Monthly Archives: December 2009

House of the Scorpion Loteria Card 3


El Latigo Negro

This is another of the Loteria cards that I designed digitally for my Loteria Card Lesson plan based on the book House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.  The first card was called Durango, and the second was called Property of the Alacran Estate.  Each card is meant to represent an aspect of the story – and I have read this book and listened to it on CD over 50 times, so my references can be pretty detailed.

This card represents El Latigo Negro.  When Matt Alacran (the clone) was left alone at the Alacran Estate – when the other children were away at boarding school – he relied on a rich fantasy life to entertain himself.  He would often pretend to be one of a few television heroes that were played on the estate television.  Since El Patron insisted that life at the Estate be kept the same as when he was a child, these TV series were rather vintage – maybe from the 1950’s or 1960’s.

El Latigo Negro was the only character I was able to find on the internet.  He was a Zorro-like character who wielded a long whip instead of a gun, I think.  That actually makes me think of a great George Hamilton film called Zorro, The Gay Blade because the gay brother used a whip…

But I don’t think that this is what Mrs. Farmer was referring to when she referenced the character.  😉  I don’t even know if she had anyone specific in mind.

It is difficult to find information on El Latigo Negro, but I found a very interesting blog post here written by an aficionado of old B movies.  According to that post, El Latigo Negro was honored in two series.  The one referenced in the post – I think – was part of a trilogy made in the late seventies.  But there was also a trilogy of films made in the 1950’s, as well as a series of comic books based on the character.

The other two heroes mentioned were Don Segundo Sombra (Sir Second Shadow) and El Sacerdote Volante (The Flying Priest).  The Don Segundo Sombra I found was based on a 1926 novel about a gaucho, so I don’t think that was who Matt admired.  The description in the book says that Matt’s Don Segundo drove sports cars and seemed more like a James Bond character.

As for The Flying Priest, I think she made him up, but it makes a great visual – a flying priest who flings holy water on demons and burns them like acid.  Hee hee.


Aguas Frescas with Alcohol


Of course, I looked for aguas frescas that were used as alcoholic drink

Tamarind Margarita

mixers. In downtown Norcross, a Mexican restaurant called Zapata served me a tamarind margarita that was pretty good. And, in looking for a recipe for that, my search turned up with recipes for a Gitatini (a Ginger Tamarind cocktail), a Tamarind Martini (from Cooking Light), a Tamarind and Vodka Cocktail (served in a pitcher), and Tamarind Borracho (drunken tamarind). Oh, here’s a Tamarind Margarita with a Chili Rim… Quite a few of the recipes call for Tamarind Concentrate, which I just found in an ethnic grocery.

Of course, since aguas frescas are basically fruit juices, you can just add alcohol to them, and Boom! – you’ve got a drink.  But I thought that I would look to see if anyone had purposefully created a cocktail using aguas frescas as a base.

Here are some more cocktail ideas:

Aguas at the Loteria Grill

I found an Australian company called Sunbeat that makes condensed syrups in exotic flavors.  They have PDF files of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks using all sorts of unusual ingredients, such as dragon fruit, hibiscus, rooibus, lemongrass and ginger.

I came across that site while looking for a Hibiscus version of a Sea Breeze coctail, which is made with Cranberry Juice.  I also found a New Orleans restaurant called The Green Goddess which has a very unusual food and drink menu.  I found this description: Organic Tru Vodka, Hibiscus from Sudan on the Nile River, Acai Juice from the Brazilian Rainforest,  finished with Jamaican Pink Ting.

Okay, I am sure that there are other recipes out there, but I need to wrap this up.  I have a tendency to search things to death – does anyone else do that?

Aguas Frescas – other than Horchata


My first experience with trying to make aguas frescas was in the interest of my Spanish Exploratory class –  I developed this day where we ate “Crazy Mexican Sweets.”  The Klass mixes were the first I tried and it was horchata.  First thing I learned after mixing it in a bottle was that sugar MUST be added.  I had some Mexican children in Spanish Exploratory (which cannot be avoided in the scheduling world) and someone politely tasted it and shared that info with me.

So, yes, there are mixes for aguas frescas that are little more that Kool Aid.  Here is a link so you can see all of the Klass mixes.  I think that the tamarindo and jamaica are passable, but skip the limon – it is very VERY acidic.

Next on the  list are bottled aguas frescas – which are a pretty good substitute if you don’t want to take the time to make them yourself.  They are also good to bring to a tasting – for example, if your Spanish students wanted to have a food day.  Bonadea Drinks offers 11 flavors, including pepino (cucumber?) and has very clean, slick packaging.  It is sweetened with agave for you health nuts out there.  Morela Aguas Frescas has many flavors as well.  Cañita  Brands offers only jamaica and tamarindo.  Even Kern’s Nectars is getting into the act with jamaica (full of antioxidants!), tamarindo and limon.

Okay, if you don’t know what an agua fresca is, it’s basically a drink made of pureed fruit, sugar and water.  The mixture is blended together and strained to make a refreshing beverage.  For further enlightenment, here is a Los Angeles Times article on aguas frescas – and another from the L. A. Times on where to find freshly made ones.  Apparently, they take their A.F. (aguas frescas)  seriously in L. A.

Here is a Guide to Mexican Fruits from  This is for your reference.  After you have read all of the enticing and creative recipes here, you may want to personalize your own fruit!  To get you started, here is a Basic Agua Fresca Recipe with variations.  Here is another page with the basics – they call them Mexican Coolers.

What follows is basically a collection of recipes and variations I have found on the internet through hours of research…

While I was researching, I came across Rachel Laudan’s blog.  She has a lot of posts about exotic foods, but if you click on her Aguas Frescas tag, you can find several unusual drink recipes.  Here is one for Agua de Viernes de Dolores which I think is colored from beet root but it has all sorts of fruit and even shredded iceberg lettuce in it!  Another unusual agua is made with Apricot Leather – it actually has Middle Eastern provenance.

