Tag Archives: fiesta

Uriel and Rosalia’s Zapotec Wedding, Oaxaca, Mexico

The church wedding is an important part of Zapotec community life. Often, a couple will have a civil marriage ceremony and begin their family as Rosalia and Uriel did three years ago.  Their dream will be to save enough to hold a religious service that recognizes their marriage in the eyes of God.  Their young children are baptized as part of the celebratory mass.  This is common practice.

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As a by-product of the Mexican Revolution and its sweeping reforms, the state eradicated church political power and confiscated lands, so it is the civil ceremony that takes legal precedents.  Yet, the traditional church wedding holds strong emotional appeal for many couples, their parents and extended family.

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Uriel and Rosalia’s wedding began with a twelve o’clock noon mass at the Teotitlan del Valle church and included the baptism of their two young sons, Emilio and Cristian.

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There were about two hundred people attending, a fraction of the six hundred who would later join the fiesta and meal at the home of Uriel’s uncle and aunt, who hosted the event.

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In Zapotec tradition, it is the groom’s family who hosts and pays for everything:  the two large bulls slaughtered to become barbacoa (barbecue) to serve the multitude, the beer and mezcal, the band, the tortillas, fresh flowers, decorations, gifts for guests, ample takeaway containers, and an elaborate, multi-level wedding cake filled with strawberry cream.

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There is not usually a cash outlay for these expenses.  It is part of the elaborate mutual support, bartering, give-and-take system called guelaguetza in Oaxaca’s usos y costumbres pueblos.  Extended family comes together to do what it takes to host.  For example, I give you a pig one year for a baptism.  In six years, when my son gets married, I ask you to return the pig to me.  Maybe it weighs a little more than the one I gave to you.  That’s how it works and the cycle continues.

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Wedding preparations began weeks before.  The women of the family gathered to plan the food and make decorations.  They ordered large yellow corn tortillas handmade in a neighboring village.  

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Men conferred to determine how many tables and chairs, cases of beer, and bottles of mezcal would be required.  Together, they all determined the collective resources needed to mount this significant event.  Then, on the wedding day, they served the hearty festival dish offering greeting of buen provecho to each guest.

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On the wedding day, Uriel’s extended family pitched in to cook and serve:  aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.  As guests arrived, more tables and chairs unfolded.  Their arms held extended in greeting, offering gifts, adding their tribute to honor the couple and their families, an ancient practice modernized.

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In addition to bottles of mezcal and cases of beer, guests brought cookware sets, utensils, toys for the boys, dinnerware, drinking glasses. and other household items.  There was even a new washing machine and bedroom closet on display outside the altar room.  Inside was barely passable. The line to greet the newlyweds and family snaked through the courtyard and out onto the sidewalk.  We all waited patiently to offer personal congratulations.

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In the back of the family compound an army of 60 women were on hand to measure out the meat and broth so that everyone would have their portion.  They had been tending the stew pot for days.  Platters of fresh tortillas, lime wedges, shredded cabbage, diced onions, and cilantro were set on each table to add as condiments to the  spicy meat.

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After the meal, the plates were cleared, the tables folded and stacked in a corner, and the chairs arranged in a circle.  Let the dancing begin.  First, the band from Yalalag played as the couple came out, she adorned in traditional dress from her native Zapotec village.

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Then, Teotitecos welcomed their band to play the traditional Jarabe del Valle.  Paco served as master of ceremonies, inviting family members to dance with the couple in honor of their emotional, financial and in-kind support.  Celebrants carry fragrant herbs gathered from nearby mountains.  On the bride’s arm is a basket filled with flowers, bread and chocolate — essential for sustaining life.

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The party continued through the next several days, and I could hear the band and firecrackers each morning and evening.  These celebrations are rooted deeply in a pre-Hispanic past, embedded in memory.  It is a wonderful experience to share.

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Feliz Año Nuevo — Happy New Year 2014 — Oaxaca Cheesecake Recipe

For the past week I’ve gone market shopping, both at the Sunday Tlacolula market and at the smaller, though equally satisfying Teotitlan del Valle market where I live.  It’s easier now that I have LaTuga — a market trip can be spontaneous.

