Mexican Food vs Mexican Food

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Mexican Feast

Carnitas, Plátano con Chorizo, Papas con Chorizo, Ensaladita de Nopales, Pollo con Mole, Cilantro, Cebolla, Limón, Tacos, Pastelitos con Cajeta, Cervecitas, Vino Tinto, and a selection of Salsas. Not a nacho or a guacamole in sight. We did end the night with a traditional shot of Tequila, but followed it up with a digestif of Kahlúa. My new-found love “not-hating” of cooking called for a dinner party, and six weeks in the planning I wasn’t going to let a little bit of a cold stop me.

Starting with antojitos – nibbles – of plantain with chorizo with green chili, we spent the morning in the Bull Ring Markets, getting all the exotic ingredients like plantain and tamarind. It’s so lively down there, the stall-holders shouting all at once, music from a Peruvian pan-pipe group while we sit and have a greasy bacon butty. The recipe came from the Thomasina Miers book, took about half an hour and went down really well. Then comes out the wine, and the beers and the yummy main course of Tacos.

So we had little street-size maize tortillas, wrapped in a tea towel with so many fillings to make little traditional tacos. Daniel made slow-roasted carnitas, pulled pork marinated in oranges as the centrepiece, and chorizo with potatoes for the tacos, with bowls of coriander, onion and salsas to sprinkle on top. We did warn everyone that the salsas were going to be spicy, and the Mole was too. Mole is like a chocolate chili paste, that you mix with chicken broth into a sauce and spread over boiled chicken served a cheese and onion topping. I also made a salad that I’d found on the internet – nopales is the Mexican term for Cactus – tossed with radish, tomato and onion. I’m not a big fan of cactus, but we’d found this website, MexGrocer, that stocks it in the UK. I’ve had it in Mexico in smoothies and mixed with cheese but it just doesn’t taste of anything to me, but I wanted to give it another go. And I was pleasantly surprised, with this salad it brought out a little bit of flavour and looked really bright against the radish and tomato.

Ingredients for Pasteles de Boda

Ingredients for Pasteles de Boda

Now my favourite part of most meals is pudding, I can be stuffed full but still have room in my “separate pudding stomach”. They are called Wedding Cookies in English, Pasteles de Boda in Spanish, little biscuits with walnuts and orange and rum tossed in icing sugar and sandwiched together with Cajeta, like a caramel sauce. Another Thomasina Miers lovely! I’ve put the link to the recipe there. There wasn’t enough for two each because some of them burned but they tasted like Mexico, according to Daniel. I like making these things from scratch, it made me feel all domestic. There’s always that moment though when you’re mixing the flour and sugar and putter together and you think it’s too crumby oh-my-god it’s never going to stick, then ten minutes and one tired mixing arm later it’s actually formed a dough. Then you freeze, and bake and once they are cool stick them together with the cajeta like little sandwiches that look a bit like Mexican scones.

The time you spend after you eat, just chatting and laughing and putting the world to rights is called sobremesa in Mexico, we had tequila of course, in our mish-mash of shot glasses that don’t match – the hardcore among us didn’t bother with the salt and the lime, Daniel just downed his on one! Then our friends had bought Kahlúa, I remember it from putting in cocktails in bars I’d worked in during a previous life at uni but never really knew what it was but now I really think it’s my drink of choice. You don’t have to down it, just sip its sweet coffee taste as a digestif.

So that was our Mexican evening, proof that you can entertain Mexican style without resorting to Old El Paso’s Burrito kits and cheesy Mariachi music you downloaded from iTunes. None of our table matched and we’ve only got three wine glasses, but six hours cooking and cleaning and trying to make sense of the market totally worked!

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10 Steps to Surviving the British Weather

Good old British Weather. A radio report mash-up inspires this post, they want you to send in embarrassing photos to win some prize, probably tickets to see some band I’ve never heard of because I’m not really into all this underground street culture that’s becoming more and more popular. I prefer my songs with a bit of a tune, actual singing and maybe a story rather than a misogynist/political/”insert-random-ideology-here” rant.

Car covered in snow

Car covered in snow

So I was flicking through the photos on my phone, and came across this. It’s my old car, covered in snow! We’re heading into Autumn now, it’s already been less than 15 degrees, and today it’s supposed to be getting up to 21C. It’s been torrential rain, but at the weekend I was walking around in just a t-shirt. Basically all over the place. I thought I’d give you a Girl’s Guide to Surviving the British Weather.

