31 December 2008

Do you want to be a Frugalista?

Okay, we're getting down to the wire and I still haven't made my new year's resolutions. I have to do something fast. I decided to look at last years resolutions to see how I did? Wow! What a disaster that was. I think I need to “borrar y cuenta nueva” (erase and start over). I thought perhaps I would look for something futuristic to go along with Barak Obama's theme of “time for a change”. I noticed that the New Oxford Dictionary had among its new words for 2009, the word “frugalista”. A “frugalista” is a person who leads a frugal lifestyle, but stays fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying second-hand items, and growing his (or her) own food. Let me see...that conjures up phrases like:

Waste not, want not.
A penny saved is a penny earned.
A stitch in time saves nine.
Penny wise and pound foolish.
Always hoe to the end of the row.
Take up a notch in your belt.

I just don't think I want to be that frugal. I want to be careful, yes, but not overly frugal. In Mexico they just come right out and call a really frugal person “cheap”. They say that a person is “codo” which means “stingy”. I believe it is related to the word “codicioso” (coh-dee-see-OH-soh) which means “greedy”. To say to another person that they are cheap or stingy all you have to do is point at your elbow which is also called a “codo” in Spanish. Hey, I want to be careful with my pesos but I also want to keep them in circulation so that nobody gives me the elbow. “Frugalista” is just too futuristic and politically correct for me to adopt as a resolution.

After thinking about it for awhile the future just didn't seem to be working out so I decided to look to the past. After all, January is named after the Roman god Janus who had two faces, one looking to the future and one looking to the past. I decided to think of some words that I hadn't heard in a long, long time and I came up with two of them. One of them is “stoopnagle” and the other one is “goolsticker”. My mother used to use the word “stoopnagle” when I was a kid as in “Bobby, don't be such a stoopnagle”. The way she pronounced it I thought that she was saying “stoopnaygo” and I thought perhaps that it was a Polish word that meant “jerk”. It turns out that it came from a popular radio program in the 1930's called “Stoopnagle and Budd”. A man named Frederick Chase Taylor played a character named Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagel who was always doing goofy things and the word “stoopnagle” came to be synonymous with “goof ball” or “dim wit”. The word “goolsticker” comes from a children's game that we used to play in the 1950's. The “gool” part was actually an earlier form of the word for “goal” and thus a “goolsticker” was someone who never ventured out and left the safety of the goal and tended to stay put all the time, refusing to risk the status quo in search of fame and glory.

There you have it folks. I am hereby resolved to be neither a stoopnagle nor a goolsticker in 2009 and you have my word on that. If you find my actions to the contrary then you are authorized to give me either a verbal lashing or a good swift kick in the pants. I am sure that Mother would approve. See you next year...oh, and one more thing...

I send these words and an “abrazo” (hug) across time and space to each and every one of you:

Happy New Year and may the Dear Lord bless you and keep you healthy, happy, and solvent.

30 December 2008

Kielbasa, Jalapeño, and the Essence of Life

I love living in Mexico. This country is now my home and I have no desire to live anywhere else. There are very few things that I miss about living in the United States except for things like Kielbasa (Polish sausage), sour kraut, and kosher dill pickles. The other day I found all three in a supermarket in León. Thanks to Almighty God and Globalization my life is now almost complete. “What?”, I hear you say. “What do you mean by 'almost' complete?”. Well, if I could just find a loaf of that nice Chicago Augusta rye bread with the shiny hard crust and the caraway seeds then my life would be truly complete...I think. Hmmm, just now thinking about it perhaps there are also a few other things but in any case the first three items will do for now. I am going to eat Polish sausage and sour kraut on New Years Eve in memory of "Auld Lang Syne" or as we say in modern English, in memory of “days gone by". There is only one catch. As you can see in the photo below the label on the Kielbasa says:

“Salchicha Ahumada Tipo Polaca Con Chile Jalapeño”
Polish Style Smoked Sausage With Chili Jalapeño

That's okay. Bring it on. There is poetic justice in that. Kielbasa and Jalapeño are the boiled down essence of my life. After all...I'm a Chicago boy of Polish heritage living in Mexico.

Click on photo to enlarge.

