KITCHEN FUN, ALAMOS MX STYLE
OR MAKING DO
The thing about living where you don’t have certain supermarket goodies, items you’ve become dependent on to satisfy your cravings, is that you have to make do. Like that sweet pickle relish for your favorite potato salad? Oh I know, some consider that an anathema. A certain purist defines potato salad as cubed boiled potato mixed with a blob of mayonnaise, a teasing batch of crumbled bacon, a handful of finely chopped onion, salt and pepper. Well, to make me drool you have to throw in a careful measure of sweet pickle relish – no dill (well, maybe a little dill) – and a couple of chopped hard boiled eggs. All of that is easy peasy to find in our little pueblo magico – except the critical sweet pickle relish.
What to do, what to do?
I do what my fertile mind tells me to do – look with my mind’s eye at the last jar of relish and list all the veggies.
I trundle down to the mercado (market) and stock up on those – cauliflower, onion, mustard seeds (oops, they don’t have those, do they?) cucumber, carrot… all the solid stuff but NO leafy things. Then chop them to a fare-thee-well and boil them up in vinegar and sugar. Oh – don’t forget a sliver or two of garlic and a few cloves for interest – and a wee scoop of prepared mustard to make up for the lack of seeds. And celery seed, if you have any. Boil it all for a while, wheezing over the vinegar vapors, dissolving the sugar and sampling after a bit to make sure the spices are right.
In an hour or two, you have a nice relish to pop into the refrigerator for your next potato salad. Or hamburger? It’s easy, it’s delicious, it’s fun. You can do it. There are more complicated and drawn out instructions on line, but why bother? This works.
The other kitchen activity we recently discovered is the making of guava butter. You can buy it from vendors who call it guayaba caheta, but if you have one of those aromatic guayaba trees that draws birds, skunks and squirrels – pluck them off ground and make your own mouth-watering marmalade. Or easier, just make the paste and call it butter. I do. No pectin required. It’s an outrageous version of apple butter, the South-of-the-Border’s answer to that Yankee bliss we slathered on our Sunday toast when we were kids.
Now the thing is about guayabera fruits, what we know as guavas, is that they are packed with the hardest little tiny beads of seeds you’ve ever tried to clomp with your molars. Bits of concrete. The whole of its interior is crammed with these inedible seeds. What you do is this – you cut the round fruits into quarters, plop all the pieces, as is, into a pot and bring them to a softening simmer. This happens fairly quickly. Do not add water.
When softened, put them through a food mill to separate out the offending beads. If you have weak arms, get a man to do it. We pulled in our gardener to do the duty – he was tickled to help.
Once the consistency has burbled and thickened to a lovely goop, return it to the heat and dose it liberally with sugar, stirring to dissolve it. And add a tad of lime. And a teaspoon of vanilla. Let it all simmer till it’s suitably thick, and spoon into jars. Let them cool before capping off.
Make a piece of buttered toast and reward yourself.
MOTHERS’ DAY, ALAMOS MEXICO
In the nighttime, dark and warm, through the flickering shadows cast by the odd street lamp, you hear it. Music wafting on the gentle movement of air, a special music.
Alamos is full of music and fiestas; there’s always a celebration about. Tired and bored? Wait a moment. Soon you’ll be swept up in a happy swirl of guitar and trumpet gaiety. It’s the Mexican way. This time and this music is different. It’s the eve of Mothers’ Day.
Mexicans worship their mothers. The mother is the touchstone of the family, the touchstone of their civilization. The maternal, matriarchal society of Mexico joyfully exists, mothers surrounded by their men and children, loved and idolized. And they celebrate her appropriately. After all, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to the people of their countryside, herself an icon of motherhood and held close to the hearts of millions.
A decade or two ago a new tradition was born. It started with a few strolling guitarists, ambling and strumming, singing the traditional “Las Mananitas” throughout the neighborhoods, serenading all the mamas of the town, all through the night. Women would hear the thrums of drums and dash to their doors and windows, waiting for the melodic waves to wrap them in what is, clearly, happiness and love.
And so, last night, way past bedtime, I heard the musicians too. These days they move about on a flatbed so as to reach all the barrios. The town has grown in the last few years, with families moving here from the mountains for jobs and a better life. These mamacitas get serenaded too.
The night was clear, the stars seemed to shine with a special effort. It was Mothers’ Day Eve. The music exalted and embraced me, and I teared up with happiness.
Dawn came. Ah, today is The Day. The rolling musicians are still at it, passing through neighborhoods again with their brand of alegria. The day will be filled with flowers and feasting. Dancing, too. Fun for the young – as well as for the not-so-young.