Monday, December 31, 2007

The one bad thing about having extremely hot summers is that when winter comes, it feels really cold. We have officially acclimated. When we moved down here, I pretty much ditched all the warm winter clothing. Who is going to need ski suits, mittens and wool socks in Mexico? Well, we probably won't see any snow where we are, but everyone has been wishing for wool socks this past month!

I found a good fabric store in Guasave and went hunting for poncho material. Of course you can't buy patterns for ponchos here (you actually can't buy patterns for anything here. Tons of fabrics, no patterns.) -- once again, thank goodness for Google. Christmas morning, everyone was tickled pink and toasty warm! New polar fleece sarapes and thick fleece stockings.

Pumpkin Cheesecake? Oh, yeah.

Sarah and I share a love of good cheesecake. I think it's hereditary. Anyway, the year she turned 10 she made her first "real" cheesecake (not from a mix) for her birthday, and with that a tradition was born. Every year we experiment with tastes and styles to find that perfect blend. Well, this year, I think we outdid ourselves. Unfortunately, I can't take very much (if any) credit for it. I just Googled.

We brought a couple of cans of pumpkin down from the States when we came home. With them we made a couple of the traditional pumpkin pies (which were very much a hit here, I must say!), but another friend brought a couple more cans when she came home from furlough, so I was blessed with pumpkin. About a week before her actual birthday Sarah said, "Mom, do you think we could make a pumpkin cheesecake?" Hm. Yeah, I thought we could. Rather than just take an existing recipe and tweaking it, I thought I should Google "pumpkin cheesecake" and see what was out there already.

Here's what I found.
The Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake.
Lovely and tasty!!!

I think we've found a new holiday tradition.

It turned out so well the first time, I'm actually making another one while I type. Smells yummy. Of course, as with most things I bake here in Mexico, I had to adjust the recipe to items available and affordable.

Here's the recipe as I made it:

Sarah's Swirled Pumpkin Cheesecake

2 cups white flour
4 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 tsp powdered cloves
1/4 tsp powdered nutmeg
mix well in 9" deep dish pie pan

combine 2/3 cup vegetable oil and 3 Tbsp milk -- whip together with fork and pour over dry ingredients in pie plate. Mix well and form into a pretty crust pressing into place across bottom and up sides. Bake at 400 degrees 10 minutes. Let cool.

I've used variations of this basic crust -- without spices -- for years in pot pies and fruit pies alike. I hate rolling out pie crusts. The original recipe called for crushed gingersnap cookies. I have no idea what gingersnaps are called in Spanish or if I could even find them if I knew. This crust turned out perfect!

2 packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup pumpkin pie filling

Beat together cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Set aside 1 cup of mixture for swirling. Add one cup pumpkin and the last egg to the mixing bowl and beat well. Preheat oven to 350 and place pie pan on large cookie sheet (unless you like cleaning cheesecake drips off the bottom of the oven.) Carefully pour the pumpkin mixture into the pie crust. Now, for the fun part: swirling. The recipe said to blop the white cheesecake mixture into 6 blops and then run a knife around the pie gently to swirl. I didn't do it like that. Starting at the outside edge, pour a pinwheel shape, very slowly, around the edge and toward the center. With that done, take a toothpick and starting at the center gently and slowly pull to the outside edge (visualize with me here) at 12 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock. Stick the toothpick in your mouth, grab another toothpick and starting at the outside edge, pull gently to the center at 1:30, 4:30, 7:30 and 10:30. Viola! Marbled. Stick the other toothpick in your mouth.

Now, open the oven door and CAREFULLY slide the cookie sheet into the moderately hot oven and bake about 55 minutes (or until the center tests done). I hate to cut the center to test it, so what you want is poofed on the edges and fairly flat in the center, not jiggly at the center (under done) and not cracking around the edge (over done).

I don't intend to share many recipes here, but when something tastes this good, it's a shame to not share! Disfrutalo!!!! (enjoy!)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Women's Bible Study at Our House

I thought I should put in a picture that doesn't involve weird food or weirder animals! We actually do interact with people in our ministry here! :^)

This is a picture of our women's Bible study group that meets every Thursday. Right now we're studying the life of Abraham.

