Fresh from two weeks of sciatica’s debilitating influence, it is a novel experience for me to be able to walk to the kitchen, let alone to work in it. I enter the kitchen this morning armed with two tennis balls in a sock tied off at each end. Whenever my back wears out, I position the balls on either side of my spine and press against the wall, pushing the tennis balls against the sore spots. One yoga friend says to roll them up and down. Another says to press in one spot for 30 seconds before moving on. I alter my technique, and it seems to work.
I’m trying to build up my stamina for the visit of my twentyish grand-nephew, freshly graduated from college and coming in six days for a big Mexican adventure. I’ve planned a one-day trip around the 60 mile long lake I live on to see the thousands of white pelicans that congregate around the local fishery. That day will be mainly driving. No problem. A four-day trip to Guanajuato has me more worried, but I’ve resorted to booking us places with a small tour group, with guide, to see the Diego Rivera museum, the mummy museum, gardens, haciendas and a dozen other pleasures of the colonial town that is one of the few Mexican towns designated as a puebla Magica—a beautifully preserved town of a bygone era. I figure with 15 compadres, I can always flake out and send him on with the group.
In another excursion, we are visiting the round pyramids an hour and a half distant from my house as well as a few haciendas, and for that occasion, I’m hiring the son of a friend to drive us so my nephew will have someone younger to scramble around with. I look back in my albums and see the tallest pyramid in Sri Lanka that in my twenties I climbed to the very top of, think of the twelve-mile trek through the jungle and mountains in Portuguese Timor and remember that even then such long walks tested my endurance, but now I worry about holding him back and so I plan adventures with younger friends to accompany us. I hope it works.
I’d been trying to exercise my back by scrubbing algae from the pool and trimming in the garden, but then last night, a friend called to invite me to a pot luck this afternoon so all morning long, I have been creating a commotion in the kitchen, cooking what I thought was going to be an easy solution to tonight’s pot luck at the clubhouse. I soaked beans overnight, but even pre-soaked, they have been cooking for four five hours and are not done. I’ve refilled the water four times, once after scorching the bottom layer and having to transfer the beans to a colander and another pot.
I thought I’d be fancy and make American pork and beans from scratch, thinking it was a mere matter of adding ketchup, mustard, brown sugar and bacon, but after consulting the internet, it has turned into an 11-ingredient process with much chopping, frying and mixing, not to mention trying to locate all the ingredients (or near-substitutes) in my packed kitchen shelves and fridge. Luckily, on a whim, I bought bacon yesterday. Not a staple in my house. I didn’t buy fresh salad ingredients because I’ve found that cabbage, once shredded, goes bad quickly, but when my friend called last night to invite me to today’s pot luck, I was sorry I hadn’t. It would have been an easy solution to my problem. What did I have to make a pot luck addition that wouldn’t necessitate a trip to town? They were always overly loaded with desserts, so that was not a solution. When I found the bag of white beans I thought I’d solved my problem, but after being in the kitchen all morning, I find it was not a very novel solution to the problem. Two and a half more hours until they have to be done enough to bake in the oven with the other ingredients added for 45 minutes.
Fingers crossed, twin tennis balls pressing into my back between my spine and my new desk chair, I finally have time to work on my blog. As a last resort, I may have to make a mad dash into town to purchase two cans of cooked beans, but it will break my heart—transform the richness of my pork and beans from scratch into a poverty of fast-food making-do.
I go to check the beans for the dozenth time since 8 this morning and when I give Yolanda a taste, she proclaims them done, but suggests a bit of salt. Remembering that I’m cooking for other people, I mind her, in spite of the fact that I haven’t used salt in two years since I discovered my blood pressure was sky high.
I add the beans to the other 10 ingredients, only to discover that after first swelling up to twice their size, they’ve now cooked down so much that they only half fill my large casserole. I try graduated sizes of casseroles and baking dishes until I finally find the Baby Bear casserole that is “just right.” But now my contribution to the pot luck looks so skimpy. As I put it in the fridge to await the time when I put it in the oven for its final 45 minutes just before the pot luck, I catch site of the bag of precooked Mexican refried beans on the shelf above it. Just the slightest suggestion of a temptation to add them to swell out the beans flashes through my mind, but my puritan ancestors tug me in another direction as I shut the fridge door.
It is 2:15. If I put them in the oven with bacon on the top at four o’clock, it should be just right. I set my alarm to remind me preheat the oven at three o’clock. With a Mexican oven, a thermostat, I have found, is not a true gauge but an approximation. I have two real thermostats purchased at a kitchen shop in the states that I hang on the oven racks to provide a truer gauge, but unfortunately, they always register about 10 degrees difference in different parts of the oven, so baking here is always a bit of a lottery. Your number might be the correct one or it might not.
After washing three pots, four casseroles, measuring spoons, spatulas, tasting spoons, measuring cups, mixing bowl and two large dutch ovens, I sit back down in my desk chair to finally begin my blog. My back twinges a bit and I adjust my sock full of balls. Tennis, anyone????
The final product, which I must admit doesn’t look like a 5 hour project.
I should have followed directions and bought cans of beans but hey, I thought I’d be a do-it-myself sort of girl.
Annie can’t figure out why with all this time and activity in the kitchen she hasn’t been fed her second breakfast yet.
Underneath this seemingly reasonable grouping of pots is about seven other pots, pans, casseroles and mixing bowls.
The final result, short of the final 45 minute visit to the oven, look a bit puny, doesn’t it?
Ironic that this envelope of prepared frijoles refritos is on the shelf right above my labor of love. Who wouldn’t be tempted to mix them into rest to swell its size? I resisited.
Tennis, anyone? I’ll play singles.
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Today’s words were novel, commotion, poverty, debilitate.
Today’s links, in case you want to follow one or all of the same prompts, are below: