Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Neto's Pinto Bean Soup

I often use canned beans when cooking. When you don't have a lot of time, they are a savior. On the other hand, a huge pot of beans makes the house smell delicious and ensures easy delicious meals over the next few days. This is worth the extra time and effort in my opinion. When we make a pot of pinto beans we use them for refried beans, on tortas (sandwiches) and this:
I don't have a name for it, but doesn't that look delicious? Ernesto introduced it to me and I haven't ever seen this in a cookbook, so I will call it "Neto's Pinto Bean Soup".
First, you will need to make a pot of beans.

Big 'Ol Pot of Beans

1lb. bag of dry pinto beans
1 medium white onion cut in half
6 cloves garlic

soak beans overnight in cold water, or do a quick boil (cover beans with water and bring to a boil for 15 minutes, strain) In a large pot, place beans and 4 quarts water. Simmer for 4 hours or until beans are tender.

Neto's Pinto Bean Soup

You will need the big pot of beans you made, and white rice. (1 3/4 cups water to one cup rice) Assemble while the beans and rice are still hot. Each bowl of soup is prepared individually.

Fill each bowl with beans and broth and 2 spoonfuls of the rice.

Top with fresh vegetables:
chopped tomatoes
chopped cilantro
diced chiles
cubed avocado
salt to taste


Mazatlan was the 9th stop in our Mexican tour. It was such a relief too when we arrived on our bikes. We had no agenda and I really had no desire to explore. I wanted to relax on the beach. period. Ernesto's family was there for a couple days with us and we enjoyed hanging out and eating (the main focus of every Mexican family).

Normally I would want to walk everywhere, especially in a beach town, but after the 200 mile bikeride I was happy that no one in Ernesto's family wanted to walk. ha! We got around on the little open air taxi's called pulmanias. It was HOT there and they were refreshing in the humidity.
I do get some attention in Mexico when walking the streets. This guy whistled at me while I was walking in front of his restaurant. I usually don't respond to this, but I went straight to him.
There were 10 tios from ernestos family and his cousin Lucy. Traveling in a group of 13? for two weeks? I must say it's really impressive that they all get along so well, most families can't do this at their age [or any other]. We patiently sat on the sidewalks while some tias went shopping. Nobody cared. There was no agenda. No one was in a rush. I married into a Mexican family.
All the Espinoza's were already checked in to the Hotel San Diego (how appropriate!) It was a great location, right across the street from the beach on the main drag in "new" Mazatlan. The beach is beautiful there. White sand and very blue water. Water that looked so inviting, but due to side effects of biking 200 miles, certain parts of my body would not react well to salt water. (do I have to say it?) I still enjoyed it though. Im a beach girl in any way, shape or form. There are several rocky islands as you see in the background. There are many boat tours or "booze cruises" that take you for the day to explore. Ernesto's parents and tios went one day while Lucy Neto and I did absolutely nothing on the beach. And loved it.Tourism is the bread & butter of Mazatlan and all the vendors cater to the tourists on the beach. You can shop right from your lounge chair. Jewelry, sunglasses, sarongs, baskets, pottery, braids, or henna tattoos. My favorite beach shopping is for the food. Ceviche anyone? Oh yes! You know we had to buy a couple ceviche tostadas go with our beers. Mazatlan is in the state of Sinaloa, and is known for it's seafood. We took full advantage of this, eating seafood everyday and eating it on the beach. Welcome to Mazatlan! I was also introduced to a delicious vanilla soda from Mazatlan called ToniCol. I had this on the home stretch of the bikeride and think it may have been the sugar kick that got me to the finish line. So sweet, so good! Gracias ToniCol! Lucy, Neto and I took a pulmania to "old" Mazatlan for dinner one night. The old town was so cool, this is where you'll find all the Mexican charm of the city. (new Mazatlan can feel a bit too Americanized with the huge hotels with cheezy tourist shops) The old part has gone through a major revival in the last 10 years, and is, in my opinion, the best part of the city. There was a concert going on that night in the center and all the restaurants had outdoor seating, it was great for people watching.We ate at a restaurant called Pedro y Lola, which is named after 2 beloved Mexican singers Pedro Infante and Lola Beltran. It was featured in Food & Wine Magazine in October 2008. Im not sure if it was sitting under the warm glow of the lights in the square that evening, or the 3 peice band playing on the sidewalk, but it was there that I ate the best pulpo alajillo (garlic octopus) I have ever had. No, wait, I am sure. It was the best pulpo ever, the best! Oh, and the young girls were flirting with Neto so he would buy us flowers. After dinner, we wandered the cobblestone streets, and hung out on the benches of the plazas. The next day the whole family 13 of us took a couple taxis back to the old town. They were all leaving that afternoon and we told them how nice it was and that they had to see this area of town before they go. We walked to a couple plazas and just poked around the streets taking pictures. Here is Ernesto with his dad and 2 tios.
...and again with his mom and 2 tios
The next pictures are of the Catedral in the center, and some of the old colorful buildings and streets of Old Mazatlan.
Later that afternoon, after the family had left, we were invited to a carne asada by a couple new friends we met on the bikeride. Eliazar and Abraham are in their late 50's to early 60's and do the bikeride every year. They live in Durango and have this condo about 20 minutes down the beach from crazy Mazatlan. The beach was pristine and the beach less crowded. Their condo is a 2bd/2ba is in a high-rise and has a huge pool and grills outside, it's really like a resort. And by the way we were told to come stay when ever we want...anyone need a vacation?? The cookout was fun. Lots of food, tequila and beer. One lady tried to "get the gringa" by giving me a really hot pepper because she thought I couldn't handle it! ha! I think she thought I was going to cry, but I just got up and put another on my plate. I love hot peppers I told her. (and hello? Im married to a Mexican) Eliazar had this little muscle stimulater thingy. Have you ever tried this? You wire yourself up and then adjust the strength of the electromagnectic waves. It makes your muscles contract. It was such a weird sensation, but after I got used to it, it felt good. Eliazar uses it to relax and I could see how that helps. I had it on my back and Neto tried it on his leg. We turned it up full strength.
The day ended with fun in the water and a beautiful sunset. Ay, la vida mexicana!
The next day we visited the tiny pueblo of Quelite, one hour outside of Mazatlan. It was so cute and quiet. Eliazar and Abraham invited us. They said we had to eat at this restaurant called:
They were right, it was the most unique place. An experience. They had birds everywhere, so of course I loved it right away.The most charming part was the decor. Open air, full of lush plants and Mexican history on the walls. The urinal in the mens baño was a huge ceramic pig. In the womens baño, the sink was a copper pot and with the water spilling out of two old trumpets. There was so much to look at, all while eating amazing food too.
This is one of my favorite pictures that I took. The colors and simplicity. I say this only from an artistic standpoint, since I know the actual conditions for the bird are not the greatest. Unfortunately, you will see this all over mexico. Cages are hung by a nail on the outside of houses. Im a total bird lover, but would never put a parrot in a cage this small. (just so we are clear)
I am also loving this picture. Classic. Mexico. Everyone in Mexico was preparing for Independence day celebrations on Sept 18. I had to stop this young girl on the street in her awesome outfit to get her picture. She was going to be performing in cultural dances later that day.
This is cool. As we were sitting on the front porch of the restaurants in rocking chairs, I noticed that the roof accross the street had cacti growing out of the tiles?? Do you see?
After lunch we stopped for a respado (ice slushy) made with fresh mango and tamarind at a little outdoor shop. Here is Neto with our new Mexican buddies! On to Guadalajara! The last stop on the tour. To be continued..................

