Getting Creative with Food and Grocery Shopping in the Time of Covid

The lockdown and quarantine at our home in León, Guanajuato has changed the normal rhythm of our lives since it all started back in mid-March. Thanks to Covid-19, we drastically reduced our interactions with the public, both from a fear of catching the virus and a fear of spreading it to other people. As a result, we do not go out to eat at restaurants anymore, we limit the amount of takeout meals we order, and the percentage of meals I make at home went from 50% to 99%. I had to get creative.

One of the things I had to do was find a way to get groceries without going to the grocery stores or crowded local markets. At the same time, it was important to me to try to support local businesses as much as I could. The Cornershop app has been great for getting basic groceries and cleaning supplies from the chain grocery store but I have always preferred buying meat and vegetables from local producers. Unfortunately, for right now, I’m not comfortable going to the local market where the aisles can be crowded and there are a lot of vendors packed together in the building. So I had to find alternatives.

I found a local farmer that produces wonderful cow-milk cheese, butter, cream, and goat cheese that he delivers to my house. I found a local seafood distributor whose business to local restaurants was severely reduced so he now delivers to people’s homes. The neighborhood butcher shop is small and it’s easy for me to pop in and out quickly when there is no one else around. I also found a wonderful local organic farm that delivers to my house. The farm is called Shambhala and they grow a beautiful selection of vegetables in addition to eggs, herbs, honey, and homemade tortillas, gorditas, tortilla chips, and more. We have really enjoyed the meals that I’ve made from their products. The flavors of their fresh vegetables are wonderful. In honor of fall, even though in León I can’t actually tell that it’s fall, I’ll share my recipe for a comforting carrot soup that I made for dinner using vegetables that were grown on the Shambhala Farm. I am very excited about discovering this farm and after the holidays, I will visit them to see where my vegetables come from. I will share that trip with you in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Ingredients:

1 kg carrots, chopped

3 cambray onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

3 stalks of celery, chopped

1 cup chopped broccoli

1 cup chopped cauliflower

Handful of chard, finely chopped

1 tbsp Caldo de pollo/chicken bouillon

8 cups water

Salt to taste

Saute onions and garlic in bacon grease or olive oil until fragrant. Add celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots and saute for 8 more minutes. Add the caldo de pollo and stir into sautéed vegetables. Add the water slowly at first to incorporate the caldo de pollo powder without clumping, then finish pouring the rest. Boil for 15 minutes or until the carrots are very tender. Add salt to taste (I add about 2 tsp). Use a hand mixer to blend the vegetables until the soup is smooth. Add the chard flakes and cook five more minutes. You can reserve a bit of the chard flakes as a soup topper. Enjoy!

Festival Internacional de Globos in León, Covid-style

The International Balloon Festival that takes place every November in León, Guanajuato has adapted to the Covid-19 restrictions that are in place within our state. Instead of taking place at Parque Metropolitano where the public could easily access the event, it is taking place at a private country club, El Bosque, in order to limit access. All of the morning and evening events are live-streamed for the public, but in-person access is limited to club members and their families and friends. With the change in location, the overhead views of the balloons have changed this year, but the sight of all of those balloons in the sky is still spectacular. I’m happy that the city didn’t cancel the event completely as they have canceled so many other things this year. Seeing beautifully colored balloons floating above me lightens my feeling of isolation from quarantine. I hope these happy balloons brighten your day as much as they have brightened mine. Enjoy and stay safe and healthy!

The World is Watching…. Experiencing a Contentious Election Process from Abroad

Tuesday, November 3rd, was Election Day in my home country. As an American abroad, seeing what the US looks like from another country’s perspective is eye-opening. I have felt several things over the last two years since moving to Mexico – embarrassment, horror, embarrassment, disbelief, embarrassment, disgust, embarrassment. I think you get the picture. We have friends from all over the world here – Canada, India, Japan, China, Brazil, and several European countries, in addition to our numerous friends from Mexico. Throughout our discussions with these friends, we have learned a great deal about so many different countries, their cultures, their politics, as well as how they view Americans in general. It is interesting to see our country through the eyes of someone who is not American. They judge our country based on their own set of values that they developed from growing up in their home country and various other expat experiences they may have had.

The countries that our friends come from have their own set of political or social issues, but one of the most common things we have heard was that prior to 2016, the US was seen as a beacon of democracy and an example for other countries to follow. As one European friend said, ” for any problem that occurred in the world, we looked to the US for a solution.” After 2016, however, that all changed. Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement, cutting ties with the WHO, disparaging European and North American allies, not controlling Covid-19, etc., etc., rapidly destroyed their good opinion of the US. The United States has been a world leader for decades and then suddenly stopped playing that role. To the people outside our country looking in, we look like racist and xenophobic people who embrace a leader that celebrates violence rather than working to stop it.

