Ajijic, Talaquepaque- -Say Em’ Three Times Fast

Public restrooms, I have learned, are few and far between in Mexico.  So as excited as I was to finally arrive in Ajijic, an area known for attracting artists, writers, and a lot of retirees, I spent a good chunk of our allotted time searching for a restroom.  Fortunately, the search led me through narrow cobblestone streets, past two churches, and finally to a brightly painted bar/cafe with a view of the action happening in the main square.  Lo and behold, there was a gazebo in the plaza. The bar offered a free restroom, which believe it or not, is a big deal.  And because I am a fan of the search, or just a glutton for punishment, I drank a Diet Coke, certainly setting myself up for a repeat hunt later in the day.

Rather than duck in and out of the boutiques and art galleries, Steve and I spent our (remaining) time, walking through the streets surrounding the plaza.  Ajijic was alive with color.  We didn’t need to step inside to see the beautiful artwork decorating the walls, homes, and storefronts in town.  We did not make it to the lakefront on this visit.  I like the idea of leaving something in each place to come back for another time.  Or I just tell myself that so I do not get too disappointed about what I may have missed!

But if we had made it to the lake, we would have missed the man selling the candy!  A lot of the candy in Mexico is made from fruit.  Coconut, tamarind, and guava are ground and rolled into logs.  The tamarind and guava have a sugar coating, while pistachio, chocolate, and other flavors may be added to the coconut.  Hey, I am all for four to six servings of fruit a day.  I went a little crazy when we discovered a hard candy made from jamaica.  In fact, we bought the man out!  The rest of our group was pretty excited about our find too, until another member returned with a cream made with peyote and marijuana.  I was intrigued as well, but I smartly used the distraction to put my candy in my backpack.  I am all for sharing up to  point.

Our next stop was Tlaquepaque.  It is a large city in its own right, but it is now part of the sprawl that Guadalajara has become.  This area is best known for its glass, clay pottery, furniture, and mariachi music.  High end stores line the busy streets.  Near the main plaza (with two gazebos), men and women set up stalls full of leather goods, textiles, and other handcrafted souvenirs.  Food carts sell elote, sweet potatoes, sugar cane juice, gorditas and ice cream.  I may have purchased more candy.

We bypassed the carts and dined in a restaurant situated in Mariachi Plaza.  The Guadalajara area is specifically known for a few culinary treats.  Among them are:  birria, a stew made from goat meat, and torta ahogada, a “drowned sandwich”, masterfully created one day from available leftovers, or so the legend goes.  I decided I was going to try the birria.  Steve immediately sent a text to Caleb, a true goat lover from the beginning of time, ratting me out.  Unfortunately, once I began eating, visions of goats in pajamas and goats in yoga class flashed before my eyes.  I think it was probably very good, but I just started thinking too much.  Others at the table did not have my problem, and they helped me eat it.

While I was distracted by a store featuring handmade works centered on La Virgin de Guadalupe and La Lotería (possibly a new obsession), Steve wandered into a tequila store and basically, had his very own tequila tour!  After a few samples, he happily (in more ways than one) walked out with his purchase.

It was time to return to our hotel, kind of.  I just was still too hyped up to call it a day just yet.  So once we were dropped off, unloaded the tequila in the hotel room, and used the restroom again, Steve and I set out for the four plazas and the Guadalajara marketplace, one of the largest markets in all of Latin America.  Even though the Super Bowl was on, and even though we had already walked miles that day.

The football Gods must have been smiling down on Steve, as we were not in the market long when closing time came around.  We lingered in the plazas for a bit, enjoying the musicians and artists and ice cream  before finally heading back.  We even made it in plenty of time to see the Eagles defeat the Patriots, which for Indianapolis Colts fans, was the perfect ending to a very full and wonderful day.

Get In My Belly!

thumbnail-5It seemed like no sooner than we returned home from Guaymas for the Christmas Parade, we turned around and went back.  This time we were there for El Festival del Camarón, the Shrimp Festival.  Guaymas is a shrimp fishing port and very well known for the abundance of and the size of shrimp caught in the waters of the Sea of Cortez along its coast.  The season typically begins in September, and its length is determined by the government, so as not to deplete the supply.  Throughout the fall, many men leave their “day jobs” for the opportunity to earn some fast cash.  Fishermen appear in the parking lots of area grocery stores and on street corners selling their shrimp.  The stalls along the main street in Empalme and fish markets in Guaymas are filled with fresh shrimp catches.  This is definitely a good time for a shrimp eater in Sonora!

