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Cranberry, Pumpkin and Gingerbread Trifle – Vegan!

November 29, 2014


Made for Thanksgiving 2014


Best made the day before serving to allow flavors to blend.


For pumpkin sauce

1 can pureed pumpkin
1 2/3 cups almond milk
2 tbsp maple syrup
¼ cup brown sugar
3 tbsp corn starch
Pinch of salt

For cranberry sauce

¼ cup each brandy or rum and orange juice
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 12-oz bags fresh cranberries
Grated rind of one large orange, and juice from same
½ cup sugar (white or brown)

For gingerbread

1 box gingerbread mix (I used Hodson Mills whole wheat gingerbread)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup + 2tbsp water
1 cup raisins

For assembling the trifle and whipped coconut cream

½ cup brandy or rum
2 cans coconut milk (get one with few emulsifiers and additives, I like Thai brands)
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Grated rind of 2 limes and one lemon
2 tbs dried cranberries


Make the pumpkin sauce

Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend/process until smooth. Pour into a sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent mixture from scorching. When it comes to a boil, allow it to cook three minutes, then remove from heat. Pour/scrape mixture into a bowl and let cool to room temperature. When cooled, cover the mixture with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down to touch the surface and then secure the edges of the plastic wrap to the sides of the bowl (this will prevent a “skin” from forming on top when the sauce cools). Place in the refrigerator for a few hours to let the mixture thicken up.

Make the cranberry sauce

Combine the rum or brandy and juice (both from the orange and additional orange juice) and dissolve the cornstarch in it. Mix all ingredients together (reserving 1 cup cranberries) in a large pan and cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until cranberries begin to pop open and mixture thickens. Stir in remaining cranberries and cook about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and let cool.

Make the gingerbread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine gingerbread, oil and water (or follow directions on your mix if not using Hodson Mills) stirring with a spoon or silicone spatula until all dry ingredients are mixed into wet (but do not over mix). Fold in raisins. Spray a 9 X 13 pan with nonstick spray and spread the mix into the pan so that it is one even layer. Bake about 25 minutes or until knife inserted into the cake comes out clean but cake is still soft. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Make the whipped coconut cream

Open the cans of coconut milk and spoon off the thick coconut cream that rises to the top into a deep glass bowl. Reserve the clear remaining coconut “water” for other uses. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Using an electric mixture (starting at slow speed and gradually increasing it to “whip”) and whip the coconut cream, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently, until the cream holds soft peaks. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Assembling the trifle

When the gingerbread is cool cut it into approximately 1 ½ inch squares. Spray the bottom of a deep clear glass straight sided bowl (about 12” diameter) with non-stick spray. Distribute half the squares on the bottom of the bowl in a single layer, fitting the squares closely to fully cover the bottom. Sprinkle with half of the ½ cup rum or brandy over this layer of gingerbread. Spoon and spread evenly over this layer half of the pumpkin sauce. Spoon half the cranberry sauce on top of the pumpkin sauce spreading it evenly. Repeat gingerbread (don’t forget to sprinkle with brandy or rum), pumpkin sauce and cranberry sauce layers. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Final touches

The day you plan to serve the trifle, and up to four hours before serving it, spread the whipped coconut cream on top of the trifle, swirling the spatula on top to create some soft peaks. Combine grated lemon and lime rind and sprinkle on top. Scatter dried cranberries on top and serve with a large spoon.

© Lisa Pan, all rights reserved


Kaffir Lime Slice

November 11, 2013




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In New Zealand, the bakeries carry a dessert known as a “slice.”  Basically, it is a a large, thin  sheet cookie with a layer of filling and then another thin layer of cookie on top.  The three layers are cut into squares.  The filling can be custard, fruit, curd, caramel, etc.  I often find the cookie layers just a little too dense and hard and the entire dessert a touch too sweet.  In Ashburton, however, I found an oatmeal-lemon “slice” that was delicious and decided to duplicate the recipe.  But then my wild imagination took off.  New Zealand is reasonably close to Asia and especially in urban areas, the Asian population is significant, if not substantial, in number.  Asian culinary ingredients are widely available (if expensive, as all food in New Zealand appears to be).   So I incorporated some Asian ingredients on hand to create this subtly spicy Kaffir Lime Oat Slice dessert.   Because I was using metric measures, my conversion to English measurements may not be entirely accurate, but this type of baking does not demand precision. The final product has a softer and more crumbly cookie base than most slices in New Zealand but accurately mimics the texture of the one I had in Ashburton.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

