Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Goldfinch

How to read this book:

1.  Go to a smallish, quiet hotel that has good room service but no TV or internet.  Preferably in a country whose language you don't speak so you won't be distracted and want to socialize.

2.  Get comfortable either inside or on the balcony overlooking the sea.

3.  Start reading and do not stop until you've read all 786 pages.  Depending on your reading speed this will take anywhere from 3 days to a week.  It will be the best three days (or week) you've spent in a long, long time.

Here's a look at the actual painting by Fabritius.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

las fruitas

Yesterday's tianguis yielded a gorgeous selection of fruits ~ pint-sized pineapples, mangoes (first of the season of this small variety), cantaloupes, a papaya that will be ready in a couple of days, tart little limes, juicy oranges for my breakfast treat, and bocce ball-sized watermelons, sweet and mostly seedless.  What a haul!

It only gets better as the season rolls on.

We've been getting ready for our first guest of the season.  Old friend Jeff from Atlanta arrives tomorrow for a few days in the warm tropics.  Stock up on tequila, get out guest towels, make sure all light bulbs work, find extra blanket for cool nights, buy box Kleenex® for bathroom, etc., etc.  Amid these preparations, Mr. C decided to clean out the bodega, an annual chore he refers to as "cleaning out the potato bin," a particularly onus childhood chore on the farm.  Only one giant cucaracha and one very large spider this year.  No alacrons.  Among the treasures long stored there were these charming little fellows.

In fact, I have six of them.  They started out as a joke gift to a friend of ours who had just returned from, I think, Cairo.  Neighbor Gina and I put them in her garden.  She was mortified!  Then my turn came to receive them when I got back from somewhere, probably Mexico.  I decided they were just what the casa needed and brought them down.  I've not had them out for several years but decided that since this might be the last season we're here (pretty doubtful, actually), I'd put them out and enjoy them!

St. Francis gets his own bird.

Chuy came this morning to get the house ready for our guest and went home with all the fixings for her sensational chiles rellenos picadillo for tomorrow night's dinner.  As if she doesn't have enough to do; her 5-month old granddaughter, Fernanda,  is being baptized on Sunday and she's preparing a feast for about 100 people ~ mostly family as she has 12 brothers and sisters and Fernando has 9 ~ to be held at the puesto after the mass.  We've been invited; I'll do the photo thing.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

opera, fauna, sandwiches, toilets

OPERA:  This is a head-up for any of you who like opera.  Saturday's offering is "Rusalka" by Antnine Dvorák with Renee Flemming.  If for no other reason, tune in to hear her sing the sublime Song to the Moon which has become her signature aria.  I think it is one of the most beautiful arias in any opera anywhere.

FAUNA:  These little creatures have been grazing on brush across the street and in the lot next to us.  The three of them, along with their herder, can be seen (and heard) almost every day.

SANDWICHES:  When I was growing up my family had a summer house in Newport Beach. The mornings were spent with chores, shopping, and then around noon my father and I (my sister was too young) would stroll down to the bay across the street and take a nice long swim.  When we got home, lunch would be ready in the patio.  The best would be avocado-bacon sandwiches on rye bread.  Yesterday I made just that.

 I used Jack's home-made sourdough rye bread, ripe avocados, bacon from the chap in Tecoman.  It was unbelievably good.  Took me right back to those long-ago days when we would sit in the garden, the sun glittering off our salty skin, and my father would wash his sandwich down with a beer (my mother would frown). Good memories.

TOILETS:  We went in to Tecoman today to do several errands, including looking for new toilets for our two half-baths.  We really hadn't planned on buying any, just looking.  But we found just what we wanted, put down the pesos, and now have two new  loos awaiting installation in a couple of weeks.  The ones there now are 30 years old and so low to the ground I refuse to use them!  So new ones are on the way.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46.  Way too young.  Way too talented.  Way too reckless.

Maximillian Schell, 83.  A good, long life.  His Oscar-winning portrayal as a lawyer defending the perpetrators of the holocaust is not to be missed.

Anonymous baby turtle, age unknown.  These tracks were spotted by friend Sibyl on her early morning beach walk.  The creature was looking for the shoreline but headed inland instead, leaving behind this beauiful pattern in the sand.

Sic transit gloria.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sunday, February 2, 2014

pie for dinner

Last night I made a tomato-basil-cheese tart for dinner mainly to use up some cottage cheese.  The recipe, from a very old Gourmet magazine, calls for ricotta but since we can't get it here and since many chefs of note actually prefer cottage cheese, I used what was on hand.  Absolutely delicious.

ready for the oven

cooked and ready to cut



For the shell:
1 1/4 c flour
3/4 stick unsalted butter
2 T cold vegetable shortening
1/4 lb. sliced lean bacon, cooked, drained, crumbled
1/4 t salt

For the filling:
4 large tomatoes, sliced horizontally 1/3" thick
salt for sprinkling the tomatoes
1 c firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 c plus 2T whole milk cottage cheese
2 large eggs beaten lightly
1/4 lb mozzarella, grated
1/2 c fresh Parnesan, grated

Vegetable oil for brushing tomatoes.