When we first moved here, we saw t-shirts for sale that disparaged our president. His inflammatory rhetoric about Mexico paying for a border wall predictably made people angry and disgusted. In addition, the increased random gun violence in the US these last few years in schools, churches, stores, etc., came up often in conversation. Most of our Mexican friends have never touched a gun and the idea that so many people in the US own not one, but many guns, causes them concern. But in the last several weeks, the conversations have shifted and all of the focus has been on the election and what that might mean for the US, and the world, going into the future.

Our expat and Mexican friends as well as locals like our fumigator, maid, school administrator, neighbors, etc., have all been watching the elections, waiting for the results like everyone in the US. They have hope that this election will reverse the drastic changes that have occurred in the last four years. I realize that most Americans have never left the country and have probably never talked to a foreigner in their lives. For those Americans, it is difficult to understand how the world views us and, I imagine, it is difficult to understand why we should care how the world views us. But living outside of the US, especially during such a contentious election, has made two things very clear to me. First, the world is very small and we are all interconnected, whether we realize it or not. Our ignorance of those connections does not mean that they do not exist. The rapid spread of Covid-19 should have made that extremely clear. Second, we are dependent on each other for our long-term survival, some countries more than others. We need each other and when one country such as ours falters, it has a domino effect on the other countries that depend on us. I can only hope that this election will help steer the US back on course to be a good neighbor and a good ally to the world.

Cloudy sunset in Leon, Guanajuato; Photo by Angela Grier

Small Ways We Know It’s Dia de los Muertos in Leon, Guanajuato

The large, partially open-air mall on the north side of Leon, Guanajuato, Plaza Mayor, has set up a few of their displays for Dia de los Muertos and I wanted to see them. With the number of infected people increasing in Guanajuato, we may see a return to the red stoplight status soon, but while we are still officially yellow, the mall is open and celebrating the holiday. There are designated entry and exit doors into the mall. At every entrance into the mall, there is a lane where we apply hand sanitizer and get our temperature taken, while maintaining distance from others. Everyone wears a mask inside and before entering each shop, we have to walk through a disinfectant solution, apply hand sanitizer, and in some cases, get our temperature taken again. Depending on the size of the shop, only a couple of people at a time may enter while the others must wait outside on the socially-distanced circles. Many shops that originally had multiple entrances have reduced their points of entry to only one to better control the amount of people in the store at one time. With all of these safety precautions in mind, I went to the mall for the first time since March as soon as they opened for the day. I was really concerned about exposing myself to other people who might have the virus but I really want to finish Christmas shopping early and avoid the rush that is sure to happen as we get closer to December, which would only expose me to more people. 

Plaza Mayor Dia de los Muertos display; Photo by Angela Grier

I am happy that I went. I finished most of my Christmas shopping and by getting there early, there were very few people walking around so I did not have to wait in any socially-distanced lines to enter a store. But the best part of going to the mall was to see their Dia de los Muertos displays. There were not as many as I have seen in previous years, but they are beautiful and fun. It’s just another small reminder that the celebrations this year are not happening as they usually do, but we can still celebrate our loved ones that have passed. Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

Plaza Mayor Dia de los Muertos display; Photo by Angela Grier

Dia de los Muertos in the time of the Covid-19 Pandemic

Sunrise in Leon, Guanajuato; photo by Angela Grier

It’s the time of the year we have come to love since moving to Mexico – Dia de los Muertos! We love all of the festivities surrounding this holiday – the festivals, parades, parties, bazaars – it’s all beautiful and fun. Unfortunately, we won’t see any of that this year, which makes me sad, and as a result, I haven’t felt compelled to decorate for the holiday at all. But despite how I feel about decorating and celebrating this year, everywhere we go (which, admittedly, is a very short, local list), people are still celebrating in their own quiet ways and it makes me happy to realize that. They are still celebrating the lives of their loved ones that have passed. Life goes on, just in a quieter, more subdued fashion until the worst of the pandemic is behind us. I feel so sad for the people around us who have unexpectedly added more loved ones to their altars this year because of the virus. I hope that this season can offer them some peace as they celebrate the lives of those lost loved ones. We will continue to stay at home and so I will not be posting about new travels for a while, but occasionally digging out an old trip that I did not have time previously to write about during our crazy, pre-pandemic schedule. Stay safe and continue to stay at home while making plans for your post-pandemic travel to Mexico or wherever life takes you. Feliz dia de los muertos!

