February 2010


Tepache at the Tuesday Market

Two weeks ago while wandering about the Tuesday Market, I noticed a woman scooping out a dark brownish-orange liquid from a bright orange barrel.  A pineapple was painted on the barrel along with the word Tepache.  I jotted down the name and Googled it when I got home that afternoon.

From what I can gather, Tepache seems to be a poor-man’s drink.  It is made from the skins and core of the pineapple and is mixed with water, lots of coarse brown sugar, cinnamon, and cloves.  Then it is allowed to sit for about 3 days until it starts to ferment, making a sort of mild pineapple beer.

I was intrigued.  I love pineapple agua fresca, so I thought this might be an interesting drink to try.  Unfortunately, when I returned to the market the following week I wasn’t able to find the Tepache vendor.  The Tuesday Market is huge, and to my gringa eye it is difficult to differentiate one section from the next.

My Tepache quest paid off this week, though.  As I wandered around the middle section of the market I saw a bright orange barrel with several glasses of Tepache sitting out ready to be enjoyed.  The drink was garnished with chilli powder and lime juice before being handed off to me.  I wish I could tell you that it was the most delicious drink I have ever had, but to be honest it was a bit disappointing.  It was overwhelmingly sweet, and I couldn’t really appreciate the essence of pineapple at all.  Despite being a bit of a letdown, I don’t have any regrets about trying it.  I doubt I’ll be drinking it again, though.

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Today Pat and I had a combined cooking and Spanish class.  The two of us along with about ten other people assembled at Eli’s (The Spanish Guru) home at 10:00 this morning.  We learned the words for such cooking terms as:  ladle, skillet, grill, and teaspoon full.  And we also learned how to say things like: It smells delicious!;  How flavourful; and I’m full.

Adela and Eli

Adela, our cooking teacher, is a primary school teacher by trade.  I am pretty sure that school teachers make a pittance of a salary, so several months ago Adela decided to open up a small restaurant in her home to earn some extra income.  She would wake up at 5:00 in the morning and start preparing the food for that day’s menu (typically three different main dishes to choose from along with rice, corn tortillas, salsa and beans).  She left the rest of the cooking responsibility to her assistant, Vicky, and then she would head off to school to teach.   After school, Adela would return home and continue working in her restaurant until around 7:00 each night – six days a week.   As you can imagine she was exhausted.

She and our Spanish teacher Eli have been talking about trying to do a collaborative Spanish language and Mexican cooking class and today was their first effort.  I think it was a hit, and hopefully it will continue.  Not only was the food delicious but if this cooking class venture is a success it will mean that Adela won’t have to put in 14 hours a day to make ends meet.

The Raw Ingredients

Amy getting advice from the chef

Adela's assistant, Vicky, preparing the rice

Here is what we learned to make today:

Guacamole

Salsa Verde

Jicama, Carrot, Pineapple, and Sesame Seed Salad

Mexican Rice

Chiles Rellenos stuffed with spiced beef

Basil Agua Fresca

Que Ricisimo!  Everything was delicious.  If you are in San Miguel de Allende, do sign up for this class.    Eli tells me that Enchiladas with Mole sauce and several Mexican desserts are on the menu for the next time.

Adela, our cooking teacher, is a primary school teacher by trade.  I am pretty sure that school teachers make a pittance of a salary, so several months ago Adela decided to open up a small restaurant in her home to earn some extra income.  She would wake up at 5:00 in the morning and start preparing the food for that day’s menu (typically three different main dishes to choose from along with rice, corn tortillas, salsa and beans).  She left the rest of the cooking responsibility to her assistant, Vicky, and then she would head off to school to teach.   After school, Adela would return home and continue working in her restaurant until around 7:00 each night – six days a week.   As you can imagine she was exhausted.

She and our Spanish teacher Eli have been talking about trying to do a collaborative Spanish language and Mexican cooking class and today was their first effort.  I think it was a hit, and hopefully it will continue.


Flooding in San Miguel

Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

We’ve experienced incredibly good weather in San Miguel, but the last few days were an exception. Four nights ago it started raining so hard and so suddenly that Amy thought someone was moving heavy furniture upstairs. The rain hasn’t been quite that heavy since, but it’s been steady, and the rainfall statistics are kind of amazing. There have been reports of 3.4 inches of rain in one location, and even 8.5 inches of rain in a different neighborhood, in just the last few days. The huge variations, according to one source, are due to the location of San Miguel near some mountains and hills, which creates some unique and sometimes unpredictable weather patterns, but the whole area is getting drenched. This amount of rain is all the more remarkable when you consider that the average rainfall in San Miguel de Allende for January is .38 inches, February is .18 inches, and the annual precipitation is 21.4 inches. These statistics are taken from a variety of sources, and they may not all be completely accurate, but this gives a sense of how odd this rainfall is. People who have lived here for many years say this is more rain than they’ve ever seen, even during the rainy season.

The rainy season comes during summer here, so for this time of year, even a couple of days of rain is said to be unusual. It’s nearly impossible to stay dry right now, at least for anyone like us without a car. A couple of days ago we went out for lunch and while our Columbia jackets kept our top halves dry, our pants were soaked by the time we got back. It’s bad enough to have the rain fall directly on us, but there are no downspouts in San Miguel so all the water is shunted away from the roofs of the buildings by these pipes that stick out about two feet from the walls. If it’s a strong rain, the water shoots out into the street, but anything less and the water just drops right into the middle of the narrow sidewalk. There is about one spout every ten feet, so you can imagine how hard it is to avoid getting dripped on even when on the sidewalk. Also, almost all of San Miguel has cobblestone streets and stone sidewalks, and some of it becomes very slick when it’s wet. Without a car, and with these horrible conditions, we’ve had to stay indoors almost all day, every day.

So this bad weather had made us feel pretty sorry for ourselves, trapped here, out of the rain and wind, with a heater blowing nice hot air on us, because the rain made it difficult for us to get out and enjoy the restaurants or go to a drawing session. Then we went to breakfast with a few people this morning, and we heard about what the poor people out in the rancho (or small community) of San Miguel Viejo are dealing with. If they’re lucky, they have the most basic of housing; we know of one family with six children that had nothing until some people towed an old van out to give the family at least some shelter a couple of weeks ago. The floors in most of the houses are dirt, so in this weather, they become mud, and because many of the villagers heat their homes just by starting a fire on the floor, they can’t even do that in these conditions. If they’re fortunate enough, they may have a stove, but even if they do most people still can’t start a fire because they gather wood in the area and it’s all completely saturated. The few clothes they own are now soaked, and they have no way to dry them without a stove, nor can they cook.

So, if you have a home, or heat, or dry clothes, or something to eat, be thankful for what you have. I read a letter in an advice column a few weeks ago. In it, the writer explained that when she had something unpleasant that she HAD to do, she would try to change her thinking. She would tell herself, “I GET to clean the toilet, because I have plumbing, and running water. I GET to wash the dishes, because I have food to eat.” Reminding herself of what she had made the chores a bit easier to get through. It’s not a bad approach to looking at things.