Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Canned Salmon: The Thrill of the Hunt

Canned salmon for me, seedless black olives for dh, Mountain Dew for the kiddos, and we’re talking one happy family. It’s funny how little it takes to turn a simple grocery excursion to the city into a big thrill. I mean, canned salmon! Did you catch that?
Disclaimer: Let me apologize in advance to anyone suffering from a true craving that can’t be satisfied right now. Some of you have much more limited shopping than I do. Here’s a (((hug))) for you.
When we first starting living here, we were on temporary visas, requiring a “border run” to the U.S. (900 miles / 24 + hours in the car) every six months. Those were tedious, but at least I could fill the back of the van with non-essentials like cream style corn, cheddar cheese, and some American cereals.
One time I got so desperate for cheddar in between visa renewals that we piled all seven kids in the van and drove five hours - one way - to the Sam’s Club in Puebla to buy cheese. Then we got in the car and drove all the way back. In case you ever wondered if I really am nuts, this should confirm your suspicions. Other things were going on at the time, making a day trip well worth the time and expense, but still….
Nowadays there are very few things we cannot find down here. I am thankful for our very own Sam’s Club, only an hour away, with at least a few American brands and luxuries when we choose to splurge. What keeps it interesting is that the stock is forever changing. Sometimes they have an item for a very limited time, and all the gringos go overboard buying whatever it is.
Whenever I have used moderation in buying a new treasure, I have regretted it when I return a few weeks later to find it sold out, never to return. Once, for instance, I found Triscuits. Never saw them after that day. Another time they had Frosted Mini-Wheats, and having learned my lesson, I bought more than one. Now they seem to stock them regularly, and I don’t have to risk hoarding stale boxes of cereal.
The exciting bonus about the salmon and olives is that they are manufactured in Mexico, and the cans are in Spanish. Now we can add that to the long list of things to take for granted. As for the Mountain Dew? I’m afraid it will go the way of Root Beer and Dr. Pepper, just making an occasional appearance to tease us.
So, what kind of treasures have you found lately? What do you ask visitors to bring you from the U.S.? My list is shorter all the time.
Tomorrow I leave for the U.S. with plans to return August 15. My suitcase will have canned pumpkin, Triscuits, chocolate chips, schoolbooks, vitamins and nutritional supplements, and mineral makeup. The kids will each have a new pair of shoes and jeans that we can’t find to fit down here. No need to pack a pantry any more like the old days.
IRL* A few more days, and I’ll be at Stuff Mart; no big thrill there, but everything on the shelf where it belongs. (Not that I’m complaining!)
Next Week: I have invited a Guest Blogger to take my place while I too busy being a MOG to blog! Please welcome my df, visit her blog, and leave her lots of comments.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Discomfort of Comfort

Much as I like to think of myself as a woman who enjoys pleasure in moderation, a glance at my blog clearly exposes a woman of extremes. I love, love, love what I love, and I abhor, detest, hate what I don’t love. The pathetic reality is that 25 years of living without most American-style creature comforts has not cured me of my wimpy ways.
People back home have it all wrong if they think I am some rough and ready jungle woman. One phrase that makes me cringe is, “Oh, I could never do what you do….” As if I just love being uncomfortable.
Who actually enjoys discomfort?
Only by the grace of God do I occasionally do without my creature comforts. It’s one thing to serve with all my heart, but when it involves an aching back, somehow I find myself recoiling.
One quick trip to an Indian village last week and my flesh cried out like the spoiled baby apparently I am. I am addicted to being pleasantly comfortable. I am ashamed of myself. After all this time, I still want what I want, when I want it, and with a La-Z-boy recliner while you’re at it, please.
Our little adventure was an assault on my senses. About an hour into the journey, strong gas fumes started filling the inside of the Suburban, with or without open windows. That was not fun. During the showing of the Jesus film, I was thoroughly distracted by the smell of smoky clothing from cooking fires, body odors, and cloth diapers that needed to be changed. Again, the curse of an astute sniffer.
My taste buds, on the other hand, had no complaints. The children might beg to differ, but I thought even the eggs scrambled with onion and green beans were delicious. Add salsa and fresh corn tortillas—and anything is fabulous. However, my ears grumbled inwardly after hours and hours of listening to ranchero-style music on the bus for many hours on the way home. It was all I could do to not scream out “STOP! Enough already!” (How long could you handle listening to this?)
The worst assault was on my physical body. Sleeping on a hard floor, reading, trying to relax, having devotions on a wooden pew bench, and waiting on a concrete slab for the car’s problem to be diagnosed—well, let’s just say that I was not overindulged in the comfort department. It wasn’t overly comfy being banged around on the bus either, having one fellow passenger poke me with her elbow, and another stab my foot with her umbrella as we were thrashed with the twists and turns of the road.
I used to laugh at the stories short-term teams relate when they come down, but on some unconscious level I think I felt I had already paid my dues, that I was somehow entitled to take it easy from here on out. Not so.
Maybe I get some credit for not complaining (I know my three children sure won some points with me for their flexibility without grumbling!), but I know I didn’t earn high marks overall. I pity my dh, who will have to go back with a mechanic to fix and retrieve our Suburban.
From the (ridiculous) comfort of my cushy couch, I have pondered my dubious “suffering. “ Truly it was no sacrifice at all. In contrast, anyone in the village we visited who comes to Christ must pay a fine to the town, an amount equivalent to a full year’s salary. They sacrifice one year of labor (in a rather uncomfortable place, imho*) – just for choosing to follow Christ. Can you imagine?
IRL*Forsaking all to follow Jesus is more than words to an upbeat song.
[*see Jamie-Jo Speak in sidebar]

