When I was getting ready to leave Houston, I knew that I was going to want to self isolate when I got to Mexico. I bought a bunch of food to keep me going for awhile, and packed it all into a checked bag, totally violating my minimalist traveler ethic. These are strange times.
A friend had planned on driving me to the airport, but was delayed in returning from Europe. I rented a car for a day, and used it to move my excess gear down to my storage unit south of Houston. Since I had a nearby storage unit, I didn’t leave a bunch of stuff at that BnB as I normally do. I manged to get back to the BnB before a friend of my came by for a farewell dinner. She brought the dinner. Now that is what I call a good friend.
Since it was the first time I had flown since my travels were interrupted by Covid19, I was a bit nervous. I got to the airport way too early. The lines at regular security were quite long, the TSA Precheck line was non existent. Having Global Entry, I was able to use the TSA line and found myself at the gate hours before flight time. It was interesting to watch people walking by. Of people not wearing, or wearing their masks wrong; 9 out of 10 were men. All of them were apparently white. Three out of 10 saw me looking at them and glared back, as if daring me to say something. Not that they could tell, but under my mask I was smiling knowing that I would soon be out of Texas.
My plane landed two hours before my boarding time. A crew of cleaners went on and didn’t come out until the gate agents showed up just before boarding. I was impressed. As I boarded the plane the flight attendant gave me a hand sanitizing wipe. My flight was to Leon, Mexico. I learned the last time I traveled to Guanajuato, that flying into Mexico City is too inconvenient, even for me. Covid rates are high in Mexico City, so I just as soon give it a pass this time.
The flight was short; about an hour and forty-five minutes. It turned out that my seatmate was from the same country as my brother-in-law, though he is also an American citizen now, he lives in New York City. We talked almost the whole way. Like me, he was heading to Mexico, to be out of the US in November.
When I got to Immigration a guard pointed a thermometer device at my forehead and squirted my hands with sanitizer. I got my visa in no time, and my bag was already waiting for me at baggage claim. Customs was nothing more than running my bags through a scanner. Outside of Customs, at the Leon airport are a bank of rental car stands. Off the the left was the taxi counter. I went there and payed with a credit card for a ride to Guanajuato. It was 500 pesos ($24 USD). The desk clerk gave me a receipt, which I took out to a man outside the terminal who matched me with my taxi. The airport is quite a bit east of the town, so it only took about 40 minutes to travel to Guanajuato.
As soon as my taxi started to roll, I texted my landlady. The taxi dropped me off at Plaza de Los Angeles, where my landlady was waiting with a young man to carry my bags. Once I saw the street leading up to my place, I was glad I had opted to have the porter. After she had shown me the apartment and left me to my own devices, I went to bed, even though it was very early afternoon. When I woke up again it wasn’t yet sunset, so I did some unpacking, ate some of the food I had brought and went back to bed.
The next day, Sunday, after briefly inspecting the view from my windows, I went right back to playing Stardew Valley, with the excuse that I should not go out anymore than absolutely necessary for the next 14 days. Quarantine isn’t required in Mexico, but it seems like a good idea.
On Monday, I had to go out since my landlady wanted the rest of the rent paid in cash pesos, rather than in dollars or PayPal. As I headed out to the bank I took photos at every corner, so would have them if I had any trouble finding my way back to the apartment.
Once I got to the ATM I had no trouble getting my pesos. I got enough to cover the rent and any cash out lays I might have during the month. I will go again before rent is dew again, and try not to make it a Monday. Since I was already out, I went past the bank over to the suppermercado. I didn’t buy much, since I needed time to get used to the altitude of the city before trying to haul too much back to the apartment.
I contacted my landlady and she came to pick up the rent. We went out together and she pointed out the place to buy fruit and vegetables, where the butcher was, as well as a small tienda, which I could text to have groceries delivered.
I didn’t poke my head out of my apartment for four days. I had about used up all my food by Saturday, and was getting sort of creative with cooking. I was thinking that I had better put on my outdoor shoes and make the trek to the market, when I heard a voice outside, calling out. Most of the call, I couldn’t make out, but I knew I heard, “Tamal”. I opened the door and saw that there was a lady, who had set up shop on the steps of the building across the alley. I poked my head out and asked, “Tienes Tamals?”
