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Got a few spare hours?

8 Jan

Hi folks, hope everyone had a very good Christmas and an excellent start to the New Year. We certainly did, but I still find it a little difficult to get used to not being with my kids and their growing families, not to mention the warm, sunny weather as opposed to the cold, wet and occasionally snowy crap we always got at home. There may not be a lot of Christmas decorations, lights or fir trees, but we sure do eat well. There seems to be a party just about every other day from the middle of December until February 2nd when the Mexicans officially call Christmas over. Made staying on my diet a really hard proposition, but I persevered!

 

Just another gorgeous Sunrise over the holidays

I’ve talked a lot about the view here, the festivals, the hikes, the fishing, the social activities, even the political landscape, but I don’t think I’ve explained what it’s actually like to physically function here.

 

How long does it take you to do the laundry, or go grocery shopping for example?

 

For the laundry, when I’m at home it takes a little over an hour to wash and dry a load or 30 minutes to wash and then however long it takes to hang it on a line, plus I can program the washing machine to add an extra rinse if I want.  Here, if you’re very lucky, it can take the same amount of time but more likely, it will take all day, sometimes 2. Here’s how. There are 4 places I can do my laundry, five, if I include washing it by hand, which means using up a lot of water in the tanks, wringing it out, then hanging it on the line. I can take my laundry to Puerto Escondido and, using their washing machines, I can do my own wash, for 33 pesos a load. Now I can’t dry my laundry there, (most of the time I prefer to dry it on a line anyways, but not always) as they have no propane, which heats the dryers. That means that there’s no hot water either, none for the wash and none for the showers that are available for 10 pesos.

 

Think about that for a minute, if you will. You can pay 10 pesos and have a cold shower. When they have propane, you can pay 20 pesos and have a hot shower, it all depends on if they have enough money to pay the fuel bills.  Lately, the Pemex hasn’t had any gasoline because the management running the Marina hasn’t been able to pay it’s bills, but that’s another story, back to the laundry.

 

One of many beach parties held over the holidays

The problem with the Puerto Escondido’s 3 machines is that they are small, used by a very large group of individuals and probably haven’t been cleaned since the day they were installed. They don’t clean very well if you try to wash a large load and they don’t rinse worth shit, nor can you personalize the program. This means that you wash more, smaller loads and some clothes need to be rinsed again when you get back to the camper. So you spend more money, you waste more water and if it takes too long, remembering that the staff doesn’t unlock the laundry room doors until sometime between 9 and 9:30 AM, and that you might have to wait in line for a machine, by the time the wash goes on the line, there may not be enough time for it to dry before the evening sets in.

 

The next option is to take it to Tripui Hotel, just down the road, where for 50 pesos a load, they will wash and, most of the time, dry your clothes, but the service is haphazard at best and you don’t get your clothes back until the next day.  Nothing like getting a bag of damp clothes back 24 hours after they’ve been washed!

 

Next, is the Juncolito option, a village about 3 kilometers north of us. If you can get your wash over to the village, then into the hands of Mr. Torres’ daughter, (Mr. Torres runs one of the original guided fishing outfits in the area and is very well known) she will wash it, dry it, fold and bag it for 50 pesos a load but again it won’t be ready until tomorrow. Since the village is too far to walk carrying a large load of laundry, this entails 2 car trips, 1 to drop it off, another to pick up as there is little traffic between the village and our beach.

 

The New Years Eve Soup party. An interesting concept, everyone brings their best soup!

Or you can send it into town to Elizabeth; she runs a Lavaderia or laundry in Loreto, about 25 kilometers away. On average, someone from the beach is driving into town for various reasons, every day, so everyone just checks in with Elizabeth as a matter of course. If Liz knows they’re from Rattlesnake Beach, she will hand over any and all bags due to go out to the campers. The charge is 50 pesos a load and the wash is ready the next day. The service includes wash, dry, fold and bag. However, if no one is going into town when your laundry is ready, you have to make a special trip in just to pick it up. This can entail blowing 2 entire days.

 

Now I have to say that the ladies who do the laundry service do an excellent job and there is something special about getting your clothes washed, dried and beautifully folded. They can even fold fitted sheets so well you could put them back into the package they came out of, but they all seem to use only the hottest setting on the dryers and consequently your wardrobe takes quite a beating.

