31 March 2014

Guanajuato Churches

There are still hundreds of great Guanajuato photos.  Here are a few church photos.

A Place to Put Opinions When Others Are Annoying Me

Hobby Lobby.  It's not about abortion, people.  It's about whether corporations can have religious beliefs that are protected under the first amendment.  I cannot see why anyone would think this is a good idea. Of course you don't have to work for a company that has religious beliefs, but I for one am grateful that government has mandated coverage for things like pre-existing conditions and adopted children. If we're going to stick with a system as stupid as employer-provided health care, we can at least make sure there are a few rules governing it.

I think gay marriage is logical and inevitable.  If most Americans don't have a problem with it, then I don't think the laws can or should stop it.  Since I see absolutely no evidence that there is any reason to worry that any church will not be allowed to decide who does and who does not participate in its private ceremonies, I just can't get worked up about gay marriage one way or the other.  There are much, much bigger issues out there that I wish we'd focus on.*

Also, I do not think it's a violations of anyone's religious rights to not be able to deny service to someone whose lifestyle they don't agree with.  Taking photos of a gay couple's wedding does not say anything about the photographer except that that person was hired to take photos. Get over yourself or realize that you can't run a business in the US if you want to pick and choose who you're willing to offer your services to.

Don't wear shoes in my house. I don't care if you think I'm a bad host because of that.

Ordain Women.  I'm conflicted here. I share many of their concerns, but I don't think that ordination will solve most of those concerns.  And I think focusing specifically on ordination leaves out a huge number of women who aren't willing to go that far but who aren't happy with the status quo. So I can't quite support them, but I am a cheerer-oner.  That makes no sense, I know.

People ask me why we don't have a maid.  I tell them it's because we all work together to clean the house.  End of conversation.  But there's a whole lot more to the reason why I don't hire household help.  And at the risk of offending expats who've found my blog, here are the rest of the reasons.

I think people should clean up after themselves unless they are unable to.  Being wealthy enough to hire someone doesn't make you incapable of cleaning a toilet.

It's generally only women with a low socioeconomic status who would work as a maid.  I don't care to reinforce that. I understand and support the idea of providing someone with a job, but no one would choose to clean bathrooms for the rest of their lives unless they had to.  There are other ways to help people get out of that life.

Too many maids are exploited.  While there are many, many good employers out there, I chose to stay away from the system.

I hate, hate, hate having someone else in the house with me.  I cannot fathom how introverts deal with household help.

Don't tell me your maid is like family.  I don't know anyone who makes one family member clean all the nasty parts of the house with no help.  You may like her, you may be friends, you may care about each other a great deal, but you're not treating her like family.

And don't complain about your maid to me.

There are, of course, many good reasons to hire help.  I think it's a good choice for many families.  We actually had someone come in for 2 hours a week to clean our apartment the first time we lived in Bishkek. But it's just not what I choose (and I'll only judge you if you tell me they're like family or if you complain about them).

Now I feel better.

*Edited to add a little clarification.  I think gay marriage is logical and inevitable legally and socially. My church will not start performing gay marriages, but I don't think that my opinion on whether God favors gay marriage has much to do with whether or not gay marriage should be legal in the US.  I don't think that the moral opinions of a minority should be the guiding factor in creating US law.  Gay marriage has also moved from the moral realm into the legal and social realm.  It is becoming a civil rights issue. Opposing it will soon be as much of a problem for the opposer as it is to oppose interracial marriage.  This is part of why I think the opposition needs to tone down. Everyone knows who opposes gay marriage.  The message is clear on both sides.  So lets focus on things we can actually change.

30 March 2014

Alhóndiga de Granaditas

The Alhóndiga de Granaditas was another important place early in the Mexican War of Independence.  After El Pipila burned the door, the place was overrun and hundreds of people hiding inside were killed, including members of Spanish and Creole families living in Guanajuato.  Since the town was a major mining place it had many wealthy citizens (and that wealth served to highlight the poverty of the miners who died to get it out).

