Category Archives: Dining and Lodging

Tour Puebla, Mexico: Cooking & Culture, From the Humble to the Divine

August 13-18, starting at $895 per person double occupancy–

  • Chiles en Nogada Cooking Class
  • Sumptuous Dinner Party in a Private Historic Home
  • Elegant Dining and Neighborhood Eating
  • Flea Market and Antique Shopping
  • Museums, Churches, Archeology, History

DSC_0480-8 DSC_0451-10  DSC_0453-10

Puebla, Mexico, is a short two hours from Mexico City by bus direct from the international airport. It is one of my favorite Mexican cities and I often stop here going to and from Oaxaca. It is the home of Talavera tile, Cinco de Mayo, Mole Poblano, chiles en nogada, and cemitas. It has a weekend antiques and flea market that draws crowds, gilded churches, Baroque architecture with pastel and tiled facades topped with white plaster meringue, great chefs, outstanding restaurants, and ancient archeological sites.  At 7,000 feet altitude, visitors enjoy moderate temperatures year ’round, even in summer!

Puebla_w_BSB-46 Puebla_w_BSB-24

Your five night, 6-day visit includes:

  • 5 nights lodging in a lovely, highly rated historic center hotel
  • guided visits to famed, certified Talavera ceramics studios
  • visits to extraordinary museums like Museo Amparo
  • chiles en nogada cooking class in a private home featured in Mexicocina with market tour, and lunch
  • sumptuous candlelit dinner that evening presented by our cooking teachers/hosts
  • gourmet dining and neighborhood/market fare experiences
  • time on your own to explore the incredible weekend antique/flea market
  • in-depth visits to archeological and religious sites of Cholula and Tonantzintla
  • Plus, lots more.

DSC_0549-5 DSC_0675-2 DSC_0667-2

Puebla is Mexico’s fourth largest city, cosmopolitan without being overwhelming.  It is relaxed, accessible, and easily experienced in several days. Known as the ‘City of the Angels’” or Angelopolis, Puebla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded in 1531 as a purely colonial Spanish city built from the ground up—not on top of an existing indigenous temple — at the trading crossroads between the port of Veracruz and Mexico City.  More than 5,000 Baroque-designed buildings date mostly from the 16th century and are covered in handcrafted Talavera.

 Talavera Reyna

Puebla is also about shopping! The highlight is Talavera pottery. And, there are many other local crafts: Tree of Life clay figures, bark paper paintings, woven and embroidered textiles from the Sierra Norte, red clay cooking vessels and dinnerware, and unique onyx and marble sculptures. You can find these and much more at the traditional markets, the stalls that line Puebla’s beautiful plazas, and at the weekend flea and antique market.

 DSC_0567-7

Puebla is known throughout Mexico for its excellent cuisine, a blend of pre-Hispanic, Arabic, French and Spanish influences.  There are many outstanding Tesoros de Mexico-rated (Mexico’s highest) restaurants, and we’ll be dining at a few!

DSC_0343-8

We’ll also go to Cholula, an indigenous village just outside Puebla with the world’s widest ancient pyramid, Quetzalcoatl. The Spanish built the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Remidios with its amazing 24-carat gold basilica atop the pyramid.  On a clear day you can see snow-capped Popocatepetl, an active volcano, showing off his powerful plume.

Puebla_w_BSB-45  DSC_0194-17

Preliminary Itinerary:

  • Day 1, August 13: Travel to Puebla, check-in to our historic center hotel
  • Day 2, August 14: Chiles en Nogada Cooking class with market tour & lunch, followed by sumptuous private dinner
  • Day 3, August 15: Cholula archeology site, Tonantzintla church, and Talavera de la Reyna ceramics
  • Day 4, August 16: Antiques and flea market, museums, market lunch
  • Day 5, August 17: Gallery hopping and shopping, fine dining
  • Day 6, August 18: Departure

DSC_0644-5 Puebla_w_BSB-14 DSC_0674-3

Our stops will include:

  • Antique market & Barrio del Artista
  • Museo Amparo
  • Talavera galleries and shops
  • Tonantzintla Templo de Santa Maria
  • La Purificadora Hotel, an architectural wonder, designed by Ricardo and Victor Legorreta
  • Uriarte and Talavera de la Reyna ceramics studios

We include private transportation on a day-trip to Cholula, Tonantzintla, and Talavera de la Reyna ceramics studios.

