Thursday, September 11, 2008

Homemade Tortillas--and VERY Hot Chillis--at Ines' House

Ines, my Mexican artist friend, invited me over to her house to make (or, rather, watch her doña make) homemade flour tortillas this morning. But what she really wanted is for me to bring my espresso machine and make her one of my famous BIG cafe lattes.
I drove over there with my little Krups machine, made her a triple espresso with steamed milk, but I had arrived too late to see how the tortilla dough is mixed. I inquired as to what I had missed and was told the ingredients are very basic: flour, shortening (actually, "fat" is what she said), salt, and water, simply blended together in a bowl.

I did watch, however, as the tortilla dough was rolled out flat into discs the size of a dessert plate. The tortillas were then fried (but not deep fried, there is very little oil in the pan, if any) on an iron griddle until they puffed up, the layers of dough actually separating, though only momentarily.

The cooked tortillas quickly piled up as, one by one, they came off the grill. They were left to cool, then stacked and bagged in a plastic bag for later use. BUT....some went directly into a basket, kept warm by being wrapped in a cotton towel, and were served with some VERY spicy Huevos! Here is Ines spooning her second helping of the eggs onto her plate. In addition to noting Ines' giant cup of coffee on the left, note the generous amount of little green pieces scrambled in with the eggs. "These might be a little picante," Ines warned. "No problem," I answered. "I'm getting used to the Mexican spices." I hadn't even started chewing my first bite when I started screaming for help. "Drink your iced tea! Eat some cheese! Have a plain tortilla!" Ines shouted as I grabbed my burning throat with both hands and tears streamed down from my eyes. I stuffed a tortilla wrapped around a piece of cheese into my mouth and guzzled my whole glass of tea. I didn't touch the eggs again after that.

Here I am on Ines' terrace with my dog, Jack, tranquilo again at last after the fire in my throat was extinguished. It was another delightful, if not eventful, time with Ines. She invited me over again this weekend to make Chiles with pomegranates and creamy nut sauce, the dish that was featured in the book (and movie), "Like Water For Chocolate." I said I'd come, but hold the chillis, please!

(**PS: I want to note that today is September 11, and just because I am living in Mexico doesn't mean I have forgotten about this day in American--no, world--history. Even Ines brought it up over breakfast. So, this is to say, we are thinking of all those families, workers, friends of friends, all those affected directly or indirectly by the tragic events of that day and we are sending you warm, loving, healing thoughts to all of you from south of the border.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Real de Catorce: We Came for the Pie, Not the Peyote

This weekend we drove to the town of Real de Catorce--elevation 9,000 ft, population 1,200. It's a silver mining town-turned ghost town-turned movie set for Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts in "The Mexican"-turned up and coming trendy spot for European expats in Mexico. To get there you drive very slowly along a 17-mile-long cobblestone road, then wait at the entrance of the one-way Ogarrio Tunnel, making sure the oncoming traffic of pick-up trucks, horses, mules, and pedestrians has cleared, then proceed 1.5 miles in damp darkness though the inside of a mountain until you reach the town on the other side.

We did plenty of siteseeing on foot, ankles wobbling precariously on hundred-year-old cobblestone paths. Here we are climbing up to The Cemetery where you walk on tombstones (there is no way around them!) to get inside the chapel.

This was followed by shopping. Handicraft booths line the streets selling Huichol (Indian tribe) artwork, like the small square picture sitting on the table, made with yarn and not paint. The Huichol are known as "The People of the Peyote,"eating the hallucinogenic cactus as a way to commune with their gods. Apparently many of the original expats here came to experience this high. As for us, the altitude was high enough. We could barely breathe climbing up the steep sidewalks.

After all that driving, walking, and shopping, finally, we were able to take a break. We found a hip cafe on the corner of Plaza Hidalgo, called La Esquina Chata, run by an Italian who makes a fine espresso. And what did we find on his menu? PIE!!!! (Or "pay" if you read it in Spanish.) We had a piece of the pear and chocolate pie with our cafe lattes. Dee-lis-ee-oh-so!

Refueled with pie and coffee, we climbed back into the car (but not on top of the car like many of the locals!) and headed back to Saltillo.

I'm already looking forward to our next outing--and to discovering where we might find pie next.