 Make the shell:   

In a large bowl blend the flour, butter, shortening, bacon, and salt until mixture resembles meal.  Add 3 to 4 T ice water, or enough to form a dough, tossing the mixture until the water is incorporated.  Knead the dough lightly with the heel of the hand against a smooth surface for a few seconds to distribute the fat evenly and form it into a ball.  Flatten the dough slightly, dust with flour, and chill it wrapped in wax paper for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 425º.

Roll dough into a 1/8” thick round  and fit it into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable fluted rim.  Prick the shell lightly with a fork and chill it for 30 minutes.  Line the shell with foil, fill the foil with pie weights, and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove foil and pie weights carefully, bake crust for 3 to 5 minutes more, or until it is pale golden.  Let cool in the pan on a rack.

Lower oven temperature to 350º. 

Make the filling:

Sprinkle the sliced tomatoes on both sides lightly with salt and let them drain on paper towels.  In a food processor puree the basil leaves with the ricotta, add the eggs, and blend the mixture until it is combined.  Add the mozzarella, Parmesan, and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste and blend until it is just combined.

Pat the tomato slices dry with paper towels, line the bottom of the shell with the tomato end pieces, and fill the shell with the cheese mixture.  Smooth the cheese filling and arrange the remaining tomato slices in one layer overlapping them slightly.  Brush with oil.

Bake the tart at 350º for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the cheese mixture is set.  Transfer the tart to a rack; let it stand for 10 minutes.  Remove the bottom from the fluted ring carefully so as not to break the edge crust.  Garnish with basil springs.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 6.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

the honeymoon, in brief

We got to Las Brisas around 3:30, checked in to our hotel, checked out the grounds and the new additions ~ the gorgeous dining main sala has been somewhat rearranged but NOT to any advantage. 

View from #15

Across to Las Hadas in Santiago

View down to the pool
 What the management should have done is invest in some new towels and bed linens, pillows (I didn't want to touch them much less lay my head on them), and generally spiff up the rooms.  We'll find a new hotel for our next trip.  Dinner was at Los Gauchos and was not, I must admit, very good.  Even though the menu says "Res Argentinian" it was tough and tasteless.  We decided that the next time we want to have good beef we'll go to El Vaquero, well-known as THE best place for steaks and grill.  So next time. . .
Wednesday morning we drove up to Santiago, about 10 miles up the road, to Primavera, the Mexiccan craft market we've patronized over the years.   for all sorts of things; plates, glassware, table linens, but this time there were NO clay light fixtures to be found. 

My favorite Mexican pottery;I have plates, bowls, casseroles, platters
I have always wanted one of these little piggy b-b-q's
We walked across the street to a big indoor market with probably 100 stalls selling food, clothing, fabrics, souvenir, and piles and piles of plasticware for every usage imaginable, and cosmetics.

A rainbow of nail polish colors

Hand-wound soft spools of yarn

There are several fruit and vegetable stalls along with the meat, fish and chicken areas.  That is, the fish wing, the meat wing and the (ahem) chicken wing, this one presided over by a young woman wielding a wicked cleaver to chop whole birds into nice neat piles of various parts, including feet and beaks.

Mr. C is not a big one for wandering through meat/fish stalls but I find them fascinating.

Next stop was the old Hotel Playa de Santiago, the first hotel we ever stayed in on our first trip to Manzanillo in 1982.

We had just bought a house in the Valley, had not two dimes to spend on a vacation, but I was in Mexico City on business for the Big U and we decided we'd just do it anyway.  We had heard about this place from friends who encouraged us to try it and to ask for one of the bungalows up on the hill.  We did, and we fell in love with it right away.  Even though it was about 100 stairs from the parking lot up to the bungalows, it was worth it.  Each one had two individual bedrooms, a single patio, and cooking facilities at the end of the patio; a 'fridge, a 4-burner stove top, a sink and cabinets with dishware and pots and pans.  The first one we stayed in was Numero Uno with a view to forever!  But it was clear at the time that the small 2-story hotel directly across the street was getting ready to expand upwards, so the next time we went, in 1985, we got bungalows 12 and 13; we had Alex and Cait with us for a 10-day stay.  Indeed there was a tall tower blocking #1 but our view was perfect.  The next time we stayed there was in 1990.  By then the entire hotel had fallen on evil days and needed a gigantic infusion to capital and, as a result, the bungalows, too, were in bad shape.  But we took #17, further up the hill, for a week's stay.  At the end of the week our friend Peggy drove up from Cuyutlan to get us and introduced us to this seedy little town and, as they say, the rest is history.

We went down to the lovely dining room and sat looking out at the bay . . .

and enjoyed a mid-morning refresher, always a good idea after strenuous shopping.

We decided to risk lunch here, so had fish tacos and all its trimmings.

Lots of good memories of our times here.  Fifty years will do that.

Back to the hotel for reading, siesta, and then dinner at Toscana's. First we celebrated with a margarita.  It was probably the best one we'd ever had in a restaurant.  Mr. C makes THE BEST margaritas ever and I am always reluctant to order one at a bar.  Dago's are terrible; ditto Fernando's.  But these were superb.  For dinner  I had a lovely grouper fish on a bed of leeks with a white wine and grape sauce. Mr. C had a fish gratinée which he had ordered on a previous visit.  Those delicious kplatos plus, a little salad caprese made for a splendid meal.  To top it off, a stunning Anniversary Sunset.

We're good to go for another 50 years.