Saturday, July 31, 2021

A Recipe from the Streets of Mexico City

I found on the internet on the website "Epicurious" a recipe for "tlacoyos".   On the streets of Mexico City or in the market stalls you will often see women making these corn-meal patties.

Last week I made a trip to the Mexican supermarket in Cleveland to get the ingredients that I needed for this recipe.  The most important ingredient that I needed to buy was "masa harina", the corn flour which is used to make tortillas.

They had three different varieties of "masa harina".  The standard type is "blanco" (white), but it came in a big five pound bag, and I knew that most of it would go to waste.  They had smaller bags of "amarillo" (yellow) and "azul" (blue), so I picked up a bag of "amarillo".  I later asked Alejandro if the "amarillo" was OK, and he said that yes, it was better than the white, and that the blue would have been best of all.

I also picked up a couple items for the garnishes... "queso fresco" (a crumbly Mexican cheese) and "crema" (the Mexican version of sour cream).  However, one could use regular sour cream and cheese that are found in ordinary supermarkets. 

I began by making the filling.  My first deviation from the recipe was to use olive oil instead of lard.  After heating the oil in a frying pan, I added a wedge of white onion.  I kept turning it until it was blistered and slightly charred on all sides.  Then I drained a can of black beans (reserving the liquid) and added the beans to the frying pan.  I seasoned with some salt and mashed the beans roughly.   In the process that wedge of onion broke up into the mixture.  If it became too dry, I added a bit of the reserved liquid.

 Having completed the bean filling, I set it aside in a bowl.

Next came the preparation of the "masa" or dough.  I put 1 1/2 cups of the "masa harina" in a bowl and added 1 cup of warm water.  I kneaded the "masa" for about five minutes.  You should test to see if the dough needs to be moister by taking a small quantity of "masa" in your fingers.  If the edges are cracked, add a little more water... as much as 1/2 cup if necessary.

Now comes the fun part.  The recipe said that it might be a bit difficult until you get the hang of it, but I did not seem to have any problem.  Take some dough and form a ball a little bigger than a golf ball, then flatten it in your palm until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Then add a spoonful of the bean mixture onto the middle of the disc of "masa".  

Fold up the sides of the disc around the bean mixture and pinch the dough shut.  It looks like a turnover. 

The recipe says that it yields six to eight "tlacoyos".  Maybe my idea of a golf ball is a bit bigger, but I only got five of them.

I wanted to see how they tasted so I continued by separating three "tlacoyos" to put in the freezer and two to eat for lunch.

The "tlacoyos" are put in a dry, non-stick frying pan over medium heat.  Keep turning them until both sides freckled and the surface is solid.

After those three had cooled, I wrapped them and put them in the freezer.  I went through the same process of heating the remaining two in the dry skillet.  However, Alejandro told me another step which was not in the recipe.  The "tlacoyos" he said will have a much better flavor if you fry them in oil before eating.  So that is what I did.

I then added the garnishes...  a bit of the bean mixture that was left over, some diced raw onion, some salsa, some crumbled "queso fresco" and a dollop of "crema"  (You can garnish your "tlacoyos" as you please.  The recipe called for slices of pickled cactus, but I am not that fond of them.)

So here is the finished product.  Lunch is served!

They are probably not as good as they ones made by the women on the street on their "comales" (griddles), but mine were quite tasty.  My only criticism of the recipe was that the dough tasted rather bland.  I asked Alejandro if it is OK to add a little salt when preparing the "masa", and he said "yes".  I still have plenty of the corn flour, so I will definitely make "tlacoyos" again!

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Countdown: One Week to Go

A webcam view of the Zócalo, Mexico City´s main plaza

One week from today, I will fly once again to Mexico City.  As was the case in April, when I finally returned after a thirteen month absence, this trip will be more about being with my "Mexican family" than about sightseeing.  The situation with the Delta variant is not good in Mexico.  For a mere couple of weeks this summer, the "traffic light" pandemic indicator was at green in Mexico City.  Then it returned to orange alert and last Monday it went up to red alert.  The official count of new cases (and you must remember that the official statistics are a gross undercount) is up to the levels seen last winter, and the death count is also going up.  However, nothing is being closed and the President insists that all schools will reopen in a few weeks for the beginning of the new school year.  A friend of Alejandro's sister who is a pediatrician says that the public hospitals are full of infected children... something never mentioned by government officials.  I have a good supply of N-95 facemasks for myself and to give to Alejandro and his family.  I intend to wear a mask at all times when I am outside of Alejandro's house or the apartment that I rent.

