Texas to Mexico

Discriptions, pictures, recipes & monologue of life for a Texan in Mexico. The Mexico experience...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sanborns & Salsa

John & I frequently eat lunch on the weekends at Sanborns Restaurant. Most tourists know this eatery since they sell travel insurance at the border & have a very extensive breakfast menu that appeals to many American travelers. Sanborns claim to fame is being the origin of Chicken Enchiladas or Enchiladas Suisas. Sanborns waitresses wear a traditional Southern Mexico attire which makes me think of those little dolls we used to get at shops along the border in Texas. Our favorite Sanborns was in Durango where the location was in an old Spanish Colonial building. Whenever we have lunch there it is served with salsas & a basket of fresh bread, Gamesa crackers & small Mexican style tortilla chips. The salsas are freshly made each day & then served in a small gravy boat. My Spanish tutor, Lily gave me the recipe for her favorite Aguacate Salsa. When we were at the Abastos Mercado last week they sold a vast amount of fresh Avocados in every size you could want! The best Avocados in Mexico are the small bumpy green variety much like our Haas Avocados at home. We take advantage of the wide variety of fresh produce Mexico has to offer, that is... the things we recognize. There are some fruits & veggies that we still wonder about! It seems to be uncharted territory some days!

Salsa de Aguacate

3 Jalapenos (less if you want), blackened or raw, seeded & stems removed
1 -2 Avocados, diced
1 Tomatillo, cut into quarters
Cilantro, loosely chopped

Put all in a blender or molcajete then thin out with small amount Crema, or Sour Cream, salt & pepper to taste.
*Crema~ Crema Pura de Vaca is used in many dishes here. It just thins this recipe out, so it is easier to dip. I buy small glass jars of Lala Crema.
salt & pepper to taste, then garnish with sprigs of Cilantro & serve with chips or Fajitas. Nice to serve this from a traditional Mexican Molcajete.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Abastos Mercado~New Sights & overwhelmed by Outlandish Pinatas!

Cold Weather, Unusual Sights & Sounds!!!

Outstanding Produce & other things??

We took a trip to the Abastos Mercado this morning bundled up against the cold Torreon weather. It was a total overload for the sensory system! There were vegetables I had no idea existed & produce by the tons! There were rows of fruits, nuts, cheeses, dried beans in hundreds of varieties, spices & purveyors selling everything from peanuts to whole sides of beef! My friend Carolyn purchased a huge bag of Cilantro for a few pennies worth of pesos. I chose some chilis cascabel for a salsa, after a conversation in my halting Spanish about the difference between the multiple dried chilis. We even found a Tortilleria making selling hot tortillas & gorditas. The Mercado Abastos in Torreon is where the people who shop for restaurants get their supplies, as well as the housewives & hired help. It is a very hopping place in the mornings! It takes up 4 square blocks in the west end of Torreon. We saw row after row of trucks pulling up to unload & deliver as well as the dare devil taxicabs flying between the trucks trying to drop off people to shop. If it exists I think it can be found at the Abastos! I found some beautiful produce and several of us split large amounts of certain herbs we purchased. I also found a Cazuela which will be used to eventually cook Carnitas when it is seasoned & ready to cook in. One of the shops sold these ancient traditional Mexican terracotta pots in several sizes & shapes. They were mere pesos a piece. The locals seemed pleased to help us & described ways to use many of the peppers & herbs we saw. We did meet several people who recognizing us as Americans (we were the only non Mexicans there)& tried out their English phrases on us. The funniest part of the morning was when we spotted some wild looking Pinatas with more adult themes! I laughed at the thought of someone breaking a stick over one of them!! They were life size & quite funny! The lady who owned the Pinata shop laughed along with us when she saw us reacting & taking photos! Have to rethink that next Fiesta!

The Cazuela Grande of the Abastos Mercado! Necisito por Carnitas!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Great Veggies, Fruits & Bacteria~get that stuff washed~pronto!

