28 February 2014

Guanajuato

Guanajuato is one of the places I want to visit most in Mexico. It's about three hours from Guadalajara so it's not a huge trip to get there, and everyone says it's a great place to visit.

So here are links:

Tunnel Witches
Cervantino and here too (in October)
Touristy stuff
Blog
Blog
Blog

And there's lots more, but that's enough for now.

26 February 2014

On the Noodle Road

So.  I have opinions about this book.  I read her first book which I liked, although it isn't my favorite book about food in China. This book begins with the author in Italy noticing the same noodle-making techniques that she learned in China.  Well, duh.  But then she decides that noodles must have been invented somewhere between Italy and China and sets off to figure out where. She goes from Beijing west to Xinjiang, and then on through Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, and to Italy.

First, let's get the personal-life stuff out of the way.  You might think this is just a food book, but the author blathers on way too much about her personal life, especially her relationship with her husband, and it isn't even insightful.  She's simply irritating and childish.  And I would have quit if I hadn't nearly been through the book when I got to her opinions about women who "follow" their husbands for their jobs.  Don't both partners have to make compromises sometimes if you want to live in the same house? And who says you're automatically a lunching, tennis-playing snob if you move internationally for your spouse's job?

Second, she was so naive about traveling in Central Asia, Iran, and Turkey, and particularly about the realities of being a woman there (especially for someone with so many opinions on the correct way to be a woman).  I got absolutely nothing useful out of any of that.

Finally, the food part.  This is why I read the book, and it was also a little disappointing, although there were some bright spots.  The China part was good, but then she hit Central Asia and for the rest of the book she griped about plov, even when she wasn't in Plovistan. Yes, you're going to get lots of plov if you show up at strangers' doors in Central Asia asking for food.  It made me wonder how she prepared for the trip.  She writes about doing lots of research and contacting people for the trip, but ends up often clueless or disappointed.  Central Asia isn't the easiest place to research, no, but I can't see how you can say you tried and then not realize the central role plov plays there and that noodles really aren't that big of a deal. Or maybe she was just too far into her idea of a noodle road that she had to pretend it existed?

There were also lots of mistakes.  She kept saying that ash means noodles.  Not really.  Maybe it does in ashlyamfu (I don't know since I don't speak Dungan), but ash is sort of like soup in Farsi and usually doesn't have noodles, and it generally refers to plov in Central Asia (although it's entirely possible it used to refer to noodles before rice took over). I'll skip the rest of the mistake nit-picking here.

She did redeem herself when she liked the ashlyamfu.  I could never have forgiven that.

I actually think a book tracking down the subset of food wrapped in dough (whether it's steamed, fried, boiled, baked or anything else) would be more interesting since I think that type of food is generally more widespread throughout the region she traveled than noodles.

So I can't really recommend it, but I did have fun being irritated by the book.

Street Food

So I'm sitting here eating sun-warmed chopped mangoes that I just bought off the street.  I've eaten lots of amazing street food on three continents, but these mangoes might be the best street food I've ever had.  Except maybe for rajas con queso tamales.  Or hot naan straight out of a tandyr in Bishkek.  Or maybe shwarma in Jerusalem (except for the one that gave me nasty food poisoning).  Or koshari in Cairo.  Or laghman in Urumqi. Or gorditas de natas.  Or ful in Alexandria.

Nope, I think the mangoes win.


25 February 2014

Comala and Colima

Comala is about 2.5 hours away and is a Pueblo Magico.

Here's a blog. And another. You can hike the volcano.  And there's mountain biking.

24 February 2014

The Wilder Life

There was a long discussion about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her life and books on a discussion board recently, and this book was mentioned. It was a great book for when I was a little sick before I got really sick (Harry Potter was perfect at that point).

This was a nice book to read because even though the author loves the Little House books, she's not fanatic about the whole thing.  She did meet a few fanatics on her journey, but the book wasn't over the top at all. She generally hits the right balance between getting into the whole thing and realizing exactly what she's doing.

23 February 2014

Kitchen Chinese

I checked this one out thinking it was non-fiction, so when it turned out to be fiction, I had to adjust my thinking a bit. There were some utterly unbelievable parts, and some annoying parts, and it wasn't as much about food as I would have liked- more about the finding yourself part.  But it wasn't too bad.

