Monthly Archives: July 2011

Always Dreaming of Oaxaca: NY Times Quick Tacos Recipe

Here I am in Soquel, California, the idyllic, temperate hillside perch above Santa Cruz, dreaming of Oaxaca. This New York Times recipe has triggered my taste buds and memory. So easy, you can make it yourself. In NC all our tortillas, even from the best Mexican markets, are packaged and imported from elsewhere. So I make my own. It’s easy. I have a recipe on the blog.

Thanks, New York Times.

Frida Kahlo Food Fest This Weekend at Tortilla Flats, Soquel, California

Mexican food at its finest!

Tomorrow I’m flying to Santa Cruz, California to visit family.  My sister just sent me notice of a grand fiesta in her neighborhood and I intend to check it out and see if I can conjure up the recipes to post.  Maybe between swallows, I’ll be able to take a few photos of the intact dish before starting to gobble, gobble.

California is about as close to Mexico as one can get without crossing the border so I feel justified in including this here!  I can’t wait to get there to sample these incredible dishes.

Notice from Tortilla Flats proprietress Cheryl Marquez:

Frida’s Favorites are back at Tortilla Flats. Starting Thursday and continuing through Sunday the recipes of Frida Kahlo will be featured. Frida’s role as wife to the great muralist Diego Rivera included that of hostess to their many friends and admirers. She loved to prepare meals, the presentation as well as taste were important to her. In accordance with her and Diego’s Marxist beliefs, their meals relied on traditional recipes. Much of her knowledge came from her favorite cookbook Nuevo Cocinero Mejicano the equivalent of this country’s Fanny Farmer or Good Housekeeping. Below is our Menu.

Tortilla Flats is Located at 4616 Soquel Drive in the village of Soquel. Open from 11:30 until closing seven days a week.   Reservations are accepted for parties of six or more only. Directions are available at our website.   Contact us at 831-476-1754


Fresh picked squash blossoms, mushrooms and Oaxaca cheese in handmade crepes with aji limo sauce. (Organic from Yerena Farms)


Beautiful presentation of baked basa and eastern scallops served in scallop shells with lobster saffron cream sauce.


Deep, rich peanut and chipotle mole served with chicken


Tender pork carnitas steamed in a banana leaf, served with achiote pepper sauce


Mexican style meatballs in a spicy chipotle sauce, served with fried plantains and beans.


Literally “tablecloth strainer”. Fragrant with roasted ancho, pasilla and chipotle chiles. It draws it’s sweetness from plantains, raisins, figs, mangoes and pineapple. Served with pork carnitas.


Wild caught salmon served in handmade Spanish smoked paprika crepes with chipotle cream sauce.


Made with fresh corn, New Mexico hatch chile and cheese. Served with Santa Fe green sauce.


Grilled jumbo Prawns with prickley pear lime sauce.


Nopales paddles in fluffy egg batter, pan fried and covered with Oaxaca cheese and poblano sauce.


Carnitas in rich tomatillo sauce with cactus strips.


Fresh, wild caught red snapper pan fried, served with traditional vera cruz tomato, caper sauce.


Pumpkin pie tamale. All the flavors of fresh pumpkin pie served with house made caramel sauce and ice cream.


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Recipe: Fresh Peach Mango Tomato Salsa for a Crowd

Thinking of Oaxaca and Guelaguezta this week?  There’s no better flavor or memory of Mexico than using fresh tomatoes from the garden for salsa.  I had a couple of peaches and mangoes ripe ready and needing to be eaten.  Plus, Stephen had harvested a couple of huge purple-red tomatoes from the organic garden plot yesterday.  Time to make some salsa.  And, I had enough ingredients to make enough for a crowd or to eat through the week atop whatever: roast chicken, pinto beans, salad, blue corn tortilla chips.






Bonus:  lesson on how to cut a mango!