Four of the main leaders (Hidalgo, Allende, Aldama, and Jimenez) of the insurgents were captured the next year and executed.  Their heads were hung on each corner of the Alhóndiga de Granaditas and left there for 10 years until the war was over and Mexico was independent. 

There is a whole lot more to this story, but that's specifically what happened in this particular building in 1810 and 1811.

I don't have any photos from the inside since there was an addition fee for the camera.  There were some murals and many displays and it was an interesting museum.

29 March 2014

The Pipila

In Guanajuato you can't miss the huge statue overlooking the city.

The story is that the Spanish were holed up in the the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence in the Alhóndiga de Granaditas.  It was easy for them to defend until Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro, a miner from San Miguel de Allende (except it was San Miguel then) strapped a huge rock to his back for protection and set the door on fire.  You can't see it from this angle, but in the statue he's holding a flaming torch.  He's supposed to have painted the door with tar before lighting it.

Anyway, the door burned and the insurgents were able to take over.  I'll write more about than later.

There's a lovely view of the city.  We walked up and back down, since that's more interesting, but there's a funicular you can ride.

28 March 2014


I've mentioned before that I don't see tortas in Guadalajara like they have in Mexico City.  But I finally figured out that there are torta-like things here, but they're called lonches.  I kept seeing lonches advertised and didn't know what they were, but here in Jalisco, they're a Mexican sandwich on good Guadalajara bread, not the wimpy stuff they use in Mexico City.

So here's one way to make your own lonches.

You'll need:

Good bread. If you can get something like a Mexican bolillo, use it.  Use something a bit crusty that isn't hard.
Cheese.  Oaxaca is best, but you can use what you like. Panela is popular for a vegetarian sandwich.
Avocados and tomatoes.
Protein.  Ham, sliched hot dogs, milanesa, scrambled eggs, whatever.
Jalapenos, pickles, salsa, onions to put on top.

Split the rolls and smear one side with avocado and the other with mayo or crema or something else.
Get out a big griddle and heat it.  Throw on your cheese in little piles and start it melting and browning. Start frying the protein.  When the cheese is crunchy and your protein is hot and possibly crunchy, put the protein on top of the cheese for more frying and top with the mayo-smeared bread half.  Cook a bit longer and flip over.  Top with the avocado half and let it cook as much longer as you like.  Add jalapenos, onions, salsa, pickles, or whatever you like and eat it while it's hot.

25 March 2014

Pumpkin Squares

I thought I'd probably posted this a long time ago, but I can't find it, so here's a recipe for something like pumpkin pie except it makes a lot and is easier. It's basically the recipe on the pumpkin can in a 9x13 dish with a more interesting crust, and I add more spices.

Preheat the oven to 175/350. Combine the following and press into a 9x13 dish and bake 15 minutes.

1/2 c oats
1/2 c softened butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c flour

While that's baking, dump the following in the blender and blend.

2 eggs
2 cups pumpkin, or one small can (15 oz)
3/4 cup sugar
12 oz dairy*
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Pour it into the hot baking dish and return to the oven.  Bake for another 35 or so minutes till it's set.

Pumpkin pies often call for evaporated milk.  I usually don't have evaporated milk.  So I might use milk with some cream or coconut milk, or straight coconut milk (which is amazing), and here I'll probably try crema. You can also use milk and add some powdered milk, or use powdered milk with twice the powder as usual, since evaporated milk if just milk with half the water gone. You need something more than whole milk, if possible, although it's not totally essential.

Guanajuato Tunnels

Since Guanajuato is built into hillsides and in riverbeds, it floods.  A lot.  It's also a mining town.  So about 200 years ago someone came up with the bright idea of building tunnels under the city where the rivers could run.  Apparently the idea was approved in the 1820s but nothing was done till the 1880s, and that tunnel appears to have been short and just for taking water out of town instead of taking the entire river underground.  Then there was a huge flood in 1905 and they started tunneling again in 1906. The tunnel in the photo below opened in 1908.

This, however, didn't entirely solve the flooding problems and it wasn't until they dammed the Guanajuato river in the 1960s that the flooding was finally under control (this is different from the Presa de la Olla on the southeast side of town).  Once the dam was built and the tunnels weren't needed for the river anymore, they updated them for traffic.  And that make Guanajuato a very interesting place to drive around. It looks like they might have built the first tunnel specifically designed for cars in the 1950s.

