30 September 2014

One Year

In a few hours we'll have officially lived in Guadalajara for one year.  So here's what works here (and one bit about what doesn't).

The food.  I haven't eaten in restaurants that much since it isn't my thing, but the street food and cooking at home have both been amazing and so much fun.  And I still have a million things to try.

The weather.  It does get too hot in the spring and I definitely miss the rain and clouds then (and I'd love to have some snow), but overall the climate here is really nice.  I love the rainy season and its greenness.  I love that even when it's the hottest time of the year, it still cools off at night and it's really only hot for a few hours in the afternoon.  I love the cloudiness in the summer and fall.

Elementary schools.  There are a lot of great schools for younger children here.  My youngest is so happy at school.

Getting around.  I can walk to most everything to need to I rarely have to drive, but driving isn't bad here at all (especially after driving in the DF)  and no one minds if I make a mistake because I'm lost. And it's easy to get out and see Mexico.

Things to do.  I love that we can see historical, cultural, and natural sites all over the place.  We can go to the ocean, climb pyramids, see festivals, and so much more.  Mexico is completely fascinating in every way.

There are two things I'm not thrilled with here.  I wish we had translation at church or some way to interact with English-speaking teens online and I wish the high school choices were better. The combination of those two things have made it hard for my older boys.  But there is hockey and that makes a huge difference for my middle son.

29 September 2014

The Whispering Skull

I didn't blog about this one for a long time because I hate it when anything I ever read by Jonathan Stroud ends. And blogging about it means it's really over.

This is at least as good as the first book in the series.  It's still different from Bartimaeus, of course, but I love this series.  I'm really looking forward to the last one.

26 September 2014

On Reading and Readers

Something that we hear all the time right now is that we need to make sure children are being raised as readers.  I'm a reader so I think this is a great idea.  Reading is a valuable skill and everyone needs to be encouraged and taught to make sure they are as able as possible to be competent readers. But I don't think that means that we can make the whole world enjoy reading, and I don't think that should be the goal any more than I think that everyone should want to write or do math in their spare time.  Reading, like math and writing, is a very important skill, but it's not necessary to love it. It's just necessary to know how to do all three well and be able to use them as needed.

My husband, despite multiple advanced degrees including a PhD, is not a reader.  He usually reads a lot (not so much now with this job), but he rarely picks up a book just for fun, and if he does, it's always non-fiction.  He has read exactly one novel since I met him and that was To Kill A Mockingbird in 1998.  And that's okay.  He doesn't have to be a reader.

Also, I've seen my own reading habits change a lot at different times in my life.  I read less now than I used to a few years ago, for a lot of reasons.  I still read a lot, but it's different.  And that's not bad.  The number of books you read doesn't say anything about you except how much you like to read (or what your job requires, sometimes).

So I'll keep making sure that reading is emphasized in our house, that math is always going on, and that my children learn to write well.  They need to learn all those skills well.  But I'll let them choose if any of those are what they want to spend a lot of time on.

25 September 2014

Cornbread

1 cup flour
1 cup cracked cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup oil

Mix dry ingredients together. Add eggs, milk, oil. Bake in a greased 8x8 dish at 425 for 20-25 minutes.

100% Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

This is the basic pizza dough I make.  It's enough for 2 12x18 pizzas and is based on the recipe from Flatbreads and Flavors. It's not a last-minute recipe so you'll want to start at least three hours ahead, or even in the morning because it's really flexible on that end. You can also put the dough in the fridge after it rises and use it a day or two later.  Let it come to room temperature before working with it.

2 1/4 cups warm water
3/4 tsp yeast
6 cups or so of whole wheat flour
1/2 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Combine the water and yeast, then add 1.5 cups of flour and mix well.  Add another 1.5 cups and stir 100 times, or for about a minute, in the same direction.  Cover and let rest for 30 minutes to three hours.

Add the salt and oil, the slowly add enough flour and knead to create a soft, not-too-sticky dough.  Shape into a ball and let rise for 3 hours.  If you're not ready to bake it yet, you can punch it down and let it rise again.

Press half the dough into a 12x18 baking dish, top with whatever you like, and bake on a baking stone at 450 for about 10 minutes, or till it's done the way you like it.

Taco Fillings

When I make tacos, I usually do four different fillings.  I don't have recipes for all of them since I buy a few here (especially the arrachera, pibil, and picadillo).  I also need to work on a few more recipes using chicken and chorizo.