When a Gringo moves to Mexico the first thing they are warned about is water consumption & food preparation. The culture & cuisine offer many new things but chief complaint above all is how it can totally wreck a non resident's digestive system! The water treatment has been brought more the the world health standards in the last 20 years but is still sorely lacking when compared to water purification else where. We do not drink the water ever!!! End of conversation. All of our water here is purchased, any ice we consume is made from this water. I have learned how to spot the water purification certificate in the restaurants we frequent. Something as innocent as a poorly washed salad here or bad ice can make you want to curl up & die!!! We wash all of our produce in Microdyn Drops, this prevents us from falling ill from bacteria, amoebas, etc. It is a rather big undertaking to come home from the store with the groceries & produce & have to wash everything you buy before putting it away! I can't imagine our life with out these purification drops. The local water supply here also has a high level of Arsenic that comes from the soil here in the desert. If it is not one thing is half a dozen others!! We don't ever skip the all important washing step however & haven't had to pay the price by being hit by the dreaded Montezuma's Revenge! Most people who have ever traveled South of the Border know from whence I speak!! I am also thinking with the recent Spinach & Green Onion drama in the States the disinfectant drops are a good idea! Our useful drops advertise that they are "El Mas Efectivo"~let us certainly hope so.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Movies in Mexico~ Mucho Gusto~

Jr. Mints & Movie Theaters in Mexico!

Today I went to the Cuatro Caminos Cinepolis movie theater. The whole movie theater experience in Mexico takes watching movies to the next level when watching from one of the VIP rooms here. The Cinepolis theater chain offers VIP seating where you watch a movie in large comfortable chairs & have food & drink brought to you. Incredible really when I think about theaters I have been to where the remnants of drinks & candy make shoes stick to the floor (okay, I know everyone agrees on this issue, totally gross!) In the states the pricey offerings are limited to Nachos, Popcorn & Jr. Mints ~not that I ever have a problem with Jr Mints! Here in the theater they do have the standard offerings including Jr. Mints with a Sanborns label as well as more gourmet items such as croissants, ice cream, crepes, tortes, capuccinos, beer & wine. The theater was quite clean & while the choice of snacks today for the movie goers in our women's group was palomitas *aka: popcorn, it was nice to know if we had wanted something more exciting we could have had it! And I must admit it was kind of cool to enjoy a movie & not sit through 30 minutes of ads. It is a movie experience I hope to see north of the border someday!
The price for this event,including food here in Mexico: less than a single movie ticket back in the states.
And best of all Russel Crowe looks good in yet another movie! We enjoyed seeing him in Un Buen Ano also known as the Good Year! An entertaining flick from a Peter Mayle book!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mennonites in Mexico~

I'm surprised to find blond haired, blue eyed people here selling baked goods on the street corners in Torreon shortly after we arrived. Large colonies of Mennonite people live in Northern Mexico. They settled here in the 1920's in barren areas of Northern Mexico at the invitation of the Mexican government. The government then wanted to settle the isolated areas of the Northern Mexican states of Coahuila & Chihuahua. They sold the land to the Mennonites with agreements for tolerance of religous differences as well as exemptions from military service & ability to remain independent & stay outside the mainstream of Mexican society. Part of the agreement stated that if they would produce the bulk of cheeses needed in Northern Mexico they would be free of Mexican taxes for 100 years.(hmmm, cheap land, no taxes, make some cheese...sounds pretty good!) The Mennonites speak a very old dialect of German not spoken in Germany since the 1800's. The men wear overalls with a hat of some sort & the women wear clothing similar to the American Amish. The Mennonite schooling for the young men ends at 13 and at 12 for the girls; from that point on they are considered educated & are expected to contribute to their communities. On many week days the young Mennonites are seen selling their baked goods on Torreon street corners to passing motorists. The elder Mennonites arrive in town & make business arrangements at the local Mercados & to deliver their famous Mennonite Queso. Mennonite Queso when not made by the Mennonites is called Queso Chihuahua. There are times when I think it is very strange to see these people who seem to be out of time & place here in Mexico~ then on the other hand sometimes I hardly notice them. I guess they are just a part of the landscape that has become Mexico for us here in Torreon. Yet it seems strange that these people are such a part of Northern Mexico when they settled here to remain so separate. Somehow I doubt I will ever be a part of the landscape here!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Warm days & Cold nights here in Coahuila!