I'd read about the tunnels before we went there, but I hadn't realized people could walk through them. There are stairs for pedestrians to access the tunnels at different places, and you can park in some of the tunnels, which we did because who can pass up a chance to park in a tunnel?

This is probably a good place to mention that it's a much better idea to buy a Guia Roji map in town (we bought one at Oxxo) than to rely on the awful standard tourist map we were given on our last day there.  The first wasn't perfect (because I don't think it's possible to create a perfect map of Guanajuato), but after navigating the city on foot and in the car with that one, I cannot see how anyone could possibly find the tourist map helpful. I saw an older couple trying to use it and wished we didn't still need our map because they were going to spend their day lost. I should have told them to get something better.

San Juan de los Lagos, Part 3

And the rest of the photos.

Mexican Dairy Products, for my Mother

Adobera- Jalisco-style queso fresco that's sold in blocks (hence the name- adobe bricks).  It's good for melting and is mild. It's perfect for queso fundido. I suppose you could try substituting Monterey Jack and I use it whenever I need some sort of mild cheese, or in a pinch, mild cheddar, although it's nothing like cheddar. Some say a mild feta is a good substitute, but it would have to be a very mild feta.

Oaxaca (or quesillo in Mexico City)- String cheese that's coiled into a ball.  It melts nicely too and is stringy, so it's a good idea to pull it apart with your fingers before you melt it.  You could use Mozzarella instead, and I use it in place of Mozzarella here.  But Oaxaca cheese is more fun.

Cotija- This either comes as a fresh, salty white cheese; or it's aged with a creamy color and a yellow rind.  It's much easier to find fresh Cotija (the name comes from the town in Michoacan where it apparently originated) than aged.  Feta can be a good substitute for fresh Cotija (and I use Cotija in place of feta here) and Parmesan is similarish to aged Cotija.  I love aged Cotija on pasta.

Chihuahua- I don't use this one much since adobera is more popular here and I can't tell enough of a difference to make it worth tracking down Chihuahua cheese. You can use a very mild cheddar or Monterey Jack instead.

Panela- I don't get this one very often either.  It's very slightly similar to paneer (sort of between chana and paneer), although it doesn't hold its shape as well when you fry it (you can barely fry it, although it is possible).

Requeson- This is similar to ricotta and I use it in place of ricotta or cottage cheese. It's not salty and it goes well with lots of things.

Manchego- This is not what you'd buy in Spain, or at Trader Joe's.  I like it, but we generally buy something else. It's white and mild and melty and mostly like Monterey Jack.

These last two aren't cheeses:

Crema- Sometimes this is called Mexican sour cream, but it's more like creme fraiche.  I think it's similar to smetana. I do use it in recipes calling for sour cream, but I wouldn't substitute the other way around.  You could try cream with a little sour cream stirred in. Or make your own.  I love this stuff. I've also used it in ice cream. Or just mix it with strawberries and a little sugar.

Jocoque- This one can be a little confusing.  Here in Jalisco it's a fermented sour milk product that's drained and very creamy.  It's not impossible to substitute plain yogurt for it, but it's really not the same (I've tried it).  It is not like tvorog, although it's more like quark.  They also sell Jocoque Arabe here which is pretty much plain yogurt.  I'm guessing since the two are fairly similar that the name (it's a Nahuatl word and refers to an indigenous dairy product, according to someone on Wikipedia) was transferred to yogurt after many Lebanese moved to Mexico. If you know more about jocoque, I'd love to hear it.  Here's what I love to do with it.

24 March 2014

The Cathedral/Basilica at San Juan de Los Lagos

I liked a lot of the artwork at the church depicting various things.  Pope John Paul II visited about 20 years ago.

San Juan de Los Lagos

Since it was on the way home and we didn't have anyone else in the car, we stopped in San Juan de los Lagos.  It's the second largest pilgrimage site in Mexico and I mentioned it when we saw people going there on bicycles.

