Monthly Archives: March 2011

Women Speak About Safety Traveling to and in Oaxaca

Eleven women gathered together in early March 2011 to participate in our first Oaxaca Women’s Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice.  All were from the United States except for two, an Australian transplant living in Mexico City and a local Zapotec woman from the village of Teotitlan del Valle.  Nine of us traveled to Oaxaca by air, some making connections through Mexico City, all negotiating the distance in time and space independently, solo, alone. Our ages ranged from 28 to 60-something.  Several had never been to Mexico before.

During our week together we talked about what it was like for a woman to travel to Mexico on her own, and I included the following question on the program evaluation form.  I want to share participant responses with you.

What would you say to people who are concerned about safety and hesitant to travel to Oaxaca?

I would say you are often as safe as you think you are and that bad media, amongst other things are only trying to feed your fears. That safety is not a concern in Oaxaca, just to be wise, as you would anywhere and trust your gut, come well-informed and open your arms and heart to the beauty of the incredible place.

Not a problem. We felt perfectly safe in Teotitlan del Valle.

There are some simple precautions to take regarding food, but I have always felt safe here and that the people are very helpful.

I would say – “you are missing an awesome (in the real, not slang sense of the word) experience.”

It’s a wonderful place. I did not feel threatened in any way.

It was safe and people were kind, patient, friendly.

I felt more safe here than in many U.S. cities. I saw/heard no violence, no drunkenness, no homelessness.

Mole Amarillo (Yellow Mole with Chicken) Recipe by Pilar Cabrera Arroyo, Buen Provecho!

This recipe enthralled me, captivated me, educated me about how easy it can be to prepare a traditional Oaxacan recipe.  With Pilar’s permission, I am sharing this recipe with you to enjoy and savor. Buen Provecho!  Eat hearty and enjoy!

Pilar Cabrera's Mole Amarillo

Oaxacan Yellow Mole by Pilar Cabrera Arroyo (serves 6)


1 chicken, cut into 6 pieces

1/2 medium onion, chopped coarse

5 garlic cloves, peeled

6 Cups water

1 – 1/2 t. salt

1 medium chayote squash, peeled, cut in slices

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes

1 C. green beans (fresh), tops removed

7 guajillo chiles

2 amarillo chiles

1 chilcoxtle chile

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1/4 medium onion

1 black pepper

1 clove

1 pinch cumin

1 tomato

1 t. corn oil or lard

3 yerba santa leaves or 1 bunch cilantro

1 C. masa



1. Chicken and Vegetables:

Put the chicken pieces into a pot with the onion and garlic.  Fill the pot with water and add salt to taste.  Cook for 35 min. on medium heat until chicken absorbs all the liquids.

Boil the chayote, green beans and potatoes in water until they are cooked but still firm, “al dente” (about 7 minutes).  Set aside.

Peppers on the burner--90% charred!

2. Sauce:

Roast chiles by putting them on the grill of the gas burner.  Sear them, turning regularly until they are 90% charred.  Put them in a plastic bag or in bowl covered with plastic wrap to sweat, then peel.  Remove seeds. Put them into a bowl of water to cover.  Use heavy pan to press the chiles.  The liquid will be used in the sauce.

Use a heavy pan to press the chiles

Roast the onion, garlic and tomatoes on a comal or griddle (high heat) until evenly toasted.  Set aside.

Strain the soaking chiles and put them in a blender with the garlic, onion, tomato, pepper, clove and cumin.  Mix in blender until smooth and creamy.

Heat the oil in a hot pan.  Add the blended mixture.  Cook for 5 min. on medium heat.  Set aside.

Put the masa (corn meal) in a blender along with 1-1/2 C. chicken broth and blend until smooth.  Add this to the sauce and cook for 5 min. stirring constantly over medium heat.  Season with fresh yerba santa or cilantro and salt.  Cook for 7 min. over low heat until sauce begins to thicken.  This should be the consistency of gravy.

Cooking the mole sauce with chicken and vegetables

Finally, add the cooked chicken and vegetables.  Veggies should be firm and chunky.  Remove from heat when chicken and vegetables are warm.  Serve hot. Be sure the veggies are not mushy.

This is a fresh, delicious mole, simple to prepare and not complicated.  Black mole, for which Oaxaca is famous, takes hours to prepare.

Serve with rice, black beans and fresh tortillas.

Touring the Mercado de la Merced with Pilar Cabrera Arroyo

My first day in Oaxaca was thrilling and something I was looking forward to for quite some time! I walked from Las Bugambilias B&B to Pilar’s cooking class at Casa de los Milagros, operated by Pilar’s brother Rene. (Three beautiful rooms each with private bath @ $120USD each.)  Our group of seven included a couple from Guadalajara celebrating their anniversary, two couples from Washington state who come to Oaxaca frequently, and me.

I was as enthralled by the kitchen arranged around a U-shaped maize-colored concrete counter with commercial cooktop and sink strategically positioned, as I was about the Amarillo menu: quesadillas with mushrooms and Oaxaca quesillo (string) cheese, sopa de flor de calabaza (squash blossom soup — my absolute favorite), mole Amarillo de pollo (yellow mole with chicken), and for dessert — arroz con leche.  For the salsa, Pilar chose Salsa de chile pasilla oaxaqueno.

