Monthly Archives: November 2013

‘Twas Two Nights Before Thanksgiving; United Cancels its Flight

Merida airport, November 26th, 2013

The lineups this morning
were moving quite well
United was full
but soon all went to hell

At the door of the plane
we were stopped in our tracks,
first class settling in
sipping drinks, eating snacks

The security man, flustered
for a moment or two;
then a woman came running
she said to us: “You

must stop here and wait”
while I see what’s the matter;
the captain and crew
are raising some chatter

Then I heard it myself:
about windshields and cracking,
this wasn’t so funny
and I began backing

up the ramp to the gate
where, sitting dejected,
fellow passengers waited
feeling specially selected

and that their god was not,
as benevolent this day
so perhaps they should turn
to the good book and pray

Alas, it was not
to be, as they say
and reservations be damned
we were all doomed to stay

When windshields do crack
on an airplane you see,
It’s not like Home Depot:
buy one, and get three!

In fact my dear reader,
what it means essentially:
is you’re stuck here in Merida
but WILL get out eventually

Another day in this city
and we wanted to go
we’d had enough tacos
de cochinita and so

We changed well-made plans
to make up for that crack,
some of us knowing, that
tomorrow we’d be back

and a fresh plane would come
and whisk us away,
to eat turkey with loved ones
and celebrate the Day

Of Thanksgiving and then,
with our bellies quite round
we’d embark on some shopping
as discounts abound

Twas two nights to Turkey Day;
United canceled our flight,
be thankful and grateful
you avoided a fright.

A crack in the glass
is a pain, on the ground
but at thirty thousand feet…
… we would most certainly not be having this conversation today.

Happy Pre-Thanksgiving!

 

The Full Story

Getting up at 3 AM is no fun for anyone, but if you are flying to Houston via the only American airline still operating a direct flight from Merida to the United States, you need to be up early to make it with plenty of time for its 6:50 AM scheduled departure, especially if you are anything like me and finish packing on the morning of the flight.

Although the french press – which admittedly is missing a part – did not produce the rich coffee I had hoped for but one that turned grey when milk was added to it, I was able to finish packing and get everything in the car. I even remembered to leave food out for the dog, whose full dish I put in the kitchen where only he can get at it, as he has learned how to open the screen doors and the black, squawking x’kaues with their insatiable appetite for protein filled dog kibbles, have not. I drove the police-ridden periférico without rushing for once and with the windows open, enjoying some cool morning Merida air. I had even planned ahead to have someone pick up the car later. No worries.

And yet, airport check ins are always a little stressful, what with the foreign passport, the residency card, the timing. Before the flight I think sometimes that I must be forgetting something important, like the expiration date on my passport or the actual date of the flight, and obsessively check them to calm my nerves.

However, today all went well. Plenty of time, the reservation was there, the immigration process went smoothly and I was able to chat with one of the ladies whom I know from years of renewing permits and has chosen the Instituto Nacional de Migración as her ticket to the much-sought-after government pension. Sucking on a Hershey’s chocolate milk breakfast, I plugged in my iPhone and “checked in” on Foursquare and checked my emails.

According to the United personnel, the TSA in the US is not completely satisfied with our lax security boarding procedures here, so we were soon herded downstairs to the arrivals area where some Costco tables had been set up and there, security people went through everyones carry on luggage before sending them back upstairs to the waiting room at gate A. Some confusion resulted as late arrivals were not aware of the extra security move and mingled with their non-marked boarding passes amongst those of us who had ours marked, until they were informed that they too, had to go downstairs.

Finally, boarding began. First class passengers, as well as a few others, were on the plane when I arrived at the plane door and noticed an airport employee doing that monkey-like grimace and the hand shaking indicating a problem. You know, like the kids do when something bad happens;  the arm comes up with the hand towards the face, and then the hand shakes back and forth. Something was up. A United employee came running down the boarding ramp, disappeared into the cockpit and came running out, telling us to remain where we were and that boarding would resume in a minute. I heard someone mention the word “quemado” (burnt) and joked to the people next to me that perhaps the pilot had burned himself with hot coffee.

An airport employee wearing a fluorescent yellow vest standing next to me was watching the commotion and I asked him quietly what was happening. “Se cuarteó el panorámico” he replied. This was interesting. The windshield was cracked??

Sure enough, everyone was sent back to the waiting area and an announcement was made that the boarding process would begin again as soon as the captain had declared the coast clear. No further details were provided but I soon heard other passengers mention the cracked windshield and a second announcement acknowledged that there was a mechanical problem and that further news would be forthcoming. Finally, a third announcement came that the plane would not be flying today and that everyone would be taken care of. Luggage had to be de-planed and picked up and those who filled out immigration forms, needed to collect these vital stubs from the security people who were in charge of handing them back to the passengers. Obviously it is a very important piece of documentation that you will not be able to leave the country without, and so, again we all stood in line while two flustered airport security women, stacks of stubs in their hands, went through them all for each and every passenger. The immigration officials, who had been there moments before, were definitely NOT authorized for overtime and although you would think this would be a sufficiently important function for them to at least supervise, if not fall completely in their jurisdiction, they left.

