Friday, January 30, 2009

La Primera Navidad, pt. 4 "El Ecológico"

Since tomorrow is the last day of January, I figured it might be time to add a bit more about our Christmas trip. Nothing like prolonging the warmth of Mexico when the temperatures are dropping into single digits on my doorstep again, eh?
Hermosillo has something similar to a zoo except that it is called an ecológico instead of a zoológico. For those of you who care about the history of words, "zoo" is actually the accepted abbreviation of the proper term "zoological garden." I find this odd since I've never thought of a zoo as anything near being a garden. Also, in Spanish, they can't really abbreviate zoológico to zoo because it would be pronounced as if it were two syllables (SO-OH) which defeates the purpose of it being an abbreviation, or it would be pronounced like we do in English (another Spanglish word) with another problem arrising. You see, in Spanish, the 'z' is prounounced like the 's.' That means the word would become "soo" which is way too close to the actual Spanish word "su." So instead of asking if we could go to the zoo, you would actually end up asking if we could go to "your." Then we've got a whole "Who's on first" thing going on. That just wouldn't work out for anyone. Why do I bother rambling about such things? Well, to avoid any of the aforementioned problems, someone in Hermosillo decided to start a ecological garden instead of a zoological garden to skip any and all potential problems with future abbreviations. Of course, if you did abbreviate "ecológico" to "eco," you'd be telling people you want to go to the echo, and again we have a problem. I digress, though.
The ecológico was much more than a zoo. It was full of informational exhibits about the land, minerals, water and vegetation of the area. Take a look.

Yes, Polly still wants a cracker. Even when he's in Mexico, he's largely confined to the zoo. It's a little to much of a desert in Hermosillo for this fellow to be a native.

There are many kinds of minerals mined in the state of Sonora, but I took a photo of this one because of its name: apatite. Maybe I was hungry--wait--that would be appetite. Sorry. This particular mineral contributes to strong teeth and bones, but it's not nearly as tasty as a cold glass of milk. It is also used in fertilizer. How about that? The same stuff that makes my food grow is responsible for making my body strong.

Do you ever wonder what frogs dream about? I didn't until I took this picture. Ever since, I've been wondering what this guy was thinking about. I was dreaming about enjoying Christmas on the beach. Was he wishing he could be skiing the Greatest Snow on Earth? Any frog mind readers in the house?

When I was at Park City Television, I had the chance to visit the Living Planet Aquarium a couple of times. They have a number of these pancake-with-eyes looking creatures. After being able to touch the Southern Stingrays at LPA, these guys were fairly boring. (Yes, I highly recommend a visit to the LPA for all of you who are within reasonable reach of the Salt Lake valley.)

Tyler was intrigued by the pelicans. They were a lot quicker in the water than I had imagined. They don't have the physique of Michael Phelps or anything. The mohawk doesn't help enough with wind-resistance to make them the fastest in flight, but the big feet are a bit help swimming.

A big-horned sheep was close to the last think I expected to find at a zoo in Mexico, but here he is. He seemed right at home, and he is actually native to the region.

You foxy thing! There were close to a dozen of these foxes sitting on top of palapas in one part of the zoo. It was a warm day, and they all looked like they were trying to get a tan. I wanted one, too, but I'm a Jensen. I don't tan; I only turn pink or red. Lucky me. Hopefully my kids will have some of Megan's Mexican skin genes in them! I don't want them to be called tomato while growing up.

To be fair, these little guys weren't actually caged at the zoo. They just happened to live there. Ants are facinating to me. They are extremely efficient little things. These ants were carrying leafs across the sidewalk and up a tree. Why you would carry leafs up a tree, I'm not sure. None of them wanted to answer that question on or off camera.

One animal not afraid to act for the cameras is the monkey. This guy was all over the place. Walking down the sidewalk, he was just sitting, waiting for someone to pay a little attention to him. As soon as we stopped at the fence, the curtain went up, and he pulled out all the tricks in his little bag. He swung on the branches and the rope and the ladders. He slid down part of the rope like it was a zipline. It was fun to watch. It was a far cry from the poor monkeys that used to be stuck swinging on metal pipes at the old Hogle Zoo. This group of monkeys looked very content in their almost-natural habitat.