For the cookie dough

1 ½ cup whole-wheat flour

1 cup old fashioned oats

½ cup packed brown sugar

½ tsp cardamom

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp powdered ginger

½ tsp ground allspice

¼ tsp grated nutmeg

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

½ cup softened unsalted butter

½ cup raisins

2 tbs chopped citron


Mix together dry ingredients.  Cut the butter into pieces and then add to the dry ingredients.  Mix together using a mixer.  Mix in raising and chopped citron.  Mixture will be crumbly.  Pack 2/3 of the mixture into a greased 8” X 8” baking pan. Make sure that this bottom layer is level.  Bake for ten minutes


For the filling


Enough Kaffir or other limes to make ¼ cup fresh lime juice (I used about 6 small Kaffir limes)

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

1 tsp freshly grated ginger

1 tsp minced fresh lemon grass


Use a microplane grater to grate the lime rind into a bowl.  Cut the limes in half and squeez e juice to make ¼ cup.  Blend Rind, juice, milk, ginger and lemon grass together.


After ten minutes of baking, take the baking pan out of the oven.  Spread the filling on top in an even layer to the edges of the pan.  Crumble the remaining oatmeal dough on top in an even layer, pressing it gently on top of the filling.  Return pan to the oven for 20 more minutes.  Turn off oven. Let it sit in the warm oven about 10-15 minutes more, or until the top layer feels quite firm to touch.  Remove from the oven, allow to cool completely and then cut into nine squares (two cuts in both directions).  Makes nine slices.  John loved this dessert.  I suspect when I get back from the gym tonight it will be all gone.


(c) all rights reserved.


A trip to the Mexican hospital

April 15, 2013


Sunday, the temperatures were in the 70’s and we thought it would be nice to go mountain biking.  John researched on the web and found a mountain bike trail on the north end of town. It was rated “moderately technical” with maximum climbs of 780 ft.  Seemed relatively easy.  We rode our bikes along the bike lane on the Malecon (waterway) – about a 3- mi trip and then turned in land at the trail head.  There was a nice wide dirt road into the desert.  The first 1 km was ugly because people had dumped their trash there (obviously against the law).  But after the road turned to single track, we followed it up hill.  In places the trail was hard to navigate because of soft sand and gravel, but we learned that “moderately technical” must mean rocky single track flanked on either side but nasty looking cacti.  The track was narrow enough that a few times, I couldn’t walk my bike because my bike and I were too wide to avoid the cactus on the side of the road.



During the entire ride we saw only one other person, a hiker who was resting underneath a large rock outcropping.  Vultures circled overhead and I joked to Johnny that they must like Gringo white meat.  The trail was short (only about 3- mi) then we crossed an arroyo over to where the hiker was resting and caught up another trail back to the trail head.

This trail was very rocky in places and I got off my bike several times to navigate some scary-looking rocks.  But as I approached an area that appeared to flatten out and the trail began to widen, I got back on my bike.  Stupid mistake.  as I came down the hill, the trail cut sharply to the right, marked at the curve by a an 18″ metal spike, a boulder about 2′ high and several smaller boulders.  My back tire hit loose gravel and I skid and I lay down my bike.  Fearing impalement on that nasty-looking spike I jumped off the bike and fell smack onto the boulder striking  hard my left ribs, elbow and bending back my left index finger.

My first thought was Omigod, don’t let there be a rattle snake under this rock I just overturned because he is going to be very upset that I disturbed him.  Fortunately, no rattlesnake.  Then Omigod, I broke my arm and ribs – the searing pain!  The third thought, “hey I’m going to live, the vultures circling overhead have left the area!

John, who had ridden about 200 yards in front of me heard my screaming and cussing and ran back. After gasping for breath for about 5 minutes, I did manage to stand, but couldn’t get back on the bike. We were still two miles from the trail head and had no choice but to hike back. I managed to walk back to the road without assistance and John walked both bikes.

When we got to the road, we turned left, walked another 200 yards or so, and entered a hotel parking lot where a small taxi was waiting. The taxi was too small to take our bikes, so I got in alone and had him take me to the hospital. The driver told John he was taking me to Salvatierra hospital. He apparently managed to flag down a larger cab, but still had to take the bikes apart. The cab driver took him to our house where he unloaded the bikes and then he proceeded to the hospital.