22 February 2014

At Home

Do you know what I love about moving often?  It's that I get to be in so many different places, but still be at home.  When you travel you're not really at home. But I almost always get to go to sleep in my own bed no matter where I am and that makes things so much easier for me.  Also, the getting-there part is stressful for me, and traveling has just as much of that as moving does, without getting to be home when you get there.

Of course, I've had lots of moving practice and relatively little traveling practice, so maybe I just need to get out more.  Or maybe that's what a curious introvert does.  If you can always go home at the end of the day, it makes being adventurous easier.

20 February 2014

Mexico DF

We're planning a trip to Mexico City, hopefully soon.  Unlike a lot of expats, we've really done very little traveling, so it'll be fun to go there.  It's usually just called Mexico here (which means I confuse people and am confused often), or you can call it Mexico DF or just DF, like you say Washington DC or just DC.  Or just Washington.

Anyway.  Aside from the obvious tourist things, I'm trying to find ethnic grocery stores.  There obviously are a lot of different ethnicities in Mexcio, especially in Mexico City, but it's still a very Mexican place, especially for a megacity like DF. But I've found some Korean groceries at least and I have high hopes for getting some things that are hard to find in Guadalajara.  There's also supposed to be a Chinatown, but I'm not finding much reason to be optimistic about it, grocery-wise.

Depending on who's counting, DF has over 20,000,000 people.  That's a lot of people.  Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico, but the city itself only has about 1.5 million people and and 4.5 in the metro area.  And Kyrgyzstan only had 5 million people in the whole country.

We're also hoping for a trip to the Yucatan while we're here since that's where Mayan ruins are, which we'll want to see in addition to the Aztec sites around DF.  And Oaxaca.

The Boy Who Could See Demons

I am so behind on reviewing books.  I don't have quite the same incentive now because Amazon keeps track of what I check out or buy, so I haven't reviewed anything since November, apparently.

Anyway, I was enjoying this book and getting nicely sucked in, but then the ending was one of those that, while it wasn't completely unexpected, was thoroughly unsatisfying because what you thought was the problem wasn't actually the problem, so in your mind, nothing actually gets resolved.

19 February 2014

Pleasant Mysteries

I was very pleasantly surprised to find lots of people selling bean sprouts when I got here.  I pickle them for an easy vegetable or to go on banh mi, or stir-fry them plain or with pork, or put them on rice soup, or eat them with pad Thai.

But I cannot figure out what people in Mexico are doing with them, because they're certainly not selling banh mi on the streets.  They're obviously a normal thing or there wouldn't be multiple stands selling them in the tianguis.  But I've never seen them served in a restaurant or in street food and I cannot find any sort of Mexican recipe online or in a cookbook that calls for them.

At least it's a pleasant mystery.

Also, I need to try guanĂ¡bana which recently made an appearance.  Except I don't exactly know how to pick a good one.  That's another pleasant mystery which I shall have to solve.

18 February 2014

I finally found affordable peanuts yesterday.  This is important since there isn't much peanut butter for sale here, and if there is, it's neither healthy nor tasty.  But we went to Abastos yesterday where the prices are always much better and ended up with 10 kilos of peanuts for a little more than $20.

We also got cheaper apples for applesauce since I've never seen it here, which means it probably is here and really expensive.  Most apples here are imported from Washington, although we did find some that were grown in Chihuahua yesterday.  Some day I'll get adventurous and buy the 20-kilo box and make a whole lot.

I can't really complain about the apples because mangoes cost less than they do.  One can live without so many apples if there are mangoes.

Chocolate is also fairly pathetic here. I like the table chocolate for hot chocolate, but it's grainy and not really great for baking.  Chocolate chips are pricey and waxy.  Good chocolate is really expensive.  Mangoes do not replace chocolate.


14 February 2014

Yes!

Olympics spoilers ahead, so stop now if you care.




We were delighted to see Denis Ten from Kazakhstan win the bronze in men's figure skating today.  He won the silver the world championship last year, so he's definitely good, but everyone still ignores him.  Even though he was 9th after the short program, there was such a small difference between 3rd and 9th (just a little more than the difference between first and second) that whoever skated best out of that group was likely to win the bronze. And Denis Ten was that skater.

They didn't broadcast his free skate here, but we'll go back and see it later.  We saw the last 8 or so skaters, and they were all the ones who could beat Ten, so it was exciting for us to watch.  And it'll be obvious in the US that he's going to win something since they'd never, ever show a 9th place skater from Kazakhstan for any other reason.

