Sunday, December 30, 2012

Butter, Baking & the Baja

This week it is sort of a Holiday Blog, I am giving myself the Gift of a shorter posting as it has been a busy week with my Visitors (yes, my Sister’s eyesight is much improved, thank you very much!) and more than usual activity showing homes at work, due to the increased numbers of people here for the Holidays.

But I wanted to share one small snippet from our Christmas preparation; as we were leaving La Paz following the events of last week’s posting, my Sister’s thoughts had shifted from a potential vision emergency to Christmas baking, and she told me that she would be needing several pounds of butter.  Now I had seen butter in at least one store in Loreto a day or so before, but considering the influx of visitors and the potential increased demand over the Holidays I thought it would be prudent to pick up a few pounds in a Supermarket before we left the “big city” of La Paz.

A word of explanation for those not familiar with grocery shopping in the Baja – the Spanish for butter is mantequilla, and margarine is margarina  - so far so good.  Except that mantequilla is not pure creamery butter as we know it up north, it is margarine mixed with a smaller amount of butter (less butter = lower price), and actual butter here is usually imported from the US.

 As we drove out of La Paz I stopped at “Mega” a truly enormous state-of-the-art supermarket – lots of mantequilla and margarina, but no butter.  Not to worry, there was another big Mexican clone of Walmart, Sorriana, just down the road – however, it was the same story.  My final stop was at the real Walmart at the entrance to La Paz, surely the biggest retailer in the world would have butter less than a week before Christmas (I almost felt foolish parking in the big lot and making my way into the huge store just for a few pounds of butter) – but NADA!

As we drove north to Loreto that afternoon I started to obsess over butter (Last Tango in the Baja, anyone?) and, while I still expected that I could find butter in Loreto I decided I would stop in the city of Constitucion at the Super Lay supermarket en-route – even though, being in a non-tourist Mexican town, I didn’t really expect that they would have the elusive butter.  But in my somewhat twisted view of fate and karma I figured that if I didn’t stop to check it out, I would somehow jinx myself for the last chance option back in Loreto – and I was right – still no butter!

But all’s well that is generously spread with butter, and sure enough, the next day when we went “hunting and gathering” back in Loreto the next day, my first stop was my favorite food store in Loreto, Dali Delicatessen – and, thank goodness, there in the dairy cooler were bricks and bricks of beautiful BUTTER!  Christmas was saved!  Let them eat shortbread!  My Sister could fulfill her genetic imperative – (we bought four pounds).

(The following paragraph was inserted by my Sister [now Editor?] regarding the Gourmet Magazine aspect of her hours of hard labor on my “hard Saltillo floor” standing doing the Christmas baking – but, spoiler alert, step away from the keyboard if you tend to dribble reading food-porn:) 

“And when we got home, she disappeared into the kitchen with the butter. She hand mixed butter and sugar, and out came traditional Scottish shortbread wedges topped with amber granules of brown sugar.  She hand-chopped pecans, and blended icing sugar and butter, and out came Mexican wedding cakes (of course!). She blended rolled oats and butter and simmered gloriously fresh dates into a paste, and layered date squares. She kneaded another pound of butter and flour into a soft dough, and pressed it into a pan; while it toasted golden in the oven, she coaxed a can of condensed milk to turn into dulche de leche in the microwave, and melted sticks of dark chocolate, to build a tray of Millionaire’s shortbread. Another bowl of dates was chopped with almonds into a fine paste, and rolled into crunchy truffles to dust with powdered cinnamon or cocoa. The plates and cookie tins were full, the whole house was fragrant with butter and sugar and spices, and all the butter was gone.”

On reflection, after we had all calmed down again, it occurred to me that here in little Loreto there was butter easily available (if you knew where to look) but not in three of the biggest stores in a city 10 times the size – admittedly an unusual yardstick of sophistication, but I think valid, none the less.

In any event, we had a wonderful Christmas dinner with two neighborhood couples, who both contributed to the Canadian traditional meal of Turkey with all the trimmings – and finished up with a pumpkin pie from “Ette’s Pies” and a big platter of Christmas baking – all of it loaded with BUTTER.

Appreciating the simple things in life, particularly when they are hard to find, that is one of the best parts of “Living Loreto”!