Tag Archives: Mexico

Mexico, our Friends, and a Pie

3 May

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The Chocolate Cream Pie that we shared in Barra de Navidad

As you know, we’ve been in Mexico for a short vacation.  Although it has only been nine days since we arrived, much has happened in that time.   One of the most remarkable things is that we have been able to remain in contact with our family back home which has been critical as my Dad has been in the hospital for our entire stay.  Two days ago my Dad was finally able to have surgery on his (almost completely blocked) carotid artery and being able to be in contact via Skype has been a great blessing… and to know that Dad is now on the other side of surgery (and has even been able to complain a bit!) is absolutely delightful!

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Carolina, Miriam, Rosalba, and David

One of the best parts of our visit was the time we spent with our friends from Mexico, David and Rosalba.  They drove from their home near Guadalajara (about four hours away) to spend a few days vacationing with us.  With them came their daughter Miriam and her best friend, Caro – two beautiful young ladies who will celebrate their quinceneras later this year.  Together we shared long walks on the beach, lots of sunshine, laughter, tacos, and a few mango margaritas (well, the adults did anyway).  It always amazes me is that we are able to communicate so well even though we speak different languages.  Yes, it’s true I know some Spanish, but my language skills are pretty rusty.   And yet here we are with just the simple desire to be together, and somehow we figure it out.   Would that all the world’s differences could be solved as easily!

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Pretty shells and sea glass from our walks on the beach

Another highlight came when we shared tacos one night at a little place near the center of town called “Rinconcita Mexicana” (little Mexican corner).  We ate at this place last year (in February) with David and Rosalba.  At that time I was still immersed in my “year of pies” and had brought a coconut cream pie to share with David and Rosalba and we wound up leaving half a pie as part of our gratuity.  This year when we showed up, the waiter, Ricardo, saw us and after a moment asked, “Do I know you?”  I shook my head no, but then Emile smiled and said, “yes” and Ricardo pulled Emile’s business card out of his wallet!  He commented on the pie from last year (delicioso!) and I was completely stunned!  It had been more than 14 months and we had made a lasting impression with half a pie!

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As we left to go home, I jokingly asked Ricardo if we could get a reservation for the following night.  He asked what time and said, “of course.”   The next day, I made a chocolate cream pie to commemorate our last night with David and Rosalba and the girls.  We arrived at the “restaurant” and found an empty table and sat down.  Then Rosalba pointed out that our table from the night before had a notice posted.  It said “Reservado” – and Ricardo’s wife Nancy told us that they had saved the table for us!  I felt honored to have earned a place at their table and, of course, we shared our pie with them once again.

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The Rinconcito Mexicana

Today we have one last day to walk the beach and to soak up the flavors of this colorful land.  We will miss it so much when it is time to go, but feel certain that a piece of our hearts will remain here until we are able to return.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.  They must be felt with the heart.  Helen Keller

A Mexican Vacation… and a Coconut Cream Pie

27 Apr

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In January my husband and I planned a trip to Mexico.  We used a companion fare ticket from Alaska Airlines and booked a trip to Barra de Navidad that would begin on April 24.  Once the plans were made, life went back to normal… until my Dad’s stroke.  Then the trip that we planned seemed unlikely… and I felt guilty for even wanting to go.

As the date to leave drew near, I spent many hours discussing insurance, surgery dates, payments for care, and myriad other details.   Once that was done I had to believe that my Dad was in good hands and that my husband and I could take a much-needed break.  We left early Wednesday morning and arrived about seven hours later in Manzanillo, Mexico.  A friend of a friend agreed to pick us up at the airport and he drove us to Barra.  We thanked him and gave him a bottle of Oregon wine for his troubles.

After a short rest, we walked down to the beach and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.  Then we bought tamales from a street vendor and ate them while sipping cold Pacifico beer.  That night we went to bed tired but happy.

The next morning I checked email (yes we are tied to our computers) and saw a message from my Dad’s case manager: Dad was taken back to the hospital. My first thoughts are unprintable but I will say, “Thank goodness for Skype!”  Immediately I called my sister and after a while we figured out that Dad had several things going on: dehydration, dizziness, and low levels of sodium.   Dad’s been in the hospital for three days now and I think that he is in the safest place he could be and the nurses at JFK have been amazingly kind and helpful dealing with his family that is so far away.