1. Umbrella – An all-year-round staple. And don’t invest in an expensive one, not even the most haute-couture designer can save you from that sudden gust of wind that gets you by surprise and nearly takes you flying because your brolly wasn’t facing the right way. In Summer especially the weather is so changeable you can need it in the morning but be peeling layers off in the afternoon. Plus it doubles up as a parasol, to keep food out of the sun on your picnic in the park.

2. Scarf – This actually is the best one. If like me your tummy’s a bit of a problem area and you don’t feel quite comfortable in those tighter clothes in the Summer, you’ve had a Pimms and a burger in a lovely beer garden, then you catch sight of yourself in a shop window and think “what the bloody hell I look pregnant!” Cue the scarf! Even just draped round, not tied it can hide anything. Then, it’s too bloody hot but it was raining when you left the house so you didn’t even think to take your suncream a light scarf can easily shield your shoulder and arms if you’re in the sun for a long time. It also goes without saying that scarves of varying thickness are essential all year round, especially in the Autumn and Winter when you can’t see my face anymore because it’s wrapped up in knitted scarf.

3. Cardigan – It’s boiling outside but everywhere inside’s got the aircon on too high so it’s actually freezing in the office, or in Forever 21. Plus, it can get quite chilly in the shade when the only table left in the beer garden is under a tree that’s still damp underfoot from the overnight rain. In the Winter you never know when you might want that extra layer, or lend it to your friend who didn’t think it was going to be this cold so came out with no coat.

4. Suncream and sunglasses – You might think you can only get away with factor 15, but never under-estimate the power of the British Summer. You’ve seen those photos of old men on the beach with their handkerchief hats and bright red faces, and the French do call us the “Rosbif” for a reason. And Sunglasses I think should be another staple for all year round, especially driving in bright Winter’s snow.

5. Bags – You’ll need something big enough to put it all in. I hate those big wicker beach-bags people have in the Summer. And in Winter I see girls walking round with those tiny little retro bags that can barely fit purse-keys-phone in. In the evening, unless you’re willing to pay for a taxi to take you from one club to another you really need to fit your brolly in there too.

6. Beer gardens  – One cloud-break and we’re all out. So get there early, or be prepared to sit at a table in the shade. Then there are those bloody bastard wasps, trap them in beer glasses, or better yet, move inside. More and more places are opening their gardens in the Winter too, with heaters and blankets on offer. What’s more cosy and romantic than snuggling up outside in your scarf with a hot chocolate? I love this idea, so find out what’s going on and get yourself an early spot in the warm.

7. The double-coat trick – In Summer not so much, but in Winter this is a godsend, remember it’s still going to be cold in those bars. And we have the reputation the world over for walking in all weathers between bars in heels and a mini-skirt, couldn’t possibly waste drink money on a cloakroom ticket now could we? So, just do it, just pick your coat up before you leave. I learnt this on my Erasmus year, there’s no shame in taking a coat, you can all leave them in a big pile together if you manage to get a table or a booth in a big enough group where at least one of you is always sitting down. You can even, I know it’s radical, but you can even wear two coats, a thin smart one for the bar and then your big winter one for extra warmth while you’re waiting for that taxi home.

Carol Kirkwood – Meteorlogical Godess

8. Watch the media – I know, I take them with a pinch of salt on other channels but I really do believe every word Carol Kirkwood says. Look at her there in all her BBC loveliness. She from Scotland, so if she says it’s going to be cold then yes, it’s going to be Scotland cold. Floods tell you which parts of the country to avoid, record highs tell you which part of the country to go to. Even social media can help you out, if your friend in Sheffield tweets that it’s raining, you can bet any money that rain’s heading your way.

9. Good hair products – Again, if like me your hair gets knotted in the wind, and whips you in the face so you can’t see anything you’ll need to prepare before you leave the house, or carry a comb and a bobble in your bag for those unexpected bastard gusts of wind. And for extra protection you can use the old reliable, your umbrella even if it’s not raining.

10. Book a holiday – In Summer, sod’s law that whatever week you book will be record high temperatures in the UK, but at least you won’t be stuck in a freezing airconned office or trying to find a tiny patch for your blanket in the local park or beach. And in Winter, get some sun! I used to live in Northern Spain, so maybe don’t try there, but I’m sure in Málaga or even Malta or Cyprus it’s still warm. The sun won’t have been out here all Summer, so take this opportunity to get yourself to Greece in the bikini you’ve been saving up while the flights are cheap.

