In Which I Finally Try Mondongo/Menudo

(Post 79 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Some months ago, my cleaning lady and I were talking about food. She asked if I had ever eaten mondongo/menudo, one of the iconic soups of Mexican cuisine. It is made with cow’s stomach and/or tripe. It is considered a hangover remedy and is traditionally sold on weekends in Mérida. Such a thing really does not appeal to me, so I hadn’t.

Well… with last Monday having been a holiday, her schedule was a bit off this week and she ended up coming today, Saturday, instead of Wednesday. She remembered our conversation and brought a portion of mondongo/menudo for us to share! I popped out to get some warm, fresh tortillas while she portioned out the soup and “condiments” (chiles, cilantro, lime). The cost of living is going up — tortillas are now 20 pesos a kilo when they had been 18 since I moved here. I buy a quarter kilo at a time, which was 4.5 pesos, but now it’s 5 pesos (0.03USD difference). Insignificant for me, not so much for the average Mexican.

The broth was tasty enough, with a strong tomato flavour, but otherwise very bland and greasy, as is typical in Yucatecan cuisine. You really need the acid from the limes and the heat from the chiles to cut through that heaviness.

The cow stomach had no flavour at all, to my immense surprise, just like the pork stomach had no flavour either, but the texture was awful to my palate. The outside was rather gelatinous and the inside was fatty. This is definitely not a dish that I would voluntarily eat again, but I’m glad the proverbial ice was broken in case it is offered to me.

Yup, that’s just fatty tissue. Not my idea of a good time.

Buying Groceries Has Changed So Much In Lockdown

(Post 78 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Before lockdown I was pretty much in a routine of either getting my groceries myself once a week or having them delivered once a week. Once the lockdown started, it was 100% delivery for several months.

Before lockdown I almost never shopped at little specialty shops that I had to make a special trip to. In lockdown, seemingly everyone has figured out a good delivery system and I don’t mind paying a little bit extra for the convenience, so I have so many shops that have opened up to me. There are so many ingredients that were a real luxury before but now I can just get with a WhatsApp message, like wonton wrappers to make my own gyoza. I am really expanding my cooking horizons now that I have access to all these extra ingredients!

Today was a really good example of how I shop now between having everybody deliver to me and having the Walmart and the produce shop so close to me. I have a very full pantry, so I don’t buy a lot every week anymore.

Late morning, I heard the sound of a cow mooing, telling me to run outside and buy some fresh cheese and chorizo sausage from a gentleman on a pedal cart. At lunchtime, I took a few minutes and walked around the corner to the produce stand get some bananas and fruit for my smoothies.  I got back in and saw a Facebook post from a ranch I buy pork from announcing that they had smoked hams! So I ordered a kilo bone-in, and I also asked for some bone-in pork chops. Those will come this Saturday or next Saturday. No rush, I still have pork from my last order in the deep freezer. While I was doing that, the person who manages the co-op of small producers in the area replied that they found me a dozen duck eggs! ❤️ I ordered the eggs, a whole chicken, oranges, a basil plant, and a few sort of sundries to get to my delivery minimum. I’m going to be trying some local chocolate! After dinner and after my work was done for the day, I needed a leg stretch, so I popped out to Walmart to get almond milk and dog food. On the way back, the beer store by my house was open, so I went in and bought four cans total of two different types. And voilà, my shopping for the week done!

It’s a good thing that I have more eggs incoming because I got the deal of a lifetime, according to my price checking over the last year, on a KitchenAid mixer during a Costco Buen Fin sale (that I got a colour that I love is an incredible bonus, but I’m not a fan of the slippery bowl). So I need to start baking until I buy the pasta making and meat grinder attachments!

I baptized it by making a very delicious banana bread!

Even with a couple of shops near me, I’m still trying not to go out more than once a week or so. I actually can’t remember the last time I went out. It is good to go out a little bit every once in a while and just talk to somebody who can reply in the language that I really understand. Bonita is the best company, but she’s not the best conversationalist. But I can still understand a lot of what she says. For example, if I come out of the kitchen with a slice of banana bread and a cup of coffee and she’s sitting by her treat bag, this has to be the end result:

A Fine Balance

(Post 77 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Recently, the world lost the great Sir Sean Connery. My best friend Bast and I are movie buffs, so of course we started reminiscing about our fondest memories of his roles. Top of mind for me was as Henry Jones Sr. in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. We both love the scene on the beach in which Jones Sr. shows emotion before sacrificing a bunch of birds to save himself and Indy. That scene was filmed on a beach outside of Almería. When I was in Almería, I thought that it might be cool to go out and visit the beach, but couldn’t justify the time away from work to make the excursion possible.

l I made a lot of decisions like that when I was in Europe. My European adventure was not at all what it was supposed to have been, a voyage without end, a time of living in the present. But I had no sooner landed than my future was written out for me. And little did I know during those months that I was making the the right choices for the events that would follow.

The future of travel is so uncertain right now. I can’t think too hard about it lest I go mad with grief at such an unexpected cutting short of my adventures. All I can do is focus on the present. And it was the sacrifices I made during my nine months in Europe that are making it possible for me to ride so easily through this crisis. Somehow, as though I could see the events of the next few years written out for me, I struck a balance in Europe between living for the present while at the same time building in resiliency for pandemic. I learned to hunker down and focus on my business and I grew reaccustomed to finding my pleasures in a simple domestic routine.

