My Mexican Stove Revisited

(Post 51 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

One of the most frequent post requests I get, usually from someone on a Mexico expat forum who stumbled on the post, is an update on the range I bought at the end of December of 2017. Do I still stand by that post? Is that information still relevant?

In the months after I bought my range, I was so disappointed with it because it never generated enough heat to cook properly. I really regretted not buying a really good stovetop and complementing that with a high-end toaster oven. But it turned out that the regulator on the propane tank on the roof needed to be replaced! What convinced my landlady to have the regulator looked at is that I bought an oven thermometer to prove that the oven really wasn’t getting very hot no matter how long I ran it.

Once the regulator was changed and I started to use the stove again, my satisfaction increased and I grew more bold in the recipes I attempted because the range was finally hitting the right temperatures.

That said, it’s not a great range, there are tons of issues with it, but it does what I need it to do, so I can ignore those faults. The thermometer plays a huge role in that — you can’t really get an exact temperature with a gas range that leaks heat, but for the recipes I make (I’m not much of a baker, for one thing), just knowing for sure that the oven is at a minimum temperature before adding the food makes such a difference. The egg rolls I treated myself to tonight needed to be cooked 20 minutes at 425 or to come up to an internal temperature of about 170F. I popped the tray in the oven when the oven was at about 400F and 20 minutes later, the oven read about 450F and my egg rolls were perfectly done. I’ve also successfully made cakes and bread in it, and I can actually roast a joint of meat or make sweet potato fries without it taking all day!

The biggest issues are cosmetic. It doesn’t have a high quality finish. As you can see in the pictures, it’s staining and rusting. I’m someone who really uses her stove multiple times daily and I can’t be bothered to dismantle it every single night to clean it. Even if I was, I don’t think that would have helped with this range. Regular cleaning is just scratching it and wearing off the finish. Some people would go so far as to cover the stovetop with aluminium foil to protect it, but I find that so wasteful. A stove is meant to be used, not kept pristine!

My other issue is, of course, with the oven, which leaks heat like a sieve. I can’t even open the door without wearing my Ove Gloves!

This is me NOT touching the oven after it had been preheating for ten minutes!

The important thing is that the cast iron grills are holding up well to my using heavy cast iron pans on it. I know that the thinner wire grills of a less expensive stove would have had to be replaced by now. I have rubbed the finish off parts of the grills and they do have some rust, but they still do their job perfectly.

I love having the six burners and, yes, I do sometimes use all six at once, but mostly, I like to be able to have two large pots going at once at opposite corners. I mostly use the middle two burners for the comal that came with the range.

It’s funny how I never used it when I first got the range, but I use it almost daily now that the range gets to temperature. I get a much better Maillard reaction on meat with it than I do in my cast iron pan, it’s ideal for roasting chiles and onions, and I can make double the amount of my favourite banana pancakes at one time with it than I can in my largest frying pan.

One of the reasons I picked this range is that it has a broiler compartment. That has worked great! I will sometimes cook small batches of things in the broiler compartment instead of the oven because the temperature is more even in there and things cook faster. Plus, I get a lovely brown crust on the top!

I’m surprised that the range’s only two little fancy extras, an oven light and an automatic lighter for the burners (oven needs to be lit manually), still work well. I was so used to lighting my burners with a BBQ lighter in my RV that I never dreamed of how lovely it would be to turn on the gas, push a button, and just like that, have a flame!

So would I buy this range again if I could go back to December of ’17 and have all the knowledge that I have now about how it performs? If I was on the same budget, the answer is an unequivocal yes because of how informed I was at the time of purchase. I’m really glad I did not go with a stovetop and toaster oven! So, yes, that post is still relevant and, yes, I still stand by it. 🙂

More Cowbell

(Post 50 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Shortly after I moved here in 2017, I began hearing rumours about the cheese man. Like the bread and ice cream men, he apparently roams the neighbourhood ringing a bell and selling delicious things.

It was only a few months ago that I finally heard the cheese man’s bell, which is actually a recording of a cow mooing loudly with its bell ringing in the background. The recording promised all manner of fresh cheeses, sausages, and whole milk. It sounded too good to be true and every time I would go out to try to encounter him, I could not see him.

Until today. I caught him right outside my house.

His covered, so shaded, bicycle cart held a couple of coolers full of ice to keep delicious things cold. For 115 pesos, I acquired this beautiful fresh Oaxaca-style cheese and a package of green chorizo. Just like with salsa, I prefer my chorizo green rather than red. It’s just the different chiles and herbs that go into it that give it that colour.

Bonita and I immediately tucked into the cheese and gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up. Well, she doesn’t have thumbs, so she just smiled and licked her chops and asked for more. Fresh cheese doesn’t last long, so I froze 2/3 to enjoy later. I look forward to trying some of this chorizo at lunch!