Tulum - Caribbean Sea

Tulum – Caribbean Sea

Maybe I should call the Police?

I have got no chuffing idea where the noise is coming from but please, building security, Police, please make it stop! That’s the beauty of living in a block of flats, you have near anonymity when it comes to a party, you can be screaming from the balcony at 3am, and the only way anyone can know it’s you is a vague call to Security “Hello, there’s a party on the first floor. I have to be awake in three hours to go to work.” Two hours later when Security do nothing, “Hello, shall I call the Police? I’m going to call the Police. Actually, no I’m going to get up because I have to get up for work in an hour anyway so I might as well just get up.” Then you spend the rest of they day seething through your half open eyes until you get home and glare at anyone you see in the lobby in case it was them.

Tonight we started with Caribbean reggae tunes coming from across the park at the back, one of the things I like about living here is the mix of cultures around. But we’ve now moved to thumping crappity crap that just goes right through you right to that part of the brain that gives you that horrible dull headache that won’t go away now for days. It must be an event, we can hear a compere between the thumping – but there’s nothing on google, even hidden on the eights of ninth page of searching I still can’t find anything about an illegal rave in North West Birmingham. It is 23h30 and I want to go to bed.

We moved out of our last flat because of this kind of noise, thumping through the ceiling from  5pm to 9pm every single night. In the end we broke the contract early because I was fed up of having to go out to get away from it. Here, yes it’s loud like tonight but it’s not every night – you get people partying on the balcony but it’s just one night. The baby next door screams in the morning but it’s not every morning. Sometimes we’re the noisy ones with whatever party we have, or if I’m cooking and need the music on loud.

Right now it’s nearly midnight, I have done everything I can – closed the windows, Match of the Day on loud, called Police. I want to be asleep!

I also think there should be a nationwide ban on subwoofers in flats. Ok for houses, not flats. There are too many neighbours, my heart sinks when I see people lugging them in and up the lift moving in. It’s always boys too, what makes them think that we all want to listen to their crappy umm-tsch umm-tsch anyway? One day these boys will be men (by boys I mean those in their early 20s) and they will want to go to sleep at a reasonable time, Saturday night will slowly become less important. You can go out Friday, you can have just a few quiet beers in the pub on a Saturday, it’s not compulsory to umm-tsch your way up Broad Street via the kebab-shop and then finish the party in your flat.

And calm, get an ice lolly – watch the Inbetweeners and try to forget about it.

The Colour of Mexico

I never knew colour until I went to Mexico. Even before I landed I’d fallen in love with the vibe and colour and bustle of Mexico City. From the plane you see towering advertising boards and neon lights and Christmas Trees twice as high as houses. You see the road moving so slowly, on Insurgentes, it’s a bright red and white light leading through the city. We came out of the airport, and Daniel took the ‘scenic route’ into a small village-like area in the centre of Mexico City, full of piñatas and streamers and little breeze-block houses painted all the colours. Then walking around the city, especially before Día de Reyes, there are street sellers with sweets, balloons, toys and everything imaginable. You stop at traffic lights and there’s a teenage duo juggling and acrobatics to brighten your day and earn a few little pesos.

And it doesn’t stop there, from the Torres de Satélite to the boats at Xochimilco, Mexico is colour and I love it.

Colours of Mexico

Colours of Mexico. Xochimilco, Queretaro, Chapultepec and Cancun

Written for Ailsa’s Weekly Travel Theme : Multicoloured

Adventures in Cornwall

My Danielote is really into medieval times, and loves anything caslte-y and ruins. I just love views, the city or the country-side. I’m also a big fan of choppy seas. So we had a few days away in Cornwall searching for King Arthur, and September winds always make for dramatic landscapes. We made a base in the Alderberry Lodge in Newquay, and spent four days exploring this little corner of the UK.

Here's me after climbing the cliffs at Boscastle

Here’s me after climbing the cliffs at Boscastle

We were so lucky with the weather, only raining when we were back at the B&B or in the car. After three and a half hours driving we started with sweltering to death at the Eden Project‘s tropical rainforest dome. It’s an amazing place, and to be honest it probably wouldn’t have mattered if it was raining because everything worth looking at is inside. There are a lot of games and things for children and beautiful flowers and environmental displays and activities. It was a bit pricey though, so I would look out for offers, we got 40% off the tickets by booking the night before. That night we had a wander round Newquay, and of course ended up in the amusement arcades, these small sea-side towns are full of them! We only spent about a fiver but had great fun on the 2p slot machines and air hockey!

