Monday, March 23, 2020

carless in barra

When I dropped off my car last week with Cruz, body shop guy par excellence, he was quite clear that he did not know when my car would be repaired until he started looking at parts. 

Car accidents are a bit brain surgery. You cannot know the damage until you open up.

He had mentioned the possibility that my Escape might be ready on Saturday. Since I had not heard from him by Saturday afternoon, I did not bother walking the two miles to his shop. It also gave me an opportunity to give the impression that I am self-isolating by not leaving my house.

This morning the telephone rang just as I was getting ready to leave the house. The call was from Cruz. He told me each layer of broken parts he has removed reveals additional shards.

I did not need a translation for the subtext. More pesos were about to swap hands.

When I arrived at the shop, the car was still there. But it was now stripped of an additional layer of parts. It looked like a well-planned archaeological dig. What was showing appeared to have been on the losing end of a ballpeen hammer.

Cruz said he needed to ordered another part for the front-end. So, I handed over 14,000 pesos. He was not certain when the part would be here. Like most things automotive, it had to be shipped from Guadalajara.

So, I will wait for the next call.

It was nice to step outside of my house walls for a walk -- and a brief conversation with another person. I was not too surprised to see that there is still a lot of traffic on the road to Barra and there were about the normal number of shoppers in our neighborhood shopping district.

While I was walking home, I decided I would make carne con chili for dinner. Not chile con carne -- even though I do like it. They are related.

Carne con chili is just what it sounds like. Meat cooked with chilies. It appears that it was originally cooked by Mexican women in southern Texas using cheap cuts of meat and spicing them up with a salsa. The Texans then revised the dish as a Tex-Mex standard -- and started a beans-or-no-beans culinary dispute that rages to this day.

Like most rustic foods, there is no truly authentic recipe. It is like potato salad. Everybody's mom makes the best. So it is with carne con chili. And like all rustic foods, it lends itself to fusionists -- like me.

The dish is usually cooked with large chunks of beef. What northerners call stew meat. I prefer mine cooked with thin-sliced bola.

I picked up some grocery items across the street from the butcher. It was my first encounter here with shop workers dressed in masks and plastic gloves. They could have been hard at work in a Tokyo sushi shop.

It is a simple meal to make. I bare-grilled my serranos, garlic, onion, and tomatoes, and then chopped them up while I fried up some bacon for its grease.

When the grease was rendered, I sautéed cilantro and cumin seeds until they were toasted, and then added the dry-grilled vegetables I had chopped up. When the vegetables were soft, I added some beef broth, a can of chipotles, and a large dollop of oregano, cumin, and cardamom, and let the mixture simmer while I separately grilled the beef. Each piece took less than 10 seconds to cook.

When the flavors of the chili mixture had melded, I blended it into a smooth salsa with an immersion blender, and then added the beef and bacon. A little rice vinegar topped it off.

I had never used bacon in any of my prior versions of this dish. It did not quite work as I expected. The bacon's texture fights with the soft tenderness of the beef. But the bacon grease did add a new layer to the dish.

It has not been a bad day. I did get to see what was happening outside my gates, and I brought back the makings for a passable dinner.

The number of neighbors coming to my door for money because they are not working has increased. Even during good times, they come. But, in the last few days, people are starting to come to grips with the huge economic damage that will be caused by the coronavirus -- even before its full effects are felt in Mexico.

That thought made me realize just how inconsequential my car is right now. And will be -- for some time.

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