Flor de Calabaza 

Oil
1 small onion, chopped
A bunch of minced garlic
2-4 tomatoes, chopped
3 bunches of squash flowers (about 35), stems removed, rinsed, and chopped
Some rajas, if you want
Salt

Saute the onion in the oil till it's soft, then toss in the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the tomatoes.  Let them cook down for about 5-10 minutes, then add the squash flowers, rajas, and salt.  Cook for a couple more minutes till it's a little drier.

Queso Fundido 

Buy some good Mexican cheese than melts.  We like adobera best.  Oaxaca is stringy, the hard cheese usually don't melt well, panela is bland, chihuahua is good, manchego (Mexican-style) is good too.  Or you can just use whatever you can find.  Dump it in a cast iron pan and cook it till it's lovely and melty. You can also get it with chorizo here which is yummy too.

Beans

There are a million ways to do beans.  I cheat and keep it really simple. I don't care what kind you use.  I've used so many different beans that I can't imagine it really matters.  Here I like Flor de Mayo.  Pinto beans certainly aren't required and they're not common in Guadalajara.

Rinse some beans.  Dump them in a crockpot with some water, a coarsely chopped onion or two, and a bunch of chopped garlic.  Cook them till they're done.  You can presoak, but even with my hard water, I can cook them in the crockpot before dinner if I start in the late morning or early afternoon.  When they're cooked, pour out some of the water so they're not too soupy, then add some salt and spices if you like (I just do cayenne, but coriander and cumin are really good), then blend it all up.

Avocado

This hardly needs a recipe, but I usually make this when we have tacos.  I just mash up some avocados and add salt and lime.  I like one small lime per avocado.

Eggs

There are so many ways to prepare eggs for tacos.  You can just scramble them for picky eaters, or add some salsa, or cook them with onion and garlic. Or a million other things.

Potatoes

Saute some chopped onions, then add some chopped potatoes.  I usually cook them in the microwave for a few minutes to get them started.

Eggs and Potatoes with Salsa Verde

One of my favorites is to cook the potatoes as above and scramble some eggs.  When the potatoes and onions are cooked, add the eggs and some green salsa and cook another minute or two. Chorizo is nice too.

Rajas con Crema

3-5 poblanos, roasted, steamed, peeled, and cut into thin strips
1 large onion, very thinly sliced
A few tablespoons of oil
A bit of chopped garlic, if you like (I like)
1/2-1 cup crema, or cream (not sour cream for this one)
Salt to taste
Spice to taste

Cook the onions slowly over medium heat till they're sweet and golden, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and rajas and cook for a couple more minutes, then add the crema and seasonings to taste. Simmer for a couple more minutes and serve.

Rajas con Queso

Turn a few poblanos into rajas and fill a taco with them and some cheese.

Masa Achiote Chicken

Marinate some chicken in equal parts achiote paste and Seville orange juice, along with some minced garlic, then cook it and shred it.  It might need a little salt.

Nopales

Zucchini with Corn and Crema

23 September 2014

Picadillo and Stuff

I really, really try to not snack too much when I go to the tianguis.  Maybe if I only went once a week or less it would be different, but when I go three times a week, it's just better that way.  Because it's just too tempting.  There are amazing tacos on handmade tortillas, all kinds of gorditas, amazing fresh fruit drinks, and so much more to buy.  And everyone is willing to give you a sample of what they're selling.

Chava the dairy guy gives the best samples of all. He gives out tortillas filled with beans or picadillo and topped with fresh panela, or tostadas with different cheeses and salsas.  I usually decline, but yesterday he insisted that I try the picadillo.  It was so good with shredded meat and potatoes and I couldn't help buying a little for lunch today, at least for the boys, because with two tortillas, a lot of picadillo, and some cheese (and the raspberry pastries I bought for me and the boys on the way home), I just didn't need anything else.

I keep thinking that I really need to practice making Mexican food more often so I can keep making it when we leave (it's going to be so much more fun to go to Mexican groceries in the US now), but it's almost impossible to have any incentive to do so when people hand you amazing Mexican food whenever you go shopping. 

22 September 2014

On Parables

Parables came up a few times yesterday while I was listening to a New Testament class and also in the morning when I was talking to my husband about a recent Mormon Message.  I was explaining what I liked and didn't like about the video and its takeaway, and he asked if there was a Thus We See*, which there clearly was. I wasn't entirely comfortable with it, even though I agree completely with the quote from President Hinckley.  If there had to be a Thus We See, I'd have picked a different one.