  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 2 peaches
  • 1 large mango
  • 1 Vidalia onion
  • cilantro or basil
  • Salt to taste (I like sea salt)
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 t. red pepper flakes
  • 1 T. Valentina hot Mexican sauce
  • juice of one lime
Stand mango on short end and using a serrated knife cut in two halves. close to flat pit.  You can feel the pit as you cut.
Score each half like a crossword puzzle grid or checkerboard.  I use the tip of a sharp paring knife. See the flat pit behind the tomato?
Fold the scored mango half back as you see in this photo above.
Cut the cubes from the skin and put into your mixing bowl. Cut the peach in half, remove the pit, and cut into 1/2″ cubes.  Add to bowl.
Using a serrated knife so you don’t lose juice, slice and cube the tomatoes into similar 1/2″ cubes.  Cut the stalk end off the onion.  Peel away the skin. Leave the root end in tact.  Cut through the onion in a cross-hatch checkerboard up to the root.  Stand it on its side and slice through.  This will give you uniform dice.
Add the tomatoes and onion to the bowl.  Stir.
Dice cilantro to yield 1/4-1/2 cup.  (You can substitute fresh basil, if you prefer.)  Add salt, starting with about 2 t. and taste.  Add the dried red pepper and Valentina.  Add lime juice.  Stir. Taste.  Correct the seasoning.  Finish with olive oil, stir and refrigerate for at least one hour until flavors blend.  This yields about 5 cups of salsa.
Enjoy!  Buen Provecho!

Book Review — Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun by Liza Bakewell

Liza Bakewell takes us where we may never have thought to go:  Down Mexico’s dusty back roads and cobblestone alleys, across neighborhood plazas lined with madre-derrogatory grafitti, through bustling markets, in a high speed car zig-zagging the wrong way down a one-way street, in provocative conversation with wise and deferential men, sequestered on the coast of Maine deep in contemplation, in lively debate with feminists, and befuddled and amused by encounters with people at all social and economic levels, including one’s own children.

Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun is not your everyday discussion about Mexico – her culture, history, politics, women’s issues (and men’s, too), language, social structure, and how a people come to define and understand self.  Yet it includes all of this!  Bakewell’s premise is that language informs culture and vice versa.   After reading this book, I understand and agree.  It opened my eyes.  Mexico is an idiomatic maze and “madre” plunges us into the cultural and linguistic depths, revealing the mysteries and idiosyncracies of this most beloved and maligned noun.  And, this most beloved and maligned country!

Madre the book

Some have described this book as a “memoir,” and in some limited respect that is true.  Yet it is much more than that because the academic discussion (Bakewell is a professor of linguistic anthropology at Brown University) about the etymology of “madre” prevails throughout.  But the book is flavored with slang, the vernacular, curse words, and romance.  It describes her personal and professional quest to understand this most complex of Spanish nouns.  It is human, engaging and real.

Most importantly, this book is entertaining, witty, clear and insightful.  It is a must-read for anyone who is thinking about visiting Mexico or who is living there.  Understanding the culture helps one enjoy the travel, and this will definitely bring you enjoyment before or during your stay.

Bakewell examines what the word “madre” conjures up in Mexican society, and how it defines manhood and womanhood.  She takes us on a journey to explore gender roles, relationships, customs, traditions, church doctrine, and stereotypes.  The perilous journey is a metaphor, I believe, for the evolution of the word — one small, simple word now infused with powerful emotion: manhood, womanhood, honor, obedience, pride, machismo, “fight to the death,” and identity, plus all that is disparaging, insulting and base.

I love Bakewell’s discussion about the dualities and conflicts of Mexican identity and womanhood as exemplified by “The Malinche” and her alter-ego counterpart, Dona Marina.  They are one and the same woman, the first “bad and forbidden” and the second “baptized, good and pure.”  I see this drama danced out every year in the Danza de la Pluma that reenacts the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs.  Through this description, we come to understand who is the whore and who is the virgin, the themes that recur in the recesses of the language and icons hanging from every rear view mirror.

Bakewell explores the mixed messages and signals, expected behaviors, and role definitions for women and what constitutes femininity.   She describes Malinche, the translator for Cortes, and how her name became synonymous with traitor and betrayal. An indigenous woman from the southern coast of Mexico enslaved since childhood, passed from one tribal group to another, she was given to Cortes by her captors.  She was multilingual because of her circumstances.  Yet, she was redefined during the 1857 revolution as the antithesis of the good Mexican woman.  Mexican feminists are branded as Malinchistas.

Madre is about paternal creation and the power of the church to define and control.  It explores the subtle meaning of Virgin and Eve, and what constitutes purity.  The dilemma of madre in Mexico, according to Bakewell, is that the church believes the bride, once married is Eve, not the Virgin, and vulnerable to all the transgressions put before her.  Like Eve, Malinche was the mother of the first mestizo (indigenous Indian and Spanish blend), child of Cortes.  While Eve listened to the snake, Malinche listened to Cortes, betraying her people.