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As the invitation list for my New Year’s Eve house warming birthday party dessert open house grew to over thirty, I realized I might not have enough pastries and wine.  So, I made multiple trips to Amado’s tienda to stock up on red wine and mezcal.

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At the market I bought flowers, queso fresco, sweet bread, goat cheese, and the ingredients to make tomato ginger chutney.  I usually do this in the North Carolina summer when there is a two week window for ripe tomatoes.  Here in Oaxaca, they are ripe year round.  The chutney is great warmed and poured on top of the goat cheese, then spread on bread slices.

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I made the fruit salad recipe I shared with you last week, but added mandarin oranges and poached, spiced crab apples.  Eloisa baked me three giant Chocoflan cakes, and on impulse I bought a big homemade, layered jello extravaganza at the village market.  It was a dessert buffet.

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Yesterday morning, I decided on the spur of the moment to make a New York style cheesecake when I saw Amado had two pounds of Philadelphia cream cheese in his case along with Alpura brand sour cream and a tube of Maria’s cookies.  My friend Ani gave me a gift of butter earlier, and I picked up a few extra eggs.  Instead of liquid vanilla, I used fresh squeezed lemon juice (called lima here) and zest.  I augmented the cream cheese with mashed and pureed queso fresco.  When it didn’t look like I would have enough cookie crumbs for the crust, I added some of the sweet bread to the Maria crumbs.  Adaptation is an important element for living in Mexico.

Lupe came to help me get the house ready and we prepared the cheesecake together.  Her son Daniel hung the papel picado flags and the piñata filled with candies for the children to dismantle with a stick at the end of the party.   Our village is party central.  On December 30, I was at Janet and Jan’s home for her birthday celebration. The flowers were abundant and the food delicious.

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I was too busy greeting, serving and schmoozing to take photos of my birthday accoutrements and friends.  The cheesecake disappeared before I could stage a photo shoot. Maybe those who did take photos will share them!  After everyone left, the rockets, firecrackers and band played on into the night to welcome the procession of the baby Jesus to Las Cuevitas.  Even my ear plugs didn’t help. We will join that celebration later today.

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Meanwhile, I am wishing you a very satisfying, joyous, content, and healthful new year.  May peace and fulfillment be yours for 2014.

Norma’s Pie de Queso — Mexican Style Cheesecake Recipe —

Disfruta!  Enjoy!

The Crust:

  • 1 package Maria cookies
  • 1 slice of sweet bread or any sweet roll
  • 4 T. sugar
  • 4 T.  melted butter

In a food processor, add the cookies and sweet roll, process until fine crumbs.  Add sugar.  Pulse until completely mixed.  Add melted butter.  Combine until butter is mixed throughout.  Pour out into a parchment paper lined 8-10″ springform pan.  Press crumbs firmly on bottom and up sides of pan about 1/4-1/2 inch.  Set aside.

The Filling:

  • 2 lbs. Philadelphia cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 lb. queso fresco (Oaxaca crumble cheese)
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • 1 T. lemon zest
  • 1 C. sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl with electric beaters on high speed, blend the cheeses until smooth and creamy.  Add the sugar and mix until white and smooth.  Add eggs one at a time until completely mixed.  Add lemon.  Beat for about 30 seconds.  Add sour cream and blend in on low speed until just stirred in.  Stir in lemon zest.

Pour into a buttered springform pan (line with parchment to make clean-up easier).  Put into preheated 350 degree oven.  Bake for 45-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.  Turn oven off. Leave cake in oven to cool for 30 minutes or more before removing.

The Topping:

  • 1/2 C. sour cream
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 t. lemon zest

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Stir all ingredients together.  Pour over top of cooled cheesecake and spread evenly over top with spoon or spatula.  Put into hot oven. Bake for 5-7 minutes.  Watch that topping does not brown or burn.   Remove and cool.