Since Dad was being well-cared for and I could not do anything for him I did what I do when I need to feel in control: I baked a pie.  This year in our little rental apartment we have a two-burner stove top and a toaster oven.  First I formed a graham cracker crust (with crumbs that I brought from home) and baked it in the little oven until it was lightly browned.  Next I mixed milk, sugar, eggs, and coconut for the filling and poured it into the crust.  We then went out in search of whipping cream to top it off but could not find any for sale in this little town so I had to settle for toasting coconut for the topping.

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Even without whipped cream I thought it turned out nicely… but who would get this lovely pie?  I thought of the people that we had come in contact with and settled on a young man who works in a shop that sells beautifully hand-woven works of art.  We asked him about the wall hangings and he told us that some of them had taken months to make.  He explained that many of those hanging had been made by other workers but that he also could weave and he first began learning to weave ten years before.

Maybe I felt a connection to that young man because I too learned my craft when I was young.  Whatever the reason, last night Emile and I walked back to the shop and brought a pie to that young man.   He was there with his girlfriend and as I gave him the pie I tried to explain in my best Spanish that the pie was a gift – to honor the beautiful pieces that he had created.   I hope that he continues to pursue his art throughout his lifetime for I believe it can make all the difference in the world.

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“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”  
Émile Zola

 

Amadeus and An Apple Pie for Senora Chela

4 Mar

MozartA week or so ago, my husband and I attended a performance of the play Amadeus at Camelot Theatre.  What a show!  It had been a long time since I’d thought of the life of Mozart and his amazing talent and tragically short life but it all came flooding back that night.  The cast and crew did an excellent job of bringing this story to life – and filling my head with questions… about Salieri and about the music that might have been.   That night I  also learned the meaning of the name Amadeus; it translates to “love of God.”

Senora Chela Ribbon cutting

Ashland Mayor John Stromberg and Senora Chela Tapp-Kocks

The friend who shared this insight with me is Senora Chela Tapp-Kocks.  The very same Senora who is singlehandedly responsible for creating the sister city relationship between Ashland, Oregon and Guanajuato, Mexico.  That relationship began with a University exchange in 1969 and has continued on to this day.  This relationship has “been forged and nurtured over four decades by officials of both city governments, university and high school administrators and teachers, actors, artists, police officers, firemen, service clubs and — most of all — families” ( GlobalPost.com).

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Senora Chela Tapp-Kocks

Some of the “consequences” of this sister city relationship are as follows:

  • Several thousand students have taken part in the University Exchange
  • 80 marriages have taken place between Ashlanders and Guanajuatenses
  • Over 200 homes have been constructed in Guanajuato with funds provided by the Ashland Rotary Club

All this occurred because Senora Chela wanted to bring a little bit of Mexico to Ashland.   This is what she has to say about the program, ““The most important thing is the family relationships that we’ve maintained for 40 years,” said Tapp. “It’s people to people connecting with their city, their lives, their love, their passion. It has a life of its own.”  Last week to honor all that she has done – and continues to do – to make the world a friendlier, more connected place, I brought Senora Chela an Apple Crumb Crust pie.   She is an incredible inspiration and I am honored to know her.

“Never depend upon institutions or government to solve any problem. All social movements are founded by, guided by, motivated and seen through by the passion of individuals. ”
Margaret Mead

A Miracle in Guanajuato

28 May

Francesca

First a story: A young girl was walking along the beach early one morning. The tide was receding, leaving numerous starfish stranded on the beach. The girl began picking them up and tossing them back into the water.

Engrossed in her task, she didn’t notice the crusty old fisherman sitting quietly watching her. He startled her with a gruff, “What are you doing?” to which she smiled and enthusiastically replied, “I’m saving the starfish.”

He laughed at her and launched into a scoffing ridicule. “Look ahead of you down the beach,” he said, pointing to the seemingly endless expanse of sand and surf. “There are thousands of starfish washed up on this beach. You can’t hope to save them all. You’re just wasting your time. What you’re doing doesn’t matter,” he exclaimed in a dismissive tone.

