Saturday, August 28, 2010

3 tips to keep mosquitoes away

It is the height of mosquito season (if there is a season) thanks to the intermittent rainy days and sweltering heat. Besides mosquitoes being really annoying and making it impossible to sleep, dengue is a huge risk this time of year, so we have to combat them.

Here are 3 tips I've discovered and used this year, none of which include spraying chemicals all over my body, although I've done that on occasion too.

1. Make your own mosquito repellent.
This tip comes courtesy of a local radio station. You'll need a small handful of cloves (the amount you'd use to make clove tea), some rubbing alcohol and baby oil. Use 1 part rubbing alcohol to 10 parts baby oil.

Directions: soak cloves overnight in the rubbing alcohol. Discard cloves, and mix alcohol with baby oil and apply to skin. Obviously the solution won't "mix," so whenever you're going to use it, shake well and apply quickly.

Results are mixed. You will smell like gingerbread (a plus, in my book), but I don't like feeling oily so I haven't used it much. Seems to keep away mosquitoes for a while but you'll need to reapply often.

2. Burn smelly oils and incenses.
We have burned a lot of citronella incense in our household this rainy season, usually in the late afternoon, and it seems to have had the best effect against mosquitoes. Recently we bought a small oil burner at a tianguis to burn citronella essential oil. Basil (albahaca) essential oil works too. Dilute the essential oils in baby oil to make it last longer.

Everything mentioned above (essential oils, incense, oil burners) can be found at most outdoor tianguis as well as natural stores.

3. Buy an electric tennis racket.
This is by far the most ridiculous solution, and won't help with a larger mosquito problem, but it certainly is fun! If you're out in the street a lot you've probably seen these being sold at intersections. I was kind of against getting one but Gustavo is obsessed with all kinds of odd gadgets and couldn't resist.

A minimal static current runs through the inner layer of the racket, and "explodes" any small insects upon contact. It makes a loud spark, audibly and visibly, which always makes me jump. If you drive by our street around dusk you'll probably find Gustavo blindly swinging the racket in our front garden, just to hear the satisfying "zzsstt! zzsstt!" every few seconds.

Additional advice: This is common sense more than a "tip," but using a fan at night not only helps with the heat, but is the only thing apart from mosquito netting that will keep bugs from buzzing around your ears. We lost electricity for just one night and I woke up covered in bites.

Good luck!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The best pizza in Guadalajara: Funicula

In 2007 I interviewed a surfer-photographer based in Bucerias for a Guadalajara Reporter story on expat bloggers ("Expat bloggers add fresh perspective to Mexico"). While I didn't include it in the story, he told me that he never misses a chance to stop by a pizza joint called Funicula when he passes through Guadalajara.

I never forgot the advice. It's taken me three years to finally visit Funicula, and now I'm an addict. They serve traditional wood-oven pizzas with not-too-thin crusts and toppings that are difficult to find elsewhere in town: artichokes, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies, fresh herbs.

The menu includes creative ingredient combinations, and although I couldn't find an online menu, I do remember one thing we ordered recently: "la pazza," half pizza, half calzone. They also serve pastas and other Italian specialties, plus showcase a long wine and beer list. Price range is excellent: 70-80 pesos for a pizza (one size fits all, about medium, easily shared between two people).

And to rave a bit about the setting: it's gorgeous. Downstairs includes an outdoor patio, the second floor hosts the kitchen, and upstairs you have warm, romantic lighting with an open eating counter overlooking the street.

The only drawback is that seating becomes very limited on prime nights at dinnertime, and wait times can reach an hour. The last time we went was a weeknight around dusk when Funicula was just gearing up for a rush, and only a few tables were occupied.

Lopez Cotilla 1906 (Col. Americana). Tel. 33-3615-1237.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mariachi Festival coming up!

I admit that when I first came to Guadalajara, my taste for mariachi music was on par with my taste for polka. I still can't say I'm a fan, but I do recognize the difference between hearing mariachi on the car radio and witnessing it live.

