Tag Archives: Mexico

Locavores in Oaxaca: Eat Local and Who Makes Our Food

People in the Oaxaca valley have eaten locally grown corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, poultry and fruit for centuries, long before the term locavore came into existence. The farm-to-table movement in the United States is one example of eating fresh food produced within 100 miles.

Weighing beans, Teotitlan del Valle Market

Weighing beans, Teotitlan del Valle Market

During the years I lived on an organic farm in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and shopped at farmer’s markets (a habit I formed early in my adulthood), we learned to eat around the seasons. I read somewhere that this is one of the healthiest things we can do for our bodies.

One by-product of the CNTE Section 22 Teacher’s Union strike in Oaxaca is the intended or unintended consequences of returning to locally grown food. The blockades are preventing the big box, semi-trailers filled with imported goods from entering Oaxaca to deliver their loads to Walmart, Soriana and other giant retailers like Coca-Cola.

Magdalena with corn husks to prepare tamales

Magdalena with corn husks to prepare tamales

I’m reminded of the signs in Pittsboro, NC when I visit: Shop Local.  I’m sure you see this where you live, too.

In conversations around town, I’m hearing a mixed bag of blessings and complaints. Everyone loves Walmart, yes?, because of low prices. Others say local Oaxaca city markets like Benito Juarez, Abastos, Sanchez Pascuas, Merced stock everything they need and it’s important to support local merchants so they stay in business.

Organic corn, dried on the cob, ready for planting

Organic corn, dried on the cob, ready for planting

Yet others are inconvenienced because they can’t get a particular variety of yam, brand of toilet paper, or giant coca-cola bottles for less.

There has been a strong movement here against genetically modified corn promoted by Monsanto. I have wondered whether the blockades of the big retail semi-trailers aren’t just an extension of that.

Quesadillas with fresh corn tortillas hot off the comal

Quesadillas with fresh corn tortillas hot off the comal

I hear that by privatizing education, doors will open to international conglomerates to sell, at a profit, sugary drinks and snacks to school children, whose families are already at risk for diabetes and diet-influenced diseases.

Here in Teotitlan del Valle, I do all my food shopping locally at the daily market. Then, fill in what I need at the Sunday Tlacolula market. Yes, they sell toilet paper and paper towels there, along with all the cleaning supplies one needs.

I wonder if this blockade isn’t a good thing to help us raise our awareness for how much and what we need in comparison to who provides it for us. What we eat is important. We have asked the question: Who makes our clothes?

Now, it’s time to ask again here in Oaxaca: Who makes our food?

Yesterday, the fields next to me were plowed and planted with corn. Native indigenous corn, not genetically modified. I know that’s good.

Plowing the milpas to plant corn, squash, beans

Plowing the milpas to plant corn, squash, beans

Take Me to the Source: Gin Mezcal in Matatlan, Oaxaca

Last Thursday was pretty depressing. Not because of Oaxaca safety concerns or traffic or the zocalo encamped by teachers. I got around Oaxaca easily by foot last week.

Aye, que borracho! That's what happens after too many!

Aye, que borracho! Don’t blame the mezcal for making me stupid.

I was depressed because when I got to La Mezcalillera, the purveyor of artesanal mezcal on Calle Murguia in the historic center of Oaxaca in the early afternoon, they were out of my favorite Gracias a Dios Gin Mezcal. I wanted to buy a few bottles to bring back to the U.S. with me to give as gifts. Of course, once the bottles were open, I could have a nip or two.

Copper still for processing mezcal, just like moonshine but more refined.

Copper still for processing mezcal, just like moonshine but more refined.

Despite the attempts of the barkeep to help me find something else that would equal, and after numerous tastings (sips, please), I just couldn’t bring myself to buy anything else and walked out empty handed.

Dreams of juniper berries and orange peel dancing in my head.

Agave Gin: Dreams of juniper berries and orange peel dancing in my head.

