A Unusual Gift

Dried Rattler.

Dried Rattler.

I recently received some unhappy news. One of my favorite people in the world, who is also related to me, needed surgery to remove a likely cancerous growth. Distraught, I went to my sister- in- law Chucha for a restorative hug. She gives seriously comforting hugs.

I explained my distress and the following day Felipe came home with a gift from Chucha, a hunk of dried rattlesnake. I am to eat a small piece every day to protect me from the possibility of genetically related cancer.

According to an oncologist treating a woman here in La Tigra, rattlesnake meat is one of the best cancer preventives.

How does it taste? Sort of salty, sort of rancid. Still, I’m grateful to Chucha and all her healing gifts, and I will eat every bite.

I am thrilled to report my dear friend’s prognosis was the very best it could be, and she will require no follow up therapy. Except perhaps, a hunk of dry rattlesnake meat. 🙂

Eating rattlesnake meat for my health. Probecho :P

Eating rattlesnake meat for my health. Probecho 😛

 

 

How I Lost Ten Pounds…Eating Chicharron

Chicharron in the Tehuitztla market.

Chicharron in the Tehuitztla market.

Like many American women I used to be obsessed with my weight. When I moved to Mexico I lost ten pounds in six months. My diet changed from sushi, organic everything, lean meats, and mountains of salad, to beans, tortillas, sweet rolls, and caldos and moles full of lard.

My lifestyle went from a walk every day, hours on my feet waiting tables and frequent sessions of Latin dance, to laying in bed reading, sitting around the table bullshitting while eating meals of multiple carbs, and cursory gardening attempts.

I’ve effortlessly kept these ten pounds off for eight years. Though my lifestyle now is healthier that when I first arrived in Mexico, I resumed the walks and eat more vegetables, I’m not as active as I was in Chicago. When I travel to the states for a month I usually gain five pounds, and when I return to Mexico my body dutifully drops it, effortlessly, with no modification of my regular diet of beans, tortillas, Chiliquiles, cheese, eggs, whole milk and…Chicharron.

Though this seems inexplicable, the explanation is simple– I used to eat too much. Even the “healthiest” food will make you fat if you eat more than you need. Now I have no convenience food, I can’t order carry out, we seldom dine out, and I don’t have snacks, no chips, crackers, or baby carrots with “light” ranch dressing.  I eat two meals a day, and it’s plenty. I eat anything I want, I never think of fat or calories; and my weight is perfect for my age and frame. This is not health or dieting advice, just a testimony.

One thing I love to eat, that would have sent me into an anxiety attack in my previous life, is chicharron. If you’re an omnivore and a bacon lover chicharron is for you.

How to buy it: If your local Latin grocery has a large meat section, as they often do, they probably make their own chicharron. Ask for a taste. I don’t recommend the prepackage product, though Dianna Kennedy says there are good ones I couldn’t tell you the brands, and often it is not pig skin, but deep fried wheat, so if you want to investigate read the package carefully.   Chicharron should be absolutely crispy and have no aluminum, or lardy flavor. It should taste salty(though there is unsalted chicharron)  and mildly meaty .  It comes without or without meat. The belly is scored and cubes of meat or fat left attached, or it is cleaned to a thin sheet of skin only. Both are delicious. If it is rendered properly it is almost pure protein.

The classic preparation is chicharron in salsa verde or chilito, though it’s not my favorite because the chicharron gets mushy and takes on a menudo (tripey) flavor. And I wonder, why lose the crunch? My solution is to make it in the traditional way for Felipe, and I eat salsa verde, beans and tortillas with a side of Chicharron.

salsa verde de molcajete

salsa verde de molcajete

 

Salsa Verde (the quick version)

1 pd. tomatillos

1 clove garlic

½ a medium onion

½ cup chopped cilantro

Serrano chili to taste, I usually use four

Salt

1-2 Tbles Vegetable oil or lard

 

Clean the tomatillos of their husks and sticky coating. Just cover in water and bring to a boil. Cook until they turn a grey green and are soft to the touch, but not breaking up. Blend them with the rest of the ingredients to the texture you prefer, I like mine a little chunky.

Heat the oil to medium high and fry the salsa for about three minutes. Add serving, or bite sized pieces of chicharron. Be careful when salting the salsa because the chicharron will release a lot of salt into it. Serve with tortillas and some stiff refried beans.

Probecho!

 

 

 

 

 

El Sabino

 

The Way

The Way

 

When Felipe’s family arrived in La Tigra, all the ejido land close to town was owned by the town’s founding families. Thus, the plots his family was allotted for planting, though ample, were far up the mountain. Because of the distance, they lived there during the growing season.
Felipe’s father built a shack of sunflower stalks covered in a tarp for the family to sleep in during the season’s heavy rains. It’s difficult for me to imagine this. I’ve weathered the spring rains in my “tank of cinder blocks” house, and felt fear that comes from awe at their force. I shake my head in wonder thinking of him as a child with seven other people inside the tiny structure, made, essentially of sticks, during a deluge.
He says it was cozy and dry. His father and brothers dug a trench around it to divert the water. Every afternoon, his mother smoked it. He recalls the small thuds as scorpions fell from the walls, dizzied by the smoke, as he puts is, they were easy to kill.