Squash blossoms ready for stuffing with quesillo, perhaps?

Today, no one is vegetarian, so we go with the menu as presented, pick up our colorful shopping bags and climb into Pilar’s CRV and a taxi to travel to the Mercado de la Merced, eight blocks from the casa, at the corner of Calle Republica and Murguia.  Pilar grew up in Barrio de la Merced.  She personally knows each vendor and going through it is an expedition in determining and selecting the very best, freshest, most fragrant ingredients.  She knows that what she buys is organic , grown by small farmers from the local countryside. Our shopping list includes fresh masa for making homemade tortillas, quesillo for the quesadillas, rice, fresh whole milk (not pasteurized and likely coming from a contented cow early that same morning), mushrooms (and we also find corn smut — huitlacoche, considered a delicacy that we will add to the quesadillas). We also buy epazote, a leafy herb for the quesadillas, and cream for the soup.

Pilar describes huitlacoche

Someone asks and Pilar advises that it is fine to take photos of the food and to ask people if they would agree to have their photos taken.  She never pays anyone for taking a photo, although people ask for 10 pesos (about a dollar). Sunday is the best day to go to this market, when vendors come with folk art and crafts.  She points out the comedor “La Guierta” frequented by Rick Bayless.

La Guerita, a Rick Bayless favorite

We pass by ancient women vending calla lilies (alcatraz), roses from Ocotlan (Pilar says she loves rose petal sorbet), piles of chiles, handcrafted cheeses, and arrays of beautiful squash blossoms.  We stop at the family-owned chocolate stand where I buy molded treats to take home for hot chocolate and choco-cafe (100 pesos for one kilo).  We open our bags like little birds opening our beaks as Pilar buys and deposits chile pasilla (smokey and dark red), a plastic bag filled with fresh whole milk, squash blossom, choyote squash, mushrooms, and masa.

A young woman sits on the ground in front of two large baskets of chapulines. Pilar points to them.  These are not fresh, she says. See how dull they are, they must be shiny to be good.  We sample tejate, a pre-Hispanic drink made from ground maize, cacao, and the seed of the mamey fruit.

Sipping tejate

We learn that poblano chiles are from Puebla, and are not popular in Oaxaca.  Chile Oaxaca is small and yellow.  Chile serrano is called jalapeno when it is green and chipotle when it is red.  Black chilehuacle is the principle ingredient for mole negro (the most complex and difficult to prepare).   Never wash dried chiles, says Pilar, it degrades the flavor.  Clean it instead by wiping with a cloth.

Piles of basil, rosemary and other herbs grown for herbal cleansing and aromatics lean against the rough wood walls of the herbalists’ stall.  These are not used for cooking like in North America, Pilar says.  Bright yellow chicken is either painted or dipped in a corn-coloring; these are not organic.  Only white chickens are organic.  Chico zapote is a brown-yellow color but tastes like a sugary pear.  There are many types of mango, and mango pina is sweet and juicy with a green skin.

La Petrita vendadora de chocolate

We meandered, sampled and savored, breathed in the aromas of the small diners assembled around the inner courtyard, soaked in the visual excitement of colors, shapes and people.  After an hour of food shopping, we climbed back into our liveries and returned to the kitchen where we would get down to serious business.

Hard Drive Crash Test

I was home in NC for three days after Oaxaca then boarded a flight to Chicago to attend a professional conference and visit friends. At ORD waiting for my next flight to San Jose, California I tried to find an outlet to recharge my computer. The only one available was on the floor freestanding next to a slant-topped kiosk. I stationed me and my computer there (standing room only), turned it on, checked my connection and before I knew it the computer slid down onto the floor, a flashing question mark on the screen.

Now in Appleland, we are driving to San Jose this afternoon after I receive my back up hard drive, lovingly shipped overnight by Stephen and FedEx. Grateful I did a full back up before this trip.

Still waiting to post many recipes and adventure from Oaxaca.

I’ve Been Gone for a While, Immersed in Poetry, Vocal Yoga, Temescal, and the Joy of Being With Creative Women

We began each day last week with yoga at eight o’clock in the morning, arising to rooster crows, the beat of the loom next door, the bark of the dog upstairs, the donkey brays.  There were eleven of us — all women, joining together to lift our voices through the written word, through the sonorous sounds of chanting, and to flexing muscles that would build  intellectual and spiritual strength.  I can’t remember feeling so  euphoric and inspired.

Oaxaca Women's Writing Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice 2011

Nine of the women traveled to Oaxaca from various parts of the United States. Many had never been to Oaxaca, and for some this was their first visit to Mexico. All traveled solo to get to our women’s writing and yoga retreat.

Daily yoga with Beth Miller combined movement and voice; some said we sounded like an ashram!









We gathered for yoga in the altar room of Casa Elena, then had breakfast under the pomegranate trees at Las Granadas.

Breakfast al fresco under the pomegranates

We all loved the fresh papaya and mango, the scrambled eggs with sauteed chiles, and especially the fresh tortillas made daily on the comal in the outdoor kitchen by our host Magdalena.

Robin Greene, our incredible instructor, started each writing session off with meditation. Then, we went off on our own to write, inspired by the culture, the food, the art, and the landscape.  Many of us brought current projects underway.  Some created poetry and memoir anew.

Bridget working on her project against the pink wall