Tag Archives: food

In Oaxaca, Stories of Hope: Face Masks, Food and Dogs

How to feed impoverished people has always been a challenge in Mexico. Now, with the ravages of coronavirus destroying fragile infrastructure, street corner businesses, and tourism that feeds Oaxaca’s economy, needs are even more acute. Here are a few stories about people rising to the occasion to help.

Face Masks and Distribution

Getting masks is one thing. Distributing them to Oaxaca friends and people in markets or on the street is another thing. Explaining in Spanish how and why to use the masks in public is essential for public health education.

For a start, Kalisa Wells ordered 50 face coverings from Patzcuaro for distribution in Oaxaca. They arrived today. She announced on Facebook that “They are here at my place in the centro, ready for pick-up.”

She says,
“The Mujeres Mágicas are a group of low income women in Pátzcuaro who have been taught to sew and sell high quality products to help support their families, increase their self-esteem, and gain lifetime skills. The changes in their lives and those of their families have been phenomenal. As their shop is closed now and they are in quarantine at home, they are sewing pleated protective face masks from double fabric with elastic ear loops. They can be washed dried, and are reversible. For only 30 pesos each [$1.26USD], you can purchase these masks for everyone you know and help empower women at the same time.

Donate via PayPal to cherie.verber@yahoo.com

“For more in-depth information about the Mujeres Mágicas, please visit their Facebook page, Pátzcuaro Mujeres Mágicas. They need donations and can receive them in dollars or pesos via PayPal.

The problem is that many local women do not feel at risk. Kalisa plans to hand some out to people she meets on the street, but this necessitates explaining the importance of using the mask — in Spanish, which fortunately, Kali speaks well.

Shannon Sheppard says, “The masks will probably help protect us and others from the droplets/spray (cough, sneeze, breath) coming from the wearer. If we all wear masks, we protect each other.

Cheri Verber says, “Education is everything. Those who are distributing the masks in Pátzcuaro are native speakers who explain to people exactly how they can protect themselves and everyone with whom they come in contact.

I suggested adding hang tags in Spanish to explain how to use and why it is important just in case the giver doesn’t speak Spanish.

Feeding Vulnerable People in Oaxaca: Friendly Food Donations

This message is from Jesi Jello, a founder of Friendly Food Donations.

“Hello, everyone! ❤️ My partner Erick Garcia Gomez and I have just created a Paypal account to receive direct donations that will go toward the immediate purchase of produce from local farmers.

“All donations go directly to supporting small local vegetable farmers who will deliver a month’s worth of produce directly to the door of the most vulnerable people and families in the different communities surrounding Oaxaca City, Mexico.

“The donations consist of generous amounts of fruit and vegetables with staples like eggs, beans, rice, and cooking oil.

“All money goes toward the purchase of food directly from the farmers and all food goes directly to the door of those who need it, no price inflation.

“My partner and I started this so that we can be 100% certain that no one is profiting and that all money goes directly to feeding people in need. We are also more likely to get donations from our own personal connections, clients, friends, and family this way…. There is so much poverty here, I say we need all the help that we can get. This is my personal effort to help people and I am just sharing it in case someone is back in their country and wants to reach out and help people in Oaxaca.

“We are opening a donation account in case we are able to reach even more vulnerable people and families. We have been doing our research through the people we know and have our own personal and confidential list of families who are presently suffering, who have no money or food. We will not be taking any profit for ourselves.❤️ Donation link is: http://www.paypal.me/friendlyfood ❤️ Please Share ! ❤️”

Help for Monte Alban Street Dogs

Earlier this week, Norma received this message [below] from Mark Allen Brown asking for help to care for street dogs on the road to Monte Alban. Norma immediately referred him to Merry Foss in Teotitlan del Valle who runs TeoTails, Tanya LaPierre who volunteers with APA OAX the Oaxaca animal rescue and sterilization organization, and Rebecca Durden Raab founder of Friends of Megan Animal Rescue. They responded quickly. Please help; you can make donations directly.