The girl stopped, momentarily pondering his words. Then she picked up a starfish and threw it far into the water. She stood straight and looked him in the eye. “It matters to that one,” she said, and continued down the beach.

Why do I tell you this story?  Well, this past week,  several members from the Ashland Rotary Club flew to Guanajuato, Mexico and I was incredibly fortunate to be a part of that group.  With the help of our very generous community,  and working with “Mi Casa Diferente”, aka “DIF”, (Mexico’s version of Habitat for Humanity), the Ashland Rotary Club has raised many thousands of dollars to build homes for some of the neediest people of Guanajuato.  And while these homes are very simple structures, the people who get them are thrilled to have them and are deeply grateful.

Back in the spring of 2007, during my first visit to Guanajuato with Rotary, we spent a day with a family in one of the communities that had recently built their home.  One of the children in that family was a young girl named “Francesca.”  She was about eight years old and easily charmed every member of our group with her insatiable curiosity, her lovely smile,  and her delight in showing us her new home.  When I spoke with Francesca and told her that I had a son named Francesco she seemed to think that this “coincidence” was funny and smiled.   She asked about my “other” children and I showed her the photo I’d brought of my daughter, Alexandra.  I think that Francesca must have thought it strange for me to have had only two children.

After a few hours, the house was painted, we’d all been fed fresh tortillas in gratitude, and our time with Francesca and her family came to an end.  It was very hard to think of leaving and never seeing this delightful, precocious child again  for she represented what we were there for: to make a difference in someone’s life.

As we drove away, the DIF representative said that it would be nearly impossible to keep in touch with, or send anything to,  Francesca and her family. After all, they lived in a remote area where there  was no mail service, and the DIF workers had too much to do and could not guarantee anything that we sent would reach them.

Until last Monday I had all but given up on ever seeing Francesca again.  On that day, our group of Rotarians was taken on a ride deep into the hills outside Guanajuato to paint a small schoolhouse.  As we unloaded all of our painting supplies we greeted the women and children of the community who had come to help us (most of the men were off at work making charcoal).

As I looked around, I noticed a girl peeking at me from behind the far wall of the schoolhouse.  Each time I looked over at her, she ducked back behind the building.  I thought she might have been afraid of our group and so I  waved and said “hello.”  When she looked out again, I noticed that she looked like Francesca and mentioned this to our group’s leader, Angelica.  She looked at me and said, “No mija, you want it to be Francesca, but it can’t possibly be her.”  Sadly I agreed that she was probably right and I went inside to begin painting the walls of the schoolhouse.

About fifteen minutes later, I heard Angelica screaming my name, “Karen, Karen… it is Francesca!”  I raced out of the building to where Angelica was standing with Francesca.  They were both smiling at me and my heart almost burst with joy.  I asked Francesca if I could hug her and told her how I had thought it was her but had been convinced that this was too much to hope for. I exclaimed, “Este es un milagro” (This is a miracle!) as tears streamed down my face.

As we talked she asked about my daughter, and of course, my son, Francesco.  Then she took me a few hundred yards down a steep path to see her mother and her family home – the same one we had painted five years before!  She even showed me a pillow we’d brought as a gift way back then… a remembrance of the people who had come to help.  And to think I’d thought that this day would never happen… but it seemed that Francesca was not at all surprised.  It was as if she’d been expecting this moment all along.   Talk about faith!

As we parted ways this time, I told Francesca that this would not be the last time she would see my face and I know that she believed me.  She simply waved goodbye and turned to walk back home with her sister.  I am certain that Francesca will go on expecting miracles, and it is just as certain that I will do all I can to make sure that they come true.

The very next day, I made an Apple Pie for our home hosts, Oscar and Marta.  It was a small gesture to thank them for offering the comfort of their home during our stay… and also a chance to offer my sincerest thanks to the universe for rediscovering a very special starfish.