Go Kazakhstan!

Tacos for Dinner

Whenever we're in a different country there are a few things we eat a lot that we can't really eat anywhere else.  In Kyrgyzstan that was laghman.  Laghman noodles are so time and labor-intensive that I rarely make them, buy I could buy the noodles in the bazaar in Bishkek or Tokmok. Right now we're eating lots of tacos.  Yes, you eat tacos in the US, but they're not much like the tacos here, and you're probably not making them at home.  The biggest difference with making them here is that I can get fresh masa any time I want, so the tortillas are always hot and fresh for dinner. That's not something I'll be able to do in the future, because masa harina tortillas just aren't the same.

We've tried lots of different fillings, and this is the best part because everyone in the family like something.  We always have a couple of salsas and avocados on the side.  My favorite filling is probably flor de calabaza sauteed with onions, garlic, and tomatoes.  We also like arrachera, pibil , beans, scrambled eggs, rajas with cheese, eggs with chorizo, chicken cooked in lots of ways, and so much more.

13 February 2014

Piloncillo

This is the hard cone sugar that Sarah mentioned in the last sugar post.  It's commonly used in champurrado, which I think I've mentioned here and is a drink with chocolate and masa that I love.  If you can't find piloncillo in the US, you can use brown sugar instead.

But I'm in Mexico and need brown sugar which, if I can find it at all, is expensive stuff.  It's one thing to buy a pricey bottle of fish sauce that lasts a long time, but a small box of brown sugar doesn't make a lot of cookies.  So I wanted to see what I could do with the piloncillo since it's cheap and easy to find here.

The trouble was that it's so hard.  People grate it here, but no one in my house was interested in grating 8 or 9 little cones for cookies.  Someone recommended melting it, which I've done for champurrado, but that requires a lot of attention since sugar burns easily.  I may be willing to be a creative cook when I'm overseas, but I'm not willing to watch a pot of sugar or grate my fingers.

So I tried bashing it to pieces with a rolling pin.  And, wonder of wonders, it softened up nicely after lots of satisfying whacks. I used it in place of brown sugar in our favorite cookies (that call for peanut butter and chocolate chips which are two totally separate posts) and it was perfect.

It's always so nice when you find a decent substitute that doesn't require much effort.  I can deal happily with whacking sugar.

11 February 2014

Huejotzingo

Carnival is coming up soon, and while it's not quite as big a deal in Mexico as some other Catholic countries, there are still many places that celebrate.  Most aren't very close to us, but the one in Huejotzingo might be a possibility sometime.

Everything is supposed to start on the Saturday before Lent begins which is March 1st this year and February 14 next year. There are parades, reenactments of the battle of Pueblo (the Cinco de Mayo battle (and Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday here, nor is it Independence Day which is in September, and I've always wondered why it became so popular in the US when it's not widely celebrated in Mexico)), the abduction of the daughter of the Corregidor, and the first Catholic wedding in Mexico.  There's also massive amounts of gunpowder involved. Quite the varied event, and Wikipedia has more about it.



Azucar Mascabado

Brown sugar like you buy in the US is difficult to find here, but there are a few new sugars to try besides your typical white sugar.  One is piloncillo which I don't have much to say about yet, but I'm having trouble figuring out the mascabado sugar.  You'd think it was muscovado sugar, but it's not at all sticky.  In fact, I'm suspicious that it's just white sugar that's been dyed brown which isn't at all what I want.  But I cannot find anything that really tells me what it is we're eating.

08 February 2014

Sochi Stuff

I loved the opening ceremony.  I'm usually not a big fan of them or get bored and quit watching, but not this one.  I thought they did a wonderful job of showing the best of Russia, and it was so very Russian.  I also loved the way they used light and darkness, and wasn't that ship amazing?  And the constellations at the end.  I even loved the colorful bouncing onion domes.

As for people griping that journalists are complaining about first world problems in their hotels, well, when you spend $50 billion on an event and can't even attach the doorknobs correctly, you're going to get complaints.  $50 billion is more than what was spent on every other winter Olympics combined. If Russia had spent a reasonable amount of money then I'd be happy to excuse non-first-world accommodations.

