31 January 2014

I've slacked off a bit with blogging the last week or two; first I was busy (and I still have a bunch of posts from that busyness) and then I was sick.  So this post is going to have all sorts of things.

I usually don't care about celebrity stuff, but I was disappointed today that a celebrity who'd been an ambassador for Oxfam for many years has decided she'd rather advertise for SodaStream.  Since SodaStream operates out of a settlement in Palestine, she can't do both.  SodaStream is getting plenty of publicity about it, and I don't think most Americans even have a clue about the whole thing, so I don't know if is will make much difference, but I know I'm not a SodaStream fan. Nor of the celebrity, if SodaStream is more important to her than Oxfam.

I'm still sick, which means I've had to go to the hospital. It's not a big deal, but it's been interesting to  see what it's like to be in a hospital in another country.  I lived in constant dread in Kyrgyzstan that someone in the family would need more medical attention than a first aid kit could supply, and I will be forever grateful that none of us needed much medical care there (there is one exception, but that wasn't about someone being sick or injured). So I am delighted to be in a hospital in Mexico.

Everyone has been so helpful, kind, and professional.  No one is bothered that I don't speak much Spanish.  They just speak slowly and we work it out.  There isn't even eye-rolling.  I have a private room and well-stocked bathroom. People keep apologizing that the room doesn't have a window, but it is so much better than anything I would have had in Kyrgyzstan.

My biggest irritation is that I can't eat because I'm dying to know what hospital food is like in Mexico.  This isn't just because I'm hungry, which I am, but because I'm curious.  Meals are, obviously, at normal Mexican times.  The main meal is brought in at 2:30 and dinner is at 8:30.  I haven't been allowed to even drink anything for breakfast yet, so I don't know when that is.  I assume around 9 or 10.  Maybe I'll find out tomorrow.

There's wifi and a large screen TV with lots of Spanish and English shows. The room is too warm.  I have a bazllion water bottles supplied every morning by the newspaper guy (so cheerful to sit in a hospital and find the main headline is about how many people have died from the flu in Jalisco).  There's a lovely painting of irises on the wall. The bed adjusts.  There is hand sanitizer everywhere.   I could go on, but it's just like a hospital in the US.

In Kyrgyzstan you get a concrete room stuffed with beds, and they'll all be filled.  Your family brings you your food.  The room is usually too hot, unless it's much too cold.  You share a bathroom with lots of people. You have to worry if the needles are clean (and everything else). It's not that doctors are horrible in Kyrgyzstan, because they're not.  They just don't have the resources they need.  So I'm happy to be here.

Today also was slightly eventful in Guadalajara. Sometimes the police arrest powerful narco types, and they did last night. And, not surprisingly, there are retaliations, and the typical way to do that is to light a few vehicles on fire. And that's what happened today. It sounds like no one was hurt and everything is fine now.  But I'm totally our of the loop here.

There are other things, but I'm done now.  And I need to plug this thing in.

26 January 2014

San Sebastián El Grande

Last weekend we went south of town for an appointment in the morning, then for some exploring.  There's always a fiesta going on somewhere in Mexico, and we stumbled on one in San Sebastián El Grande since it happened to be Saint Sebastian's day. This should have been a fairly obvious connection if I paid any attention to the Catholic liturgical calendar.  I've learned my lesson.  We're working on a calendar of fiestas in Guadalajara.  Since we'll be here for two years, it's actually worth doing.

I'm assuming this is the town's biggest fiesta, but please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I'm also assuming St. Sebastian's color is red since that was the color of the day in town.  I love the banners that are always strung up for holidays. There were lots of bands, lots of small processions, lots of singing, and lots of fun.  And the ruins of the old chapel at the end.

24 January 2014


Tapalpa is about 2 hours from Guadalajara, or a little less if you're lucky. Here's the bright and chipper page about it from the Mexico Tourism Board. And another website in Spanish. And an article on Tapalpa for the bazillion retired expats here. Here is a blog with two posts about hiking to waterfalls in Tapalpa. Search for Tapalpa on this blog to find more about staying there with children.

