Category Archives: Food & Recipes

Zinacantan Textile Flowers, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

They speak Tzotzil here in the Maya highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.  San Lorenzo Zinacantan is a village nestled in a beautiful valley about thirty minutes from San San Cristobal de Las Casas.  It is a popular Sunday tourist destination combined with a visit to the mystical church at San Juan Chamula (which I will write about in another post), just ten minutes apart.

Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-42 Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-29

Zinacantan people yielded to the Spanish during the conquest.  They enjoyed more favors and received fertile land in exchange for their loyalty. Today, the Zinacantan hillside is dotted with greenhouses where flowers grow in abundance to decorate church and home altars, and are a key part of festivals.

Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-22

The village replicates these flowers in their embroidery that embellish cloth created on back strap looms.  Over the years we have seen the patterns change from simple red and white striped cloth to sparkly textiles that incorporate synthetic glitzy threads of gold and silver.  Much of the embroidery is now machine stitched, though the designs are guided by expert hands.

Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-32 Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-28

I’ve been coming to San Cristobal de Las Casas for years searching for a chal embroidered by hand to no avail. This time, Patrick, our guide took us to the home of Antonia, one of Zinacantan’s most accomplished weavers and embroiderers.  Among the hundred chals (shawl or tzute) available for purchase, I found a blue one all hand embroidered. Technology is winning out over the made by hand ethos.

Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-36

Identity is defined externally by the indigenous garment.  Some say the Spanish imposed this upon local people in order to know where they came from and to keep them in their place. Others say the design of the garment endures because of cultural pride.  The young woman above is from the village of Chenalho.  I can tell because of the design of her beautiful huipil.

Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-40 Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-38

She is the tortilla maker at Antonia’s home, who keeps the fire going, makes us a fresh quesadilla of local cheese, cured chorizo, avocado and homemade salsa to remember the visit. Food is memory, too.

Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-41 Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-34 Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-39

Nothing is wasted, not even the smoke. It curls up from the comal to cure the meats that hang above it. The corn is criollo, locally grown and ground by hand, pure and wholesome. Here in the shadowy adobe kitchen there is magic.

Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-31 Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-35

It is impossible to take photographs inside the church at Zinacantan. It is forbidden and cameras can be confiscated if you are found to violate this. Can you imagine a church altar spilling over with flowers from ceiling to floor, fresh, with an aroma of lilies, roses, gardenias and lilacs. The swirl of scent is like an infusion of incense, designed perhaps to bring one closer to god.

Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-43 Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-44 Chamula_Zinac_HotelBo-33

I organized this art and archeology study tour for Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.  If you have a small group interested in coming to Oaxaca or Chiapas, please contact me.  I have over 35 years experience organizing award-winning educational programs for some of America’s most respected universities.

Penland School Cooks in Oaxaca

We will be going back in time this week. A few days ago our participants from Penland School of Crafts gathered at Casa de los Sabores, the cooking school operated by chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo.

PenlandCookingPilar-13 PenlandCookingPilar-11 PenlandCookingPilar-16

Our menu focused on mezcal including a flaming skewered pineapple and shrimp dish that went up in flames before we ate it. The pineapple chunks were soaked in mezcal so the natural sugars ignited instantly. They were accompanied by a salad featuring tiny tomatillos that we ate raw.

PenlandCookingPilar-19

Pilar has been preparing great food for a long time.  Her La Olla Restaurant is well known in the city for using organic ingredients that are artfully prepared. Because our study tour focuses on Oaxaca arts and artisanry, food is an important ingredient in the Oaxaca mix.

PenlandCookingPilar-17 PenlandCookingPilar-9

Pilar is also very knowledgeable about the artesenal process of cultivating and distilling mezcal, too.  Before we sat down to the meal we participated in preparing, we enjoyed a four-flight mezcal tasting that began with young espadin.  She explained the different varietals, aging process and the rising cost of the smokey beverage based on escalating international interest.

PenlandCookingPilar-5 PenlandCookingPilar-4

First, it’s important to smell.  Then, take a first sip and let it go down your throat slowly.  At the end of your drink, suck on an orange slice dipped in worm salt (sal de gusano) for a perfect finish.