 

Not a big deal, I’m sure you’re thinking, and it’s not, taken in isolation, but combined with everything else, it gives you a better idea of what it’s like to live here in Baja.

 

If you shop like my eldest daughter, then Baja won’t hold any challenges, but if you’re used to going to one grocery store for all your shopping needs than it’s going to come as a shock to you when you go looking to complete your list.

 

Imagine a shopping list:

Bacon

Skim milk

Feta cheese

Romaine lettuce

Eggs

Paper Towel

Vitamin D

 

Now that seems simple enough doesn’t it? Nah, not down here. First forget the Vitamin D, right off the bat. None of the food stores carry anything like that. They might have a Pharmacy in them but it only carries pharmaceuticals that are suitable for common aliments, no vitamins. So then you head off to one of the larger Pharmacias, and if they do have Vitamin D it’s in a cosmetic form suitable only for rubbing on your skin or combined with other things. Now Loreto does have a new Health Food store and I do intend to try there, but every time I go in, it’s closed and it’s hours and mine never seem to correspond.

 

The bacon down here is in a word, awesome! The bulk stuff is thick cut, well smoked and very lean, but you can only find it in 2 stores and they don’t always have it. Sure you can get packaged stuff, just like the crap we get at home, but the bulk stuff it so very much better and a whole kilo of it will cost you 70 pesos. The commercial stuff is

sold under the name of FUD, costs twice the amount of the bulk bacon and is thin, fatty and virtually tasteless! Which would you prefer? So, if you’re looking for good bacon you may end up having to go to both of the stores that have it to find some and these stores may not necessarily have anything else on your list.

 

One of the stores that might carry almost everything is called El Pescador, though it’s the most expensive place for groceries as it’s geared mostly to the Gringo tourist trade. When we’re looking for Cocoa and our favourite breakfast cereal, this is the only place we can find them, plus they sell bulk bacon. It automatically becomes one of our stops when we go shopping and they do carry the paper towels we use, though not always, so we buy it when we see it.

 

The Feta comes from only 2 places; one is the Modelorama, a store just where our dirt road to the beach meets the pavement. Fernando and his wife Lorraina, a lovely, friendly couple run it and they go out of their way to supply all the strange stuff that the Gringos seem to need, not to mention beer. Fernando makes a trip to La Paz twice a month to search out the exotic stuff for us. It does however cost a fair bit more as this is a convenience store. The only other place to get it is in Loreto at a store called Dali’s, a high-end store that caters to the Gringo crowd and the restaurant trade. (I should mention that there are no wholesalers as such in Baja, there is a Sam’s Clubs and Costco, but that’s as close to a true wholesaler as one can get here)

 

Are you starting to get my drift? Grocery shopping even for a small list can include 6 or 7 stops and if you’re really lucky you might actually get everything, but it’s doubtful. We consider it a great accomplishment when we’ve actually managed to procure everything we set out to get. Some friends on the beach told us that on a recent trip into Loreto they ended up making 27 different stops. Sure they were trying to deal with a couple of government agents and the bank, but still, they considered that fairly normal, since it also included grocery shopping.

 

There are a couple of other stores that we always stop at; it’s pretty obvious, since we’ve run into restaurant owners at one of them that this is a good place for produce, sushi supplies and other esoteric products. Their prices are pretty good and they carry meat and have an interesting liquor supply, but again sometime their produce looks like it’s been there for weeks and they don’t seem to ever have butter. So the fruit and vegetables may have to wait until Sundays when the Farmers Market is open.

 

As to the eggs, well, this is something special actually, because you can get eggs in every store and you can buy 1 if that’s all you really need, or 200, your choice.

Milk is also available just about everywhere and in infinitely more variety than we see at home, not to mention that it’s cheap! My favorite part is that all of it is available in 1 Litre Tetra packs, as well as ready to use plastic jugs and in powdered form. The Tetra packs are great for travelling, and I make sure I’ve got at least 3 or 4 on hand just in case we run out of milk while on the road. These babies last for just about forever and since I take milk in my coffee, I never have to worry about not being able to enjoy a cup while we’re in the middle of nowhere and miles from the nearest store.