There are supposed to be amazing wildflowers here in the fall and the drive there is beautiful. You can buy lots of canned fruit and jam which makes any trip worth it. The elevation is fairly high so it's cooler there than in Guadalajara.  There are some ziplines.  Here is a hike there. You can mountain bike. You can work on an organic farm.

23 January 2014

Mezcala Island

Since my dad thinks that the only things to see in Mexico are villages with churches, I'm doing some posts to give him some new ideas.  The trouble is, he's mostly right, but not completely. These will be labeled places to visit until we've actually gone there.

Isla de Mezcala is a little more than an hour from Guadalajara, or, at least, getting to where you take the boat is that long. Here's Jalisco's official webpage about it. And here is a nice long thing about its history. It looks like this is a good place for families to visit since it involves boats and ruins and a prison. And a church, of course. 

Here and here  and here are some blog posts from people who've been there. The second isn't very useful since it's mostly about the people who visited rather than what was visited, but what can you expect from a blog?

Vermilion Flycatcher

My husband got this photo of a vermilion flycatcher.  I've seen then around but never had a camera. This was taken in Guadalajara around January 18th.

17 January 2014

Go Away, Costco

Do you want to know something that galls me?  I thought so.  Today's peeve is the way Costco food has taken over social events.  Costco food is, I will agree, better than a lot of grocery store food.  It also comes in large quantities which makes it easy to get food for an event. It's often a good price. I get why people use it.

But isn't anyone else tired of the same food at everything?  If you go to something where people are supposed to bring cookies, you know most of them will be from Costco (except in Charlottesville, where they hadn't been afflicted with Costco yet- I loved going to parties there because they weren't predictable). Everyone's snacks are from Costco.  Mormon church parties are filled with Costco food. It's like Costco is standardizing American eating habits.

I can't even get away from it in Mexico. I get served chips and salsa from Costco in Guadalajara. That makes me want to cry. And the juice.  It's cheaper and freshly squeezed(!) at the store around the corner, but it's always from Costco.  And croissants.  They're hot and fresh twice a day at the bakery down the road, but that doesn't matter. I was tempted to chastise everyone I saw with a Kings Day bread ring from Costco on January 6th and tell them to pick it up at a local bakery.

And Costco isn't even cheaper here, so there's not that excuse.  It's just convenient and familiar.

14 January 2014

A Post about a Child

I don't usually post about my children, but the youngest surprised me last night when he got on his friend's bicycle and rode it last night.  He'd never tried to ride before, and he has a little trouble getting started by himself, although he gets it in the end, but he never fell and turned around and avoided cars.  It's so nice when your children take care of major milestones so easily. I hope he does this with reading someday since he refuses to sit down and practice. Apparently I am becoming an unschooler except that I send him to school, so I suppose I'm not.

He's also the child who could not keep track of breakfast, lunch, and dinner when he was about 4.  We spent forever with him asking which one lunch was, or whatever.  Then I had the bright idea of numbering them since he loves numbers (he now falls asleep by counting in Spanish- if only the world were more orderly for him).  So we had breakfast number one, lunch number two, and dinner number 3.  It took exactly one day and he never had trouble again.

Number is a weird word.

13 January 2014

Food Stuff


Asian Market

Fish sauce
Curry paste
Rice noodles
Sesame oil


Queso crema
Nopal and whole wheat tortillas
Dried chilies
Garbanzo beans

Little grocery store

Mexican chocolate
(and almost anything in the tianguis list)

Other little grocery store

Sticky rice
Rice vinegar
Baking soda
Powdered sugar


Whipping cream
Bagged milk
Big bottle of vinegar

Mercado de Abastos 

Chocolate chips
(and bulk of lots of things listed above)

Stuff I make

Peanut butter
Ice cream
Soybean paste
Tofu (chickpea)
Whole wheat pasta
Corn tortillas