The city only has about 55,000 people but there can be up to a huge number of pilgrims there (I have 2 million in my head, but I don't know if that's an exaggeration) on major holidays like Candlemas when there really isn't space for everyone.  We were there on the Monday celebrating Benito Juarez's birthday which has no religious significance, but there were still quite a few people in the city. We ended up following a guy on a motorcycle who led us to a parking lot  in a rather crowded part of town so we drove on and found a much better place to park and walked to the church.

We went to the Basilica/Cathedral first.  It houses an image of the Virgin whose first miracle was in 1623 when she healed a little girl who had been injured in a show (and there were quite a few depictions of this event in the church and others in town). She since has had many other miracles ascribed to her.

We went into the area where people had posted photos and letters and all sorts of other things either commemorating their pilgrimage or thanking the Virgin for her help.  The church really is huge- it felt bigger and looked bigger than most any other church we've been to in Mexico. The current building was built in the mid-1700s.

There's also a spring at the Capilla del Pocito where a little girl hit a rock where people visit too.

It really was a quick visit and San Juan de Los Lagos isn't my favorite place in Mexico.  It just all felt very efficient, but I'm very glad we stopped.

I think I have three batches of photos; these first are from the chapel with all of the thank yous.  I wish I knew what these areas are called because we've seen them in several churches.

23 March 2014

Tajik Naan

It's time to post a new flatbread recipe because my current favorite is not here. It's similar to the Afghan naan recipe I posted a long time ago (and is still one of the most popular posts on this blog), but this is one is better, even if it takes longer.  You'll want to start a day or two in advance. This is from Beyond the Great Wall. 

1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 tsp yeast
4-5 cups flour (I always use whole wheat, but you can use white or a mix)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp salt

Pour the water into a large bowl and add a pinch of the yeast- just a few granules.  Add two cups of flour and mix well till you have a smooth, thick batter.  Cover and let rest for 4-24 hours.  Uncover and add the rest of the yeast, then add the yogurt and stir, then add 1/2 cup of flour and mix well. Add the salt and slowly add enough flour to make a soft but not sticky dough. Knead well.  I usually use the mixer.  Cover and let rise for 6-12 hours.

Divide the dough into 12 pieces and flatten each into a thick disk on a floured surface. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  While they're resting, put a stone in your oven if you have one, or a baking sheet, and preheat the oven to 450.  Allow it to keep heating for at least 10 minutes after the oven has come to temperature so the stone will be hotter.  

Once the stone is very hot, flatten one round of dough into a circle about 6 inches across.  I use my fingers instead of a rolling pin.  Experiment to see if you like the breads a little thicker or thinner. Shape about 4-5, then slap each on the baking stone (carefully).  Bake about 7-10 minutes till the breads are brown on the bottom (the baking time is flexible- you can experiment here too), then pull them out with tongs or a spatula.  Repeat with the remaining dough till they're all baked.

22 March 2014

Public Water in Guanajuato

Guanajuato is, obviously, not an easy place to provide public utilities.  Propane is delivered in tanks to houses as it is in a lot of the world, but the delivery people have to work a lot harder to move the propane around since they can't drive on most of the callejones and they're going up and down hills.  They walk around calling out "Gaaaas" and you run out to tell them you want some if you need some.

Electricity is a lot easier to provide and that was everywhere.

Trash pick-up looked the same as other parts of Mexico.  There's a designated trash spot, usually where a truck can get to it, and people can bring out their garbage when the truck comes (cowbells help you know when to come out).  Sometimes people leave trash there early and there are threatening signs about not putting garbage out early, but if no one is ever home when the garbage man comes, what are you supposed to do?  

And we learned a little about the water system after spotting old fountains in the center.  It appears that the World Bank funded a project in the mid-2000s that installed a municipal water system in Guanajuato that now takes water to every house (I hope it's every house).  There still are many people using bottled water (and that's hard to deliver too), but not having to go down the street to fill a container of water is huge.  

And the old fountains can be used as chairs.  Or as a place to mark where the trash-pickup place is. This is only a small selection of the fountains we saw because, well, you're probably not as interested in them as we were.