And I knew it was just a matter of time before someone got locked in somewhere.  A US bobsledder had to break down his bathroom door to get out.  So, so common.  Except the breaking the door part. We had one apartment in Bishkek in particular where we learned to never, ever close the doors tightly because you never knew if they'd open again.

06 February 2014

Sochi Hotels

You've probably seen this, but our family is having way too much fun reliving memories of Kyrgyzstan when we see these and these.  Window treatments falling, no water, no heat, yellow water, uncovered manholes, broken elevators, doorknobs coming off, wild dogs, no flushing toilet paper, it's all happened to us. But we've only ever had one toilet per bathroom. And we've never been told to not go fishing in it. (And do I even want to know what the final thing is you're not supposed to to in the toilet?) (And, really, what were they thinking when they awarded the Olympics to Sochi?)


05 February 2014

In Defense of Plov

I've been reading a book where the author, a Chinese-American chef, is traveling through Central Asia.  Since she's moving through places quickly and arranged things far China, she's treated as a guest in most places she visits.  And that means she's eating lots and lots of plov.

And, as it turns out, one plate of plov would have been enough for her.  By the end of her road through several of the Stans, she's heartily sick of plov and keeps saying so. I can understand this.  It can be boring to eat something similar over and over. Non-Central-Asians complain about the prevalence of plov all the time in Central Asia.

But plov is Central Asia's guest food and its comfort food.  Just like you could expect to be served meat and potatoes in the US (although this is finally changing) or congee for breakfast in China, you can expect to be served plov when you're a guest in someone's home, or at any event.  We're not necessarily any more creative with our food, so I don't think it's really fair to complain about plov being everywhere in Central Asia.

Plov makes sense too.  Rice isn't cheap in Central Asia, but it's not prohibitively expensive for many people.  Plov is also great company food because you get a nice dish for relatively little effort.*  I usually make plov for guests now** just because it's so easy, and it leaves plenty of time to clean up the kitchen before anyone arrives. And it really is comfort food.  When I've not been feeling well and just need something simple and delicious, I don't turn to traditional American comfort food anymore.  I just want plov.

*I think this is really important.  Central Asian women have an incredible amount of work to do and I'll never begrudge anyone making plov for me instead of something far more time-consuming. Also, its timing is flexible and if your guests are late, the plov won't be ruined.

**In Central Asia, I'd make a Pakistani pulao when I had Kyrgyz or Uzbeks over for dinner. It was still familiar, but no one would compare it to their plov, which was always better than mine.  Of course.

04 February 2014

03 February 2014

Tlajomulco Part 1

This is a larger town southwest of Guadalajara.  Its major fiesta is December 8 when its Cofradia chooses its new leader for the year. We, unfortunately, weren't able to go last year and I doubt we'll be able to this year since it's on a Monday.  I've also had a really hard time getting much information about this in English. I have a long thing about it in Spanish that I'm going to have to work through.















02 February 2014

Santa Anita

This is a little town southwest of Guadalajara that we visited a couple of weeks ago.  The image of the Virgin at the church there is thought to work miracles and there was an area of the building where there were many prayers and photos of people who had been healed.  

I wish I could go there today for Candlemas since it's one of their big holidays.  There was lots of fiesta equipment crowded on one of the streets near the church and people said it was for today.







Home Again

So I'm home. I promise I won't turn this into a blog about my medical woes, because that would be even more boring than reading about the antics of my youngest child.  But let me just say (because I can't  remember if I said it before) that IV hydration is amazing.

As I was sitting in the hospital, I thought that even more than the significantly better accommodations here than in Kyrgyzstan, and the better everything, actually, the important difference is that I trusted and felt comfortable with my doctor and hospital.  Let me be clear: I do no necessarily think the medical practice in Kyrgyzstan is untrustworthy (although corruption is a concern).  It's just a completely different mindset.  While I could answer questions here in Mexico, I couldn't ask questions, but I wasn't worried that anyone was doing anything dicey when they came and injected something into me, or that someone was going to make a deadly mistake. I felt like I was in good hands. I wouldn't have felt that way in Kyrgyzstan.*

Also, having Internet access was great because I could answer my own questions. I didn't get a lot of explanations about anything, even from my doctor who speaks English but wasn't at all chatty, but I could always look anything up online and answer my own questions.  And what's the Internet for, if not to get a second opinion about everything medical?

*At least with the resources we had access to, especially the second time. Now, with a better job and connections, I wouldn't be anywhere near as concerned.