Meanwhile, I intend to more or less quarantine myself for the last week before the trip... not so much out of concern for myself as out of concern for Alejandro's family, especially Alejandro's unvaccinated nephew.  On my travel day the mask will remain on my face at the airport and on the flights at ALL times (well, except for when I briefly have to reveal my face at security).  I will not eat that day until I am ensconced with Alejandro's family.  Since my flight will arrive in Mexico City at around 1:00 P.M., I will not have to fast for too long.

During these last seven days, I have a list of things to do before my departure.  I hope that the weather cooperates so that I can finish giving the garden a final sprucing up.  As mentioned before, my packing is nearly done.  

It will not be the typical, carefree trip of the pre-pandemic era, but I am looking forward to my return to Mexico. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Music Returns

It's been a long time since I have been to a concert of the Cleveland Orchestra.  Their season was cancelled through most of 2020 and into 2021 due to the pandemic.  At long last the orchestra is playing at its summer home, the Blossom Music Center.  Last night, along with a couple of my friends, I went to one of the concerts.

The Blossom Music Center is located in the forests of the Cuyahoga Valley in between the cities of Cleveland and Akron.  The lawn was crowded with spectators, but the in the pavilion, where we had tickets, social distancing was observed, and tickets were sold for only every other seat.  Of course, people from the same household sat next to each other, but my friends and I found that being spaced apart was a blessing on that hot, humid summer night.

The guest conductor of the evening was Rafael Payere, a Venezuelan-born musician and conductor who next year will be assuming the position of principal conductor of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

(image taken from the web)

The concert began with Prokofiev's Violin Concerto #2.  The guest soloist was Stefan Jackiw, a young American violinist of Ukranian and Korean descent.

(image taken from the web)

Jackiw played superbly, but, to be honest, I did not find the concerto that interesting.

The second piece on the program was one of my favorite symphonies, Dvorak's Symphony #9, commonly known as the "New World Symphony".   This work was written in 1893 during the Czech composer's stay in the United States as the director of the National Conservatory of Music.  It premiered that year at Carnegie Hall to thunderous applause.  It has since become one of the most popular symphonies in the entire classical repertoire.  Dvorak was very interested in American music, and the symphony is said have been influenced by spirituals and Native American dances. The composer wrote that he was considering using some of the themes from the symphony for an opera based on "Hiawatha", a work that he never wrote.

No matter how many times I hear the "New World Symphony", it is always a pleasurable  experience, and it was wonderful to hear our great orchestra live once again!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Sehr Gut!

Yesterday I got together with a couple of friends whom I have not seen since before the pandemic.  If you have been reading the blog for a long time and have a very good memory, you might remember Joyce and Dave.  After retirement, for a number of years they spent their winters in Progreso in the state of Yucatán, Mexico.  We would often get together on my visits to Mérida, the nearby capital of the state.  Joyce used to be a Spanish teacher also.  Although she taught in a different school district, we took several summer workshop courses together, and we became friends.

We met at one of my favorite restaurants here in the Cleveland area, a place called "Das Schnitzel Haus"... obviously, a German restaurant.  The food there is excellent, and I am told that it is quite authentic.

Joyce had stuffed cabbage rolls and Dave had a breaded chicken cutlet.

I ordered my favorite dish, something called "Zigeunerschnitzel".  It is no longer on the menu, but if they have the ingredients they will make it upon request.

(photo taken by Joyce)

The breaded pork cutlet is covered with a sauce made tomatoes, onion, bell peppers, and seasoned with paprika.  It is garnished with goat cheese.

I did a bit of research on the dish and found out that "Zigeunerschnitzel" means "Gypsy schnitzel".  For that reason the name is considered offensive to the Roma people who do not like to be called gypsies.  In Germany some restaurants have changed the name to "Balkanschnitzel" or "Paprikaschnitzel" on their menus.

Whatever the name, it is very good!  The dinner included two sides.  I had German potato salad and red cabbage. 

All of us also ordered dessert.  They were out of apple strudel, but Dave had German chocolate cake, Joyce had cherry strudel, and I had cheese strudel.

(photo taken by Joyce)

Needless to say we all left the restaurant with full tummies!


Friday, July 23, 2021

Hanging Garden

I have a number of hanging baskets outside.  Most of them are in the sun, and I always plant the so-called "super-petunias" or calibrachoa (often referred to as "million bells").  I have two baskets however, which are in partial shade. They only get sun in the very late afternoon.  I have tried planting a number of different plants in those, including New Guinea impatiens and tuberous begonias.  They have done OK but have not been spectacular.  This year I planted a variety of flower called "dragon wing begonias".  They really seem to like the spot and have filled the baskets completely.

