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.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Strange fruit — la pitaya

I laid awake in bed last night trying to come up with a way to describe the pitaya using words. It's a fruit straight out of Avatar, a thing the size of a peach that only appears once a year for a limited time only. It's trucked through the streets and markets of Guadalajara in wagons, buried in green straw. It's prickly.

Gustavo bought some, put them on a plate on the kitchen counter, and told me not to touch them (because of said prickles). I stayed out of the kitchen all afternoon, shooting sideways glances at the fruit every now and then. I've seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers. You never know.
Once you open the pitaya, which Gustavo did with a kitchen towel instead of his bare hands, you get a ball of densely packed seeds and stringy pulp that tastes like sweetened nothing. Breaking apart the fruit with your hands is not unlike opening a snowball. Some are red, others purple, and some are a pale green.

We made agua de pitaya which was blood red, almost grotesque. It didn't have much of a taste, but was icy and refreshing down to the soul. The pitaya shows up right before the rainy season in June, and I had felt chronically dehydrated since April.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Accidental Tapatia — a new start

So I’m back. Actually, I have been for a while—I'll have been in Guadalajara a full year next week! I haven’t blogged because I thought I had nothing to blog about. I’m not writing for the Guadalajara Reporter anymore, so no new articles to post.

I now work out of my home as a manager for a Chicago-based translation company, and my life revolves around the domestic upkeep of a small bungalow-style home near Plaza Mexico, a resilient 2007 Dell laptop on which I do all my work, and (somewhat limited) conversations with a greet parrot named Sabina. I live with my tapatío* boyfriend, who, among other very important things, has taught me to like soccer.

I thought I’d turn this blog around a bit, and focus on things I would want to know as a now expatriated 20-something gringa living in Guadalajara, Mexico. Things like:

  • How to sell stuff (furniture, old electronics) without Craigslist
  • Where to find other gringos, if needed (I don’t have the full answer to this yet, but I’m working it out)
  • How to master re-fried beans and other deceptively simple Mexican culinary staples in your home
  • How to get along with your significant other who does not usually speak English
  • The visa process, quick and painless
  • Mexican healthcare for the uninsured, and the best budget-friendly hospitals in the metropolitan area
  • …and more.

For each idea, I’d like to provide and also solicit names/contact info for the people who have helped answer the questions, like my favorite dentist and favorite FM3 lawyer. I like to recommend things that have turned out well for me and sure you do too, so maybe this we can figure all this out together.

Note #1: This blog is not intended for long-settled expats who know how to do everything already. If you know the difference between a bolillo, birote and telera, have visited the INM more times than you can count, and can point out pitaya season on a calendar, you could probably write this blog yourself. 

Note #2: I'm not going to italicize or otherwise punctuate Spanish words because I assume they are part of a standard Spanglish vernacular for the audience the blog is intended for. If not, they probably should be.