Monthly Archives: November 2013

Post-Thanksgiving Gratitude, Wishes, Stuffing and Stuff

To all my friends and readers near and far, to my family whom I adore, Gracias,  Gracias por todos, thank you for everything. Your love, caring, generosity, support, guidance and just being you means everything to me. You are numerous  – my world is big and inclusive. Consider yourself part of life’s blessings in Thanksgiving, today and always. Gracias.

I don’t know why I woke up hungry today, Black Friday. Maybe because I’m thinking about how to best avoid the crush, rush of Internet and store message bombardment to my inbox.  Food is so soothing when faced with the anxiety of impulse shopping because there might be a bargain out there.

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Thanksgiving Day in Santa Cruz, California was a marathon food fest with two giant meals.  The first was at our mother’s retirement community where residents, children, grandchildren and friends attended a lavish buffet.  My sister thinks this was the first time my mother (being germ-cautious at age 97-1/2) kissed her on the mouth.  My sister forgot to put on lipstick. It was a moment of sharing.  Thank goodness this meal began at noon!

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Next up: My brother-in-law brought Ernestina’s mole negro back with him from Oaxaca with the intention of making Thanksgiving turkey mole.   Ernestina is my friend and neighbor who lives down the lane in Teotitlan del Valle.  Thanksgiving2013-16

Her spicy black chocolate sauce, which she served us on All Souls Day before going to the village cemetery, is among the best we’ve ever tasted.  Someday, I will watch her prepare it and share the recipe.  I know she takes her chocolate beans (which she roasts herself) to the molina and adds the secret proportions of sugar, cinnamon, almonds and vanilla to yield a thick, rich paste. I know this because I bumped into her there.

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At 4 p.m. when Barbara and George’s guests arrived, I was at the stove making Chanukah potato latkes (see recipe below), enough for 30 people, although there were eight of us.  B&G have been sharing Thanksgiving with the wine making Ahlgren family for over 25 years.  They arrived with vintage bottles of early 1990′s bottles of Chardonnay and Merlot. We started with champagne, moved on to the wine, and topped off the dinner with a mezcal tasting.  Thank goodness it took me an hour to make the latkes and we didn’t sit down to eat until six o’clock.

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Our menu included homemade applesauce, turkey mole (George grilled the turkey breast, sliced it, and then added it to Ernestina’s mole to simmer for a couple of hours before serving), potato latkes, Shrimp Louie salad, homemade poppyseed cake with lemon curd and vanilla ice cream.

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Oops, can’t forget the Tucson Tamale Company tamales — turkey and cranberry, and sweet potato.  Sister had them shipped frozen, overnight delivery, only waiting to be steamed and served.

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So, for me, Thanksgiving is about making sure we have more than sustenance in our lives.  It says, it is important to live in abundance.  It is valuable to express gratitude to those who love us, care for us, come into our lives if only for a moment. It is our opportunity to reach out to friends and family to share our harvest.  It is a time to appreciate all that we do have and being satisfied.

Which is why it is so strange that Black Friday follows the day after — promoting a yearning for more, the frenzy of acquisition, the quest for stuffing our homes, closets and lives with more stuff.  Certainly the Thanksgiving stuffing should be enough!

Best wishes to you all for a season of peace, abundance and connection.

Norma’s Original Thanksgivvukah Potato Latkes

  • 6 peeled, Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium eggs, scrambled
  • 3 T. matzo meal
  • 1 t. salt (prefer fine ground sea salt)
  • 1/2 t. pepper, fresh ground
  • 2-3 c. olive and safflower oil mixed

Add potatoes to a food processor bowl with the chopping blade inserted.  Pulse 6-8 times until the mixture is a coarse chop, with 1/4″ pieces.  Remove to bowl of water.  Let sit for 5 minutes. Drain to remove the potato starch.  Return to food processor bowl.  Add onion and garlic.  Pulse 2-3 times. Add salt and pepper.  Pulse 2-3 times to stir.  Add matzo meal.  Pulse to stir.  Add eggs.  Pulse to stir.

Pour 1-2 c. oil into fry pan and heat on medium high burner until oil sizzles. Test with flick of water.  If water jumps, oil is ready.    Using a large tablespoon, put 1/4 c. of potato mixture into hot oil for each latke (pancake).  Flip when one side is golden brown.  Continue cooking until both sides well-browned.  Remove.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve hot.

Serve with applesauce and sour cream.  We had a jar of homemade hibiscus flower jam from El Diablo y La Sandia B&B in Oaxaca, which was an extra treat to go with the latkes.

