February 24, 2011 – I am sitting on our new Kitchen patio enjoying the afternoon sun here at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast. What a treat to be able to sit here with the breeze coming off the ocean and not have 14 year palapa grass fall on my head among other things.
It has been a long haul but the kitchen renovation is finally finished. Man does it look good. We put a lot of faith in Sergio, our architect and Chicho the cabinet-maker to do it right and they delivered. They took the most ridiculously designed 2 rooms I have ever seen and made them sparkle. They gave us actual usable space. It is a treat.
There are only so many people who saw the kitchens we had been living with for the last 28 months. The two kitchens were so small that most of the kitchen items we brought down from Canada with us in November 2008 did not get unpacked until a week ago.
The best part about the new kitchen is Heather is totally stoked to cook again with a real stove with burners that work and hey is that an oven! I am enjoying the rewards of having that stove and although my waistline may not approve I really don’t care!
Heather was making some appetizers she had never made before last Friday for a wine reception that our friends at Vallarta Escapes host during high season. Watching her chop and seed some dried chili’s reminded me of the night we decided to try to cook a new mexican recipe in the condo….
December 2008 – We have been in town for 3 weeks. We are getting tired of restaurant food and making easy to cook items on our one burner hot plate. The kitchen in the condo is what one would call non-existent. There is 3 feet of usable counter space. There is a small fridge, microwave and our pride and joy, the one burner hot plate.
The one burner hot plate we brought with us from Canada. It was purchased as a stand by for when we needed more burner space. It was never used until we moved into the condo in Puerto Vallarta.
It was in Vallarta that we discovered that the one burner hot plate was built with Canadian safety standards in mind. What a pain those were. You would just get a pot of water for pasta to start boiling and it would shut down! Can’t let the little sucker overheat I guess. Something bad might happen, like your food would cook in under 3 hours! Oh well, it threw up a challenge but we eventually got used to it.
Heather had brought a few cookbooks with her and one was Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless. We found a marinade in the book that looked interesting and would translate well to meat that would have to be fried.
The recipe included dried Ancho Chiles and dried Guanjillos Chiles. It called for them to be stemmed, seeded and deveined. So we started on that project. Now this was Sunday and it was hot so we were enjoying a cerveza while we worked on the chiles. Now there is one thing about cerveza that is well-known, you only rent it. So once we had the chiles done I headed down the hall to use the facilities.
I did my business, washed my hands and returned to the kitchen to start pulverizing the remaining spices into a paste. It was about 3 minutes later that I started to get very uncomfortable. Uncomfortable changed in about 30 seconds to HOLY CRAP CERTAIN PARTS OF ME APPEAR TO BE ON FIRE!
It was at this point I blasted down the hall, ripped off my clothes and jumped into a very cold shower. It was not helping. I tried soap, nope. No staving off this burning sensation. It was at that point that Heather showed up outside the shower, laughing so hard with tears streaming down her face carrying a bowl of Lala Strawberry Yoghurt.
All I can say is thank god for Lala. Things cooled off in a hurry, so to speak. There was no permanent damage except to my ego. I knew better. How many times in your life to do you read, wear gloves when handling peppers. Well it applies to dry ones too folks. I learned the hard way.
The emergency over we went back to the marinade though Heather had a really hard time concentrating on what she was doing for some reason, why I have no idea.
Oh and through the pain of it all, the recipe was worth it!
February 8, 2011 – We had friends staying at Casa Madera a few weeks ago. Two couples, Doug and Linda who are Vallarta veterans and Bob and Susan who had never been to Mexico before.
It was a great combination. Doug and Linda were free with information and advice to the rookies who ate it up. It was fun watching as Bob and Susan discovered what it was that caused us all to love Mexico so much.
The highlight was the day that Doug suggested we all go to Tacos on the Street in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle for dinner. So we packed everybody into the Jeep with Doug riding in the luggage compartment as he had a broken leg that needed to be kept straight.
We arrived early enough that we were able to get a table without lining up and I wandered down the street to the local store to buy a bottle of wine for dinner. This is an excellent restaurant food wise but it is not much to look at and I am pretty sure Bob and Susan were wondering where in Gods name we had dragged them to eat.
That changed the moment the food arrived. It was great, grilled rib eye tacos, tostadas and quesadillas, it just does not get better. Everybody loved it. A great evening out, good friends & good food.
It was the start of something great and the next evening Bob & Susan ate in a small little hole in the wall in Puerto Vallarta. They told us they loved it too. The two of them had come a long way in a few days. It reminds me of Heather’s and my eyes being opened to the variety of food available on the street a few years back.
December 15, 2008 – Time for a walk. We had just finished dinner and were feeling cooped up inside our little condo. We were just locking the gate when a Mexican man came down the hall with his hands full of paint and other building materials and stopped at the door next door.
He smiled and introduced himself as Marco and explained that he had bought the unit a few months ago and was here to renovate the unit and get it cleaned up. I had heard working next door and knew someone was there but we had never seen him.
