Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Masterpiece of Mexican Cuisine and Symbol of Independence: Chile en Nogada

It’s a Chile en Nogada kind of day here in Puebla, Mexico, where it was first prepared by Augustinian nuns, so they say, to honor the birthday of General Augustin Iturbide on August 28, 1821, who orchestrated Mexico’s independence from Spain on the same date.

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I ate one Chile en Nogada today here at El Mural de Los Poblanos. One s not enough. But, lo, I won’t be here long enough, gone by the time you read this! No second day for a second helping.

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History notes that it took Iturbide less than a year to secure independence after he put together a three-part coalition of liberal insurgents, landed nobility and the church who had been in-fighting for ten years. He formulated The Three Guarantees: Freedom from Spain, Religion (Catholicism only) and  Union (all Mexicans treated as equals).

Iturbide translated The Three Guarantees into the Tri-Color Mexican flag — green, red and white —  and added the Aztec symbol of the eagle perched on a cactus to build upon the past. The city is decorated to honor the occasion and the Chile en Nogada season.

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The nuns created the Chile en Nogada to honor the man who created the first Mexican independence.  The dish is tri-color:  A beautiful poblano chile stuffed with minced pork, fresh fruit, pine nuts and savory spices (green), topped with a fresh walnut and cream sauce (white) and garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds (red).

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Today, chile en nogada is THE seasonal dish in Puebla. It is a culinary masterpiece along with the other masterpiece of Puebla origins, mole poblano. Every restaurant tries to capitalize on the popularity of this famous dish.

Chile en Nogada is available fresh only from July to September when pomegranates are ripe, peaches and apples are in season, and mild poblano peppers are prolific.

No restaurant does it better than El Mural de Los Poblanos.  I’ve been coming here for years and the preparation, presentation and taste never wavers from excellent. Paired with Casa Madero 3V red wine from Coahuila, Mexico, this meal was cien percento (one hundred percent) Mexicano.

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Chef Lisette Galicia’s Chile en Nogada is stuffed with a picadillo of pears, apples, pine nuts, raisins and ground pork, seasoned with hints of North African spices that point to Spain’s Moorish history. It is a perfect combination of sweet and savory.  The version here is a sweeter nogada sauce, a counter-point to what I tasted the week before at Mexico City’s Azul Historico, where two sauce versions, one sweet, the other savory, were available on the menu.

Now, it’s off to El Norte for a while. Hasta pronto. I’ll be dreaming of you, Mexico.

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Art History Tour: Mexican Muralism, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico City

The Mexican Muralists, and especially the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are the focus of our Mexico City Art History Tour: Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.  Arrive on November 13 and depart on November 17. DiegoFrida4Group-77 This intensive study tour takes you into off-the-beaten path public art spaces and those that are more popular where Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros worked. DiegoFrida4Group-65 Be prepared to walk, explore, discover, discuss and enjoy the Old World beauty of Mexico’s capital city.  You will learn more in three days about Mexico, her culture and ethos, than you ever imagined, and how Rivera and Kahlo helped define a national identity after the 1910 Revolution. DiegoFrida4Group-84 If you are intrigued by

  • the mystery of Frida’s relationship with her mentor Diego Rivera, whom she married twice,
  • social and political history of pre- and post-revolution Mexico,
  • Mexican Muralist Movement as populist outcry and government tool,
  • Aztec archeology,
  • Colonial and Belle Epoque architecture,
  • Mexico City as a food, culture, and art mecca,

This program is for you!

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Our art historian has postponed her graduate studies in Europe for one year, so we are fortunate to be able to offer this program again.

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If you have never traveled to Mexico City, this is a great introduction to the historic center and Casa Azul, the home Frida and Diego shared. Plus, we visit the Dolores Olmedo Museum that holds the largest collection of Diego’s and Frida’s work.