Monday, October 26, 2009

Great Weekend in Atlanta!

What a great weekend! Ernesto and I had a great idea to visit the Dekalb Farmers Market in our old stomping ground of Decatur. We actually drove by our old house and I got a little teary eyed [although Im not sure why]. Ernesto wanted to stop at a thrift store to get some xmas light work clothes. He was also looking for a tux too for his Halloween costume (post coming up on that soon, I can't wait to show it to you). We stopped at Finders Keepers, a consignment shop on College Ave in Avondale Estates. I can't believe I had never been there before, I would say it was an upscale consignment shop. I saw a lot of name brand clothes and all were in good condition. This beautiful coat to the right is what I found....and had to buy! Im so excited about it. Vintage blue leather, satin lining and real fur trim, in mint condition...all for.....wait for it...$62!!! yeah! Oh and Ernesto found his tux for only $20!!

Sunday morning was great! Smita and I attended our first photography "meet up". I found The Decatur Digital Photography Group at meetup.com. (It's an awesome website to meet people interested in the same things you are. Type in your interest and your zip code and there is probably a group to join near you.) I have been wanting to learn more about my SLR camera I got last year for xmas. I have been using it on the "auto" mode and felt that it was time to learn what f-stop, shutter speed, white balance, and ISO have to do with taking great pictures. Smita just bought hers about a month ago and was ready to learn more about it too.

The meetup was at Sweetwater Creek State Park about 25 miles west of Atlanta. The park, which covers over 2500 acres, has a beautiful lake, hiking trails, hundreds of ducks and geese, and luckily for us, a lot of trees that were starting to turn colors.

It was a bit chilly at 10am when we met, but sunny and pleasant, perfect for taking pictures.