DSC_0445-10 Talavera Painter MS Best

Transportation to Puebla:  Puebla is easily accessed by Estrella Roja first class bus direct from the Benito Juarez International Airport (Terminal One and Terminal Two) and from Oaxaca on ADO.  If you are coming from the U.S. be sure to reserve your round trip air travel to/from Mexico City. When you register, we will give you complete “how to get there” information.

DSC_0429-7 DSC_0412-6

What is Not Included:

  • meals, snacks, alcoholic beverages
  • entrance fees to local museums/attractions
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • transportation to/from Puebla
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services 

Cost:

  • $895 per person double occupancy, shared room and bath
  • $1,195 per person single occupancy, private room and bath

Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit will guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance is due on or before July 1, 2014.  Payment shall be made by PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an itemized invoice.

Helene's Cemita Fish Market Puebla SK

Please understand that we make lodging and other arrangements months in advance of the program.  Deposits or payments in full are often required by our hosts.  If cancellation is necessary, please tell us in writing by email.   After July 1, no refunds are possible.  However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before July 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We ask that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since accidents happen.

Chiles for Cemitas Puebla_w_BSB-39

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a notarized waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  Unforeseen circumstances happen!

To register, email us at  normahawthorne@mac.com.  If you have questions, send us an email. We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to modify the itinerary.

 

 

 

Bringing Morocco to Mexico: Tagine Oaxaca-Style Mole Recipe

One of Morocco’s delights is tagine clay pot cooking.  This heavy clay platter with conical top is perfect for one-dish meal preparation.  I packed my tagine securely with bubble-wrap in Marrakech, seasoned it in North Carolina, repacked it, and have been cooking with it since arriving in Oaxaca this week. Tagine-2 Tagine

Oaxaca-Morocco Fusion Food:  Now, instead of Moroccan spices, I have adapted the traditional seasonings and substituted mole. Sacreligious for purists, perhaps.  But innovative for me and making the most of where you live!  Take your pick: mole negro, mole coloradito, mole manchemanteles, mole amarillo, mole verde, etc.  Whichever you choose — Ummm, good. Tagine-6 There Plus, there are huge health benefits from cooking with a tagine.  You use very little oil and water.  Meats and vegetables are pressure cooked on low heat, simmering in their own juices, and the flavors are intense.  The ratio of vegetables to meat is high. This recipe is also gluten-free!  Eliminate the meat and it’s a perfect vegetarian meal. Tagine-3-2 Ingredients:

  • 1/4 – 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, julienned
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup fresh peas or dried garbanzo beans
  • 2-3 medium potatoes cut into 2″ pieces
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1 ” slices
  • 2 zucchini squash or 1 medium choyote squash
  • 3 T. mole paste
  • 1/3 c. water
  • salt to taste
  • Optional:  1 chicken thigh and 1 chicken drumstick
  • Optional:  1 T. diced candied kumquats or ginger
  • Optional:  2 T. chopped cilantro

Directions:

  1. Coat clay platter with olive oil.
  2. Spread onion and garlic evenly on bottom.
  3. Add vegetables in a pyramid, densest ones first:  peas (or garbanzo), potatoes, carrots, squash.  I’m in Mexico, so I added nopal cactus.  You can try green beans or yellow squash.
  4. Arrange chicken so that the pyramid is secure.
  5. Top with the candied fruit and/or cilantro if you wish.
  6. Mix the mole paste with water.
  7. Drizzle the mole liquid evenly over the pyramid of meat and vegetables.
  8. Add cover.

Now, this is important!  Use a heat diffuser on the stove top gas burner.  (Use oven or a specially designed diffuser if you have electric burners.)  Put tagine on the diffuser and turn burner to low.  I’m using an 8-1/2″ cast iron Nordicware diffuser that I brought from the U.S. If you are cooking meat, cook for at least 2 hours.  If you are cooking vegetables, this should be done cooking in about 1 hour.  Check periodically to see that there is enough liquid.  If too much liquid, then spoon it out. Turn burner off.  Let tagine cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. If you are cooking in an oven, put the tagine in a cold oven, turn heat to 325 degrees, and cook as if you are making a stew.

Turn oven off.  Leave tagine in oven until it cools somewhat. Tagine-7 Tagine-2-3 Sudden temperature changes will cause a tagine to crack.  Keep it oiled with olive oil when not in use.

Hint:  it’s apple season now in Oaxaca, and apples and raisins and pears and prunes would also be great additions.  What about almonds, dates and dried apricots? Whatever you love and whatever is in season will work as long as you use the density and pyramid formula!