Salvatierra (shown in the photo) is a very modern-looking newer hospital opened in 2010. When it opened, President Felipe Calderon called it the most modern hospital in all of Mexico. From the outside, it is certainly shiny and new. Inside however, it did not have the sterile squeaky-clean look of an American hospital. I found the emergency department. They took my name address and birth date off my passport and asked me what I wanted to be seen for. I was not asked to fill out form after form and no one asked me about insurance. Then, wonder of wonders, after giving my information they IMMEDIATELY took me inside to an exam room and within one minute a young doctor came in to examine me. While waiting I looked around. The room had two examining tables but neither had paper on them (that would normally be changed between patients). I thought about my bike shorts that had been rolling in the desert dirt half an hour ago sitting on the table and the poor patient who would follow me, as well as wondering who had been there before me. There were overhead tracks for privacy curtains, but no curtains. There were two sinks, one of which had a prominent sign in Spanish “Do not use for washing your hands.” The other sink had no such sign so I assumed it would be okay to use it to wash my hands. There was liquid soap dispenser and paper towels but only the cold water work. Gee, I thought, I sure hope I don’t need surgery.

The doctor came in and was friendly and introduced herself by her first name. She examined me and asked the right questions. We communicated in Spanish, but I suspected she could speak English too. She then referred me for X-rays. The x-ray technician came by within 2 minutes and escorted me to the radiology department. Again, no paper or other protective covering on the examining x-ray table. There was a glassed in window from which I could see where he operated the machine and a computer screen to view the x-rays. He x-rayed my arm from two angles and my ribs. I was not given a lead apron to protect any areas not being x-rayed. I saw him take the films into the next room and through the window could see him and presumably a radiologist looking at them on the computer. Then he came back into the room and escorted me back to the exam room where he handed the films to the ER doctor. She put them up on the viewing panel and showed me that I had no broken bones or fractures. A nurse came into to wrap and immobilize my elbow, which has swollen to twice its size. I had an abrasion on my knee but the doctor told me I did not need a tetanus shot, as I did not cut myself on any metal. She gave me a prescription for extra-strength Ibuprofen, handed me my x-rays to keep, and said I would be fine in a few days. My discharge papers did not contain any diagnosis or instructions for follow up treatment. But here’s the great part: the medical exam and consult, three x-rays and patch up cost me only $59. In the states I probably would have paid several thousand dollars and for the privilege of waiting for five or six hours to be seen for a total of 15 minutes. Salvatierra had me in and out in 45 minutes. I was discharged five minutes after John arrived.

Random thoughts on living in La Paz

April 12, 2013


Now that we’ve settled in in La Paz for over two weeks, I thought I’d share some random observations and thoughts with you.  I’ve learned it takes at least two weeks before you stop feeling like a tourist and more like a temporary resident.

Weather – currently very nice. When we arrived, day time temps were in the 90’s, cooling into the 60’s at night.  No need for AC at night.  It’s actually cooled down over the last week to the 70’s or 80’s in the day and into the low 60’s or high 50’s at night.  Typically in the afternoons, a steady breeze rustles through the palm trees and it quickly cools down.   I sleep with the windows open and actually need more than one blanket.  I’ve been told the hot weather we initially experienced was atypical of late March early April, and what we have now is much more typical.  It will steadily heat up again in the day time and by May we will need AC, even at night.  No rain likely for the remainder of our stay (late May).  Water temps are still too cold to comfortably swim except in the shallowest of beaches.

Dust everywhere  This is the desert and there hasn’t been any rain since we cross Mexico in late March.  Main roads are paved, but even just a few blocks from a main road the road becomes dirt.  We are staying in a very nice neighborhood but even though it’s only two blocks from the main thoroughfare through town, the road is dusty dirt.  We found a great hand-wash a few blocks away for about $6.50 the car is spotless and shiny inside out; but within a block after we leave, it’s dirty again. 


