Tag Archives: budget

Pinatas Galore Plus Great Shopping at Mexican Market “La Cumplidora” in Sanford, NC

Drive by window-shopping is my weakness.  I was on my way to meet professor Robin Greene, who leads our Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice, at our mid-way breakfast diner in Sanford, NC.  Almost there, and I noticed some pretty remarkable, huge pinatas hanging in a store front on the highway.  The rubbernecking angels sat on my shoulder as I made a mental note to stop on the way back.

Which I did! making a quick (and careful) left-turn from the center lane on the highway.

La Cumplidora is filled with nooks and crannies of Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Columbian food.  The selection represents all nationalities of clientele who live and work in the area.

I was the only gringa!

And, I felt at home among people who I know work hard for the food they are buying and are conscious of cost.  Children were hanging on to the hems of mothers’ skirts as they shopped for fresh and beautiful produce:  limes (7 for $1), avocados (99 cents each), choyote squash (99 cents each), cilantro (59 cents a bunch),  plum tomatoes perfect for salsa, six different varieties of dried peppers, fresh habaneros and poblanos.

Tip: Save Money and Shop at Your Local Latino Mercado

All the produce was a fraction of the cost of what I find in the major supermarkets and much better.  I found perfectly ripe mangoes — 8 for $7.50 — a price unheard of at Harris Teeter (usually $1.65 each) where you might slice one open to find a dark center damaged by early picking and refrigeration even though the skin is ripe and it is soft to the touch.

At the way back is a full-service carneceria — butcher shop — with all types and cuts of fresh meats — beef, pork, chicken, and goat.  In the corner is the queseria — cheese shop — where the imported from Mexico fresh cheese is sold by the pound.  There is even some house made entrees  for carry-out.

Just like in Oaxaca, the pasteleria/panaderia (pastry and bread bakeries) section was doing a bustling business.  The fresh out of the oven concha rolls were exactly like those I see in the bakery on Garcia Virgil.  Several young men held aluminum trays in one hand, tongs in the other, opened display case doors, reached in and piled the savory mouth-watering treats onto the trays.

They looked liked confectionary pyramids: 

Pink rolls filled with sweet cream, sprinkled with chocolate.  Flaky pastry cones stuffed with vanilla custard. Alternating chocolate and white layered cake squares with mocha frosting.  Jelly rolls.  Sesame cookies.  It was all I could do to pass this by (I’m watching my calories.)

Food is so important to retaining culture.  It keeps us connected to our families of origin, the memories of growing up, our way of keeping our identities in our adopted homelands.  And, for keeping the memories of a satisfying vacation or travel adventure alive.

As I stood in line in a U.S. “village” 35 miles from my own North Carolina home among warm and friendly people, I was reminded of my own family’s immigrant status at the beginning of the 20th century.

And, if you are ever in Sanford, North Carolina, be sure to make a stop at La Cumplidora.  Or discover the local Latino market in a neighborhood near you.  A world of wonder will open up to you and you will save on the grocery bill.

Oh, and the pinatas:  huge fanciful animals and stars and dolls decorated with crepe paper streamers in bright colors, pictures of boys and girls, sparkles, perfect for containing the candy treats to celebrate a birthday.

La Cumplidora, 901 South Horner Blvd., Sanford, NC 27330, (919) 776-1060.

Budget Oaxaca Restaurant El Gran Gourmet is Fabuloso

Keeps your eyes open, you might miss it!  El Gran Gourmet budget restaurant restaurant is tucked away in a narrow space at Avenida Independencia, No. 1104 in Oaxaca’s Centro Historico.  It’s about four blocks away from the Zocalo past Fiallo beyond the tourist areas (walking towards the Periferico).  Simple, clean, delicious and a bargain!  Who could ask for more?

My local friends eat there and I always like to join them because the food is reasonably priced and delicious.  Yes, you can eat great food in Oaxaca for under $5 USD per person — and that’s a three-course lunch that includes soup or salad, an entree and dessert.  If you want five-courses, it’s a little extra.  The aguas (fresh fruit juices mixed with water) are yummy.  Try the Agua de Sandia or Agua de Melon (watermelon or cantaloupe).   They use purified water and I’ve never gotten “the revenge” here.

Plus, there’s always a daily special.

Here’s the routine:  look at what the daily fare is that is displayed behind the glass serving area.  Choose your first course and entree from among the choices along the buffet.  But it’s not really a buffet, since you tell your waiter what you want to eat and drink.

Entrees can be pozole or enchiladas, or quesadillas, or chicken with mole, depending on the day.  There are rice and black beans.  Usually there is a tasty vegetable, garbanzo or tortilla soup.  Dessert might be flan or rice pudding or jello.  Everyone in Mexico loves jello.  If you don’t, this is a good place to learn how to enjoy this dense, not as sweet dessert treat!

Buen provecho! and be sure to leave a tip.  Ten percent is expected.