Strawberry Fruit Topping (optional)

  • 1/2 c. mashed berries
  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1/4 c. Cointreau (or Controy here in Mexico)

In a stainless steel pan, mix together the berries, sugar and liqueur.  Cook over high heat for 2 minutes until berries are mascerated, juice begins to form and the sugar is melted.  Remove and cool for about 2 minutes.  Pour over the sour cream topping of the cheesecake.

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If you cut a circle in the center and then make the slices from this circle, the cake will yield 16-20 servings.  The remaining center circle can then be cut in 4-6 wedges.

 

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And another sunset from the terraza to celebrate life’s infinite beauty.

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Oaxaca: Lost in the Revelry

Since last writing a blog post on March 26, my husband, sister, son and extended family arrived to celebrate our godson’s wedding on April 6.  Semana Santa came and passed.  We found ourselves in the middle of Baile de Viejitos–Dance of the Old Men, then multiple trips to the airport to pick-up family members.  I took a lot of photographs and planned to post them, but found no time as I guided my loved ones around the city and surrounding villages.  It takes time and energy to be a family tour guide, coordinate taxis, and get guest sleeping arrangements ready.

It also takes a lot of energy to party!  They really know how to do it up here wedding-style.  This wedding, with over 300 guests, was celebrated with a mass at Basilica de Soledad, patron saint of Oaxaca, followed by a fabulous all night dinner dance in the ethnobotanical garden.  The beer, wine and  mezcal flowed.  Floating lanterns ascended to the heavens.  Firecrackers announced the newlyweds.  As we entered the garden after the legal ceremony, the Teotitlan del Valle band played classical music and continued on during dinner under the stars.

After dinner, the band started the traditional Jarabe del Valle.  The padrinos of the wedding had the first dance with the newlyweds.  Then, the parents joined in.  The rest of us were invited for the general Jarabe.  We stomped our hearts out on the dance floor to the Jarabe del Valle, then to cumbia, salsa, and music through the decades starting with the 60’s.  I tried to hold out until the 6 a.m. planned end, but a few of us caved in and got into a taxi at 4 a.m.

Being somewhat dazed from lack of sleep and the hazy afterglow of mezcal, I left my wonderful Nikon D7000 camera with 17-55mm lens on the taxi seat.  So, I have no wedding photos to show, nor photos of the pre-wedding preparations.  I decided not to beat myself up — stuff can always be replaced.  Yes, there is a cost, but we are all healthy and content, so that’s what matters most.

On the Sunday after the wedding, with four hours of sleep under our belt, we gathered in the village for more eating, drinking and traditional Jarabe del Valle dancing under the fiesta tent.  Handmade tortillas, savory grilled, chicken, amazing kinship.  I’ve posted some of these photos on my Facebook page since I still have my iPhone!

My sister and I are leaving Oaxaca tomorrow for a few days in Puebla before flying to San Francisco, where I will visit my 97-year  old mother in the Bay Area for a week.  I’m returning to Oaxaca this summer, hopefully with another camera.  So stay tuned for more to come.

Oaxaca Celebrates Her 480th Birthday Today. Feliz Cumpleaños.

First named Antequera, Oaxaca was settled by the Spanish in 1532 and became the headquarters for Hernan Cortes.  Today’s big birthday bash and the weeklong celebrations mark this “birthday” event from the time of the conquest.  Oaxaca has been in existence for much, much longer than 480 years — a testimony to her Zapotec and Mixtec history, plus that of 14 other indigenous groups that have called Oaxaca home for much longer than five centuries.  The sense of place and history is astounding.

 

Left, photo of Santo Domingo Cultural Center (former convent); right, church at Mitla built atop Zapotec-Mixtec archeological site.

   

Left, Macedonia Alcala andador with view of Santo Domingo steeples; right, interior 16th century frescoes.

Over 6,000 years (some say as much as 8,000 years) ago, maize was first cultivated by native peoples in the Oaxaca valley from the plant teosinte.  The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, points to Monte Alban as one of the great civilizations of Mesoamerica — at its height long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores.

 

Left, Magdalena with corn husks getting ready to prepare tamales; right, scene at Monte Alban.