Tagine-5And, then there is El Morocco Restaurant in Oaxaca, highly rated by Trip Advisor.  In Colonial Reforma, Reforma 905, tel: 01 951 513 6804 I haven’t been there yet, but want to try it!  Thanks to Mary for directing me there!

Morocco Journal 9: Shopping, Eating, Sleeping, Body Work

Back home in North Carolina after 14 days in Morocco, the quintessential shopping bazaar, with a 2-day stopover in beautiful Madrid, Spain.   Now, I prepare to return to Oaxaca, but not before a final set of Morocco recommendations to share with you.

Tisnet tagines copyright Norma Hawthorne

Tisnet tagines photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

Marrakech

  • Riad Bahia Salam, Marrakech, a restored mid-range guesthouse situated within easy walking distance between the Mellah, Jemaa el Fna, and the souqs.  Great food. Serene spa with best massage. Excellent service.  English, French, Arabic spoken. Tell Omar at the front desk I said hello.
  • English-speaking Marrakech taxi driver Abdellatif will drive you anywhere for a reasonable price.  He has a university education in linguistics and can’t find professional work!  Very nice, honest man. Tel  (00212) (0) 6 60 47 98 42
  • For incredible Marrakech hand-woven cotton and agave silk scarves see artisan Ahmed El Baroudi, Souk Serrajine,  No. 69, Tel 06 58 37 19 80
Spice market, photo by Norma Hawthorne

Spice market, photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • Chez Laarabi is in the Mellah, down the street from the spice market and the old Jewish synagogue no longer in use.  It is a mini-bazaar with a fine selection of rugs, leather bags, clothing, old and new Berber and Tuareg jewelry, tea sets, babouche (pointy-toed slippers), and all things Moroccan. Arset El Maach, Rue de la Radeema No. 41 (upstairs). Tel 06 66 09 11 59 email: simolarrabi@hotmail.com  Say Hi to Mohamed for me.
  • Stay outside the city in the Palmerie at Mosaic Palais Aziz & Spa for deluxe, grand luxury experience.  The two swimming pools and spa offer a retreat from the hubbub of being in the souq.
  • Chez Chegrouni for the BEST tagine and people watching on Jemaa el Fna.  I had both the vegetarian and the chicken tagine on two different nights.  Cheap and delicious! Recommended by locals in the know.
  • Don’t get kidnapped by the henna artists on Jemaa el Fna.  They are con artists who grabbed my wrist, started painting my hand in motion, and dragged me to their chair before I could protest!  Cost 100 dh to get out of jail. Evidently they are famous.  First price she asked me to pay to be bailed out = 800 dirham.  Don’t fall for it :)
They saw a live one coming!

They saw a live one coming!

DSC_1642

Essaouira, Morocco photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

Essaouira

  • Taros Restaurant, Essaouira, consistently the best food, views, Atlantic Ocean breezes, great wine.
  • Buy your tagine in the fish market square.  Don’t pay more than 30 dirham!  I bought one made in Tisnet which is just south of Agadir on the Atlantic coast.  It has a beautiful green/brown glaze.
  • Eat dinner at L’Heure Bleue, the luxury Chateaux et Relais hotel at the Bab Marrakech (the Marrakech Gate) if you want to spend $100 per person for superb food and house label wine.
L'Heure Bleue courtyard, photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

L’Heure Bleue patio, photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • See Abraham Touarez for great authentic, old Berber and Twareg jewelry at very reasonable prices.  Avenue Sidi Mohamed Be Abdellah on the left side closer to the end of the shopping as you walk toward the old Mellah.  There’s a pool hall directly across the avenue.  Tel 06 70 95 404  He says the best way to clean Berber silver (a metal/silver mix) is to use salt and lemon juice! Map.
Argan oil, nuts photo by Norma Hawthorne

Argan oil, nuts photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • Best lunches are at teeny tiny Vague Bleu on a side street to the left off Avenue Mohamed El Quon as you walk toward the Bab Marrakech after crossing the BIG main shopping avenue.  Seats 8-10 people.  Get there early.  Daily specials. Terrific.  Went there 4 days in a row.  Not boring.  French ex-pat hang-out.
  • For rugs from a trusted merchant go to Maroc Art, 8 Bis Rue Laalouj, next to the museum.  Ask for Abdel Mounaim Bendahhane or his colleague Abdoul Gnaoui. Tel. 05 24 47 50 50  or email maroc_art@live.fr
  • Bring home Moroccan spices, dates, argan cooking oil and argan nut spread (be sure you buy the authentic kind made with almonds not peanuts) from a young man in a stall on the left side of Ave. Mohamed Zerktouni close to the Bab Doukala.  Very fresh.  Keep your empty water bottles and pour the oil into them.  Then wrap in bubble for safe travels.

