Monthly Archives: March 2013

Guest Blog: Holy Mole by LeeAnn Weigold

Holy Mole: Cooking Class with Reyna Mendoza Ruiz by LeeAnn Weigold*

“I’ll stir. You chop,” Susan said.  She loves stirring because it’s so relaxing and sensed that in my wired state, I needed some chopping to keep my hands busy.  Reyna had persevered with my jumping around like a five year old in the local mercado, asking a million questions, while she meticulously examined each item to be purchased, at it’s freshest best, for our class this morning.

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The shopping ingredients included what we needed to prepare mole rojo. The recipe belongs to Reyna’s family and has passed down through generations.  Mole Rojo or Red Mole is  used for wedding luncheons and smaller fiestas, just right for an intimate dinner with good friends.

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Susan (photo left) and I both jumped at the chance to take a Oaxaca cooking class given by Reyna Mendoza Ruiz, a Zapotec woman expert in her craft.  I met Susan at the Lifting Your Creative Voice: Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Workshop in Teotitlan de Valle.  We became instant friends when we discovered a shared love of cooking, entertaining and, of course, eating.   The thought of dazzling my friends with a real scratch mole would not be suppressed, but the ingredients list had always scared me away.

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The fire crackled under the comal, which is a ceramic plate like a pizza pan, while a warm smoky aroma swirled in the outdoor kitchen as we worked.  Perfect in her efficiency, Reyna taught us to roast chiles, onion, garlic, almonds, sesame seeds, cinnamon and herbs just enough to release their flavours.  She brushed the roasted ingredients one by one into a large bowl with a handmade whisk.  Susan and I had trouble with this simple task.  It was foreign to us.  The fire died exactly as the roasting finished.


Reyna ground garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle to coat the chicken before simmering.  Now that the roasted ingredients had cooled we went to the metate.  This metate was a wedding gift to Reyna’s grandmother.  It is a downward sloping concrete square about the size of a patio stone.  It curls up slightly at the bottom forming a shallow dish shape.   A stone rolling-pin, called a mano de metate and as smooth as marble from years of use, rolls over the ingredients making a paste.  As Reyna worked grinding the ingredients and adding a little water, we began to notice the smell of the chiles, garlic and other ingredients as they took on a new life.


Reyna made Susan and I both do a little grinding on the metate to get the feel of it.  I had sore arms the next couple of days, after only about five minutes of grinding with the rolling-pin.  Reyna showed no sign of fatigue and shared with us that young women begin working on the metate at age ten.  Normally, she would grind five times this much for her family.   Her calm beauty, loving smile and smooth brown skin disguise the strength beneath.

With the mole paste ready for cooking, Reyna scraped it into a handmade, clay pot and added some boiling water.  The mole would simmer for twenty minutes or so before adding the chocolate, made from scratch by Reyna’s mother the previous day.  With mole bubbling and Susan happily stirring, we began to prepare the stuffed pumpkin or squash flowers.  This was like winning the lottery for me, all my favorites in one menu and the same cooking class.  What luck!


Once the flowers are stuffed with fresh, salty, Oaxaca cheese called quesillo, breaded and pan-fried to a yellow brown, we finished the Pico de Gallo.  This is a cross between a tomato salsa and a guacamole, with Reyna’s special twist.  She buys smallish salt cured shrimp in the Mercado and freshens them in water before roasting them on the comal until the skins are slightly browned.  Just before serving, she squeezes a lemon over the shrimp and stirs them in into the mix.  The flavour dances on your tongue and races around in your mouth.  Mmmmmmm.

With the chicken cooked, we moved to the round table adjacent to the kitchen, which had been set with blue and white, hand-made, hand-painted pottery on a woven table cloth of blue, orange and yellow, a tapestry of colour and aroma.  Reyna’s family watched and giggled from their outdoor living room as we sat down, and a young boy who had been lurking shyly on the fringe of the kitchen all morning came a little closer.  Javier, he introduced himself.  They wanted us to be pleased with our meal.