29 December 2008

Going to Dreamland with Elvis

I read in the news that the oldest man in the United States has died in California at the age of 112. His name was George Rene Francis (may he rest in peace). That paves the way for the next oldest man, Walter Breuning of Montana to take his place as the oldest man. Walter is also 112 but is a few days shy of Francis. America's oldest woman is 114-year-old Gertrude Baines of Los Angeles. There is one thing that I don't think that I am going to have to worry about and that is being the oldest man. Besides, that would be too much pressure for me. I would probably die of anxiety just thinking about it. I can just imagine sitting there at number two position and hoping that I didn't die before number one kicked the pail. That sure is a tough way to get your fifteen minutes of fame. I guess you really have to be patient.

At lunch time today I decided to take a walk to shake down some of that Christmas turkey that I ate too much of. It was a nice warm sunny day and I walked along the railroad tracks near where I work. I was thinking about George and Walter and Gertrude when I passed a boxcar that had both doors open and on the other side I saw another boxcar that carried the following stencil (in Spanish) which you can also see in the photograph below:



R 90

Translated that means “Last trip to its owners Rule 90”. This means that according to Rule 90 of the railroad interchange rules this boxcar has come to the end of its useful life of forty years and is being sent home to be cut up for scrap. The scrap metal will be sent to the steel mill to be turned into new steel and the boxcar will eventually be resurrected as a bunch of new toasters, or a city bus, or even part of the cruise ship that you take your next vacation on. If a boxcar can be resurrected and receive a new life then it is reasonable to assume that we can too. I am thinking that maybe when I get to Heaven I can be a movie actor or even a rock and roll singer like Elvis. Hey, I wonder how he is doing up there. Do you suppose he is only singing Gospel music or do you suppose that God lets him cut loose every once in awhile to shake things up a bit? I think that with a little adjustment the sign on the boxcar would make a good epitaph. Instead of “Ultimo viaje a sus dueños” it should read “Ultimo viaje a sus sueños” or “Last trip to his dreams”. That is my prayer for George Rene Francis...that he is now in the land of his dreams. I'll see you in dreamland, George.

Click on photo to enlarge.

27 December 2008

December Fool's Day

December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It is the day that commemorates the death of the little boys who were slain by King Herod in an attempt to assassinate the Christ Child. This event is described in the Gospel of Matthew in Mathew 2:13-16. It talks about King Herod ordering the execution of all young male children under the age of two in the village of Bethlehem, after the Magi or “Three Kings” announced to him the impending birth of the "King of the Jews." The Magi were supposed to return to Herod and tell him where they found this newborn king so that supposedly he could go and worship Him also. However , God warned the Magi in a dream and they tricked Herod and did not return home through Jerusalem. That is when an Angel also warned Joseph and he took Mary and the little baby an fled to Egypt to avoid Herod's clutches.

On this day in Mexico and many other Spanish speaking countries people pull practical jokes on each other. It is equivalent to the U.S. version of April Fools Day. You must not believe anything that other people say, nor let them borrow any amount of money. The tradition is that money borrowed on this day doesn't have to be repaid. If you fall victim of the joke, the person pulling the joke will say, “Inocente palomita que te dejaste engañar” or “Innocent little dove how you've let yourself be fooled”. This is the short version of a little verse that goes:

“Inocente Palomita
Que te dejaste engañar
Sabiendo que en este día
Nada se debe prestar.”

Innocent little dove
How you've let yourself be fooled
Knowing that on this day
You should lend nothing.

26 December 2008

Señor Jordan

I just discovered a blog for people who want to learn Spanish that is one of the best that I have seen so far. It is called “Señor Jordan’s Spanish Video Blog”. It utilizes a series of YouTube type videos in which a very talented young man present some very well thought out and well executed Spanish lessons. It is completely free and there are no strings attached. I strongly suggest that those of you out there who feel the need to learn Spanish take advantage of this opportunity because this material is equal to or better than anything you might find in a formal class. It might even be of help those of us who already think we know it all (Ahem!). The videos cover the basics and proceed to intermediate levels with more lessons being added all the time. I really applaud this young man and his efforts to help English speakers communicate in Spanish. Of course, he can't do everything for us. We still have to study vocabulary, common phrases, and idiomatic expressions but this guy can really help us over some of the rough spots. Now let's get going!


