Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is the first Thanksgiving where I have never been home with my family (and that list will just keep growing this year, as I've never been gone for Christmas or my birthday either).  I could easily make a list of things that I am frustrated with in my life, but now is not the time.  Even though I am far from home, I am so blessed!

I am thankful for:
  • warm days and cool nights (and missing Seattle's gloomiest day in 3 years!)
  • supervisors who bring pumpkin pie to work
  • country coordinators who share their pumpkin pie spice and support me through all my freak out moments
  • fast and reliable internet and skype
  • kittens to cuddle with at work
  • family who love and support me
  • a host family who has taken me in and accommodated all my (sometimes odd) requests
  • friends who write me letters and send me numerous emails
  • past and present YAGMs around the world who are accompanying me on this journey and working to change the world one relationship at a time
  • relationships with all the other Mexico YAGMs
  • the relative safety of having an American passport
  • not feeling culturally obligated to get up early tomorrow morning to go shopping
I made my family roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes,  and pumpkin pie today.  This is just the first step, as all the Mexico YAGMs are cooking Thanksgiving dinner together during our retreat next week.  My brother ate some mashed potatoes, tried one bite of pumpkin pie (he doesn't like it), and then told his friends that his dinner was "muy rico" (very good), while I think my host mom was just happy to not have to cook for once.  My supervisor at ALEM bought a Costco pumpkin pie for everyone to share at work today, and then let me leave early so I would have time to cook.

This Thanksgiving has not been much like any of my previous Thanksgivings.  I'm not in a food coma (although who knows after our Thanksgiving dinner next week!), I didn't get to make or eat several of my favorite foods, and I'm not curled up in front of the fireplace with a movie and my cat.  But I know that I will have those experiences again, and in the meantime, I get to eat lots of tacos!

Friday, November 9, 2012

pumpkin mania

I've always loved any type of food with pumpkin in it.  Pumpkin bread? Check.  Pumpkin cookies?  Most definitely.  Pumpkin cinnamon rolls?  Delicious.  Pumpkin gelato, ice cream, truffles, pie, cake, you name it, I have probably eaten it and loved it!  I told this to my host family one day, kind of lamenting the fact that it was fall but that no one in Mexico really eats pumpkin the way I do at home.  

Well, be careful with your words!  My mom came home on Monday afternoon with two giant grocery bags filled with pumpkin chunks from Walmart, telling me that she bought it all for me so I can bake pumpkin pie.  I just kind of looked in astonishment at the sheer amount of pumpkin sitting in our kitchen, at a loss for words as to what to do with all the chunks. 

This is about a quarter of the pumpkin that I had to work with, and this is how it comes from Walmart!
As a disclaimer, I have never cooked with fresh pumpkin before.  I love creating pumpkin baked goods, but my pumpkin has always come from a can.  So I looked at this as an adventure!  I've also been a little sad with the fact that I don't really get to cook or bake at all in my house because my family loves to take care of me.  But that all changed today!

 I spent almost 4 hours in the kitchen today, cooking pumpkin, roasting pumpkin seeds, creating the pumpkin puree, and packaging it for easy access in the freezer.

some of the pumpkin cooking in our tiny oven

pumpkin puree

the finished product!  8 cups of pumpkin puree
As I was working with the pumpkin, my mom looked over and remarked on the quantity.  She commented that I will be eating this pumpkin all year.

I sure hope so!

Día de los Muertos

On November 1st and 2nd we celebrated Día de los Muertos here in Cuernavaca.  My family was out of town for a wedding, so I was hanging out with Colleen all weekend. 

Thursday night we headed to Ocotepec, which is a community in Cuernavaca.  It's one of the few communities where homes are open to the public for Día de los Muertos.  Every family that has lost someone in the past year creates an ofrenda in their home.  People are invited to view the ofrenda/altar and eat the provided food.  Colleen and I arrived as dusk was falling, and immediately bought some candles, as it's tradition to give a candle to each family; it's a kind of exchange, with visitors giving candles and receiving food and drinks in return. 

We then met up with Andrea and her family at the church in Ocotepec, before heading out to visit homes.  At each house we waited to enter, then viewed the altars set up for the deceased family members.  Each altar included some sort of physical representation of the person being remembered, usually with photos and some of their old clothing.  Around that, all sorts of food and other items for the dead to use.  These included: bread, tamales, piles of fruit, tools, dishes, photos, cigarettes, marigolds, items shaped like skulls, etc.  After saying hello to the families, either Colleen or I handed them a candle (then put into a box, I have no idea what they are used for!), and then headed for the food!  I ate a taco, a tamale, several pan dulces and pan de muertos, and drank many cups of hot punch (kind of like apple cider, but with different fruits).

Friday morning Colleen and I headed to Jardin Borda, a giant private garden in the Centro.  From Thursday through Sunday entrance was free, there were several large ofrendas throughout the garden, artisans selling their wares, and lots of decorated catrinas, or skeleton ladies.  We wandered the park taking pictures and just taking in the atmosphere. 

catrinas at Jardin Borda

some of the ofrendas

I think this one is for Frida Kahlo

marigolds are everywhere on Día de los Muertos

Many families go to the cemetery on Nov. 2 to decorate the family graves and eat food, but I didn't know anyone who was doing that.  Día de los Muertos is a way to celebrate and remember your ancestors, as the dead come back to wander the earth.  It's a way of engaging with our own mortality while remembering those who we were close to.