Dia de los Muertos altar in the INM office; photo by Angela Grier

Pandemic Mystery in León, Mexico

Being locked down at home during a pandemic doesn’t mean there is nothing interesting happening around us. When I looked at my front door yesterday, I noticed that there was something dark brown attached to the glass on the other side of the window next to the door. It was big enough that I could see it from 30 feet away. Of course, I had to investigate. It turned out to be a very odd-looking moth. I took a lot of pictures from various angles and then proceeded to try to figure out what kind of moth it was.

When looking at the pictures I took, it has the shape of a scorpion, which makes me wonder if that is what it is trying to mimic. But when I searched for scorpion moth, I did not find anything that resembled my moth. So I then proceeded to check out moths of Mexico, which also includes several moths of North America, in general. I struck out there too. So I am posting my pictures here in the hopes that someone can identify this moth for me. I want to solve this mystery but I definitely need help from the outside world. Let me know if you know what it is! Thanks!

Adventure in an Ecuadorian Rainforest at the Huasquila Amazon Lodge

As part of our Ecuadorian adventure, we decided to visit the lowlands of Ecuador and go to the rainforest, a distant part of the rainforest that eventually leads into the famous Amazon. We decided on a short adventure that was three days and two nights. Ever since my children were toddlers, they have loved reading and learning about the Amazon rainforest, so traveling to the upper Amazon was very exciting for them. We decided to visit the Huasquila Amazon Lodge for a couple of reasons. One, we could get there exclusively by car, which was far more convenient and cheaper than having to drive to the Quito airport and take a small plane further into the rainforest. And two, it was a more reasonably-priced lodge than some of the others I had found. 

Huasquila Amazon Lodge is an eco-lodge, meaning they strive to leave a small footprint on the planet by making better choices about how they use power and get rid of waste. We were picked up from the Hacienda la Alegria in Aloag by someone from the lodge. Originally, they recommended that we use public transportation to get to the lodge, but we were not comfortable with that so we paid for someone to pick us up from the Hacienda and return us afterwards. It was well worth the money because the man that drove us spoke English and Spanish and was very knowledgeable about everything we saw along the way on this six-hour trip. It was a beautiful drive!

The reason the drive was six hours is because of the condition of part of the road that went through the cloud forest. The drive to the lodge was very scenic, but at the higher elevation, through a part of the cloud forest, there is so much water that the road had either crumbled or washed away completely in several sections. As a result, one long section of the road to Huasquila was closed all day except for two hours – one hour in the middle of the day, and one hour in the evening. If you were not in the line, ready to go when the road opened up to allow travel, then you were not going to get through. And traveling that road was a bit frightening. Water ran across the road at several points, temporary bridges were set up to allow travel across some of the swiftest waters, and on the return trip, we saw another part of the road had washed away that three days before had been there. It really looks like a losing battle for the road workers. 

Upon our safe arrival to the lodge, they fed us a very delicious dinner and then acclimated us with our surroundings. The lodge and the cabins were nestled into the surrounding forest and everywhere we looked, there were butterflies, birds, and beautiful flowers. We met our guide, a young guy named Sabino. He was an incredible guide. He spoke perfect English, was great with our children, and he was extremely knowledgeable about much of the flora and fauna that we saw during our hikes. He made the whole experience even better. Our kids, and my husband and I, were completely captivated during our hikes. There was never a dull moment, and even when the hiking became strenuous, it was so exciting, that we barely noticed. 

Our first evening at the Huasquila Lodge, we visited a small community of Quechua (Kichwa) people. They demonstrated some of their daily activities, explained some of their culture and traditions, allowed us to taste some of their food, and danced with us. We purchased some of the artisanal items they had for sale to thank them for their hospitality.

Afterwards, we went on a night hike with Sabino and saw a wide variety of animals. Unfortunately, my camera does not work well in the dark, but Sabino was kind enough to let me use his photos here to show off some of the cool creatures that we saw. 

Our only full day at the lodge was spent exploring the rainforest on a morning and an afternoon hike. Both of these hikes lasted around 4 hours, maybe a little longer. They do not have to be that long, but because my family loved to explore everything, our amazing guide took the time to explain and show us everything he could. We hiked through the river into a cave and saw whip scorpions, some of which were enormous.

We spent some time getting an invigorating massage from a powerful and cold waterfall as we stood under it.

We tasted lemon ants (chew quickly because they will bite your tongue if you do not).

We looked for fossils in the river, struggled through deep mud, and had our faces painted with natural plant dye.

At the end of our day of hiking, we made chocolate from cocoa beans and fried up some palm grubs to eat. Interestingly enough, they did not taste bad. Sadly, my children were not adventurous enough to eat the grubs. But the rest of the food at the lodge was a big hit for them and very healthy for us as well. 

