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December, 2009:

¡Feliz Navidad!

Well kids, we decided to forego the trip home to the Midwest this Christmas. This is now seeming quite fortuitous, given the crazy snowstorms that have been popping up all over the States this week & last. Nebraska is apparently scheduled to get heavy snow for the next 3 days, which you can view live here!

Instead, we are making 2009 our first (and probably only) BEACH CHRISTMAS!!! We will be wheels up at 4:45 this afternoon from the Mexico City airport, off to Puerto Vallarta. Since we arrive too late to jump on the water taxi, we will wait until tomorrow morning to make the 45-min boat trip to Yelapa! This sleepy beach village just got electricity in 2001, but nonetheless has claims to fame of past visits by Bob Dylan, Liz Taylor, and the like.

We made our plans a bit last-minute, and after sussing out that there were roughly 5 places with available lodging in either Sayulita or Yelapa, randomly selected Casa Bahia Bonita in Yelapa. So we’ll find out what it’s like mañana!!

Not sure what the internet situation is in Yelapa, but if we can access the innerwebs, we’ll be sure to post some jealousy-inducing pictures for y’all who are getting blanketed by freezing rain & several inches of snow! Have a very Merry Christmas wherever you are this week!! We will be missing all our friends and family (but trying vigorously to drown out the sorrow while sitting on the sand with micheladas). Expect a Yelapa report shortly. 😉

Much love & happy holidays, Julie & John

A tasty Christmas-y appetizer…

First off, a caveat: this is not a remotely Mexican recipe. :) But it does fit the bill for blog-inclusion by being Midwestern. And more importantly, it is a gooooood recipe, probably because it is endowed with the hallmarks of Midwestern cooking: dairy, dairy, and more dairy, with the occasional smattering of vegetables well-disguised by cheese.

The illustrious Pizza Dip has gained national fame in the US after its appearance at basically every social event that I attended or hosted in Boston & Washington DC. Those who recognized its excellence helped to spread the word; I am told that it swept Bern, Kansas by storm one holiday season. Even my brother, a budding culinard in his own right, is a Pizza Dip connoisseur– most recently making it for a Ninja Turtles-oriented gathering he hosted in Delaware. (BTW, Tim, well done on tying the food into the theme.) 😉 The Pizza Dip is now sharing its love here in Mexico.

Anyway, I pass the Pizza Dip recipe along to you for any upcoming holiday festivities where you’re just not sure what to bring & can’t be bothered to spend more than 20 minutes prepping something. Thanks to Aunt Kathy via my mom, as the original recipe source!

PIZZA DIP

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese (a.ka. 2 cups)
  • 1 jar pizza sauce (a.k.a. 14 oz)
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
The Pizza Dip's ingredients, ready for action. The cream cheese/Italian seasoning mixture has already been spread in the pie plate. Note: the Gummi-Bear Vitamins do not play a role in this dish. (But many thanks go to friend Carol for tip off on best vitamins ever.)

The Pizza Dip's ingredients, ready for action. The cream cheese/Italian seasoning mixture has already been spread in the pie plate. Note: the Gummi-Bear Vitamins do not play a role in this dish. (But many thanks go to friend Carol for tip off on best vitamins ever.)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350F
  2. Spray a pie plate with PAM cooking spray
  3. Mix together cream cheese & Italian seasoning in a small bowl; spread onto bottom of pie plate
  4. Sprinkle 1 cup of mozzarella cheese on top
  5. Pour most of the jar of pizza sauce on top of cheese & spread out evenly 

    The Pizza Dip, midway through assembly. Note the usage of dual cheese layers--one beneath the pizza sauce, followed by another layer on top (next pic).

    The Pizza Dip, midway through assembly. Note the usage of dual cheese layers--one beneath the pizza sauce, followed by another layer on top (next pic).

  6. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese on top of sauce
  7. Sprinkle with red & green peppers

    Pizza Dip, fully assembled before baking. I neglected to get a post-oven shot, because this got horsed down by our guests before I could blink twice. ;)

    Pizza Dip, fully assembled before baking. I neglected to get a post-oven shot, because this got horsed down by our guests before I could blink twice. ;)

  8. Bake for 20 minutes at 350F (or until a bit bubbly & cheese is melted)
  9. Serve with Tostitos chips (or something similar)

While this appetizer may not seem particularly trendy or cosmopolitan, I will be so bold as to almost guarantee its popularity. You will win double bonus points by making something vegetarian-friendly (by sheer accident), as well as for coordinating your food colors with the holiday season (during December at least). If you have any lingering concerns, try renaming it something more glam-sounding like “Fromage et Poivron”. This should impell people to taste it just so they can claim to like French food.