So later that evening when we were talking about parables in the New Testament class, I realized that one reason why I like parables is that Jesus usually doesn't tell us how we're supposed to interpret them. Jesus gives us something to think about and discuss instead of giving us answers and solutions.  Parables invite discussion because they're not interpreted for us.  I've sat through more than one lesson where discussion about something was shut down because someone official had given the "right" interpretation. There is very often value in discussion.

These parables without answers, especially from Jesus, are important in another way.  Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable if someone, especially someone in authority, suggests a different interpretation if a formal interpretation has already been offered (even if the person giving the formal interpretation didn't mean it to be a Thus We See).  Because Jesus himself leaves the discussion, thought, and interpretation up to us, I think it encourages us to talk and think about them and hopefully removes some concern about doing that.

So back to the video.  I would love to see this shown in a variety of Relief Societies, or in a place where we can comment, without any Thus We Sees.  Then I'd like to have a good discussion about what different women got out of the video.  There would be lots of different interpretations and messages and I think the thought and discussion would be valuable.  At the very least, the video wouldn't be reduced to either a validation of the sacrifices mothers make or a inadvertent or subtle Mormon Mother Martyr message.

*Mormon, the man we believe complied the Book of Mormon, loved to use accounts of historical events to teach lessons, and you always know what the lesson is because he says, "And thus we see..."  

21 September 2014

Tequila Volcano

This volcano is easy to hike.  I wasn't in decent shoes but you're on a paved path the entire time, unless you go down in the caldera.  Also, I was sick and made it to the top, so if you ever want to be on top of a volcano, this is a good choice.

The drive up was pretty slow and took nearly an hour to the gate where you can park and continue walking.  The road will fork later.  Each goes to a different set of cell phone towers on opposite rims of the crater.  The road that goes to the right ends up closer to the spine if you want to hike down to it and climb it.  But neither side is far away.

The first photo is from the rim and looking across the crater to the other set of towers.  The other is down the volcano.




20 September 2014

Tequila

We went to La Cofraida for their factory tour and wandered around the center a bit.







Marquesitas

I found another reason to visit the Expiatorio besides all the other reasons I love that church.  There's a marquesita stand in front.  They're sort of crunchy crepes from Merida and a woman here in Guadalajara is trying to franchise some stands here.  She was an unusually good street vendor and you could tell she was different from the people who've had a stand for 50 years and are doing it because it was there in the family.

We tried one with nutella and cheese.  I'm not the biggest fan of nutella, but the cheese helped it, and my husband thought the cheese was too strong for the nutella, so it was just right for us to share.  She had a lot of different toppings and I'm planning on going back, and not just for the church. :)

ETA later that there is now another stand on Chapultepec and Lopez Cotilla and another stand somewhere else that I can't remember.  This one of my favorite street food options in Guadalajara.

19 September 2014

Tequila Art






18 September 2014

Independence Day, Monday Night

Mexico is smart and has its big Independence Day party on the night of September 15th, then you get the 16th off.  That means you have a day to recover from staying up way too late the night before.

Since parties don't start early here, we arrived at the first one around 9.  It was at one of our church buildings, although not the one we go to.  They were just finishing a program inside so we got in line for the food.  They had tables for tamales, tostadas, tacos dorados, elotes, tortas ahogados, drinks, and I don't know what else.  We got the first three and they were delicious, of course. Then there was more singing and dancing, but we left around 10:30 to go to the Basilica of Zapopan.

The Basilica was amazing.  We got there just as they were doing the Grito, then saw the fireworks and, best of all, a light show on the Basilica. I loved it.  Then we looked around a bit more, got some churros, and made it home by 12:30.  It was a great evening. And I can't help posting a lot of photos.










17 September 2014

Independence Day Charreria

There was a lot going on around during for Independence Day and different people in the family did different things.  I didn't make it to the charreria, but my husband and two sons did.








15 September 2014

Moctezuma Uruapan Chocolate

Some friends gave us a package of Moctezuma chocolate a few months ago and I've been waiting for some cooler weather to make some hot chocolate.  It wasn't exactly cool today, but it was cloudy and rainy and cooler than usual.  And I've been making applesauce so the house smells like fall and that makes me feel cooler too.

Anyway.  He gave us darker Moctezuma Uruapan chocolate and it's quite delicious, although a lot less sweet than regular table chocolate and not such a hit with the boys.  But that means more for me.

