest a bit, the cooks ladling out the large quantity of stew into the plastic pails some señoras had brought.

After the break, during which the hired band "Olas Altas de Tzintzúntzan" toodled, noodled and drank a few beers, we sipped a little Presidente Brandy offered around by María. Then it was time for the procession. The Padre got everyone lined up according to a plan, and the band struck up a merry tune, while Rosa carried the statue of the Virgen down the street and out onto the road, towards Sanabria. We got to the house of Doña Lidia's daughter at the edge of the pueblo, where we stopped for the "First Mystery". I think it represented the Annunciation to Mary of her forthcoming carrying of Jesus.

Becuase of traffic, we turned around and went back up the street, toward the house of Doña Chucha and Don Mateo. There we found another Misterio, representing Mary's visit to her cousin, Elizabeth. (Isabel).
More cohetes were ignited, close to our fence. This time, we faced away from a distance of 20 feet. The procession returned down the street, but we took leave and went into the house to recover from the events of this wonderful day.

Later, in the night, there was a baile on the school grounds, about 150 yards away. We could hear the music, but it wasn't too loud nor lasting, and we slept as well as usual.

More photos click here

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Fiestas Continue: La Virgen de Guadalupe

Today, December 14, the Fiesta de La Virgen de Guadalupe is celebrated in Las Cuevas. The usual date in most of México is December 12. I don't know why there's the local variation.
At any rate, our street is decorated, at least in part, with papel picado strung from the houses and utility poles. The people have some more work to do the complete the task before the celebration starts with a noon Mass in the Capilla.

Yesterday when we drove out on errands, we saw a pick-up truck backed up into the driveway of the house below us. I glanced in and saw a young beef animal, legs up, dead on the pavement. They were cleaning hairs or something from its chest. Undoubtedly this was the animal sacrificed for the churipo that would be served to the celebrants after mass. I'm hoping that they will serve corundas with it, in the traditional way. (I wanted to photograph the making of the churipo, but that is taking place in Tzintzúntzan.

The most notable aspect of our involvement in the celebration was Rosa and María's invitation to Susan and me to wear traditional outfits. They would fit us with the appropriate clothing. I declined, with thanks, but Susan went tentatively yesterday to the Las Cuevas Ladies' Sewing & Embroidery Circle up the road for her fitting. We had some concerns with this offer, as we had always been well-indoctrinated not to wear "native" costume while in México, as it is considered inappropriate, if not offensive to local sensibilities. But we considered that as we were sincerely invited, and that we weren't just passing through, but involved in various (we hope) positive ways in our little community, that the invitation should be considered an honor. So, here, in the photo below, is Susan displaying her (loaned) outfit.

The festivities commence at noon with a Mass in the church, followed by a comida and then a procession to carry the Virgen through the street(s). Afterwards there will be a baile at the school, just halfway down the street and off to the left.

I'll report back afterward our impressions of the day.
Música (SAVAE): Las Mañanitas de Guadalupe

Monday, December 11, 2006

Una Fiesta Or Two Or Three, Or More

December is Fiesta Season here at Las Cuevas as well as in other parts of Mexico.
Our party season started off Sunday.
Susan and I had a few, mostly local, friends over yesterday for a "convivio", or get together, with a meal. This was the largest group we'd ever hosted in our little casa del campo.
Perhaps this should be posted on "My Mexican Kitchen" blog, but as it was social, I decided to post it here.
We had invited a lot of people, but the attendance was actually around 20 or so.
When planning and executing a party, there are always more small details that you didn't think of. That was true this time.

The culinary theme was "Italian, with Mexican touches"
My plan was to make a large pan of roasted vegetable lasagna and a few large pizzas with varied toppings.
Some friends were bringing dessert, salad, Italian style sausage, rice, beverages, (Ponche Navideño Caliente—more on that, later), etc. Another friend brought us a rented table and chairs, as well as desserts.
We had 3 tables, up to 6 ' long, and enough chairs for everyone.

Our work began Monday by making the sauce for the lasagna. I was interested in making this project relatively easy, so I was going to use no-precooking Barilla Lasagna sheets. These really work, but they are so thin, that I couldn't even use a up a 500 gram box for two very large pans of lasagna.
Tuesday I shopped for last minute ingredients . One item was queso requesón, which is an excellent substitute for ricotta.

On Friday AM, early, I seriously got to work. I prepared the lasagne, all the way through the baking.
The fillings for the lasagne were the aforementioned roasted vegs, corn, bechamel sauce and the homemade tomato sauce. The other cheeses were mozzarella, a little parmesan and some smoked provolone. A bit redundant, I think, but good. On Saturday, I assembled and baked them. The Monster Lasagna took an hour and a half to bake.

Before starting to bake pizzas, I divided the lasagnes up into smaller casseroles, so that they would warm more thoroughly in the oven, but could if needed, be zapped in the microwave. That proved to be a good move.

The pizzas presented a different challenge. I did not want to spend ALL my time rolling out dough, topping and baking pizzas, instead of (occasionally) visiting with our guests.
Thus, I decided to make up and pre-bake 7, 16" pizza crusts. At least that would cut the final baking time down. I was able to keep almost everyone supplied with pizza, but for a 15 minute gap.

We served everything with disposable picnic ware. Not ecological, but practical. Nevertheless, there were more than enough soiled pans and utensils to wash, to assuage our guilt feelings.

The Ponche Navideño Caliente, cooked by Doña Chucha in a huge stock pot , over a fire of ocote, was carried into the house by two strong hombres. It was colored like dark tea, and in its depths held a trove of sweet spices and tropical fruits. I had a bottle of dark rum alongside for those who wanted a "spike" in their punch.
Dessert were two "bought", but delicious and rich chocolate-cajeta cheesecakes. There was also panettone.

I think overall, our guests enjoyed themselves, and I enjoyed cooking for them. There were a few minor crises, but we overcame them. But, at the end of the day, we, the hosts, were seriously frazzled. I have promised Susan 3 nights in Zihuatanejo for recuperation. (And I am not fond of beaches.)

But first, we have to rest up and get ready for Thursday. We have been invited to the Fiesta in honor of the Virgen de Guadalupe, which will start with mass in the chapel down the street, followed by a community comida, a peregrinacíon and a baile. María and Rosa, our amigas of Las Cuevas Ladies' Sewing Circle, have offered to outfit Susan in traje tradicional. Vamos a ver.