Driving The Baja California Sur drivers are not particularly bad, compared to those in some countries I’ve been to (e.g. Italy, the Philippines, Egypt).  They are not overly aggressive and rarely honk their horns.  They tend to stay on their side of the road and don’t cut you off.  They do practice the so-called Baja California rolling stop.  There are stop signs everywhere, sometimes misplaced 20 yards back from the intersection, or not at an intersection at all (even though they say “4 altos”), or on the wrong side of the street.  We have learned that stop signs are merely a “suggestion.”  If someone stops at a stop sign, he/she is probably a gringo/gringa.  Pazcenos just roll slowly through a controlled intersection and maybe will yield the right of way to whomever gets there first.   There are also plenty of speed bumps or fake bumps painted in the road to make you slow down. some are wickedly high and you have to take them at an angle about 2 mph or you will knock your muffler off. There are many one-way streets, not always marked that way, you have to check which way the cars are parked and whether there are any signs facing the direction you want to go.  Also, once you get a few blocks inland from the waterfront, there are no street signs at all.  Most homes and businesses don’t refer to their house numbers.  Addresses state the street name and the two closest side streets.  We can drive at night in the City but don’t go between towns at night.  This isn’t because of crime (it is incredibly safe) but because the land around the highway is unfenced and cows like to sit on the road at night because it retains the heat.  If you hit a cow, the cow will probably win.

Safety We have felt very safe in Baja California.  We lock our doors of course and don’t leave valuables in plain sight.  But violent crime is pretty  nonexistent down here.   Walking down the Malecon (waterfront) you are probably more likely to be run over by a toddler on her tricycle than mugged.  In Loreto, we stayed in a hotel right on the main plaza.  The front door to our room opened right onto a patio on the main plaza.  The door had a single key and was made of wood and had a glass window.  We were never afraid of being robbed or burglarized.

Cost of living   Baja California is an “island” bordered by the U.S. to the north and separated from the “mainland” of Mexico to the east by the Sea of Cortez.  Produce is locally grown and costs anywhere from 60-80% what we pay in Alta California but the quality is infinitely superior.  Tomatoes are always ripe and flavorful.  Avocados buttery and smooth.  Seafood is very fresh but not cheap .  Bread is very good and very cheap.  A large freshly-baked sandwich roll costs about $.15.  A artisan demi-baguette will set you back $.60.  A huge capuccino muffin costs $.60. Everything else is shipped in from the U.S., China, or the mainland. Packaged goods cost what they cost in the U.S.  Dairy is much more expensive that in the U.S.  A gallon of milk will run over $4 and if you want non-fat it will be over $6.  Labor costs are cheaper and you can get a good meal at a taco stand for about $1.50 a taco with all the trimmings.  A car wash (by hand inside and out) costs $6.50.   Two large loads of laundry – wash, dry and fold costs $8.  A fill at the local nail salon costs $17 (about what I pay in California).  Gas is sold by Pemex, the government-owned petroleum company and costs slightly less than in the U.S.  A friend went to a retinal surgeon for a consult and to have some stitches taken out and a prescription and he charged her $50.  The medicines he prescribed, purchased at the local pharmacy, however, cost $60.  Many prescription meds (not antibiotics or controlled prescriptions) can be purchased over the counter.  Prescription meds, if available here, cost about 80% what they cost in the state.  Generics, however, sometimes cost the same or more.  No giant Costco bottles of allergy medicine at volume discount.  The same medication here will be sold in small packets of 28-30 pills and the per pill cost is almost identical.  I don’t know how the average Mexican (who makes about $20 a day) can afford to live here. 

For us, the big savings is rent.  We are staying in a furnished 600 sq ft two-story casita with 2 BR and 2 BA, a fully equipped kitchen and living room and a 300 sq ft covered patio with dining area, living area and bar overlooking the swimming pool.  We pay $650 for the month, which includes utilities and drinking water.  We pay an extra $16 a week for the housekeeper.

Inconveniences   We take so much for granted in the States.  No, you cannot drink the water out of the tap.  We have large jugs of drinking water delivered and go through approximately one jug a week.  I do use tap water to brush my teeth and wash my fruits and vegetables in it (with white vinegar added to the washing water to act as a disinfectant).  I boil pasta, rice in purified water and because water is so scarce, actually save the water and reuse it (for example, left over pasta water was used to cook dried beans). The City often shuts the municipal water off with no warning, so we have a back-up tank for these emergencies, which we have had to resort to twice.  When the back-up tank runs out, we refill it by hand from our landlady’s tank.  Water pressure is very low here and it can take a long time for the water to heat up, but we do have hot water.  Many people don’t have that luxury.  Sharon, our landlady, lets us use her clothes washer.  She doesn’t have a dryer.  We hang our clothes out to dry on a clothesline.  It’s so hot and dry here that mid day, clothes will dry within two hours.  But they come out stiff and scratchy.  Now I know why Latinos love fabric softener.  We wash and dry our clothes this way, but take our sheets and towels to a small family-run laundry down the street.  They charge us $8 to wash, dry and fold two large loads. The sheets and towels come back nice and soft.  Credit cards are widely accepted in Mexico except at smaller businesses and restaurants.  We try to use our credit card as much as possible. First, because we get a better exchange rate than withdrawing cash a the ATM, and Capital One doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.  If we have to withdraw cash, the maximum we can withdraw is the equivalent of $300/day and Banemx charges us  about $2.20 and Wells Fargo charges us $3.  The exchange rate is slightly more than 12 pesos to a dollar.  Plumbing in Mexico is better than it was when I used to come down 30 years ago, but in most places, you still can’t throw the toilet paper in the toilet.    Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon, especially on certain days, to smell an unpleasant sewer smell, especially near Walmart (How’s that for poetic justice?). Internet Service is slow, especially in the late afternoon, and things do not run as efficiently as they do in the States.  Nonetheless, the slower-paced life is part of Mexico’s charm.