25 December 2008

El Pavo de Navidad

Christmas in México is full of surprises and this Christmas was no exception. This year I ate the most fabulous turkey dinner that I have ever eaten in my life (with apologies to my mother and my grandmother). When I first came to México it was fairly rare to find a turkey for roasting in the markets or the supermarkets. Every year it seems like more and more things are becoming readily available. My wife Gina found a fifteen and a half pound frozen “pavo ahumado” or “smoked turkey” at the Soriana supermarket for 378 pesos. She had heard about injecting a smoked turkey with wine so she went to the pharmacy and told the pharmacist that she wanted to buy a “jeringa” (hair-EENG-ah) or “syringe”. The pharmacist asked her what size she wanted and she told him that she didn't know. He then asked her what she was going to do with it and she told him that she was going to “inyectar un pavo” or “inject a turkey”. In Mexico that's all there is to it. No other questions asked. He sold her a 10 milliliter syringe with a .8 millimeter diameter needle. After she defrosted the turkey she took the syringe and injected the turkey with about a half liter of white wine until every bit of turkey flesh was soused. She put the turkey in a big roasting pan with a lid that she had borrowed from her mother, rubbed it with olive oil, and put it in the oven at 400 degrees for about three and a half hours. Then she just shut off the oven and let the turkey cool down very slowly until it was time to serve it. Wow! It was so good that it exceeded everyone's expectations, even those of my mother-in-law Carmelita. I am very proud of Gina and I am already looking for my next drunken turkey...burp. ¡Perdón!

24 December 2008

Señora Santa Claus

Every year on December 24th my wife Gina thinks that she is Señora Santa Claus. Below is a picture of the trunk of her car.

And I heard her exclaim as she drove out of sight,

Feliz Navidad y buenas noches a todos...
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

23 December 2008

Through the eye of a needle...

If you spend much time in Mexico you will see some wonderful things...things that you can hardly believe are possible. I am always amazed by some of the miniature dioramas like those of the Nativity Scene that are so small that they are contained in a nut shell. However, after seeing the video below I think there is no limit to what people can do no matter where they are. There is a man named Willard Wigan in England who makes tiny dioramas so small that they fit into the eye of a needle. I am truly humbled. You will be too!

21 December 2008

Orange Cookies and Fruit Flies

My friend and fellow blogger Bliss recently wrote about baking cookies for Christmas. For some reason or other this triggered a memory of my mother and one of her cookie baking experiences. My mother was always a positive thinking, forward looking, happy-go-lucky person with a perpetual twinkle in her eye and she was fond of playing practical jokes every now and then. One time my father was explaining to us how they used to play practical jokes in the military and about how one of the most popular jokes was "short sheeting" each others beds. To "short sheet" a bed you tuck the top sheet under the mattress at the top of the bed and then double it over so that when a person tries to get into bed their feet are stopped halfway down the bed by the fold in the doubled over sheet. Yes, you guessed it. When my father tried to get into bed that night he found that it was short sheeted. Poor Dad, he was often the target of Ma's jokes and of course all of us kids thought it was hysterical. One time Ma put some over ripe fruit on the back porch and then waited until it had fruit flies. She then captured the fruit flies in a little net and put the fruit flies in my Dad's lunch box just as she was closing the lid. At lunch time Dad would open the lunch box and fruit flies would fly out and the other workers began to joke about it. Finally after three or four days of this my Dad brought up the subject at the supper table and all of us kids burst out laughing because we were all in on it. He knew right then that he had been the victim of another of Ma's tricks. Fortunately our Dad was a good natured sort who was fond of pulling his own pranks once in awhile.

