Friday, 1 October 2010

Thorns, loose gravel, problems, and things that go bump in the day....But Wait! If you begin to read now, you get another article, FREEE!

   It was about two weeks of being down this time...lots more rain....a couple of power outages...short ones, thankfully....and now I am back again.  The Rio Corona roared back up to nearly where it had been back in August.   Hurricane Karl did send the majority of its remants up along the face of the Sierra Madre Oriental during the period from September 18th through the 21st.  The next State to the South, Vera Cruz, suffered huge rainfall totals, up to 80 inches over a four day period.   This was covered almost the entirety of a fairly large coastal State in east-central most Mexico.

Pico de Orizaba, also known in the Nahuatl language
as Citlaltepetl....which means Star Mountain
     Vera Cruz is unique in the sense that it  is the only State in the Republic that touches the ocean and the highest point in Mexico at the same time.   Its entire eastern boundary is in contact with the Gulf of Mexico, while it also reaches to the heavens by sharing the uttermost pinnacle of the Peak of Orizaba as its boundary with the States of Puebla and Hidalgo.    The peak itself brushes up against the 19,000 foot elevation above sea level, and is one of the three permanent snow capped mountains, and glacial sites in Mexico.
      But, all this aside, Vera Cruz, Oaxaca, Tabasco, and Chiapas States are all being hit by catastrophic flooding, landslides, road closures, and other calamities.  Private, public, and all sorts of spontaneous assistance efforts are being made.   The area from Ciudad Victoria - more or less where we are -  up north through the Monterrey metroplex also was hit, but it was impressive to note that the people seemed resigned to even humerously digesting their losses and inconveniences.   Significant food, water, and clothing drives along with financial collections were being conducted and stuff and money being literally driven down to affected areas.   All of this is going on while the American press carries partially correct stories about organized crime violence and whether or not that violence might spill over into the United States.  (BULLETIN: Mexican organized crime and American organized crime has been joined at the hip for at least seventy years, and the crime "spillover" during this particular set of conditions started in the 1960's and has become worse each year since.)
      Another peculiar twist has hit our little existence at the Quinta Tesoro de la Sierra Madre.   Our back door neighbour, who has a humble but clean and sizable rambling domestic situation at our back door has new people "under the roof".   I use the term "domestic situation" because he has a large, one room adobe and thatched roof structure which serves as a bedroom and family gathering room for our neighbour, his son, and his daughter.   The children are in their late thirties as best I can tell, and have various types of conditions and disorders.   They are all quite pleasant, but their personalities are much more complex than one might think.  The father and the daughter are of normal intelligence, while the son has certain intellectual challenges and a condition involving seizures.
     Very recently, another couple has arrived, with two children, a girl about 12 and a boy aged about 9.   One or other of the adult couple is related to the owner of the compound in a father/child manner.    They are all pleasant enough, but the children can only speak English.  Their Spanish is very weak.  The mother can speak Spanish as can the father, but neither speaks English well at all.   The mother speaks a bit of broken English.   It must make for interesting conversation around the dinner table.
    As it turns out they have all arrived from Arizona, having left because of the fact that the "environment" did not seem conducive to their remaining.   They have taken up residence in the concrete room on the same property, equally spartan, one light bulb, very elementary shelter.
     With another woman on the grounds, things are brushed and swept-up a bit more, and certain improvements have been noticeable.   The children are civilized and trying to adapt to school uniforms and a discipline in class they have never seen or experienced....while trying to learn what is essentially, to them, a foreign language.   The boy seemed happy to find a neighbour who speaks English, but I have decided to remain in Spanish mode, at least for a majority of the time, so that he does not use me as his cultural safe-base.   As the days go by, the Old Gringo will try to learn more about these folks and try to assist in their establishment of a new life.   These are strange times.