And most important of all, I discovered that travel isn’t just about going out and exploring and having adventures every day. It is also about learning the local rhythm of life. And for me especially, those months on the shores of the Mediterranean, Africa so close and yet still so far away, meant a breakthrough in my Spanish fluency that I’m not convinced could have happened anywhere so quickly but in Andalusia, as that’s the accent I first learned. I am so grateful right now to be able to converse so easily in Spanish with the few people who populate my days. Whether I’m explaining potential solutions to electrical and plumbing problems to my handyman, conversing with an Uber driver about the social debt of large corporations, or laughing with a neighbour about something silly my dog did, I feel like this fluency roots me to the world in which I’ve chosen to live out this crisis.

And so, these pandemic days continue to march on relentlessly and unapologetically. There are little bits of normalcy again, like the one Sunday a month when Juan comes to do the yard work and “La Jefe” has fun supervising, but those days are brief and fleeting.

It’s hard to get time off (for which I am not complaining!), but when I do, I try to be on my feet and away from screens. A couple of nights ago, I started building a new cupboard I bought for my kitchen, finishing it over the course of the following day.

I’m quite chuffed at how perfectly everything fits and that I now have a proper broom cupboard.

My handyman was back today to install a light fixture above my kitchen sink.

(His next jobs will be unblocking the kitchen sink, doing maintenance on my bedroom AC (both of which he knows about), and installing a pressure flow thingamabob in my master shower (feasibility to be discussed).)

He timed his arrival today perfectly as I was literally just minutes away from completing a gruelling afternoon of making homemade pasta! Why all that effort, he asked me.

Because I get a stomachache from fresh pasta made with chicken eggs. But these beautiful duck eggs magically don’t cause me any issues (omelettes are DA BOMB, by the way).

He did quick and very clean work, so I had time to throw together a quick ragù sauce (hint: wine and sausage replace the need to cook the sauce for hours!).

Dinner was welcome because I hadn’t eaten since a breakfast of homemade waffles (I’m nearly through my list of eggy things I need to catch up on!). I bought a mini waffle maker that I still need to play around with. A friend assures me I could have gotten these a lot darker brown, so I’ll keep playing till I get it right. But they were still delicious! And that’s fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, something that is no longer a travel treat but something I have a few times a week. There could be worst vices!

All this time cooking is a way to nurture myself. I’m paying attention to where my ingredients come from and planning meals with intent and an aim of nourishing myself. I don’t think I’ve ever since my adolescence had so much time to spend in the kitchen (I was cooking professionally in those days!). And I’ve noticed that the more time I spend in the kitchen in a day, the less time I spend in the kitchen over the week. It’s really great to pull a portion of chicken curry with rice out of the freezer for those nights when you have unexpected overtime because I took downtime to cook in bulk.

There is so much uncertainty right now. I choose to focus on what I can count on right now, like business continuing to grow and a house of my own being within reach. I’m not thinking (too much) about how I had planned to go to Japan for my ten-year business anniversary next year (a lovely bookend to the five-year anniversary in London) or that I haven’t been more than five kilometres from my house since March. There’s no reason to make myself sad over things I can’t control and what has been taken from me. Instead, I choose to focus on what this pandemic has given me, an economic certainty that was so very much out of reach that day in Almería when I decided on an amble through the city centre instead of an excursion out of town.

New Handyman

(Post 76 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

With the house, I sort of inherited a handyman that the landlady trusts. He does the air-conditioning maintenance and small plumbing tasks and electrical things as well. Unfortunately, he has become less and less reliable and he never even bothered to show up the last time that I had an electrical job for him.

This afternoon I messaged the landlady about the plumbing “emergency” I described in my previous post, and she gave me two other referrals for plumbers. I contacted both of them and one got back to me very quickly. The other one ended up calling me about an hour later, but I didn’t need his services anymore.

The plumber, Don Wilbert and I went back and forth on WhatsApp. Based on the photo I sent him, he advised me that it was a big job. That to do it right, you would have to take out most of the wall to get to the guts of the plumbing. I was all ready for him to say that. I don’t use that tap, so I suggested that we just add a stopper, and he said that was a good idea if I could live with that. I sure could and my landlady said that at this point it’s my house, to a point, so it was my decision, plus I was paying!

Don Wilbert arrived at 4 p.m. on the dot, as promised. He had brought the part he needed, so it was a very quick job for him and his helper. I was a little low on cash, but I hadn’t made a run out to Walmart to get more because I figured there was no way that job was going to cost me more than 600 pesos. It ended up being $450, but I only had a $500 bill, so I let him have the extra.

The two of them cleaned up completely, going so far as to ask me for a broom and a dustpan. So I knew that I wanted to keep his number in my phone. He gave me a business card to show me all the services he offers. Like a lot of plumbers, he does electrical and air-conditioning work as well. So I booked him for next week to install a light fixture in my kitchen above my sink! When he comes back I am also going to get a quote for service on my bedroom air conditioner as I’m getting a mouldy odour coming out of it. I cleaned the filter, but that didn’t help.

I know I am in this house at least one more year, so I’m really glad to have a reliable handyman in my contacts again!

Building Codes Aren’t a Bad Thing

(Post 75 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Homes in Mexico have few water shut-off valves. So this resulted in the entire rooftop tinaco (water tank) emptying by the time I got hold of a plumber. I also have no water to the house until the plumber can resolve the issue (I don’t use this tap, so I’m going with the cheapest option of adding a stopper and plate over the opening). I do have water at an exterior tap that is in-line between the where the city water enters and the ground-level tinaco, so at least I’m not entirely without water until resolution. Always appreciate reminders that building codes exist for a reason and to be mindful of that when I renovate or even build my first home here!

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