One day my sister Suzy decided she would try playing a trick on our mother. She noticed that she had the same style of handwriting that Ma did and with a little practice she was able to duplicate Ma's handwriting. Ma loved to cook and bake and she had a file box full of recipes that she had collected over the years. Suzy decided to make up some recipes and sneak them into the recipe box to see Ma's reaction. The problem is that the plan backfired. One of the fake recipes was an imaginary recipe for "Mexican Orange Cookies". My sister tried to make it as realistic as possible by copying parts of other cookie recipes but she also threw in some odd ingredients. Our mother was always trying to make something new and different so one day she stumbled upon this recipe and tried to make it. She was just taking the cookies out of the oven as we came home from school and I tried one of them. It was terrible. Seeing the face that I had made Ma tried one herself and became very quiet and obviously very frustrated that the cookies had turned out so bad. My sister Suzy seeing how sad the ruined cookies made our mother started to cry from remorse and the story came out. She confessed to the Mexican Orange Cookies and to several other fake recipes. Our mother quickly forgave Suzy for telling the truth but I was not so ready to forgive her. After all, I had been cheated out of a nice batch of cookies. Just for the sake of curiosity I typed in "Mexican Orange Cookies" on Google and found out that there are oodles of recipes for cookies under this name. Too bad Suzy didn't get it right. I'll bet that Ma's cookies would have been the best!


20 December 2008

Erase and start over...

This time of year when the days grow shorter and shorter I always seem to get a little depressed. I suspect it has something to do with the fading of the light but I sometimes think it has something to do with Christmas. Somehow Christmas never matches up to the story book dreams of my youth and it turns into a mad dash from store to store trying to divine what someone else would like to have and usually getting it wrong. It also means taking a bunch of people who don't really get along all that well much of the time and putting them all together in one place once every year in the hopes that there will be “Peace on Earth”, or at least peace around the dinner table. In any case this is usually the season when I get a bit melancholy and start philosophizing. There is a phrase often used in Mexico that goes “borrar y cuenta nueva” which basically means, "to erase and start over". That is what I would like to do with my life, erase and start over. You will see below the best picture that was ever taken of me. It was taken about sixty years ago. When I realize that today is the first day of the rest of my life and I see my reflection in the mirror I think to myself, “Who is that guy in the mirror and whatever became of that little boy in the photograph?”. I guess my mother was right when she used to tell me not to spend much time looking in the mirror or the Devil might jump out at me. On the inside I am still like that innocent little boy in the photo but on the outside I am afraid that I am in a heap of trouble.

19 December 2008

Mount January

In México at this time of year you will often hear the phrase "La Cuesta de Enero" which is a play on words meaning "The Hill of January" or "The Burden of January" or perhaps even "The Cost of January". It refers to the time after all of the Christmas celebrations are over and the bills must be paid. It is a time when after having paid for the Las Posadas, Las Piñatas, La Fiesta de Nochebuena (Dec 24th), and Los Regalos de Los Reyes Magos (Jan 6th) a lot of people are looking for "préstamos" (loans) and the pawn shops here do a very good business. During the three week period beginning with the posadas and ending with the three kings the expense can't be spared and all too often, and with the help of a little tequila, the expense gets quite out of control. After all the partying is over, however, the rent and the light bill must still be paid and people have to eat. All of the party fever of December turns into the long drawn out hangover of January and a tough upward climb to solvency. No wonder that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers!

During the last few weeks I have taken some weekend tours of the cities surrounding Irapuato where I live and I don't remember seeing the level of economic activity so low as I have this year. I am thinking that the long upward climb is going to continue past January and well into the next year. It may even turn out that we eventually refer to the coming year as "La Cuesta de 2009. In the U.S. the banks and the mortgage companies have already received their Christmas presents and the auto companies will soon be receiving theirs…all paid for out of the retirement savings of the baby boom generation. Not much else for many of us boomers to do except turn and face the future, lean into the harness once again, take up the slack, and start climbing.

¡Adelante compañeros! ¡Pónganse a jalar!
Forward companions! Get to work! (Put yourselves to pulling!)

17 December 2008

Equal Opportunity for Devils

We are just now entering the season of posadas and pastorelas. My suegra Carmelita runs a “jardín para niños” which we call a “kindergarden” in English and what Mexicans commonly call a “kinder” (pronounced “KEEN-der”). Every year Carmelita and her teachers and students put on a pastorela pageant for the parents, relatives and friends of the children. I was tickled to see that this year all of the devils were female. I remember reading some posts by my fellow bloggers that mentioned little boys playing the part of the devils who would lead the poor shepherds astray in their quest to find the baby Jesus. Well, I am pleased to report that apparently in Irapuato at least, the females are judged to be just as capable of devilish acts as the males and I have the pictures to prove it.