 

So there you have it, a list with 7 items on it and I only had to make 6 or 7 stops, not including the Sunday market to get 6 of them. I’m still working on the Vitamin D.

 

Ah well, it’s not like we’ve got anything better to do with our time and it means that when you’re  in Baja, you just have to slow down a bit and enjoy the scenery, cause you’re going to be seeing a lot of it!

TTFN

 

 

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HOCKEY MADNESS AND THE BEST JAMBALAYA OUTSIDE OF NEW ORLEANS!

17 Jun

When we arrived home in Penticton, it was right in the middle of the hockey playoffs. Now, when I was a kid, my parents were sports mad, they watched and listened to just about every sport there was, even golf and bowling. I can remember one night sitting in the living room with my parents watching a hockey game on TV, while my father had the radio in the big stereo console  beside his seat tuned to an at home Lions game, and on top of that he had a transistor radio up to his ear, listening to a boxing match.

A future Canucks fan?

My parents were also very vocal when they watched sports, especially football and hockey. I was sitting on the front stoop one day, when the next door neighbour approached me and asked if everything was OK, were my Mom and Dad fighting? It took me a moment, but then I laughed when I realized he could hear them yelling at the TV from the house next door, and this was from inside a very well built, sturdy old farm house. I never realized just how loud my parents could be.

I’m one of millions of kids who grew up watching the original 6 teams of the old league. I’d have to admit that I wasn’t that interested until 1970 when the Vancouver Canucks became part of the league. I have always believed in supporting my home town so regularly attended Canucks hockey and Whitecaps soccer whenever I could scrape the money together. The league was strong with 8 teams and provided  hours of entertainment, I mean when one is poor, watching a game with a room full of friends is almost as good as being there.

Then the expansions started. By 1993 there were 24 teams, including the Disney owned, Anaheim Mighty Ducks. I watched the 1994 playoffs, and cheered mightily for the Canucks, but my heart really wasn’t in it. Richard was not a sports fan and still isn’t, so I watched less and less and as the teams multiplied, I could no longer keep track of all the teams and their players. With so many teams including the Disney one named after a kids movie, I gave up. Like many hard core fans I couldn’t believe how diluted the play had become . It had simply, in my mind, become a money making scheme for Gary Bettman’s wealthy American friends, so I stopped watching.

Over the ensuing years I kept track of the Canucks through my daughters and other friends, but until coming home this spring, I had never been drawn back into the craziness. This year it was impossible to ignore. I mean we live with our kids when we come home and not having a TV of our own, we end up watching what they want and what they wanted this year was HOCKEY! So I watched and I got drawn back in. I believed, just like I did in 1994 only once again, it wasn’t to be. As a true fan my reaction was, “Oh, well, there’s always next year!” Then, all hell broke loose.

The game wasn’t even totally over and the morons had taken over the downtown of my beautiful home town! I watched in horror as these brain dead excuses for human beings rampaged and destroyed everything they could get their hands on. At the same time I saw ordinary heros stand up for Vancouver and try to stop the stupidity, only to become victims of the violence. I hope the city recognizes these folks and the ones who turned up in the immediate aftermath, to try to fix and clean up the mess, trying to repair our cities reputation. These are the real heros and they show the true face of Vancouver.

As to those who participated in this wanton destruction, Let’s hope that the Judiciary finds some really creative ways to make them pay. I think having their faces posted on the front page of the Newspapers with a $10,000.00 fine, 2 years in jail so they end up in a Federal Penitentiary, and at least 1000 hours community time with a large sign around their necks while doing it that reads, “I AM A TOTAL MORON”. Sign not to be removed until all 1000 hours are completed,  a complete prohibition on consumption of alcohol and a mandatory  alcohol treatment program, paid for of course by the idiots themselves.  Oh, and with all photos and information sent to their families and employers.

Vindictive? No, I don’t think so! This type of stupidity needs to be stamped down on hard, just like you do when confronted by a cockroach. I could speak about why this attitude exists amongst some of our young adults, but as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter. Whatever is the root cause of this malaise, is something that can be looked at, at leisure by the experts, but in the meantime, those who think they can behave any way they like and were responsible for this, must be smacked upside the head just as hard as possible. Is this what we get when we teach our children they can do no wrong, are THE most important person on the planet, there is no such thing as failure, and there are no consequences for their actions? Does giving our children a steady stream of ultra violent movies, TV shows and video games warp some of them? I don’t know the answers, though like everyone else I can speculate.