Some other places we tried were :

Amazon jungle, or glass done in Cornwall?

Amazon jungle, or glass dome in Cornwall?

  • Boscastle – Apparently this little town was devastated by floods back in 2004, so the town became a bit of a curiosity. We had fun climbing the cliffs around the harbour and watching the sea come crashing in.
  • Tintagel – Birthplace of King Arthur, the castle itself is owned by English Heritage, so it cost about £6.00 each to get in, but the views from the top are well worth it. One word of warning though, it’s very steep, and very open at the top. I wouldn’t like to do it in miserable weather. There’s not much left of the castle itself, and I think if you had a guidebook it would give a bit more explanation than the free map we had. Another warning, take the main road, the A39, not the B3314, you’ll meet a very steep hill at Delabole!
  • Padstow – I stayed here with my family about twenty years ago, when we were very young. It was lovely though because it felt like I was discovering it again for the first time. There are several restaurants and shops belonging to Rick Stein (of Rick Stein in India fame), we tried to get a late lunch of fish and chips at his place, after a lot of finding (it’s not really in the centre of Padstow), it was closed! Cue a lot of swearing and annoyance at Rick Stein personally.There’s a deli though, and a big expensive restaurant on the harbour front.
  • St Ives – Wonderfully beautiful little town, unfortunately our photos didn’t do it justice. We spent six hours here, with a fish and chips lunch, in a restaurant because it was a bit cold to eat outside. In hindsight we should have stayed here. There’s a really old pub on the front, The Sloop Inn, with local ales and a little beer garden by the harbour. There are walks along the beach and the town is full of little local craft shops, as well as the usual neon beach supplies and surfing shops.
  • Nearly sunset in Mevagissey

    Nearly sunset in Mevagissey

    Mevagissey – We arrived here a bit late to enjoy this village in all it’s glory, but it’s beautiful in the evening. There are two harbour areas and the view back to the town is so pretty. We ate at a Portuguese restaurant that had lovely food, but no flexibility on the menu – all I wanted was two starters instead of a main but that wasn’t allowed.

  • Clovelly – In Devon on the way home, you have to park at the top of the hill, pay £6.50 to roll down the hill to the harbour and have a heart attack climbing back up. There is a Landrover service that offers rides to tourists for £2.50 each way, so we left that and took the cardiac option. It’s lovely and quaint but not much to do once you’re down there, we walked along the beach to the waterfall, just wear some good shoes because it’s all stones, and some of them are not very solid underfoot.
  • Appledore – In Devon again, the Guidebook made it out to be a colourful village by the beach, but in real life it’s an estuary and not a lot of shops or pubs.

1996 – 2005 : My Golden Age of Letter-Writing

So when my Mom moved house, way back in February, I was given four big childhood/teenage memory boxes to open and sort out what is worth keeping. The most surprising find were the letters – one box was chock-full of envelopes from all over the world.

  • When I was young I joined a website called Japanese-Penpals, it doesn’t exist anymore, but you could find penpals your age from all over the world. Of course most people on there were between 14 and 20 years old so at 14 I could reach people all over the world, I actually met in real-life with a Russian girl I wrote to.
  • The Guide Association used to run a scheme called International Post Box or something like that, I wrote often to a girl my age in Malaysia. Then as the internet got more use I started swapping badges with other Guides and Scouts the world over.

I learnt about people’s lives in other countries, I found out about a bar in Moscow called Señor Tomato, about an American Girl Scout group’s Summer camping trip,  I even saw the arrival of those cartoon-sticker photo booths (that were always in TopShop) way before anyone else because my Japanese penpal sent ones to me. They were always to colourful, and you would always exchange little gifts, like calendars or pretty notebooks and keyrings, anything that was easy to get through a typical letterbox.