Beezie, a Teotitlan del Valle rescue dog, 2018

Here is what Mark wrote:

Hi, Norma,

There are 15 to 20 abandoned dogs along that short climb to Monte Alban. They’re usually grouped into 2 packs; they include puppies and old dogs.

I’m on a bicycle. It’s the only transportation I have. But every day for the past couple of weeks I’ve cycled up there carrying as much water and food as I can. It’s never enough. I notice other people are aware of the problem and help, but all the help combined is not enough. I will worry about them if I were to miss a day. 

I would like to see the population reduced.

All of the dogs are well mannered, most are kind, appreciative, and loving. They clearly have been with families and will make great companions. 

Some of them need to be fixed. I’m willing to pay for that. 

I’m also willing to support a number of the dogs with their medical issues and food while homes are found.

I rent an apartment in Oaxaca and cannot keep any dogs myself. I intend to stay here long-term, but as soon as the pandemic has passed, I’ll be traveling for several months. 

Can you tell me of any organization, or better, any person who can advise on this matter or help me with it? I know nothing of Facebook or Instagram. 

Thanks! Mark

Monte Alban archeological site, Oaxaca

Recipe Redux: Nicuatole with White Corn Meal, Oaxaca Tradition

I served the nicuatole recipe I made and published last week to my Zapotec friend Janet. She said it was good, very good, but it wasn’t the traditional nicuatole recipe she was used to eating here in Teotitlan del Valle. The traditional cooks of Oaxaca use white corn, not comal (griddle) toasted and ground yellow corn, like I used. I confess, it’s what I had on hand for the cornbread and I didn’t know the difference until now!

Hence, Recipe Redux.

Honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, vintage ex-voto

December 12 is the feast day for the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. I’m celebrating Lupita by going to a Virgin Play Day, where a bunch of us will make something related to the pre-Hispanic Goddess of Corn who is the syncretic icon more popular than the Virgin Mary or Jesus. I want to bring nicuatole to contribute to the potluck and I want it to be just like its pre-Hispanic origins.

This is a dessert I’m fond of for many reasons. It is corn. That means, it’s gluten free. I use almond milk instead of cow milk. That means it’s dairy free. (I imagine one can also substitute other nut and plant milks, too, but I think coconut milk will give a distinct flavor that will alter the taste.) This dessert is comforting, creamy, like pudding, eaten with a spoon it is almost like a mousse.

In my research, I could not find a specific recipe for a white corn nicuatole. So, I watched some videos that came up in the search — all in Spanish, and all with no measurements of ingredients provided! Traditional cooks here make food like their mothers and grandmothers — by touch, sight and consistency. Great, but not good enough for the precision we need in the USA.

White corn ground at my neighborhood mill (molino)

Receta de Nicuatole de Maiz Blanco — Las Delicias Lupita, this is a high-calorie treat that uses whole milk and condensed sweetened milk. As we would say here, muy rico. This is fun to watch to see how great food comes from humble kitchens. No measurements. I made up the recipe below from just watching and from making the previous recipe. Here, I’ve added specific measurements.

Norma’s Nicuatole Ingredients

  • 2 cups white corn, ground fine
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 cup of almond milk
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups of white cane sugar
  • 4 pieces of stick cinnamon, broken or 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
  • 2 T. sugar colored with red food coloring

Directions:

Combine 2 cups of cornmeal and 3 cups of water in a blender and process mixture until smooth.

White cornmeal and water in blender

Note: I bought whole kernel, organic white corn that had been dried, from a puesto (stand) in the Teotitlan del Valle village market. One kilo. I’m certain it was grown on local land by her family. I then took the corn to my corner molino (mill) where the kernels were ground into a fine meal. I told them I wanted it to make atole!