What a great group of sisters! Hmm...let's see, I think I can name everyone around the circle: (this is an accomplishment for me -- I'm really bad with names!) First of all, there's me. Red shirt, red hair. To my left is Hermana Maria (hermana means sister. In our part of Mexico, Christians refer to each other as "hermano" or "hermana" so-and-so.) [Cultural digression: We've noticed that frequently people are called by their title here, rather than their name. For example, little boys are called "nino"(no en-yeh on this website, sorry!), my cousin's name would be Prima, not Amanda. My Uncle Jack would be Tio and depending on who was talking to me, my name might be Tia, Prima, Hermana, Mama, Sobrina, Nina, etc. but not Abuela! That's your Mexican culture lesson for the day. Guess it's a reflection of the importance of family relations to the Mexican people. I'm sure there's a Biblical application there somewhere, but I'm too tired to dig it out. Maybe tomorrow.] Anyway, Hermana Maria runs a small abarrotes (shop) in Boca. Next is Hermana Tita, a great woman and a real "kindred spirit". Next to her is Annette who is an American student from the school of ministry in Boca. She graduated in October with Doug. Then there's Lina and Jessica, Cris (the associate pastor's wife), under the blankie is Jassiel (don't know if I spelled that right, but he's adorable!!!!), then Norma, Cheli (you can only see her legs), Karely...oops. I almost made it all the way. One sister I can't remember; she's Ramona's daughter. Then there's Carla (in the corner where you can't see -- she's a single mom living with her mom and dad.) Next is Ramona and finally Armida, who is Andrew and Evie's Sunday school teacher. Well, I did better than 90%!

We had a great study. Like I said, we've been studying the book of Genesis We took a week off though, because Cris asked me to share a little about training children. As you can imagine, there's more info there than I could cover in an hour. I really had to pray about it to be able to share competantly (in Spanish, no less) what God had for these ladies. You can see from the picture that we have several generations represented in our class. Four, to be exact. I really felt at a loss as to what to teach. Sure, I have experience in the child-rearing department, but I wouldn't consider myself an expert. Just a fellow traveler, I guess. But Cris really wanted me to share with the ladies, and I felt strong confirmation from God, so I was pretty much outnumbered! ;^)

After hours of prayer and Bible study and re-reading some of the parenting books that Doug and I valued highly when the kids were little, I felt relatively prepared. Here's the "nut-shell" version: A lot of the time, we just want our kids to behave well, play nice, be respectful, but the Bible teaches that if we teach our children right behaviour, but never train them to have right attitudes, we've missed the mark. They will be what Jesus called the scribes and Pharasees: hypocrites. "You wash the outside of the bowl, but inside is filthy." Basically: God wants our children's hearts. I was convicted!!! Apparently, it went well and was understandable, because the ladies all participated and several said they were blessed. Well, I was certainly blessed by it myself!!!

Doug and I hope to start a couples' study after the first of the year using the book "Shepherding a Child's Heart". One of our friends in the States has offered to buy the books for us in Spanish, so we won't have to translate them ourselves -- wa-HOO!!! What a blessing! Just have to figure out how to get them down here now! Where there's a will...

Do pray for the up-and-coming generation in Mexico. You may say that youth are bad in the States, but you've never seen anything like this. Believe me. At Sarah's quince anos, I literally held the muchachos (teenaged boys) away from the cake with a wooden broomstick while the other ladies served the cake to the adults first. It was almost funny at first, but honestly I couldn't keep them back more than the few minutes it took to load the platters for the servers. They behaved like spoiled 4 year olds -- that weighed 200 pounds! Ridiculous. Anyway, Cris and I have been praying about capturing the heart of the children of Boca. It may be too late for most of the teens and the young adults, but there is still hope for the boys and girls of 10 years or less. Pray that God would give us (the church and our family, too) wisdom in dealing with the youth here.

Well, I'm tired. We just got home from the church's posada. More obnoxious teenaged boys. They stayed on the outside for the most part, but showed up at the end of the evening saying, "I want cake!" Yeah, deep down I love 'em, but that doesn't mean I don't want to find that broomstick and bean 'em with it! :^) Bless their hearts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Just One of Those Things

A funny thing happened at Wal-Mart today. First off -- yes, there is a Wal-Mart here. Isn't it everywhere? We have to drive about 2 hours, but it made for a special for the kids. Wal-Mart isn't the bargain shopping adventure in Mexico that it is in the States. In general, prices are about 30% higher across the board. Some imported items, specifically electronics, are closer to 50% higher. Ouch. We try to avoid purchasing a whole lot at Wal-Mart. Most of the things we need can be found in the local mercado and some things we buy north of the border and import. Coffee, for instance. And instant pudding.