Next time I manage to catch him, I think I will try his panela cheese, which is sweet and chewy, similar to Indian paneer. I am also going to ask about real cream, something that I have not been able to find here yet, so that I can perhaps churn my own butter because good butter here is so expensive and sometimes hard to find. I will just need to make sure that I slip on my chanclas the first time I hear that cowbell!

I Really Need a Better Bank in Mexico

(Post 49 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Some of you may remember how difficult it was to open a bank account in Mexico as a temporary resident. After three years at such status, I can tell you that this difficulty to establish a financial life in Mexico in the early stages of immigration, when you’re setting the foundation for a new life in a new country, is a huge deficiency. It is also very difficult to get financial information as someone who wants to severe all financial ties to the old country, but I’ll get more into that later in this post. Anyway, I was only able to open a bank account, with HSBC, because my landlady acted as a guarantor for my account.

Banking with HSBC has pretty much been a nightmare, but I say that as someone who has an exceptionally good 30-year relationship with her bank in Canada, so she knows her standards and expectations are high and that most people would say my experience has been on the bad side of average. Every Mexican I’ve spoken to here and across the country on various forums who has experience with HSBC and another bank say that all banks in Mexico are on a scale of bad to terrible and HSBC is on the terrible end…

Before I get into the nightmare they put me through this last month, I’m going to say I stopped counting at about 60 the number of hoops, which included trips to the ATM, getting through multiple phone trees, and waiting for various codes by email, phone call, and text message, to enable me to send my landlady May’s rent through an electronic transfer — and we’re at the same bank. I know that we’re spoiled in Canada by being able to transfer money to anyone if we know their email address, but come on! A rep at my branch would later be amazed that I got through all those steps, especially with the language barrier, and confessed that other banks don’t make it such a Process.

So I don’t know if this is the case with all ATMs in Canada, but with CIBC ATMs, you don’t get your money until you take your card out of the machine. Before that change was instituted, the ATM would scream at you if you forgot your card in the reader. And I don’t know if this is the case with all ATMs in Mexico, but with HSBC, you take your money out and then you get your card back, and the machine will not scream at you if you forget to grab the card. It’s happened twice that I made withdrawals under stressful circumstances where my routine was interrupted and I left my card in the machine. So I do take partial responsibility for the nightmare that ensued after this second time I forgot my card in the machine…

This happened on a Tuesday and I realised it on the Thursday night. I was surprised that the card hadn’t been canceled yet as I was still able to use it for online purchases, but I figured it was only a matter of time before it was. I didn’t want to risk being cardless over the weekend, so I masked up on Friday morning and went to get the card replaced. I made sure to have my passport and green card with me for identification.

To replace the card at HSBC, you wait in line to speak to an executive who will look up your file and then write some information on a scrap of paper. You then have to queue to see a teller. This first time of going up to a teller with a mask on and handing her a note was very amusing, but would grow old as my tale of woe progressed…

The teller gives you an envelope containing the new card. You then queue again to speak to an executive, who will activate the card for you. Then, if you’re smart, you’ll take your card to an ATM and attempt to make a withdrawal. If it works, then your card is fine. In theory. This whole process costs about 150 pesos…

I got home and started to change my card info for various services — bills, Amazon, PayPal, and more. I started to run into some difficulties but thought that the card activation maybe needed a couple of hours to process.

The next day, I had no trouble using the card on the Apple Mexico website to order something, so I thought it was fine. But by Monday, I knew something was wrong.

I’m not going to bore you with every single detail of what transpired next. But know that for my card to work, I ended up making four calls to HSBC customer service and three visits to the bank in person over two weeks because the phone people were so dismissive. Yes, three visits to the bank in person during a lockdown to resolve something that should have been resolvable over the phone. During this time, I couldn’t order anything online that I couldn’t pay cash for at delivery, so that meant even more contact with people. When I can pay for groceries online, I have the driver leave everything in a crate outside my front door and then ring the bell before he walks away. Not the case when you have to give them cash!

I found myself making frivolous random orders on a bunch of sites to amass enough “payment declined; contact your bank” message for HSBC to believe they might be the cause of the problem.

I ended up finding a rep at my branch who speaks good English who finally found a phone rep who resolved the problem. This English-speaking rep heard me talk to the last phone rep in Spanish and said there was no way I was having a language barrier issue. The reps just didn’t care to find the problem. What happened was that my card was extra blocked because… I was making purchases their fraud system didn’t think a “foreigner” would make. So while I repeatedly confirmed my Friday purchase attempts and my Saturday Apple purchase, that only unblocked a first level of security. By my third phone call, the security rep should have clued in that I had an extra layer of block that needed to be escalated, rather than dismissively tell me that the problem had to be with the companies I was trying to pay.

