Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

Editor's note: The following is a "guest post" (as she calls it) from Chris. Enjoy!

Matt has just returned from his adventures in Chiapas with lots of stories to share. It might take him awhile to get them typed up and posted though, so he asked me to post on the blog in his absence.

I’ve been busy here in Mexico City, fully occupied without having many adventures of my own. My two tasks for the week: finishing up work in the libraries and archives of Mexico City before I move to Guadalajara this weekend, and baking for the Thanksgiving feast we’re planning to cook with our roommates on Thursday. These two tasks have kept me busy from morning to night every day, and my mind has been engaged with the deliciously addictive Twilight series on audio.

The truth is that this hasn’t been a very Mexican week for me. I’ve stayed at home, trying to replicate recipes for favorite dishes from the U.S., listening to an audiobook in English that has sold among American teens. I’ve gone to work on public transportation with native Chilangos (Mexico City-ans) and took notes from Spanish-language magazines in the Hemeroteca Nacional (National Periodicals Library), but I’ve thought in English, planned in English, and strategized about how to replicate an American holiday and an American sense of home in this Mexican context.

So I think that is what I’m going to share with you – my efforts to recreate my own little slice of Americana in the midst of Mexico City…

We divvied up the cooking responsibilities before Matt and the other roommates left for Chiapas. I chose to make the desserts, which has been my job for every holiday as long as I can remember. Even when I was little, my mom and sister and I would make the pies to take to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving. I made my list and headed out to the store.

Step 1: The Neighborhood Grocery Store.

I had made my first apple pie here when I first started to miss fall in the Midwest, and feel nostalgic about our trip to apple orchards last September. So I knew I could find all the ingredients I needed for that. Pumpkin pie was an impossibility – no canned pumpkin in the baking section or the vegetable section. Whole pumpkins at Día de los Muertos, but not anymore. I decided on a plantain pie for a substitute. The recipe said that the texture was the same. That needed ground cloves… not carried at the grocery store. Okay. The “nuez” carried at the store looked like pecans, even though someone had translated it as walnuts for me before. Maybe I could make pecan pie. And for the cookies: no brown sugar, no baking soda. I’d need to do some research on substitutes. And maybe try some other places.

Step 2: La Merced Market.

Matt and I had planned to go check out Mexico City’s biggest market, La Merced, before we left town, so the weekend before he left for Chiapas, we headed over there. I was determined to find some ground cloves, and maybe some of the other things on my list. La Merced may be the biggest market in the Americas. It is enormous. Stalls sell products in mayoreo or menudeo, in bulk or individually. Its mayoreo business stocks all the smaller markets in Mexico City and maybe some of the grocery stores. And like most Mexican markets, it has everything. When we came up from the subway station, right in the middle of the market, we picked a direction and started walking. We walked past candy booths with an assortment of traditional sweets, Christmas decorations with strings of lights that not only blinked but sang, women selling traditional handicrafts, and stocks of winter hats and scarves. We found our way out to the street and navigated the edges. I considered buying some cookie sheets at booths that also stocked industrial size sinks and deep fat fryers. Matt got distracted by a section stocked by soccer jerseys and went to check the quality and price. We wandered back in to the middle of the market, and found an entire building full of flowers, mostly silk, giant arrangements and single stalks and Christmas garlands made with fake Poinsettias, or Nochebuenas as they are called here. After wandering for an hour or so, we stumbled onto the food section, where you could buy 25-pound bags of limes for $3, select from dozens of flavors of jello mix by the kilo by scooping it from giant buckets, and find any kind of bean imaginable. They also stocked cones of piloncillo, a raw sugar product that I hoped to substitute for brown sugar in my Thanksgiving recipes. I bought a ½ kilo and then set out to look for ground cloves. When I found a booth carrying them (after passing booths selling giant sides of dried and salted fish and several with whole spices), the man quoted me a price for the kilo. When I said I only needed a little bit, he gave me more than would fit in a McCormick spice jar at home for 5 pesos, less than fifty cents. We snaked our way through more vegetable booths, with piles of tomatoes lit by hanging lightbulbs with red paper around them to make them look riper. My objectives accomplished, we set out to look for pirated music for Matt. We never found any, but stumbled upon some rolling pins that would make my pie-baking easier. When we headed for home, I was in proud possession of my baking supplies.

Step 3: Wal-Mart

Of course, I realized once I was halfway through making the apple pie that I didn’t have any pie pans, a problem since I was planning to bake three pies. I folded the crust into a deep dish round pan – it would have to do – and started making a list for Wal-Mart, about a mile down the road from our house. Wal-Mart Mexico is pretty nuts, if only because it is almost exactly like Wal-Mart USA. The aisles don’t feel quite so closely clustered together, and the grocery section is organized like Mexican grocery stores (with flour labeled on the overhead sign as “pancake flour”, with fish laid out on ice rather than behind glass counters, with leaf lettuce almost impossible to find), but the aisle with pots and pans was familiar, and the clothes were “George” brand, and the aisles of shampoos held the variety and brands I am used to from home. Another big difference: a makeup display advertising a sale was monitored by an armed guard. I wove my way through the aisles, picked out a 3-pack of disposable pie tins, hit the baking aisle in search of unexpected treasures and found baking soda – a real prize! – and walked home laden with more than I had expected to buy.

After all these shopping trips, I was ready to bake. The final tally: one apple pie, two chocolate pecan pies, snickerdoodles, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chocolate chip cookies, and banana bread. Still to make: one plantain pie, best eaten the day it is baked.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! We miss you!

1 comment:

Zach & Hannah Parris said...

Sounds delicious! We miss you and Happy Thanksgiving!