Los Dos Cooking School

The highlight of our third week in Merida has to be attending the Los Dos Cooking School. Thank you, Jason, for gifting your Dad. Of course I got to tag along (for a fee of course).

The Los Dos Cooking School is on our street about six blocks south, how convenient. Chef David Sterling was our host. Yucatecan cuisine is a rich blend of ancient Maya and Spanish techniques and ingredients with a touch of French, Dutch, Portuguese, Lebanese and Caribbean influences.

The native ingredients used by the Mayans were very healthy and contained little animal fat until the Spanish introduced the pig. They use chaya (a leafy green vegetable), pepita (squash seeds), lima beans, turkey, corn, allspice, sour orange, papaya, cinnamon and cacao as well as habanero chiles in much of the food. So it’s different from the typical Mexican food you may think of with red chiles and sauces. The red spice ball is made with achiote and the black one is mostly charred chiles. They also use a green spice ball. These are called racados. On the right are empty cacao seed pods. In the jar on the left are oregano leaves, not the type we’re accustomed to using. Behind the oregano are cacao patties, not sweetened.

Spices used in cooking

Spices used in cooking

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Meat (turkey, chicken, tapir, quail, doves, pigeons) is often cooked in a Pib or underground oven, and called Pibil as in Pollo Pibil (chicken pibil). There was no pib at Los Dos, however, David has concocted a way to get the same smoky effect using a cast-iron pot on the stove. He wanted people to be able to cook the recipes in their homes.

After we had a lovely Continental breakfast and learned about Yucatecan cuisine, all 12 of us headed off to the Main Market to buy the items for the menu. The market is a maze with small aisles and lots of people. We were warned to stay with our group and not get lost. I really had to take these pictures on the run. The market has pretty much anything you might want or need.

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After the market we had snacks; salbutes and sour orange-aid, while the kitchen staff were prepping the food items. The snack, or lunch as Mexican’s call the mid-day snack break, really hit the spot.

It was time to get to work making the tortillas. David had a master teacher demonstrating how to make tortillas. We all had a chance to give it a try. David also purchased some tortillas in the market for us to taste the difference. It was amazing, like night and day. The homemade tortillas were far superior.

If you look closely, you will see el maestro has made at least three tortillas to my one! We’re working in the courtyard and on my left is the swimming pool.

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We went on to make the pol’kanes, salsas, marinated onions, wrapped up our chicken breasts in the banana leaves and prepared the dessert. After all the prep work we had wine and dipped our feet into the pool sharing stories while the chicken roasted in the ‘pib’. It was a beautiful day. By the time the food was ready, around 4 PM, we were all pretty hungry. This is the time Mexicans typically have their big meal of the day. This was also the time I became more interested in ‘living the moment and forgot to capture it’! Therefore, I have no pictures of the lovely meal. Really, can you believe it? For what it’s worth, here’s our menu.

MENU

Botana: Sikil P’aak – a spread made with tasted, ground squash seeds

Antojito:

Panuchos and Salbutes –

Salbutes are like little tostados smeared with refried black beans, lettuce, turkey and red onion

Panuchos are similar except when the tortilla is fresh an opening is made where refried black beans are stuffed gently inside, then the tortilla is refried and piled with the same ingredients as Salbutes

Entrada:

Pol’kanes – “snake heads” or corn fritters stuffed with beans & squash seed paste then toasted on a griddle

(the Mayans didn’t have oil to fry)

Plato Fuerte:

Pollo Pibil and Arroz Verde

Charcoal grilled Chicken cooked in banana leaves in achiote marinade and green rice

Las Salsas:

X’nipek – Mexican salsa using habanero and sour orange rather than lime

Chile Tamulado – Fiery Habanero Table Sauce

Cebollas Encurtidas – Red Onions Pickled in Sour Orange Juice

Postre:

Caballeros Pobres

Bread pudding “soufflé” with cinnamon syrup and nuts – Most delicious!!

And red or white wine

We were walking out of Los Dos at 5:15 fully sated and having had a wonderful day. Thanks again, Jason.

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Some of you may be wondering how we’re doing ‘living’ in Mexico. Generally we’re doing fine. We’ve been in Mexico for a month at a time in the summer several times in the past. So, we have yet to cross over the one month point. What’s different this time is we’re renting a house and making it home, not vacation.

We do have times when things seem more complicated or difficult than they need to be. For example, we took a taxi to CozCo (Costco) this past week and asked for the driver to return at a certain time. We knew how to ask from our Spanish classes. We waited 15 minutes from the time the cab was to arrive and decided to head to the street to find a taxi on our own.

After waiting another hour and having several cabs pass by, mostly with fares, we took the bus home. It was our first bus trip and we had to walk four blocks home. At least we’d planned to only have three bags so it was manageable. It was the end of the day so the bus was full. In typical Mexican fashion, there is always room for one more so we were pushed a ways down the aisle. I was hanging onto two full grocery bags and the pole to keep my balance. Our two loaves of bread aren’t looking real pretty.

It turns out most of our inconveniences are related to learning to live in a new place. This would be the case if we were living in a new place in the US. Not having a car or speaking the language does present interesting challenges. It’s all good.

I’ve decided to close with a little picture story for your enjoyment. Just so you know we aren’t living through rose-colored glasses.

About Mexico, the good

Beautiful flowers every day in the market

Beautiful flowers every day in the market

the bad

Limestone leeching out of the walls, ruins the paint.

Limestone leeching out of the walls, ruins the paint.

the ugly!

First cockroach. Found in the pool, dead.

First cockroach. Found in the pool, dead.

Adios…

El Barrio de Santiago

We’re living in the neighborhood (barrio) of Santiago in the Central (el Centro) or downtown area of Merida. As in most Mexican communities, the neighborhood tends to have most things to meet your needs. Here’s a bit about our little barrio.

Our mornings are met with the sound of the Mourning Doves perched on the wall next to our pool, as well as the neighbors’ dogs barking and trying to kill each other. Homes are built in the old Spanish style with plain facades and thick, shared walls. You see absolutely nothing of your neighbor or what’s behind their facade. So, unless you happen to meet your neighbors coming or going you may never meet their little, noisy, rat dogs, only hear them. It’s hard to meet the neighbors or to know exactly where the dogs live.

Mourning Dove perched on the wall

Mourning Dove perched on the wall

There are three hotels within 2 blocks of us in different directions.

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All three hotels advertise free parking lots. The Paris Hotel is the only lot visible from the street.

Directly across the street from us is the LA68 Cultural Center that I mentioned in my last post. They have breakfast and lunch, a gift shop with only locally made, handcrafted items, coffee and alcohol drinks. One of their big things is to host a weekly home and garden tour as well as International movies in an open air theatre each day but Sunday.

Next to LA68 is another building which has only had activity on Sunday afternoon. The sign above the door says:

Obras Misionales

Pontificio Episcopales

Arquidiocesis de Yucatan

Direccion Diocesana

Which translates into something about the Missionary Works of the Pontifical Episcopalians Archdiocese Management. Hmmm. To our left is an older (probably our age) Mexican couple with a bunch of cats. The cats walk on the walls and if the wind is right and the neighbor’s garage door open, you can smell and see cats as you walk by. There’s been only one cat fight/howl since we’ve been here. Much better than the dogs.

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We live on Calle 68, #475 between 55 and 57 (Calle 68, #475, x55 y57). The streets are set so the even numbers run north and south and odd numbers east and west. Most all the streets are labeled on a corner building so it’s fairly easy to find your way around. All but the main thoroughfares are one way. This makes it easier to watch for traffic.

It seems there are more street lights than I’m accustomed to in Mexico but that’s good. Maybe it’s because we’re in el Centro. The lights are only on two of the four corners so you must pay attention. Then again, even if not watching the light you must pay attention as pedestrians do not have the right away in Mexico. If it’s bigger than you it gets it’s way! Since it is Mexico, you don’t have to wait for the light to turn green if there’s no traffic coming and jay-walking is okay.

On many corners you can see these cute little picture signs. I’ve yet to learn what they’re about but they tickle my fancy so I wanted to share a few examples.

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One of the questions I had for the landlord was what to do with the trash. You simply put it out on the sidewalk and it goes away, I should say gets picked up. It’s not clear to me when the pick-up is since trash appears on the same streets on different days. And, it goes away.Merida Week Two 049We’re three blocks from Santiago park and market. This is a small market but has most of what you might want or need. There’s a church and more business around the park. The church bells seem to ring in the morning and late afternoons on the quarter hour. The mercado is a place we visit regularly. Bear with my Spanish practice. It’s my next task!