My head hung for the rest of the afternoon as I tried to divert my mood, concentrating on the shopping list: a 5-year old aged añejo mezcal for my sister (her favorite), special order Oaxaca blouses for friends, Oaxaca chocolate, and a much needed haircut.

Cuixe wild agave cactus, pronounced Kwee-shay.

Cuixe wild agave cactus, pronounced Kwee-shay.

When I woke up on Friday morning, still feeling let down, I decided it was time to research where Gracias a Dios is distilled. After a 30-minute Internet search I came up with a location, website and contact form.

Tobala, another wild agave cactus, yields a distinctive herby aroma and taste.

Tobala, another wild agave cactus, yields a distinctive herby aroma and taste.

I got a reply back from Emmy Hernandez within minutes via email and then a phone call. It was about 11:30 a.m. She was willing to drive three bottles to the city from Santiago Matatlan at the tail end of the Tlacolula Valley and world capital of mezcal.

Horse driven stone wheel used to crush roasted agave pineapple

Horse driven stone wheel used to crush roasted agave pineapple

I said, No, I’ll go there! I wanted to see the palenque and find a regular, reliable source for what I have come to consider an amazing spirit. I want to go where it’s made, I mumbled to no one in particular as I was standing on the cobblestone street in the historic center. I arrived an hour later.

Vintage, well-used copper vessel for distillation

Vintage, well-used copper vessel for distillation

Emmy Hernandez is the daughter of master mezcalero (distiller) Oscar Hernandez Santiago. He is the person who creates the distillation process to ensure he gets the best flavor from each of the varietals during roasting, pressing and aging. He’s the mezcal equivalent to a winemaker.

Espadin is the most common agave and the base for gin mezcal

Espadin is the most common agave varietal and the base for gin mezcal

The family lives where they work: On the far side of Matatlan as the Federal Highway 190 disappears from view over the rise on the way to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Distilled in copper, aged in oak, 45% alcohol by volume, 90 proof, ground by horse-driven stone, organic.

Contact Gracias a Dios

Thank God for Mezcal. I believe it. So do Zapotecs. A great medicinal.

Thank God for Mezcal. I believe it. So do Zapotecs. A great medicinal.

The palenque is more than where Gin Mezcal is made. It is an event destination and there’s going to be a big mezcal, food and music festival there in mid-July. If you are around, don’t miss it.

Fiestas, festivals, parties, weddings, a great event space.

Fiestas, festivals, parties, weddings, a great event space.

Ok, so there’s a commercial edge to what’s going on here. It’s not like going to the rural agave farms in San Dionisio or San Baltazar Chichicapam or Santa Catarina Minas. That’s okay, because they sure do make an excellent Gin Mezcal (organic, triple distillation, flavored with 32 herbs including juniper berries, rosemary, orange peel and cinnamon, 45% alcohol by volume). And, they have distribution in the USA and Europe.

Gracias a Dios Gin Mezcal, boxed and ready to go!

Gracias a Dios Gin Mezcal, boxed and ready to go!

Salud. I now have three bottles to pack and take!

Ready to plant tobala cactus starts. I bought three. Ants hate cactus.

Ready to plant tobala cactus for my garden. I bought three. Ants hate cactus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexican Vintage Gold + Silver Jewelry Pop-Up Sale: Next

Another sweep through my jewelry collection. Getting closer to the essentials. Making some hard decisions about what to sell.  Most of these pieces are from Oaxaca and you will recognize traditional designs many reminiscent of Frida Kahlo, with amazing filigree work, and excellent craftsmanship. Several are from visits to Mexico City and Michoacan. I rarely wear them now, so here is an opportunity to bring some fine Oaxaca and Mexico pieces home.

Please make your purchase before July 1, 2016. I’m leaving Oaxaca to visit the U.S. and will bring your piece(s) with me to mail to you via USPS Priority Mail. I include mailing in the price. You send me an email telling me the  piece(s) you want by number and I send you a PayPal invoice. I confirm receipt of payment and ask you to send me your mailing address.