So, of course, there is a festival to celebrate not only shrimp, but also the fisherman who bring it to us.  The Visitors Center in San Carlos arranged for a shuttle to take hungry, shrimp loving folks like us to the malecón in Guaymas for the hoopla.  Steve and I had never taken a shuttle with the Center before, and I have to admit it was very nice to not have to worry about traffic or parking downtown.  We were able to buy our shrimp tasting tickets on the bus.  This meant no standing in line for them once we arrived.  We jumped off the bus and started sampling immediately!

There were about six local restaurants participating and even a cooking school!  Anything that could be made with shrimp was available for tasting.  We sampled chile rellenos with shrimp, empanadas, machaca, shrimp lasagna, ceviche, and fresh, made right in front of us, corn tortillas overflowing with shrimp, cheese, and vegetables.  (I feel a little bit like Bubba from the Forest Gump movie.)  I discovered a new to me restaurant and found myself in line for their creation more than once.  One restaurant even included rice, salad, and a dinner roll with its offering.  Needless to say, our eyes were bigger then our stomachs, and we passed on some of our extra tickets to a vender, who had just happened to sell us a beautiful handmade basket earlier in the day.

Musicians entertained the crowd from a center stage.  The highlight, however, was the folkloric thumbnail-1dancers.  Wow!  Wearing traditional, brightly colored dresses women were spun across the dance “floor” by their partners.  It was impossible to hold still during the energetic displays.  The audience was caught up in the excitement, clapping, stomping, and trilling.  Even the festival characters dressed in salsa bottle costumes got into the act, dancing with the onlookers.  For a moment I forgot that I was in the middle of a bustling city, imaging myself at a boda del campo, or country wedding, instead.

Venders mingled amongst the crowd selling cotton candy, chamoy apples, churros, elote, and other festival favorites- -just in case you were there for something other than shrimp.  (And yes, I was seriously tempted by the churros but passed this time.)  Children begged parents for balloons and other popular festival toys available.  There were blankets, baskets, embroidered blouses, and other typical handicrafts for sale.  Steve and I visited the Christmas tree and other holiday decorations displayed on the malecón without the overwhelming crowds from the night before.  This also gave us ample opportunity to walk off our lunch!

thumbnailAll too soon it was time to board the bus for our return home.  It is no secret that San Carlos is an expat retirement community.  Therefore, many of its residents are just a wee bit older than the two of us.  We had barely left the parking lot when Steve and I noticed that many of our fellow passengers had nodded off, revealing just one more benefit of taking the shuttle!

Today’s Menu Choices: A Wing and A Prayer

So I went grocery shopping yesterday.  And I experienced extreme grocery cart envy.  I was in the produce section marveling at a gentleman who was filling plastic bags to the brim with tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, lemons, potatoes, peppers, and corn.  My cart looked pretty basic.  I had bananas, apples, two pineapples, and carrots.  In fact, the only item that may have caused my cart to look a little different than it did when I was shopping in Fort Wayne, Indiana was the jícama.

My feelings of food choice inadequacy grew greater with each aisle I covered.  “Why are you putting Pop Tarts in this cart?  Put them back on the shelf now!” (I did not.)  I was seriously bummed to discover that there was absolutely no white cheddar popcorn to be found anywhere in the store.  Thank goodness the freezer shelves that occasionally house the Red Barron frozen pizzas were empty.  It was after I added the jar of Prego spaghetti sauce to the cart I truly knew I had a problem.

In an earlier posting, I shared the deep, dark secret that I do not really like to cook.  However, I like even less letting an incredible opportunity pass me by.  Here I am living in Mexico, eating like a gringa; an unhealthy one at that.  (In the event that my mom is reading this, the Pop Tarts were for Steve, and I do eat a lot of salads.)  As I placed my items on the conveyor belt, shaking my head at the pathetic display, I vowed that things were going to be different from this point on.

thumbnailOn the way home I stopped at Santa Rosa’s, the small, local grocery store for some coyotas and Flor de Jamaica.  After unloading the car, I warmed my breakfast cookie in the microwave and began brewing a batch of aqua de Jamaica.  I fired up my computer and started the search for Sonoran recipes.  Three hours later, I had the budding promise of culinary disaster…er…change.