Some other random observations  I’ve seen very few smokers, and most of them have been crusty old gringos.  Electricity is expensive so most of the light bulbs are compact fluorescent.  Watching the national Mexican news, there was a small box in the lower right hand corner of the screen with a sign language interpreter also delivering the news.   There are recycling bins throughout the public areas labeled “organico” and “inorganico”, but no one seems to really use them properly.  There is no curbside recycling and I haven’t found a place where I can schlepp and drop off paper, cans, bottles, etc.  Watch where you walk at all times.  Sidewalks are uneven and the water meter wells are frequently exposed.  You will definitely trip and fall into a hole if you don’t look where you are going.  The Mexican military takes tourism seriously.  On busy weekends (e.g. Easter weekend), fully armed (assault rifles) and uniformed soldiers will patrol the beach and tourist areas.  We have never been stopped by a cop and asked to pay a mordida.   There were lots of military inspections on the way down but the soldiers were courteous and helpful, even giving us sightseeing recommendations.  The Mexican people are warm, friendly and generous. 


La Paz is a beautiful medium-sized City with lovely beaches nearby and lots of tourist activities but it does not feel like a tourist town. Mexican tourists outnumber gringos. There are no loud bars blasting rock music and we do not see drunk gringos in the street like you see in Cabo. Other than some boat operators who will approach you to see if you want to go fishing or to Isla Espiritu Santo to see the sea lions and swim with the whale sharks, you will not be pestered by timeshare operators, souvenir sales people or the like. The town has a family feel and in most places Mexicans far outnumber gringos. Nonetheless, there is a sizeable ex pat gringo population here, many from Oregon – I’m not sure why.

Crossing the Desert.

March 25, 2013



What a difference another day makes!  We woke up early and took our mountain bikes along the back dirt road to El Molino Viejo, an old 19th Century granary that had been converted to a restaurant/bar decades ago, and is now a popular hangout for hunters and fishermen/women.  The restaurant sits right on San Quentin Bay by the public boat launch.  It was very quiet there.  Only one other family, also from California, was visiting for breakfast. Like us, they had driven down the peninsula, but they were on their way back.  They had two young children in tow, who had learned to speak some basic Spanish, such as asking the waiters for a glass of milk.Image

After a delicious Mexican breakfast, we road our bikes back to Jardines Baja.  A portion of the road was pure sand and it was very difficult maneuvering through it.  In a heavy rain, this road would be completely impassable except for the hardiest of 4-wheel drive vehicles.

We packed our car and said goodbye to friendly clerk Fernando (after a sharing with him a cup of Peet’s coffee, which we had brought down from California and made in the hotel communal coffee pot) and hit the road for the long drive through the Baja desert.  After gassing up in the outpost of El Rosario, the landscape changed dramatically to true desert.  We entered the Valle de Cirios, dominated by rock formations, strange looking Cirrio Cacti and the more familiar Cardon and fuzzy cholla cacti we remembered from our days in Arizona.  We stopped briefly in the halfway town of Catavina (really just four buildings) bought some fresh squeezed OJ, used the really scary-looking restrooms, and then continued on our way to the Pacific town of Guerrero Negro, famous for its saltworks and the grey whales that winter there to give birth in the Laguna de Ojo Liebre.

