Thursday, August 7, 2008

To Each Her Own San Pancho

Seven years ago, when we first had houseguests in San Pancho, I wanted them to enjoy the same things I do about the town. I hoped they’d share my enthusiasm for ranchera music, sidewalk taco stands, and walks in the jungle. I wanted them to be interested in Mexican folk art and history, and to think it was fun to learn Spanish. Not surprisingly, it hasn’t always worked out like that. Our guests have appreciated San Pancho in their own unique ways.

When my 74-year old aunt Nancy visited us she was having problems with memory loss. She was aware of the loss, and it frustrated her. Earlier in her life she had lived in foreign countries and traveled widely, but now a new setting confused her. Our housekeeper’s name, the location of our street -- she struggled to remember, but she just couldn’t. Skip and I tried to make her visit interesting -- we didn’t think with much success -- until the morning we decided to make hot chocolate the old-fashioned Mexican way.

These days hot chocolate is usually made in a blender so it still has the essential foamy topping. But the traditional way is with a molinillo, a hand-carved wooden utensil that looks to me like a child’s top. We had a molinillo on hand, and we wanted to be authentically Mexican, but we had no idea how to use the thing.

Joaquina, our long-time housekeeper, stepped in and gave us a lesson. She and Nancy dissolved disks of Abuelita chocolate -- they look like hockey pucks -- in heated milk. Then Joaquina demonstrated how to rotate the molinillo between the palms of her hands to make the froth on top, the finishing touch. An accomplished cook, Nancy jumped right in and stirred up a batch of hot chocolate. “Molinillos and Abuelita will be the perfect gifts to take home to my kids,” she said. “We’ve got to go shopping.” Language barriers, Joaquina’s deafness, Nancy’s discomfort in a strange place--a lot of things could have gotten in the way that morning, but they didn’t.

Having had a lot of houseguests, I’ve figured out that some people like what I like, and some don’t. Some immerse themselves in the life of the town. Others want to bask in the pool, drink a few margaritas, and catch up on naps. And sometimes guests open my eyes to the small joys -- like making hot chocolate with a molinillo -- of living in Mexico.

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