Pour water/corn mixture through cheesecloth or a fine sieve to filter out any large corn particles. If you buy commercially prepared cornmeal, you probably won’t need to do this step.

Pour filtered liquid into stainless steel saucepan or heavy clay cooking pot. Put pot over a heat diffuser and turn heat to medium. Add remaining liquid and stir. Add sugar. Stir. Add cinnamon. Stir. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for the first 15 minutes. Turn heat to low, and then stir constantly for the remaining 30 minutes (45 minutes cooking time total). I set my timer to stir every 5-7 minutes until the last 10 minutes of cooking time, making sure the bottom doesn’t stick to pot.

Mixture will become the consistency of heavy cream, then thicken to a consistency of heavy porridge like Cream of Wheat. When you stir and see the bottom of the pan, you know it is done. Watch the video to see the proper consistency.

Pour the hot corn mix into a square pan. Let it cool. Top with colored sugar and refrigerate. Prepare 12-24 hours in advance to chill sufficiently so that it is firm and easy to cut into squares.

Serves 8-12, depending on portion size.

Here is another nicuatole video to tickle your taste buds for a smaller batch, but it uses GMO corn. Substitute organic.

It’s December 11 and almost 9:00 p.m. in Teotitlan del Valle as I write this. The cojetes (firecrackers) have started. There is a full moon, the last of the year. On December 12, the Dance of the Feather, Los Danzantes de la Pluma, will honor the Virgin of Guadalupe in the church courtyard. Take a taxi and come on out to join the festivities. Maybe there will be nicuatole, too.

Teotitlan del Valle traditional cook prepares nicuatole

Follow-Up on Food Sanitation and Gut Health: The Myths

Oh, wow! I didn’t realize what a response I’d get from the post about Healthy Eating and Disinfecting Food in Mexico.

In addition to Microdyne, more recommendations came in, both from blog and Facebook readers, and from my housekeeper Rosario.

I decided to take these additional recommendations seriously and look them up.

One person recommended vinegar and purified water as a better option to chemicals. In the USA, this can work. In Mexico, vinegar isn’t as effective as we think: https://www.forceofnatureclean.com/diy-cleaning-products-vinegar-drawbacks/

Another swears by bleach, having used it for years. This solution has merit, with a caveat: https://www.mnn.com/health/healthy-spaces/stories/disinfectants-a-guide-to-killing-germs-the-right-way

Rosario says she disinfects fruit and vegetables with lime juice and salt.

What AARP says about the lime juice and salt disinfectant myth: https://www.aarp.org/home-garden/housing/info-03-2010/myth_buster_can_you_sanitize_kitchen_tools_with_lemon_juice_and_salt_.html

Maybe, just maybe, I ate fresh tomatoes at the Quinciñeara last weekend that were probably not disinfected. Quien sabe?

Food borne illness is a big deal and is borderless. We get sick anywhere in the world, even in Los Estados Unidos aka El Norte. One friend says she is going to take Microdyne back with her when she returns in December.

Taking Big Leaps–Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Wednesday, July 10, 2019–This group of new dancers start their three-year commitment to church, community and family this year. The most touching moment for me was to be in the home of the Moctezuma, the lead character in the Danza de la Pluma just before they set out to the church plaza to dance for three hours until sunset on July 9.

Grandma raises her hand to make the sign of the cross in blessing

Here I witnessed loved ones bestow their blessings on him. It was like anointing their son and grandson with the benediction of all the generations who came before, offering God’s favor and protection. It was as if all the young men over decades who participated in this sacred dance were present, too. It is an honor and a commitment to perform this service. I am told it is life-changing.

The ritual is repeated year after year, but the first year is a special test for a new group of dancers for their faith, endurance, strength, passion, dedication, coordination and precision. It is also an important exercise in mutual support. Dancers are not individuals. They are part of a team, and it is their team effort that underlies the essence of how this Usos y Costumbres community self-governs.