We checked into the Motel Cowboy (clean, very basic rooms with fuzzy TV and unpredictable internet – worked for me, did not work for John) and had a delicious dinner at the hole in the wall Asadero in the complex.  John and I had eight gorditas (tortillas stuffed with meat with plenty of toppings including guacamole, radishes, salsa and chopped cabbage) and cowboy beans for $12.   Across the street John found heaven in the form of a real espresso bar (but no non-fat milk), where we both had lattes and chocolate mousse cake.  We returned to the hotel and booked a whale-watching tour for the next day and hit the sack early.

Green, Green, Green

March 23, 2013


On our third day of our trip, we bid good bye to the busy port city of Ensenada and headed south.  Noisy traffic gave way to the wide open road.  For the most part Highway 1 was in good condition, in places even with nice wide shoulders. Going through small towns, we expanded our vocabulary to include those words we saw over and over:

Topes – speed bumps leading into every small town forcing you to slow down. This is why you should double the amount of driving time for any distance from what you would calculate in the states.

 Yonke – finally figured out this meant “junk yard”

telesecundaria – rural elementary school in every town where kids are taught classes via satellite.

vado – dip in the road

curva peligrosa – dangerous curve

Shortly after leaving Ensenada we entered the lush Santo Tomas valley, Baja California Norte’s agricultural heart and home to the oldest winery in Baja California.  You don’t think of “green” when you think of Baja, but it was incredibly green, maybe because it’s the end of the rainy season, or maybe because of the crops grown there.  We will see when we return in May.

After a comfortable and easy 3 hour drive or so, we drove through the small towns of San Quintin and Lazaro Cardenas, turned down a dirt road heading towards the Bay of San Quintin and found the beautiful oasis of Jardines Baja.  Photos do not do this lovely hotel justice.  We also had a delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant next door.  John had fettucine with shrimp and poblano peppers in a chardonnay sauce and I had sea bass stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon and sauced with a white-win shrimp sauce.  Yumm.  So good, I forgot to take pictures! shame on me.Image



What a difference a day makes! – mexican shrimp cocktail recipe

March 22, 2013



What a difference a day makes!  Tuesday, when we arrived, Ensenada was serene and quiet.  Wednesday is cruise ship day.  We strolled down to the malecon and saw the Carnival cruise ship docked in port.  Plenty of families with young children in town for the day.  Many of the restaurants, which were closed the previous day, were now open and crowded.  Loud music blared from Papas and Beer and we saw our share of drunk spring breakers spill out onto the sidewalk.  We fled the crowds for the fish market, which was lined with modest seafood restaurants, the birthplace of the famous Baja fish taco.  We settled on Gordos, right on the water.  We asked the waiter if we could sit upstairs on the outside deck for a better view and he obliged. Poor guy, we didn’t realize that the Ensenada seafood dining tradition is to line the table with at least a dozen containers of salsa and several more with condiments.  The upstairs tables were not set and he ran up and down the stairs with bottle after bottle, jar after jar, dish after dish to ensure that we were not for want of salsa.ImageImage

John ordered a whole fried fish – excellent choice.


I had fish tacos and a shrimp cocktail.  The shrimp cocktail tasted as I remembered, except that the goblet was so huge the shrimp were swimming in the sauce.  There was plenty of shrimp -no complaints there, but I wish they had added some cucumber and avocado to make it more chunky.  Here’s my recipe for Mexican Shrimp Cocktail:

24 oz Clamato (tomato-clam cocktail)
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
juice of one lime
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
Tabasco sauce to taste
1/2 cup peeled sweet onion (Walla Walla, Texas sweet, etc), chopped1 pound arge shrimp, peeled, deveined

2 avocados, pitted, peeled and diced
2 cucumbers, seeded and diced
limes, quartered

Combine clamato, ketchup, orange and lime juices, cilantro, onion and tabasco. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour, up to 2 hours.
Heat a pot of water to boiling.  Place shrimp in a steamer basket and steam covered just until shrimp turn pink (only 2-3 minutes).  Immediately plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking.  Cover and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour, up to 2 hours.
Gently combine cooled shrimp, avocado and cucumber.  Add enough sauce to cover the shrimp mixture but don’t make it soupy.  Serve with limes.  Buen provecho!

After lunch we strolled through the market and I was in heaven!  The fish!  The fresh seafood!  The prices.  The prices are in pesos 12 pesos to 1 U.S. dollar.  Weights are in kilos 1 kilo = 2.2 pounds.  Do the math.


Sigh, if only I had access to a kitchen.  I’ll have to wait till we get to La Paz.  Tomorrow, through the San Tomas Valley and on to the Bay of San Quintin!