     We have received a few inquiries about butterflies and birds.   So that I can be perfectly truthful, we have had quite a few of the Monarchs, but nothing like the "sun-blocking clouds" that are frequently referred to by people who are concerned about such things.  While it really never arrives as such a level, it is true that, at times, it can seem impossible that the air could hold so many flapping beasts at one time and in one place.  So far, this "going down south" season....not so much.  Perhaps there has just been too much rain and the butterflies are just taking their time.  
     As far as birds are concerned there have been a lot of warblers arriving quite suddenly.   Hummingbirds are the main attraction at this time however.    There  has been some disappointment with my Persian Maine Coon female cat because she has reverted to the idea that hummingbirds are some kind of "flying mice", so I have had to maintain my rolled up newspaper "tube" in order to beat the slop out of her as she tries to play "Swat the Flying Mouse".   I left instructions with Alvaro to keep the newspaper handy, as well.
     Finally, my water heater began giving some trouble....the pilot light....and every effort to resurrect the old pilot failed.    So, I went to the Estacion Santa Engracia, located a little hardware store that had a new one available, and went back home.    It was installed....and of course did not work.   I sent for the plumber who had done good work for me on our water pump.   Late in the afternoon, he came, and cleaned all the lines, did this, did that, and still it did not work.  (The gas line did need cleaning out)   Finally he disassembled the new pilot light and we immediately noted that it was outfitted for a natural gas feed....not propane/butane/lpg type gas.
      I assumed, of course, that all was lost and was busy brushing up on various forms of profanity when I noticed that my plumber, Jaime, had gone about disassembling the original old, old, old pilot light and the most recently deceased pilot light, and then the brand new pilot light.   He carefully selected the usable parts from each and assembled Dr. Frankenstein's New and Improved Pilot Light.   After a couple of tries it fired off and everything is pretty much back to normal.   Charge - 100 pesos (about 7.50 in dollars).
There is a lot more later, but as usual....
Thanks for your time and attention to this point...more this afternoon and/or tomorrow.
The Old Gringo
And then, once here, I had forgotten that during the first day of my last return, everything done, everything unloaded, the Old Gringo was watching a news program in order to stay abreast of the "interesting" developments that swirl around us, when there arose quite a clamour.   A particular child (now a teenager) for whom I have no particular liking began shouting for me to come out and quickly.  He was calling for me from the other side of the front gate (as required by custom)...."Hurry, don David! Hurry." 
     "What the devil is going on, son?" I ask.
     "There is a cow in the  river and some becerros (calves)." he responds, with urgency.
      I notice there are other men running down towards the river, with ropes (metates or riatas).  The Rio Corona is at a very high level at these moments with a very fast current.   Apparently a cow from the other side, a cow who has caused problems in the past with reference to her juxtaposition with the river, had fallen in and several calves had followed their mother/aunt into the drink.  As I arrived...after putting on tennis shoes and grabbing my own was quickly noticed that the bovines were not floating down the river or drowning.   They were simply standing in a shallow area on the other side of the Rio Corona, but 10 feet below from whence they had fallen and completely surrounded by 8 - 12 foot deep swirling water running at about 20 miles per hour.   They had no way out, and once they became impatient and ventured in any direction, they would quickly be swept away.     Men on the other side had already lassoed the cow and her younger charges, but there was no way to haul them up the steep embankment.   This meant they were stabilized but not retrievable.   Three men from our side were rowing in a very little john-boat, first along the backwash on our side going upstream, and then around in a wide arc in order to make it to the calm pool on the other side, about 150 feet away.
      Several ropes had been tied together to make two different and very, very long lengths.   Each  had one end had been tied to a very large cypress tree on our side.   Then as the men arrived on the other side  they began tieing the calves under the chest, each calf with two ropes.   Once they were certain that the beasts were secure they gave us the "all clear"  to begin hoisting the animals over to our side of the Rio Corona.   All of the men, kibbutzing, "Make sure you know they are going to weigh 10X more!"   "Pull on cadence.  Pull on cadence".    Almost all the men were telling almost all the men what to do.....but strangely it seemed to work.    And, although there were 12 or 14 of us, it was amazing how much a 150 pound calf could weigh when being pulled by such a river current.
      It took us about 3 minutes to bring the first one over, and then immediately turn to the second one.....which took about the same length of time.    Meanwhile, more men were arriving on the other side and our men were taking lariats and tieing the cow under the belly and under the chest with what seemed like 30 different ropes.   (This was done to avoid organ and skin damage from being hoisted with too few ropes taking the weight pressure, and distributing that weight over more contact area).    As "our guys" would loop around each rope, they would throw the end back up to "their guys".    Once done, the calves remaining were secured by the "other guys", while "our guys" repeated their crossing, but in reverse.   They then took our ropes back again to the remaining calves, secured them, and we repeated the hauling process, winding up with four bewildered calves tethered together and immediately driven up to my place to be held for the farmer who would be driving his pick-up around to pick them up.    They seemed to appreciate the change of scenery and the Johnson's grass that we have in abundance right now due to the rains. 
      The cow was hoisted with the thirty ropes, pulled by a score of men and a medium-sized tractor which had been brought into service for the cause.    It went, very anti-climacticly, very uneventfully.   There was the advantage of being able to pull the cow up the same slick slough down which she had slid.
      And then it was over.   The man with the pick-up appeared about 15 minutes later in front of the Quinta, he had two boxes of Corona Beer...(48 bottles)...everyone celebrated breifly....and then everyone went home, men, calves, 48 empty Corona bottles and all.

