Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mazatlan Tuesday: Tequila!

We start the morning off sensibly enough with chilaquiles from room service. Do I even need to tell you that they totally kick ass?

Even American breakfast came with chilaquiles and magic tortilla cups.

From the minute we stepped on the tour bus there was screaming from the ugly Americans – Cranky Guy was hollering that they were just gonna get off the bus and screw the whole thing if they were going to cram 2 more people in there.

I do not have good luck with tour buses.

We were driven for an hour along deserted dirt roads populated with black buzzards, vultures, crosses marking deaths in the road and homes with private backyard cemeteries.

Then it was all blue agave

After the agave is hacked up, you are left with the pina.

The pina is cooked in underground kilns.

At this point you can chew on it and extract the agave juice which is seriously addicting. Seriously. And maybe a hallucinogen. The jury is still out. But later that night this is what I wrote while chewing it:

It kind of looks like horses hooves made out of beef jerky. You chew and suck on the fibers and they release their sweet nectar. There is something light and sweet molaases and honey, masking something darker, a slight sensation of alcohol and sex in a smoky room. I wasn;t paying too much attention to what the tour guide was saying at this point, but it wasn;t rae agave pina. Later I asked if I could take some with me, which appeared to be an unusual request. They said to be careful with it so it wouldn’t spoil or ferment. So what I have is definitely not fermented. I wonder if I can get it through customs, or if the bees trailing my bags will be a dead giveaway.

I tried to take pictures following the pipes so my friends back home could follow the process, but I kept getting disctracted by scary machinery and things on fire

At first I thought this was some kind of torture device. But then my brother explained to me that it was part of a pulley system to power this torture device with teeth that you can see in the videos above.

I liked this cog for no special reason.

I still don't know what this is


And what happens in this room?

Oh, sorry, mister

Then it was time to drink

The horses had big dents in their heads that kind of freaked me out

The factory owner stuck his thumb in it to show me it was OK

Now there goes a real cowboy

Back through the agave fields. On the trip there, the guide told us about the local flora and fauna, and how the state of Jalisco had a copyright on the word tequila, so it's kind of like Champagne. But on the way back, maybe the tequila had gotten to him. He started telling long stories about cannibals and brujas. This is a plant brujas use to dry up your brain.

Woman on tour to husband: what's a brujas?
Husand: You know honey, a brewhaus, like those German places where they sell beer

Friday, November 28, 2008

How Tequila is Made

Remember those Sesame Street factory tours like How Crayons are Made and the visit to The Peanut Butter Factory? That's kind of what today's post is going to be like. Let's go on a tour!!!

First,a wild ride through the blue agave fields

After the stalk yields seeds and everything is cut away, you are left with the agave pinas. They are full of sweet sap that attracts bees, hornets and butterflies. When the camera moves away and you hear air blowing, that's me spitting out a butterfly.

They cook the agave pina in underground kilns. At this point you can chew on it and suck out the syrup. While everyone else was buying bottles of tequila, I went back and got a bunch of the pure agave for 5 bucks and a kiss on the cheek. They used to use mules to squeeze the agave. Now they have really scary machinery.

The agave hemp is put into these big barrels and allowed to ferment for 9 to 10 days unless they use a starter. I'm getting kind of bored and put my finger in front of the lens for part of this section. Sorry. Num num num num.

The distillation process and a taste of the weak first distillation.

135 proof tasting makes my camera spin

Did someone actually yell, "Yeeehaaa!" ?

Things start to get really weird on this tour. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's the most wonderful time of the year!!!

Oh my God! I am hysterical! That latte probably didn't help.

To some people Thanksgiving is one of their favorite days, but for me, today is the day. I have a giant, sparkling clean kitchen all to myself. My garden is full of herbs, my fridge is packed with gorgeous produce, and I have all day to go crazy!

I feel like an actor about to go out on stage. I love the pressure. Plus this year we have a new relative (Hi Ainsley!) and some new guests (Hi random Scottish people!) to impress. So we have to put on a really big show! With fireworks! And a chorus line!

This writer on Slate has a world-weary take on the holiday. The writer frets that no one wants to try their exciting new recipes because there will be mutiny if time-honored traditions aren't followed.

In our house, you are allowed to get weird with the side dishes. The year we smoked the turkey is the only year anyone caused a ruckus, but I loved it. For a few years we had 2 turkeys - one roasted, one smoked, before the traditionalists won out. As long as we have a turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, we can go all Gourmet Magazine on the side dishes - and I do. The only thing they will not tolerate is any form of yams.

As for running out of ideas, I've been blogging for less than 2 years, so I haven't had time to use up my good stuff yet. I'm still teaching beginners. I have not even exhausted my repetoire of side dishes.