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Reyna poured us a shot of mescal in a small dried gourd, which had carved plants and animals around the upper edge.  It fit perfectly between my thumb and forefinger.  The mescal had a smoky, slightly sweet taste.  She arranged the chicken and mole on the plate and we helped ourselves to fresh tortillas and the pico de gallo.  Delicious doesn’t even begin to describe either the food or the experience.   If you even get a chance to do this, don’t pass it up!


*I invited LeeAnn, a participant in our Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat, to write about her cooking class experience.  LeeAnn was born in Toronto, Canada, and graduated from St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario.  She now lives half the year in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico and the other half on Quadra Island, British Columbia, with her husband Mike.  They are retired salmon fishermen who love to sail, play golf, and stay warm!  LeeAnn took all the photos, except for the one of her at the metate, which Susan shot.

Easter Week Begins: Lunes Santo or Holy Monday in Oaxaca

Lunes Santo or Easter Monday is celebrated with reverence in the Oaxaca village of Teotitlan del Valle where I am living.  This is a day of prayers and offerings, of procession and peace.  The week before Easter, known as  Semana Santa in Mexico, begins on Palm Sunday.  After a 7:30 a.m. mass, the volunteer church committee begins the procession followed by the townspeople.  A key figure is the Centurion, represented by a young boy dressed in Roman soldier garb, and riding a beautiful horse.  They are followed by a contingent of boy-soldiers, the legion of one hundred.

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There are thirteen stops along the processional route where villagers in the procession stop to worship, take refreshment, and rest. This is Teotitlan’s tribute to the pilgrimage along the Via Doloroso, Way of Sorrows and the Stations of the Cross.  The altars may be ornately decorated with tapetes or handwoven rugs, which the people of Teotitlan del Valle are famous for weaving.

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If Lunes Santo is about the solemnity of Easter, it is also about honoring infants and toddlers who are dressed like angels and represent the promise for new life and new beginning.

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Many women wear purple, the color of royalty, symbolic of Jesus as king.

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Both men and women carry lit beeswax candles, and a designated man at each stop hands out roses to the worshipers to lay before the altar.

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The aroma of copal incense and chanting fill the air, along with the sound of the village band out in front of the procession.  At each stop, they take a rest too, then start up again as signal for the time to start walking again.

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It is a hot day and those who are not carrying umbrellas to shield them from the sun seek the shade along sidewalks where buildings cast longer shadows.  I picked up the procession in Section Three of the village, where I met up with friend Ernestina and her daughter Guadalupe, who we call Lupita.

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People here have a strong commitment to their families, their beliefs, and their desire to continue traditions that are centuries old and more, since most of Mexican Catholicism blends with the mysticism of pre-conquest indigenous practices.

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And, who can resist the resting stops with delicious offerings:  tamales, locally made ice cream, and drinks.  Today I had the most delicious bean paste stuffed tamal flavored with avocado leaf and a  tamale with mole rojo and chicken.  Each person in the procession got a plate of three at each stop!  Thanks to the women who do the cooking and the men who serve and each family who supports the community.

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Then to quench thirst, the pilgrims are offered hibiscus flower juice (agua de jamaica) or atole, a corn, water and chocolate drink, special for celebrations and served in hand-painted gourds.  Children and adults alike loved the nieves, the Mexican flavored ices.  Today we had tuna and nuez (tuna is the fruit of the nopal cactus and nuez is nuts) or lime sorbet with mamey ice cream, with a cookie to top it off.

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Guest Blog: Tlacolula Market Chickens by Janet Andrews

Tlacolula Market Chickens by Janet Andrews*

Large orange feet and toe nails sticking straight up in the air –  rows of them –  pull me away from the other sights, sounds, and smells of the Tlacolula Market.  The four toes of each foot are spread wide just like Beth instructed us to do with our toes in yoga this morning.  Wouldn’t you know it, chickens just naturally spread their toes for stability and connectivity to the earth while I, at age 74, am just learning how important it is to be connected to the ground I walk on.