Best53-15 Best53-8

  • Azur Spa & Hammam for great deep tissue massage.  1-1/2 hours for 500 dirham  – an incredible bargain!
  • Visit the Essaouira Synagogue and discover Jewish Moroccan history – deeply embedded in the town’s identity as a trading center.
Mohamed Touarez copyright Norma Hawthorne

Abraham Touarez, photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

How to get from Marrakech to Essaouira?  It’s a two to four hour bus ride depending upon which company you choose.  SupraTours and CTM offer first class direct service and have their own stations.  Any bus that you take from the Gare Routiere will stop in every hamlet and crossroads along the way. Avoid El Mahabba Voyages, second class, shabby. Prices are about the same.  You choose.  And, don’t get swindled by somebody who wants a tip to reserve a seat for you!  Bags are extra 5-10 dh each depending on which service you choose.

Below, dinner at L’Heure Bleue.  C’est magnifique.

Best53-10 Best53-9

Morocco Journal 4: From the Medina to the Palace

From North Africa, the land of coucous, tagine, lamb, prunes, dates, figs and apricots:  We moved from the cozy, neighborhood riad on a busy street in the Marrakech medina near the crush of the souq and Jemaa el-Fnaa square to an oasis about 15 minutes beyond the city center.

Mosaic Palais Marrakech-8   JudePortraits+

The Mosaic Palais Aziza & Spa driver fetched and spirited us away in a new Rolls Royce to a neighborhood of gated palaces, mature date palms, lush gardens, climbing pink bougainvillea and aromatic jasmine.  We entered a refuge, a rose-colored enclave of repose and serenity.  Luxury and 5-star boutique hotel only begins to describe where I landed, thanks to Judith Reitman-Texier and skin care and lifestyle company La Bedouine.

Mosaic Palais Marrakech-14    JudePortraits+-15

Marrakech is a desert sanctuary. Known as the Red City for her mandated salmon pink buildings, travelers come to experience her legendary romantic appeal, great craftsmanship, outstanding food, and focus on personal health.

Mosaic Palais Marrakech-2

Spa life is an integral part of desert culture where both men and women of all economic levels take a weekly cleansing hammam.  Small guesthouses, luxury boutique hotels, and grand international hotels all offer spa treatment services. Here beauty is more than skin deep.  It is a meditation whose source comes from deep within for spiritual and emotional cleansing and purification.

Mosaic Palais Marrakech-19 Mosaic Palais Marrakech-27

Mosaic Palais Aziz & Spa is a perfect spot for the frenzied.  There’s not much to do here except lounge on pristine white divans on a patio outside the room or at the pool and swim.  Take your time.  North Africa is slower paced, just like Mexico. Enjoy a spa treatment, take a turn in the fully equipped gym, and sleep at any hour of the day.  Reading a book seems to be the preferred entertainment for guests stretched out around the two pools.

Mosaic Palais Marrakech-13 JudePortraits+-11

You can dine at two extraordinary restaurants where Daniele Tourco, director of food and beverage and chef de cuisine, ensures that guests have the best fresh-made Moroccan and Italian specialties.

Have you ever had scorpion fish?  Karim el Ghazzawi, President and CEO, recommended I try this last night.  Otherwise, I would never have ventured there with a name like that.  I know scorpions. I find them in my Oaxaca casita and I would never eat one!  I step on them.  But, the name belies the delicacy and Morocco is famed for her fresh fish and oysters.

Mosaic Palais Marrakech-20  Mosaic Palais Marrakech-7

There is even delicious Halana brand merlot available at the hotel that is made in Morocco to sip at your leisure.

Arabian Nights architecture and decor, lemon, olive, date and pomegranate trees heavy with fruit surround me.  I’ve just emerged from a four-hands massage (imagine that).  I feel so fortunate to be here at this moment, far away from stress and the decisions at hand.

Mosaic Palais Marrakech-9 Mosaic Palais Marrakech

I did venture out on my own on Day Two, stopping periodically to consult a map, with no difficulty.  Though Morocco is an Arabic and French-speaking country, I found myself able to get along in both Spanish and English, using Spanish as my primary language.  In tourist areas and hotels, most people speak enough English for basic communication.  