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Soup for You

Fully recuperated from last week’s soiree, I am now on a rare-for-me village trip, with dh and the kids, which is about eight hours from home. Next week maybe I will have some inspiring, hopefully not embarrassing, or drama-filled, yarn to spin, but for now I simply leave you a taste of Mexico.
Can you get real Mexican food where you live? If not, I honestly pity you. How can anyone live without an occasional Tex-Mex dish? This recipe may not work for you until your next furlough, unless you can figure out where to buy or how to make your own corn tortillas. Sorry about that.
It works fine with a regular blender, but I have to say that I am blessed with a Vitamix, which is my absolute best-loved appliance in the house. I use it at least once a day for grinding wheat, oats, and other grains for flour, and also for green smoothies, creamed soups, or any other chopped or pureed dishes. (Did I ever mention that I am somewhat of a health food junkie? – Not in the pathological/need-help-now kind of way, but just a wish-I-could-eat-better/cut-out-the-junk-food kind of way.)
Without further ado, then, here’s one of my favorite recipes. Enjoy!

Jamie Jo’s Sopa Azteca (Tortilla Soup)
Adapted from a recipe used at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, a Dallas Mexican restaurant
(Quadruple the recipe to feed 25 people. Believe me, I’ve done it!)

For the broth:
3 T. corn oil
1 Cup onions, pureed
2 Cups fresh tomatoes, pureed
1 T. cumin powder
1 t. chili powder
1 bay leaf
½ branch epazote (this is literally a weed that grows wild in my garden, but maybe you can find it where you live, especially if you are in Latin America)
2 quarts chicken stock
2 T. tomato puree
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

1 cooked chicken breast, cooled and cut into strips (two whole chickens for a big crowd)
1 avocado, peeled and cubed
3 oz. grated cheddar cheese (or Oaxaca cheese, if you have it!)
3 or more corn tortillas, cut into thin strips and fried
Sour cream
In a soup pot, heat the corn oil and sauté tortillas with garlic and epazote. Add onions and fresh pureed tomatoes; bring to a boil. Add cumin, tomato puree, bay leaf, chili powder, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil again. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste and cook for ½ hour. Strain to remove all large particles. Sometimes I remove the epazote and run the broth through the blender, adding a few more tortillas that have been soaked in broth, to thicken it and give it more tortilla flavor.
Either put soup in bowls and serve garnishes on the side (for company – which dirties a lot more dishes), or just put the tortilla strips and garnishes in the bowls, and serve the soup on top of them like we do for our family. Serves 6-8.
IRL*While the soup simmers for you, I’ll be showing the Jesus film to a group who has never seen a single movie in their own language.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Star Spangled Syndrome*

Before reading a word I have to say, you must bear in mind what my own mother told me on the phone last weekend: “You do not deserve any sympathy at all!” She has always suspected I am out of my mind, but this week confirmed it (again). Many times she has heard me declare adamantly that I’m not going to throw any more humongous parties at my house, but then with the slightest twist of the arm, I’m off half-cocked, planning and inviting.

Erroneously thinking we would have a smallish group this year, I sent out invitations for a 4th of July program and picnic. A friend in another town had actually agreed to host it at her house, but then friends persuaded me to have it here like we have in the past. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, we had 80 people confirmed to attend, and I was sending poor dh out to rent tables, chairs, and revival-tent-like tarps in case it rained.

Aside from immediate family (ahem!), you might say that delegating is not my strong suit. Anyway, besides organizing and hosting the event, doing most of the decorating, I also led music and became the square dance instructor. Yep. Maybe my mother is right. The next day I stayed in bed until way past 7:00 A.M. vowing not to say a word of complaint to Mom, though she would have been sympathetic in spite of herself.

In all, though, I’d have to admit it was well worth the effort. Over 100 people showed up, including several carloads of friends of a friend I was not expecting. It’s always good to have an excuse to have lots of friends over, sing patriotic songs, pray for our nation, shoot off fireworks (sweet revenge to be making all the racket for a change), and of course enjoy a taste of Americana -- KFC, baked beans, brownies, etc. For one day in the year, we can chunk the diet, be proud Americans, and not apologize for our country.

Did any of you find a way to celebrate the 4th of July? I’d love to hear about it.

I’m also curious whether any of you suffers from a certain ex-pat phenomenon where the “Star Spangled Banner” gives you goose bumps and puts a lump in your throat so big you can’t sing? Being a bit of a crybaby myself (remember the “Wedding March” and “Pomp and Circumstance”?), I actually get tears when I try to sing the national anthem or “America the Beautiful.” Even the Pledge of Allegiance sort of gets me. Anyone else?

IRL* I’m insisting to my unbelieving mom that I most definitely am (probably) NOT organizing a ladies’ retreat this summer, no matter what people say!* I wish I could remember which of my international friends first coined this phrase [Star Spangled Syndrome], so I could give her credit. It’s not original.


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