Any testimonials out there for the good ol’ Pizza Dip?? There can be no fewer than 300 of our acquaintances who have sampled this at one time or another. In fact, I almost shudder to think how many times I’ve eaten this over the last 10 years… But all that cheese has certainly helped to keep my coat shiny. 😉

**************

P.S. Here is a photo of one of the Pizza Dip’s biggest advocates, showing off a gift he received during a going-away dinner we had for him in our apartment (where we served the very Pizza Dip depicted above!). Note him highlighting the t-shirt’s use of classic government bureaucracy at its finest.

Leadership Tenet #8?? "Follow Courageously". You can't make this stuff up, people. If that's not an oxymoron, I don't know what is. ;)

Leadership Tenet #8?? "Follow Courageously". You can't make this stuff up, people. If that's not an oxymoron, I don't know what is. ;)

Musical guilty pleasures

Much like in the US, if you go out to enough bars/clubs/restaurant or listen to enough radio in Mexico City, you will hear the same popular songs 8 million times. Some you will come to loathe & each encounter will feel like a thousand music notes stabbing your eardrum. Perhaps one or two will be a legitimate classic that will live on past this 6 month period, possibly in the annals of Mexico’s karaoke bars.

And then there are the songs you know you really shouldn’t like, but somehow latch on to your subconscious & won’t let go. You might not actively profess to your friends that you love these songs (except possibly under the influence of tequila), but you will:

  1. know all the lyrics (or at least the lyrics as you interpret them) & sing along cheerily
  2. shout “OMG! We have to go dance to this one!” every time the song comes on in a dance-y venue.

One day, you will give in to the siren call of these songs, go onto iTunes & pay good money to download them, so you can hear them even MORE frequently. I reached this stage yesterday with two regulars on the Mexico City music scene as of late (or better put, regulars within my musical bubble in Mexico City– I am sure some chilangos may argue the inclusion of these two gems). :)

I tracked down their respective videos on YouTube to share with you. Having watched both videos, I am now even dumber than after just listening to the lyrics alone. If I can offer any advice that might help you judge me less, it is: listen to these videos with your eyes closed.

Song 1: I Know You Want Me
Artist: Pitbull
Video Summary: In this video, a not-overly-attractive man wearing dark glasses stands around making light sexual innuendos with his eyes/arms/words. Meanwhile, several busty, scantily-clad women, who seem only marginally interested in the task at hand, stand in place- moving their hips & other “assets” while shifting their weight from one leg to the other. Some of them appear to have lost a battle with a tub of glitter, and one is wearing her “Sexy Flight Attendant” costume from Halloween 2007.

Song 2: Celos
Artist: Fanny Lu
Video Summary: Fanny Lu has been transformed into the size of King Kong, thereby making it easier to scamper around a miniaturized city while stalking her boyfriend (or perhaps just some random dude she’s going all “Fatal Attraction” on). While doing this, she is wearing a white tank top thinly veiled as an actual dress. She also repeatedly demonstrates a horrible dance wherein you stick your arms straight out (like you might be pushing a low grocery cart) & wiggle them/your hips back and forth.  (You might have to watch a commercial first on this one; apologies.)

As you can see, my cultural acclimation is reaching new peaks. 😉

Tunnel art in DF: does it soothe or scare?

We went to Mercado Ciudadela yesterday evening to do a bit of Christmas shopping (FYI, it seems to closes by about 7PM). Good spot for both locals or tourists wishing to find a solid selection of Mexican handicrafts at reasonable prices (and for any visitors lacking in Spanish, several vendors speak enough English to answer questions you may have).

We drove home westbound along Avenida Chapultepec, which goes underground for maybe half a mile to avoid the messy intersection with Avenida Insurgentes (the main drag north/south through the city). As we were sitting in traffic, we had ample time to stare at the tunnel walls, painted a lovely ocean-blue. And I do mean “ocean” blue, as they are also adorned with numerous aquatic creatures who appear to be vigorously swimming along in the direction of traffic.