After the lineup for the stubs, there was the lineup for the luggage and then the line up for at the United ticket counter for re-routing and alternate flight plans. Some continued on via Mexico City while others decided to continue their trip the next day and accept a hotel voucher (Hyatt – nice!)

While standing in line for about 2 hours or so, thankful for my Hershey’s breakfast and communicating the change of flight plans to all concerned, I checked my United app (yes, there’s an app for that) and lo and behold, my flight was already changed for tomorrow. However, the connecting time between flights in Houston was 1 hour, 2 minutes, hardly enough time to negotiate the immigration and customs horror that is Houston, one day before Thanksgiving, with a storm in the area and Dallas Ft. Worth cancelling up to 200 flights today for weather reasons.

So the folks at United and I explored options and settled on a later flight to a different airport that would leave a more workable 3 hour window between connecting flights at Houston.

Throughout, everyone kept their cool and the United employees are to be commended for their handling of the situation which of course, was completely not of their making.

My one, supreme overwhelming thought – a thought that rose above all the others in my head – was one of gratitude that the cracked windshield had been detected on the ground in Merida, and not at 30,000 feet!

Tomorrow, we’ll try again!

 

Sikil Pak – a Traditional Mayan Dip – Recipe and Rant!

The other day I was showing some lovely people the bustling market in Uman, when it occurred to me that I would like to buy the ingredients for making sikil pak, the traditional Yucatecan pepita de calabaza dip that I adore on crispy corn tortilla chips, to attempt to recreate this at home. Asking a vendor or two for the correct ingredients and quantities I bought the ingredients for one batch:

  • one bag (about the volume of my two hands put together) of pepita molida aka toasted and ground squash seeds
  • three ripe local tomatoes (not the round ones, the oblong ones)
  • a bunch of fresh, pungent cilantro

Today, I made the dip and to me, it turned out absolutely scrumptious and since I didn’t have any corn chips lying around that weren’t soggy from all this humidity, I used Salma brand baked corn crackers, crispy and slightly toasty-burnt.

Here’s the methodology:

  • Turn on your heating element and stick a grill or iron pan on it. Set the tomatoes in the pan or on the grill and go check your Facebook timeline or something else that will allow the tomatoes enough time to properly toast, burn and smell up the kitchen.
  • Between liking photos and putting smiley face comments on your friends Facebook pages, turn the tomatoes this way and that, to get all the sides roasting and burning.
  • Once the juice is bubbling out of the tomatoes and the skin is blackened on 3/4 of each tomato, skin those suckers (I used tongs and it comes off really easily) and cut off the hard ends where the tomato was attached to the vine and toss them (the tomatoes!) in a bowl. The skins and ends go into the compost.
  • The cilantro, roots and black leaves removed, gets tossed into the bowl as well.
  • Use one of those hand blenders, stick it in the bowl and grind away (with the blender that is) until you have a puree consistency.
  • Pour in the pepita. All of it, go ahead. Now with a spatula, mix it all up until it becomes a thick, creamy, totally un-photogenic dip.
  • Add some salt to taste.
  • I also added a squirt of Habanero salsa that I had sitting around to give it some kick.

And voila – Sikil Pak! Now dip those Salma crackers in there and gobble away. Yum!

As I was eating I thought it would be interesting to see what the actual recipe is for Sikil Pak and a Google search in English brought back many results, and the following is my personal favorite weird version where something simple and delicious and easy to make is turned into a ridiculous gourmet event that in no way resembles the original.

The Tasting Table website (http://www.tastingtable.com/entry_detail/chefs_recipes/8783) is a ridiculously fun example of this. First of all the photo: the dip shown is green, and looks more like parsley-infused hummus than any Sikil Pak I have ever seen.

Second, the description states that chef Mike Isabella spent 8 years (EIGHT YEARS!) researching and that, combined with his love of margaritas, has resulted in his take on the “Aztec” dip. Aztec? Really? I guess that’s what 8 years of drinking margaritas will get you; Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, Totonacas, whatever. Hic.

The ingredients for this researched-for-eight-years take on the “Aztec” dip include shallots, garlic and jalapeño peppers, sauteed in canola oil. It gets worse as he whips in olive oil and infuses it with citrus zest. Because when you are a famous chef, you know at some point something is going to get infused.

Geez Louise – sounds like you need a Martha Stewart kitchen to whip this “Aztec” version up. Call it Mike’s Pumpkin Seed Dip; call it the Isabella Aztec Smoothie; hell, call it Frank, but for Chaac’s sake don’t call it Sikil Pak.

A Google search en español brought up this website, which is, in my never humble opinion, the real deal.

http://deliciasprehispanicas.blogspot.mx/2012/09/salsa-de-pepita-ha-sikil-pak.html

I have just finished eating my quick and easy version and I highly recommend it and thankfully, my rant has come to an end!

Happy cooking!