Monthly Archives: January 2011

Soup Kitchen With a Bite: Vegetarian Leek and Potato Soup

Friends are coming to dinner tonight.  The pond is frozen and it’s a chilly 23 degrees in North Carolina.  In four weeks, I’ll be back in Oaxaca.  Meantime, it’s supposed to snow on Tuesday!  I wanted to prepare a delicious, healthy, warming soup tonight to serve in mugs, no spoons needed, as a first course while we sit in front of the fire, sip wine and catch up.

I looked around the kitchen and in the mud room.  Stephen has stored the organic Yukon Gold potatoes he dug up in the fall in a galvanized bin tucked under the laundry tub.  There, I found the last of them.  Along with the potatoes I had two aging leeks.  From that, I went to the cutting block.

Norma's Spicy Leek & Potato Soup: Total Vegetarian!

The potatoes add body; the carrots add color; the garlic and leeks add a savory goodness; the cayenne and turmeric add bite; the honey adds sweetness.  Enjoy!


6 small white potatoes, skins on, cleaned and boiled whole until soft

2 medium leeks, cleaned, diced

3 carrots, peeled, thin sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled, whole

1/4 c. olive oil (EVOO)

2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. red cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. dried basil (we grow ours in summer, dry it and store it)

1/4 c. honey

6 cups water

Add olive oil to a 4 quart stainless steel or anodized aluminum sauce pan and heat until hot.  Add garlic, leeks and carrots.  Sautee until tender on medium heat until soft and glazed, stirring periodically so that veggies cook evenly.  Add whole cooked potatoes and stir.  Add 2 cups of water to the mixture and stir to deglaze the pan.  Put all ingredients into a food processor.  Add salt, pepper, herbs and spices.  Process on high heat until smooth.  Add honey.  Process for 30 seconds.  Add water slowly to thin to the consistency of heavy cream.  Taste.  Add more salt and pepper if desired.

Serves 6.


From Dollars to Pesos: Changing Money in Oaxaca

What to do?

First, before you leave the U.S., call your bank and tell them you are traveling to Mexico and not to block your credit card!  You will give them departure and return dates.

Now, you have in your pocket a handful of dollars, a credit or debit card and you are flying direct from Houston to Oaxaca.  If you plan to take a taxi or shuttle van from the Oaxaca airport to your hotel in the city or to Teotitlan del Valle, you will need pesos to pay for the ride.  In this case, you will need use a money exchange service at the Houston airport.  It will cost you a little more in the exchange rate (fewer pesos) but you will not be inconvenienced.  I recommend changing $50 USD this way to get you started until you can get to an ATM.

The Oaxaca airport ATM is on the second floor mezzanine. 

There is no ATM in Teotitlan del Valle!

There are plenty of ATM’s in Oaxaca city!

ATM’s give you the best exchange rate.  Do not use Traveler’s Checks.  They are useless.  No one accepts them.

If you use a money changer or bank — to change dollars to pesos — you will need to present your Passport.

If you are connecting in Mexico City, be sure to use one of the many ATMs there in the international airport to get pesos.  I only use ATMs and avoid the money exchanges.  It cost more to change dollars to pesos from a money exchange than it does to withdraw pesos from an ATM.  Leave your dollars in your checking account and use ATMs.

If you are a Bank of America customer, there is no service/transaction fee charged when you withdraw cash from a Santander Bank ATM.  B of A owns 50% of them!

Where to Find ATM’s in Oaxaca city? These are clustered on Av. Independencia across from the Zocalo between Macedonio Alcala and Av. Garcia Virgil.  There are also banks on Garcia Virgil between Independencia and Morelos.  Banks with ATMs can also be found on the Periferico in the major shopping center that houses Fabricas de Francia and Soriana,  and on Heros de Chapultepec on MEX 190 as you head out of the historic district toward Teotitlan del Valle.

Mexican banks are Santander, Bansefi, Banamex, Bancomer, HSBC, ScotiaBank, and Banorte.  Santander is partly owned by Bank of America.  If you are a Bank of America customer there are no service fees to use the ATM.