Today though, we bought something. I'm not saying exactly what the something is, because the kids have access to the net and we would like it to be a surprise. The item itself isn't that funny, nor is the fact that we paid way more than the item is worth. The funny thing about it is the receipt. It's written in invisible ink. Seriously!!! I kid you not! The ink used in the little printer-thingys fades away. We know this from experience, because about a year ago our then-landlord tried to get us to pay a bill we had already paid. We had the receipt -- but it had faded until you could just barely read the amount. Still, this isn't the really funny thing. The really funny thing is that the checker told Doug, very nonchalantly as if this were a matter of course, "The [product] has a one year guarantee, but you need the receipt showing the date of purchase and the ink will fade away after three months, so you need to go get a copy of the receipt before it fades." Pause. Blink.

OK, so they know that there is a problem, and their solution is to tell the customer to copy the receipt? Why not buy better ink? So, I sigh, shake my head and copy the receipt. Is that enabling? I think I'll just call it cultural adaptation.

Monday, December 17, 2007

More Mexican Wildlife Stories

One of my favorite animals here in Mexico is the pelican. I used to stand on our balcony (in the house we rented last year) and watch the birds soar in formation 30 feet above the ocean's surface and then suddenly plummet to the water in search of food. Sometimes as many as 30 of these creatures would fly by in an evenly spaced line -- spectacular!

Unfortunately, not everyone here appreciates these powerful, fish-loving birds as much as I do. To the local fishermen, they are in the same category as rats and stray dogs. Several times during the year, we find wounded or dead pelicans on the beach. Most of the time the best thing we can do is end things mercifully.

We actually tried to help a pelican with a broken wing last summer. The kids affectionately named him Bill, and we did what we could. I did learn several things in the pursuit of medical attention for Bill. First of all, if you have a broken wing (or more likely, a broken arm, leg or finger) and you are seeking first aid, you need to go get an x-ray. Neither the urgent care clinic nor the veterinary office has this equipment. I know now where the rayos-x laboratory is. A good thing to know with our crew, I think! Secondly, I learned that there are organizations in the States who are willing to pour thousands of dollars into the "Save the Pelican" cause. I was willing to transport Bill to the vet, give him antibiotics, set and bind the bone, and hunt fish for him, but when the majority of children in our area survive on less than $5 per day for food and necessities, I couldn't bring myself to allow an organization -- even a really neat, honest organization with lots of money -- to dump 5 grand into air lifting a brown pelican from Los Mochis to Florida for specialized medical care. I guess I'm just not that much of a bleeding heart afterall. I got him comfortable, treated the infection and sent him on his merry way. I heard later that he had ended up at Esteban's mom's house begging fish and then adopted a restaurant down the beach and hung out there for scraps. Quite the oppotunist!

But, as I said, I'm willing to do what I can. Not all the injured pelicans we find on the beach are mortally wounded and not all are cause by mean people. A couple of weeks ago, Sarah and I were walking on the beach when we found two pelicans in distress. Apparently they had been fighting and the younger of the two had most definitely lost the battle. (Graphic description follows -- PG13) The young brown's neck was obviously broken and he was very dead. The older, white-headed pelican was, however, very much alive. The problem was that the young, dead pelican's long neck was hopelessly entangled in the live pelican's beak pouch. There was no way that the live pelican would survive long with a dead pelican attached to him. Already, the stray dogs had begun to circle. He looked a little perplexed, to say the least. My experience with pelicans has been that they are a bit surly. Sarah says I'm not being fair, because every one I've dealt with has been injured in one way or another, so of course they would be grumpy. All I know is that their beak packs a powerful WHOMP. And they have quite a reach! So, my mission was to disentangle a dead pelican from the live pelican without causing further damage to his already torn pouch (or to myself!) in the process. Shortening a long story: I went to the hotel (near where we were) and borrowed a machete. Then I threw my jacket over the live pelican and had Sarah hold him down while I removed the dead bird's head -- necessary, believe me.