Now, for another glass of mint tea before dinner!  I’m six hours ahead of you.

Mosaic Palais Marrakech-25  Mosaic Palais Marrakech-24  Mosaic Palais Marrakech-22  Mosaic Palais Marrakech-4

 

Crunchy, No-Cook Nopal Cactus Salad with Fruit and Sprouts: Healthy, Fresh, Fast, Easy

My sister Barbara and I were in Puebla, Mexico recently and during our three-day stay we ate at El Mural de los Poblanos Restaurant three times.  We can’t get enough of Chef Lizette Galicia’s good food.  We each have a favorite salad there.  Barbara loves the fresh nopal cactus tossed with tomato, onion, cilantro, queso fresco, radishes and little slices of fresh serrano chiles. I love the sunflower sprout salad tossed with toasted pecans, sunflower seeds, radishes and a light olive oil and lime dressing.  Everything goes crunch.   Be patient.  There is a recipe and photos below!

Nopal Cactus Salad-9

 

This week I bought three nopal cactus paddles at my organic market, spines and all.  I buy them in the Teotitlan del Valle market already trimmed, diced and waiting to be cooking.  Those spines pricked me in the market and the check-out clerk had to cover her hand in a plastic baggie.  Today, I put on my thick rubber dishwashing gloves to handle them.  It was much easier than I thought.  With paring knife in hand, I scraped off the spines and trimmed the edges.  Facile.

Based on the ingredients in my kitchen and Chef Lizette’s method for preparing perfectly crunchy, delicious nopal, here is my recipe I know you will find tasty.  It is a merging of these two salads we love, a blend of nopal and sunflower sprouts.

Norma’s No-Cook Nopal Cactus Salad with Fruit, Sprouts, Seeds

Ingredients (Norma’s Innovation)

  • 3 cactus paddles, cleaned and diced
  • 2 cups fresh sunflower sprouts, washed, dried
  • 1/4 c. sunflower seeds
  • 1 small romaine or bibb lettuce, washed, dried, torn into 1-2″ pieces
  • 8 strawberries (mine are organic, small, flavorful), whole
  • 1 medium mandarin orange, peeled, segmented
  • 1 mango, ripe, seeded, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 1 T. coarse sea salt
  • 2 T. vinaigrette salad dress (scratch or bottled Cesaer)

Nopal Cactus Salad Nopal Cactus Salad-2 Nopal Cactus Salad-3

Method (attributed to Chef Lizette Galicia, El Mural de los Poblanos)

  1. Clean the cactus paddles.  Here is a link to how to do it.
  2. Put the diced cactus in a small bowl.  You should have about 3/4 to 1 cup.  Add coarse sea salt.  Stir.  Let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the diced red onion to the cactus.  Stir.  Let mixture sit while you prepare the other ingredients.
  4. Wash and dry lettuce and sprouts.  Put into mixing bowl.
  5. Soak berries in water for 2 minutes with 1 T. of white vinegar to clean. Drain. Dry. De-stem.  Add to salad.
  6. Add mandarin segments to salad.
  7. Prepare mango by cutting it in half along the seed plane.  Score each half as if it was a tic-tac-toe board in 1″ cubes.  Fold the skin under and peel flesh from skin with paring knife.  Add to salad.
  8. Go back to nopal cactus and onion mixture.  Turn out into a mesh strainer.  The mix will be slimy like okra.  Run under cold water for 5 minutes or until the water is clear.  Taste for saltiness.  If too salty, continue to rinse.
  9. Drain cactus and onion well over a bowl.  Put bowl in refrigerator for 10 minutes until mix is cold.  Add to salad.
  10. Toss salad well with sunflower seeds.  Dress and serve.
  11. Serves 4.
  12. Enjoy!

Nopal Cactus Salad-5 Nopal Cactus Salad-7 Nopal Cactus Salad-8

The health attributes of nopal cactus is legendary. Years ago, Andrew Weill, M.D., exclaimed that by eating nopal cactus you would get more vitamin C, reduce cholesterol and add fiber to your diet.  Health experts say it also reduces blood sugar to help keep diabetes under control and is great for weight loss.  Lore has it that it can prevent a hangover and control hypertension, too.  Let’s eat more nopal!   Just be careful not to prick yourself :)  

I am planning to make this again next weekend for the TMM-Day of the Dead Photography Workshop 2012 Reunion.  I’ll be writing more about that. Suffice it to say, seven women in the workshop last fall connected and wanted to get together again.  They are coming to North Carolina from all over the U.S.