I'm pretty sure it would be a worthwhile project to test all the different table chocolates we can find this winter.

14 September 2014

Stations of the Cross at the Capilla del Antiguo Hospital de Indios

I loved the stations of the cross at this church.  They were high and difficult to photograph.






13 September 2014

12 September 2014

Independence Day

We just missed Independence Day last year and it's likely we'll leave just before it next year, so this is our one chance to be here for the holiday on the 16th.  There are more fireworks every night as it gets closer and more flags sprouting up everywhere.  We're aware of events starting tonight and continuing on till Tuesday.  And I'm hearing stories about lots and lots of good Mexican food.  I'm thinking this is going to be a good one.

Odds and Ends

Warning to my spider-hating sister.  You might want to skip this one.  Or just the photo at the end.  The rest is not scary.

My youngest son who goes to school leaves 45 minutes earlier this year than last year.  I don't really like it.  It's the first time I've ever had to consistently wake a child up and it just feels wrong.  But it is nice to have his carpool come at 7:30 so I can get the cleaning for the day out of the way by 8.  Because if I don't clean a little every day, this house takes over my life.

Actually, I am waking up the older two boys too, but that's not till 9.  I feel no guilt waking people up at 9 even if I wish I could let them sleep as long as they wanted.  But we tried that last year it didn't work.  And both have a lot more work this year.

Today's new thing at the tianguis will hopefully be fresh mint.  It's not technically new, but since I haven't tried to buy it here before, it counts.  I really want these kebabs for dinner.

I cannot understand why we don't have more bugs in our house.  There are cracks and gaps everywhere that bugs can crawl through, but they don't.  All my neighbors have bugs and spray for them, but not us.  I'm wondering if the previous tenants did some super spray, but it's been over a year and it couldn't last that long.

But I did bring in a spider with the sheets yesterday from the line.  I had to find a quarter since I didn't think people would know the size of a 10 peso coin. I'm pretty sure it's a harmless Green Lynx spider.  From what I could find, this one was unusually large.



11 September 2014

Oatmeal Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oats (if you use old-fashioned oats, soak them for a while in the milk)
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder or 3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk or 1 cup water and 1/4 cup regular powdered milk (or 1/3 cup instant)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg

Combine the dry ingredients then stir in the wet ones. Bake at 200/400 for about 15 minutes. If you use powdered milk, add it to the dry ingredients and mix before adding the water, oil and egg.
I miss laghman.


10 September 2014

Since I'm a firm believer that I have to spend at least two hours a day to make it worth studying a language, that's what I'm doing with Arabic now.  Two hours is a big chunk of time to devote to something each day when you're also homeschooling two children in high school, still learning about Mexico (even if I'm not doing Spanish) and doing all the other things I have to do (like cleaning this house).  So blogging doesn't seem to be happening.  It also makes me glad I didn't do this with Spanish.

I was told today by my Arabic teacher that the Levantine Arabic I speak will be understood in Riyadh.  If that's the case, I'm saved.

It would be lovely if there were a way to see into the future to know if a language were worth learning.

05 September 2014

Queso Chiapas

This week's new thing is queso chiapas.  There's a dairy truck that's often across the street and since I was on that side of the road (it's a 6-lane road, so I don't usually just wander down that side, but the bakery with the ham and cheese and raspberry and cheese pastries is on that side of the road and it was calling me today), I was reading the sign and saw queso chiapas.  It's not cheap, but I tried it and bought a hunk and we'll figure out some good ways to eat it.

It's Santa Cruz brand and is a very rich and dry cream cheese.  It's also fairly sharp.  I don't think I've ever had anything quite like it before so I can't compare it to anything and I'm having trouble finding much out about it.



04 September 2014

Secret Daughter

I had a couple of hours today to sit and read while I was waiting for someone and picked this one up. It's a quick read and I generally liked it.

I didn't love most of the characters.  Somer was boring and irritating, Krishnan was just boring, Asha improved as the book went on, and we didn't get anywhere near enough of Kavita and Jasu. And the plot skimmed over a lot of sticky points, especially in India.

It would be a good one for a book group, if I ever get to go to one again.

03 September 2014

Western Mexico (sort of) Archaeological Sites

We visited as many INAH sites as we could around the DF, but there just aren't as many in this part of Mexico.  But here's what we can do, except for ones in Michoacan and Zacatecas.  I really want to go to La Quemada at least, but as of right now we're not allowed to drive there.  I'm going to have to keep an eye on the rules.  I don't think we'll get lucky enough that we can go to Michoacan sites.