Now let's get out there, roll up our sleeves and cook the fuck out of this holiday!!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mazatlan Monday: Senor Frog is the Antichrist

The last few weeks back home have been kind of hectic, so it was time to take an actual vacation-vacation where I am not running from museums to nightclubs and back. At least for today. We slept late, or at least we tried to sleep late. The fanged timeshare jackals kept calling to “confirm” our attendance at the welcome breakfast to which I had repeatedly told them “NO”.

I listen to people talk for a living. The last thing I want to do is listen to a presentation. I cannot be lured with false promises and free bacon. I don’t care if the jackals wrap cute boys in crispy bacon and let me eat it off of their quivering young bodies.

Speaking of bacon, we ordered room service and were surprised by the quality of the food – even if there were a few quirks.

The Pepito de arrachera (skirt steak), my favorite Mexican sandwich, definitely delivered (although I will confess, La Finisterra’s in Cabo had a much more tender steak).

The steak in the fajitas was fine. But the plates introduced what would become a theme – the little tortilla cups of surprise. Sometimes they hold side dishes, sometimes they hold condiments. Once they held some kind of cheese soufflĂ© thing.

The flan was so good I didn’t want to share it, but finally gave it up. But what is up with the weird stewed white cherries here?

The time share jackals called like 4 more times to confirm this or that. I finally awoke from a nap and picked up the phone, “I came here for a quiet, relaxing vacation. I really wanted to buy a time share but now you've changed my mind.” We were going to stop for ice cream, but you kids were bad, so now you don't get any.

Monday night the resort held a “fiesta” for the American tourists. OK, this is normally the last place I would be caught dead at. Considering I love tacky tourist attractions like alligator farms or the world's biggest ball of string, I hate tourist activities. The belly of the beast here in Mexico is Senor Frogs. There are actually 2 Senor Frogs stores on the same block - they own this part of Mazatlan - it is like Pottersville. Actually it is like Americatown. Senor Frogs is made for people who want to travel to other countries without ever having to leave America.

On the other side of the coin are the people who say, "Be a traveler, not a tourist." It has become kind of cliche and comes to mind when I see things like those federales in black hoods waving their AK-47s around. Then it's time to holler "Soy tourista!"

I guess I am somewhere in the middle. I am not going to get my hair braided with shells and have some guy in a sombrero pour tequila in my mouth and spin me in circles. But I also don't hitch-hike or wear dreds, and I am very attached to flush toilets.

24-hour room service, in-room jacuzzis and WiFi are bonuses I would not turn down in the name of being a traveler. Unless they destroyed the local ecosystem or something. And then definitely not. Except for the flush toilets - I don't care what they do to the environment.

So back to the fiesta del timeshare... normally, not my thing. But I could smell the food and hear the talented mariachis and so, what the hell. If nothing else, there would be free beer and margaritas in there.

The buffet consisted of a row of about 6 pots, a giant hotplate and a dessert table. The pinto beans here are very pale, almost white. I lifted a spoonful of what looked to be only peppers from a big cauldron, and asked, “Frijoles?”
The guy said, “Pintos”
I misheard him and asked, bewildered, "Puntos?”
He misheard me and asked, shocked, “Putas??? NO!!!”

There was a very tender fish veracruz, and one of the best moles I have ever eaten -- dense, complex, and not the slightest bit bitter.

fish veracruz:

I spent most of my time hanging out with the old ladies at the dessert table who had an unusual array of tarts and fruits in syrup. There was one tart with no fruit, just a mysterious almost savory herb. One lady was very proud of her rice pudding, so I added a little of that to my already overbalanced plate.

Growing up Catholic in Los Angeles, I have attended my share of fiestas. I have always loved ballet folklorico. Maybe it’s because it is the land of its birth, maybe it’s because the market more competitive, but for whatever reason, the dancing and music was amazing. This 9-piece mariachi band OWNED that stage. The usual Guantanimera and Cielito Lindo were getting to me so I handed up a tip and a request. La Barca del Oro slowed everything to a standtill. People were disquieted by the sudden change of pace. Except for me. It was like a blue spotlight was shining just on me.

Yo ya me voy al puerto donde se halla
La barca de oro que debe conducirme.

Yo ya me voy solo vengo a despedirme,
Adios, mujer, adios, para siempre adios.

No volveran tus ojos a mirarme,
Ni tus oidos escucharan mi canto.

Voy a aumentar los mares con mi llanto,
Adios, mujer, adios, para siempre adios.

La Barca de Oro is one of the saddest songs in the world. I fucking love this song! Go rent Santa Sangre. Watch that movie and it will all make sense. Or you will be horrified and stop being my friend. It is kind of a controversial film.

Dancing with rusty machetes – what could go wrong?

And then they danced with machetes wearing blindfolds.

I decided to wander back early, and missed Bob being dragged up on stage for a competition with a host of other suckers, ummm, guests. The “competition” seems to have involved humiliating oneself with mime and Spanish rhymes while drinking copious amounts of tequila. Whatever it was exactly, Bob won. Now every time we walk through the lobby someone will yell to Bob, “The Winner!!!” like they are old drinking buddies.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mazatlan Sunday: Pulpo para vida!