I wish I had another photo of him untangled, he was definitely a beautiful fellow! But he took off the instant he was free.

Not even a nod and a thank you! What cheek! :^)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Just Another Wednesday...or NOT!

So -- I'm sitting at the kitchen table sorting through photos on my laptop. Lunch is over, the kids are out and about, Doug and Esteban have gone to Guasave to get some building supplies; overall, the house is calm and peaceful. It never lasts long.

I heard a "pop" sound. My first thought was, "Hm. That air rifle is as loud as a 22." My second was, "Who asked permission to use the air rifles?" Just as my brain formulated that brilliant question, there was a second "crack", because it really was a CRACK rather than a POP. We moms of boys can tell the difference, eh? The second pop/crack got me out of my seat so that I could look out the front window. What I saw headed me out the front door.

The police were parked in front of the house and there was a huddle of guys (including some red-headed boys) all around a big brush pile across the street. As soon as I saw Caleb with his air rifle and the policeman with his 22 handgun, I knew what was up. It's something we keep our eyes open for, since we live where we live. We have snakes. We have really big snakes. Some of those snakes are poisonous, but even the non-poisonous ones are hunted down and killed when they pass 4 or 5 feet long. I trotted over to the brush pile (of course, my camera batteries were charging, bummer) to see what was up. Sure enough, they had cornered the second largest rattlesnake I've ever seen.

Apparantly the officers were doing their normal drive-by when they saw a big snake slithering across the road in front of our house. He tried to swerve to hit it, but it got away and headed for the bushes. The guys jumped from their truck and shot twice with their 22s. (That was the CRACK I heard!) Then Caleb had come running with his air rifle and pegged it. Finally, Ramon reached in and whacked its head with Andrew's machete. Definitely a group effort, but Caleb was really excited about the prospect of a rattlesnake hide to tan.

Turns out, rattlesnakes are extremely easy to skin. I even prefer them to fish -- once we took the head off. Sorry, I know that once they're dead, they're dead, but the suckers move for ages even with the head OFF. I just couldn't handle it with the head still on. (Side note: there is a slight danger from a dead rattlesnake. The mouth holds some venom, so it really is better to behead it.) So, Caleb cut off the rattle and the head, I skinned the snake and then I was left holding the...snake. Pretty gross, but in all honesty I expected it to, grosser (is that a word? It is now.)

A couple of the boys wanted to cook it up for supper. I actually decided that I didn't want to deal with it, so I chucked it into the brush. Wouldn't you know, it got caught, so we had a dead, skinless-headless-tailless rattler hanging from the top of a brushpile right beside the house. No way that was going to fly. The boys said that they would reclaim the critter from the tree, so I headed in to check the internet to see what I should do with the leftover snake. [Editor's note: After reading this to the crew, Jessee corrected me. They did not offer to reclaim the snake from the tree. They were told to. We must be precise, eh?] I found a couple of great sites. "Everything you wanted to know about...the Western Diamondback but Were Afraid to Ask" -- very helpful site which I figure I'll be visiting often, our family being what it is! I think I'll have to keep it off-limits from the boys, though, because it has information about hunting and capturing rattlesnakes. I'm not sure I want them to have that much information at this time. What is that saying? "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing"? 'Nuff said.

By the time I had gleaned what I needed from the net, the boys had pulled Snakey down from the treetops. I was now prepared to clean and freeze him. Once again, I was surprised at how easily the cleaning went. I had to hose him off well to get the sand off of him (that's what I get for tossing it up in the tree -- what goes up, must come down, you know.

Meanwhile, Caleb was trying his hand at scraping the snake hide. (I found the instructions at "Brazos River Rattlesnake Ranch") After about half an hour, he had completed about 6 inches. Slow going. I gave my "anything worth doing..." speech, but Caleb has heard it a few times. His concern was that his friend Mike was over, and they wanted to play Mech Warriors. So, we have a green snake skin in the freezer; right next to a plastic container labeled "Rattle snake". Now that's something I've never had in my freezer!

Doug just messaged over saying that they were on the way home. I asked him to pick up a couple of kilos of carne asada. It would be the equivalent of ordering out for pizza -- but significantly cheaper -- after a rather tough day on the homefront. The only meat I have in the freezer right now is rattlesnake. I can kill one, skin one, clean one and freeze one, but I don't think I can eat one today!