Stuff that's better or only at Costco

Jasmine rice
Sharp cheddar
Ground pork
Big bottle of olive oil
Tomato paste

Stuff that's cheaper/better to ship


Stuff that has to be shipped because I can't find it so we don't eat it much

Black rice vinegar
Red lentils
Tofu sticks
Dried Asian shrimp

Stuff I haven't had to figure out yet because I brought a bunch


Expat Stuff

The other day I had a sort-of post about expat stuff that I was working on. But then I found out yesterday that an American woman I know who'd gone to the US for Christmas decided not to come back to Guadalajara.  I wasn't surprised since I knew she wasn't happy here, but it still made me sad. They had a rough time transitioning to Guadalajara.  I don't know them all that well since I met them in October and they left in November.  We'd just arrived here ourselves and were getting settled, and she didn't live near us and our car didn't arrive till a week before they left.  I don't really think there was much I could have done to help her.

They partly blame their company for things not working out. It's disappointing that companies still send employees overseas without much support.  The initial investment in sending a family to another country is huge.  Airfare, school fees, shipping stuff, and so much more cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that's all lost when the job doesn't work out or the family returns to the US.  In the worst case, the employee quits too.

I don't know if there was any amount of support that could have saved this family.  I think it would be hard to go overseas for the first time with 5 children, and they knew they could go back to the US.  I've known other families who've had as hard a time with nearly as many children in places like Moscow, who might have gone home if they felt like there was another option.  The companies can't always be blamed, but they should do as much as possible to keep employees happy.  It just makes sense financially.

11 January 2014

The Atalufo Mangoes Are Back! or Shopping Locally

It's been about two months since local mangoes disappeared from the markets.  Since I haven't lived in a warm climate before, I didn't know when to expect them back, but yesterday at the tianguis there were atalufos from Chiapas.  I suspect they'll get a little cheaper, but they were already 75 cents each which isn't much more than I'd pay at an Asian market in the US.  I just bought one yesterday and it was delightfully tart. Mexicans (and me) like mangoes less sweet than many Americans so that was perfect.

Is it truly possible I live in a place where local mangoes are available year round? If you're a localvore, this is a great place to be. The fish is caught on the Mexican coast a little north of us.  There is always local, in season produce, even in January. The cheese is produced locally.  The eggs are local. Even a lot of the packaged foods are local.The only thing we eat regularly that doesn't meet my definition of local is the milk. 

And there is almost nothing made in China when I go shopping. 

08 January 2014

A Current Event

I don't write about current events in Mexico much, especially in comparison to what I wrote in Kyrgyzstan.  I don't know that that will change, or if it's because so much of it's focused on drugs and I don't have much to say about that.  We're largely isolated from that here in Guadalajara, fortunately, and maybe I'm just sticking my head in the sand.  

But there is something that's been getting some attention in the US, and it isn't just about drugs.  Mexico just started a new tax on high-calorie drinks and food.  Mexico has a VAT (IVA in Spanish) of 16%, but it doesn't apply to food or medicine, at least until now.

Mexico has an even bigger problem with obesity than the US does and it just switched to a single-payer health care system, so there's some incentive to do something about it.  And the sugar lobby apparently isn't quite as powerful here as the in the US. 

The thing I like most about this tax is that the revenues are supposed to go toward improving health, and specifically toward providing clean water in schools.  Since some partly blame Mexico's obesity on its non-potable water (and I'm inclined to think it can't help), providing clean water in schools is a step in the right direction, especially if anyone can come to the school to get clean water.

It'll be interesting to see if this tax makes a difference.  It's about a 10% tax on drinks (1 peso per liter) and 8% on junk food.  I've read the Coca-Cola is worried the idea will spread to other parts of Latin America. I'm just glad someone was brave enough to try it. 

And one other thing.  Mexicans didn't favor the tax until it was specifically tied to public health, especially for children. Support went to 70% when the idea of tying the revenues to clean water was suggested. 

Green Garbanzo Beans

I've bought the guasanas/green garbanzo bean/green chickpeas a couple of times now.  The simplest things we've done with them is to briefly roast them whole over high heat in a little olive oil.  They just take a minute or two, then you can dump them in a bowl and add some salt and a little more oil, if you like.  Pop the beans out of the pods and enjoy.

