Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summertime…And The Livin’ Is Easy? 
Not Always, so Here is a Recipe for Gazpacho

Summer used to be my favorite season, back when it meant being out of school, with the best weather of the year for months on end, friends to play with all day long and into the night, developing a deep brown tan, going barefoot, and all the water…glorious water…pools, lakes, rivers, the ocean…swimming, boating, or just floating. Those are the best memories.

I still love summer in Vallarta, for the storms and cleansing rains and the relative quiet, but for those of us who live here year round, summertime in paradise can be difficult. School is out, but we still go to work. Many of our friends leave for the hottest months. Tanning is not healthy, and now we have wrinkles to worry about, so we try to stay out of the sun. We still have the water, but some of us don’t have much time for floating around anymore.

Summertime doldrums can take us to a low place, but where there is a problem there are solutions. Here are a few ideas to help pick us up and keep us cool.

Watermelon Therapy: Obvious, I know, but sometimes we forget the simple things. There are not many things that are more refreshing than a slice or ten of a sweet, juicy, COLD watermelon. Before buying one, make sure there is space in the refrigerator to keep it cold, or use a cooler with lots of ice if your fridge is too small. If you think a watermelon is too big for you, invite the neighbors’ kids over and have a seed spitting contest.

Fans, fans and more fans: Keep the air moving around you at all times. Still air is hot and humid air. Carry a hand fan (habanico), and you will look like a fabulously elegant Spanish lady. There are some very nice ones in the accessories department at Liverpool. At home, use electric fans everywhere. There are even some small clip-on fans that work really well. I have one clipped to my desk that blows on me constantly and has saved me from certain misery. I, personally, don’t like to sleep with air conditioning on, but some well placed fans make everything alright again.

Road Trip Cure: Try a trip to the mountains. San Sebastian is only a couple hours away, and there really is a difference in the air. It is noticeably cooler and less humid. Its not too far for a day trip, or you can spend the night.

Cinematic Relief: Any of Vallarta’s many movie theaters are great places to escape the heat. They are kept so cold that you might even need a sweater.

Water Works: A cool shower before bed will bring down the body temperature enough to bring on a good night’s sleep. However, it’s best to keep your hair dry. A wet pillow is not a pleasant thing.

Cool Foods: One of the most refreshing and satisfying foods on earth has got to be Gazpacho. This cold Spanish vegetable soup will make you and your body feel happy.

So Easy and SO Good!

Have all the vegetables and tomato juice chilled before starting.

Mince very finely (or if you are in a hurry or lazy you may chop in a food processor, but the texture is better if chopped by hand):

   Red onion
   Pepper (green, red, or yellow)
   Fresh Basil
Put all this in a large bowl and add to taste:

   Tomato Juice or V-8
   Lime or Lemon Juice
   Tabasco or other Hot Sauce
   Olive Oil
   Balsamic Vinegar
   Fresh Ground Pepper
   A little Sugar (if needed to balance not-so sweet tomatoes)

Stir together and chill for an hour to 12 hours before serving.

Serve with a sprig of basil

A swirl of cream on top
A few peeled, cooked shrimp

Enjoy and stay cool!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Is That Strange Cement Sink-like Thing? Or Get To Know Your Pila

