Friday, November 21, 2008

About Raking & Baking

I mentioned before that one of the questions we get asked a lot, by people who aren't living here yet, is "What do you DO all day?"

While there can be no "one" answer to that sort of a question, as every day here can be different, I thought I would tell you about a couple of things that I did one recent afternoon and the following morning as an example.

Our casa is adjacent to a Community Bocce court that was constructed this past spring. For those of you not familiar with the game of Bocce, it's a simple game that uses a "target" ball, about the size of a tennis ball, but solid and heavy, and two sets of four softball sized throwing balls, one set for each player or team. The object is to throw out the target ball and then try to get your team's throwing balls closer to it than the other team's balls. Sort of a combination between lawn bowling and horseshoes.

Our Bocce court is about 65 feet long and 15 feet wide, bordered with a double row of adobe bricks and filled with dry clay. When we arrived this fall it was a few weeks after several heavy rainfalls and the court had dried out with a thick crust of cracked clay (think of John Wayne desert movie sand) with a number of scraggly weeds sprouting in the clay. These conditions made playing a game impossible, and, since we were planning a dinner party the next day and had promised a Bocce game as entertainment with our guests, I decided that some maintenance of the court was going to be required.

Having recently purchased a fine new rake with a good long handle just for the purpose, I headed out in the afternoon to rake the court clay into a playable condition. Now, although I consider myself a reasonably well rounded person, Bocce court grooming was not among my previous accomplishments. In fact, I had never raked one before, but how hard could it be?

Without wanting to task you, dear reader, with more information than you may want, suffice to say that it took me 3 hours to finish raking the court to my satisfaction. This involved raking "horizontally" then "vertically" and then repeating in both directions with a lighter "grooming" stroke. By the end of the process I was feeling very "Zen-like” and at peace with myself and my little part of the world! And the Bocce court looked like freshly ironed corduroy, or some aerial view of a fallow field on the prairies. (Perhaps I had just been working in the afternoon sun a bit too long!)

In addition to the unexpected psychic benefits, I also found that this task was an ideal way to interact with our cluster neighbours. Everyone coming and going from the parking lot was an excuse to stop and say "hola" or chat for a bit. I was able to monitor the progress that various workers in our neighborhood were making on their jobs: the guys stuccoing a new building, others cleaning the fountain and sweeping the walkways. By the end of the job, I had become the resident expert on raking a Bocce court, had chatted with half a dozen neighbours and felt more in touch with our cluster than during all of our comings and goings during the past month.

The next morning I decided it was going to be a baking day. Now, I have always enjoyed cooking, and it is one of the things that Cathy and I have always liked doing together. However, before we started spending time here in Loreto Bay, I had never attempted (or thought I had the time for) baking, other than making muffins from a mix.

My first experience baking in Mexico was about a year ago, when I attempted "No Knead Bread" which I had heard about some time ago on CBC Radio. If you haven't heard about this recipe before, it is bread making for non-bakers. You can google it and find the recipe if you are interested, but it is an almost fool-proof way of making a delicious "Artesanal" round loaf of Itallian-style bread with a chewy texture and crispy crust. My first attempt (and every one since) was a great success. So much so, that my fresh bread is now a staple for many of our dinner parties, and is always greeted with much enthusiasm, if I do say so myself.

While fresh baked bread is a treat anywhere, here, in the land of the "Bimbo" bakery monopoly (where almost all of the bread for sale here reminds us of "Wonderbread" back home and, most distressing, it seems to last almost indefinitely without going stale or mouldy). So a delicious, chewy, crusty loaf of bread warm from the oven is a true treat and delicacy down here!

But my sights were set much higher than just bread today! The dinner party I had groomed the Bocce court for was to celebrate the birthday of one of our friends and I had decided to bake my first ever cake for the occasion. I had two cake mixes, a chocolate and a white and several pots of icing that I had found at El Pescador (the biggest grocery store in town), so how hard could a mix be? But with the cost of electricity about 3 or 4 times what we are used to in Calgary, I was determined to get the most out of heating the oven for these cakes. So along with the cakes I mixed up a batch of muffins and a tray of cookies to bake in between the two batches of cakes. Oh yes, and I also had made up the bread dough, which has to sit overnight to rise before baking it tomorrow before the dinner party.

