The Franciscans created Puebla as the first true (ha, ha) Spanish city in Mexico, building it from the ground up, not on top of destroyed indigenous religious sites as they had a habit of doing. The Paseo Viejo de San Francisco is a cobblestone walking promenade that connects the church named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi where Hernan Cortes worshipped with upscale shopping, restaurants and hotels. This is a renovated historic area — the oldest part of the city where Puebla was founded. It’s the neighborhood I’m staying in on this visit.
I’m back in Puebla for an overnight before heading to Mexico City and then on to San Francisco for Thanksgiving with my family. I’ve been here so many times in recent years that I can negotiate the avenues by foot and not get lost, returning to some of my favorite spots. It was an all-day walkabout — eight hours total.
Today as I meander, I decide to take a different approach. I look into courtyards where tall, heavy wood gates open slightly give me a glimpse of an interior life. I peer into obscurely lit stores. I see shadows and light, profiles and outlines of figures. I look inside instead of at the stunning Talavera tile and wedding cake plaster facades that captivate visitors.
Still life hides behind high plaster walls through the cracks of gated doors, between the bars of gated churches at altars where no one worships, down alleyways where laundry dries, through windows into storage rooms.
A shop clerk hangs against a door jam, take a drag on a cigarette. Women establish themselves in business with a pile of masa dough and a garbage container filled with charcoal topped with a comal. They will stuff tacos with cheese, chilis, bits of chicken for passersby to grab and eat as they walk on.
Before I leave Puebla, I treat myself to a lunch at what I undoubtedly believe is the best restaurant in the city, El Mural de los Poblanos. Don’t miss it. Spectacular service and perfectly prepared food.
It was a mezcal kind of day for me: first a tamarind mezcal margarita, then a shot glass of Puebla origin mezcal (with worm salt and orange slices) compliments of the manager (that I managed to nurse throughout the 2-1/2 hour meal), a sunflower sprout salad, and shrimps sauteed in mezcal. I finished with a small scoop of house made pumpkin ice cream and a raisin liqueur. Who’s hungry? Did anyone say bed time?
Post-Thanksgiving Gratitude, Wishes, Stuffing and Stuff
To all my friends and readers near and far, to my family whom I adore, Gracias, Gracias por todos, thank you for everything. Your love, caring, generosity, support, guidance and just being you means everything to me. You are numerous — my world is big and inclusive. Consider yourself part of life’s blessings in Thanksgiving, today and always. Gracias.
I don’t know why I woke up hungry today, Black Friday. Maybe because I’m thinking about how to best avoid the crush, rush of Internet and store message bombardment to my inbox. Food is so soothing when faced with the anxiety of impulse shopping because there might be a bargain out there.
Thanksgiving Day in Santa Cruz, California was a marathon food fest with two giant meals. The first was at our mother’s retirement community where residents, children, grandchildren and friends attended a lavish buffet. My sister thinks this was the first time my mother (being germ-cautious at age 97-1/2) kissed her on the mouth. My sister forgot to put on lipstick. It was a moment of sharing. Thank goodness this meal began at noon!
Next up: My brother-in-law brought Ernestina’s mole negro back with him from Oaxaca with the intention of making Thanksgiving turkey mole. Ernestina is my friend and neighbor who lives down the lane in Teotitlan del Valle.
Her spicy black chocolate sauce, which she served us on All Souls Day before going to the village cemetery, is among the best we’ve ever tasted. Someday, I will watch her prepare it and share the recipe. I know she takes her chocolate beans (which she roasts herself) to the molina and adds the secret proportions of sugar, cinnamon, almonds and vanilla to yield a thick, rich paste. I know this because I bumped into her there.
At 4 p.m. when Barbara and George’s guests arrived, I was at the stove making Chanukah potato latkes (see recipe below), enough for 30 people, although there were eight of us. B&G have been sharing Thanksgiving with the wine making Ahlgren family for over 25 years. They arrived with vintage bottles of early 1990’s bottles of Chardonnay and Merlot. We started with champagne, moved on to the wine, and topped off the dinner with a mezcal tasting. Thank goodness it took me an hour to make the latkes and we didn’t sit down to eat until six o’clock.
Our menu included homemade applesauce, turkey mole (George grilled the turkey breast, sliced it, and then added it to Ernestina’s mole to simmer for a couple of hours before serving), potato latkes, Shrimp Louie salad, homemade poppyseed cake with lemon curd and vanilla ice cream.
Oops, can’t forget the Tucson Tamale Company tamales — turkey and cranberry, and sweet potato. Sister had them shipped frozen, overnight delivery, only waiting to be steamed and served.
So, for me, Thanksgiving is about making sure we have more than sustenance in our lives. It says, it is important to live in abundance. It is valuable to express gratitude to those who love us, care for us, come into our lives if only for a moment. It is our opportunity to reach out to friends and family to share our harvest. It is a time to appreciate all that we do have and being satisfied.
Which is why it is so strange that Black Friday follows the day after — promoting a yearning for more, the frenzy of acquisition, the quest for stuffing our homes, closets and lives with more stuff. Certainly the Thanksgiving stuffing should be enough!
Best wishes to you all for a season of peace, abundance and connection.
Norma’s Original Thanksgivvukah Potato Latkes
Add potatoes to a food processor bowl with the chopping blade inserted. Pulse 6-8 times until the mixture is a coarse chop, with 1/4″ pieces. Remove to bowl of water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Drain to remove the potato starch. Return to food processor bowl. Add onion and garlic. Pulse 2-3 times. Add salt and pepper. Pulse 2-3 times to stir. Add matzo meal. Pulse to stir. Add eggs. Pulse to stir.
Pour 1-2 c. oil into fry pan and heat on medium high burner until oil sizzles. Test with flick of water. If water jumps, oil is ready. Using a large tablespoon, put 1/4 c. of potato mixture into hot oil for each latke (pancake). Flip when one side is golden brown. Continue cooking until both sides well-browned. Remove. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.
Serve with applesauce and sour cream. We had a jar of homemade hibiscus flower jam from El Diablo y La Sandia B&B in Oaxaca, which was an extra treat to go with the latkes.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Food & Recipes, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture
Tagged Black Friday, gratitude, philosophy, potato latkes, recipe, Thanksgiving, Thanksgivvukah