There were about 25 people that showed up and everyone was so friendly and helpful. Smita and I were so glad we went, and ended up meeting some great people and learning a lot about "lighting and portraits" which was the topic of this particular meet up. Some of the professionals in the group brought lighting equipment and were going around answering any questions. We each took turns modeling and everyone shot pictures. Here is Smita modeling: Here is one of my better portraits I shot of her: Keep in mind, we did not make up these poses. Portraits are generally more formal shots and so we did what we were told:) This picture Smita took of me.
Im looking forward to attending many more of these photography meetups and getting really good at using my camera. It's exciting! What did you guys do??

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Carnitas in Paris?

Ok, If you haven't seen David Lebovitz' blog, you should really check it out. He is an renowned American pastry chef and author living in Paris. Not only does he post recipes I want to try, he makes me laugh while reading them. One of his recent posts "8 Coping Tips for Living in Paris" is a good place to start.

Ernesto's has made David's carnitas recipe three times now, and every time we think it is the best we have ever tasted! cooking the pork for 3.5 hours really makes this tender.
David includes a beautiful red cabbage slaw to go on the tacos, but Ernesto likes to keep the toppings traditional to this Mexican dish and only tops them with chopped onion, cilantro and salsa.

Serve with a side of refried beans
Carnitas Recipe
(Recipe from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz)

4-5-pounds boneless pork should, cut into 5-inch chunks, trimmed of excess fat
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons canola or neutral vegetable oil
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly-sliced

1. Rub the pieces of pork shoulder all over with salt. Refrigerate for 1- to 3-days. (You can skip this step if you want. Just be sure to salt the pork before searing the meat in the next step.)

2. Heat the oil in a roasting pan set on the stove top. Cook the pieces of pork shoulder in a single layer until very well-browned, turning them as little as possible so they get nice and dark before flipping them around. If your cooking vessel is too small to cook them in a single-layer, cook them in two batches.

3. Once all the pork is browned, remove them from the pot and blot away any excess fat with a paper towel, then pour in about a cup of water, scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the tasty brown bits.

4. Heat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.

5. Add the pork back to the pan and add enough water so the pork pieces are 2/3rd's submerged in liquid. Add the cinnamon stick and stir in the chile powders, bay leaves, cumin and garlic.

7. Braise in the oven uncovered for 3½ hours, turning the pork a few times during cooking, until much of the liquid is evaporated and the pork is falling apart. Remove the pan from the oven and lift the pork pieces out of the liquid and set them on a platter.

8. Once the pork pieces are cool enough to handle, shred them into bite-sized pieces, about 2-inches (7 cm), discarding any obvious big chunks of fat if you wish.

9. Return the pork pieces back to the roasting pan and cook in the oven, turning occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the pork is crispy and caramelized. It will depend on how much liquid the pork gave off, and how crackly you want them.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


200 miles! Do you realize how far that is? I didn't! When we committed to riding our bikes from Durango to Mazatlan I don't think I knew what I was getting myself into. Yes, they said it was a "beautiful ride through the mountains" but I guess I chose to only hear the "beautiful" part. Our group left for this grueling 2 day ride at 730am September 11. There were reporters there interviewing people and Ernesto and I were even featured on the front page of the local newspaper, Contexto de Durango. {Neto, me and the guy who got us into this mess, Jordi! haha}

Funny enough, they interviewed me, and I was misquoted [in Spanish mind you] saying that we have been training for a long time for this ride! ha! This pic was taken at the start: excited....fresh....full of energy....all smiles...in other words: CLUELESS!
Jordi and Yasmin said we had to dress the part. Being the professionals that they are, they dressed us in all the cool gear: gloves, leg warmers, jackets, padded shorts and shirts with the cool pockets in the back. 30 minutes into the ride I was thinking "Oh my God, Im going to die...but I look good!" (On a side note, I was the only cyclist I saw in two days that was not wearing biking shoes that clip on to the pedals. the. only. one)

The following is a picture I took in the morning on the first day. I was sweating and had my camera in the back pocket of my shirt so it got damp and didn't open all the way. I like how it turned out. This is when we were still traveling in a tight group....like I said, at the beginning.

The ride was unbelievably gorgeous. Landscape like I had never seen in Mexico. I always knew it was there, and I was in awe finally seeing it. I tried to focus on that instead of the fact that the mountains were never ending.

It was a bit discouraging because you didn't get to climb a hill and feel like "Yeah! I did it!" because after that hill there was another and another and another.
bottom line: the first day was totally climbing except for one downhill in the 2nd hour. It did not help when we passed signs like this along the way.
230 MILES? No, it was kilometers, but I couldn't make myself think in kilometers. No importa, it was still a HUGE number. Can you get encouragement by telling yourself, "come on, only
230k to go, you can do it!" That's ridiculous, no?

