Yesterday I posted this photo of our latest batch of Limoncello. (thank you Charlie for the encement by way of your miraculous app) Many asked for the recipe, and here it is… along with a little story… of course!

In 2007, Jorge and I took “the grand tour”… a 6 week trip to Europe. Before we knew each other, we had both been on our own, but I had only seen northern countries. Jorge had been to France and Italy, and he assured me, this is where we should go. We had so much fun planning our itinerary, and Florence was to be the “grand finale”, the last stop on our adventure.

Prior to leaving Mexico, I read so much about this splendorous city of the Medici. It seemed to offer everything I love… clear light, sepia-coloured buildings, fashionable people, an abundance of art, the best food in the world, romantic music, and fabulous shopping. And after a harrowing transfer at Termini, Rome’s main train station, we checked into our hotel, in the Santa Croce district of Florence. We looked out of our room’s floor-to-ceiling window and saw Il Duomo. Sigh-igh-igh…

The view from our hotel window

I remember that the hotel staff couldn’t do enough for us… And our accommodation had two additional features we had not planned on. First off, the bathroom was HUGE. The sparkling white tub, shower stall, bidet, toilet and basin were set into blue, white and yellow Florentine tiles… in the afternoon after a long day of sight-seeing, we could soak in the tub and watch the street traffic, 5 floors below. What luxury after the 1 meter-square “water closets” we had encountered in our hotels everywhere else on our trip. I fell totally in love with Florence; Jorge also delighted in everything about the city.

That first night, we eventually tore ourselves away from the hotel, and found a tratoria, located just one block away . Absolutely satiated and totally happy after finishing our first meal in the capital of the Renascence…

Cozze e Vongole

Pasta con Cozze e Vongole… the waiter brought a sunshine yellow digestif to our table. Jorge looked most excited. “Is it Pernod?” I asked. “We are in Italia,” my husband reminded me, “Not France.” He picked up the bottle and poured us both a short glass. “THIS is Limoncello!” His eyes closed as he savoured the first chilled sip and I figured I’d give it a try. Instantly, I became even more of a fan than Jorge and asked for a second sample. “I’d wait until tomorrow,” he said, “it packs a punch, especially after a whole litre of wine.” Good advice! Limoncello can sneak up on you…

I discovered that nearly every restaurant makes its own, as do individual families… I wondered how I could manage to carry back a huge supply of this golden nectar. Out strolling one afternoon, I spotted an apron with the Limoncello recipe embossed on the front – very touristy – but so what! 10 Euros exchanged hands and I hurried back to the hotel with my prize. “Look Jorge, we can now make this at home,” I cried happily.
Well, since then, we have done so MANY times, and today we bottled yet another batch.
Here’s our recipe:

Joanna & Jorge , tasting limoncello after our first meal in Florence, 2007

Peel the rind from 12 yellow lemons (limon italiano – available at Costco) Try not to have any of the pith attached … you want just the thin yellow part.

Put the peelings into a large glass jar and then add 1 – 1750 ml. bottle of Vodka (any brand will do but we also use “Kirkland”, the one available at Costco)

*If you can get your hands on some grappa, that will be even better*
Close the jar tightly, and store it in a dark place for 2 months (we put ours on a shelf in the clothes closet)
When you finally bring the jar into the light, you’ll see that the vodka has turned bright yellow. It is time to bottle…

Boil 1 ½ kilos of sugar with 1 ½ litres of water, until the mixture is about to boil and the sugar is completely dissolved (this is called simple syrup) Allow it to completely cool…

Strain the vodka-lemon peel and set aside the peelings. Add 1.750 (1 3/4 litres) of the cooled syrup to the vodka, stir and then pour the dreamy liquid into 6 sterilized bottles. Cork them and store in the fridge until you wish to use them.
Now what to do with the vodka-infused peel…

Let the peelings dry, and then place them in a large frying pan and sprinkle with ½ cup of sugar. Place the skillet over medium heat and let the sugar caramelize (you need to lift and turn the peel while this is happening or it will burn) When the mixture has a golden brown color and you can smell the cooked sugar, remove the pan from the heat, and using two forks, separate the pieces of peel as best you can (they will be sticky) When they have cooled and dried, store them in a container with a tight lid. You can use this in any recipe that calls for candied citrus peel. This is the “not-at-all-secret” ingredient in my version of Chiles en Nogada.