“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world, there will not be, another child like him.”  Pablo Casals

“There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Albert Einstein

Day 303: El Caballo

3 Feb

Pelicans along the shores

Today we awoke to a beautiful sunny morning and before we went anywhere I wanted to prepare my pie.  Today’s pie was for our friend Dale, who is known by a nickname here in Barra de Navidad.  Somewhere along the line someone mentioned that he looked a bit like the famous Mexican actor named Alberto Rojas who is affectionately referred to as “el caballo.”  Ever since then Dale became “el caballo” to his friends in Barra.

The pie that I was making for “our” el caballo was a version of a pie made in Ashland, Oregon.  It is called Dick Hay Pie in honor of Richard Hay who is the principal theater and scenic designer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Dick Hay Pie is made with three main ingredients: peanut butter, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate.  Since I had brought peanut butter and chocolate with me,  I went out to purchase some ice cream at one of the local shops.  Once I got back to the apartment I made a chocolate cookie crust and let it cool while the ice cream softened up a bit.  Then it was simply a matter of sandwiching one thin layer of peanut butter between two layers of vanilla ice cream in the crust.  It was topped with a heavy drizzle of chocolate and then the pie went back into the freezer for about 8 hours.

With the pie taken care of, we decided to take a walk along the shoreline.   We saw more of the damage from the recent hurricane.  We also saw hundreds of pelicans in the area.  Watching them fly, dive, and land on the water made me think that’s what birds must have looked like in the age of the dinosaurs.

After our walk we met up with our friends and took a boat across the water to Colamilla for lunch at one of the restaurants along the shore.  I love that these restaurants are built on the beach, the floors are the sand,  and that the ocean laps on the shore just a few feet from the tables.  It is so relaxing!  This restaurant even had a few hammocks installed should someone need to take a short nap before the boat ride back to town.

Alberto Rojas, El Caballo

This evening we all met up and had an impromptu celebration at the hotel for el caballo’s birthday.   We sang Feliz Cumpleanos and toasted his health.  As we cut up the pie we found that it was so rich that one nine-inch pie was more than enough for 14 people!   I encourage you to make one of these pies for your next special occasion… it is easy to make and so delicious… and definitely worth it!

Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons. Ruth Ann Schabacker

Day 299: Cynthia

30 Jan

Today we woke up in Barra de Navidad which is a lovely town in the state of Jalisco.  My husband did some research online and found a studio apartment for us to rent which would enable me to make pies while we are on vacation.  Until I find an oven that is available these pies will not be baked but rather “cooked.”

For my first pie in Mexico I chose to make a simple custard pie with shredded coconut.  To begin, we headed to a little store (tienda) and purchased butter, eggs, cream, flour, and vanilla (mantequilla, juevos, crema, harina, y vanilla).  I had brought with me crushed graham cracker crumbs for the crust and shredded coconut for the filling.

We were in a hurry to catch a bus so I asked my husband to assemble the crust.  He did this by using a small saute pan to melt the butter and then he added the graham cracker crumbs and toasted them lightly.  Once that was done, he pressed the crumbs into a pie tin and put it in the fridge to set.

Meanwhile I made coconut custard on the two burner stove that we are lucky to have available.  In mere moments it was thickened and smelled heavenly.  I poured the warm custard into the crust and covered it with plastic (to prevent a skin from forming) and then put it into the fridge.  But before I did that, we snapped a few photos.

Coconut Custard Pie and ingredients

Pie with a View

The View

The finished Pie topped with Toasted Coconut

After a day trip to La Manzanilla (where we saw crocodiles!) and a bus ride home that included a man serenading the passengers with songs like “Besa Me Mucho” we came back to our apartment to find the pie had set up nicely.  I toasted some coconut to decorate the top and brought the pie to Cynthia, the woman who oversees this apartment for the owner.  I tried to explain the pie project to her family in my best Spanish and I think they understood the message – it’s all about showing gratitude.

Jose, Cynthia, and Patty

Hasta manana….

Day 298: Bruce and Jae

29 Jan


Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake Pie

Yesterday I mentioned that I made two pies.  The reason for making the second pie yesterday was because we were leaving for Mexico at 5:00 this morning.  It was certain that I would have  no time to bake before I left, and once I arrived I would be too tired to move, no less bake.