Everyone kept saying "no es carrera, es paseo" ("this isn't a race, its just for fun" ) But let me ask you something. Would you ever do a strenuous bike ride for 8 hours straight and only take TWO breaks??? Im not kidding! This is an example of one tired biker on a break.

There were about 18 people in our group (and a lot of different groups that go. The biggest being VEGABUNDOS) Each group has a car in front of the group and a car in back of the last cyclist, which happened to be me 99.9% of the time. Memo was driving our truck in back and lets just say we got to know each other.

There were many times that day when I thought I was going to have to stop. Only 2 breaks in 8 hours? I would be so tired, starting to slow and then all of a sudden I would feel a strong hand on my lower back, pushing just enough to give me a short break. I may have also held onto the truck several times for some help up a mountain or two, ha! I am not too proud to take help when it is offered. Never have been. Only when we finished that first day after riding 8 hours and 30 minutes did we feel a sense of accomplishment. We arrived to Mexiquillo, a small town at the top of the mountains at 415pm.

The cabins were very cute and cozy. Since the "professionals" arrived about one hour before us, they already had a fire going in our cabin.
After taking a hot shower and eating a big pasta dinner, we followed the others walking on a trail (not that we weren't tired enough) but they told us there was a cool rock garden and a waterfall not too far from the cabins. It was really a beautiful area.
El Jardin des las Piedras was so cool! Huge boulders stacked on top of each other. I had never seen anything like it. It reminds me of pictures I have seen of Stonehenge in England. (0nly with rounder rocks)
The waterfall was a beauty too.
I wanted to get a good night sleep, but didn't get to bed until 1030p. We woke up at 5am to start the 2nd day and were out on the road by 6a. Surprisingly my legs were not sore, but when we started up the first hill, they felt so TIRED. 2 Hours into the ride we arrived at the Espinazo del Diablo, o "devils backbone". It had the most amazing view. It was also break number one, 2 hours into the ride.

All of the bikers stop here. Its in the middle of nowhere, but someone was smart enough to set up a big taco stand. (this was the only time that I can remember that I was not in the mood for tacos) Someone was handing out fruit & nut bars, so I opted for that instead. We also had Power Bars, bags of dried fruits, and lunch consisted of tuna salad sandwiches. Eating all day, but small amounts as to not weigh us down. (I had my ass for that!)
Like I said earlier, day 1 only had one down hill, the rest was all climbing. Everyone told us that day 2 is EASY (coming from the "professionals" I didn't really believe that) Day 2 had shorter climbs with longer downhills. Many downhills. One mountain at the halfway point of the day took us 45 minutes to go down. Now that was a break! It happened to be the most fun I have ever had on a bike too. We were careful, but I let off my brakes a few times and was speeding around those curves, it was so exhilarating! We were cruising fast the whole way down. That was the only time on the ride that I was glad I had a mountain bike instead of a road bike [with the skinny tires]. It would've been way more dangerous with the bumps and random gravel on the road. My hands were really sore when we got to the bottom from holding the brakes for so long.

As soon as we reached the bottom of this mountain we hit a wall of humidity and the group planned a break just so everyone could peel off layers of clothing. What a change! I was hot before,but after we descended the mountains I was dripping with sweat. I probably lost 10 pounds of water. We were drinking a lot [of Gatorade], and I only peed 2x. TMI?

OK, break time again. We actually had 4 that day. Here we are with only 15k left to reach Mazatlan. We were passed all the mountains and had a relatively flat route to the finish. The group decided that we should all ride into Mazatlan together. That meant we had to keep up with the "professionals" for the last 10 or so miles. They were the hardest yet!
I have never been so exhausted in my entire life and now I have to "push it" to the finish?[located on the beach at some fish statue called El Pescador].
I was so ready for it to be over. I was really excited that Ernesto's family was going to be there waiting for us. I think this is the ONLY reason I was able to make it. Once we reach the city of Mazatlan, we had to ride through it to the GDF fish. I was so emotional. I was getting so frustrated that I started to cry. "Donde esta este pinche pescador???" Which means: Where is this damn fish statue?) When I told my mother-in-law this story, she laughed a lot. I don't really curse to her in Spanish. She thought it was really funny and kept repeating it to everyone all the aunts and uncles. 11 family members were there waiting for us at the pinche pescador- all cheering us on, it made us feel so good!

I have never been so happy to finish something, and I have never felt pain in my crotch like I did that day [or for the 6 days after that]. One word for you: RAW.
Thanks again to Jordi and his wife Yazmin for inviting us to "paseo" with them, taking care of all the arrangements that were needed for this 2 day trip and most of all for encouraging us the whole way. That last part goes for everyone on the team. The amateurs thank you!
Only now, one month later can I say that I would do it again [with much training], and I think its because of my selective memory. I only choose to remember the good stuff. I do this often.


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