With a nice bag of tamals, I didn’t have to bother to go out yet. That night I was fixing to fry some eggs to make a single tamal into a meal when the power went out. I wasn’t able to cook the eggs, so I had two tamals for dinner, by the light of my iPad. I am not sure how long the street lights had been back on before I noticed them. The lights were still out in my place, so I took the flashlight a friend had given me in Houston for one of the many hurricanes recently, and was able to reset the breaker.
Again, I wasn’t planning on going out until the food ran out. On my second Sunday here, my friend, whom I used to stay with when I was visiting Honolulu, after selling everything and taking off, called. She asked me if I wanted to talk while she went for a walk. I told her I would join her and put on my waling shoes. As we walked and talked, I repeated some of the photos I took on Monday, but as these were for art, not just a bread crumb trail to lead me home, they are a bit better.
I knew that a nice quite place to walk was Jardin El Cantador. I also wanted to see if the shop, someone on the GTO forum had told me about, was open on a Sunday. They had informed me that a shop on the Office Depot side of the garden sometimes had sage plants for sell. As I walked and talked, I noted that all the shops were closed.
When I lived in Guanajuato two years ago, the Jardin El Cantador was the sight of a large market on certain days, filled with white tents that totally obscured the beauty of the garden. This time there were only a few tents. As I walked past I noticed that the tents were mostly filled with ornamental plants. I carefully looked the plants over, hoping that the would be some herbs. There was. I saw what I thought was sage, looked up the name on Google Translate, and saw that Salvia was Sage. I bought a plant, figuring that carrying it around in the bag for hours, wouldn’t kill it.
When I got to the end of the garden on one of my loops, I realized that I was close to the Fuente De Las Ranas. I continued walking to see how it looked. Last time I was here it had been under renovation. I was pleased to see that the fountain was back in working order.
I was feeling so good walking, I decided to keep going to get a photo of a statue which had caused me to squeal, surprising the taxi driver when I arrived in town. This wasn’t so good for my friend on the phone as she had to put up with more traffic noise.
Once I found the statue and took some photos, I headed back into town. My progress was interrupted when I looked over the embankment of the highway and saw a large bony cow wading in the river while it grazed on the bank. I gasped out, “Holy Cow.” My friend on the phone was worried, but I assured her that it wasn’t anything bad and later I would send her a photo. I did. Once I tore myself away from the cow, I was confronted by vacaros riding down the side walk. When they saw me they detoured on to the embankment before returning to the sidewalk when they were well past me.
Once back in town I made a wrong turn and ended up on the lower road where cell coverage dropped badly. My friend had finished her walk, so it was about time to get off the phone anyway.
When I got to the base of my street I stopped at the little tienda to get a few things. I was very pleased that I was able to tie off the bags like the locals do, after selecting my vegetables. I took my groceries home, and decided that I would head back down to see if the butcher was open on a Sunday (he wasn’t.) the trip wasn’t a complete waste of time, since I spotted a small bakery and got some the local bread I love.
On my way back up to my apartment, I had to stop several times to catch my breath. I was so inactive in Houston, that I got really out of shape and the altitude here takes some getting used to. Once back in the apartment I rebounded enough to shower and wash clothes.
When I was living in Houston, I was having trouble with my lungs sounding like popcorn. I was beginning to get worried that there might be something wrong with my heart. A friend was sure it was the air in Houston causing the trouble. He was right. I got a blood oxygen sensor. In Houston blood ox was low enough to make we waver on not going to the doctor. What amazed me was that I had only been in the mountains of Mexico a few days when my blood ox was up to 98% to 99%, despite the altitude.
On the next day, Monday, I spent too long corresponding with friends, who had contacted me to wish me a happy birthday. By the time I got back to the butcher he was closed, probably for lunch, but maybe for the day. I broke down and headed to the suppermercado to buy the pork I wanted to cook for my birthday dinner.
As I passed the Mercado Hidalgo, I stopped to take a selfie. I later put it on Facebook. I put the caption of, ¿Dónde en el mundo está Sam Pirtle?” I was surprised when people started making guesses. One of my friends named not the country or town, but the building. He didn’t get the name of the market quite right, referring to it by the street name, but I declared him the winner.
At the supermercado, I ran into a elderly gentleman, who asked me if I was from the US. I told him I was, and he asked what state I came from. I told him Hawaii, which I now claim rather than get into a long tale of all the places I have lived. He was quite charming and gallant. I can be a little obtuse, but I didn’t realize the was flirting with me until he told me he wasn’t married. Luckily for me I was wearing my Oura Ring on my left hand. I waved my left hand in the air, and suddenly a very dear friend, back in Houston, unknowingly became a bigamist as I used his particulars to describe my fictional husband.