12 December 2008

Company Christmas Party 2008

I work for a company called “Talleres de Equipo Rodante del Bajío, S.A.”. This is a hard name for people to remember so we call it “TERBSA” for short. The full name means “Rolling Stock Shops of the Bajío Region, Inc.” We repair and maintain railroad freight cars and in particular we are specialists in servicing tank cars. My title is “Gerente de Aseguramiento de Calidad” or “Manager of Quality Assurance”. I have been working there for nine years and my job is to make sure that we meet all of the international railroad interchange requirements and also to train the workers. Every year on December 11th, the day before the feast of the “Virgen de Guadalupe”, the company holds a Christmas luncheon for all of the employees. We first gather in the late morning at eleven to attend a Catholic mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe. The priest comes from Irapuato and the mass is held in the outdoor classroom just outside my office. Then we sit down for a nice catered lunch at tables placed on the front lawn. It is a very special gesture on the part of our employer who treats us more like like family than employees. In fact, TERBSA is a family business that was started thirty eight years ago by our Director, Ingeniero Salvador Lee Chavez. His son, José Luis Lee Zavala, is our General Manager. I took some photos of the event and you can see them below. All of the people in the pictures are my Spanish teachers.

07 December 2008

Got goat?

I am curious about everything. I have an insatiable urge to know “who” and “why” and “where” and “when” and “what” and “how” and the most important one, “why not”. The other day I was poking around on the Internet to see what else is new and I stumbled upon yet another thing that I didn't know. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I read that goat meat is the most widely consumed meat in the world. That's right, goat meat! Approximately sixty-three percent of the world’s total meat consumption can be credited to goat meat and it is estimated that eighty percent of the world’s population eats goat as a staple in their diet. How about that? When I read about this it really humbled me. How come I didn't know this? It is probably because like many Americans I have lived the majority of my life in a bubble. I always thought that beef was king and that “Where's the beef?” was the cry of the masses. Now I find out that worldwide, more people eat the meat and drink the milk of goats than any other type of animal and that three-fourths of all the goats in the world are located in developing countries. I have seen estimates that the total world population of goats is now around 765 million animals and that less than ten percent of that number are in North America. I really don't know how they come by that number though. I wasn't aware that there is a goat census and I would think that goats move around a lot making them hard to count. Nevertheless, the fact is that there are a lot of goats.

I knew from experience that goat is eaten quite a bit in Mexico in a number of forms. We have “cabrito al pastor” in which the whole carcass is opened flat and impaled on a metal spit and set over a fire. Then we have "cabrito al horno" or oven-roasted cabrito. Then there is "cabrito en salsa" in which the animal is cut into portions, browned in oil and braised in a tomato-based sauce with onions, garlic and green chilies, and other seasonings. We also have "cabrito en sangre" or cabrito in blood sauce where the blood of the animal is collected when it is slaughtered and it becomes the basis for the sauce that the goat is braised in. Another thing we have is “birria de cabrito” which is the meat from a young goat that is steamed. Last, but not least we have “barbacoa de cabrito” where the goat is wrapped in leaves and cooked in a pit barbecue. I didn't really know much about how goats are used in other countries but I am quickly learning that eating goat meat is a pretty big deal. Goats were one of the very first animals to be domesticated by humans, some 10,000 years ago and goats are mentioned many times in the Bible and they are also mentioned in the Quran and there are few, if any, religious taboos that prohibit people from eating goats.