Mariachi is loud, brassy, impressive and very fun. It proves there are power in numbers. If you ever have a chance to be within a few feet of a mariachi band at a party or wedding, it's hard not to love it.

Guadalajara's international mariachi festival starts in a few days, and if nothing else, it's fun to watch the opening parade. Here's a summary of the festival and it's opening events (in English):
Wednesday, August 25, 8 p.m. Mariachi Tradicional El Carrizo will play at the opening of the “El Mariachi de mi Tierra” art exhibit at the Museo Regional (Liceo 60, city center). No charge.
Thursday, August 26 and Friday, August 27, 5-7 p.m.,  traditional mariachi groups will perform in the Plaza Fundadores behind the Teatro Degollado.  On Saturday, in the same place and at the same time, they will be joined by more modern mariachi bands dressed in their elegant attire. No charge.
Two grand traditional mariachi galas close the festival-within-a-festival on Sunday, August 29, at the Teatro Degollado. They take place at noon and at 6 p.m. Both have free admission.
Guadalajara’s 17th International Mariachi Festival swings into gear Saturday, August 28 with a host of events in different locations (see chart right).
The schedule will be much like last year’s, with nightly galas in the Teatro Degollado and free performances in restaurants, public malls and plazas and local churches.  The colorful parade takes place Sunday, August 29, 10 a.m. in downtown Guadalajara.
Read more in the full Guadalajara Reporter article.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Molcajete style salsa, sans molcajete

I know, I just got a new molcajete, so could use it to make just about any molcajete salsa I like. But for anyone without a molcajete, a blender (arguably the most important device in the modern Mexican kitchen) works just fine.

By "molcajete style" salsa I mean that chunky, fresh, hot-off-the-stove flavor. It's the kind of salsa that's perfect for tacos or grilled meats.

The ingredients are very basic:
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 green chiles (I used 3, but wouldn't recommend it. The salsa was so spicy I couldn't see straight.)
  • 1/2 a white onion or a 1 very small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, depending on your taste, finely chopped
  • salt to taste

STEP 1. Place tomatoes and chiles on a comal or small flying pan on medium to medium-high heat. Turn them over frequently to char the sides.
(The idea isn't to completely burn them -- we're leaving the skin on for flavor.)

STEP 2. Put charred veggies in the blender along with salt. Pulse until smooth(ish).

STEP 3. Add the chopped onion and garlic to the blender. Pulse a few more times. At this point if you feel the salsa is too thick, add a couple tablespoons of water.

Have a taste and season with more salt if needed.


*I'd like to add that there are probably a million variations to a molcajete style salsa, and this is a very simple one. Any other suggestions are welcomed!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Parrot update

We now have two parrots. Last Thursday Sabina was sunbathing on the back patio and a male parrot arrived out of nowhere and wouldn't go away. After luring him into the house with Sabina as bait, he decided to stay.

Meet Chicharito (Little Pea).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The new Chivas stadium: high expectations, no planning

Wednesday night we braved the drizzling rain and general clusterf*ck of people and traffic to see the finals of the Copa Libertadores in the new Chivas stadium. Short summary: the new stadium was amazing and designed for great views, but zero infrastructure was planned around it.

It took us over two hours to drive less than 10 miles, and once we managed to get to the periferico, the entire highway was collapsed. It was a free-for-all. Chain-link fences on the periferico were pushed down, and the way people were driving should have been filmed for a National Geographic program called "human nature: survival of the fittest."

We made it to our seats by minute 9 of the game. Adolfo Bautista (el Bofo) scored a nice goal at the last minute of the first half, then the Chivas were obliterated by two goals and lost.

A photo recap of the journey:

The collapsed periferico.

Me hanging out of the window, now stopped on the one lane entrance down to the stadium.

The stadium, at last! Thousands of fans dressed in their red and white best.

 It would make for a good Where's Waldo setting.

The halftime show had fireworks bursting from the spaceship. Pretty impressive.

A happy Chiva, in the end.

Click here to view the full set on Flickr of my Chivas game night photos.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My new molcajete

I just picked up this molcajete at the San Juan de Dios market. The molcajete is an essential part of the Mexican kitchen, primarily used to make salsas. It's the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle, made of porous volcanic rock.

It's great for just about anything you want to smash: garlic, whole cloves, chiles, guacamole. It's also the name of a dish served in a molcajete: grilled meat or shrimp with nopales, onion, cheese and salsa, fired up in a hot oven and served with hot tortillas.

The molcajete is going to be dusty right after picking one up at a market, and will need to be cured before use. To cure a molcajete, rinse it a few times then throw in a handful of uncooked rice. Grind the rice to a powder, dump out, and repeat until the rice looks white and clean.

Alternative methods to cure a molcajete:
  • Do the same as above, but with rock salt instead of rice.
  • Boil the molcajete in water (no soap) for 30 minutes.
  • Grind a whole head of garlic in the molcajete, spread the garlic paste on the sides and leave overnight. Rinse off the next day.
  • Do the above (garlic), but instead of leaving overnight, bake the molcajete with paste in the oven for 30 minutes. You can also add onion and a bit of cooking oil to the paste before baking.
The molcajete seasons over time just like a cast iron frying pan.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The castillo: awesome spinning tower of fireworks

I was raised in a culture that obligates padded jungle gyms, seat belts and crosswalk ladies. If I were raised in Mexico, I probably would have gotten to do fun things like ride around in the bed of a pickup truck, or better yet, experience the awesomeness that is the castillo.

The castillo is a tall, wobbly wooden structure affixed with fireworks that spin and spew sparks and colors in stages from bottom to top. It's a really impressive show to see, even if you are a gringo (and can put aside your inborn fear for everyone's lives).

We saw a castillo last night in front a the church that was celebrating its 35th anniversary. Below are my photos, although the spectarcularness is hard to capture on film at night.

To the left is the castillo at dusk, pre-ignition.

It is set up in the middle of electric lines. No one seems too worried.

Blast off!

The castillo rains sparks all over the cheering crowd.

Kids run under the sparks, trying to get rained on.

This kid tries to get a better view by climbing the ladder on a truck (labeled "Hazardous Materials").

The grand finale! The corona (the top part) ignites in a glorious plume, and suddenly...

...the corona detaches completely and shoots straight up into the sky!

It extinguishes mid-air and lands near a car on the side street.

To witness a castillo, pay attention to when your local churches hold their fiestas patronales, or any other town festivals. You'll probably find lots of castillos during the Christmas season too.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Agua de capulin (Mexican black cherry)

Not much time ever goes by before I encounter a fruit I've never laid eyes on. This time it was the capulin, which according to one translation is the "Mexican black cherry"; another said it's capulin in English too.

I'm not sure how common capulines are because Gustavo had never tried them either. A lady in the street sold them to us along with some mangoes. She instructed us to make agua de capulin by mashing them up with our hands.

Capulines are the size of small grapes, and have a large pit and not too much flesh. We did as we were told, and squished the capulines in a glass bowl until the pits were mostly separated from the fruit. Then we strained the fruit, pushing as much juice through as possible. The result was a thick capulin concentrate to which we added sugar and water to fill the pitcher.

The result: a pretty refreshing agua fresca, but a less than appetizing color. I think I might name it the "Mexican brown cherry." (I'm not fond of agua de tamarindo for the same reason.) The flavor was agradable but nothing to write home about. For one, it didn't taste anything like cherry. The capulin has a very earthy flavor, and the only other fruit it reminded me of was mulberries.

