Making Pizza in Colima

Have you ever inhaled a pleasing aroma and it brought back wonderful memories of your childhood or a pleasant event? In addition, have you ever had a craving for a favorite food? When you are in a foreign land that has a very different cuisine, that is bound to happen. Initially for me, I greatly missed lemons and lemon juice, since everything here is flavored with limes. I also missed bagels, lox and cream cheese, so when I last visited my son, he made sure to take me to a deli where I could have them.

Eventually, you get used to the new flavors of your new country of residence, but at times you still wish for “a taste of home.” Since I am from New York, I can understand why we have so many ethnic neighborhoods with their tasty and varied cuisines, such as Indian, Chinese, Italian, Dominican, Afghan and many, many more.

Over time, you get used to the new foods and flavors – though for me it is still difficult to physically tolerate picante/enchiloso food, seasoned with chilis. In any case, I recently had a craving for pizza, and before I go any further I have to describe pizza in Mexico.

Here in Colima, I have seen two pizza establishments, Little Caesar’s and Benedetti’s. I don’t know about the rest of Mexico, but here everyone likes those pizzas with either pepperoni or ham and pineapple. In addition, once they have their slices, they cover them with ketchup and chimichurri sauce. Chimichurri is composed of garlic, peppers, cilantro, parsley, olive oil and salt. I’ll just say it’s okay and leave it at that.

Lourdes’ daughter Nadia made some pizza from scratch, but didn’t like how the crust tasted, so I told her I would ask my son for a recipe, which I did, and then one day we had “pizza day” and made our pizza, which came out pretty good.

Sometimes products available in your home country are not available in your current place of residence, and this is what I was faced with here. My son said if you are going to use bottled sauce, you should use marinara sauce. Well, there is no marinara sauce in Colima, so I settled on Prego brand Tradicional and Prego brand Pizza Sauce. Second problem was onion powder. Besides an abundance of fresh garlic and onions, and dried garlic in every configuration you can think of, such as garlic powder, garlic salt and dried chunks of garlic, there is a definite lack of the equivalent when it comes to onions. As a seasoning, garlic is much more popular here. So I searched through several stores and finally came across onion powder in a very large container. So now I have enough onion powder to probably last me the rest of my life.

So Nadia, her husband Gustavo and I set to work making the sauce, mincing garlic cloves and onion, adding spices to taste and letting it simmer. While it was simmering, we started on the pasta. My son told me he buys the pizza dough already made into balls of dough at the supermarket. Not available here. So he directed me to a web site named “sugarspunrun” and I copied the recipe that was called “The Best Pizza Dough Recipe” and had 5 stars and good reviews. My son also told me it is better if you add a little honey to it. We mixed the dough, put it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and set in on a stool in the sun to rise – it’s currently in the 80 degree range Fahrenheit here during the day (26.7 Celsius) so it only took a half hour to double in size.

We then spread out the dough with our fingers, ladled out the sauce, sprinkled imitation mozzarella cheese (no real mozzarella available at this time) and then topped it all off with pepperoni and ham slices. Popped it in the oven, and the flavor was good, but it needed a thinner crust and not so much sauce. So we made a second pizza and it came out much, much better. Everyone LOVED it and no one even put ketchup or chimichurri on it. YAAAYYYY!!!!!

The other day, I bought a bunch of plum tomatoes and decided to make the sauce from scratch. Sautéed minced garlic and onions, added diced tomatoes and put the whole thing over a low flame for I-don’t-remember-how-long. Seasoned to my taste and then blended it with an immersion blender. Since I want to eat healthy, I now use it as a sauce for my steamed vegetables.

And that is my latest adventure in adapting local produce to my taste. As for the lemons mentioned at the beginning, they were occasionally obtainable in Colima City, and now we see them more frequently. So I buy maybe 10 or 20 of them when available and squeeze and freeze the juice so I don’t run out.

So, wherever you are, I hope you will try and come to love the local cuisine, but when you get nostalgic for something from home, there are ways to prepare a familiar dish that is exactly or close to the original (though I still haven’t managed to find anything close to Stouffer’s Frozen Macaroni and Cheese, which is my comfort food when I am recovering from a migraine headache. If anyone can send me a recipe for that, I will be ETERNALLY grateful….).

So, see you next time and ¡Buen Provecho! and Bon Appétit!

Pandemic Life in Mexico – Year #2

Hello once again from my home in Mexico. It has been many months since my last post and honestly, I had been at a loss as to if I should write and what I should write about. There has been so much suffering around the world with the pandemic – sickness, death, loss of jobs, horrific weather, schools and businesses closing; I didn’t feel it was right to post cheery travel blogs nor did I want to write about the misery.

In addition, there were the elections in the United States. It seemed to bring out the worst in many people, especially on social media where people who didn’t even know each other felt free to hurl venom at those with whom they didn’t agree, which led me to finally take a break from social media, which I mostly continue to do today with Facebook and the comments sections of online articles. However, I did do my part by phone banking to assist Americans living abroad to vote, assessing their status and giving them information that they would need to register to vote, obtain their ballot and submit their ballot. So even in the midst of a pandemic and restrictions, I was able to be a part of a wonderful group of people that helped Americans abroad exercise their right to vote.

