Monthly Archives: April 2008

Once, I owned a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school.

Now, I love to cut corners and figure out ways to prepare and eat healthy food — quickly.  Once, I cooked with heavy cream, butter and flour to make buerre blanc and sauce meuniere.  Now, salad and fresh fruit are the mainstays.  Once, I learned to make a chocolate hazelnut torte — a three-layer extravaganza with chocolate ganache, shaved chocolate curls adorning a chocolate whipped cream frosting, all perfectly turned out for the ooohs-and-aaaaahs.  So, as I give you these cut-the-corners recipes, know that I’m translating from the difficult to the simple for your dining pleasure.  Buen probecho!

Easy Recipe: Mole Colorado con Carne y Arroz — Feel the Heat

Elsa and I were in the kitchen together last night. It is wonderful to have her and Eric with us in the house. Each day, they get up in the morning, drop me off at my office, and take my car out to the destination of the day …. usually to the mall, or Target (tienda favorita), or TJ Maxx or Marshall’s. There is no Target in Oaxaca and it is a mesmerizing experience. For them, these outings are like my yearnings to search out San Martin Tilcajete or Santa Maria Atzompa on a quest for the perfect piece of pottery or alebrije. Clothing, electronics, and daily essentials are less expensive in the U.S. and discount shopping for my Oaxacan friends becomes a cultural adventure. Last night, they take a respite from eating cheese burgers and fries to helping me make Mole Coloradito. Here’s how it goes.

I have a jar of ground chile chocolate paste in my refrigerator that I brought back from Oaxaca six months ago — a purchase I made at Mayordomo on Calle 20 de Noviembre, south of the Zocalo — and keep in a glass canning jar, tightly covered. It is a standard mix of almonds, Oaxacan chocolate (spiced with cinnamon) and pasilla peppers. (If you want or need to make your own paste, consult the Food Network for a scratch recipe.) You may be able to find a jar of the paste in a Mexican food store, too. So, here is what you will need.

For the Mole Sauce — This Has a Big Bite Flavor:

16 oz. — mole colorado paste (this is a very thick mixture that has the consistency of almond paste)

2 or more cups of beef broth

1 – 12-oz. jar of Paul Newman Tequila Lime Salsa

In a blender, add the mole paste, the beef broth and the jar of salsa. Pulse until smooth. The consistency should be like heavy cream. That’s It. Muy Delicioso!

For the Carne (beef):

1-1/2 to 2 lbs. good quality beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes

3 T. fresh parsley, chopped

1 large onion, diced

6 cloves of garlic, peeled, left whole

3 dried pasilla chiles, seeded and chopped

2 c. water

salt to season

In the morning, before you go to work or go off for the day, put all ingredients into a crock pot, stir, cover, and set on highest temperature. When you return at 6 or 7 p.m., the meat will be perfectly cooked. Use the liquid beef stock from the crock pot to make your mole sauce.

For the Arroz (rice):

2 cups of regular white rice

4 cups of water

salt to taste

Combine the rice, water and salt in a 4 quart sauce pan. Bring to the rolling boil. Cover. Turn heat down to low and continue to cook for 10 minutes at a low simmer. Turn the heat off. Let rice sit for 20 minutes as it continues to steam cook.

Oaxaquenos traditionally serve the Mole Colorado over the rice, and serve the meat next to this. Serve plenty of tortillas that have been warmed on the griddle (flour or corn). As accompaniments, serve with sauteed zucchini or crooked neck yellow squash and black beans.

Youth Arts Festival: Greenville, NC — Exhibition & Sale of Oaxaca Rugs on April 5, 2008

This is the second year that East Carolina University has invited Eric Chavez Santiago to exhibit at the Youth Arts Festival in Greenville, NC. He will be demonstrating weaving and natural dyeing techniques, too. The exhibition and sale will be held on-campus all day on Saturday, April 5. Eric and Elsa packed the car this morning and are driving from Chapel Hill to Greenville, which will take a couple of hours. Tonight there is a special dinner for exhibitors and they are excited about attending. They are taking about 40 rugs with them and will offer these for sale, along with hand-loomed shawls, embroidered blouses, baskets woven with agave and palm leaves, handwoven and naturally dyed decorative pillows, and a few wonderful handbags.

Decorative Pillow Covers


Let the Parade Begin: Zapotec Weddings in Teotitlan

The preparation begins days, even months ahead. A few days before, the party truck pulls up to deliver hundreds of chairs and raise the huge red and blue striped tent that will cover the courtyard. The wedding celebration is about to begin. On the morning of the wedding, the couple welcomes their relatives in the altar room of the groom’s parent’s house. First, the men from the two families line up and, one by one, walk in to give their blessings to the couple, any advice they have for a good marriage, and any regrets about their relationship that they want to express. Then, the women line up and take their turn. After this, all assemble and form a parade walking around the streets of the village before going to church for the wedding mass, the band leading the way, the priest following, then the couple and their parents, and then all the guests – stringing out for several blocks.