So, an interesting culinary experience--it's always fun to try out new flavors. But not sure I'll become a capulin fan.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Solutions for the summer heat

The heat isn't too bad now because of the rain. But a few months ago it was more than insufferable. In the middle of the heat wave up to July, our house would heat up during the day and by dusk was at least 10 degrees hotter inside than outside.

Our first summer investment was an oscillating fan. Then when that didn't cut it, our second investment was a bad of ice we'd grab from the 7-Eleven and place on a giant plate in front of the fan. (Gustavo likes to call this "Mexican technology.") If the room got any cooler with the ice, I didn't notice.

The third investment was two plastic garden chairs for our front yard. That worked much better than a fan and a bag of ice. Add a couple of beers from the corner store and it was almost as good as air conditioning.

The fourth and current investment is a more permanent solution. Not an air conditioner, but a solid wood bench. We might save up for air conditioning for next year, but for now, this is the spot.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Last chance to see Orozco exhibition at the Instituto Cultural Cabañas

I just went to see the amazing Jose Clemente Orozco collection at the Instituto Cultural Cabañas, where more than 400 of his works have been exhibited since March. If you haven't been yet, don't miss it!

For anyone like me who only knew Orozco by his murals in the Hospicio Cabañas and the Palacio de Gobierno in Guadalajara, this exhibition shows you Orozco from every angle: from his "House of tears" watercolors of prostituting women to his sketches of the Mexican revolution to the estudios for practically every mural he has painted.

His unique sense of color (dark, bold, reds and grays) and of the human form is what impressed me most. I took some illegal photos (without flash, of course) to catch a few different areas of his work shown. To read about Orozco and the exhibit in Spanish with English translation, click here for a PDF of the catalog.

Here are some illegal and not especially color-accurate takes from the exhibit José Clemente Orozco, Pintura y Verdad (click to enlarge):

Orozco was a political cartoonist for the magazine El Hijo de Ahuizote and La Vanguardia. An example of one of his cartoon spreads.
Los Muertos.

Estudio for El franciscano, a mural in the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria in Mexico City.

This is from the "House of Tears" series of watercolors. Not sure of title.

From a series of portraits in oil.

To read more about Orozco in English, click here for a good article published on Mexconnect.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Old stuff made new

I was watching Law & Order SVU* last night when something struck me, apart from it being a rerun about endangered monkey smugglers on the same day that a man was arrested in Mexico for smuggling endangered monkeys. The detectives were investigating a tip, talking to a potential lead (you know, the guy who says, "Nope, never seen her. But you know, I did happen to see a guy tossing something in the trash can around 12:00...").

Anyway, the potential lead was a meat distributor who mentioned that he used to be a repairman, but he went out of business because no one repairs things any more. People just buy new stuff. We've all become more recycle-conscious in recent years, but that doesn't mean that if our 3-year-old oscillating fan loses a screw or begins to whir we don't put it on the curb.

In the gringo mindset everything is disposable, but not in Mexico. There are repair shops for everything here. Gustavo took an old typewriter he uses to fill out facturas to a typewriter repair shop. That's right, an entire shop that not only exists, but somehow stays afloat, repairing a virtually defunct machine.

Just tonight, Gustavo pulled out and connected two speakers. One works, one doesn't. The solution? We'll get it repaired. It'll probably just cost a few bucks. No great revelation for anyone who remembers specialized repair shops in the U.S., but it's certainly a new way to think of stuff for a generation who relies on the Genius Bar and Craigslist to solve all tech problems.

*Reruns every night at 7, and new ones Tuesday at 9, on Universal.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A night at Mexpat

Mexpat is an international community of foreigners living in Mexico. Every month or so they hold an event at a bar or restaurant in town. I've attended twice: once in May and once this Thursday, and it was a great experience both times.

I'm not much for networking, but after a year of being holed up with a parrot and a long distance telephone line, I figured I need to start getting out more. Making friends abroad can be difficult for a lot of expatriates. Social customs, gender roles, language--there are a lot of differences in the way people interact and form connections. Mexpat is one way people from multicultural backgrounds can come together.