But why are the chicken’s feet so orange, I wonder? My guess is they are fed yellow corn, but it simply may be that the chickens produced for the United States market have their feet removed before I ever see them.  My culture has a nasty habit of trying to sanitize and separate people from the frequently hard-to-take realities of life.  Later, I learned that actually Oaxacans feed chickens a concentrated Marigold flower powder to enhance the color of their skin and egg yolks.

Looking down from the chicken’s feet I see they are lying on their backs on a table with their feet facing the aisle. So I am now staring into an empty body cavity that is clean of entrails.  Again our yoga practice comes flying into my mind  –  “let go of your vagina as though it would fall from you to the ground.”   Well, the chickens would get a high score for accomplishing that, although I doubt it was for the same purpose we have in yoga.

These Tlacolula chickens, like the ones I encounter at home, have their feathers cleanly plucked, leaving their skin speckled in shades of yellow, tan, and red. Peering into the body cavity I see red muscle, yellow fat, and white fascia, cartilage and bone.  All combined, these images allow me to believe my Corpse Pose, Savasana, is a lot more relaxing than the chicken’s.


Market Chickens, photo by Janet Andrews

*Janet Andrews is from Tucson, Arizona, and participated in our 2013 Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat.  She came with the intention of writing more about her family history, which she did.  She also gave us this witty take on her experience at the Tlacolula Market.




Driving to Mexico and Bringing a Car: The Plan and the Reality

This essay has to do with driving a car to Mexico, what kind of car can be imported to Mexico, getting a permanent resident visa, and safety tips for driving to Mexico, or The best-laid plans of mice and men/Often go awry (Robert Burns, 1785), in seven parts.

Part One:  Intention to Drive, March 17, 2013

For over two years we’ve been talking about driving our now ten-year old Honda CRV to Oaxaca.  Something has always tripped us up, gotten in the way, and postponed our plans.  Mostly, it’s because our casita wasn’t finished, we didn’t know how long we would stay for any one stretch, and neither of us had retired yet.  There were plenty of excuses, reasonable and otherwise.

And, we heard lots of tales from locals and expats — some of them true!  Mostly, we heard ‘ you can’t bring a car in unless it’s exactly ten years old.’ I breathed a sigh of relief as our car was aging in place.

Our godson is getting married in Oaxaca in two weeks.  Months ago, Stephen bought a round-trip plane ticket to attend, take vacation days, and return to North Carolina in time to resume his university teaching.   Life changes.  Since buying the plane ticket, he decided to retire at the end of June, wind down his private practice, and spend more time in Oaxaca.  He’s traveling by air, but planned to return to the U.S. on a one-way ticket.  

Bringing a car into Mexico is decidedly tricky.  There’s the driving part, of course.  Over the last six weeks, Stephen talked with our NC friends living in Mexico.  They recommended a driving route with a Nuevo Laredo border crossing.  Their advice goes something like this:  Sleep in Laredo, Texas.  Get up really early before dawn.  Drive across the border through the “no man’s land.”  Twenty miles in, present your papers at the check-point, then, drive without stopping until you are as far away as possible.

To prepare, the car got a twice over to make the journey, hopefully without a glitch.  Our mechanic says put the spare tire inside.  Stephen is leaving on Sunday.  It’s three days from North Carolina to the Mexican border.  Then one really LONG day with a very early morning start to San Miguel, two nights there to rest up, and another long driving day to Oaxaca.  Just in time for Semana Santa.  I can’t wait!  The car will be full of kitchen supplies that are impossible to get here.

Part Two: Surprises, March 20, 2013

Yesterday, we Skype again.  I’ve got two surprises for you, Stephen says.  I’m listening.  I got my visa, he says.  It’s a permanent resident visa.  (Link is to Mexican Embassy in Canada, where information in English is very clear.) This is great, I say.  I think, wow, that’s almost a miracle.  And, he says, you can apply for your visa in Mexico instead of the U.S. because I show enough money in my retirement fund to support you!  