This open lane is a brief anomaly, because normally there is never that much space between 2 cars anywhere in Mexico City...

This open lane is a brief anomaly, because normally there is never that much space between 2 cars anywhere in Mexico City...

Every time I’ve been in this tunnel, I am torn between the following opinions:

  1. Good job you, Mexico City! How forward-thinking of you to support public art installations! Thanks for sprucing up this otherwise-crappy tunnel with these dolphin and tropical fish friends! They are so pleasant! If I stare at them long enough, I can almost imagine myself riding that dolphin to freedom- a freedom that does not involve breathing in copious amounts of exhaust fumes & listening to angry honking!
  2. So of all the options for perking up this tunnel, did simulating being trapped underwater really make the most sense here? If given enough time sitting in traffic underground, one’s mind can’t help but wandering to worst-case scenarios of either a) this tunnel collapsing, or b) this tunnel filling with water. Please, dolphin, signal the way to escape from this possible watery grave.
Flipper! Wait! Take me with you!

Flipper! Wait! Take me with you!

Run, don’t walk, to Galerias El Triunfo for all your Christmas shopping needs…

The store, the myth, the legend...?

The store, the myth, the legend...?

Last Sunday, we drove down to Coyoacan to check out the Terra Madre Day event being coordinated by the Slow Food folks in Mexico City. (See Lesley’s post for pics of the tasty food to be sampled!) On our way back, I insisted we stop at a crazy store that we passed en route, Galerias El Triunfo. We had walked by it many moons ago, which was the source of this gem of a photo. This time, my friend the golden calf had been replaced by Mr. Businesscow.

This guy was alll business. Well, except perhaps for his trendy leather man-bracelet on his front hoof. Even businesscows like to show their individuality.

This guy was alll business. Well, except perhaps for his trendy leather man-bracelet on his front hoof. Even businesscows like to show their individuality.

Apparently there are 26 of these stores around Mexico, 15 in DF alone. This is the only location I recall observing, though you’d think the others would be easy enough to spot if they have any beacons like this in their parking lots:

I was excited to discover that one of my relatives lives in Mexico City.

I was excited to discover that one of my relatives lives in Mexico City.

Once we actually entered the store, our visit became closely akin to our trip to Centro Artesenal Buenavista— i.e. we dropped any pretense of even thinking about buying something & instead focused on taking juvenile photographs. :) Galerias El Triunfo seems to be a combo of home decor, holiday decor, and restaurant supply store. I personally felt that its name (loosely translated as “Triumph Galleries”) was overreaching a bit….  Perhaps something like “Galerias Shit-Show” would be a better fit?

In the Red Section, this subtle bald statue was on display... Perhaps this could be a fun coat-hanger in an entryway??

In the Red Section, this subtle bald statue was on display... Perhaps this could be a fun coat-hanger in an entryway??

To be fair, there were actually some products I would consider buying… but they were hidden in your classic “diamond in the rough” scenario.  Check out a few of the highlights below, and just let me know if you need anything overnighted to arrive by Christmas. :)

John was very excited about this beer bong that we spotted... Brought back those wild days of electrical engineering parties back in college.

John was very excited about this beer dispenser that we spotted... Brought back those wild days of electrical engineering parties back in college.

However, it paled in comparison to the full gas station, with THREE gas hoses for dispensing the beverage of your choice. What kid wouldn't be the most popular student in the dorms with one of these??

However, it paled in comparison to the full gas station, with THREE gas hoses for dispensing the beverage of your choice. What kid wouldn't be the most popular student in the dorms with one of these??

I felt that Galerias El Triunfo had some work to do on their visual merchandising practices...

I felt that Galerias El Triunfo had some work to do on their visual merchandising practices...

...but they had all the chairs, plates, glasses, and crazily-oversized vases that a girl could ask for!

...but they had all the chairs, plates, glasses, and crazily-oversized vases that a girl could ask for!

They were well stocked in the "Asian-themed" area... Definitely know where to go if I decide to open a Chinese restaurant here.

They were well stocked in the "Asian-themed" area... Definitely know where to go if I decide to open a Chinese restaurant here.