    A family friend from not so long ago asked me for a recipe for the very young cactus leaf sprouts that are a popular delicacy, especially in dryland areas of Northern Mexico.   I prepare them at times when they are available for wild harvest and when I am not feeling too lazy.   Here are some approaches that I use der must be aware that Moses did not bring down any certain instructions from Yahweh concerning the preparation of this mystical, tasty gift from heaven. Please read and, as anything on this blog, feel free to copy, cut, paste, etc.
 Please Note!    We are talking about "choyas"....the earliest sprouting of a new cactus leaf.   We ARE NOT talking about "tunas", what we Gringos call "prickly pear" that is also a delicacy in its own right.

CHOYAS, aka "pitayas"
   This is a Choya, known by many names throughout Mexico
and Central America

     Some folks prefer one type of Nopal cactus over another, although the reality is that any decent nopal will do. Some people prefer the rougher, ugly nopal that blooms so beautifully after a rain...others prefer the more elegant and almost spineless (no thorns, almost) type...I have used both. Just so long as they are the pad, nopal-type cactus, the choyas will be good. They can be twisted off fairly easily, although old-timers seem to want to use an easy to handle, sharp knife. This is due to the fact that some of the elderly "choyas" may have already started to develop a bit of thorn (spine, or in Spanish, "espinas").

This note: If the thorn development is not advanced very far, the preserving solution that follows in this often will soften any stiffness or "pique'" that the spine might have had.     Still, I try to select just the ones that are obviously not at that stage yet.

     Once I have a desired number.....and a quart of them can be quite a morning's work.....they go into a cold water bath....I even put a bit of ice....and even use Brita or distilled water. Just my quirk. After three or four vigourous rinsings, they need to be dried and kept in chill....not the vegetable crisper in any good refrigerator will do.
      My approach is the one that does and does not include a quick grilling. If you choose to do a quick grilling, use a good cooking-grade olive oil at medium high heat....and, before the oil begins to smoke....throw enough "choyas'' to cover the bottom of the skillet. You can add some finely diced shallot and a small amount (one tooth) of finely diced garlic....not much is necessary. Freshly ground salt and pepper right at the finish your taste. Not much salt and pepper is needed because the "choyas" are going to be heading for a trip to the spa anyway.

       You should turn the skillet off just at the point of the olive oil beginning to think about smoking. This will not take long because you really should not "pool" any oil....just put enough to make the pan shiny, and then another drop or two...

And then-
Old Dave's "smokeless" system:
      You harvest, clean, and chill your "choyas" as described above. It seems best to let them rest for a day in the crisper in any case.....and have your jar(s) ready. The ones I like to use are the ones that the spaghetti sauces come in....they seal nicely and tightly. You really do not need any FDA approved container, but make sure they are absolutely clean before filling.
      After I have my "choyas" rinsed a final time, I put one / half teaspoon of ground salt and a pinch of freshly ground pepper....not too much. IF YOU WANT "CHOYA PICANTE", YOU CAN ONLY PUT CHILE PIQUIN....THE LITTLE TINY ONES....AND ONLY TEN FOR A PINT-SIZED JAR....NO MORE. If you put these little chiles in, you should "squash" them with a spoon, seeds and all, and throw them in with the other above ingredients. I like the "choyas" all ways, grilled with/without chile, or only "envinegrado" the way we are talking about right now.
     Once you have done these easy steps, you can put in no more than two tablespoons of lime juice (I prefer the Persian limes - the larger football-shaped, green ones). Then you can fill your jar with "choyas" about 85% full. Then, fill your jar with a decent white (crystal clear) vinegar...I prefer Heinz or the Mexican Herdez, but any vinegar you are comfortable with will do. Fill it up so that all your "choyas'' are covered...and then to almost full....and then screw the cap on.

IN BOTH CASES....GRILLED AND UN-GRILLED: It is probably best that you let the "choyas" rest for an absolute minimum of 3 days......quite frankly three months is better. You should keep them in the refrigerator and turn them upside down for a day and then back right-side-up for a day, for as frequently as you think about it or that you can put up with the annoyance.

      This is a base-approach. With your intelligence and willingness to innovate, you can modify this good, basic approach to your liking. After a hundred years or so of fiddling however, this is the way I do it now, and to seemingly good effect. Good in salads, mixed with mushrooms, great as "martini olives", and a thousand other applications. The reader must be aware that Moses did not bring down any certain instructions from Yahweh concerning the preparation of this mystical, tasty gift from heaven.