In May, Mexpat was held at a lovely wine bar called Tinto y Blanco. I was surprised to find a real melting pot of nationalities and ages. I met several young women in the translation industry and swapped cards. There were gringos, Canadians, Mexicans, Germans, and others from all over the map.

Thursday's Mexpat event was at Panoramica, a trendy bar set between two Indian restaurants. It got off to a slow start, but 50 or more people showed up by 9:00 and it kept going. I met a Bostonian retiree who just moved here in December, a Canadian member of the philharmonic orchestra (who I unintentionally offended for being Canadian and a musician, respectively--sorry, Chris), and a girl who works for a local organization that gets kids off the streets and into school. I also ran into plenty of people I met the last time around. Overall, a great atmosphere and fun time.

Mexpat has a website and a Facebook group: I'd recommend signing up for both, and coming out the next time around. See you there!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How to make Agua de Guayaba

Behold the guayaba. A small, yellow, head-shaped fruit with creamy flesh, filled with hard seeds that get stuck in your teeth. Deliciously sweet, and excellent in an agua fresca.

Aguas frescas are so simple to make that they hardly call for a recipe, but they weren't in my repertoire before living in Mexico. A step by step instructional is listed below. If you're making agua with any seedless fruit you can skip the strainer.

STEP 1. Quarter 4 to 6 guayabas. I had 4, so I used 4. You can cut off the ends if you want. (See optional STEP 7.)

STEP 2. Toss the quartered fruit into a blender along with 6 to 8 tablespoons of sugar. Add 4 to 5 cups of water. (This is no exact science.) Alternatively, you can boil the water with the sugar first to make an easy dissolving syrup.

STEP 3. Blend!

STEP 4. Place a small strainer on top of a pitcher to catch the seeds. (I have a prettier pitcher than this one, but it doesn't fit in the fridge.) Pour blended mixture through it.

STEP 5. Mash the juices down with a spoon until all the good stuff is in the pitcher.

STEP 6. Add water to top off the pitcher, stir a bit, and you're ready to go! Serve immediately with ice, or stick in the fridge for later.

STEP 7. (OPTIONAL) Give extra bits of guayaba to Sabina. What a greedy parrot.

In recent years, aguas frescas have been completely taken over by sugary sodas. The weekly entertainment mag Dia Siete just put out a great article about the history of aguas in Mexico (click here to read), and the fruits and other unusual ingredients that make them. Recipes included. If you read Spanish, I highly recommend it. For those who don't, I'll translate the opener:
15 years ago, squeezed lime, sweet pineapple, juicy melon, refreshing watermelon or any piece of fruit was mixed with natural water to prepare a pitcher of agua fresca that --at the center of the lunchtime table-- not only hydrated the majority of Mexican families, but also provided many natural nutrients. Today, 8 of every 10 Mexicans consume soft drinks with their meals. As one of the regions of the world with the largest diversity of fruits, it might be worth refreshing ourselves with aguas once again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What will we talk about now that the World Cup is over?

A gringo's perspective of the World Cup is unique, if only because the U.S. is the only place in the world that doesn't seem to give a hoot. Nothing will ever compare to the experience of living in a country that lives, breathes and dies by soccer.

So, on the day after the World Cup has ended, I give my review.