P1040759Changes in technology have a dulling effect on keeping in touch sometimes, rather than enhancing it. For example, I hardly write to Katia, my Russian friend anymore because I can see photos on facebook and there’s always that possibility of instant message that I never use, and I just tried to google the Japanese girl and it came up with around 25 *her name*’s from all over the world – in my 16-year-old naivety it didn’t sound like a porn-star name. I wonder if today’s children will have the same experience, if they can tear themselves away from their Bebo chat and their X-box head-sets? I asked my Guides to write letters to Guides in Mexico a few months ago and they loved it, but would they choose to do it? I think not, they live on BB Messenger and whatever is in CBBC these days. They don’t even watch Neighbours anymore. I actually found a letter I received while Erasmus in France where my friend gave me bullet points on what was happening, Susan and Karl’s eternal rough patch, and someone was plotting to put Lassiters out of business again, blah blah… But again, I never speak to this girl anymore, we lost touch about six months after my Dad died, which weirdly is about the time I started to go to the Meetups and grew a group of so many international friends. Anyway, I wonder how my Guides will keep in touch with childhood friends, or will friendship become a throw-away thing? Like the one-hit-wonders in the charts or the £15 dress you can get in Primark? They say friends are there For a Reason or a Season, but with trends like Twitter – when you are talking about one thing today and a completely different thing tomorrow – will they think that friends are only for the Season? I know that some people are in your life can be selfish, and only call you when there’s no better offer, but are we heading that way as the rule rather than the exception?

P1040761

I read Denglais post about letter-writing and completely related, especially on my Erasmus year, I wrote to absolutely everybody! There’s something exciting about receiving a letter, especially anything hand-written – like there’s a personal connection, anybody can type a letter and print it ten or eleven times, but a completely hand-written letter makes me feel special. People have taken the time to think about you and write. I noticed that most of these letters were during my last years and school, and stop quite suddenly when I leave university and start working. So, why? Is it lack of time and energy? Is it genuinely being busier and distracted by other things, like TV or nights out? Anyway, I have set myself a challenge ::

To write to some of these people and see whether I get anything back.

I know I can get in touch with the Russian girl again because we are on facebook, I even have her mobile number. So my challenge will start with the Malaysian girl, I had around 40 letters from her including little gifts from her travels in South East Asia. I know a lot of these people were probably between 14 and 16 all those years ago so would have lived with their parents, parents don’t tend to move house – I know we are talking fifteen years later but it’s still possible that their parents still live there and can pass the letter on. I have moved a lot in the last three years but I should still be living in this flat for the next year or so, so that’s not a problem. Let’s see what happens!

New Library of Birmingham II

The new Library of Birmingham opened on Tuesday, and it really is an amazing building. We went with some friends, meeting at 18h00 outside and exploring in awe for the next two hours. It’s interesting to see how people approached it, we moved floor-by-floor together, but everyone’s priorities were different :

  • Studying for a degree, one friend made a fast-track to the study areas, which do seem well equipped, with a mixture of desks and computers, even soft chairs for comfortable reading sessions. I might find myself popping down one day to try and finish my book.
  • There are very interestingly named areas, the Contemplation Room, the Brain Storm. One girl made a point to have a look in each of these, even looking through windows if they were closed. The Shakespeare Room was the best I think, although a bit empty really but maybe they will put some desks in, or an exhibition. Apparently it will be by appointment only once the library is properly up and running.
  • Then we all made a bee-line for the terraces, the beautiful gardens and views across the city. There’s a Discovery Garden with all sorts of interesting little corners, and a Community Garden with herbs growing. Then a Secret Garden on the 8th floor with beautiful views from the University to the Jewellery Quarter, BT Tower, Cricket Ground, even the building I used to work in. To be fair though, you can see that from any high place in the city.
  • My approach was as always, wandering around having a look, but searching and searching for the Spanish and Latin American Literature and Journals. It just draws me in, a mix of genuine interest and nostalgia. At the moment I’m reading The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz, but to be honest it’s a bit tough going – so maybe a weekend in the Library of Birmingham is what I need.

There are the usual controversies about the construction cost, and whether it will be an asset to the city in the long run. My main concern is, as with all public buildings, how long before this gets old. Look at the original Central Library, forty years ago it was built and the insides were tatty, worn out and old-fashioned colours. How long before the gardens can’t be kept anymore, or the signs fall off the shelves and there are no cushions left in the quiet relaxing areas? In 40 years time, will we be complaining about this library? About the BullRing? About the new New Street Station?

Whatever the outcome in the future, I will be enjoying every minute of this one. It’s open until 20h00 every evening, there’s a café lovely seating areas on the garden terraces. I’m going on Wednesday with my Mom, she moved out to the countryside in February so doesn’t come into town much anymore. Should be a nice night. We ended our evening last week in Chilacas, a Mexican version of Subway, putting the world to rights and enjoying this city.

Inside the Library

Inside the Library