Keeping despair at bay (part 15)

Over the past eight years, I have become spoiled by the way the sun, light and colours feed my soul while I am in San Miguel. Adjusting to spending February and March in Canada this year has not been as difficult as I had thought it might be, but it has had its challenges.

As I have been relearning this week, a Canadian March can offer plenty of sun, and the days get noticeably longer on almost a daily basis – both of which I have been appreciating – but it does not provide a lot in the way of colour. Right now, the snow around my house has a somewhat used look — it’s a bit on the grubby side —  as the result of some tantalizingly warm weather last weekend, and there are patches of mud and dead grass poking through it. Not that appealing and certainly not very colourful.

Bringing the colours inside

To compensate, I have gone overboard on flowers and plants inside the house. I found the most spectacular potted hydrangeas at the Farm Boy checkout on my last grocery shopping expedition, which my partner replanted into one of our Mexican ceramic pots. They now grace our bathroom with a burst of colour that provides both of us with joy every time we look at them. And, I have not one but two vases of bright cut flowers on my desk.

Down in the basement, the promise of spring can be seen in the hollyhock seedlings my partner has started under grow lights and in the dozens of seed packets littering his workbench. It won’t be long, I tell myself, before crocuses, then daffodils and tulips will be pushing their way through the soil in our front garden and the green tips of asparagus and garlic begin to emerge in the back.

Of course, I do none of the gardening work, other than turning on the grow lights when I head to the basement for my morning bike-and-book time, so it’s easy for me to wax poetic about the beauty of the spring garden.

Engaging the senses

A quick glance through my travel journal earlier today reminded me that this week last year we booked the house we planned to be living in right now. It was a perfect house for us; in our favourite neighbourhood, enough bedrooms for visitors, an out of the way office, a decent kitchen and, best of all, a rooftop that offered a fantastic view and lots of space for relaxing, cooking, eating and, of course, sipping margaritas. That house is on the market now, for a very modest price, as is the case with many houses owned by foreigners in San Miguel. With an economy dependent on the presence of ex-pats, it’s hard to even imagine what kind of shape SMA will be in by the time the pandemic fallout has settled.

Blissfully ignoring the looming global crisis – although, truth be told, my partner was paying quite a bit of attention and preparing to break the news to me that we needed to go home soon – we spent March 5th in the Jardin, San Miguel’s central square, watching and listening to the annual Indigenous drumming and dancing festival. It was a multi-sensory experience, with the drumming making the streets vibrate,  the colours of the traditional clothing over-stimulating the eyes,  the aroma of roasting corn tickling our nostrils . . . . . Long after we were home in bed, we could feel as well as hear the drumming late into the night, and early the next morning, as the dancers prepared for another day, we were awakened by the sight and sound of fireworks.

Tickling the taste buds

We may not be in Mexico this winter, but we can recreate elements of it here. There is nothing like a bowl (or two) of my version of Tortilla Soup on a cold and dark winter evening. Here’s how I make enough for four people with leftovers for lunch the next day:

The soup

5 Tbsp. vegetable oil

2 onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 Tbsp. cumin

½ – 1 jalapeno pepper, depending on how much heat you want

6 ripe tomatoes, chopped, OR 1 26-ounce can diced tomatoes

10 cups chicken stock (homemade if possible)

2 cups shredded cooked chicken or pork

1 cup sliced chorizo

Salt and pepper

The toppings

12 tortillas, corn or flour

2 ripe avocados

3- 4 limes

3 cups grated cheese

1 jalapeno pepper

Heat vegetable oil in large heavy soup pot until almost smoking. Add onion and saute over high heat for 2 – 3 minutes, then stir in garlic and cook for another minute. Lower heat to medium, add cumin and jalapeno and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and mix, then add stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for ½ – 1 hour. Add chicken and chorizo and cook until very hot. Taste for salt and pepper, adding as needed.

While the soup is simmering, make the tortilla strips: Cut about 10 – 12 corn or flour tortillas into ½-inch strips. Fry until crispy in a small amount of hot oil, then drain on paper towels.

Serve the soup accompanied by the tortilla strips, sliced avocado, lime wedges, grated cheese, chopped jalapeno peppers and your favourite hot sauce. Breathe in the aroma and enjoy.

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