Many of my friends now make Limoncello from this recipe and no one has felt disappointed… you won’t either.

The Boogeyman

During “voluntary isolation” I’ve been sleeping remarkably well, but this morning I woke up at 3:48 am… absolutely terrified. Of everything.

I opened facebook and read Chris Strickling’s amazing May 1st post. She lives in Izamal and every morning she takes a pre-dawn bike ride. When she gets home, she uploads the photos she took, her thoughts and observations. And this morning, like me, she seems frightened… of many things, but not seeing far-away loved ones, ever again, is the scariest of all.

My 67th birthday is just a few days away, and right now, I am remembering my 6th one. On that day, my parents gave me my own room. It was a surprise to me, but they acted as though I should be thrilled. I was one of those children who always wanted to please the grownups, and so I acted “thrilled”. I thanked my grandmother for sewing the turquoise comforter with little pink roses embroidered along the edge. I insisted on phoning my Godmother (long distance, no less) to thank her for mailing me the fluffy pink throw rug to place beside the bed. My toes would not ever hit a cold floor, thanks to that rug. I could look out my window and see the mini carnations and white daisies that Mom planted in a flower box. I thought it all looked perfect, except the closet… my “very own closet” spooked me from the start. And once the sun set, I got more and more worried about what might be lurking in there at night. Mr. Boogeyman got into my head and would not leave. He let me worry-away, night after night. Of course I told my parents that I was scared (the room was in the unfinished downstairs, and everyone else slept upstairs) They tried to tell me I was a “big girl now” and I had nothing to be anxious about. My mom said she would never put me in an unsafe bedroom… surely I knew that?

My Dad understood me though, and he got cracking on the finishing of my brothers’ space, called thereafter: “The Boys’ Room”. And with two of them in that room around the corner, I felt much more secure. My “very own closet” and the laundry room with its noisy furnace and bumping-banging pipes separated me from my brothers, but if things got dicey, I figured I was a pretty good runner and I’d be able to sprint past the beasts and get to the safety of Peter and Stephen’s bedroom before it did to me, whatever it had planned… Tommy eventually joined my other two brothers, and Anne also became one of “The Downstairs Kids”. Barb and Cathy never moved to the depths; they shared the upstairs room that I originally slept in with my two brothers, before I got my “very own room”. When John, the last of us eight siblings came along, his crib was set up in the 6 X 9 space that had once been a small playroom. I must have believed that my big family kept that boogeyman away. And probably that is how I came to feel most secure with lots of family around me. I am missing them so much.

COVID 19 is the Boogeyman. And after sixty-one years of exile, he is back in my life. I can’t see the virus, or feel its presence. I won’t hear it if it sneaks up on me. It is not like tobacco or “barnyards”; the virus’ proximity is not announced by an evil smell in the air, nor will it leave a scratchy taste in my mouth. No, none of that… This 2020 Boogeyman is the real deal.

We need a re-play, and we can’t do so on our own. We have to learn to get along and stop this infernal bickering. To accomplish this we need a more level playing field. As I learned as a child… all of us are happiest when surrounded by those we love. And … if we aren’t… divided we fall.

A “staying-safe-at-home” Project

This man is standing in front of a “canche”

Have you heard how many villages are now without a source of fresh produce? In Yucatan every household used to have a home garden. But now, they are not as common as you would think, and I wonder how people could be encouraged to grow more vegetables and herbs; this would add so much nutrition, fibre and flavour to their diet. Of course I know that “gardening” in Yucatan takes a Hurculean effort. There are so many hurdles to overcome, especially for those without any money. Some of them are:
1. nutrient-poor soil
2. too much sun, and scorching temperatures
3. insects and other critters that devour the little plants
4. the cost of seed
5. mold and “rot” that easily set into pots if they are not properly drained.