 

Adentro: A Glimpse Inside Puebla, Mexico

The Franciscans created Puebla as the first true (ha, ha) Spanish city in Mexico, building it from the ground up, not on top of destroyed indigenous religious sites as they had a habit of doing.  The Paseo Viejo de San Francisco is a cobblestone walking promenade that connects the church named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi where Hernan Cortes worshipped with upscale shopping, restaurants and hotels.  This is a renovated historic area — the oldest part of the city where Puebla was founded. It’s the neighborhood I’m staying in on this visit.

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I’m back in Puebla for an overnight before heading to Mexico City and then on to San Francisco for Thanksgiving with my family.  I’ve been here so many times in recent years that I can negotiate the avenues by foot and not get lost, returning to some of my favorite spots.  It was an all-day walkabout — eight hours total.

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Today as I meander, I decide to take a different approach.  I look into courtyards where tall, heavy wood gates open slightly give me a glimpse of an interior life.  I peer into obscurely lit stores.  I see shadows and light, profiles and outlines of figures.  I look inside instead of at the stunning Talavera tile and wedding cake plaster facades that captivate visitors.

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Still life hides behind high plaster walls through the cracks of gated doors, between the bars of gated churches at altars where no one worships, down alleyways where laundry dries, through windows into storage rooms.

Puebla112513-15 Puebla112513-8 Puebla112513-3 Puebla112513-13                            A shop clerk hangs against a door jam, take a drag on a cigarette.  Women establish themselves in business with a pile of masa dough and a garbage container filled with charcoal topped with a comal.   They will stuff tacos with cheese, chilis, bits of chicken for passersby to grab and eat as they walk on.

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Before I leave Puebla, I treat myself to a lunch at what I undoubtedly believe is the best restaurant in the city, El Mural de los Poblanos.  Don’t miss it. Spectacular service and perfectly prepared food.

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It was a mezcal kind of day for me: first a tamarind mezcal margarita, then a shot glass of Puebla origin mezcal (with worm salt and orange slices) compliments of the manager (that I managed to nurse throughout the 2-1/2 hour meal), a sunflower sprout salad, and shrimps sauteed in mezcal.  I finished with a small scoop of house made pumpkin ice cream and a raisin liqueur. Who’s hungry? Did anyone say bed time?

Car Talk Oaxaca: Funky Honda Element Qualifies for Mexico

Some of you have followed my saga of trying to bring a car to Mexico.  I recently sold the Honda CRV that I bought a few years ago with the intention of driving it to Mexico and using it here.  Not possible, I found out, because it was assembled in Great Britain.  Cars imported to Mexico have to start with a numeric VIN number that indicates it made in North America (USA, Canada or Mexico).  Thank you, NAFTA. 

I could not find a Made in the USA Honda CRV in the model year I wanted to replace the one I sold that had the right VIN.  I even tried the Toyota RAV 4.  No go.  All assembled in Japan.   (Sidebar:  my Canadian friend Lynda who lives in Oaxaca part of the year, and has a permanent resident visa, must take her Toyota RAV 4 out of the country.  Why?  Made in Japan.)

So, I started to hunt for what I imagined might be the next best thing, a Honda Element.  I happily discovered that since their introduction in 2003 until their demise in 2011, all were assembled in Ohio, USA.  That qualifies.  And, because so few of them were made, they are not that easy to find.  But, right there in Durham, North Carolina, a black 2004 Honda Element came up on Craigslist.  Not perfect, but good enough for my purposes — practical, affordable, solid transportation for the right price.  Good for schlepping and hauling.

While in Oaxaca,  my dear North Carolina friends Ted and Jo-Anne offered to help me check out this car before I negotiated the purchase.  Thanks to them, a car like the one above became mine today.   They picked it up for me and will park it in their driveway until I get there in early December. There’s some stuff that needs fixin’ but overall it’s a good car that will be ready for a road trip to Austin, Texas, before Christmas.

Why Austin?  That’s where I will deliver it to a friend from Oaxaca, who for a fair price, will “legalize” it for Mexico, help me get Mexican automobile insurance, and drive it to my village so he can visit his family.  A win-win for all of us.  All I will need to do after he gets here is to go to the local office to get Oaxaca license plates.  I know him and I know his family.  It’s a perfect solution to the dilemma of being without personal wheels to explore the region and the need to restrain myself from buying more than I can transport by foot or in a small moto-taxi/tuk-tuk.   Comparison shop for furniture? Explore a remote village in the Mixteca? Make a trip to the nursery to buy fruit trees?  Without a car, a major undertaking.

I will be blogging about the road trip and the experience of getting the car ready to bring to Mexico.   Meanwhile, what to name it?  Maybe Little Black Box?

Meanwhile, I’m soon on my way to Mexico City to catch a San Francisco flight to be with my family in time for Thanksgiving.

Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, joyous holiday filled with goodness: creating fondest memories, preparing and eating delicious food, and delighting in the sustenance of thanksgiving.