#1:  10K Gold vintage Oaxaca filigree earrings with pearls and bezel set, big juicy cut red glass, floral style, 2″ long.  Traditional, beautiful. $350. Rare.

#1. 10K Gold filigree with pearls and red cut glass, bezel set. $350 USD.

#1. 10K Gold filigree leaves with pearls and red cut glass, bezel set. $350 USD.

#1. Another view of the stone set in a bezel.

#1. Another view of the stone set in a bezel.

#2. 10K Gold filigree vintage pearls and cut glass in the Gusano style of earring. Lots of lustre. Glass is secured with gold prongs. Gusano is the maguey worm that adds flavor to mezcal! 1-1/2″ long. $325 USD. Rare.

#2. Gusano style 10K Gold filigree earrings with pearls and cut red glass. $325 USD

#2. Gusano style 10K Gold filigree earrings with pearls and cut red glass. $325 USD

#3. SOLD. 10K Gold, vintage pearl and cut red glass mini-gusanos. These are small and delicate, 1″ long. $65 USD. Rare.

#3. Mini-gusano earrings, 1" long. $65 USD

#3. Mini-gusano earrings, 1″ long. $65 USD

#4. I bought these from a famous Oaxaca jewelry maker and wore them a few times. Just too big for me, but maybe just right for you! Sterling silver, love birds, dangling jars and hot pink cut glass accent. 3″ long. $245 USD.

#4. Sterling silver with dangling jars, love birds and cut glass. $245 USD

#4. Sterling silver with dangling jars, love birds and cut glass. $245 USD

#5. 10K Gold vintage filigree and coral earrings. I bought these in Mexico City some years ago. Beautiful filigree work.  1-1/2″ long. $220 USD.

#5. 10K Gold vintage filigree earrings with coral, 1-1/2" long, $185 USD

#5. 10K Gold vintage filigree earrings with coral, 1-1/2″ long, $220 USD

#6. Sterling silver vintage earrings with pearl drops from Puebla, Mexico. 1-3/4″ long. They used to make jewelry in Puebla. No more. $175 USD

#6. Sterling Silver and pearl birds and flowers. 1-3/4" long. $155 USD.

#6. Sterling Silver and pearl birds and flowers. 1-3/4″ long. $175 USD.

#7.  The centers of the circles are white sapphires and sparkle with movement. This is a vintage pair of earrings, sterling silver and pearls, with 10K gold hooks, backing and frame. I’ve never seen anything like them anywhere. 2″ long. $145 USD. Rare.

#7. Vintage sterling silver with 10K gold hooks, white sapphires and pearls. $135 USD

#7. Vintage sterling silver with 10K gold, white sapphires and pearls. $145 USD

#8. Traditional Oaxaca sterling silver filigree earrings with coral beads, new. 2-1/4″ long. $95 USD.

#8. Traditional sterling silver filigree and coral earrings, new. $95 USD.

#8. Traditional sterling silver filigree and coral earrings, new. $95 USD.

#9. SOLD. I bought these sterling silver filigree and turquoise earrings directly from the man who made them in his home workshop in Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca. The turquoise is a little more blue than the photo shows. 1-1/4″ long. They can be yours for $125 USD.

#9. Sterling silver filigree and turquoise earrings, $95 USD.

#9. Sterling silver filigree and turquoise earrings, $125 USD.

#10. Sterling silver earrings, hand-crafted by a famous Oaxaca jewelry maker, this is the squash blossom design. 2″ long. $95 USD.

#10. Oaxaca famous maker squash blossom earrings, sterling silver. $95 USD.

#10. Oaxaca famous maker squash blossom earrings, sterling silver. $95 USD.

#11. Sterling silver handcrafted designer earrings with hearts, milagros, bows, and bezel set carnelian cabuchons. 2-1/4″ long. $125 USD.