Just a few minutes more cooking time and it's thick and ready to eat!

Now this is going to sound really odd, but my first thought at seeing the burning cars was “Mmmm, Jambalaya” It was only a passing thought and vanished almost as fast as it arrived, but as I started to write I realized I wanted to include my recipe for it. It’s really tasty and I have the assurance of a man who has travelled extensively through the southern United States that mine is as good as it gets. Give it a try. It might not defuse your anger, but it will make you feel just a little  bit better.

Here’s to the Canucks team and to the REAL Vancouver Hockey  fans!

All the proteins.

3 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
1 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 red pepper
3 or 4 dried Spanish Chorizo
300 grams fresh or frozen prawns, cleaned and deveined
1 whole (both sides) chicken breast, cubed and browned
2 - 14 oz(398ml) cans, diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons Cajun spice
What can I say? I like my Jambalaya hot and spicy!
Saute bacon until just crisp, add onion, celery, and pepper. 
Cook until onion edges are browned. Add spices, chicken broth, 
canned tomatoes, chorizo and chicken.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer stirring frequently. 
Cook until desired thickness is achieved.

Add prawns, cook until pink and curled, serve over rice.
Enjoy and keep your fingers crossed, maybe next year
the Stanley Cup will come to stay in Vancouver for a while!

Oh baby, it’s cold and wet here!

26 Apr

So here we are, back on Vancouver Island, which isn’t really home anymore, but we’re a lot closer than we were. The trip home took us 10 days, and once again, just like the proverbial horses headed to the barn, the closer to Canada we got the quicker we moved. I have to apologize for the lack of photos, since I just didn’t see anything interesting enough to take pictures of. This is the problem with taking the same route home more than once, everything becomes familiar and after a few more times, uninteresting.

We spent 2 lovely nights at our favourite Baja campsite, in San Quintin, though this time around it was anything but quiet. Since the weather was sunny, warm and sultry, and it was the start of the Easter holidays, the beach was filled everyday with picnicking and partying locals. Lots of good food, people and  music. Not to mention the beach itself being used as a freeway, plus a full scale clam fishery underway. It was fun, lively, entertaining and interesting. It’s such a neat place at any time and we know we’re always going to enjoy our stays. Plus you can’t beat the price $120 pesos a night. With the Canadian dollar doing so well these days that’s a grand total of  $10.00. Now I have to qualify a bit as they don’t have potable water for drinking available, but they do provide a sanitary dump  and have hot showers using brackish water. The view is great and depending on the  season, a variety of absolutely fresh seafood is available right out of the  Fishermen’s boats.

Now, I have a dirty secret…I looooove BEEF!!!! Most especially steak and roasts. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat just about any type of seafood until it’s coming out my ears and you’ll never hear me complain, but every once in a while I need to eat  a thick, rare, tender steak, which are damned hard to come by in Baja. The beef cows there are free range as I’ve mentioned before but they are also in survivor mode, so there’s no such thing as a fat cow. Beef is definitely available but it’s best cut up fine, shredded or stewed, and if you do get a steak you’d better have good teeth.

Is all this leading somewhere you ask? Well, yes it is. I’m not fond of chain restaurants, but a few years ago we discovered a place called The Golden Corral in a small southern California town named El Centro. It’s a steak and seafood buffet where for $8.00 each before 4PM or $13.00 after, I can indulge my need for BEEF! Richard really just indulges me, but I notice he’s no slouch in the number of plates he goes through. Richard is a firm follower of the SeeFood Diet, you know, see food, eat food!

Anyways, I make him go this way every time we leave Baja, just so I can indulge my need to sink my teeth into a nice piece of rare steak. It causes interesting travel plans since whichever route we use to get home always starts at El Centro. This time was pretty pedestrian, we drove around the west side of the Salton Sea, a route we hadn’t been on before, then just took secondary roads west until we hit the I5. For once, our mechanical problems were simple, a torn fan belt, and replacement of a couple of wheel lug bolts. Both times when need appeared so did salvation. The belt was replaced with an old one we had with us, then a Napa Auto Parts store on the side of the road sent us to a diesel parts shop just a couple of blocks from the Mojave Airport.

