How was I going to replicate the organic cornbread I’ve been making (and eating) in North Carolina here in Teotitlan del Valle?, I wondered. As I cruised the village market yesterday, I saw a local woman selling small bags of ground cornmeal. I asked her to verify what it was, since I wanted plain ground corn. For atole, she replied, in Spanish. Nothing more than corn. Maize molido. I thought, oh, good, local from her milpa.
I know how they grind corn here. Almost every family has a small plot of corn, squash and beans out in the campo. This is to sustain them and their animals throughout the year. Everyone eats the same corn — animals and humans alike. There are three corn plantings and harvests a year. The last harvest is coming in now, just before Muertos.
Once the corn is harvested, most of it is dried. The women peel the kernels off the husks, then take the dried corn kernels to the local molino (mill). There is a mill in every neighborhood here. They choose how they want it ground, coarse to fine. What I bought was a fine ground cornmeal. Native, organic corn. Original corn. Healthy. Just perfect.
I followed a highly rated gluten-free recipe online, but added my own flavors to the dry meal: 1/4 t. turmeric, one tablespoon of minced, candied ginger, about a teaspoon of dried oregano I had bought fresh at the local market some months ago.
We are at 6,000 feet altitude here in the Oaxaca valley. It takes longer to bake and we need to crank up the oven temperature a bit to compensate. Baking here is as much an art as it is a science, so I watch the cornbread to make sure it is rising and not browning too fast.
My friend Kalisa is a baker extraordinaire. She often stays in the casita when I’m gone, caring for the dogs. Of course, this is a Mexican stove! She did a translation of oven temps from Fahrenheit to Centigrade last year. We keep this on a faithful sticky note on the side of the cupboard near the oven. It helps immensely.
Footnote: It took over an hour to bake. The recipe called for 25 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. The texture is fine, more like a cake than a bread. Next time, I’ll see if I can find a coarse grind meal in the village. Meanwhile, I taste the turmeric and the oregano and ginger. I like the mingling of the flavors.
What can you experiment with?
P.S. A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I used to own and operate a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school. I still love to experiment.
After three months of being away, the dogs — Tia and Butch — still recognize me. The campo is green from rain. A carpet of cempasuchitl — Mexican marigold flowers — have taken over in preparation for Dia de los Muertos.
Yesterday, my first late afternoon here, I took a walk on a familiar path. Ruts and loose stones were clues that there was a reason for green. The sun was still strong, though it was closer to sunset. It felt good to settle back into life here in this way — into the essence of the landscape.
My friends, on whose land I live, invited me for a homecoming dinner of barbecue chicken and mezcal. I contributed the steamed brown rice. The dogs hovered near the doorway to their house. We caught up. My dormant Spanish resuscitated.
Today, the Teotitlan del Valle market calls. My cupboards are bare. On the advice of my new UNC Chapel Hill gastroenterologist and after more than a year of symptoms, I’ve started the low FODMAP diet (my diagnosis is small intestine bacterial overgrowth). It requires a different kind of shopping, easy to achieve here with organic foods and native corn.
At this moment, at about the same time as yesterday’s walk, it drizzles. The Temps drop ten degrees. Lemongrass leaves rustle in their clay pots. Sweet Lady Rain. The only sounds I hear are the tap-tap of rain on the baked tile roof, the hum of the refrigerator, the distant crow of a rooster.
It’s easy to sleep here. It’s easy to be here.
Tomorrow Shuko arrives and we will descend onto the villages in search of pottery and textiles, into markets and shops, to visit artisans and makers of culture and craft.
For now, I listen to what is soothing and feel the freshness through the open window.
I’m getting ready to return to Oaxaca next week with a stopover in Mexico City to lead the Art History Tour focusing on the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, plus the other noted early 20th century Mexican muralists. (Want to hop down? One space open!)
Before I leave the USA, I usually go through my collection to review what I want to part with. The 15-piece selection is below. Look carefully!
To Buy: Send me an email to email@example.com with your name, address, and item number. I will send you an invoice to pay with credit card. Once I receive your funds, I will mail via USPS to anywhere in the USA. Prices include mailing cost. Please buy and pay before Sunday, October 13, 2019. I return to Mexico on October 16. Thank you VERY much.
This is a one-of-a-kind completely handmade necklace, with handmade hollow silver beads and cast milagros in the image of the Virgin of Juquila, a venerated icon. You’ll never see anything like this again. When clasped, it hangs 20-inches. There are 15 milagros, including the three on the suspended cross. Two additional milagros make up the secure hook clasp. This is a collector’s piece. Price is $995. USD including mailing to anywhere in the USA. (Half the price of Federico with more silver.)
These are famed Oaxaca filigree dangle earrings made by the best artisan silversmith I know. The ones on the left are called Muñecas and have a deep ruby red glass center to accent the sterling silver and pearls. The pair on the right are also an impressive statement piece, pearl and sterling with more of the filigree featured. Each pair has a 2-1/2″ drop from where the wire enters the earlobe, and is $245 each (includes mailing to anywhere in the USA).
Don’t like a price? Make me a reasonable offer!
#3 is an outstanding necklace, 22″ long, that I found at an out-of-the-way Oaxaca vintage antique shop. It was too beautiful to pass up and I added it to my collection. Now it’s time for a new home! $595 includes mailing to anywhere in USA.
#4 are among the last pairs of earrings I have made Brigitte Huet, who worked in Oaxaca for 20+ years before she returned to France in 2015. They are formed using the lost wax casting technique, and are 2″ long. $145 USD includes mailing to anywhere in the USA.
#5 is a sterling silver Mexican bubble bangle is made in Taxco, Guerrero. I’m very picky about quality, and this one is the best. 6″ interior diameter opening. Measure your wrist! $165 includes mailing to anywhere in the USA.
