26 November 2014

So I was back in the hospital for a night last week because I broke my foot quite thoroughly and needed surgery.  But this time there were no food restrictions and I finally got to eat breakfast there.  It was green chilaquiles, yakult, a cheese pastry, orange juice, and a thick, warm pink drink.  I skipped the warm pinkness, but the rest was delicious.  You should go to Mexico for your medical procedures not only for the savings, but for the food.

Now I am sore, sore, sore from the crutches.  They don't do knee walkers here (we tried really hard),  so the combination of stairs and crutches has worked muscles I didn't even know I had.  My youngest still thinks the crutches are amazing.  Except he calls them crunches and I cannot correct him.

So I get to spend Thanksgiving, two birthdays, our anniversary, Christmas, and New Years on crutches. But I should be good to go to the Yucatan in January so I'm not complaining.  I'm also not complaining that there's absolutely no way I can do the laundry.

23 November 2014

Deadline and Blackout

I had a crazy amount of time to read in the last 24 hours and made it through about 900 pages.  It was so nice I had both of these books to read.  

They're violent and there's so much swearing that it is, to me, completely useless and ignorable. There are some disturbing moments.  But when you really, really need something to fill up a day?  This is perfect.

21 November 2014

The Romanovs: The Final Chapter

This is about the location and identification of the remains of the Romanov family, plus the various people who claimed to be Romanovs, and also various Romanovs relations.  It was written almost 20 years ago so it's a bit out of date in several ways, partly because of later discoveries and major changes in Russia and I already knew the story, but it was an interesting read.

20 November 2014


There are major protests planned in Mexico DF, and here too, because of the murder of 43 students in September.  If you don't know what I'm talking about read this, because this matters.

18 November 2014

The Parrot

I think I've mentioned the obnoxious parrot that lives across the street that often sounds like a whining child. In addition to the whining, it also has a selection of various squawks and whistles and a few words and phrases, including ven (come) and voy (I'm coming).

So it was a holiday yesterday and two kids were in the playground in the morning and heard the parrot.  I don't know why they decided it was their friend Pablo, but they spent nearly an hour calling to the parrot, telling it to come play with them in the playground.  The parrot alternated between saying ven and voy while the boys told it they were in the playground, or that they didn't know which house to go to and to come to the playground instead.  Finally they yelled that they weren't going to be Pablo's friend anymore because he wasn't coming even though he said he would.  Poor Pablo.

Small Batch Tamales, First Round

We had our first tamale fest this weekend.  This round was to work on trying different styles of masa and to figure out if I have the right equipment.

I'm not really planning on using masa harina while I'm here so all of these start with fresh masa.  You can probably find fresh masa in Latino grocery stores in the US, or you can reconstitute some masa harina, or you can wait till I have no fresh masa and work out a good recipe using harina.

I was able to make 18 small tamales using a small collapsible steamer and a 4-quart 8-inch pot that's about 5-6 inches tall. But it was tricky, so I'm getting a taller pot that's slightly wider.  I wouldn't get one just for tamales, but I already needed one for homemade pasta (I can make pasta for 3 in a 4-quart pot, but we need something larger for the whole family) and I didn't want to get one just for that, but it's worth it now.

You could use a shorter, wider 6-quart or 8-quart pot, but there's no way I'm going to bother with wrapping and tying the tamales completely so I need them to stand up straight.  If you wrap and tie better than I do, you have more pot options.

I used simple fillings this time instead of making them (rajas with adobera, potatoes with chorizo, chicken and salsa verde, Mexican chocolate, and pecans).  There are so many options for tamale fillings.  That shouldn't be your biggest concern, although a bad filling can obviously ruin a tamale.

So, the masa.  Pork lard is what's traditionally used, but I'm just not a lard person.  Also, there is certainly no pork lard in Riyadh so I don't want to rely on that.  I tried butter, mashed potato, and coconut milk (for sweet tamales) instead.  You're supposed to whip it forever, but I don't have a mixer and there's no way I'm whipping by hand so I used my blender.  I never passed the float test but the masa worked for me.  I am obviously not a perfectionist though. You're looking for something like really thick cake batter.  Some people use an ice cream scoop to give you an idea of how thick they have it, but mine wasn't quite that thick and it worked.

The basic idea is to whip up your butter/potato/coconut milk/lard/whatever, then add the masa, enough broth/milk for the right consistency, and some salt and some baking powder if you like.  You spread that on cornhusks, add a filling, fold, and steam for an hour.  It took about 5-10 minutes to make the masa and another ten to make the tamales.  The steaming obviously takes a long time, but it's nice to have some time while they're cooking.

The potato version took longer to cook and was just a touch stickier, but the flavor was really good.  I used about 2/3 of a cooked potato with a little over a pound of masa, along with about 2/3 cup broth, 3/4 tsp salt, and a bit of baking powder.

For the butter, I used a little over a pound of masa, about 2/3 cup butter, and the broth, salt, and baking powder.

Sweet tamales can use the lard and broth which is yummy, but butter and milk are also used.  Since I'd already done butter, I wanted to try something else and thought of the coconut milk.  I used that in place of both the fat and liquid and it worked well.  I also added about 1/2 cup sugar to the masa for the sweet tamales and a little less salt.

I liked all three versions and would use them all again.

This is just the beginning of the tamale fest.  After I've done more testing, I'll do some recipes with photos too.  But I definitely think it's very possible to make a small batch of tamales for dinner without making it a huge production.

Daughter of the Forest

I liked this a lot.  And best of all, it's an old series.