We got the belt and a chance to visit the historic airport where Burt Rutan built his SpaceShipOne which was the first civilian aircraft in space. He maintains his company Scaled Composites here which is considered the most creative company working in the aviation industry today.

The bolts were even easier. We stopped for coffee in a road side rest stop in Lake Shasta, when a gentleman walking by looking at the van noticed a bolt missing and informed us. About 20 miles down the road was a Les Schwab Tire store. They replaced 4 of them when it became apparent that the missing one wasn’t the only problem and we were on our way again in a couple of hours. So, for once no catastrophic mechanical failures and the trip home was pretty uneventful. It was even warm and sunny right up to until we boarded the Black Ball Ferry to come home.

We’re back on the island now and it’s raining and cold and the forecast is for more of the same until at least this weekend. We were gone for 5 months, the temperature during the day averaged 65F to 75F and during that entire time we probably had less than 20 cloudy days and 1 hour of rain.

People ask us why we go to Baja in the winter? Well, duh!

TASTY BEEF VEGETABLE AND BARLEY SOUP

23 Mar

I know, I know! Didn’t I just finish telling you it was hot down there?
Well, yes it is, but sometimes hot food actually makes you feel cooler. I mean come on, we’re talking about a country where people eat Jalapeno, Serrano or Habenero Chilies with almost every meal.  Besides after eating seafood almost constantly for the last month, (Yeah, yeah, poor us) the idea of having some rich, meaty, thick beef soup just sounded to good to pass up!

Now, doesn't that look good?

1 lb. Beef bones, preferably with lots of meat and marrow.

6 cups of water.

 

Beef bones down here can be anything from pieces of rib to legs cut into rounds, and are very cheap, the pound I bought cost $1.25. (Just to give you an idea as to the difference in costs down here, except for the barley, and Montreal Steak Spice which I brought with me from Canada, this whole meal cost less than $3.00)

 

I guess you could call the beef cattle down here, “Free Range, Organic” as the cows roam loose in the desert until it’s round up time, surviving as fortune dictates. The beef is very low in fat, a bit tough if you over cook it and probably the most “Beef” tasting meat I’ve ever had.

 

Now since most of you won’t be able to get hold of beef bones that have as much flavour as the ones down here, some enhancement might be needed. The best product I’ve found for this is called “Better Than Bouillon”, by Superior Touch. It’s available in chicken, beef and vegetable and you only need a couple of teaspoons to give your soups or stews a really full, rich flavour.

Best bouillon I've ever found!

Hopefully, you’ll be able to find really tasty bones and won’t need to add anything else. You know, it also never hurts to cultivate a good relationship with your local butcher!

In a large, heavy pot or Dutch Oven, bring the bones and water to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and continue to cook until the meat starts to fall off the bones, 2 to 3 hours. Keep the lid on.Remove from heat, strain meat and bones out of stock. Pull meat off bones, return to pot. If there is marrow, remove from the bones and return to pot as well. Discard the bones and any gristle.

 
Add to stock:

1 carrot cut into rounds

1 potato cut into cubes

3 stocks of celery heart, including leaves, chopped

1 small onion, slivered

1 1/2 tablespoons Montreal Steak Spice

1 chayote, cubed

1/4 cup pearl barley

4-6 more cups water.

A Chayote is a type of small squash and should be available in the Vegetable section of any large grocery store. If you can’t find one don’t worry, a small zucchini can be substituted. These small squash add a delicate flavour to soups and stews as well as acting as a thickener. The chayote can also be eaten raw in salads

A Chayote and some of the other ingredients.

Add everything but the barley to your pot, put the lid on, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and let it cook for another couple of hours. If the soup starts to get too thick add more water. Add salt only if you think it needs some. 45 minutes before serving, add barley.

Serve with bread.If you’re really looking to impress someone, look up the Hearty Garlic and Herb Beer Bread recipe on Guilty Kitchen.com, it goes very well indeed with this soup!

Divertirse!