Friday, March 09, 2007

Field trip! Off we went to Ley this morning, all sixteen of us (I think). Maria had given us crib sheets with names and descriptions of about sixteen Mexican cheeses, so that we would be able to make sense of the chaos that is the cheese department at Ley. We had given her 20 pesos each, to cover the cost of the cheese. When we got to the market, we didn't go directly to Cheese. We started in the produce department, where we got a brief refresher on the varieties of chile. I also learned that the vegetable I've been trying to identify is a chayote. It looks like an irradiated pear or something, but it's apparently a vegetable. You have to peel it, and then you can treat it like a potato. I brought one home to try. Maria says it's much better for you than potatoes are. No wonder. According to this site, it's a squash.

So. We hit a few aisles to get stuff Maria needed, and I grabbed some items myself, including half a chicken and a bunch of spices - and a fresh supply of cat food for our temporarily adopted stray, Ahnold(more about Ahnold another day) . I experimented tonight with making a chicken curry using mostly local ingredients. It was good, but not exactly curry. No cardamom or turmeric available. Next year, I'll bring all the spices along. Oh, yes. There was a little bag of giblets under the chicken half, and when I opened it up, there was a foot in it. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh. I keep thinking, One foot? Why one foot?

When we got to the cheese section, we bought ten or eleven different cheeses. Maria kept up a running commentary, to the confusion of the young woman behind the counter.

When we had all finished our shopping, we headed to the other end of the mall for a cup of coffee, then caught the bus back to San Carlos. I rushed home to do some laundry and make the curry, and just got things sort of under control before it was time to go to the palapa for our cheese tasting party.

This is Maria, my teacher, trying to keep order in the palapa/schoolroom.
She and her husband opened Totonaka thirty years ago. Her son Joe runs it now, and Maria acts as social director (like Gale Storm! Remember her? My mother told me she had five children and a 20 inch waist. Sheesh.). Maria seems to be having a wonderful time teaching, and her classes are bigger every year. I know I've gotten a lot out of them - not least of all, a degree of comfort about going downtown , shopping at the mercado, that I'm sure would have taken me a lot longer to reach on my own.

In the palapa, we sat down at the long table, crib sheets in hand, and waited while Maria cut a piece of cheese for each of us. We started with queso fresco, the freshest of the cheeses, and worked our way up to the firmest one, manchego, which is actually a Spanish cheese. Each of us had a little plastic plate. We would taste a cheese, pass our plates back up (we had written our names on them), and by the time we'd had a sip of water, they would come back with yet another cheese on them. At first I ate each piece, but Maria was cutting generous portions, and it soon became apparent that if I kept that up I wouldn't be able to get through the whole lot, so I started just nibbling a bit, then putting the rest of the piece aside. Even at that, I ate more cheese today than I have in several months. (I'm not supposed to be eating cheese at all.)

The upshot of it was that I found two cheeses that I liked - the doble crema and the Chihuahua con jalapeno. Most Mexican cheeses are very bland by Canadian standards. The doble crema would make a fantastic cheesecake, though.

Here is the group, intent on tasting. The woman at the bottom left is Chantal, Blitzen's 'mother'.
We had a great time. There are two more classes in the session. I know that the last class is on chiles rellenos - I started with the last class of the previous session, so that will be a review for me - but I can't remember what Maria said next week's class would be.

All in all, I've had a long day, and I'm ready to sit back and relax.

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