Hippos means horse in Greek. In English, hippos are something you won't likely see at the Oakely 4th of July Rodeo. Maybe hippo riding will replace bull riding one day, though. That would be fun to see. The hippos in this zoo were close enough that I could have brushed their teeth for them. Sadly, there wasn't much left of the teeth they had because they liked to chew on the metal bars around them. They still need their teeth brushed, though. Talk about bad breath.

This furry animal is known as a chubby bunny in some circles. Luckily, his son has some chubby bunny cheeks, as well. Ty loved his first zoo experience.

This furry animal does not like to be called a chubby bunny. Tigers are beautiful animals. Siberians are some of my favorite. I think this is one of the first animals I ever drew. There's just something about them.

This is an antelope. No funny quips here. I don't know much about them except that they are not really a cross between an ant and a canteloupe.

This is a shot of Hermosillo at sunset from the zoo. The colors don't do it justice. It was a beautiful night with so many layers of color across the sky and off the mountains in the distance. The typical sunset colors were contrasted perfectly by the white of the many buildings and the green of the different trees. Good stuff.

Palo Verde trees are one of the many native trees that are near extinction. They used to cover the deserts of northern Mexico. There were also Iron Wood and Mesquite trees all over the place before the city started to expand. Aside from having green branches like the name implies, Palo Verde also provided an early american version of paper. The bark is like papyrus. We brought some back, but I don't know where it is.

There's a look at our trip to the Hermosillo ecológico. Fun, wasn't it?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

La Primera Navidad, pt. 3 "Noche Buena"

Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena in Spanish, is another different kind of celebration in Mexico.
My family has always had a lot of great traditions for Christmas Eve. With my dad's side of the family I can always remember the years we spent in Farmington with all of the extended family. I still don't understand what a second or third cousin is or how the whole "removed" thing works. All I know is it was a lot of fun to have everyone there. That night we would always open one present from Santa. We started with the youngest and worked our way up. Of course, there was dinner with hot, homemade rolls (or Camille's deadly breadsticks, if we were lucky), turkey, ham, funeral potatoes, stuffing, and various desserts. The dessert of choice no matter the year was always the turtles. Other families have other names for turtles, but they are bars of granola, caramel and chocolate chips. Yes, they're great. No, I won't give you the recipe. One day we will have a family cookbook, dangit! Anyway, I digress.
My mom's side of the family had its traditions, as well. I don't think we ever opened presents early with them, but I do remember my grandpa getting his Pepperidge Farms sausages. Why I remember that, I have no idea, but it's something I remember. We used to gather in the family room of Grandma and Grandpa's house with a fire going in the fireplace and lots of talking with each other. The big meal with that side of the family usually happened a week or two before the big night. We'd get everyone together down in Payson for a big dinner.
One thing I've found is that breaking up Christmas into a number of different parties is a great way to enjoy the holiday more. Trying to hit all the families in one day or one night is not a good idea. It adds too much stress to a time that should really be savored.
On to this year. Again, Megan had given me a lot of preparation for Noche Buena, but I wasn't sure it would live up to the hype.

Tyler wasn't sure about the hype, either. He was ready for bed at eight like every other night.

The ornery side of Tyler didn't last the entire night. After all, there was all that great food I already talked about. In that last picture he was only mad because I wouldn't let him play with the fireworks in the street!

Plus, he was able to play with Cameron and Aaron and the rest of the family.

He also got to take a shot at a piñata.

After the piñata, the music started, and the dancing shoes were out. There were no rugs to cut since the floor was tile, but Jorge looked like he could be on Dancing with the Stars.

I thought reindeer only lived in cold mountainous regions, but I was wrong. In Mexico they have started breeding cars with reindeer. I think it's the next hybrid concept. Finally, a car that can fly. Apparently there are still some kinks to work out. Not everyone has been thrilled about the inclusion of antlers on their car windows. In my opinion it's a small price to pay if it works!

Cousin Cameron really enjoyed the cajeta.

Around eleven, everyone gathered in the living room for the Christmas story.

Josh was thrilled because Christmas in Mexico (and many other Latin American countries) means fireworks!

And let's not forget about the presents. It was fun to see all the kids opening their different presents. Of course, they were more entertained with the boxes and the paper than the gift. Most of them don't quite understand the concept of unwrapping the gifts at all. It was pretty funny.