We chatted back and forth for the next little while getting the details of what he was doing, how he was doing it and his schedule for the next week. He explained that he is a Mexican National who has been living in the US for 20 years. He is an American Citizen living in the Bay area but has a lot of family in Mexico.
One of the things he had been doing on this trip was reliving his youth and enjoying the food that he used to eat but cannot get in the United States. He was especially interested in Tacos de Sesos but had been unable to find them yet. We said our good nights and continued on with our walk.
A couple of nights later we were relaxing in the condo watching some tv considering going to bed because it was after 9:00 when Marco yelled up to our patio windows. He was going out to see if he could find some Tacos de Sesos and would we like to come with him. We wrestled with that for a while as we had yet to beat the Canadian responsiblity gene out of ourselves yet but finally we decided what the hell, it sounds like fun let’s go.
So into Marco’s car we got and we were off. Marco had done his research and had found out that there was a stand down by Casa Ley, a supermarket so we headed downtown. he drove slow through the area but could not find the stand.
Marco was not going to be put off by this turn of events and decided to keep driving. He knew there was one or more out there and he was going to find it!
We continued driving around the northern end of el centro but we were not having any success. It was at that point that he saw a young man standing at a bus stop. He asked him in Spanish if he knew of any stands in the area that served Tacos de Sesos and he said maybe up the road and to the right. That was enough so Marco asked him to get in.
Now there was something we were not quite ready for but Marco and passenger kept conversing in Spanish with Marco translating for us into English. The man rode with us for a couple of minutes and then Marco let him out at another bus stop where he could catch his second bus. He had pointed him in another direction so Marco had dropped him in a place where he would only have to pay one bus fare to get home.
We ended up in a part of town that Heather and I had never been in. Marco was checking every stand for these tacos but no, not one of them had them. He finally got to one that said that they had other types that interested Marco so we stopped.
He ordered a taco whose name was indiscernable to me but it turned out to be breast of cow. We agreed to try it and it was udderly fascinating. Not quite up to my tastes, a little chewy but not overly offensive. He liked the stand so he continued to sample the rest of their wares.
Next up, Tacos de Labia. Cow lips. Better than the udder ones, more flavour and not as chewy. This was quickly followed by Tacos de Lengua or tongue. I have never liked beef tongue so I let Heather have that one. I stuck with a regular meat taco. It was delightful, as was Heather’s tongue taco according to her.
Marco still obsessed with the Tacos de Sesos however and was questioning the stand owner about them. We were in luck. He had a brother who had a stand a couple of blocks away and he sold them.
So back into the car we went and after starting to think we were going the wrong way we found the stand and yes, he had Tacos de Sesos. Marco was like a child a Christmas, he was so excited. Marco ordered two and only two because he had not had them for quite a while and was unsure about whether or not he would still like them. After he liberally doused the first one in hot sauce he took a bite. I watched with anticipation as he uttered the first words out of his mouth, “well these will be an acquired taste”.
Immediately he added more hot sauce, salt , pepper, and offered a bite to us. After his second bite he offered the other taco to us. I passed but Heather being the gamer that she is jumped right in with both feet. Marco ordered a drink. Heather covered hers in hot sauce. I steadfastly refused to touch it.
Heather ordered a drink. I watched an Iraqi journalist throw a shoe at George Bush on the tv while trying not to gag at what they were eating.
Marco finally got his down. Heather kept struggling. Why you say did these two continue to struggle to eat these? Well it would be an insult to the proud chef who was watching their every move to throw it out.
So I ordered drink because they looked good. Horchata, a drink made of rice water, sugar and cinnamon. Very tasty but somehow I doubt it would totally clear your taste buds of what was lingering there.
Heather was obviously struggling to keep the taco down but she was still working on it. I kept expecting Jeff Probst to jump out of a truck, but no there were just a lot people wondering what the gringos were doing in their neighbourhood.
Marco may have had his Tacos de Sesos but he was not done yet. He then a Taco de Ojo, which he explained was to get the taste out of his mouth of the Sesos. Again he offered a bite to us but Heather after just managing to get the other one down chose not to. Me, not a snowball’s chance in hell was I going to try Cow eyes. So Marco finished his Ojo and paid the man. 4 tacos, 3 drinks, 40 pesos….we said goodnight to the man and off we went home.
Marco was a revelation to us. We owe him a ton. Without him dragging us out on this adventure we would have taken forever to get over eating food off of a road side stand. He showed us what Mexico really had to offer and that while you may not like all of it or want to try it all there is a ton of food out there that is very, very good. You just have to look for it and you will find it.
And for that Marco we thank you from the bottom of our hearts! Though honestly, I still cannot figure out why you will try all of that stuff and not eat an escargot.
As far as what are Tacos de Sesos? If any of you are game to try Cow brains come on down and we will be happy to show you where you can get them. The stand is permanently ensconced in our brains.