As some of you may or may not know, I am also a member of Rotary International – a worldwide volunteer service organization. My club has members from many countries around the world and we meet online, in the same manner in which I attended University when I went back to finally earn my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (graduating at the age of 61 I might add). My club posts our meeting on Monday mornings and we attend at our convenience before the following Sunday night. We pay online and post comments at the end of the meeting. Back in New York, I was a member of what we call a “terra club” where we would meet in person at a set time, but here there are no terra clubs nearby, so I joined what we call “an E club.” It took some getting used to, and at first I missed the in-person camaraderie, but now I have adjusted and am perfectly happy to be able to attend at a time that is convenient for me.

Every year, Rotary has an international convention in a different country every year. Last year’s venue was in Hawaii and this year’s was to be Taipei, but due to the pandemic, both were cancelled, with the convention being held virtually. I hope that they will continue this practice, or at least have a virtual component to it when we can travel again. It would be nice to be able to attend from home for those who are unable or don’t wish to travel every year.

Because I am a retired nurse, I also joined one of our Fellowships for healthcare professionals. It is wonderful to be able to converse with other healthcare professionals around the world, plan projects, learn what is happening in other parts of the globe and have educational conferences. We have had many lectures about Covid-19 since this started and are also involved in other aspects of medicine, such as telehealth, maternal/child care, pediatric heart procedures, etc. Even though I am retired, it is a great way to still be involved in the medical profession and do good in the world.

Meanwhile, here in Mexico, vaccines are being distributed. I had read in the news about various different vaccines being sent to Mexico, including the Russian Sputnik V. After reading about the various brands, I decided that I would take whatever is offered. From what I have read and heard, I believe the brand delivered must vary from state to state. Here in Colima, the healthcare workers are receiving the Pfizer vaccine and the rest of us are receiving AstraZeneca. We had a clinic in the village in which those of us 60 years old and older received our first dose, with the second dose arriving in somewhere between 8-15 weeks. From what I’ve read, the second dose is more effective if given after 12 weeks, so I hope that second shipment arrives after the 12-week mark.

Mexico is using a stoplight system to let people know how severe our pandemic restrictions are at the moment. Currently there are two states that are green, with many others (including Colima) being yellow. Within our village, we have to wear masks outdoors, no celebrations such as for Christmas, Easter, quinceañeras, funerals, etc. However, except for those celebrations, my village is usually pretty quiet anyway. There is plenty of open space here; I think it is quite different for people who live in apartments in major cities, making their lives much more difficult and stressful.

The nearest city is Colima (same as the state, kind of like New York, New York), about 20 km away, 40 minutes by car and one hour or more by bus. Some of the stores allow me in after a temperature check, hand gel, stand on a mat with disinfectant and wear a mask. Some of the stores there will only allow anyone 60+years old, those under 12 years old or pregnant women to enter between the hours of 7am-10am with the same other restrictions (temperature check, etc.). When I went to Toyota the other day for routine maintenance, I was only allowed to enter the dealership alone – no companions allowed.

Regarding school, classes are online only, at least in my area. Fortunately for the grandsons of my friend Lourdes, the teacher has many activities to keep the boys (8 and 10 years old) interested besides the usual studying, reading and writing – such as art projects.

Also regarding education, I have kept in touch with the two students I sponsor at Project Amigo, our local literacy project. We talk with each other by email, and the project has also helped them with care packages of food and cash. They are a little stressed at not being in school and seeing their friends, etc., but are adjusting. Hopefully by the end of the year, or sooner, they will be able to go back to their physical school. I am happy that I live here, just a few streets over from the main office of the project, so that I can stop by, speak with the administrators and find out ways that I can be of help.

On another note, recently we were in the path of the International Space Station and were able to watch it fly overhead – an amazing sight that lasted for 5 minutes. This coming Sunday, it will pass overhead again and Lourdes, her family and I will view it from her backyard. In the meantime, I have shared online videos with them – interviews with astronauts, view of space and the space station, etc. It’s easy to find these videos on YouTube narrated or dubbed in Spanish. Hopefully one day in the not-too-distant future we will visit a planetarium. I see online there is one in Guadalajara, which is only 3 hours away. It will certainly be a nice post-pandemic trip.

So – that is about it for now. Life goes on, we adjust and continue to maintain precautions and with the arrival and distribution of the vaccines, hopefully this pandemic won’t last too much longer and life will continue with fewer restrictions. Meanwhile, I present you with a video about my state of Colima, Mexico and a photo from my kitchen of flowers I received from Lourdes and her family for Valentines’ Day, or as we call it Día de Amistad y Amor (Day of Friendship and Love)

Take care everyone – I hope you stay safe and healthy and have access to all the services that you need.