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There are other businesses around the park such as paint stores, hardware shops, a butcher, bakery, laundries and more. One side of the park is where taxis gather. It’s a busy main street through the city.

Here are more sites from the neighborhood.

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So, I hope you’ve enjoyed viewing the barrio as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing it. If only you could hear the sounds, smell the wonderful aromas, as well as feel the warmth of the sun on your skin… Until next time, adios.

First Week in Mexico

We’ve been in Merida, Mexico for just over a week. It’s been a week full of new adventures and experiences. Our flight down was uneventful if you consider the length of time it took as uneventful. Doug was not feeling well as he’d picked up a cold just before leaving Washington. When we arrived in LA his ears were really aching. It was 10:00 PM and we had a two hour lay-over. We found some Sudafed and then a place in the airport to “camp-out” for awhile. Why do they always have armrests between the seats in airport terminals??? Just to keep us lay-over folks from being able to stretch out on the chairs??

As people gathered for our Mexico City leg it was a noticeably Latin group. All the intercom calls relating to the passengers were made in Spanish and mostly to check passports. We were beginning to feel like the foreigners we were soon to be.

Since it was our best chance of sleep, and Doug was a hurtin’ unit, we opted to splurge and upgrade to first class for the LA to Mexico City leg, if available. Oh surprise, it was available.

Once boarded in our comfy first class seats, we became familiar with our attendant. He provided beverages and since it was free, we had dinner (hmmm, really, dinner?) of pulled pork sandwiches at midnight (PST). We seemed to have got our second wind and enjoyed the comfort, drinks, food and our novels too late into the night.

About 3 AM (PST) after maybe a couple hours sleep, we were landing in Mexico City (5 AM). Bummer, where did the night go?

Yes, we too were dragging as we drug our luggage through customs and set about finding a place to “camp” for four hours while  awaiting the next leg of our journey.  I actually sacked out on the floor in a corner for a bit.

Around 9:30 AM our gate for the 10:30 AM flight was finally posted so we headed out to continue the wait.

By 10:30 all the passengers had been waiting for close to an hour but no sign of the plane boarding anytime soon. Finally, around 10:50 we began boarding for the 10:30 flight. No excuses or explanations.

The Aeromexico attendants wore these cute, little, red, pillbox hats. Looked like something out of Mad Men, or the ’60’s.

The Merida airport was small. A quick in for the bags and out for a taxi. There were no taxi’s around but a booth where you could purchase tickets on a van to town. The van driver didn’t speak English, yet, Doug was able to communicate the address of our rental home.

Doug buying tickets for a ride to Merida from the airport.

Doug buying tickets for a ride to Merida from the airport.

The ride to town was straight forward. The airport is on the edge of the city, no countryside views. When we got to the house there was no one here. Across the street is a little café so I wandered in to see if I could borrow a phone. However, I was unsuccessful in communicating my wish in Spanglish. No English spoken there. There were tables of diners who looked like Gringos, however, no one came to my rescue.

Next, Doug gave it a try, however, he approached the Gringas to borrow a phone. They weren’t very pleasant but helped with a phone. So far first impressions of Merida were wanting. He came back and we waited about 15 minutes for someone to arrive.

The house was just like the pictures online. It’s an old structure with modern interior design. The pool is still too cold to use, but soon…

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Casa Cultura, also known as LA68, is across the street. It’s a little café that serves breakfast, coffees, sandwiches, pizza and drinks. They have International movies in an open air theatre every night. They also have a small gift shop and sponsor cultural activities such as a home and garden tour every Wednesday. We’ve had breakfast and lunch as well as purchased homemade Sangrita to sip with our sipping tequila. Haven’t made it to a movie as yet. They’re mostly with sub-titles, either Spanish or English.

Neighbor across the street, Casa Cultura.

Neighbor across the street, Casa Cultura.

In the first week, I found four blocks down the street, a yoga studio, Merida Bunker, with classes that meet Monday – Thursday at 8 and 10 AM and Sat at 9 AM. I pay $850 pesos for 12 classes which comes to less than $5.50 USD/class. Nice!