Cousin David modeled his new scarf for everyone.

By the end of the Night, Tyler was all smiles. He had enjoyed his first Noche Buena, and so had I.

Megs, it did live up to the hype.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy New Year!!

Happy 2009!! How crazy is it that it's already a new year? So, yes, Ryan will be finishing his posts about Mexico at some point...there's just so much he wants to include and doesn't want to miss anything so it might take a while. In the meantime, here are some of the highlights of January and new pics of Ty. He's growing so fast!!

On New Year's Eve we decided to have a little post-Christmas Christmas to exchange the gifts we didn't take to Mexico. Ty got yet more fun toys to play with, including this dog that Jorge claims is possessed. But I'm sure it can't beat our Big Bird doll that says "Peek-a-boo" in a very creepy voice every time we open the closet door.

The three boys got new chairs and they loved them!

January 1 is my dad's birthday and so we celebrated that as well. Doesn't he look so happy to be getting older?

...Or maybe not...
Ty wasn't really a fan of the slushy, wet snow on New Year's Day. He's holding out for the powder.

Just chillin in his new Wall-E chair in his long john's and knee socks, which have become a permanent part of his clothing every day due to the low temperatures.

We also had our own little post-Christmas gift exchange. We decided to only spend ten dollars each on gifts for each other, and bought stuff at the dollar store. We ended up with some pretty good stuff! Thanks for the idea Kel!

Including this book about raising a happy, healthy dog. Ryan was THRILLED!!

I got some fun stuff too!

This cookbook really does have some good stuff in it, but this particular recipe and accompanying picture made me want to puke!! I don't think I'll be trying this one.

Yeah, I know...he's freaking adorable!

Wait a minute...that's my living room floor...and my rug...and that's a cat....

...and that's my couch, and my husband with a cat in his lap...and he's SMILING! What is going on?!

Nope, it's not a joke. This is Cleo, our new kitty!! We walked into Furfurbia today to look at the cats and a woman was returning her because her dog didn't like the cat. She said the cat wanted to be friends with the dog, but the dog wasn't willing. She told us that Cleo is great with kids and so gentle and cuddly and sweet. BINGO! So we brought her home and even Ryan has enjoyed her! YAY!!! She sat here with Ry and watched the Jazz game, very content. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Mi Primera Navidad Mexicana, pt. 2 "La Comida"

When we last left our merry band of travelers, they were leaving the desolation of Arizona for the desolation of western Mexico. Upon arrival, they were met with one weary border patrolman and a lot of great food. We won't dwell on the border. That part was boring and uneventful (thankfully). The food, on the other hand, was not boring and always its own event!
Sonora is in the northwestern corner of Mexico, and it is credited with giving us some wonderful things like carne asada, tortillas that are bigger than most American stove-tops, machaca, coyotas and cajeta. Some of those you may be familiar with. Others, not so much. Carne asada is grilled flank steak (or other thin steaks). Big tortillas are big tortillas. Machaca is like shredded beef jerkey. It looks to me like cotton with the color and taste of beef jerkey. Coyotas are round pastries filled with molasses or other sweet fillings. Cajeta is like melted carmels.

As we arrived at a pueblo called Magdalena, we stopped next to some shacks on the side of the road. Here is where we found the famous "sabana" tortillas. Sabana means sheet in Spanish. They were pretty cool.

Upon our arrival at Tia Dominga and Tio Omar's home, we were greeted by a big bowl of arroz con leche. It's basically a sweet and creamy rice dessert. The photo is of cousin Elsa.

Cousin David works for a shrimp harvesting company, and so we were treated to fresh shrimp for one of our meals. I'm not a huge shrimp fan, but Tio Beto did convince me to try some of his shrimp cocktail. It was shrimp that had been butterflied and marinated in lemon juice and spices. I enjoyed it, but it was very strong. The fried shrimp was fantastic. Tia Dominga made a great breading for it.