The Mexican adventure begins!

March 20, 2013

Squirrel Mama is back!  About a year ago, John had been retired for about six months. We started discussing returning to my ex pat roots and living abroad.  We thought it’d be fun to live a couple of months in a country and then try another one, seeing if we’d like to settle elsewhere or just be global Bedouins.  The dream became a doable plan when I modified my work so I can work from anywhere there is a good internet connection.  I plan to continue working part time, while exploring other countries.

A friend suggested international house sitting, and we signed up for several international house-sitting sites.  One of the first replies we received was from a documentary film maker with a home in El Centenario, a sleepy town just outside of La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. 

The El Centenario house-sit didn’t work out for this Spring (though we have a potential to house sit there late this year) but it sparked our interest in Mexico as the first country to exploreImage.  John had worked in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for 10 months in 2008.  Most of you probably know that Ciudad Juarez has the highest murder rate in Mexico, and in much of the world, due to the narco wars.  Although he survived his experience physically unscathed (although he was “patient zero” for the H1N1 virus) he was not keen on returning to Mexico.  It has taken about four months to convince him that this was a trip worth taking.  First it was “I’m never going to Mexico.”  Then it was “I’m never driving to Mexico.”  Now it’s “Okay with Baja, but not going the mainland.”  We shall see! 

As for me, I’ve driven down to Baja (from Seattle!) many times in the 1980’s.  I’ve driven all the way down the Peninsula to Cabo San Lucas with friends (again in the 1980’s) and have fond memories of the road trip.  So this was a chance to relive my law school days when I was first introduced to Mexico by my friend Sandra, whose family lived in Ensenada.

We found short-term renters for our house in San Pedro for considerably more rent than we will pay to rent in La Paz.   Although we have nothing booked in La Paz until the end of the month, our renters needed to move in March 19, so our plan was to hit the road for the border March 19 in the a.m. and slowly make our way down to La Paz over the week.

Murphy’s law definitely applies to our travels.  it seems every time we are about to leave on a trip, something happens.  Once a water pipe developed a pinhole leak behind the wall.  Another time, water started leaking under the sink (this is why we always want the house occupied while gone). This time, that nasty “Homeland Security ransomeware virus” overtook my computer yesterday morning.  Fortunately, doing a system restore to March 17 seemed to fix the problem.  But it did set us back a few hours from our planned departure time.

The trip to the border was far less eventful.  We flew down the 73 toll road past San Diego to the border town of San Ysidro, where we filled the gas tank and made a pit stop.  Then it was into the lane of “no return” to the Mexican border.  Easy crossing, we weren’t even stopped by immigration officials, just waved through – John remarked how there were a lot fewer armed soldiers at the border than he used to see in Juarez.  Once crossing the border, however, we realized we were in the wrong line because, unlike those just going in for a few days, we needed to stop at immigration to get our tourist cards and our passports stamped.  We waved an immigration official down, who guided us the wrong way (against incoming traffic) to the customs building, told us to park and escorted us into the building (again against customs traffic) into a tiny office.  The building itself was very new, very shiny and very empty.  There was no line in the immigration office.  The very friendly and helpful immigration official helped us complete the tourist cards (very tiny type, John couldn’t read it – the eyes are the second thing to go), took the entry fee (you used to have to walk to a Bank to pay it) stamped our passports, gave us our half of the tourist  card and we were back on the road.

I had downloaded a map to get us from the border to the toll road, avoiding going into  Tijuana proper.  The first 1/2 mile goes directly along the Mexican side of the ugly border fence US border control has put up.  To the left (Mexico) are ugly concrete buildings with tin roofs, billboards and lots of construction activity.  On the right (U.S.) is a patch of bare land.  In the distance in the hills you can see the large tract homes with their immaculate lawns.  The biggest contrast in economic disparity at any international border, I’m told.

We almost missed the turnoff to the toll road to Ensenada (swerving into the left lane at the last minute).  They accepted U.S. dollars at the toll booths, giving us change in dollars and then we were on our way!  The road was in excellent condition (if narrower than US roads), two lanes each way.  In some parts the median was beautifully landscaped but there was no shoulder to speak of.  You absolutely had to keep your eyes on the road (and away from the gorgeous scenery unfolding) to avoid going off the six-inch edge and overturning the car.

Once on the highway, the ugly buildings disappeared and the landscape unfolded with one gated community, highrise or beach resort after another.  This area really didn’t look much different from southern California. Between communities we would see one beautiful ocean vista after another.