Part Three:  Plan Interruptus?, March 20, 2013

Mexican immigration laws have changed.  There are no more FM-3 visas. Now, there are streamlined temporary resident visas and permanent resident visas.  There are also new regulations about bringing and keeping cars from the U.S. in Mexico.  To be legal, you must have the permanent resident visa and the car must be of a certain vintage, not too old and not too new.  Specifics?  Still more information to find out before Stephen leaves on Sunday!  Trigger:  I receive an email from friend Lynda who wants to know how we are bringing our car into Mexico.  Her’s has to leave, she says.  Something about the VIN number.  I remember our Honda has a VIN showing assembly in the United Kingdom.

Part Four:  The Panic Sets In, March 20, 2013, p.m.

I panic. I email with Lynda, again, who is here on a permanent resident visa but has to remove her car permanently, never to bring it back again.   I’m having a glass of wine with mutual friend Roberta on her patio.  I ask her if she knows why Lynda’s car has to exit. It’s made/assembled in Japan, Roberta says. (I’ve written before about how accidental getting information is here.)  I think, I wonder if that means my CRV assembled in the U.K., won’t be allowed in either.  I write Stephen and tell him to be on alert, we need to investigate.  He says contact Banjercito, the Mexican bank that handles all the car importation. I email them, hoping to get an answer in time.  Countdown: Three days to departure.

Part Five:  The Scoop, March 21, 2013, a.m.

Que milagro!  I got a reply in English this morning.  Here’s the scoop:

  1. Because of NAFTA, only cars manufactured/assembled in the USA or Canada are allowed to be imported to Mexico.
  2. No cars made in Japan, Great Britain or anywhere else in the world can be brought in — ever.
  3. It doesn’t matter what kind of visa you have.  What matters is the VIN (vehicle identification number) of the car.
  4. If you have a permanent resident visa, you must apply for a permanent importation license for the car which must be made in the U.S. or Canada.
  5. If you have a temporary resident visa, you can apply for a temporary import license, but the car has to also be made in the U.S. or Canada.
  6. If you have a permanent resident visa, you cannot apply for a temporary car import license.  You will be denied entry at the border.
  7. Thanks to Banjercito, and staff members Erik and Jose for this clear information.

Part Six:  A New Day, March 21, 2013

Stephen will be leaving the car at home and flying here, instead.  He arrives on Sunday night.  Everything we had intended to pack and bring by vehicle will need to be reapportioned between suitcases, distributed to family members to bring, or wait until the next time.  What to do with the car?  Quien sabe!  Maybe I’ll buy one in Mexico.

Part Seven: Footnote–Driving Safety, Forever

For you naysayers, my friend Merry drives back and forth regularly from Santa Fe to Oaxaca by herself.  Yes, I said ALONE.  I shared her advice with Stephen and I’ll post it here.

  • Don’t drive after dark
  • Take the cuotas – the toll roads — never side roads
  • Drive defensively and pay attention
  • Have your vehicle travel papers handy
  • Keep your driver’s license and passport within easy reach
  • Get a Mexican cell phone ($30 USD) at the border, load it up with minutes – at least 300 pesos of time
  • On the back of the Cuota ticket there will be an emergency phone number for the Green Hornets – like Triple A, they carry parts and are mechanics.  If you call, they will ask you to locate a  number closest to you painted on the highway pavement.  This is to identify your location in case you need help.
  • Buy the road guide to Mexico – called Mexico Tourist Road Atlas, Guia Roji.
  • If you get stopped by Federales,  immediately hand them your documentation, be patient, smile, let them do the talking.
  • It’s a stunning drive, very quieting, relax and enjoy.

Literary Journal Publishes Women’s Writing Retreat Essay

Minerva Rising Literary Journal co-editor and poet Dulcie Witman invited me to write a guest essay for their blog.  My essay, Women Who Have Something to Say, reflects the women’s creative writing and yoga workshop/retreat experience.

Minerva Rising Literary Journal celebrates the creativity and wisdom in every woman.  Their blog invites guest writers to contribute essays, stories, experiences, insights and perspectives.  The pieces are usually creative non-fiction written in the first person.

Minerva Rising publishes two editions per year.  It seeks submissions of written works that include photographs.  The current theme is “rebellion.”  Give it a try!

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