OK, so Cabo is still a work in progress. It is on the backburner while I do some serious research. Meanwhile, I am in Mazatlan. There are also baby turtles on this trip, so I hope it won't be confusing if we meander over to Mazatlan and then continue with Cabo later. I know you guys can keep up. Do not let the turtles confuse you. We're not in Cabo anymore, Dorothy.

Travel went very smoothly today until we got to the shuttle for the Mayan Gardens. The driver insisted we were not on his list. It seemed a simple thing to just call the front desk and check, but he just refused. I looked around at the big impatient group of red-faced "ugly Americans" in tennis caps and decided I would rather suck it up and cab it alone than be stuck in a churning hot van of discontent.

I picked the first cabbie that I felt like I could trust, agreed on a fare, and left the whining tourists behind. I offered to buy our cabbie lunch if he would take us to his favorite place, not to a restaurant he thought tourists would like.

He has a little bit of trouble choosing since so many places are closed on Sunday, or just open in the morning for menudo and then close the doors for the rest of the day. Well, he picked a bad-ass place, El Memin. It was like a huge open-air market, and was bustling with customers – always a good sign, even on a Sunday when it may have been the only place open.

I immediately fell in love with “El Memin” the “Crazy Eddie” of camarones. Sinaloa is famous for its shrimp, and I couldn’t wait to try it. I asked the driver if the shrimp were caught out here and gestured towards the ocean. He said “No, no, not here. A little further down. Over there” and he gestured about another mile south.

The only thing I didn’t recognize on the menu was jaiba. The driver was at a loss to describe it and the waiter made really strange monster-like gestures. I drew a variety of sea creatures, each of which caused them to shake their heads so I just went ahead and ordered a small tostada de jaiba.

We split an order of shrimp and octopus ceviche that was heavenly. The shrimp and octopus were so tender – especially unusual for the purple tentacles of the octopus. Bob said he could eat the octopus every day for the rest of his life. When I interpreted that to the driver he laughed, “Pulpo – por vida!”

We also split an order of fried shrimp, nice, perfect, but not mind-boggling like the pulpo. It was inexplicably served with pasta in a pesto-cream sauce and wedding reception-style boiled vegetables.

I had ordered the Camarones Memin since I figured it must be the house specialty. Plus the picture showed an insane da-glow green dish, like a 1950s dessert.

Oh my God, it was amazing! And it really was that crazy green! The closest thing I can compare the Memin sauce to would be the Peruvian condiment known as aji. There was a little mayonnaise in there, but it did not detract from the flavor. The shrimp were tender and abundant at only 8 dollars. Along with rice, the shrimp were accompanied by sliced sautéed peppers, not too hot, but just hot enough. I would guess pasillas, but who knows how many different peppers they must have down here?

The jaiba was crab - which it seems like I used to know at one time. It was very fresh, but wasn't very flavorful, so I spiked the hell out of it with lime and hot sauce.

Beer in the sky keeps on turning. Don't know where I'll be tomorrow

While waiting for a light, a contingent of federal soldiers passed by, crammed into open truck beds, with faces hooded in black like executioners and armed with semi-automatics. It was a little reminder that it is not all pina coladas and mariachi bands here. Sinaloa is relatively safe, but there is some strife nearby with indigenous peoples. And this area is the birthplace of the narcocorrido after all.

When we arrived at the time share I was pleasantly surprised. It is much swankier and well kept-up than the website and online photos led me to believe. The room is spacious, and there are even burners and pots so I can go to the local market and cook – something I always want to do when traveling.

However, this place is not set up for a person of my schedule. The swimming pool (no Jacuzzi here) closes at 8pm. The restaurant closes at 10pm, the bar at 11. On.Sunday the market stops selling beer at 2pm. Also, there is no wireless or in-room-connection and the business center closes at midnight. I will do my best under the primitive conditions.

I was relieved we didn't invite another couple along when I saw the miniscule size of the second bedroom.

It is a time share, so we got the hard sell from the get-go. They tried showing us around the facilities as if it were the usual “welcome tour” I am wise to your games, missus. They rescinded their earlier promise to pay for the taxi from the airport since their shuttle service screwed up, and now made recompense contingent on us attending “the welcome breakfast”. You can’t lure me into your trap with bacon. I'm not saying there is not enough bacon in the world to lead me astray, but it would have to be more bacon than you have here for sure.

There is a food festival going on in Puerto Vallarta right now. It looks to be a 7 hour bus ride away and there are no trains or boats. The only flights go through Mexico City and cost more than this trip, so maybe next year. For now I will put my feet up and enjoy where I am. In fact, I think I'm going to go jump in the ocean right now.