The Dance of the Feather, which tells the story of the Spanish Conquest from the indigenous point-of-view, is meticulously choreographed. The village symphony orchestra/band knows exactly what to play as the story unfolds. As each step is taken down the cobbled streets to the church, there is a cadence that is repeated in the retelling.

Parents of La Malinche help her prepare

In the altar room at the Moctezuma’s home, family members help each member of the group dress in their costume. This takes time since each element of the dress is an elaborate undertaking.

Dad attaches silk scarves that will fly like wings
Doña Marina, age six, fortifies herself to prepare for three hours of dancing
Grandmothers peel onions and garlic for the barbecue stew

Behind the scenes, another type of choreography takes place. It is the work men, women and girls and boys who do the food preparation and service. Every bit is made by hand. The chickens are slaughtered, boiled and the meat is shredded for tamales.

Each made by hand memela is the blessing of a woman’s hand
Drinking tejate — muy rico — a pre-Hispanic tradition

The toro (bull) is slaughtered and prepared for barbacoa de res. The tejate is stone ground by hand, with home roasted cacao beans. Can I talk about the memelas? I’ve never tasted anything so good — comal toasted corn patties, slathered with bean paste, fresh salsa, shredded Oaxaca cheese, a drizzle of shredded lettuce.

Natividad serves memelas to a guest

We feed each other because we take care of each other. Our survival and continuity depends on it.

This is a hallmark for Teotitlan del Valle and other Usos y Costumbres communities in Mexico. They function so well because of this bond. Mutual support is about respect for heritage and relationships. You do it because it is a value to the self, the other and makes the whole stronger.

Moctezuma flanked by La Malinche (L) and Doña Marina (R)

The dancers who participate in the Dance of the Feather embody these values, embrace them, practice them and model them for others.

Taking big leaps — the strength and prowess of the dancers

The dancing will resume again in the church courtyard on Friday, July 12, at 5:00 PM. Check Oaxaca Events for schedule and other festivities around town.

Village officials and guests offer support — feather crowns on the patio during a rest

As I said goodbye to family members of the dance group, they asked me to tell you how important their culture is to them, how they want to communicate the beauty and friendship of Mexico, and how strongly they are committed to preserving traditions, and extend an invitation to visit.

Church is symbol of faith — but the commitment comes from the heart
Clowning around with the Clown character — symbol of Aztec spy

There are two clown figures included in the Dance of the Feather. They serve multiple functions. Primarily they are the dancers’ helpers, holding crowns when a scarf needs to be retied, bringing water and rehydration drinks, communicating with the officials when a bio-break is needed. They also are jesters that provide fun, frivolity and antics to the story — a diversion of sorts.

They will tease and cajole audience members, like me. Jajajajaja. In the original story, they are the Aztec spies who disguised themselves to get close to the Spanish conquistadores and bring information back to the Aztec generals. There were two battles with the Spanish. The Aztecs won the first.

The Dance of the Feather Begins in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Today is the official start of Teotitlan del Valle’s Dance of the Feather, or Danza de la Pluma. It is a perfect example of how our village celebrates community with a promise and commitment by young people to their people, their church, their history and their culture.

The celebration honors the 16th century church, Templo de la Preciosa de Sangre de Cristo and its central part of village life.

16th Church rises above Zapotec temple base. Stones used for church walls.
Sacred mountain Picacho seen from church steeple
A beautiful day from the top of the Teotitlan del Valle church

5 PM on Monday there was a convite (procession) that began at the home of the Moctezuma and went to the church courtyard. It then processed through all five sections of the village and returned to the church. Highlights included young women dressed in traditional traje (garments) holding canastas (baskets) on their heads adorned with religious images.

Corona (crown) of the Moctezuma with turkey feathers, representing Quetzalcoatl

The young men and two girls who form this new Dance of the Feather group are dressed in their plumed headdresses, carry rattles, and wear clothing that suggests the syncretism of Mexico, the mix of indigenous, Aztec and Spanish conquerors. The dance itself is a representation of the conquest from the indigenous point-of-view.