I made a new grocery list.  I do, however, draw the line at one major grocery trip per day.  So in the meantime, I am psyching myself up by breathing real heavy like a boxer before the fight, hopping around the house on my toes, jabbing the air left and right, and shouting into the mirror, “Who rules the kitchen?  That’s right!  You do!”  There may or may not be some growling involved.

And if all else fails, at least coyotas and aqua de Jamaica beat Pop Tarts and Coca Cola!

 

Agua de Jamaica

8 oz. dried Jamaica flowers

16 cups water

sugar to taste

ice

Wash the flowers in a strainer.  Put them in a pot with the water and heat until the water boils.  Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 24 hours.  Pour through a strainer to remove the flowers.  Once the water is in its serving container, add sugar to taste.

Hot Diggity Dog

We are a baseball family.  Often, as our son was growing up, we planned our summer vacations around the Major League Baseball schedule.  A trip to South Carolina meant a stop in Atlanta to see the Braves play.  We opted to drive to a family vacation in Delaware so we could catch games in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.  Eventually, our grand plan of hitting every ballpark in America fizzled out.  Yet, while moving Caleb to Oregon this past summer for law school, he and I went well out of our way to make a game in San Francisco.

Fall means baseball playoff time.  Even in San Carlos, Mexico.  Especially in San Carlos, Mexico!  Baseball in more popular than soccer in the northern state of Sonora.  In fact, the first baseball game played in Mexico took place in the port of Guaymas in 1877.  Today, there are three teams representing Sonora in the Mexican Pacific League, a winter league, whose season runs from October through January.  Estadio Sonora, in the capital city,  is home to the Hermosillo Naranjeros.  It is one of the largest baseball stadiums in all of Latin American, boasting a capacity of 16,000.

thumbnail

It is difficult for my husband to be a Cubs fan during this current series, as many of our friends and neighbors are rooting for the Dodgers.  Fernando Valenzuela, the Dodgers’ 1981 Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award winner was born in Navajoa, Sonora. 

I no longer have that one favorite team.  I get a lot of ribbing from my son for my “fair weather fanishness”.  I am a fan of the game these days.  I am a fan of the experience.  I am a fan of the nostalgia of ballparks, and the feelings stirred up by the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and the smells of popcorn and peanuts.  So while a Cubs’ victory in the series would definitely make my husband happy, and ultimately my life happier,  it just does not really matter to me who wins.  What I am more excited by is an excuse to indulge in the most famous ballpark treat of them all; a hot dog.  And it just so happens that Sonora has me covered!

thumbnail-2Sonoran hot dogs, or Estilo Sonora hot dogs, got their start in Hermosillo 30 to 40 years ago.  They were sold from carts by venders known as “dogueros”.  For the most part, they are still sold this way today.  The hot dogs have spread throughout the state and even jumped the border.  The Sonoran hot dog is the star of the menu at all three El Güero Canelo restaurants, located in Tucson, Arizona.  The delicious treat has even been featured on the Food Network and Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel.

The hot dog is first wrapped in bacon and then grilled.  It is
served in a baguette style bun, called a bolillo, a bread that was introduced by the Spanish in the 1860’s.  Next, the bacon wrapped dog is slathered with pinto beans, grilled onions, tomatoes, mustard, mayonnaise, and a guacamole thumbnail-1purée.  Jalapeños are served on the side.  I do not care for tomatoes, but I make an exception for the Sonoran hot dog, always ordering mine “completo”.  There is a wide variety of extra sauces that can be added as well, including plain old ketchup.  The combination of flavors and textures is incredible!  And there is absolutely nothing better to wash this treat down with than an ice cold Coke- – in a bottle!

Just as friends trash talk with one another about teams and players, Sonoran hot dogs cause their share of drama too.  Heated debates about where to find the very best ensue whenever the topic comes up.  This is a contest I am more than happy to lose, as long as there is taste testing involved.  But to be honest, when Sonoran hot dogs are involved, everyone is a winner!