I was amused by the self-contained hanging seat with a couple leopards sharing a tender moment.

I was amused by the self-contained hanging seat with a couple leopards sharing a tender moment.

The wood discs covering the hanging ball in the previous photo were a common ingredient in the items for sale... Here we have a wood-disc covered reindeer being ridden by an elf

The wood discs covering the hanging ball in the previous photo were a common ingredient in the items for sale... Here we have a wood-disc covered reindeer being ridden by an elf

If the naturaly wood look isn't for you, consider a majestic silver buck standing on a faux-zebra settee.

If the natural wood look isn't for you, consider a majestic silver buck standing on a faux-zebra settee.

More of a gold fan? There were golden geese galore, plus the random Donald-Duck's-head-on-a-goose-body-wearing-a-tuxedo piece de resistance...

More of a gold fan? There were golden geese galore, plus the random Donald-Duck's-head-on-a-goose-body-wearing-a-tuxedo piece de resistance...

Those looking for a more abstract, artsy piece will no doubt enjoy this "Woman's Chest Made of Gold Screws" for a mere $1000 dollars plus.

Those looking for a more abstract, artsy piece will no doubt enjoy this "Woman's Chest Made of Gold Screws" for a mere $1000 dollars plus.

Again with the visual merchandising problems... A tub (wait, are we at Home Depot?) filled with a sculpture of a naked woman who's being stared down by multiple snowmen who have legs.

Again with the visual merchandising problems... A tub (wait, are we at Home Depot?) filled with a sculpture of a naked woman who's being stared down by multiple snowmen who have legs.

Finally, my favorite-- the life-sized plastic cactus coated with limp, rubbery spines.  BTW, I think the artistic direction I'd just given John before takinng this photo was "Look like you are being stabbed by a thousand cactus spines". Well executed, John, if I may say so myself.

Finally, my favorite-- the life-sized plastic cactus coated with limp, rubbery spines. BTW, I think the artistic direction I'd just given John before taking this photo was "Look like you are being stabbed by a thousand cactus spines". Well executed, John, if I may say so myself.

If you too would like to get your photo taken with life-sized fake cattle, giraffes, or cacti, head on down to Tata Vasco #77 at the corner of Miguel Angel de Quevedo (the main street between San Angel & Coyoacan) in Colonia Santa Catarina. Better yet– go to one of the other locations & send me photos of the even WEIRDER crap you will probably find there. :) Happy shopping

Surprising that I’ve not spotted these decorative cow heads around Nebraska…

Stuffed animals seem to be über-popular in Mexico, or at least you’d guess that based on their prevalence at markets/stores nationwide. To be clear, by “stuffed”, I do not mean fuzzy-wuzzy little teddy bears. Rather, I mean no-shit, taxidermied, formerly-alive-but-now-marble-eyed ANIMALS. I have seen a fair number of fake replicas as well, but even those (i.e. a pair of 5-inch-tall fighting roosters) seem to be at least made of real bird feathers.

(This segues into another of my lazy blog posts centered around a photo or two….since I am once again in the throes of studying for final exams & hence either can not or should not spend several hours writing about our super-fun trip to Zacatecas a few weeks back).

That said, one of the things we did discover in Zacatecas was an even wider variety of stuffed animals than we’d previously seen! Act fast, folks, and make your way up north (or perhaps down south?) to Zacatecas for all your mounted emu (I think?) and cow head needs!!

My bird ID-ing skills are not what they used to be; is this an emu? Is this really something one would display in their home? This piece of decor is a mystery to me...

My bird ID-ing skills are not what they used to be; is this an emu? Is this really something one would display in their home? This piece of decor is a mystery to me...

These cow heads, on the other hand, I could TOTALLY see working into a farm-themed decor. These are totally something my Uncle Ken would put up in his basement in Colorado or at the Mouse Motel in Nebraska. Uncle Ken-- Am I right?? This is a test to see if you read this. ;)

These cow heads, on the other hand, I could TOTALLY see working into a farm-themed decor. These are totally something my Uncle Ken would put up in his basement in Colorado or at the Mouse Motel in Nebraska. Uncle Ken-- Am I right?? This is a test to see if you read this. ;)

Mercados can wear you out…

Susan & I are clearly totally prepared for the holiday season

Susan & I are clearly totally prepared for the holiday season

After a weekend of MBA classes, I needed to get out of the house yesterday afternoon before resuming panicked studying for finals coming up Dec 11-12. John, Susan, and I first stopped by a market in Roma where female Mexican artists were selling their wares. Christmas decor is out in full force, as shown to the right.