We were very sad to leave the next morning.  I cannot put into words how incredibly amazing and magical this trip was. The things we learned about and the adventure that we shared is something that will stay with us for many years to come.

Things we wish we had known before going to the rainforest:

  1. Take rubber boots for the hikes! The lodge provides some to you if you do not have them but they may not have a size that will fit you. 
  2. There is a lot of water. The air is saturated with it. Your clothes and shoes will get wet during the hikes and they will not dry until after you leave, even if you hang them up, so you may want to take extra clothing or take clothing that is designed to dry more rapidly.
  3. Our cabin was at the edge of the lodge property and we were woken up the first night by something massive pounding on our door. It turned out to be someone’s horse scratching her butt on the door, but it scared us half to death at 3 AM. The horse and her baby visited again the following morning, but at a more reasonable 6:30 AM. I’m not sure if we were the only people with that experience, but I suspect those horses freely wander as they please throughout the area, so be aware. 
  4. Headlamps would be very useful during the hike through the cave. We used our phone flashlights while we hiked but that was extremely risky because we were hiking through swift water over rocks and the footing was not very stable. Losing a phone would have been very easy.
  5. It is best to have plenty of small bills on hand so that if you want to purchase something from the Kichwa, they do not have to struggle to make change (US currency is used in Ecuador). 
Horses outside our cabin. Photo by Angela Grier

If you are interested in reading about more of our Ecuador adventures, click on one of the following links:

Horseback Riding Adventure at Hacienda La Alegria

Middle of the World

Adventure in Quito, Ecuador

Mercado de Artesanias in San Miguel de Allende

If you love to shop, San Miguel de Allende has a wonderfully large market, containing a wide assortment of items for sale that showcases both Mexican art and culture. The Mercado de Artesanias in San Miguel de Allende is a colorful, winding walk through small shops and tables where products from many places throughout central Mexico are sold. You can find brightly colored pottery, glass sculptures, metal sculptures of stars and Christmas trees, original artwork from local artists, jewelry designed and created by artists in the area, pewter sculptures, and colorful fabric art.

Many of the vendors and the products seem to change periodically, so if you see artwork that you like, you should probably get it when you see it because you will likely never see it again. 

The market is a short walk from the city center where the large, famous cathedral, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, is located. One can easily enter and exit the mercado at different points because a couple of roads intersect the path that it follows. 

An entrance into the Mercado de Artesanias. Photo by Angela Grier

As you walk through the markets, there are small nooks or alleys that look like they might be part of the market. They are! There are several “hidden” shops that are off the main path that also have beautiful things for sale.

Looking down a small offshoot of the Mercado de Artesanias. Photo by Angela Grier

The vendors throughout the mercado are very friendly and many of them speak English, so if speaking Spanish is difficult, shopping here should present few problems. It is well worth the time it takes to wander through at a slow pace to take everything in and stop in all of the little shops along the way. You never know what fun treasures you might find.

Under Quarantine in León, Guanajuato, Mexico

Fe (meaning faith) is written on the side of a tower during the covid-19 pandemic in León, Guanajuato, Mexico.

We are pretty far from home right now, which makes me feel a little uncertain. But this silent message, “Fe (meaning faith),” on one of the towers in our neighborhood reminds me that we are all in this together, no matter where we are in the world. Now that Mexico has moved into phase 3 of the pandemic, our city has enacted much stricter lockdown rules effective tomorrow, April 27th, and threatened sanctions for people that violate those rules. The biggest change is that only one person may leave the house and that person must be wearing a mask and gloves in public spaces. The number of reported cases and deaths in the whole country is still pretty low compared to the US, so I’m hopeful that these measures will help slow the infection rate. In the meantime, we are staying at home with our newly-adopted stray kitten, Corona. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay sane, my friends.

Our stray kitten, adopted during the Covid-19 quarantine, named Corona.

Mariposas in Michoacan

The Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Michoacan is AMAZING!!!! Being surrounded by all of the butterflies is a very magical and spiritual experience.

Monarch butterflies flit everywhere once the sun comes up. Video by Angela Grier.

There are so many of them, they weigh down the branches of the fir trees.

Monarch butterflies rest on the trees, waiting for their wings to warm up. Video by Angela Grier.

As the sun rises, the butterflies start to move more and more until they fill the sky.

Slow-motion video of the butterflies. Video by Angela Grier.

My pictures and videos cannot show how incredible this experience was in person. I highly, highly recommend visiting this place at least once in your life.

Monarch butterflies. Photo by Angela Grier.