17 November 2014


We went to the ocean, finally, last weekend.  There's so much to see in Mexico that going to the beach wasn't really high on my list, especially to touristy, hot, humid places.  Manzanillo isn't so touristy, at least with foreign tourists, and we stayed near Santiago beach rather than near the port so it was still beautiful.  And best of all, a storm blew in halfway through and cooled things down nicely.  That storm had wandered up to Guadalajara by the time we got home and it was lovely and cool here.

We drove up the coast about 40 miles to Melaque also.

Santiago beach was wonderful for playing in the water.  There was a shallow part a bit out into the water which made it easy to get out into the bigger waves, and that shallow part also made the waves do interesting things.  It was so nice for everyone.

16 November 2014

El Chanal, Comala, and La Campana

We were in Colima last weekend and stopped at two archaeological sites and a Pueblo Magico.  The first photos are from El Chanal, then the church in Comala, then La Campana.

El Chanal was reasonably interesting, but La Campana is definitely worth a stop.  The best part was its shaft tomb that you can walk down to.  Shaft tombs are common in western Mexico, but this is the first place we've been allowed to see one.

15 November 2014


This is a collection of short stories by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson.  I never can quite decide how I feel about short stories and this book was no exception.  Some were better than others, as always, but too often when I like a short story, it's too short and it feels like something is missing.

But I still liked the book.

14 November 2014

The Book of Life

So I finished the series.  This was way better than the second book, which isn't saying much, but it still didn't live up to the promise of the first book.

I thought it was unfortunate that the witch parts weren't as well-developed as the vampire parts.  Well-developed isn't really the right word for it though, since the vampire parts throughout the series were overwrought and complicated.  I just don't care about vampires; witches are much more interesting.  And there was so much more than could have been done with daemons.  I thought all the vampire politics and posturing ended up dominating and pretty much ruining what could have been an amazing series.

13 November 2014

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

I liked this.  I'm not really the type who'd buy turkeys and let a goat hang out in the house, but I loved Reese's writing style

I do think that if you're going to go in for homemade stuff that you're probably not going to be shopping at Safeway buying expensive little bags of beans.  Her homemade prices were pretty high (and I lived in Seattle at the same time she was researching for this book, so I know you can go a lot cheaper), but for tentative first steps, you're probably going to buy things at Safeway rather than in bulk.

12 November 2014

Small Batch Tamales

I have things I want to learn how to make well before I leave Mexico. I don't necessarily need to, since there's no point in making, for example, tamales when they're so cheap and delicious here, but I'll need them in Saudi. And it's easier to have to substitute ingredients if you've made it the real way a few times.

But tamales have always seemed like something I wouldn't make at home.  Lots of stuff, meat that cooks for days, filling so many little things.  It just all seemed terribly complicated even if you ended up with five dozen tamales.  I don't want 60 tamales in the freezer. I'm not nice enough to make 60 tamales and give them away. And there's no way I'm hassling with a moving a pot large enough to steam 60 tamales.

Then I was sitting in the hospital earlier this year watching a cooking show (best thing about that hospital stay) and the cooking woman made 10 tamales.  Just 10. Enough for dinner.  It took her a few minutes to make them. She used normal pots.  And I was amazed.

So that's one of my projects for the next few months, in addition to the enchilada testing.  I'm going to figure out how to make our favorite tamales with ingredients a person can get or take anywhere, not just in Mexico, and requiring normal dishes and amounts of time.  Tamales a person can make for dinner  if you have time to steam them, not tamales that take all day long.

The Alice Behind Wonderland

So I tried another Simon Winchester.  The only reason I made it through this one was because it was an audiobook and it was really short because, as usual, the book wasn't about the Alice behind Wonderful, but it was about whatever Winchester felt like writing about.  So it was about early photography and a little tiny bit about Alice, but mostly Winchester's ramblings about Carrol's feelings about Alice as shown in his photos.  Blah blah blah.

After reading some other reviews, I'm glad I listened to it since I was able to look up the photos online as Winchester was talking about them.  Apparently they're not in the book which seems rather unfortunate for a book about photography.

Stellar review, right?

11 November 2014

Ghost Soldiers

Military history really isn't my thing, but I thought I'd try this one since it wasn't just about battles.  It didn't change my mind at all about military history (I don't think it's really possible to write about war without dehumanizing at least some of the people), but it was still interesting.

10 November 2014

Because I Said So

This was a fun book to listen to.  Nothing amazing, but good.

09 November 2014


Last of all we went to a few cemeteries at dusk.  We just missed two of them as they were closing, unfortunately (although we explored an interesting part of town we hadn't been in), but we were able to see the cemetery in San Juan de Ocatan.  This is a very poor part of the city (actually a little town that Guadalajara has expanded toward) and the feel was very different on the 2nd from wealthier areas like Tlaquepaque and Chapala.  There was no evidence of the Day of the Dead on the streets, no banners, no altars outside, no flowers for sale.  But there were people selling flowers in the parking lot for the small cemetery and the cemetery itself was filled with flowers, although few banners again since they're relatively expensive. It was a different feel again from the cemetery we went to last year, but still very beautiful.  We arrived as they were doing mass.

08 November 2014


And a quick stop in Ajijic.

07 November 2014

Chapala Altars

They were setting up the altars in Chapala while we were there on Sunday around noon.

06 November 2014

A Few More Catrinas

These are from Guadalajara and Chapala.  I love to see the different things they're made from.

05 November 2014

Tlaquepaque Altars

There was a big exhibition inside the Refugio which used to be a hospital and now is a museum and cultural events building in Tlaquepaque.  We skipped the exhibition but were able to go in the back door to see their altars.  They were lovely and creative.

Someone had also set up a representation of a shaft tomb (tumba de tiro).  He didn't convince me that today's altars stem from ancient shaft tombs, but maybe it's true.  I loved how they'd set it up, especially with native plants, and he even took our camera so he could get us some better shots from within the tomb.

04 November 2014