Classes are tough! I sweat like I’ve done cardio and my muscles are feeling the work-out. Here we do head/forearm stands every class, it’s part of the program. “Inversions are an important part of yoga.” I’m liking it. The classes are in Spanish and most of the students are Mexican.

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Speaking of cardio…I also found a Zumba center 2 blocks down from the yoga studio! Zumba classes are M-W-S at 8:30 AM. The classes are taught by a Canadian ex-pat and the attendees are all U.S. or Canadian. Pretty much everyone is around my age. It’s high energy and fun and only $200 pesos for 20 classes (less than $2.00 USD/class).

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Another two blocks from the house is the English Library. As Doug was signing up for an annual membership, I met George who told me about Spanish classes beginning the next day. The Spanish classes were across the street from the library.

The library hosts different events including a monthly Meet and Greet, free Saturday morning lectures on different topics, once a month Wine Tasting with the Home and Garden Tour as well as having books to loan.

Sign on building

English Library in Merida

English Library in Merida

Our Spanish classes are taught by a former Mexican flight attendant by the name of Julissa. She is the only teacher in Merida of the Warren Hardy Spanish language method. Doug and I had read about this method a couple weeks before leaving the NW and were very interested. Funny how it all falls into place. Our classes are Tuesday and Thursday from 2-4 PM and Saturday from 10-12 AM. Our calendar is filling fast!

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We’ve learned a lot, done a lot and met a lot of very friendly people. As you may have noted, our house is very well located for walking. We’ve also had to figure out how to get groceries. That is still a work in process. We flagged a cab (all metered in Merida) to get to Costco (spoken Causco in English) and the driver, in Spanish, told Doug to just walk it’s only 4 blocks. We knew we had missed something. So, the next cabby had Doug write where we wanted to go on paper. He correctly spelled Costco. Oh, si, he could take us to Co-z-co (spoken with long O sounds).

Learning any Spanish will be very helpful. Our maid and yard man do not speak any English either! Most local people don’t speak English or prefer to have us try Spanish. Our heads are spinning a bit, but we’re enjoying the adventure. We’ve had drinks at the home of new friends and are going tomorrow night to a meet and greet of North American ex-pats. As a good friend always says, ‘we are always in our proper place’. Wow, what a week!

Happy New Year!

OK, I’ve started on this post three times and have been distracted and interrupted! Hopefully third time’s a charm and I get this out to you.

Wow! It’s 2014. Even though it’s now the end of January (literally the last day!) it’s my first blog post of the new year, so it seems appropriate to wish you each a great 2014.

The new year gets me thinking and reflecting. Being somewhat newly retired invites even greater opportunity for reflection.

To reflect on what I (we) want to do in this new year and new season of life. I’ve spared you from waxing philosophical and hope I can do so today. Yet, in our retirement adventure it helps to keep focused on what we truly value when making decisions about what this new year will hold for us and how we spend our time.

So, what do I value? Relationship with God. Relationships with family and friends. Health. Learning. Growing. New adventures.

The past several months have been spent in all of the above.

We visited family and friends.

Visiting Nate in St Thomas was great, we hadn’t seen him in over a year.

Doug & Nate at Loblolly Beach in Anegada

Doug & Nate at Loblolly Beach in Anegada

Making new friends in the islands.

Half of Thanksgiving guests at Nate's

Half of Thanksgiving guests at Nate’s

Doing my first online Bible study and visiting St T churches that played Caribbean music. As well as visiting new churches wherever we were.

Visiting family and friends over Christmas.

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After Christmas we spent time driving the Washington Coast visiting old haunts, Long Beach and Ocean Shores. We just had to see the Washington beaches after St Thomas. Of course they hold their own jewels!

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Time in Portland then an adventure to San Francisco, one of our favorite cities. We re-visited places we’d been and adventured into new areas.

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We finished our San Francisco trip by watching the Seahawks play New Orleans in the San Francisco airport. We weren’t the only Hawks fans but there weren’t many of us. It’s been fun.

So my friends, it’s been a busy holiday time. We really enjoyed our time with many of you.

Now it’s on to the next adventure in Merida, Mexico. I challenge you to reflect on your values and how you are spending your time, I know as the year moves on and our days become filled with activities it can be hard to stay focused on what is really important to us. I promise I am challenging myself to keep my blog current.

Stay tuned, and let us hear from you. And make this a great New Year!