Guadalajara:

El Grillo and Ixtepete are both off the pereferico on this side of town.  They'll be easy Sunday afternoon trips, or maybe even weekday ones. Also, it looks like El Diente has something to see.  The boys go out there for rock climbing, so maybe I'll tag along sometime.

That's it for Jalisco, except for Guachimontones.

Nayarit:

Ixtlan del Rio is just past Jalisco on the toll road going past Tequila.  It takes less than two hours to get there and is an easy drive.

Colima:

El Chanal and La Campana are both near Colima.  We've been planning to do a weekend trip there where we can see these sites and climb the volcano. It's about 2.5 hours to Colima.

Guanajuato:

These are further away, generally 3-4 hours depending on how far out of the way we have to go to avoid Michoacan.  We've been to Canada de la Virgin and I want to see Plazuelas, Peralta, and El Coporo.


Queretaro:

This isn't in western Mexico, but El Cerrito is near Queretaro and I hope we get to visit Queretaro someday instead of just driving though it.



02 September 2014

Water

There are good things and bad things about being the type of expats we are now. I'll spare you the rehash of that, but one really good thing that I've been reminded of the last few days is that we're lucky to have reliable water in this house.  The house came with a cistern and pump so we'd always have water, no matter whether we should have had water.  The pump was broken this weekend so we saw how often the city water was off. It was never enough to be a problem, but it was always enough to make me glad I keep water in the pantry.

Dealing with the water when we lived in Tokmok was one of the hardest things about living there.  Having reliable water in all parts of the house as an expat is amazing.  And not fair, since everyone else has to deal with the water problems. It makes such a difference if you know when you'll have water.

On Telling People We're Moving to Saudi Arabia

I knew when we found out that we were moving to Saudi that I'd have a lot of questions to answer about it.  But I didn't realize how conflicted I'd feel about those questions.

My first problem is that I'm delighted to be moving there and almost no one else thinks I should be.  People think I'm being sarcastic or quite possibly crazy which isn't a good start to the conversation. Then we move on to the stereotypes about living in Muslim countries that I have to shoot down. Kyrgyzstan is a Muslim country too, you know.

The trouble with Saudi is that a lot of those stereotypes about Islam are true.  Women do have many fewer rights in Saudi, they can't drive, they can't even pay the phone bill by themselves.  There are many rules about their clothing.  The penal system is often cruel.  The interpretation of Islam that is most prevalent in the country is often extreme.  There are a lot of things I can't and won't defend about Saudi.

But I can't defend everything about any country, and I hate it when people just bring up the negative stuff about Kyrgyzstan, or want to rehash every horrible thing the US has done.  Saudi Arabia is a lot more than abayas and hot weather and I'm looking forward to so much, like the diversity of the city; seeing old friends; trying new food; enjoying the weather half the year; visiting Jerusalem, Cairo, and other places in the Middle East; speaking Arabic again; seeing how Islam works in a much more conservative Muslim country than we've lived in before; and just learning how to live in another country again.



Tequila

We had to drop some friends off in Tequila on Saturday, and since you can't just drop off friends in a town like Tequila, we spent the day too.  I haven't sorted out the photos yet, but we wandered around the center a bit and ate birria, toured the Cofradia distillery (which cost a lot more than the internet said it would, but it was still worth it), and climbed the Tequila volcano.  Because it's there.

Tequila did feel pretty touristy in comparison to other Mexican towns we've been in.  I don't need to go back, but I wouldn't have missed it.

01 September 2014

Sweet and Spicy Green Beans

Trim and rinse about a pound of beans and break them into pieces (1-2 inches).  Boil briefly, but not till they're tender.  Or you can skip the boiling and just stir-fry longer.

Heat some oil and add a lot of chopped garlic, then stir fry the beans.  When they've cooked for a few minutes, add equal parts of soy sauce and brown sugar (start with 2 T of each).  Also add a much cayenne as you can stand.  Continue to cook till the beans are tender.  If you want more sauce, add more soy sauce and sugar, or add less so it cooks down and sticks to the beans.

Basic Bread

This is for four loaves.

 A little less than 4.5 cups of warm water
1.5 T yeast
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp salt
1+ cup coarsely ground flax seeds
1/2 cup gluten (or less if your wheat is good)
About 12 cups whole wheat flour, or enough to make a nice, slightly sticky dough

Mix, rise, shape, cover, rise, bake.