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Mexico City is easy to fly to from anywhere in the United States and Canada. The city is safe, clean and hospitable.  Our friendly hotel is located just two blocks from the Zocalo, the Palacio Nacional, the Catedral and the Templo Mayor archeological site of the Aztec power center. DiegoFrida4Group-5 Questions?  Contact Norma Hawthorne.  DiegoFrida4Group2-7

One Day in Capulalpam de Mendez: Oaxaca’s Pueblo Magico

High in Oaxaca’s Sierra Juarez, the mountain range to the east of Oaxaca city that borders the state of Veracruz, nestles Capulalpam de Mendez, one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos. The village is terraced into the mountainside and the views are breathtaking. Indeed, the altitude can take your breath away at almost 8,000 feet (2,350 meters, 7,710 feet to be exact).

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We are on a two-day adventure, me, Hollie and Carol.  We call it an adventure because none of us had been up this road before.  Little did we know what would be in store for us further along.  Before long, we will be called Las Tres Mosqueteras — female version of the Three Musketeers.

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We leave Oaxaca early Sunday morning in my faithful La Tuga (10-year-old Honda Element) to take the switch-back federal highway MEX 175, first to Ixtlan de Juarez, where Mexico’s reformist hero Benito Juarez was baptized close to his birthplace of Guelatao.  We climb nearly 2,000 feet in the distance of 62 kilometers or about 38 miles. The precipices are harrowing and the jam-packed shared taxis pay no attention to the solid yellow line that goes the distance to separate the two-lanes.  It takes the better part of two hours to make the trip.

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Soon we are in a bio-diverse ecosystem of pine, cedar and oak dripping with ferns, bromeliads and moss. It is a rainforest up here with water run-off, gurgling streams filled with trout and lots of roadside restaurants to eat them fresh.

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I took one seat out of La Tuga so I can haul an easy-chair and ottoman to an ESL teacher friend, the only gringa at University of Sierra Juarez in Ixtlan. On the return, I carry back a locally crafted pine dresser made from sustainable wood.

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After sleeping overnight at the very comfortable Ecoturixtlan ecotourism lodge (try the zip line), I propose we go further up the mountain a few miles more to Capulalpam. I had heard about it but had never been there and everyone is up for what’s next.

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Once we get there, we are lucky to find a comedor open for breakfast at the central market. The eggs are perfect and the climate even more so. We meet farmers and  innkeepers who tell us that there are only a few Zapotec speakers left in the village. We decide this a perfect spot for a writing retreat or just to chill-out for a few days.  Next time.

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Since the historic church doesn’t open until noon and it is only 10:30 a.m. local time (an hour later in Oaxaca City, go figure), we decide to scout out the road to the highest point in the village. There’s an overlook up there and we ask directions.

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Go to the end of the pavement. Take the dirt road up, says a local woman.  So we do.  I turn left, climb higher, shifting between first and second. With each curve there is a vista more spectacular than the one before. Then, we face it.

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A seventy-degree hill (okay maybe I’m exaggerating just a bit) rutted from rain run-off with a base of gravel and rock. I stop the car.  Carol says, Well, we could get out and walk. I say, Well, I think we can make it. Let’s see what La Tuga can do. I press the clutch, push the stick into first and up we go. Except we make it only about half way until the clutch starts to burn and the car begins to swivel sideways dancing toward the edge.

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I brake. Oops, I say. Roll down the window and honk, then yell,  Necessito un ayudante. I need a helper.  Ayudame. Help me. Un hombre. Un hombre. A man.  A man. Hilarious, you might think, despite the fact that we are independent women trying to make our way in the world solita. Alone. Hah.  Hombre, I yell again.  Two children materialize at the top of the hill and look down at us. I imagine they are thinking, Gringas Locas.

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Then, David appears. He runs to the passenger side of the car as Hollie is attempting an exit, tells her to get back in. Carol is unusually quiet. David guides me, tells me how to exactly turn the wheel so I can back down slow, straight and sure. Thank goodness my Spanish is good enough!

