First, thank you friends and readers for your years of following Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. I’ve been writing this blog since 2007. That’s 14 years reporting about Oaxaca (and Mexico) culture, traditions, textiles and the changes that have taken place over this time. There is a lot in the archives! I also want to thank you for your support of the artisan makers who I feature here. So many are grateful for our help and have expressed this to me recently, especially since COViD has all but truncated their ability to bring the beautiful things they make to visitors and collectors. You are their lifeline.
Elizabet Vasquez Jimenez, Triqui weaver, says, ¨A million thanks. You helped me so much because I had no sales in months. Thanks to God and for knowing all of you. Saludos y benediciones.”
Estela Montaño, woven bag maker, cried as she told me, “You kept us alive during COVID with your help. You sent us customers and we are grateful. You are all angels.”
We have been living with COVID for almost two years (since March 2020) and the pandemic has altered (am I’m thinking perhaps for my lifetime) how we make our way in the world with people we love and care about. I recently returned to Oaxaca after being gone for 19 months. I’m grateful my two adopted campo dogs, Tia and Butch, remembered me! I’m grateful to my Chavez Santiago family for their love and support over the last 16 years, making it possible for me to live with them and enjoy the astounding beauty of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.
The COVID era brought many changes to all of us. We lost friends and neighbors to the virus. Some of us lost family members. Some of us still feel at risk and are wary of gathering this Thanksgiving and of socializing with those who are vaccine resistant. I hear from many friends that they are fearful of traveling outside their local area, let alone getting on an airplane to go to a distant land. These are polarizing and discomfiting times.
This said, I’m extraordinarily grateful to those of you who are traveling with me to Mexico this year — 2021 and 2022. Thank you. I feel very reassured that when we practice COVID safety with vaccines and masks and hand sanitizer that we can stay healthy. Everyone on our recent Day of the Dead Culture Tour tested COVID negative the day before returning to the USA. For this, I’m incredibly grateful.
This has been a year of dramatic change for me. COViD isolation did me in and I made the decision just a year ago at Thanksgiving (where four of us huddled on the Taos Rio Grande Gorge mesa for an outdoor dinner), to change my lifestyle, leave downtown Durham, NC condo living in exchange for the austere beauty of northern New Mexico and the wide open spaces. Without COVID, I doubt this would ever have happened. At age 75, I decided to build a house! Crazy? Maybe. Liberating? Definitely.
When I left Oaxaca on March 12, 2020, my plan was to stopover in Huntington Beach, CA, to visit my son Jacob for a week and then to go up to Santa Cruz to see my sister Barbara before heading back to Durham for a while and then return to Oaxaca. I stayed with Jacob for two-months in a one-bedroom apartment. We juggled space and time. We bonded even more as mother and son. It was a blessing. I also got to know Shelley, who became his fiancee this year (they are getting married in March 2022). Her mom, Holly, has become a friend. COVID brought them closer together and they decided to make a life together.
Little did I know then that my boy would get approval from his office in March 2021 to work from home on a permanent basis and move to Albuquerque. We are now both living in the same state after being separated for over 30 years. Jacob and Shelley will be here this week for Thanksgiving, joining a group of 15 family members and friends under a heated tent outdoors on the Rio Grande Gorge Mesa. We are monitoring invitees for vaccines, exposure and overall COVID health.
It’s cold here in Taos, but the sun is shining, delivering beauty and hopefulness. Even the drying sagebrush is green today. Reminding me that even in the worst of times, there are many things to be grateful for. This, to me, outweighs the commercialism of the season and Black Friday.
Francisca Hernandez, master blouse embroiderer from Chiapas, says: “Thank you for the special orders over the last year. You have helped sustain my family. Otherwise, we would have earned very little, if anything.”
I remember Oaxaca losses from COVID: Estela, a woman from San Bartolome Quialana, in the Tlacolula valley foothills who worked at Tierra Antigua Restaurant, always gracious, cheerful, helpful. Juvenal, my 52-year old friend, generous and compassionate, who left behind a wife, three children and new grandchild born after he died in a San Diego Hospital in February 2021. Juan Manuel Garcia, Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art, silversmith and filigree jewelry maker extraordinaire, died at age age 77 in January 2021. I miss them, and so many more. 700,000 is an unfathomable number. I am grateful to be among the living. I mourn our losses.
Ím grateful for the vaccines that offer a miracle for life without risk of death or severe illness necessitating hospitalization. So much to be grateful for among the tragedy of our times.
This coming week, in the spirit of the season, I will be posting a Black Friday Sale either Tuesday or Wednesday. What I offer will all be hand-made, made in Mexico — and will be sure to bring joy to whomever receives them.
I also want to follow-up with the continuing discussion about Day of the Dead, commercialization of a pre-Hispanic tradition that has changed dramatically in the last two years. I want to share what readers sent to me and talk about whether Muertos has been co-opted by the film Coco, by the influx of mezcal drinking young tourists, or by COVID itself.
Sending you blessings for a holiday filled with gratitude, giving thanks, abundance, good health and joy, however you celebrate and with whom.
P.S. I’d love to hear what this year has wrought for you and your thoughts about gratitude and giving thanks at this season. Write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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