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,