We rolled into Ensenada about 1 1/2 hours after crossing the border.  It was cloudy and cool (temps in the 60’s).  We checked into the the Best Western El Cid for $67/night (taxes inc).  It’s an older very Mexican looking hotel.  rustic and charming with lots of tile, dark wood, wrought iron, stained glass, molded stucco and Mexican artesenal artwork throughout the rooms.  The walls are VERY thin, though.  Our neighbors were having sex last night and I could have sworn then were right in our room. The ones upstairs sounded like they were playing basketball in their room.

The city itself has cleaned up tremendously from my college days.  The main drag is spotless and the cobblestoned sidewalksImage gleam.  Being a Tuesday, with no cruise ship in town, it was very quiet.  I could see a lot of empty store fronts and can see how the economy is hurting, not only from the worldwide downturn but also tourists scared over media reports of narco-violence.  But somethings never changed. It’s always been my tradition to hit Cantina Hussongs, a western-looking dive bar that has been in Ensenada since 1892.  Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen have all hung out there.  We walked it and it looked the same.  We were hungry though, and told the waiter we’d be back.  The taco stand next door was still there, with same menu and we had $1.35 tacos washed down with dark beer and agua de jamaica (hibiscus punch).  Returning to Hussongs (the only visible face lift was the clean bathrooms with self-flushing toilets and no smoking indoors).  Four beers and two tequilas later (and $12 poorer), we concluded day 1 of our Mexican adventure.

Italian Pot Roast

May 2, 2010

Italian pot roast.  This dish is my recreation of the dish served family style at the Golden Spike Italian restaurant in North Beach, San Francisco.

  •  1 can flat anchovies
  • 1 3-pound chuck roast, fat trimmed
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1 pound red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into chunks
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into chunks
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • ½ cup water
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Chopped parsley

Drain anchovy oil into a large deep sauté pan.  Heat over high heat, when oil is smoking, add roast and brown on all sides.  Chop drained anchovies.  Add anchovies, onion, celery, garlic, wine, water and herbs.  Bring mixture to boil.  Turn heat to low, cover and simmer for 1½ hour.  Turn roast over and add carrots.  If liquid level is very low, add another cup of water.  After another ½ hour, add green pepper and potatoes.  After another half hour, add zucchini.  Dissolve cornstarch in ½ cup water and stir in.  Simmer for 15 minutes more.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Ladle into shallow soup plates and garnish with parsley.  Makes 6-8 servings.

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Southern Corn Pudding

April 20, 2010

This makes a great brunch dish.  Warming the batter to lukewarm before adding the remaining ingredients will speed up the baking process.  I’ve lightened up the traditionally fatty dish a lot.  If you want it even leaner, substitute chopped lean ham for the bacon.

  •  8 oz lean sliced bacon, diced
  • 1 pound frozen corn kernels, defrosted
  • 1 cup fat-free half and half
  • 1 cup non fat yoghurt
  • 1 ½ cups liquid egg substitute (egg beaters)
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp bottled hot sauce (Tabasco or Sriracha)
  • 2 tsp New Mexico (hotter) or California (mild) chile powder
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup snipped chives
  • ½ cup roasted red pepper, diced
  • 1 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese


  Saute the bacon in a medium oven-proof sauté pan until crisp.  Remove the bacon and drain it on paper towels.  Remove sauté pan from heat.  Drain off all excess bacon fat and save it for another use.  Use a paper towel to wipe the remaining bacon fat up along all sides of the skillet to coat the interior and help prevent the pudding from sticking.  In a blender or food processor, blend half the corn, half and half, yoghurt, egg substitute, flour, sugar, hot sauce, chile powder and ground pepper. 

Put a kettle of water on to boil.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Pour batter into the sauté pan.  Return the sauté pan to medium heat and stir constantly for about ten minutes.  You only want to warm the mixture to lukewarm.  Do not use high heat or the mixture will curdle.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in chives, roasted pepper, cheese and bacon bits and mix well.

Place a large deep oven-proof skillet in the hot oven (sauté pan should fit into the skillet with at least 1” clearance all the way around it).  Put the sauté pan in the skillet and carefully pour boiling water to a depth of 1 1/2”  around the sauté pan.

Bake uncovered for 30-45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Pudding will be quite soft, about the consistency of a quiche filling.  Scoop it into shallow bowls and serve with toast if you like.

Makes 6 servings.

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