I imagine Liza Bakewell asked me to review this book because of my association with Oaxaca and love for Mexico.  In 2009, she spent the year there on sabbatical as a single mom with her twin daughters finishing up the manuscript in preparation for publication.  She talks about it being a warm, welcoming, safe and nurturing place for herself and her young children where she could bring her madre journey to a close.

Here, while she wrote, she also discovered that the liberal revolutionaries of 1857 – Benito Juarez, Melchor Ocampo, and Justo Sierra — politically reinterpreted what it meant to be a woman in Mexico.  In their endeavor to liberate Mexico from the stranglehold of the Catholic church they replaced one set of padres for another.

Ocampo, in his “Epistle,” defined the virtues of woman to be “self-abnegation, beauty, compassion, shrewdness and tenderness, and must give and shall always give her husband obedience, affability, attention, comfort, advice and treat him with reverence due to the person who supports and defends us.”  Ocampo’s “Epistle” became required reading at state civil marriage ceremonies  until 2007, when Mexican feminists asked individual states to replace it.  Most have, but Oaxaca has not.  The Epistle outlines perfection and impossible expectations for women to achieve.

The quest for the meaning of “Madre” was not a straight path.  Just like the taxi driver zigzagging the wrong way down a one-way street, “Madre” the book takes one turn and then another, to describe how “madre” the word came to include derogatory meanings in the Mexican Spanish language.  It caused me to sit up and take notice about our own gender slurs and how we casually use them until they become embedded in the vernacular and we are no longer conscious of the meaning.

Just as you are beginning to think that you understand, Bakewell starts a discussion about the articles “el” and “la” and “los.”  Spanish is organized by the system of la and el,” she says.  If you are confused about which article to use, consider  el amor (love), el sexo (sex), el matrimonio (marriage), el prenado (pregnancy), el embarazo (pregnancy), el parto (childbirth) and el nacimiento (birth).  Why are these words “masculine?” she asks.    A friend of Bakewell’s who studied Indo-European languages, traces it to the concern about descent lines – the patrilineage.   Culture and language are powerful padres.

Finally, Bakewell asks us to consider the origins of madre and padre.  She delves into the sounds of mmmmmm and ppppppp.   MMMMMmadre.    PPPPPPPPpadre.  She takes us to the very essence of birth, identity, survival and continuity.  She describes the mmmm sound as internal, humming, soothing, nurturing and nourishing.  Pppppppppadre is the force of spitting out, putting one’s imprimatur in the world, the first attempt at aggressiveness for what we must do to make our way as human beings.  One is internal and the other external, almost synonymous with how our bodies and reproductive organs are purposed.   She describes how the sound origins across languages and cultures are consistent.  Fascinating. Try these sounds and you’ll see what I mean.

Anyone who travels to or lives in Mexico, studies Latin American culture, history, art, Spanish language, or anything related MUST read this book.  Furthermore, there are no madre insults in Italy and very few in Columbia, Chile and Argentina.

Madre IS made in Mexico.

And, if you want to know the expletives, you’ll have to read the book!  They are plentiful.

Madre: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun, by Liza Bakewell, W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.  ISBN 978-0-393-07642-4.  You can order the book direct from Dr. Bakewell.


Oaxaca, Mexico Brigitte Huet Sterling Silver Jewelry Designs

"Lady" Earrings, $120 and Bracelet, $370 for the medium, and $410 for large

Brigitte Huet, Kand-Art jewelry designs, has lived and worked in Oaxaca for over 25 years.  She has a large following of very loyal clients from around the world. She recently sent me some great photos of her designs and the price list.  I have many of these pieces available for sale with shipment from my home in the U.S.

4 Elements pendent, $150; earrings, $110; chain (inquire), bracelet, $570 (not pictured)

All the sales go directly to Brigitte.  I make no commission!  If you are interested in a purchase, please let me know by email.  I am happy to send you dimensions.

"Circulos" bracelet, $270 and earrings, $95; Counting chain bar and circle design

"Gift Air" Pendant, $175 and Bracelet, $500; Aztec Eagle Design

"Vision" serpent pendant, $160 and earrings, $85

You can contact Brigitte directly.

"Mystic Dream" Collar (pendant with attached chain), $400