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Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Confessions of a Mexican Grandmother

For the purposes of this trip I am playing the role of uncle and Mexican grandmother to my twelve-year-old nephew. Not only am I tutoring him in Spanish but I am also inculcating him into other aspects of the culture of this country that I know so well.

Since we have access to a wonderful kitchen where we are staying, we decided to cook at least a few meals at the house. Pozole (po SO lay) seems to be a pretty big item in this part of the Sierra, so I thought our first meal would be my famous Pozole el Jarocho. For those of you unfamiliar with this dish it is a sort of stew, made with lots of different things in different places, but it must always contain white corn, or hominy as we call it in our southern States in el Norte.

My nephew is a notoriously finicky eater; he will rarely try new things unless you hold him at gunpoint. Evidently there are “laws” against pulling a loaded firearm on a child so the kid sticks with cheese pizzas and burgers. While we are in Mexico I want him to try all of the different things that they offer, but I was worried he might put up too much resistance. Then he told me about the little exception to his picky eating habits: He likes things that he cooks himself.

I decided to kill two birds with one stone: I would teach him how to cook pozole and get him to eat this rather foreign dish at the same time. I started out the recipe dictating it in Spanish for the benefit of the housekeeper’s six-year-old son who was hanging out in the kitchen with us. I explained to both of these males the importance of learning how to cook. Kids will pay pretty close attention when you are teaching them anything in which they have interest. All kids like to eat.

My nephew took to cooking like a natural. I designated him the official pozole stirrer. I also explained to him all of the ingredients that aren’t common to American cooking. The recipe for my pozole (I described this dish and left a recipe on a previous February blog) uses chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Chipotles are smoked jalapeño peppers that aren’t too hot but add a nice flavor to this dish. I also use chayote squash and, of course, the obligatory maíz blanco or hominy.

All of the cooking instructions that I gave were in Spanish and the kid performed beautifully. I highly recommend having a kid around to stir the pot, fetch another onion from the pantry, y sacar otra cerveza del refrigerador.

Along with pozole I went out and bought a spit-roasted chicken for our first home-cooked Mexican meal. They don’t call the chickens free-range here because the idea of factory-bred, hormone-injected poultry hasn’t yet occurred to the Mexicans. If it has occurred to them they didn’t think it was a very good idea. When you buy a fresh chicken in the market they are a wonderful yellow color and not that pale white breed we have up north.

One of my favorite things here are the pollos a la parilla, chickens cooked on a rotating spit. This is, without a doubt, the best way to cook a bird. As I was paying for the chicken I asked the guy if it came with tortillas. He gave me a look as if to say, “Of course it comes with tortillas, you idiot gringo. This is Mexico.” Silly me.

We also went to a huge outdoor market. Every imaginable item from fresh produce to bootleg CD’s was laid out on several acres of tables. Tents cover everything to block out the fierce midday sun. I picked up a couple of CD’s of Mexican music for the kid. Every kid needs to know about Mexico’s most famous singer of Rancheras, a type of folk song with lots of trumpets and lots of heartache. I have probably written about Vicente Fernandez somewhere or another. He is one of the biggest stars in Mexico.

You can’t really begin to understand Mexico or call yourself fluent in the Spanish of this country without a pretty thorough knowledge of Vicente Fernandez. He has also made a bunch of cowboy style movies so he is like John Wayne and Merle Haggard wrapped into one.

We also picked up a couple CD’s ofLos Tigres del Norte, a popular Norteño band. Norteño music is characterized by lots of accordion and a lively beat—Mexican polka. The music helps to put us into the mood when we are hanging out around the house.

I also picked up a book of fairy tales in Spanish--the last thing on our cultural calendar for the day. The great artwork in this book helps in learning new words. Tonight I had the kid read Jack and the beanstalk in Spanish (Juan y los Frijoles Mágicos). This is great reading material and really aids in the cultural literacy that is necessary for mastering another language. The kid is already familiar with the story lines so it is just a matter of teaching him the vocabulary of fairy tales. I learned a few things myself.

You really sleep like a baby with a stomach full of Mexican food and a story where everyone lives happily ever after (vivieron felices por el resto de sus vidas isn’t quite as poetic I must admit). A couple of strong margaritas don’t hurt either. Buenas noches.

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