A procession around the church courtyard before entering the church for blessings.

On Tuesday (today, July 9) at around 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. (I’m told), the dancers will begin in the church courtyard. On Wednesday, they will start around noon and continue until about 8:00 p.m.. Festivities continue throughout the week with a carnival fair surrounding the market.

The Mexican ram

By luck and serendipity, several events happened before the official celebrations begin. It happened because we set out from my casita Saturday on foot instead of traveling by car. In the church courtyard, a group of musicians were forming. They invited us to join them on the church rooftop for a symphonic concert. We climbed up the narrow, winding carved stone bell-tower where they would play to mark the official start of the celebration.

360 degree views of the Tlacolula Valley and Teotitlan lands
A slice of life from the winding stone church stairwell — escalera de caracol

From the top of the church, one can see and be heard for miles. Everyone knows what these annual rituals mean. It is embedded in life here.

Traditional and ancient Zapotec flute, sounds like a clarinet … sort of

After walking down to Tierra Antigua for lunch, we made a stop at Casa Viviana before heading home. Viviana Alavez is a Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art, known for her ornate hand-made beeswax candles. My friend Chris wanted to buy some to take to her new home in Ajijic. The longer, thicker ones weren’t available. They are for the Danzantes celebration, we were told.

Chris and Ben at Casa Viviana candlemakers

As we were leaving, my friend Natividad appeared in the doorway with her baby daughter Esmeralda. I asked her what was going on down the street under the big tented courtyard — always a signal for a fiesta. It’s the home of the Moctezuma, the lead character/dancer for the Dance of the Feather, she said and invited us to come over. Another grand surprise, my comadre Ernestina was there with daughter Lupita, and lo and behold, Viviana was participating in the food preparation, too.

Making masa mixed with cacao for tejate — at it for five hours

We were invited to the Sunday morning mass to bless the dancers at the church and then come back to the house for breakfast. What a surprising and great day!

Breakfast is hot chocolate and sweet bread — dunk in the chocolate for yummies

This is the early part of the celebration, when the family and closest friends come together in private ceremony. The abuelas enter the altar room to offer their special benedictions to the young people — another way to carry-on tradition, handing it from generation-to-generation, in a tribute to succession and respect.

Home altar here is more important than the church for Zapotec ritual of thanksgiving and appreciation. After the church ceremony, the head of household gathers everyone in the altar room for prayer in both Spanish and Zapotec, thanking God for family, community and continuity. This is cultural preservation at its best!

The cooking fires — how food is made in Teotitlan del Valle
Amulets, rattles and feathers on the altar, an offering to God, community and church

We then sit down to a breakfast of homemade everything — in abundance: black beans seasoned with epazote, hot chocolate, bread, fresh from the comal stone-ground tortillas, salsa. Later for lunch at 5 p.m. there will be Seguesa de Pollo, a tasty stew of organic chicken mixed in a seasoned mole amarillo (yellow chile sauce) thickened with toasted and rough ground maize (corn).

It takes a village to cook for the minions, including famous Viviana (right).
Eating Seguesa de Pollo. We use tortillas for spoons here!

Let the festivities begin.

The abuelitas — the little grandmothers, friends for a lifetime
At 4 a.m. men start the toro slaughter, to become barbacoa and consumé on Wednesday
We know where our food comes from — teaching the children (Arnulfo, left, Rodolfo right)

It is an honor and privilege to live here and participate in these rituals. Tomorrow I leave to attend and volunteer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in New Mexico, and meet up with long-time friends. Then, I’ll continue on to California to visit my son, sister and brother. I’ll keep you posted along the way.

Thank you for reading and following! I’ve been writing this blog for 12 years. It’s been an amazing process, always filled with new experiences to share.

Teotitlan del Valle daily market from the church steeple