El Gran Gourmet, Avenida Independencia, No. 1104, Centro – (68000) Oaxaca de JuárezMéxico, Tel. +52 951 516 7822

New Oaxaca Workshops in the Works

Behind the scenes, we’re busy!  I’ve talked with writers, artists, and designers about new workshops to offer in Oaxaca in 2012.  I’m happy to say we are in the final planning stages for the following programs:

  • Making handmade books and journals with Lisa Gilbert.  We’ll go to the paper studio in San Agustin Etla to see the process and buy our journal paper, then learn a variety of bookbinding stitches to put together a travel journal.  Coming Summer 2012.
  • Silver jewelry making with Brigitte Huet and Ivan Campant of Kand-Art.  You will learn how to carve beeswax and use the sling to make a sterling silver jewelry pendant using the ancient pre-Columbian lost wax technique.  We’ll have one, two and three-day workshops starting in February 2012.
  • Travel writing workshop will be held in March 2012 for about one week.  We’ll be based in both Oaxaca city and Teotitlan del Valle. You’ll learn what it takes to write a compelling travel article and get it published.  With Carolyn Patten of Portland, Oregon and San Miguel de Allende.
Interested?  Contact me and get on the waiting list!
Plus, NEW DATES for Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat: Lifting Your Creative Voice.  We have moved the workshop to March 2-9, 2012.  A perfect time to get away from winter be in Oaxaca with Robin Greene, MFA and Beth Miller, yoga instructor.

Getting to Oaxaca, Mexico: Take Two

Oaxaca is easy to get to from the USA when you use the gateway city of Houston. There is a direct flight from Houston to Oaxaca daily on Continental (soon to be United)Airlines. This is not a bargain route and you will pay a premium for the more direct routing. Take two flights and you are in Oaxaca.

I am writing this at the recommendation of Chris, one of our photo workshop participants. He doesn’t speak Spanish, missed his Mexico City flight to Oaxaca on AeroMexico because United had published the wrong departure time, and had a hard time communicating his need to get on the next flight when it was overbooked.

Ah, the vagaries of international travel when language is a barrier.

So Chris says, spend the extra money, go through Houston and take two flights instead of three. Spend the extra money and save the wear and tear, and extra travel time.

On his return trip to the US yesterday, all went well, though there were delays in Chicago, where he had his second connection. He got home to Columbus, Ohio after 2 am. his route: Oacaca, Mexico City, Chicago, Columbus.

My route tomorrow will be Oaxaca, Houston, Raleigh-Durham.

In October when I return to Mexico, I’ll fly into Mexico City because once in a while I like to go from there to Puebla first by bus. I’ll spend the night and then take a bus from Puebla to Oaxaca. Very easy, but I. Familiar and can negotiate the language.

For novice tourists to Oaxaca, take Chris’ advice.

What’s been your experience?

Oaxaca Festivals: Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle 2011

Power, movement, coordination of Los Danzantes

One of the great Oaxaca festivals is the Dance of the Feather in Teotitlan del Valle — a must-see for every Oaxaca resident and tourist.  It is a story of honor, conquest, survival and endurance. As a dance, its roots are pre-Hispanic and with most rituals and traditions in Oaxaca, it has evolved to blend both the indigenous and Catholic.

High leaps, shaking rattles and elegant headdresses

Every three years a new group forms to make the promise and commitment to honor the traditions by recounting the story of the Spanish conquest through dance.  This year is the premiere Los Danzantes de la Pluma for this new group.

El Danzante de la Pluma

I have written extensively on this blog about the meaning of the Dance of the Feather, its origins and history and cultural significance, so I am not going to go into that here.  If you are interested, use the “search” box in the upper left column.

The clown/jester distracts the crowd, attends to dancers' needs for water and headdress adjustment

This new group is larger than those in the past and has expanded the interpretation of the dance to include many more “characters” — Spanish soldiers (in the form of children dressed in military garb) dueling with Aztec warriors, and two alter-ego counterparts of La Malinche and La Dona Marina (La Llarona).

La Llarona (l) and La Malinche (r) with Moctezuma

I was at the church courtyard early waiting for the 5 p.m. Teotitlan start time.  Taurino, Eloisa’s husband, was in the bell tower waiting for the precise moment to begin the ringing that would signify the ritual beginning.  The band marched into the courtyard followed by Los Danzantes and went into the church for a blessing and a prayer.  It was cloudy and overcast, but as soon as the bells began to ring the sun appeared and the late afternoon halos were spectacular.

Dancers exhibit incredible concentration

After an hour-and-a-half, I had taken over 500 shots on my camera.  Sam Robbins, our photography expedition instructor, let me borrow her Nikkor 28-300mm lens.  I was able to capture some very fancy footwork, incredible headdresses, glittering costumes and a lot of resolve.

Sense the momentum, energy and color

Today was a relatively small gathering of locals who came to watch and encourage the group who would dance for four hours.  Village officials ringed the courtyard ready to receive tribute from the dancers.  They will toast the dancers’ strength and endurance with mescal and beer chasers followed by lime slices and gusano.

The symbolic battle between Aztecs and Spaniards

On Wednesday, July 6, 2011, hundreds will gather in the church courtyard from throughout Oaxaca.  The group will dance for about 10 hours straight from morning through the heat of the day, taking short periodic breaks for rest and refreshment.  Hopefully, the day won’t be too hot!

"Soldiers" taking a break

...and once more around the courtyard.

See my YouTube channel  for our documentary film about the Dance of the Feather.

I am shooting with a Nikon D40x camera body and 18-105 lens.  For about half of these photos, I used the telescopic 18-300 lens borrowed from Sam for the action/power shots.

Consider participating in our Day of the Dead Photography Expedition coming up this October 2011.