PenlandCookingPilar-21 PenlandCookingPilar-18 PenlandCookingPilar-2

After the memelitas with squash blossoms and queso fresco, and after the chicken with mole amarillo, we ended with an incredible flan.

PenlandCookingPilar

With a beautiful table and an array of complex tastes, we were more than satisfied.  Oh, and I forgot to mention a shopping trip to the Mercado de la Merced before the class started to pick up essential ingredients.

PenlandBest91-91 PenlandBest91-86 PenlandBest91-84 PenlandBest91-88

I work with local experts and guides to put together an unusual and intimate view of Oaxaca, her art, food and culture. I am not a tour guide but an expert at award-winning university program development. If you organization has interest in a program such as this one, please contact me.

Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing Retreat Gives Voice to Lee Schwartz

YogaFoodWriting-4Minerva Rising Literary Journal just published a piece written by Lee Schwartz on their blog that I want to share with you. Her voice is stunning, real, painful and alliterative. I love listening to her descriptions and following her words on the page. What she writes about has universal truth and especially resonates for me.

Lee attended the 2014 Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat in Oaxaca. We encouraged her to submit her pieces for publication and seek a wider audience so that many can enjoy her writing. She is coming back again in 2015.

Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat — July 2015

 

Lee wrote a piece at the 2014 retreat called Why I Eat which was edited and will appear in the next printed issue of Minerva Rising.

Our March retreat is filled. Ninety percent of our participants in this workshop return year after year. Many of them stretch to find their voice. Some are novice writers and others are more experienced. We learn from Professor Robin Greene and are inspired by each other.

Won’t you join us in July?

Food Alert! Guzina Oaxaca Opens in Mexico City

Casa Oaxaca is one of our favorite go-to restaurants in Oaxaca.  Sit on the roof. Overlook the spectacular roofline of Santo Domingo Church. Indulge in a tamarind mezcalini. Follow this with a perfectly prepared seared sea bass or duck tacos. Each sauce that accompanies is an art form in its own right. Finish with something made with Oaxaca chocolate and then walk down the Macdeonio Alcala to walk it off.

Now, when you are in Mexico City you can enjoy Oaxaca food at is finest.  Chef Alejandro Ruiz has opened Guzina Oaxaca in the upscale Polanco neighborhood where Quintonil and Pujol share addresses.  Guzina, which means kitchen in Zapotec, the predominant indigenous language of Oaxaca, showcases some of Oaxaca’s finest ingredients, include mole and mezcal.

It is also pricey.  Entrees are about 350 pesos or $25-28 USD. But if you have an appetizer, a cocktail, wine, entree and dessert, you could spend about $70 USD per person. But, then, Mexico City is one of those places with European ambience and style, a bargain if your economy is the dollar.

Food writer Leslie Tellez tells her story about Guzina Oaxaca. And, you can read more on Trip Advisor and El Chilango, too.

Chef Ruiz is not the only Oaxaca entrepreneur to make a foray into Mexico City.

Remigio Mestas Ruiz, textile curator, promoter of indigenous weaving and textile traditions ,and a man with a social conscience, opened Remigio’s at Isabel la Catolica #30 several years ago  His Oaxaca gallery, Baules de Juana Cata in the Los Danzantes patio, is where Oaxaca textile lovers go to find the very best backstrap loomed garments created with Thai silk and Egyptian cotton by the finest weavers.  These are all available in Mexico City, too.

More good reasons to come to Mexico City, don’t you think?

Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo: Art History Tour in Mexico City, November 13-17, 2015.  

Oh, and did I mention that Mexico City is safe?

This restaurant tip came from one of my readers. Got tips about Mexico and Oaxaca you want to share? Send me an email.

 

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.

ChilesNogada-8

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.

ChilesNogada-10 ChilesNogada-7

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.

ChilesNogada-2

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).

ChilesNogada

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.

ChilesNogada-5

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.

ChilesNogada-3 ChilesNogada-11