#11. Harts milagros sterling silver earrings, carnelian cabuchons, $145 USD.

#11. Hearts milagros sterling silver earrings, carnelian cabuchons, $125 USD.

#12. Sterling silver vintage Mexican necklace from Taxco, marked 925. 18-1/2″ long, sturdy, secure box clasp. Bought in Mexico City. $85 USD.

#12. Sterling silver vintage leaf necklace, Marked Mexico 925, made in Taxco. $85 USD

#12. Sterling silver vintage leaf necklace, Marked Mexico 925, made in Taxco. $85 USD

#13. Handmade Mexican copper beads from Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacan, 20″ long, strung on copper. $65 USD.

#13. Copper necklace from Michoacan. 20" long. $65 USD.

#13. Copper necklace from Michoacan. 20″ long. $65 USD.

#13. Full view copper necklace.

#13. Full view copper necklace.

#14. 2-tone Copper Necklace from Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacan. 22″ long. $65 USD.

#14. 2-tone copper necklace from Michoacan, $65 USD

#14. 2-tone copper necklace from Michoacan, $65 USD

#14. Full view of copper necklace, 22' long.

#14. Full view of copper necklace, 22′ long.

 

Oaxaca in Recovery? Let’s Hope So.

Mexico has a long tradition of taking her issues to the streets. Protest is an acceptable way of airing grievances here.

Many of you have heard or been reading about the teacher’s union demonstrations and blockades over the last month that this week became a flare-up of tragic consequences as federal police and demonstrators confronted each other at a blocked toll-road station 50 miles north of Oaxaca.

Templo Santo Domingo at sunset, Oaxaca, Mexico

Templo Santo Domingo at sunset, Oaxaca, Mexico

This is not a post about who is right and wrong. In fact, it is against the law for foreigners to participate in any political activity here or we are at risk of being detained, losing our visas and being deported. The U.S. State Department just warned again of this in the security message it issued for U.S. citizens living in or traveling to Oaxaca.

Last night’s news reported that finally, after years of back and forth, the union leaders and government have agreed to sit down in Mexico City today and talk about their differences to see if they can come to a resolution. Ojala! (word of Arabic origin meaning God willing or let’s hope.)

Friends who work in the historic center of Oaxaca reported things were calm yesterday and there were many people out walking on the streets.

When I woke up Monday morning after an overnight in the city, I heard about the violence and possibly more demonstrations. So, I immediately got in the car and made my way back to Teotitlan del Valle, the little pueblo where I live about 40 minutes from the city. It is calm here, self-governed and never violent. For the past days, I’ve been plugged into social network and local  news sites to stay current.

There’s lot of information out there, lots of pros and cons, spin and interpretation about why the teachers union is protesting. You can read for yourself and come up with your own conclusions.

(Part 1 Video above from The Real News and interview with Center for International Policy, Mexico City’s Laura Carlsen) with commentary about neo-liberalism in proposed education reforms in Mexico.

For complete video — Parts 1 and 2 + transcript, click here.

For right now, let’s all hope that there is resolution to this turmoil through negotiation. If the government and the union are unable to come to terms, then outside mediation is a solution.

Is it safe here, now? Probably. And, yet, one never knows where violence will erupt. There has been plenty of it in the United States of America, too.

News Sources and Opinion Pages

Social Media/Blog Sources

For now, I’m going to do a city reconnaissance tomorrow since I have a shopping list to check off as I get ready to volunteer at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, followed by a California family visit.

Take good care, everyone!

P.S. I’m not open to moderating a forum about who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong. I am open to adding other news sources to offer perspective so that each of us can say we are well informed about the issue.