Yes, we love Oaxaca’s colonial charm.  We love her colonial arches, gilded churches, cobbled streets, wide plazas, outdoor cafes, colorful facades and curling wrought iron.  We also love her pre-Hispanic roots.  We love her indigenous textiles and pottery and mezcal and corn.  We celebrate all of her — not just from the time the Spanish came to conquer and mark time from 1532 forward.

 

Left, the white flowering tree from which the Spaniards named Monte Alban; right, the guaje seed pod, whose nahautl name the Spanish couldn’t pronounce, so they said Oaxaca.  It’s how the city got her name.

 

Left, drop spindle (Malacate) used for spinning wool; right, potter working with clay, an ancient pre-Hispanic tradition.

 

The ancient Zapotecs have a saying that they adopted from the Mayans:  Whoever controls time controls the world.  So, when we celebrate Oaxaca’s 480th birthday today, let’s put that into perspective about how long Oaxaca has really endured and celebrate her entire history.

 

 

Portraits of Las Cuevitas: Caves of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

After an incredible meal of sopa de verduras (vegetable soup) seasoned with hierba santa (a green leaf with a faint scent of licorice), mole negro (black spicy chocolate sauce) with chicken, traditional tamales stuffed with chicken and mole amarillo (red-orange spicy sauce made with chiles, corn paste [masa], and chicken stock), we piled into two cars for the trip to the caves.   We followed the tuk-tuks and pick-up trucks filled with villagers and arrived just in time for the 4:30 p.m. mass.

  

As the mass ended, people in line turned to each other, shook hands and welcomed in the new year with the blessing of “paz” — peace.  The band began to play and we formed a procession down to the grotto where each of us made an offering of a few pesos at each of the three altars set into the sacred rock hillside.  Children waited patiently at their parents feet or in their arms.

Boy waiting at Las Cuevitas

After making a prayer in the chapel, we picked our way up the hillside, over the rock escarpment and stone debris, past the playing band, to a spot where we  build our symbolic homes, construct our dreams, make our wishes for the coming year.  To do this conjures up truth and certainty.  It will happen.  We pile loose stones one atop of the other to form casita walls, then gather dried grasses and lay them atop rusty coat hangers bent to hold the roof.   A flat rock becomes a ramp for an abuela.  The sun begins to set.

The shadows of people are cut-out dolls against the pure blue sky.  Children play and dance under feet.  The firecrackers sizzle, explode, shoot skyward like rockets.  Prospero ano nuevo.

 

As dusk approaches, the chill of night descends.  Families sit by their miniature houses and dream of the future.  Women unwrap snacks and sandwiches for a picnic.  Young people hold hands. School will begin in a few days.  A curl of smoke rises from the valley below.

Men and boys haul in bundles of twigs and small branches for bonfires.  Many will camp here overnight in this sacred space.  The story goes that a virgin appeared here and then returned again.  A story overlaid upon an ancient Zapotec tradition, perhaps.

Now, Sr. Secundino Bazan Mendoza holds his handmade drum, stands by his compadres in the band.  This weaver-musician has served his church for over 53 years.  His granddaughter Estercita sits by the campfire above.

In silhouette, families sit cross-legged on the side of the hill facing south, watching, waiting, feeling the soft glow of the sun sink into the western sky. Warmth turns to chill.  I put on my wool rebozo.

Now, it is almost dark.  More people are streaming in from the village to make their wishes as we leave.  The vendors line the dusty path between the parked cars and the steep steps to the chapel, selling sticky, hot fresh sugar buns, cookie wafers, sandwiches, pizza and beer.  Children fall asleep in their mother’s arms or on their father’s shoulders.  Teens help their aging grandparents down the steep, slippery, rocky slope.  Cuidado, they call out.  Careful.  The rocks are loose underfoot.  Now, there is hope that this year’s  prayers will be answered:  a son without papers in the U.S. will return home to be embraced after a 15 year absence, a house under construction for four years will be completed, a debt will be repaid, there will be enough food for the winter, enough visitors to improve the economy, a turn for the better.

Feliz y prospero ano neuvo.  Good dreams and wishes for the year to come.