With the onset of Winter & weather in the States cooling things off we have had much cooler temperatures here as well. Would would think that "Sunny Mexico" could get so cold? But when the temperatures dip down even into the 40s here the houses tend to become very cold & damp feeling. Torreon is high desert & surrounded by the Sierra Occidential Mountain range. With the thick stone & concrete walls as well as the tile flooring it is hard to keep the houses warm or stay warm. Often times the outside temperatures rise while the houses stay very cold. We deal with it & put a few extra layers on but I tend to make more dishes to kind of warm us up internally too. Mexico has many sopas & regional dishes that likely are adaptations from the European settlers.

Mexican Potato Cheese Soup

1/2 cup chopped onion
7 cloves of garlic
1-2 chopped fresh jalapeño chilies
1-2 chopped tomatoes
Optional: strips of mild green Anaheim-style chilies or bell pepper
Saute the above ingredients in oil or butter until tender. Add:
2 cups of raw potato: sliced, cubed or grated
a pinch of salt
hot water: enough to well cover the ingredients
Simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Add a handful of cubed cheese or half a cup of carne machaca or finely shredded beef jerky. Carne seca is found in many Hispanic foods stores in the U.S.
Optional: when the potatoes are tender, stir in 1/2 cup milk and heat the soup until it almost boils.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Clean pool once again! Saint Francis can once again hold his head high! 5 days, many chemicals & mucho labor!

We arrived back in Torreon from the holidays in Texas to find that dust storms, rain storms & the molting Pecan tree had really made a mess of the swimming pool. At one point I think St. Francis even looked like he was embarrassed since he stands prominently near the pool. Usually serene & restful, the pool had become a complete bog while we were enjoying our family holiday back home in Texas!

John called in a specialist for the disaster that had been the swimming pool! A pool "Doctor" was strongly recommended & much required. Thankfully Torreon has such a man who was able to rehabilitate our pool! I tried to imagine what the polite & humble Dr.Marco Alfredo Hernandez Vera was thinking as he took a small sample of the dust & trash ridden water from our pool! I was greatly relieved when he said it was entirely possible to get the pool 100% clean! He did however have to call in his team of specialist! What a crew!! They worked for 5 days cleaning, treating & using an alternate "super pump" to remove the dust, leaves, a tree limb & trash that the storms blew into the pool.

There is nothing like the dirt & dust that can accumulate here in the desert! It seems to have no end, like the ocean's waves at the beach! It just keeps on.....Most people from Torreon seem to take the dust in stride but it still suprises most of the Gringos!!

The dirty pool was a very big job waiting for us when we arrived home from our Christmas in Texas. Not to be out done the patio was pretty bad too, photos not available!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The grocery stores in Mexico are still stocked for what looks like Christmas Fiestas. The real reason for all of the treats & decorations is Three Kings Day, January 6th. The bakeries are doing a brisk business with the colorful Three Kings Bread being served up & the smell of the sweet yeasty confections baking ~ truly wonderful. The Torreon HEB is advertising 1 kilo of Kings Day Bread. That is one giagantic bread! And the best influence I can think this might have over me is a few days more before I have to remove the few Christmas decorations I have out. A win, win!

Rosca is the name given to any ring-shaped bread or cookie. This sweet bread was once used by the priests to evangelize: a small doll, representing the Christ child, is baked right in the bread- "hidden", to symbolize the hiding of the infant from King Herod's troops on the day of Los Santos Inocentes, the Holy Innocents. This bread is traditionally served on the festive Three Kings Day, when the children receive their toys. Whoever gets the slice of rosca with the doll in it has to provide the tamales and atole for the next party, on Candlemas. This is much like the tradition of New Orleans King Cake with the baby inside that is served during Mardi Gras.