There are many reasons why goats have become such an important source of meat. First of all, goats thrive in poor conditions where cattle and other types of livestock would likely starve. Goats are good foragers and cost about half as much to feed as other livestock. This is because goats prefer plants that are undesirable to other livestock. Goats prefer shrubs and broad leaf weeds over grass. The result is more grass for the other livestock. Goats can also be raised on land that is unsuitable for other purposes. It takes seven or eight goats to eat as much as one cow. The goat pregnancy period is fairly short. A female goat normally gives birth between 145 - 155 days after mommy goat and daddy goat rub noses (or whatever it is that they do). Goats usually give birth to twins but on rare occasions can give birth to four or five. Goats are very prolific. A female goat reaches puberty early, usually at about twelve months for her first mating and can give birth after subsequent matings at least three times every two years. Finally, there is one other good reason why goats are popular for meat. A single small goat will feed a large family unit without the need for subsequent refrigeration, or in other words the whole goat is consumed at one meal. This is in contrast for the need to preserve the meat from larger animals after they are slaughtered. For the diet conscious, a three ounce serving of goat meat represents about 122 calories and provides three grams of fat while the same size portion of beef represents about 245 calories and provides 16 grams of fat. Goat has about the same caloric content as chicken but has lower cholesterol content than chicken, beef, pork, or lamb.

I found it very interesting that the goat market is very diverse and that it has a lot to do with ethnic and religious preferences. For example, the Muslim people observe a day called Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice ) which this year is celebrated on Monday, December 8th. 2008 in conjunction with the mass assembly of Hajj pilgrims around Mount Arafat, just outside Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The festival commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. Muslims who can afford it, sacrifice an animal (usually a goat or a sheep) as a reminder of Abraham's obedience to God. According to Muslim law, the animal must be at least a year old. You can tell this by looking at a goat's teeth because goats get their adult teeth at about one year of age. The sacrificed animal has to be a male also. The animal must be humanely treated prior to slaughter, have its head turned to the east, toward Mecca, and a prayer spoken while a very sharp knife is used to cut its throat. The slaughtering ritual is somewhat similar to that used by the Jewish people.When a Jewish rabbi says a prayer called the “bracha” (or “brachot” ) over the “shechita” (slaughter) right before killing the animal The intention is the same as when you say a blessing before you eat to acknowledge that God is the source of all life. I remember reading that the American Indian does the same thing before killing wild game. I wonder why Christians don't do the same before killing things. Hmmm, perhaps McDonalds and Burger King do that for us. There is one other thing that I wonder about. Although goat is the most consumed meat throughout the world, the USDA only lists milk, broilers, cattle, hogs, calves, eggs and turkeys on its agricultural commodities roster. Maybe if the U.S. Government learned a bit more about goats it would learn a bit more about Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Mexicans, Indonesians, Filipinos, Chinese, and the people of India and South America, etcetera, and the world might be a better place. It's just an idea...

05 December 2008

Pop Culture 003 - Pancho Pantera

On the 29th of May of this year I posted an item to this blog entitled "Chocomíl de Fresas" which involved the use of a product named “Choco-Milk”. In 1928 the Proctor & Gamble Company (of Mexico) developed the first milk modifier to add supplemental vitamins and minerals to milk for Mexican children. The supplement came in the form of chocolate powder and the result was the product was called “Choco-Milk”. However, the Mexican people find it awkward to pronounce the letter “k” in the word “milk” and so they just don’t bother. “Choco-Milk” is pronounced “choko-MEEL” and is written everywhere except on the Choco-Milk package as “chocomíl”. An animated character named Pancho Pantera was created in the 1950's to promote nutritional needs and awareness and to advertise Choco Milk. Over the years Pancho Pantera has evolved from a simple country boy in a straw hat to a sporty modern youth. The word "pantera" means "panther" and you can see the emblem of a black panther on Pancho Pantera's chest. Sometime you may hear someone refer to Pancho Pantera and before now you would have wondered what that was all about but...now you know.

02 December 2008

Sweets & Deserts 001 - Muéganos

The other day my mother-in-law Carmelita came over on her way home from the market and handed me a couple of clear plastic packets of something that looked a bit like the old Kellogs Sugar Corn Pops from my youth (“knock, knock sugar pops are tops!”). They appeared to be little balls covered with sugar syrup and they were about double the size of sugar pops. They had a crunchy texture when I tried them and they reminded me of eating “Cracker Jacks”. I asked her what they were and she said “muéganos” (MWAY-gah-nohs). She said that they are an old traditional sweet snack that she doesn't see much anymore in Irapuato. She bought them for me so that I would know what “muéganos” are. She told me that they are made by mixing a little bit of flour and tiny bit of salt with some water and forming the dough into little balls. The little balls are then fried in hot oil which makes them sort of hollow and crunchy. After that they are coated with syrup made from piloncillo (raw sugar) and separated to cool. The next day I happened to come across another type that were square and that came from the relatively nearby town of Celaya. I was intrigued by the name “muéganos” and even more intrigued when I couldn't find the word in any dictionary. I did what I always do when I encounter a word like this and I start tugging at little threads of information until I get the whole story.