This extra blocking has happened to me in the past and was slightly easier to resolve, but it’s a problem that is going to keep happening. I know I’m stuck with HSBC another year until I get permanent status, but I’ll definitely be switching banks at that point. It is going to be so frustrating to have to start over after having a four-year relationship with HSBC, but there is no way I would trust them with the investments I will eventually move here, nor do I expect that four-year relationship to even matter when I start shopping for a mortgage.

I do have to say I’m still chuckling that the only online purchases that went through during this two-week nightmare were for my new iPhone and for two orders of tacos. The card knew my priorities!

As I mentioned earlier in the post, it has been very difficult for me to get financial information as an immigrant to Mexico — and I’ve even been looking for information in Spanish aimed at people coming from other parts of Latin America. The expat services that take you to open a bank account and guide you through the process of buying a house do so from the perspective that you’re always going to be a foreigner with accounts “back home.” I haven’t found anyone yet who can tell me this is the product you need to invest in to fund your retirement later and this is the product to stash the money you’ll use as a deposit on a house. The only advice I get is “Don’t bring your money here!” That’s not helpful.

I had a chat with my investments guy in Canada today and it became very clear to me that soon as I hit permanent status, I need to cut financial ties there. So now is the time to figure out how that is going to happen and where my money will go when it gets here. I’ve been talking with some Mexican friends who don’t see me as an expat with deep pockets who have slightly demystified the path I need to take to buying a home here using methods that self-employed Mexicans with no government home-buying credits and parents to help with the deposit would take.

So I think that now that I’m starting to know what specific questions I have, it might be easier to find answers. Moreover, I’m about 18 months away from the end of my current rental contract and hard at work figuring out how I could move into a house of my own at that point, even if that home is a hovel. In March, I didn’t even think I’d want to stay in Yucatán long-term. Not even two months later, I’m ready to buy a house here. It’s amazing how a global crisis can bring clarity! And I also see a business opportunity, creating a Mexican financial literacy course for other immigrants!

Interview About My New Career Path

(Post 48 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

I was recently interviewed for the blog of the course I took to become a transcript proofreader. I offered a lot of constructive criticism about the course in my interview and was surprised they included that. This interview may be of interest to those who don’t know what it is that I do, how I support myself working remotely, and how I got to be doing what I’m doing. The fact is this course changed my life. I would have no meaningful income right now if it wasn’t for the connections that opened up to me after taking this course. I also much prefer the work I’m doing now in the legal field than I did the general transcription work I was doing before.

A large project has been keeping me busy, but fear not, I have some posts in the pipeline once the current job wraps up in a few days. I’ve been spending the spare time I have working on an online drawing course with my painting teacher. This one is for portraits and meant for advanced students. Needless to say, it’s way too advanced for me (that I have to practice drawing circles before I can move to the next eyeball lesson says it all), but I’m having fun learning how the various body parts come together. I’m taking this class in Spanish and not having any trouble following along. I am also signed up for an English-language class, where we’re starting with a still life in charcoal. I’ll start on that later this week.

I love how many businesses here have found ways to stay open during this crisis by delivering their products. After my art teacher posted the materials list for drawing (2B pencils, charcoals, erasers), I messaged the list to the big art supply store here in Mérida, Arq Line, and asked if they could fill it. Absolutely! A few days later, they called to say they had everything and were going to be driving by my house (perk of living in a central location!), so could they stop by? I have had to get some things via Amazon, but, generally, most of my favourite businesses are finding ways to still sell in the current context. That’s not to say that there aren’t hundreds of businesses that will be ruined by the crisis, but it’s amazing to see how some people have a strong will to survive that leads to creative solutions, like my art teacher learning how to make videos so he can teach virtually.

I Bought a Vitamix

(Post 47 of 233. Thanks again to those who participated in the Fundrazr!)

Before I get into today’s post, I want to give a shoutout to the generous person whose donations to Bast’s fund has sponsored 40 blog posts. I have no idea if you are even a blog reader at all, but if you are, I want to make sure that you are recognised. Every donation counts and is appreciated, of course, but your note on your last donation about wanting to spread your stimulus around bears commenting on. In Canada, the government does not want to give out a universal benefit payment to Canadians at this time of need. They are so worried about people who do not need help getting money that many people who need it are being left behind. Thank you, generous donor, for making the point that there are people out there who share when they have more than they need.

So today’s post is about my new kitchen workhorse — I really should not call it a toy! — my new Vitamix blender. As I explain in this video, I’m at the fun part of having braces where I can barely chew, so this was the perfect time to be able to turn a fruit salad into a very smooth beverage!