 

Vintage Moroccan Tribal and Berber Jewelry: For Your Collection

In this post: a stunning collection of Moroccan tribal jewelry for sale.  We traveled the souks of Marrakech and Essaouira to find these treasures — several stunning necklaces and one outstanding filigree Berber bracelet. All are vintage!  We sat on leather poufs at the feet of Moroccan traders who served us glasses of hot, sweet mint tea.

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We haggled Moroccan-style to get the best possible prices and selected the most original, authentic antique pieces from the most reputable merchants who locals know and trust.   We went right to the source and are offering these treasures to you just in time for the holidays.  Please send me an email with your mailing address, if you would like to purchase a piece.  I will send you a PayPal invoice, add mailing costs and the piece will be on its way to you pronto.  Oops, as fast as a sheik on a camel.

1. AMBER PENDANT NECKLACE–SOLD

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Stunning, hand crafted, vibrantly colored four strand antique Berber tribal necklace with amber. Circa 1940s. Pink coral, red coral, orange coral, turquoise, intricately painted wooden trading beads, hand rolled ceramic beads, engraved Berber silver, jet. Traditional yarn tie.

Length: 24 inches. Adjustable. Weight: 200 grams.  $285

2. COIN PENDANT NECKLACE

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Rare, exquisite multi-pendant antique tribal necklace. Four perfect strands of etched-pattern Berber silver, amber, turquoise, red coral, orange coral, hand rolled ceramic and painted wood beads. Antique Berber 2 dirham coin pendant, circa 1890s, and 2 red coral pendants.  Traditional yarn tie. Length: 24 inches, adjustable.  Weight: 195 grams.  $310.

3.  RED CORAL 7–STRAND NECKLACE

photo 3Antique red coral and red Venetian glass beads with Tuareg Berber silver desert medallion. Circa 1940s. Length: 20 inches. Weight: 95 grams.  Old clasp reinforced with invisible clear wire.  $225.

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4.  GREEN BEAD NECKLACE

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A show stopper. Remarkable antique Desert Tribal Necklace “Green Beads.” Circa late 19th century or earlier from the Ida ou Sental Berber tribe, southern Morocco. Six beaded strands with old brass and Berber silver desert medallions and coins. An elaborately engraved antique brass centerpiece medallion with Berber silver coin pendants symbolizing Circle of Life.  Hand painted wood trading beads and jet Venetian glass beads.

Length: 24 inches. Weight: 275 grams. Old hook clasp reinforced with clear wire. $350

5.  BERBER TRIBAL BRACELET, ATLAS MOUNTAINS

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INTRICATE filigree Berber Silver Tribal Bracelet from the mid-Atlas Mountains. Green and yellow enamel, red and green original Venetian glass trading bead inserts, bezel set.  Six Berber silver coins with 5-pointed stars.
Diameter 2 ¼ inches diameter, 1 ½ inches wide. Weight: 100 grams. $280

Oaxaca Indigo Dye Workshop Delights Penland School of Crafts Visitors

Penland2013_1-45Dyeing with the natural color of indigo was a highlight of the Penland School of Crafts textile workshop tour of Oaxaca in early November.  I brought this wonderful group  of women — all first-time visitors to Oaxaca — for a workshop with Eric Chavez Santiago and his parents at their family home in Teotitlan del Valle.

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Indigo is a plant that grows wild on the southern Pacific coast of Oaxaca in the village of Santiago Niltepec.  Before we rolled up our sleeves to immerse our hands and white cloth into the dye pot, Eric explained the process of how indigo is processed here by hand to get the intense color that you see in the photos.

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After Eric demonstrates how to twist, tie, bundle, fold, clip, band, and otherwise manipulate a white piece of cotton to get a pattern, each person takes their cloth and starts their own project.  Some choose marbles that are held by rubber bands.  Others fold the cloth like a sandwich of triangles. Some combine the two.

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It’s a surprise when we unroll them from the styrofoam tube.  Every resulting piece is unique and beautiful.  Perfect for a scarf or wall-hanging.

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I cannot say enough about Eric and his family, what an education and experience. I feel like I have new friends in Mexico. The personal contact and sharing make this such a rich and deep experience, not just learning a skill but really feeling the history of the culture and being charged by the experience. – Barbara Benisch

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During the workshop, Federico Chavez Sosa and Dolores Santiago Arrellanas give us a break and show us the process for tapestry weaving with a thorough demonstration.  The family only uses natural dyes to produce the rugs they weave.

We have two spaces left for a 3-day natural dye workshop in January, several spaces open for a 4-day tapestry weaving workshop that immediately follows.

We develop customized programs like the one for Penland for arts organizations.  Contact us to learn more. 

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