The woman’s relatives do not pay for the wedding. In Zapotec tradition, the man’s side of the family covers all the costs: the mass, the band, the food and drinks, everything. People never rent a party house or hotel for the reception like we do in the U.S. Teotitlan del Valle families use their own house, rent the tent, hundreds of chairs, and provide food to feed all the guests. Everyone is invited (or so it seems) — all the close and distant relatives, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins, nieces, close friends, and MORE. Anyone who has ever had an association the family is included on the guest list. You will see town folk lingering at the tall entry gates to the family compound where a wedding is taking place, waiting for an invitation to come in – which will always be extended. A wedding celebration could include hundreds of people. For example, Eric’s parents were recently invited to the wedding of the daughter of the man who delivers their drinking water. The man didn’t know Eric’s parents very well, but liked the way they acknowledged him when he delivered the water, so they were sent an invitation.

The woman’s family is responsible for giving the presents and money to the couple. The man’s relatives would customarily take a bottle of mezcal and flowers, but nothing more. Gifts could include major and small appliances, the size depending upon the closeness of the relationship. In wealthy families, gifts could be a car, a washing machine, a chest filled with gold coins, refrigerators, stoves, television, closets, and dishes. These are delivered to the girl’s house to store until the wedding day. At the end of the mass, the guests form the second parade of the day, the band plays and all promenade to the boy’s house for the reception. A truck or two, filled with the gifts, bring up the rear. Guests will take seats and watch as the trucks are unloaded and the gifts displayed in the center of the patio for all to see. Before cars and television, Eric thinks his people probably gave gifts of rugs, blankets, food and clothing, plus goods traded with other villages.

Guelaguetza: A System of Mutual Support

Weddings cost upwards of $15-20,000 USD. The groom’s family pays for about 60 to 70 percent of the expenses. This is a substantial sum for a weaver, whose annual income might be about $10,000 USD. The bride’s godparents always buy her wedding dress. That is the expectation when agreeing to become a godparent. Many families cannot afford to give a wedding but they feel an obligation to do it according to custom regardless of one’s means. A wedding party can last up to three or four days. When a family doesn’t have enough money, they will ask a relative or close friend to help them cover the costs, and promise to repay it later. This loan is known as the guelaguetza. There is no contract or written agreement. The spoken promise is honored regardless of how long the time passes. It could be one, five or 10 years later before repaying the guelaguetza. The man who made the original gift might say, “my son is getting married now and I would like you to provide the (fill in the blank …. music, barbeque, beer, mezcal, money). The repayment is always in the same form that was given. This is the Zapotec custom and Eric believes this is how his people have learned to honor their traditions, be mutually supportive and get along with each other over the centuries. Every time there is a dance of the feathers, a quince anos (Sweet 15), a wedding, a Christmas posada, or a baptism, there is a guelaguetza – the obligation of giving and paying back.

Eric believes that the women never enjoy the parties. Yet the social fabric of women’s lives are knit together in the camaraderie of life cycle events. Together, they make the fresh tortillas from scratch, starting two days before the event. They are cleaning the chickens, washing dishes, preparing the kitchen, chopping fruits and vegetables. The men are busy, too, trying to get the bull slaughtered to prepare for the barbacoa (goat barbeque), bringing in tanks of propane gas for the cooking stoves, buying the beer and soda, setting up the tent, and also cleaning the house. If the house is small and more space is needed, the men will dismantle the looms and take them out. They might clear out a bedroom or storage room to make more seating and dining space. There are weeks of chores in preparation for these events. Eric feels the women have harder work because they are in the kitchen constantly. That’s the primary reason why he doesn’t want a big traditional party — he is not eager for his mother to work that hard. He is sympathetic to the role of traditional women who prepare and serve the food, give first to the guests and the men, and eat last. And, he also knows that traditions are important to keeping a culture vibrant.

He notes, “When my cousins, the doctors, got married, they rented a party house in Oaxaca. But I saw that the women were bored, they didn’t have anything to do. They waited to be served but were very uncomfortable and didn’t understand this non-traditional practice. There were place cards for seating but in our culture everyone is used to sitting where they want. So, everyone got up and sat where they wanted to. The wedding reception ended after only a few hours, compared with a traditional Teotitlan wedding celebration that continues until 5 or 6 a.m. the next day.”

Some families are leaving the village because they cannot afford to participate in the guelaguetza system. Young people see that there are other choices for courtship and marriage via television and exposure to living in the city or working for a time in El Norte. Family expectations are powerful. Because so much depends upon extended family interaction, acceptance and interdependency, one wonders how these courtship and marriage customs will continue or be shaped by the pressure of external forces that all societies are challenged by.