But the most delicious thing we tried was this.  Shell a bunch of guasanas.  I ended up with about 1.5 cups of shelled beans- it'll depend on how many are shriveled up.  Sauté them for a minute or two in a little olive oil, then dump them in a food processor with a clove of garlic, a bit of olive oil, some pepper, and a couple tablespoons of crumbled Cotija or Parmesan. I didn't need to add salt because I used Cotija, but if you use something else, you might. Purée till smooth and bright green.  It was a lovely color. Put that in a bowl.

Chop two plum tomatoes and add a little salt and pepper, a splash of olive oil, and the juice of half a small lime.  The original recipe called for serving this as bruschetta, but we just ate the beans with the tomatoes on top and didn't miss the bread.  It was a surprisingly delicious combination and it looked nice too. The original recipe also called for a cup of oil to be used between everything.

07 January 2014


While we were driving into Cajititlan, we could see a new development in the hills north of town.  It's pretty distinctive, so we drove through on our way back to Guadalajara.  It felt like such an odd mix of things.  The colors were so Mexican, but it looked a bit like an Israeli settlement.  Driving around inside felt like one of the self-contained communities outside large cities in the US, but also a bit like driving through a project. 

We stopped some of the residents and asked about living there.  They said an apartment is about 200,000 pesos, or around $15,000.  Not bad. The website for the community said it had all sorts of amenities, although we didn't see them all.  There were lots of apartments but also some small semi-attached homes.

I loved the laundry drying.

06 January 2014

Rosca de Reyes

This is the traditonal bread for 12th Night and Epiphany in Mexico.  It's not my favorite, but they're fun to see around town. Usually there's a figurine of baby Jesus hidden in the bread and whoever finds it is supposed to host a party on Candlemas, February 2.

05 January 2014

Cajititlan and Dia de los Reyes

There's a town named Cajititlan between Guadalajara and Lake Chapala on Lake Cajititlan that is famous for its celebration of Kings Day.  It's not January 6th today, but since this is Mexico, the celebration goes on for days, so we went this morning.  There weren't any processions when we were there, but there were many, many people out on the streets and on the square next to the lake. I've read that a million people can visit the town in the week leading up to Epiphany, so we were glad to go early when it wasn't too crowded, but still festive.

We wandered around town and also went to the church where they have the Three Kings waiting for their tour of the town, probably on January 7th.  They'll also go around the lake in boats that day. The church had lots of its benches removed so there was room to walk around.  You could pass your coat or purse or small child (younger than two) to a few women who would pass them under the cloaks of the Wise Men, and then move on to a few teenage boys who would wrap you in a cloak.  I also really liked the church itself.

We stopped for gordas de natas and a few hand-slapped tortillas, and some tortillas with cheese and nopales.  And it's nice to be in Mexico because there was an Oxxo in town selling SD cards which we needed since I forgot to put it back in the camera.  You couldn't drive off to a small town in Kyrgyzstan and be that lucky.

The last photo is where we bought the green garbanzos.  They're picking the pods off the plants.


We went to Cajititlan today (photos coming) and there were little green pods for sale everywhere.  Some were fresh, but lots were steamed.  We found some people pulling them off the plants and they sold us a bagful and called them guasanas.

I was totally surprised when I got home and looked them up online to discover they're fresh garbanzo beans (no one said anything about that when we asked multiple people about them, and I never saw them open).  There are two little beans in the pods and you can cook and eat them like edamame, or steam them and open them to eat the beans.  I'm going to experiment with them tomorrow. Fun find.

03 January 2014

It was hard to get a photo, but this is what the neighbors set up in front of their house for Christmas.  They also had a nice altar for Dia de los Muertos, so we've learned to see how they decorate.  This is so much better than the inflatable monstrosities and wildly flashing purple lights some of the other neighbors had.

Machaca and Hungaro Chiles

Today's discovery at the tianguis was machaca.  I didn't buy any because, even though I understood what it was, I wanted to look it up first, and it came in a fairly large bag.  It looks like it's more a northern Mexico thing, but there are definitely plenty of northern influences here.  I'll buy some the next time I see it and try it with eggs.