So, I have thought up an “experiment”. I am going to try and grow garden veggies and herbs, without purchasing seed, special soil or pots.

I’ve decided to try a variation of the millennia-old method used by the Maya. To grow small quantities of produce, they used a “canche” (a raised growing bed built from poles lashed together with vines) Since I have neither poles nor vines, I am going to try suspending my “planters” from my orange tree.

I am starting this project with a couple of hardy varieties: Roma tomatoes and local green peppers.

1. I have saved the seeds from a few tomatoes and peppers (leaving some of the membranes around them) I have placed them on a paper towel, and they are drying on a table in my laundry room (a place where I have never seen ants). When they look dry (in 2-3 days, I estimate) I will throw away the dried membranes, and separate the seeds.
2. To germinate the seeds, I will use 2 cardboard egg cartons. I plan to perforate the bottoms and sprinkle some dry earth in each of the little “cups”. I’ll get the earth damp by sprinkling water (not soaking), then spread a few seeds in each cup, and set them back on the same counter. (a place that is well-ventilated, warm but not sunny all day) I’ll keep them moist, and I hope they will sprout in a few days.
3. When the sprouts look a sturdy (I calculate about a week) I will plant them in four tin cans I have saved. Soon to be transformed into “planters”… Here’s how I plan to prepare the cans:

With my ice pick, I will liberally perforate the bottoms of the cans, and I will also make 3 holes around the upper rim of the cans, about an inch from the top. I’ll attach a length of wire through the three top holes, secure them, and then bring the 3 wires together and make a loop (so I can hang the “planter”) Next I’ll prepare the soil.

On the bottom of the cans (now called, “planters”) I will place a single layer of little stones for drainage. On top of the stones, for added filtering, I’ll put about an inch of dry sticks that I’ve broken into short pieces On top of that I will lay about 2 inches of torn-up dry leaves that I trust will break down and add nutrients to my soil. And finally I’ll scoop in 6 inches of dry dirt. (this will not be “nursery planting soil”, but just regular dirt that I’ll scrape up from around the plants in my own side garden. If it is too rocky, I will sift it with an old kitchen strainer)

I’ll then carefully plant the hardiest seedlings, adding a bit of water at a time.

I’ll hang 4 hammock “S-es” from the lowest branches of my orange tree, and from them, I will suspend the planters… and we’ll see what happens.

I am not so worried about large varmints eating the plants, but I do have some concerns about leaf-cutter ants. I have thought about maybe affixing a plastic cup of water between the “S” and the loop, but have not quite worked out how to do this. Any ideas?

I could use my nice big hose to water “my crop” but I know that in the villages, not all people have hoses, so I will use a bucket and a small dipping cup. I think I will need to water at least twice a day, being careful not to get the pots too soggy (which I know will not be good either)

After I cull out the best seedlings, I will have a lot of left-overs. I am going to plant these amongst my garden plants and give them water but no fertilizer or other special care… and we’ll see if any of them mature.

Does anyone have experience with this kind of “vegetable gardening”. Do you see any flaws in my plans? Let me know because the seeds are drying as you read…

If my experiment is successful, maybe I will try some larger “planters”. Maybe I will write and illustrate a children’s book that demonstrates this traditional gardening method.

I don’t know what the outcome of my experiment will be, but I do know that the COVID 19 pandemic has fully convinced me of one thing… we as a society need to find alternatives to “just going to the store” to get what we need. Because as all of us have learned… especially those over 60… going to the store is not always possible.

I don’t advocate ditching all the comforts and conveniences of our society, but I do believe we need to be just-a-little-less dependent. We need to develop strategies and adopt good habits that will see us better prepared for the unexpected.