In the future I now know exactly what to buy for those two baskets!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Two Weeks to Go

Two weeks from today, I return to Mexico.  Except for a couple of items, the suitcase that will be checked on the flight is already packed.  All I have to do is prepare the backpack that I use as a carry on.

As you may remember, I have clothing at the Mexico City apartment that I rent.  I also have several changes of clothes at Alejandro's house since I always spend my first few days there.  Almost everything in this suitcase is gifts for Alejandro and his family.  I am not using my biggest suitcase as I did in April.  On that trip, after a year of absence, I came laden like Santa Claus with loads of presents for everyone.  However, it will still be like Christmas in August when I return to my "Mexican family", 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

One More Time

Even after several days of dry weather, there are still some areas of my yard that are a malarial swamp after the torrential rains that we received.

However, I have been able to get out and work on the garden.  Thankfully I have not heard of any cases of West Nile Virus here this summer because there is an abundance of mosquitoes.

My plan is to go through all the flower beds... weeding, removing spent blossoms, and cutting back perennials that are done blooming and are no longer attractive.  I want to spruce up the gardens before I leave for Mexico in August.

As I go through the beds, I am putting down another application of Preen, a granular weed preventer.  (No, I was not paid by the makers of Preen for this plug.)  Preen is not an herbicide, but it helps keep weeds from germinating.  It's not 100% effective but it is a big help.  In early spring I put down Preen before I left on my April trip to Mexico.  When I returned in May the garden was not overrun with weeds as it would have been otherwise.  I put another application on in late spring when I worked on the flower beds.  In most areas, the weeds are still few and far between.  This application should keep the garden from being overrun until after my return in September.

And then, I hate to say this, before long it will be time to think about chopping down the perennials in preparation for winter.

Monday, July 19, 2021

I'll Soon Be There

Here are a couple of early morning shots of Mexico City taken from the Mexican webcam site...

The city's most famous boulevard, el Paseo de la Reforma

The Monument to the Mexican Revolution

I will fly back to Mexico City on August 5th!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Last week I wrote about the torrential rain that flooded my street and yard.  It was finally starting to dry out... although there were still some puddles in the back yard.  Then it rained Thursday evening and most of Friday.  The flooding was not as bad as earlier in the week, but the ground was saturated, and my yard was once again a swampy mess.

I know that I should not complain when there are so many people in Europe that have lost their lives or their homes due to flooding there.  However it is frustrating not to be able to go out and work on the garden.  

The sun is finally shining this morning, and the forecast calls for a week of dry weather.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that everything will dry out enough for me to get out and give the garden a good going over before I leave on my trip to Mexico in early August.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

What Can Art Be?

This is my last post from my visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art earlier this summer.  As I was about to leave the museum I saw that the Art Lens Gallery was once again open after being closed during the pandemic.  The gallery, which is located next to the main entrance, is an introduction to the museum and to the world of art.  It has around twenty items from the museum's collection presented in such a way as to engage the viewer.  The exhibit changes every two years.

Currently the theme of the Art Lens Gallery is "What Can Art Be?".  Here are a few of the objects on display.

What can art be?


    Tea set on stand, 1907

This was designed by the Italian Carlo Bugatti and is made of gilt silver, ivory, mahogany and mother of pearl.

What can art be?


"Indian Combat" 1868

This marble sculpture was done by Edmonia Lewis, an Afro-American and Native-American artist who was the first woman of color to gain international recognition in the art world.  This sculpture inspired Pulitzer-prize winning poet, Tyehimba Jess, to write a poem about it.

What can art be?


"Oedipus at Colonus" 1798

The French painter Fulchran Jean Herriet portrays the blind Oedipus with his daughter Antigone in a scene from the ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles.

What can art be?


Peacock table lamp, 1902

This lamp was designed by Ohio native Clara Wolcott Driscoll for the Tiffany Studios.

What can art be?


 Microscope, 18th century

This French, gilt bronze microscope is a piece of decorative art as well as a functioning scientific instrument.

What can art be?


Piggy bank, 1300s - 1400s

This terra-cotta piggy bank from the island of Java somehow survived the centuries without being broken open.

What can art be?


Greek amphora, 515-510 B.C.

This Grecian wine jar portrays Hercules fighting the Nemean lion while the goddess Athena looks on.

What can art be?


"Portrait of a Woman" 1748

The French painter Jean Marc Nattier portrays a wealthy woman of the era fashionably dressed and coiffed.

Another interesting feature of the gallery is the Art Lens Wall, a forty foot long interactive wall which is one of the largest in the world and the only one in a museum.