  • I've never witnessed such a visceral feeling of togetherness and convivencia with friends and strangers alike. I've only seen equal fervor during the Obama campaign in 2008, but here everyone is voting for the same candidate.
  • Parties! The millions of friendly games working up to the World Cup, then the World Cup itself, make an excuse to drink beers and eat tacos any time. Even at 9 in the morning.
  • Speaking of tacos, the taco stand on my street corner opened at 6:30 a.m. on game days.
  • I liked that the U.S. tried to care, even though we had no idea what we were talking about. Case in point: David Letterman's interview with Landon Donovan. "You know, it just looks like it's fun to run around on that huge, green field. Is it fun?"
  • Nothing brings out the racism here like an international sporting event set in Africa. Every morning I had to watch news anchors, comedians and Mexicans impersonating bone-clad Africans mingle on the morning news. Watch a clip from the showout come Mexicans in full blackface at 0:36.
  • Gringos aren't any strangers to sexist TV ads during sports events, but I thought this one for Sol beer was just terrible. (But it's funny, so it can't be that bad, right?) Synopsis: men all over Mexico ask their girlfriends for a break in the relationship for about a month... let's just say from around June 11 to July 11. Translation: SPORTS ARE FOR MEN ONLY.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Zapopan restaurant — La Fonda Doña Gabina Escolástica

On a rainy Friday night at about 10 p.m. we stepped into la Fonda Doña Gabina Escolástica for some warm home cooking. We're pretty steady customers at this place. It's a couple blocks away from la Basilica in the center of Zapopan, and it's not a well hidden secretthe place was packed.

It's tapatio soul food with a throwback look. Practically everything is a la carte: the meats, panela and eggs in a dark stewed sauce, stuffed into fresh oversize tortillas; the tostadas taller than your wide-open mouth; the enchiladas light and flavored to perfection. Oh, and the most delicious pozole you'll put in your mouth. Then there's arroz con leche, flan and atole de coco for dessert. Or if you're full, just grab a complimentary cocada on your way out.

The fonda is well lit but cozy all the same. It's one big open room the size of a warehouse with seating upstairs on the left side. Decor is retroancient Coca Cola bottles, old magazine covers, walls painted with the Mexican bingo cards.

Google the Doña Gabina Escolástica and you'll find plenty of great reviews, even a mention in Travel and Leisure. Very reasonably priced (5 tacos, 2 enchiladas, 1 arroz con leche, 2 cokes, 1 beer came to $160 pesos). Javier Mina #237. Zapopan Tel. 3833-0883. Open till 11 p.m. M-Sat., Sun. till 8 p.m.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rainy days

It's been raining for weeks. It's raining right now. Once it stops later this fall, October maybe, we'll all be so delirious from the humidity and gray skies that we won't even remember what a relief it was from the months of dry heat that preceded it.

Guadalajara's rainy season starts on June 13, every year. That sounds precise, but according to Gustavo's family lore the rainy season starts on San Antonio day, which they're experts on since they grew up in Guadalajara's San Antonio neighborhood. And amazingly, after a tortuous stretch of heat and sun so harsh it burned our petunias (which could also have been poisoned by an envious neighbor), the first hard rain came down this year on June 13.

I don't mind the rain, but I could have planned for it better. Like, not have started a planter-based vegetable garden in my back patio in the middle of June, or not have hung upside-down tomato plants out of holes with the circumference of an espresso cup. Here are some tips, from my poorly planned rainy season to yours:
  • If you plant anything in plastic macetas, make sure they have holes in the bottom. If they don't, drill holes! (Small ones for an upside-down garden.)
  • Get rid of all sitting water. The result of holeless macetas is a lot of water collection hanging around near your house in plain dengue season.
  • I barely know how to garden as it is and probably shouldn't be giving tips on it, but if you want to grow veggies here it's best to start WAY early, like February. A pleasantly warm climate year-round allows for year-round gardening, but timing is key.
  • Go to a natural store and buy citronella incense. Grow basil, or buy basil (albahaca) extract at the natural store and dip your light bulbs in it. Keeps away the zancudos! (Click here to read more tips for mosquitoes.)
  • Learn to play backgammon, and teach your boyfriend how to play so you can make him play and beat him at it. Did you know you can play backgammon on Skype?
There's a tienda naturista in Col. Santa Tere called La Manzana, at Manuel Acuña #1516 (Tel. Santa Tere is filled with other farmacias homeopaticas that sell citronella products, and there are a bunch in downtown Guadalajara too.