#6 is a rare vintage sterling silver Mexican bubble bracelet with native turquoise and hook clasp made in Taxco, Guerrero. It is in very good condition and measures 7-1/4″ long. $185 USD includes mailing to anywhere in the USA.
Don’t like a price? Make me a reasonable offer.
#7, #8, and #9 are jicara gourd, hand-carved and painted, made in Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca, Mexico. I hand-select each pair for design quality and workmanship excellence. 2-1/2 to 3″ long. Lightweight, versatile, easy to wear. $45 each includes mailing to anywhere in USA. Please specify color and number when ordering. Thank you.
#12. This is a rare Brigitte Huet sterling silver pendant made in the lost wax casting technique. It is from her earliest collection. Price includes mailing to anywhere in USA.
#10 are made by the Mazahua silversmiths of Estado de Mexico. I bought these in Mexico City. Difficult to find now. 3″ long from where wire enters earlobe to end of coral drop. Will mail free to anywhere in USA.
Don’t like a price? Make me a reasonable offer.
These are 950 sterling silver made by fine Mexican jeweler Melesio Rodriguez. They are each 1-1/4″ long. The design is derived from vintage 1950’s Taxco silversmithing. $165 each pair. Includes mailing to anywhere in USA. Please specify which pair you want by number.
#14 was purchased around 2007 from Brigitte when she was working in Oaxaca using the lost wax casting technique. Her fine work was collected by travelers and residents alike. Rare to still find a piece like this. The iconography is Maya representing the huipil woven designs of noblewomen. $435 USD includes mailing to anywhere in the USA.
#15 was bought in Patzcuaro, Michoacan in the early 1990’s. Rare. The fish is the iconic symbol of the region. Handmade silver beads and chain add interest along with the red beans from which the fish are suspended. Whimsical, beautiful, strong and secure with a hook clasp. $295 includes mailing to anywhere in the USA.
Shuko Clouse just opened her online shop Mano del Sur. She is a friend and I want to help give her a boost.
Shuko is from Japan. She loves Mexico and particularly Oaxaca. She combines her aesthetic for quality and simplicity with all unique, one-of-a-kind pieces she finds along the way during her travels south-of-the-border.
Shuko is dedicated to learning Spanish. She recently came to Oaxaca for a language immersion program. In her generous, kind and insightful multicultural approach, she communicates directly with artisans to identify and buy the best home goods and fashion accessories to pass along to discerning buyers via her new website.
Our textile study tours offer people like Shuko a guided opportunity to seek out some of the most outstanding artisans in a region. Shuko came with us to Chiapas and she is now returning for the Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. She comes to Oaxaca city, too, where I take her to villages to meet some of the best artisans to buy their craft.
I am happy to work with Shuko, designers and retailers to introduce them to artisans. The makers appreciate being able to sell direct with no middleman and the buyers know they support artisans directly and pay a fair price for their quality workmanship.
We are filled for the Oaxaca Coast Tour, but we have space for
In January 2017, I wrote a blog post honoring the wedding of my friends Carol Estes and David Levin who met, fell in love and got married in Oaxaca. You can find it HERE.
Carol called me this morning to tell me that David died on Saturday evening, September 28, 2019. We cried together and reminisced. We cried together and our voices trembled in unison. We cried together and talked about what the future might bring. Carol is packing up her life in Toronto and return for a while to Dallas, Texas, near family.
For our moments together, we talked about David’s will to live, his spirit of adventure, his desire to travel and enjoy life after being diagnosed with cancer almost three years ago. We focused on David as Carol’s soulmate and how Oaxaca changed their lives.
David was one of those passionate people who loved taking friends and visitors to Abastos Market, where he could mingle with the real people of Oaxaca. He chose a local neighborhood to live in that was close to Oaxaca’s soul. I remember the gatherings he and Carol hosted for large groups of friends. We would squeeze into the patio to share food, wine and mezcal, rub shoulders and laugh. He brought us together.
He hosted a cooking class to teach us all how to make mamelas. Our instructor was a Oaxaqueña woman who filled us up with her stories and good food, giving us recipes to take with us on our journey back to where we came from — Oaxaca Centro or Teotitlan del Valle or Vancouver, B.C. David made life happen for many of us; he guided us, showed us the way.
Here is what Carol wrote to friends about David’s passing:
I’m writing to let you know that David died last evening, September 28. He’d been in hospital since Monday, and had been increasingly ill for about two weeks. Up until then, he remained the energetic, focused man you’ve known these many years.
David found it impossible to believe that he would have to give in to cancer. He continued to plan “what’s next” up to the end. I had to cancel a trip to Mexico in early November and one for February to Bangkok! Last week he was sure he’d live at least another six months. It has been exactly three years this month since his first treatment. During that time we had a wonderful trip to Sri Lanka and India, Las Vegas, Montreal, and New Mexico. David spent last December in Melbourne with his family. He was truly a traveling man.
I’ve attached a recent photo of David with his newest grandson, Benjamin. David was happy to see both his daughters marry in the last three years, and each presented us with a grandson. Mia has Nathan who is 18 months old, and Anna has Benjamin who is six months old now.
Thank you for all the joy you brought into our lives… for rejoicing with us at our wedding, and for your friendship during our Oaxaca days. I will move back to Texas to be with my children on October 22, and I have no doubt that I will return to Oaxaca at some point. I look forward to seeing each of you again. This is far from a complete list of the people in Oaxaca who knew and liked David. Please feel free to share his passing.
Let’s together raise a toast to the life of David Levin. I have lit copal incense and a Yahrzeit candle that will burn for 24-hours in David’s memory. When we keep memory alive, the person we care about and love will never be far from us.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
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