Leaving my new friend behind, I went to the meat counter before buying the other things I needed for the pork dish. I saw something that I thought would work out well, until I read the label, “cabeza de cerdo.” My Spanish might be bad, but I can recognize the words for head of pig when I seen them. It took two stabs at it, speaking with two different workers, before I got two kilos of pork. The first worker seemed a little miffed that I hadn’t been satisfied with what she had told me. When I explained to her that I needed that particular cut pork to cook my favorite dish for my birthday. She was all smiles behind her mask … I think.
With the pig secured, I started working on my shopping list, which included more than what I needed for the pork. I got a box of white wine, a box of shelf stable milk, catsup, Mayonnaise, baskets to hold my vegetables outside the fridge, food storage containers, chocolate Mexican cheese cake, a bottle of something like dulce de leche made with goats milk, a small can of olive oil, bullion cubes, powdered bullion, a lemon, a vegetable peeler, cinnamon powder, ground pepper, garlic, and a silly gift for a friend, which cost too much.
I bought way too much stuff at the market and was totally exhausted when I got home. I didn’t even get everything on my shopping list. I did manage to find and old fashioned vegetable peeler. I am going to carry it with me until some security agent at some airport takes it away.
The pork was frozen. I looked up several methods for thawing and decided to use the water method. I got the pork thawed enough to cut it in half so that it would fit into the slow cooker. It wasn’t thawed enough to cook. Several of the recipes I reviewed for slow cooking Maiale al latte, suggested that the pork be seasoned and let to rest in the fridge over night. So I didn’t cook it for my birthday. That was okay since I had filled up on cake.
The next morning, once I had had some coffee and more cake, I started working on the pork dish. I have made the dish many times before, but with the stove method. This time I was going to adapt it to the slow cooker.
Maiale al latte (Pork cooked in milk)
This is the original recipe I cook when I have a proper stove. Not my slow cooker adaptation.
Maiale al latte is an unusual Italian dish made by slow cooking pork in curdled milk. It’s one of the many recipes that Michael Pollan learns to make in ‘Cooked’ and one that was described by the chef giving him the lesson as “the most delicious, succulent comfort food you’ve ever tasted in your life!”
4-5 pounds boned loin of pork, rind and most of the fat removed
5 garlic cloves, peeled and halved,
2 tbs olive oil
1 small handful fresh sage leaves
zest from 2 lemons
6 cups whole milk
- Season pork on all sides with salt and pepper.
- Place a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-heat heat. Add oil and heat. Add pork and brown on all sides. Transfer pork to a plate, and carefully pour off and discard the fat in the pan.
- In a small pot over medium heat, warm milk (don’t let it boil).
- Return the pork’s pan to medium heat, add butter and heat until melted. When foam subsides, add garlic and sage. Cook until the garlic is softened but not brown. Return pork to pan and add enough hot milk to submerge pork by at least three quarters.
- Increase heat to medium-high and bring milk to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to medium-low, add lemon zest, cover partially and simmer gently for 1 ½ – 2 hours. The milk will curdle and form brown nuggets; don’t panic, this is supposed to happen. These nuggets will be extremely flavorful at the end.
- Let the meat rest under tented foil for 10-15 minutes before serving, reducing the milk sauce a little more during this time if you desire. Slice the pork thickly, and spoon cooking sauce over top of pork to serve.
From an Epicurean reader: “My father, who was Italian, used to make this for me all the time. This came out wonderfully, but I did make some adjustments: 6 juniper berries, handful of fresh sage sprigs, handful of fresh rosemary sprigs, 3 cloves garlic. I also rubbed the roast down with salt before browning and then skipped the oven part and cooked it in the crock pot on low for 4 hrs. PERFECT!”
I cooked mine for 8 hours, based on advice from the slow cooker maker. While it was cooking I worked on this post, taking out some time to cook a pot of vegetables to go with the pork.
Okay, I don’t have it down right yet. Though the pork was good, and will make some really great sandwiches the next few days, it wasn’t quite up to what this recipe in its original form tastes like. I think I should have cooked it on high for four hours. I think the shorter time would make the pork a little less tender, and the higher temperature would let the sauce curdle. The curdled sauce is what make this dish so good. I took the pork out of the sauce and cooked the sauce down on the stovetop until it was very thick. It never curdled, but the tastes is close to being right.