Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanks be to Loreto!

With the passing of the American Thanksgiving this week we can now “officially” consider ourselves in the Holiday Season here in Loreto Bay. I have observed in earlier postings the growing numbers of people arriving every week and this week the resident population is at it’s highest since probably the Spring Break period earlier this year. From now on the population will continue to grow through to pre-Christmas and then return to a more stable level after the New Year.

As a Canadian living in Mexico with lots of American friends, I am in the fortunate position of being able to celebrate TWO Thanksgivings! In Canada, due to the earlier harvest and arrival of winter, we have our Thanksgiving in mid-October (just before I left to come down here). While I suppose Americans living in Canada celebrate both dates with a dinner, I expect it is more common, particularly down here, for Canadians to “double dip” the Turkey Holiday. For me, the idea of a second helping of Turkey to break up that long stretch until Christmas dinner is most welcome. So I was looking forward to the invitation I had received to join a group of mainly American ex-Pats at their dinner here in the town of Loreto.

For those of us living here for the winter months, if not year round, the traditional family holidays are celebrated with our family of friends in and around Loreto. So it was, this past Thursday, when I packed up my contributions to the dinner and headed into town to join the hosts, Jeff and Paul at their beautiful home in town.

For the occasion I had promised a loaf of my home-baked bread (see “Raking and Baking” for the story of my first attempt at bread making last year). Given the fact that the party was to start mid-afternoon I had decided to bake the loaf the night before, so as not to be rushed on the day. However, when I pulled the loaf out of the oven about 9:00 o’clock Wednesday night I knew I had a problem. For the first time in over a year of baking this “No Knead Bread” with consistently good results, this time the loaf came out flat! I quickly decided that the Mexican flour I had used must have gone stale and, while the bread would probably taste fine, it was not the usually “domed” artisanal loaf that I had come to expect and definitely not up to the standard that I expected for such a special occasion.

So, after doing a quick calculation of the timing (the bread is supposed to rise for up to 18 hours before baking) I decided that if I started the recipe again right away – using fresh Canadian flour that I had fortunately brought down with me last month – I would JUST have enough time to bake another loaf and take it hot from the oven to the party the next afternoon. In addition to this loaf of bread I was taking a bottle (jug?) of wine and some beer to contribute to the table and I was also taking my portable sound system to play music for the party. The bread came out of the oven at 2:45 and I wrapped it in a towel to insulate it’s 450 degree temperature and headed off to town, arriving at Jeff and Paul’s just after 3:00, being very Canadian and on time.

When I arrived about half of the 20 invited guests were there and the remainder were soon to follow. Everyone brought a contribution of vegetables and side dishes and Paul was in charge of roasting the Bird. As seems to be traditional with Turkey everywhere – no one had apparently told the main course how long it was supposed to take in the oven and so the dinner was slightly delayed until “Sir Tom” decided the time was right.

But no one was complaining – with my sound system filling the air with strains of the Buena Vista Social Club and people relaxing around the beautiful patio pool area of our hosts wonderful home – the warm late afternoon sun was gradually replaced with a lovely soft star-filled evening that felt more like mid-summer, than a couple of weeks before winter officially began.

When the Turkey had decided the time had come, the guests were quickly gathered and began to make their way around the kitchen island and help themselves to the contents of the many platters and bowls that would make up our feast. Along with the Turkey was, of course, stuffing (made with the unique pre-toasted toast that you can buy here) creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, a shredded carrot salad seasoned with ginger, a delicious yam (or sweet potato) casserole and a creamy pistachio salad along with TWO home-made breads, mine and one with olives and a hint of garlic. (I started recalling this menu with some trepidation, as I certainly don’t want to leave any dish out, but if I have failed to mention someone’s contribution I will claim it was because it must have been so sublime as to pass all memory!) After the most determined had helped themselves to second helpings, it was then time for desert – a delicious spicy traditional Pumpkin pie with whipped cream should have been more than enough, but two more of the many highlights of this meal to remember were still to come – a peppermint-chocolate ice cream pie and individual Pecan tarts that melted in the mouth – sublime!

Many toasts (of the liquid kind) were made, and a happier, better fed party would have been impossible to find that night in Loreto – perhaps in all of Baja! Many hands made quick work of the mountain of dishes, pots and pans, I switched to “bluesier” after-dinner music, and the party moved back onto the patio to enjoy some last conversation under the star filled sky before we each took our leave from our genial hosts – truly thankful for the wonderful evening, fabulous meal and the warm sense of community that had made the occasion so memorable.

As I drove home, back to Loreto Bay, I reflected on how much I had to be thankful for; the beautiful home I was returning to, the good friends I had shared the evening with, and most of all, the exquisite place that has brought all of these people together and created the special atmosphere that made everything else possible. For it is this place called Loreto – “where the mountains come to swim” - that is the magnet and the common denominator to the experience of living here.

This place called Loreto, that has brought together such a diverse group of people who saw the potential to make their dream become their reality. Through their individual actions they have made their contribution to the intangible, but essential quality of community, which is the most valuable and enduring aspect that we all share when we call this place home.

So I am indeed giving thanks for much as we begin this Holiday season, but most of all I am thankful for all that has brought me to where I am here, and for the sense of belonging that is the best part of that experience – sharing wonderful food with friends that have become an extended family – it doesn’t get much better than “Living Loreto!