So the morning passed quickly, mixing and baking the first cake and, while it was in the oven, whipping up the muffins and cookies so they could take their turn while the pans cooled and I got the second cake ready to replace them. Meanwhile, I mixed up the bread dough and set it aside to “proof” until the next day. When both sets of cakes were baked and cooled I iced and layered them until I had a “tower” of six alternating white and chocolate layers covered in chocolate icing. With a few pecans on top and some shaved chocolate and candles I even impressed myself with the finished product.

So this is the story of “Raking & Baking”, and doing things here that I probably would have never done in my previous life in Canada. Life here takes on a different perspective and has different priorities. You find yourself doing things that you would never have had the time or perhaps the patience to do before, but in this place they become important and a source of pleasure and satisfaction. It is that change in perspective and priorities that is one of the satisfactions of Living Loreto, and how a place can change a person - learning as much about myself in the process as I do about the new things I am doing.

As an extra added bonus this week I have been given permission by Scott McKee to link to his website where there is a terrific series of panoramic photos tied to a map of the Loreto Bay development. If you haven't seen this before, it will be a real treat for any homeowners and give everyone else an idea about the what of the where that is Loreto Bay,

(For the less computer savy among us, follow the instructions above the map that will open when you click this link, when you click on a red dot a photo will download (slowly) on your screen and you will be able to start to pan using the corner arrows on your screen. Once the entire panoramic picture is downloaded it will appear as a long narrow picture at the top of your screen, single click on that picture and you will be able to pan back and forth on a full screen image)

Enjoy, and thanks again to Scott!

Your humble blogger,


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Well, I've got to start somewhere . . .

So here it goes . . .

Buenas dias from Loreto Mexico,

My name is Drew, six months of the year I live in Loreto Bay, a new development about 15 km outside the town of Loreto, in the state of Baja Sur Mexico. My reason for writing this is to share a window into what life is like, here in the Baja, for a mid-50ish semi-retired Canadian. I hope you will enjoy Living Loreto with me.

My wife, Cathy, and I were among the first buyers of property in this development almost exactly five years ago. At that time we bought chalk lines in the sand, and a dream. Now, five years later much has changed; the chalk lines have turned into a beautiful adobe home, blending the arcitectural charm of a tradional Mexican casa with most of the comforts we have become used to in our other home, in Canada. But the dream hasn't changed, just evolved, become more detailed and complex, and yes, at times, parts of it can be frustrating, and funny.

Our home (Casablanca) was finished three years ago and since then, we have been back and forth from Canada about a half a dozen times, staying for up to a month at a time, until last year at this time when we started our first "winter" here between November and April. We are now at the begining of our second winter and have seen many changes in the six months since we were here last, but much more about that in future posts.

Thinking about starting to write this blog, I recall how I became an avid reader of others like it, including "Where In The World Is Nellie?" and "Watch and Learn" while I was still living in Canada full time. I remember, many times, sitting at my computer on a wintery Monday morning reading about the weather, the cows, the streets, (and, oh yes, the parties) here in Loreto. For those few minutes, I escaped the winter day and was transported to a beautiful place between the Sierra Giganta mountains and the ever changing blues of the Sea of Cortez.

In fact, a description of the purpose of Living Loreto may not sound too different from some of those other peoples stories. I am going to try to bring you some of the people, places and experiences I have as I live and grow with this community we have chosen to spend half our life in. But the real difference is that this will be through my perspective, as one of the fortunate few who have found our way here at this time and how we are Living Loreto now, from week to week.

So with that in mind, my "target" is the future homeowner in Loreto Bay, who wants to share in some of the "juices" of life here, so as to have a better idea of what their life may be like when they too are Living Loreto. That's not to say that I don't encourage all the rest of you who may be reading this, and don't yet share that dream with the future homeowners. Perhaps your dream is just begining, and the adventure of buying and then building from your chalk in the sand is yet to come!

So, for all of you who have found this place, and have read this far, welcome, and thank you for your eyes and your time, I pledge to do my best to make our visits worth your while, and perhaps to stoke the fire under your dreams. Please bookmark me and come back to visit again soon!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An extraordinary day!

Since there is no such thing as an "ordinary" day here, I thought I would start with an extraordinary one that we experienced about a week after we arrived. While we live in Loreto Bay, this development is within another community, Nopolo, that had it's beginnings many years before Loreto Bay began. One of the residents in Nopolo are our good friends Manfred and Sheila, who built their home more than ten years ago when there were few other people living here.