Gossip and Morning Refreshment: Following the Abuelitas

This morning I arrive at the daily market early, by 9 a.m. I had chicken soup on my mind and want to make some, so I first stop at a stall where I know that cooking teacher Reyna Mendoza buys her pollo. Criollo, advises the woman standing next to me in the aisle as she points to the small whole, white chicken, saying pollo, es pollo, (chicken, it’s chicken) a Spanish lesson for the güera. I smile and nod.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Criollo means natural or wild or organic. They eat maize, she says. She then points to the big, plump yellow chickens sitting with their big breasts, proud birds, twice the size of the criollos, and says, these came from Oaxaca and they eat commercial grain (in Spanish, of course). Then, the vendor and the shopper move into Zapotec, a language I don’t understand. Some chismes (gossip), I’m sure.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

I love following the little grandmothers, the abuelitas, through the market, with their wool checked faldas (skirts) folded around their waist and tied with a handwoven red wool cinturon (belt) with tassle ends. In the old days, these belts were dyed with cochineal. Some still are.

Plaid wool skirt tied with a cummberbund, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket to hold market goodies.

Plaid wool skirt, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket for market shopping.

Plaid skirts, flowered blouses, sometimes aprons, always a traditional handwoven reed shopping basket balanced on the crook of the left arm, long hair braided with colored ribbons and tied together at the end or piled on top of the head like a crown, a rebozo (shawl) covering shoulders or head, sometimes the shopping basket. This is a passing generation.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don't carry baskets on their heads.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don’t carry baskets on their heads.

This was not meant to be a long shopping trip. I left the house gate open because I intended to return immediately.  A quick pass through the market for organic chicken, chard, a dozen fresh long-stem roses (40 pesos a dozen, that’s about $2.50 USD), criollo eggs from the gallina (hen), a couple of squash and mangos (it’s the season).

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

As I was loading my car I noticed a stream of abuelitas entering the doorway of the convenience store across the street. Such a good picture, so I decided to hang out. A few more entered, one at a time.

Inside, a congregation of about six grandmothers. Good for the stomach, they say.

Inside the inner sanctum, a congregation of about six grandmothers.

More than coca-cola inside

More than coca-cola here. Time for a chat and refreshment.

It was by now 10 o’clock in the morning. I waited for them to emerge but they didn’t. And, I remember that this is the ladies’ social hour and the convenience store is where they congregate before going back home to work, prepare meals, do laundry and take care of the grandchildren. So, I decided I was done waiting and would join them!

It's dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

It’s dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

Believe me! A shot of mezcal at 10:30 a.m. can really get you moving. As I sidle up to the counter cum bar to join the ladies, they welcome me with warm smiles, ask where I live, how long I’ve been here, and admire my filigree Zapotec-style earrings and embroidered apron, sign that I am surely one of them. Or at least a trying hard wannabe. Then, invite me to take photos.

I get a Zapotec lesson, Xa-Yu (how are you?) and chichi-bay-oh (salud) as we raise the cup. I already know Zakchi! (hello, good afternoon). This is really a foreign language.

A convenient stop across the street from the market

A convenient stop across the street from the market

Rosa, as she introduced herself, buys my first drink. Good for the panza, she says, patting her belly. I agree. Mezcal is a medicinal when not abused! She offers me another. I smile and decline, realizing I need to drive home without bumping into any burros.

Next time, my turn to buy.

And, that’s village life in Oaxaca.

For sale, fresh cornhusks for tamales, anyone?

This is, too. Fresh native corn and husks for tamales, anyone?

Norma’s Simple Chicken Soup Recipe

  • 1 small, white organic chicken, cut up, skin removed
  • include neck and gizzards and egg sack
  • 1-2 chicken feet (just like grandma used to make)
  • 4-6 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 1 serrano pepper, dried
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 whole onions, peeled
  • 1/2″ fresh turmeric, peeled

Add chicken and all other ingredients to 6 qt. stockpot. Bring to simmer on stovetop, cover and cook for 4-6 hours*. Chill. Remove fat. Muy rico.

These local, skinny free-range chickens are pretty tough, so to get the meat very tender, it needs to good for a really long time! It’ the feet that give the flavor.