Now that you know that, I want to tell you that I gave the pie (actually my daughter delivered it for me) to Bruce and Jae, a couple of  our neighbors.  They live on the block behind us, our careers are completely different, and their son is a bit younger than our kids. What all of this means is that our paths don’t cross very often and we have a different perspective from which to view the neighborhood and the world really.  But Jae and Bruce are friendly and funny and we enjoy the little time that we do spend with them and that is more than enough of a reason to gift them with a pie.

As I said, we are now in Mexico in a studio apartment without an oven, but with a two burner stove and a refrigerator.  I have brought a few ingredients with me and I have pie recipients in mind.  I just need to open my mind to new pie ideas and ask around to see if I might “rent” an oven when I need one.  A few friends have suggested I take a week off because this might “be too much work”.  But this is a gratitude project after all… and I am so very grateful to have the chance to be here that I will find a way to make pies happen.

Barra de Navidad, Mexico

Only she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible. Claire Goldberg Moses

Day 76: Meredith

21 Jun


Guanajuato, Mexico

Meredith Reynolds has been my daughter Alex’s advisor/internship program coordinator for the past two years. Alexandra’s course of study took a very different turn when she opted to study in Denmark during her junior year at Southern Oregon University (SOU). When Alexandra decided to tackle an internship during her second year abroad (still in Denmark), Meredith was there to help her navigate the necessary paperwork to ensure that she was on track scholastically.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Meredith knows all about studying abroad. She has attained near-native fluency in Spanish language and Mexican Culture. She taught at the Universidad de Guanajuato for six years (from 1980-86). Guanajuato is the Sister City to Ashland, Oregon and there is a rich relationship between the two cities. In fact, my Alexandra “won” a contest when she was in 4th grade and was allowed to go (for free) to Guanajuato with a group of people from Ashland. Alexandra was 10 years old at the time but she was fearless and eager to go. I think that she was born knowing that she was a child of the world. I, on the other hand, did not get that memo.

It is wonderful that Meredith and Alexandra share a love of travel and cultures. Meredith has an amazing kinship with the people of Mexico, especially Guanajuato. Alexandra seems to have found that same kind of kinship in a small country 6,000 miles from the place in which she was born. I think that this is just a part of our ever changing world. And I count myself fortunate to have visited both Guanajuato and Denmark. What I have discovered is that with every new person that you meet you are given the opportunity to make a friend.

Today my friend Meredith was packing up her office. She is retiring from her position at SOU. I know that this is just a momentary pause for her for she has so much yet to give. I brought a quiche to Meredith today to thank her for all that she has done for my daughter and for all that she has done for Southern Oregon University. We are truly grateful for her passion and commitment and look forward to her next endeavor.

Day 27: Mr. Leo Meltzer

4 May

When I was a little girl, the principal at my elementary school, PS 14, was a man named Mr. Leo Meltzer.  The memory that I have of him is of a man who was always impeccably dressed – dark suit, dress shirt, tie and polished shoes.  He was well respected but also was approachable and friendly.  He would walk the halls of that old brick school house, nodding and smiling as he passed, and now and then he would visit our classrooms.

On one such visit he regaled my class with details of a recent trip that he had taken with his family to Mexico.  At that time Mexico seemed about as far away as the moon to me and I was mesmerized.  The hightlight of the story was when he told us that he had seen some folks eating sandwiches that looked delicious and he just had to have one.  He ordered the sandwich and ate it hungrily.  Only afterwards did he ask what exactly was in the sandwich.  What he’d thought were fried onions turned out to be fried worms!  The whole class erupted!  Imagine eating worms!  Yuck!  But here was Mr. Meltzer standing before us, alive and well and chuckling.  He had to be about the bravest person I’d ever seen!

I don’t know why I thought of Mr. Meltzer today, and since he died so many years ago, I could not honor him with a pie.  Instead, I tried to think of someone who shared some of his qualities: approachable, friendly, well respected, willing and able to laugh.  Today I decided to recognize the principal of Ashland High School, Michelle Zundel, with a pie  (yet another Strawberry Rhubarb – but I promise tomorrow will be different!) in honor of Mr. Meltzer.  Michelle earns her stripes everyday and I am very grateful for the care and effort that she puts forth to inspire, encourage and teach our students.

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