Last weekend they held the First Annual Paella Cook Off at their home. This was a combined fundraising/social event that had it's beginnings this past spring while Manfred and Sheila were travelling north for the summer and met a group of motorcycle riders when they stopped at a place called Catavina, about halfway between Loreto and the Mexican/US border. As you might have guessed, these were not your typical "bikers". In fact their conversation started over a glass or two of wine, in the hotel parking lot.

It turned out that the "bikers" were in fact partners in the Roganto winery based in Ensenada, to which they were returning after their excursion down the Baja on a fleet of BMWs and Harleys. Included in their on-road support was a trailer, well stocked with cases of wine and gourmet foods, which were shared all round, later that evening, in the same hotel parking lot.

Skip forward to this fall when Manfred and Shelia were making the return trip home to Nopolo and, as promised, stopped at Roganto in Ensenada to visit their new friends. During the course of that visit, and sampling more of the fine wine, conversation naturally turned to food, and specifically paella.

Now, Shelia is a wonderful cook, and Manfred, being suitably proud of his wife's culinary talents, could be excused a little modest bragging about her skill at making THE BEST paella. This statement was immediately challenged by several of the vintners and before long plans were being made for the First Annual Loreto/Nopolo Paella Cook Off. Always ready for any excuse for a bike ride and good food and wine, a group of about twelve from the winery decided to travel the day and a half south to Nopolo, carrying with them all of the necessary equipment and supplies to enter three teams in the event. It was left up to Manfred and Sheila to organize things at this end, and recruit some local teams for the competition. Cathy and my contribution was to supply our portable PA system for the MC to use and play suitable "paella music" and take pictures of the competition and celebrations.

On the appointed day we arrived at their casa to find two of the ubiquitous "cervesa tents" shading about 150 chairs with tables in a vacant lot next door and all the preparations well under way for the six competing teams who were set up in the back yard of the house. In addition to the three teams competing from Ensenada, there were three "locals" competing; a team representing Loreto Playa and Dali Deli (two local Loreto businesses), Petite Paella with Loreto Bay employee Hector Morales with assistance from his girlfriend, and, of course, Sheila, who was also acting hostess to the party.

Mostt of the teams were using large paella pans which would hold enough food to serve at least 30 or more people and they each contributed all of their ingredients to the cause. Each pan held pounds and pounds of seafood, the finest shrimp, scallops and lobsters along with all the vegetables and rice Over 150 people attended, donating 150 pesos each for a plate to sample as much paella as they could eat, with beer and water available for purchase and liberal tastings of samples from the Roganto cellars. Fine wines were also available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds being contributed to the cause. By the end of the afternoon over $2,000 USD had been raised which was then divided between the Loreto Internado (residential) school and D.I.F. a social service agency with broad responsibilities to benefit those with the greatest needs in and around Loreto.

The Judging was handled by two serious teams of local experts, one team judging the very important presentation, which, as you can see from a few of these pictures, was a very tough competition in itself. The second team of judges had an even tougher challenge, to award the first, second and third prizes for taste, sampling only the rice from each pan, so as not to be overly influenced by morsels of the delectable seafood.

Only then, after the two teams of judges had made their rounds, were the tables of food opened to the hungry crowd that were gathered under the tents in the yard. But not to eat, yet, only to look and appreciate each unique and stunning presentation pan. Then, finally, after everyone had ooohed and aaahed their way past the proud chefs and their creations, did the feasting begin. It went on for most of the afternoon, with people going back for second and third helpings. With still more food left, the organizers sold take-away dishes that could be filled and enjoyed later at home and the last of the food disappeared.

The results of the judging? Well, I am pleased to report that one of the Roganto teams, who had travelled the furthest to be there, took home the "Presentation" award, and, Sheila who had hostessed the event was third runner-up, Hector and the Petite Paella team won second runner-up, and the Loreto Playa/Dali Deli Team was the overall winner of the First Annual Loreto/Nopolo Paella Cook Off! I can assure you that anyone who was there is already looking forward (with watering mouths) to the Second Annual, which promises to be an even bigger event!

So this was a perfect example of the sort of wonderful synergy that can happen when a group of people, Mexican, American, Canadian and others from Loreto Bay, Nopolo, the town of Loreto and other surrounding communities get together for good time, good food, and a good cause, and this is a part of the magic that happens in this wonderful place that I want to share with you as I continue my adventure of Living Loreto!