The reason that I couldn't find the word “muéganos” is that it is a New World version of the Old World “nuégados” which means “nougat” or in other words, a mixture of ground roasted almonds or other nuts mixed into a paste made from egg whites and honey or sugar. The conquistadors from the Extremadura Region of Spain brought the nuégados idea with them when the came to Mexico. In Spain, they would mix sugar and ground almonds or other nuts into a paste and then mix the paste with “cañamones” which are seeds from the hemp plant and make them into little bars or biscuits. They were the original of what we call a “candy bar” today. The hemp seeds were Cannabis sativa L. which is industrial cannabis and not the kind you might be thinking about. Hemp has been cultivated around the world for centuries. It is still being cultivated just about everywhere except the United States even though George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both cultivated hemp on their farms and the Declaration of Independence was drafted on paper made from hemp fibers. Industrial hemp is an important fiber resource that I am sure that we will soon be hearing more about. Don't worry. You don't smoke this variety.

Okay, so now we are over here in the New World so how did the name get changed from “nuégados” to “muéganos”. Well, nobody seems to know but there is a consensus that it happened in the Mexican States of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Hidalgo, and México. The four states are each famous for their own type of muéganos. In Tlaxcala, in the municipality of Huamantla, the muéganos are called “Muéganos Huamantlecos”. In Hidalgo the town of Huasca is famous for “Muéganos de Huasca”, and in the State of México the municipality of Teotihuacán is famous for “Muéganos El Águila” which is also a well known brand name. The City of Puebla is famous for all types of sweets and in Puebla you will find muéganos like “Muéganos Poblanos” and “Muéganos de Vino” and the recipes for some of these can be quite exotic. It is my understanding that a lot of the development regarding muéganos in this region was done by convent nuns. These muéganos are generally of the true nougat type and come in many forms and some of them, like the Muéganos El Águila look like fairly large candy bars. The muéganos are often sandwiched in between a top and bottom layer of what is called “wafer paper” or “rice paper”. It is not actually paper but it is thin and white and edible. It is made from white rice flour, tapioca flour, salt, and water or from potato starch, water, and vegetable oil. In Spain there is something similar to the Muégano El Águila called a “turrón” which comes in various shapes and styles and is traditionally eaten during the Christmas season. The muéganos in the Bajío region of Mexico where I live seem to be more like “poor man's muéganos” and are made with just flour, salt, pilloncillo, and perhaps a bit of canela (cinnamon). They really have nothing to do with nougat.

Now that we have the basics covered there is something else that I should mention about the word “muéganos”. You may sometime hear the phrase “familia muéganos” and this refers to a family including mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, and grandchildren, etcetera, that is very united and stuck together just like the flour ball and syrup type múeganos stick together. This can be a good thing but it can also be detrimental because a family like this is not open to change or compromise. It thinks, moves, feels, and reacts as a unit and to move or influence one member you have to move them all and this can only happen very slowly. Some Mexican anthropologists and sociologists have likened the whole country to muéganos in that the people are subject to strong family ties, political alliances, patronage, nepotism, religious traditions and many other things that are so entwined that it makes governing through laws difficult because for several hundred years all of these things took precedence over the law.

So, am I done with muéganos? I don't think so. There are still some loose ends that I need to tie up. I would still like to know how the word “nuégados” changed to “muéganos” or if it even did. Perhaps the word “muéganos” actually came from somewhere else. Not only that but in El Salvador and Guatemala they have a dish called “chilate con nuégados”. The “chilate” is a simple corn beverage, slightly spicy due to the peppercorns and ginger used to prepare it. The “nuégados” are made of yucca, toasted cornmeal or plantain in syrup and don't have anything to do with nougat either. In any case, for now at least, if anyone mentions the words “méganos” or “nuégados” you will have a pretty fair idea of what they might be talking about. If I learn anything more I will give you an update.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.