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At the base of the road, I turn the car around around. David invites us all into his house to meet his wife Martha and drink fresh guava juice.  His view hanging over the mountain side was pretty darn good.

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But, we still want to find the Mirador, the very top of the mountain. David offers to guids us up there and climbs in the back seat. Amazing views.

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We joke about our adventure all afternoon. Later, we invite David and Martha to join us for a trout dinner, exchange phone numbers, and I get contact information for his two adult children, a son and a daughter, who live in Los Angeles and who he hasn’t seen in seven years.

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If I hadn’t made that turn, I wonder what this story would be like.

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P.S. Find the whole wheat bread baked in the wood fired clay oven.  Stay overnight at Hotel Chorromonte, 01 (951) 53 92052, with WiFi, beautiful, clean, from 200 pesos a night. Eat breakfast at Comedor Mau-Mau in the village market operated by Betzabeth Cosmes Perez.

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Peace and Quiet in Teotitlan del Valle, Except for an Earthquake

The Guelaguetza crowds were staggering. Oaxaca city was clogged with foot and street traffic. There was excitement, band music, the sizzle of street food, parades of elegantly dress women from the villages, and more shopping overload than any accomplished shopaholic could need or want.

Day & Night Shopping: Expoventa on the Andador

Day & Night Shopping: Expoventa on the Andador

With enough stimulation to last me weeks, I decided to leave the city early on Sunday and return to the casita I call home in Teotitlan del Valle. On Monday, doing laundry was my meditation.

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Tamarind, Lime, Hibiscus Mezcalinis at La Olla Restaurant – Yummy

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Maya celebrates her 18th birthday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sipping Nuevo Mundo  coffee from my rooftop terrace, I heard birds sing and the hammer of a carpenter building. In the distance, I saw farmers tending to their fields just as they do each day here.  It is a refuge here. Some never need to go elsewhere.

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Strumming on an ass jawbone, traditional music

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Oaxaca is earthquake country.  In the early morning hours today, when REM sleep is deep, I feel the shake and roll of my bed, and the rattle of the kitchen pans suspended from the ceiling rack. It went on for what seemed an eternity or perhaps thirty seconds.  I decided not to panic, rolled over and tried to fall back asleep.

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Now, it is overcast and we are waiting for rain. The farmers need the rain for their milpa – the fields planted with corn, squash and beans, local sustenance for millenia.

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Thank you, Teotitlan del Valle, for sheltering me in peace, quiet and tranquility. It is enough. Even with an earthquake once in a while.

Oaxaca Street Life: Guelaguetza Crush, Art and Expoventas

Thousands of people converge on the streets of Oaxaca for Guelaguetza. Only 11,000 were in the Guelaguetza auditorium to hear Lila Downs last night. OaxStreetLife-9

The rest were visitors strolling Macedonio Alcala, the walking avenue between the Zocalo and Santo Domingo Church, and roaming vendors selling everything from fragrant azucenas that only bloom at night to ice cream and hair decor.

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The perpendicular and parallel side streets are filled with pop-up outdoor food stands where you can get tortillas cooked on a comal any way you like them.

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A must-see art exhibit at Instituto de Artes Graficas de Oaxaca across from Santo Domingo Church opened last night. A crowd of visitors and locals packed the galleries to see some stunning lithography and the beer flowed.

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Mexico’s art is usually wrapped in social and political commentary and this exhibition is no exception. Here artist-illustrator Artemio Rodriguez paints the Virgin of Guadalupe on a shovel and the eagle on a cactus with a snake in its mouth, symbol of nationhood, on a wheelbarrow. Is this irreverent?

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Images of farm workers and the iconic Porfirio Diaz, president/dictator, offer us visual contrast between poverty and poverty, honor and corruption.  Art here is something to chew on, not for matching with furniture and color palette.

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Of course, shopping is King and Queen, and you can find some of the best Oaxaca artisans from many villages here in Oaxaca this time of year.

WHERE? At pop-up art and folk art Expoventa shows throughout the city:

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