Rural Mexico is a cash economy. Only larger merchants take credit cards (along with hotels and restaurants) because it costs so much (over five percent) for them to pay the fees.  Many shops will offer a 10% discount if you use cash.

If you are traveling to Teotitlan del Valle and staying there, you can either get pesos at an ATM in Oaxaca city before you leave town, in Santa Maria Tule on your way to the village, or at the ATM in Tlacolula the following day, which is 10 minutes away by taxi or car.  There is a Bansefi in Teotitlan del Valle, but is is used by locals who stand in long lines to get money wired to them from relatives living and working in the U.S.A.  There is not an ATM there.

Concerning personal checks: I always bring a couple of checks.  Small rug merchants in Teotitlan del Valle may take a personal check rather than waiting for you to go to an ATM to get cash If they don’t take a credit card (most don’t).  Make sure your checks are not creased and that there are no tears or folds on the edges.  The money changers are very particular.

Mexperience has a useful description of Mexican banks and how to do banking business in Mexico.


Whet Your Appetite: Visual Tour of the Teotitlan del Valle Market

Squash Blossoms, Teotitlan del Valle Market, photo by Norma Hawthorne

The market colors and people are captivating.  It is difficult to know what to focus on first!

Village women doing their daily shopping, Teotitlan del Valle Market, photo by Norma Hawthorne

One of the most satisfying experiences for any visitor is to stroll the daily market, open 9:30-11 a.m., across from the church.  Traditional dress, food and cooking is alive and well in Teotitlan del Valle.  This is a cultural immersion opportunity!

I also want to share the post (below) with you written by Lesley Tellez, a Mexico City food writer, who recently visited Teotitlan del Valle and took a cooking class with Reyna Mendoza.  Reyna is part of the famed weaving family of Arnulfo Mendoza and Erasto (Tito) Mendoza.  She is an accomplished cook and is owner of Tlaminalli restaurant, a favorite of Chef Rick Bayless.

This link features some beautiful photos of food and people that Lesley published, and perfectly captures a sense of place.  Enjoy!

Women’s Creative Writing & Yoga Retreat March 2011 Update

It’s five weeks to go before we gather in Teotitlan del Valle for the Oaxaca women’s writing and yoga retreat from March 4-10.    Robin Greene, MFA, our writing instructor, and Beth Miller, our yoga instructor, are putting the finishing touches on the final schedule.

For complete retreat description click this link:

There is still room for TWO more people. If you are interested, let me know pronto! Airfares to Oaxaca continue to be reasonably priced.  For how long, no one knows.  See FareCompare, AirfareWatchdog, and Vayama for prices.

Our participants are spread far and wide.  They are from North Carolina, Missouri, California, Maine, and Mexico.  Some are poets.  Others are writing memoir and fiction.  Some are well into completing books and preparing them for publication.  Others have little or no experience and want to learn the craft.   Everyone is interested in yoga, though not all practice it regularly.  There will be a lot to learn from and with each other.

We will awake each morning and have a yoga session before breakfast.  After breakfast we move into a good block of time as a group to do exercises, discuss write, share, reflect, then write some more.  After lunch, most afternoons are free to explore the village of Teotitlan del Valle and the city of Oaxaca, take hikes, enjoy massage, or write independently.

On Sunday, the group will hop on the village bus and go to the big regional market in Tlacolula to browse, explore and have lunch.

The week promises to be one of refreshment, renewal, exploration and contemplation.


Taking the Shameless Pledge for Prolific Writing: Post a Week 2011

The upside is that I pledge to write at least one post a week throughout 2011. WordPress is challenging me to do that and I intend to rise to the occasion.

The benefit in doing this is that I hope to provide more regular useful information for you about Oaxaca (and Mexico) family life, art, culture, archeology, shopping, dining, food, alebrijes, pottery, textiles, restaurants, street life, festivals and fiestas, celebrations, and generally what to do and how to get there.

The downside is that I will write when I may not have much to say!  Filling a blank page with drivel is not what I want to be doing!  I am reading WP’s The Daily Post for inspiration 🙂

I will rely on you to tell me when I have overstepped the boundary between what is relevant and what is gibberish.

Thanks for reading.  Now, onward ……