Our thought was to drive from there on to Mercado Lagunilla, about 10 blocks north of the Zocalo, where there is allegedly an antiques market on Sundays. Unfortunately in our excitement over potential faux-antique Christmas prezzies for all our family & friends, we forgot Rule #1 of sightseeing around Mexico City: don’t drive your own car if you don’t have to.

So there are about 3 functional lanes of one way traffic on this street, + a right lane where cars are constantly stopped dropping off/picking up folks or loading up purchases. But the best is the far left lane moving in the "wrong" direction, here depicted with a dude pulling a handcart stacked with more boxes than I ever thought could fit on your average dolly + multiple big-ass peseros trying to weave through the traffic.

So there are about 3 functional lanes of one way traffic on this street, + a right lane where cars are constantly stopped dropping off/picking up folks or loading up purchases. But the best is the far left lane moving in the "wrong" direction, here depicted with a dude pulling a handcart stacked with more boxes than I ever thought could fit on your average dolly + multiple big-ass peseros trying to weave through the traffic.

I think we spent about an hour traversing the ~2 miles to Lagunilla, with the bulk of that sitting in traffic on the main street through the market area, lined with stands on either side. Calle Rayón is one of the many curious multiple-lane, one-way streets in Mexico City whose far left lane is dedicated to large buses driving in the opposite direction. (because what could possibly go wrong??) We observed numerous contestants playing a fun game called “How long can I drive into oncoming traffic in the far left lane before I am mowed down by a bus?”

Anyway, we decided we’d made an error in judgement, agreed to give up our antiques-quest for the day, and finally managed to turn off of this mess of a street. On our way out of the Lagunilla area, we passed this man who was clearly one step ahead of us in knowing how to handle spending time in this mercado:

This guy definitely has the right idea for taking a break from the frenzy at your average weekend market in Mexico... :)

This guy definitely has the right idea for taking a break from the frenzy at your average weekend market in Mexico... :)

Cars to Avoid in Mexico

Acquiring a driver’s license in Mexico City can be done with a concerning level of ease. You just bring your passport & your visa (showing you’re in the country legally) to the Secretaria de Transportes y Vialidad, and after an hour- you are good to go! No written exams, no driving test, no nothing.

This level of rigor is duly reflected in the skill levels of drivers around here, as I have alluded to previously. Mastering the unwritten rules of the road definitely took me a few weeks, but now I have learned to drive as crazily as the rest of ’em. Some key tips include:

  • Never use your turn signal (sign of weakness & alerts others to your secret desires, i.e. to be in the left lane)
  • Never make eye contact (also sign of weakness)
  • When you see a car at an intersection a block ahead of you debating whether to pull out in front of you, give your horn a few rapid honks. This translates as “If you dare pull out in front of me I will slam into your car with the wrath of a thousand angry burros”
  • If their car is crappier than yours, they will win when it comes to who gets to merge first. (they have less to lose)
  • Never drive in the far right lane, as it is constantly littered with peseros stopping to pick up/drop off passengers, cars parked with their hazard lights on, and guys riding 3-wheeled carts selling water jugs/breakfast breads/other tasty morsels.

Anyway, I often wonder how the more timid among us manage to get up the nerve to start driving in this city. The answer is right here:

I think the phrase I'm looking for is "cruising for a bruising"...

I think the phrase I'm looking for is "cruising for a bruising"...

Of all the cars on the road, I fear these the most– with the “Auto School– Caution” warning emblazoned on their rear. I guess I should be appreciative of the fraction of the percentage of DF residents who actually try to learn how to drive from a professional. Unfortunately, these instead strike me as both accident magnets and weaklings who are just waiting to be naturally selected. God bless those Auto School instructors who put their lives on the line daily to try and teach a subject that really can’t be taught… it can only be learned through experience. :)

As for me, I am steering clear of these bright-eyed pupils…outside of giving them the quadruple warning honk if they even consider venturing near my lane while clipping along at 15mph… :)

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