Rosca de Reyes
Three Kings Sweet Bread


For the dough:
8 1/2 cups flour
8 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups butter
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1.6 oz.(2 3/4 cakes) compressed yeast

For the decorative paste:
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg
1 3/4 cups flour

Mix yeast cakes into 1/2 cup warm water (about 85º F.) Mix with all other dough ingredients & beat the batter well until smooth and elastic. On a large baking sheet, shape the dough into a ring, resembling a large wreath. Cover the ring with a clean cloth or tea towel & sit in a warm place for two hours.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350º F. If you'd like to hide the infant (or lima bean is a traditional substitute) in the cake, tuck a miniature plastic doll inside. After the rosca has risen, & before putting it in the oven, prepare the decorative paste by creaming the butter and sugar together, beating in the egg & mixing in the flour. Use this paste to decorate the sweet bread in the form of rays coming out from the center.
Bake until the rosca is golden brown. Decorate with candied fruit; in Mexico, candied cactus, called biznaga, is often used.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Monclova Coahuila~the way home in the New Year.

Sadly, not enough time to spend with loved ones & friends back in Texas but we were able to have our New Years Day with family & then began the New Year by returning to Mexico. Always searching for the better route, we decided to cross the border at Piedras Negras, Coahuila rather than worry about the heavy New Year's traffic on the bridges at Laredo/Nuevo Laredo. I have been to the border town of Piedras many times in years past to shop but never to venture very far or go by car through the town itself. The border crossing wait was quite brief & traffic was very light when we drove through. The streets to the highway out of town were much easier to navigate than Nuevo Laredo as well. We had an easy drive till we drove much further south & the much predicted storms were gathering behind us & towards Saltillo. At Monclova we had to drive through narrow winding 2 lane mountain roads which made us rethink our choice of highways. As we slowed going through small towns along the way people approached the car selling everything from fresh baked items to shelled pecans. Since were were stuck behind trucks of livestock & poorly loaded bales of hay we didn't save much time & arrived in Torreon around dusk. Somehow the scenery & pretty landscape broke up the long trip. I was sad at one point however to see a whole pickup truck bed of cute dancing baby goats being sold as fresh Cabrito on the hoof! They were so cute sitting there in the truck while a fire was going with 2 recent amigos cooking on the coals! They seemed to be blissfully unaware of their fate! So much for the shorter way home in Mexico. Is there a shorter way home in Mexico, or at least a path of least resistance? Not sure, also drove through Cuatro Cienegas which does bear visiting again when we have more time. http://www.vivanatura.org/Cienegas.html

Piedras Negras Coahuila~Plaza across the International Bridge from Texas


In Texas & the South in general we eat Black-eyed Peas for good luck in the New Year, Mexico has their own traditions for luck, one of which is eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight for luck in the coming New Year. I will not say this makes sense as I have not tried this custom for good luck! However it does say alot for grape sales in Mexico around the New Year Holiday! This recipe is a good Mexican variation of a Texas favorite.

Mexican Black-eyed Peas
16 oz. dried, black-eyed peas
1 lb. pork sausage*, or chorizo
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-18 oz. can whole tomatoes, undrained
1/2 c. water
2 T. sugar
2 1/2 T. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin seeds
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
2 T. garlic salt
1/4 T. pepper
1/4 c. bell pepper, diced
Sort and wash peas. Place in a large Dutch oven. Cover with water 2 inches above peas. Let soak overnight. Brown sausage in skillet, stirring to crumble. Add onion, bell pepper and cook until tender. Drain peas well and stir into sausage. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours, adding water if necessary. When ready to serve garnish or serve with side of jalapeno strips. *be careful not to get a spicy or country sausage so the dish takes on an Italian or country flavor.