1)Factory made pila with traditional faucet placement

2) Pila with clever faucet modification

What Is That Strange Cement Sink-like Thing?
Get To Know Your Pila
You may have noticed somewhere around your house or apartment, on a patio, in a laundry room, or maybe just out in the yard somewhere, a large concrete thing that looks like it might be a sink, but where the water goes in there is no drain. The pila, or lavadero, (the whole unit is called a lavadero and the water storage part is the pila, but some people call the whole thing a pila too) is ubiquitous in Mexico. It can be found in the most primitive huts and in the most luxurious villas. Even in houses where there are perfectly good washing machines the pila is used for many items, like rugs and hand washing. In some homes it is the only appliance that has plumbing, so all the household water will come from it. It can be used for washing clothes, dishes and small children. Adults, too, often use the pila to bathe. I have witnessed people taking a bath outdoors, fully clothed, soaping up and pouring water over their heads.
When I encountered my first pila I was confused, and I meet people who have been here for years and are still confused about what to do with it. I read about a woman who had rented a house somewhere in Central America. She found a pila on the property and thought it looked like the perfect place to plant some lettuce. When the maid arrived and found her washing area full of dirt she was just as confused as the renter was, but most likely angry too. Where would she wash? What was this crazy gringa thinking?
Pilas can be manufactured or homemade. The manufactured variety comes in four sizes…something for everyone! In places where water flow gets interrupted regularly, the pila tends to be handmade and quite large, with a huge reservoir. In the cities they are usually of the commercial type, and much smaller. The pila part of the lavadero is the reservoir. It is the “clean side”. It is designed only for storing water and dipping out of to rinse things or fill other containers. It is never acceptable to put anything dirty in the reservoir side, or to put anything soapy in there either. Actually, you don’t put anything in there but water and the plastic bowl or cup that is used for the scooping, and that scooper lives in the water. It is important not to contaminate it.
The pila side doesn’t have a drain. Why? I have never been able to figure that out. I think that is the single feature of the pila that confuses us foreigners the most. There must be a reason, and I will try to find it. Still searching…
Water enters the pila from a single cold-water spigot. I put a large pila in my bakery kitchen, but I put a regular kitchen faucet that could swing between the pila and the washing side, which has amazed a few local ladies. They say, “Oh, what a good idea! We don’t do that”.
The other side is the “dirty side”. This is where all the business gets done. It is like a shallow sink, with the bottom sloping toward the back, where the drain is located. The bottom surface of this area will likely be corrugated, something like an old-fashioned washboard, which is exactly what it is.
Hand washing Made Easy
Just in case you ever need to use your pila, here are some quick washing instructions:
1) Run water into the pila side as you work.
2) Begin by soaking the clothing in a large bucket or bowl or whatever is available. Add laundry soap and agitate a bit. Some people leave this for hours or overnight. I never had that kind of patience.
3) Pull clothing items out one at a time and place in the washboard side of the lavadero. Here is where you will develop your own style of scrubbing and washing. This is the washing and spot removing step. Just move it around until it seems clean. You are not so much rubbing on the cement, but more rubbing the cloth against itself. Otherwise, you will end up with a lot of cleaning rags and nothing to wear. Meanwhile you should be dipping water and pouring it on the cloth as you wash it. For me, this is also the rinse cycle, but read on if you want to know how regular people do things.
4) Rinse cycle. Now everything goes back in the bucket with clean water and some fabric softener (I really haven’t been swept up by Mexico’s obsession for fabric softener, but many people seem to think that if it doesn’t smell like “morning fresh flowers” it can’t possibly be clean)
5) Now you wring everything out to within a centimeter of its life and hang to dry on a clothesline, barbed wire fence or bushes. If it starts to rain before everything is dry, just leave it and wait for another drying cycle. This may be repeated as needed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fried Green Potatoes

Hello, and welcome to my blog. I have several years worth of articles that have been published in the PV Tribune and on
I will be posting some of the favorite columns along with new thoughts, recipes, news and general life things. I hope you will enjoy it.
This column originally ran in 2006.

Fried Green Potatoes
A few years ago I was working in a restaurant on the beach in Yelapa. One day I noticed that one of the cooks was cutting potatoes to make French fries. I was alarmed because the potatoes had green spots. I had always heard that because potatoes are a member of the nightshade family, that any green parts of the tuber (that’s the potato) or plant were extremely poisonous. I don’t know why I always believe these things. I guess it’s because I had heard it so many times I assumed that it was true.
I told her that I didn’t want her to use those green potatoes. They are poisonous and would make our customers sick.
She said, “No they won’t. We eat them all the time”.
I said, “Oh, really?”, and she said, “Yes, and I will prove it to you”.
She then took all of the green parts of all the potatoes and made herself some French fries and ate every one of them. I kept her under close observation for the next few hours, but there was no sign of sickness at all. OK, I guess I could be wrong, but I told her I would really like to see her first thing in the morning. I still didn’t really believe. The next day she was still fine. She had cheated death and sickness. Just lucky? Not really. After a little investigating here’s what I found:
The green parts of potatoes, such as sprouts and skin, do indeed contain a toxin called solanine, which is a toxin to be taken seriously in high concentrations, but it turns out that a 200 lb person would have to eat two full pounds of completely green potatoes in one day to take in a toxic level of solanine. That’s a lot of French fries. If you were to eat that many you might expect to experience abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, confusion, etc. It seems to me one might experience those things if they ate two whole pounds of anything.
One of the reasons that we can get away with eating green potatoes is that newer varieties are genetically tweaked to produce less solanine. Lucky for us. Science is on our side.
The best way to keep your potatoes from turning green is to keep them in the dark in a cool place, and remove green spots and sprouts before cooking, but we don’t have to be fanatical about it.