The most anticipated part of the trip for me was the hot dogs at the University of Sonora. Yes, you read that right. I wanted the hot dogs. The first time Megs talked with me seven years ago about her trips to Mexico and the hot dogs she loved to eat there. Listen, I'm not a fan of hot dogs. If it isn't at a ballpark, I'm not likely to eat it. When you tell me that you expect me to put guacamole and beans on the dog, that is going too far. Or so I thought. I was wrong. Until you've had a bacon-wrapped hot dog shoved to the bottom of a warm hoagie roll and topped with baked beans, melted cheese, diced onions, diced tomatoes, guacamole, and chorizo, you have not had a great hot dog. Wash it down with a Mexican Coke or some horchata (rice & cinamon drink), and life is good. Or you could have another one. Then life would be really good. Mmm... Hot dogs. America needs to take its small buns, relish and fake sauces, and throw up the white flag. Mexico wins.

One night we headed to a family favorite spot for tacos on the north side of Hermosillo. I had tacos with turkey, carne asada and pork (al pastor). Sarah, Josh and Cousin Edgar had their table stolen from them before we'd even finished eating. Jorge gave the manager an earful when we left for that one. The tacos were good, but I think the ones we had in Playa del Carmen last year were better.
Tyler was more interested in the lemons than the tacos. I have to say, the kid ate absolutely everything we put in front of him during the entire trip. I've never seen him eat like that. He ate it all--shrimp, lemons, cheese soup, menudo (sans the stomach), lamb, turkey, tamales, roasted anaheim peppers--everything.

This street shot might not seem to have much to do with food, but this is one of the original parts of Hermosillo. This colonial-style part of town is now the best place to find coyotas. Many of the shops specialize in different kinds of fillings. We were lucky enough to get some coyotas that were fresh out of the oven. They were darn tasty with gooey molases in the middle.

The machaca I mentioned earlier can be used for a number of things. One morning we enjoyed it with scrambled eggs for breakfast. Pictured below, we had machaca for dinner as a kind of stir-fry with potatoes, peppers, onions and tomatoes. This dish can be eaten with a fork right off the plate or in tortillas. Actually, everything there could have been eaten with tortillas. To give it a bit of a kick, I added chiltepine salsa to just about everything I ate. I believe this spice is also a native food of Sonora. The salsa that Tia Dominga had for us was hot but flavorful.

Christmas dinner is a huge deal for the people of Mexico. I think this is largely because they stay up until midnight to start opening presents. Whatever the reason, I wasn't complaining. We had turkey, pork, rice, salad, beans, tamales, and menudo.
Tio Beto made the menudo. I wasn't a big fan of the actual stomach and such, but the broth was good. When I said I would try it, I didn't mean I eat an entire bowl. Something got lost in translations, even though I'm sure the verb "probar" does mean "try," not "indulge."
The leg of pork was the most succulent pork I have ever eaten. The sauce that was created while it cooked was perfect on the veggie rice we had.
Anette prepared the turkey, and it seemed better in Mexico, as well. The juices were so full of flavor. Both the pork and the turkey served us well throughout the night and for sandwiches at the beach the next day.Tio Beto and Jorge sat at the bar to be closest to all the food being prepared in the kitchen. In front of them at this point were the tamales and menudo. You can also see the chiltepine salsa I liked (the red-capped jar). The bowl of greens is cilantro and onions to add to your bowl of menudo.

Before leaving for home, we were treated to a traditional dinner of carne asada. Tia Dominga taught me all about the other things that go with the carne asada. Man cannot live on meat alone. We roasted chiles and onions over an open flame.
We had great carne asada, but we also had grilled ribs, as well. It was all delicious.The salad was good, too. I like that I could toss the lettuce and tomato into a tortilla with beans and carne asada to make a burrito or taco. If you wanted to eat everything separate, you can. If you want it all together, that will work, too. Of course, I had to try both ways. I've got no favorite on this one, though. It was all good.
Tia Dominga also had me mash together the avocados, roasted tomatoes, onions and spices to make the fresh salsa. There aren't any photos of that since I was busy grinding things in the molcajete (bowl with medicine ball). Cousin Elsa made fresh guacamole for the dinner, as well.What can I say? I knew I was going to be headed for a treat when it came to the food in Hermosillo. I was not disappointed. On the last day of our trip, Cousin Edgar asked me how much weight I had gained on the trip. I can't give you a solid number of pounds, but I did gain something else--a great respect and fondness for the history of food in Sonora. As for the pounds that did make their way to my tummy, they will start to work their way off tomorrow morning as I jump into the neighborhood basketball games.