The wall shows all of the pieces on display in the museum as well as some items that are in storage.  If you touch one of the pictures, it will emerge with information about the work and the gallery in the museum where you will find it.

That concludes our tour of the Cleveland Museum of Art... at least until my next visit.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Snail Mail

A week ago I criticized the United States Postal Service for taking 44 days to deliver a small package to my cousins in Switzerland.  Now it's my turn to take aim at the Mexican Postal Service.  Of course this is not the first time that I have written negatively about that institution that has devolved into a mass of inefficiency.  

I can remember almost fifty years ago when I was a college student studying in Mexico during the winter quarter of my junior year.  Letters that my parents sent me and that I sent back home would arrive in a relatively timely fashion.  I was only down there for ten weeks, but an exchange of correspondence back and forth was possible.  Sometime during those intervening decades the postal service became incredibly slow.  

I have previously mentioned here fellow blogger Gary Denness, an Englishman who lived for a number of years in Mexico City.  (A link to his blog "The Mexile" appears on my blog list in the right hand margin.) When I was in Mexico on my latest trip I sent him a postcard from the main post office in Mexico City just to see how long it would take.  At the time, I wrote about it on this blog.

Gary informed me that the postcard had finally arrived at his home in England on Tuesday of this week.  From the time I sent it in late April, it took seventy seven days to be delivered... and I think we be quite sure that the delay is not the fault of the British postal service.

So that means that if I were studying for ten weeks in Mexico nowadays, I would quite possibly be back home before any snail mail would arrive at its destination.  Looking at it another way, back in colonial times it took the Spanish galleons two to three months to sail from Spain to Mexico... about the same time it took for that postcard to cross the ocean.  Thank goodness we have email.

Alejandro's young nephew enjoys receiving mail, so yesterday I sent him another postcard.  I'm willing to bet money that it will not arrive before I return to Mexico on August 5th!  

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Not Out of the Woods

Spring and early summer seemed like a time of such optimism.  I was fully vaccinated, I resumed my usual schedule of traveling, and once again I had a social life.  Here in Ohio the number of new COVID cases were down to a level that we had not seen since the beginning of the pandemic.  And then the Delta variant raised its ugly head.  In the last week, the number of new cases of COVID in the U.S. has increased by 55% and the number of deaths by 8%.

(The graphs which I show below are from the website World-o-Meter.  They are photographs which I took from my computer screen.)

When you look at the cases here in Ohio, the situation appears to be stable, even though our vaccination rate is a little below the national average.  The number of daily new cases is still tiny compared to the height of the pandemic last winter.  However we are starting to see an increase which may not bode well.  Yesterday the number of new cases was 344 compared to 236 the day before.  Over the last four days the seven day average for new cases has increased from 236 to 249 to 284 to 307.

In some states where the Delta variant has really taken off you can see a dramatic spike on the graph.  Missouri is the best example.

Mexico has also seen a big increase in cases and deaths.  This graph does not include yesterday's figure of 11,000 new cases, the highest number that they have recorded since February.

So, we are not yet out of the woods.  COVID is still with us.  Even when things seemed optimistic, I continued wearing a mask in the supermarket and other stores.  There are perhaps only a handful of customers and employees who are still wearing masks, but I don't care if I look like an oddball.  I have ordered more N95 masks to wear in Mexico and to give to Alejandro and his family.

Here in the United States we have an abundance of vaccine available while people in the Third World go without.  It is very sad that an astonishing 30% of adults in this country refuse to take the vaccine.  I realize that there is a small number of people that simply cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.  But it is simply mind-boggling that we have so many ignorant fools in this country who would rather listen to nutty conspiracy theorists instead of the medical and scientific community.  If we had this sort of mentality in earlier years, we would still be worrying about polio and smallpox.  

I am going to repeat something that a fellow blogger wrote that is quite cruel, but also very true.  The people who refuse vaccination and die from COVID should have the cause of death on their death certificate listed as "natural selection".  

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Should I Build an Ark?

Yesterday I posted some pictures of my garden, pictures that I took several days ago.  However, right now my yard is a swampy mess.  We have had quite a bit of rain this summer, but yesterday we had two torrential downpours.  The ground could not absorb any more, and flooding began.

 The landscapers still have not put in my front lawn (they are behind schedule, in part, because of the rainy weather), so I had a muddy lake in front of my house.

As the rain continued, my back yard became a swamp.

The gutters could not handle the amount of rain and overflowed.

The flooding extended into the street, creating a hazardous situation.

The water has receded considerably, but it will be several days before it is dry enough to work in my garden.

Monday, July 12, 2021