 

Under El Sabino

Under El Sabino

Felipe, Socorro and I spend our Sunday afternoons together. Occasionally, they like to trek up the mountain to El Sabino, the piece of land they lived on, to look around and reminisce. I pack a lunch. This week’s menu was tostadas de picado de res , and trail mix. The land is called El Sabino for the huge Sabino that lives there. It’s an odd place for a Sabino, generally they grow on the river bank. Socorro thinks there’s an underground river below it and its companion, the biggest mango I’ve ever seen. Both trees require three sets of arms to encircle them.

Soco demonstrates her baking moves

Soco demonstrates her baking moves

The tour includes a hike through the land as Soco shows us the trees they planted, guajes, limones… and laments the guayaba that died. A tumble of rocks was once her bread oven. She sold bread to the workers who cut a road into the mountain side. The family never needed a road, they came on burros, packed with all the household items they’d need for the season, on trails too narrow to walk abreast.
We pick up garbage, do small repairs to the fence, and fantasize about having a cabin here, like the city slickers from Cuernavaca with a vacation cottage in El Mango, a tiny town even deeper in the forest, which can only be reached by burro or four-wheel drive.

Prodijiosa

Prodijiosa

Socorro grabs a handful of prodijiosa* on the way out and Felipe encourages me to taste it, but I remember its remarkably bitter flavor from our last visit and ruin his trick. Soco tells me she’ll make a tea to clean her blood. Felipe recalls the annual ritual; she made him drink a tiny cup for nine days in a row, and if he threw it up, he had to drink another.
Faithful bocho creaks down the “barely a road”, Felipe waves other travelers coming from El Zapote, the “barely a town” on the Cero Frio’s plateau, around us. It’s rumored the road is soon to be paved. El Zapote residents commute to civilization is a jarring, and sometimes treacherous hour, each way. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to have a fast, smooth commute. I wonder if anyone will feel as I did , happy for the convenience, but saddened by civilizations encroachment.
Concrete or no, we will still have the sabino, the mango and Soco’s stories of life in the campo in the house made of sunflower stalks.

• As usual Soco’ remedy was confirmed by “modern” information.

 

To Kill a Rattlesnake

Abby and Felipe 

I fell in love with Felipe for his stories. Years later I realized, as I listened to his mother, whose stories have not been filtered through the knowledge of letters, and are redolent with place, where he’d learned his craft.

We met in Chicago eighteen years ago. He was undocumented, working as a bus boy, I was a server in the same restaurant. As I got to know him, he told me stories of his home town, a tiny village in the Sierra Huautla mountains. To an untraveled Midwestern girl, stories tinged in accent, spilling from a beautiful man lips, made La Tigra sound like the most exotic place on earth.

As he drug the anaconda out from under the mulberry bush last week, I laughed as I thought of my past fascination and naiveté regarding La Tigra. I recalled this story he’d told me many years ago, and I asked him to speak it to me again. I didn’t realize until this telling that the events had taken place where we now live.

The remains of the huamuchil.

The remains of the huamuchil.

 

When I was a little boy, about six years old, my family was hired to clean peanuts here at the Piedra Rahada, it was owed by my brother -in -law at the time. We were all there, under the big huamuchil that died last year, it was a very old tree even then.

My brothers were bringing the plants from the field and my mother and sisters and I beat the roots with a mocho, the back of a broken off machete, to knock off the peanuts. At that time you could still drink the water from the creeks, when we ran out, it was my job to fetch more.

I went  to the place where there is water all year round, between the roots of the big amates and parota, you know the place, all the animals drink there still. As I walked up the creek bed I saw a big rattle snake on its way for water too. I backed away and when there was some room between us I called to my family, “There’s a really big snake down here!” It was about the size of the masaquata I killed today.

My mother came down into the creek bed and when she saw the snake, even though I was pretty spooked by it, she said “Oh that’s not so big! This is what you do. ” She began to look for a big branch.  “The stick has to be dry”, she said, “because the venom is like electricity and can travel up a green branch.”

She chopped off a dead branch with her machete. (She still always carries a machete.)She walked up along side the snake, who didn’t even turn to look at her, and smacked it on the head. Dead. She picked it up, went back to work, and I went for water.

Where the wild animals drink.

Where the wild animals drink.

Soco butchered the snake. The meat was sold as a cancer remedy, and the skin for decoration, unless it was damaged. Damaged skin was used as a preventive medicine for chicken plague. She kept a small piece in their water dish to help keep them from falling prey to illness.

I wondered how Felipe felt about his mother pish-shawing his fear of a large venomous snake.

“I felt good,” he told me,” my mother always made me feel safe, like I could take care of things myself, that there was nothing to fear.”

I can’t think of a better testament to good parenting.

He still talks good story.