I'm also working on sorting out chiles.  I could have done this in the US, but never did.  Actually, I'm not entirely sure it's possible to really sort chiles out. I got hungaro chiles today, or at least that's what they were called. Diana Kennedy says they're really cera chilies, or wax chiles.  There are always jalapenos, serranos, poblanos, and thick-walled sweet peppers. There there was another guero chile, but I can't remember the name.

Mexican Latkes

Since I can get fresh masa here so easily, I randomly opened the Mexican cookbook today to the masa section and found some potato and masa gordas.  They turned out to taste a lot like latkes, but they were easier and less oily.  And they were a hit.  I had them with crema and rajas and the rest of the family ate them with tomatillo salsa. It's a really easy thing to do with masa, especially if you're not friends with your tortilla press.

And we had a really easy and delicious cream of corn soup.  It had a little tomato and some rajas (of course). I've started making big batches of rajas because they're in almost everything.

01 January 2014

Y and И and Som and Pesos

Mostly I don't feel like there's much in Mexico that reminds me of Kyrgyzstan, but there are two things that I get confused if I'm not thinking.

The first one we all do, and that's switching pesos and som in our heads.  I do okay when I'm shopping, because I have to pay attention constanstly to everything while shopping, but other times I realize I'm thinking of som instead of pesos, and since there's a big difference between the two, it really throws me off.  200 pesos is about $16 while 200 som is a little less than $5 (unless the exchange rate has changed dramatically). This works in our favor sometimes (like when oldest son clued in he'd been paid $12 for baby sitting instead of $4), and sometimes not, like when I realize that book I though was so cheap was actually not.  Sometimes I end up going from som to pesos since som are automatic for me and it's an easy if not efficient 3:1 conversion.

The other thing is y and и. Russian and Spanish are kind enough to have the same word for "and" that's pronounced "ee," although they're written with different letters, obviously. But "y" in Russian is pronounced "oo" and is an annoying preposition for an English speaker, as prepositions often are.  So if someone is speaking to me, I don't notice a difference, but if I see "y" in Spanish, I don't automatically think "and."  Instead, if I'm not careful, I think "preposition that depends on the context." That led to the silly mistake of thinking that a store was closed from Christmas to New Years instead Christmas and New Years.  У doesn't even mean until or through, but it definitely doesn't mean and, so it didn't translate that way in my head.  

The Essential Cuisines of Mexico

I've been needing a good Mexican cookbook. I can get My Sweet Mexico, My Mexico, and Authentic Mexican from the library, so even though I like those books and prefer to have new cookbooks be paper books, I ordered The Essential Cuisines of Mexico to branch out. And I think it'll be mostly perfect (even if I didn't prefer its champurrado recipe).  It's packed with recipes and will give me so much to work with. 

New Years and Champurrado

The rest of the family finally didn't have any opinions about a holiday meal yesterday after telling me all the things I couldn't make since Thanksgiving since they don't like my cooking as much as I do. So last night I was able to do what I wanted. We tried two different champurrado recipes and I experimented with masa, we had tostadas and salsas, cheese and crackers, jamaica, Burma beans, cranberries, sour cream apple pie that isn't sweet, and pineapple with lime and chile. There was nothing too sweet and plenty of savory, and most everything could be made earlier in the day so I could experiment later.

We tried Diana Kennedy's champurrado from The Essential Cuisines of Mexico and the one from My Sweet Mexico whose author's name escapes me and I can't look it up or I'll lose this post since I'm on the iPad.  The first used cornstarch to thicken it which I don't think is traditional, and the recipe was more complicated anyway. The second was easy and delicious and used the traditional masa which I can find easily, obviously.  And, not surprisingly, the rest of the family preferred the first.  Too bad for them.   

The rain seems to be leaving.  We had six straight days of rain- lots of rain some days, and very pleasant temperatures.  I loved every minute. Today it's still cloudy and in the 60s.