Finally, I did an search to see if anyone had a book out yet on aguas frescas.  I found Cool Waters: Refreshing Homemade Thirst Quenchers by Brian Preston-Campbell – This looks like a really good book with recipes for flavored waters and ice cubes.

P.S. – I did find an interesting variation on Horchata from a restaurant called Guelaguetza in Los Angeles.  It has chopped prickly pear fruit (tuna) and pecans (nueces) on top.  Yum!

Common Themes in Magic Tree House and Time Warp Trio:Part 2


Wow!  It was three months ago today that I wrote Part 1 about common themes and topics in the Magic Tree House and Time Warp Trio Series.  I really like these books because they teach history and culture (the MTH series also addresses science and nature), as well as reading.  Here are the other topics I gleaned from my research.

Cowboys and Indians:   In the Magic Tree House Series, there are a couple of possible books to be read together with the Time Warp Trio book.  Perhaps it could be the project for a group of three students.  There’s Ghost Town at Sundown, where  Jack and Annie go back to the Old West (1880?) and are accused of being horse thieves.  In Buffalo Before Breakfast, they go back to the Great Plains almost 200 years ago and meet a Lakota Sioux boy who hunts buffalo.  The activity guide for Ghost Town is here and the one for Buffalo is here.

In The Good, The Bad and The Goofy, the Time Warp Trio is transported to the Wild West.  They meet the cowboys and the Indians, showing both sides of the frontier battle.  This story is also available on the DVD Past, Present & Future.  Even though it is discontinued by the manufacturer, you may still be able to pick one up on eBay or used on Amazon.  Here is a link to the lesson plan, which has a lot of resources to go with it.

Ancient Rome and Pompeii: Vacation Under the Volcano is the Magic Tree House book that takes Jack and Annie to Pompeii – just before the volcano erupts!  There are two on-line activity resources: one here and another here.  But there is also a Magic Tree House Research Guide on Ancient Rome and Pompeii.  Be aware  that the reading level of the Research Guides is higher than that of the series books.

See You Later, Gladiator is Book 9 of the Time Warp Trio series and they go from an innocent wrestling match to the Roman Colosseum.  See You Later, Gladiator was also part of the TV series, but it is on neither of the DVDs released by that company.  There is a great lesson plan to go with it called Gladiators.

Ancient China:  Day of the Dragon King – the only thing I don’t like so much about the Magic Tree House is that sometimes they are not precise in the stating the date.  The fact that Jack and Annie go through a tomb housing clay soldiers must refer to the the terra cotta army in Xi’an.  That would be sometime after 210 B.C.  Here are the activities from the MTH site.

In contrast, the Time Warp Trio books and TV episodes give a timeline or date (usually)  to orient oneself (Orient – get it?).  Wushu Were Here, I think, is a graphic novel set in China as well.  It is set in the Tang Dynasty, which is after 600 A.D.  There is an interesting lesson plan resource with some cool ideas for further reading.

Vikings:  Vikings are fun, right?  In MTH Viking Ships at Sunrise, Jack and Annie see the Vikings attach from the island where they are land in the middle of a monastery.  I think that one of the activities highlights illuminated writing, which was done by the monks at that time.

In Viking It and Liking It, the Time Warp Trio lands on Leif Ericsson’s ship.  The story was also made into an episode on their series, which is available on Time Warp Trio:  Passport to Adventure.  The lesson plan has, among other activities, a Viking Jeopardy Game.

I still have three more to go – later!

Milagros as Wedding Cake Charms


Here is a two layer cake with charms attached to ribbons

About 20 years ago or so, I had a college roommate who hailed from Abbeville, Louisiana.  She went to LSU for her “MRS” and eventually got it (him?).  When I went to her wedding reception, the first thing I learned was that she had made and decorated the entire three or four-tiered wedding cake herself (It was a red velvet – her colors for the wedding were antique white and red).  That was impressive enough – but she also introduced me to a Southern tradition I had never heard of before: the wedding cake charm pull.

Mignon Faget charm set

At one website I visited while researching this post, it is claimed that this tradition came from the French Creole settlers to Louisiana.  It is definitely more popular in the South.  In fact, the New Orleans jeweler, Mignon Faget, has a set of beautiful charms in sterling silver.  The Mignon Faget Cake Charm Set ($395) includes a Set of eight symbols:  Marriage (rings), Eternal Beauty (nautilus shell), Luck (red bean), Red Hot Romance (chili pepper), Prosperity (fleur de lis), Opportunity (moon profile), Stability (Corinthian column), True Love (heart).  Mignon Faget is an institution in New Orleans.

The most common explanation of the Wedding Cake Charm Pull is found under Victorian wedding traditions.  Ribbon pulling is a wedding tradition that can be dated back to the Victorian era when the bride would ask her baker to hide special wedding charms in a designated layer of the wedding cake. This was symbolic of the bride’s wishes of good fortune for each of her bridesmaids. Each charm is attached to a ribbon, and the ribbons are draped outward from the cake so that each bridesmaid can pull a ribbon and discover the charm that will reveal her fortune.

Each charm symbolized a different fortune. For example: an anchor symbolized adventure, the wedding ring indicated the next to marry, the four-leaf clover was an omen of good luck, etc.  Other common symbols were the coin (prosperity), a camera (fame and fortune), and the thimble (spinsterhood!).  Most people leave the thimble out…

Here are some websites that sell Wedding Cake Charms, and also provide the meanings behind each charm:

It is true that this is a good idea for other occasions.  There is a set for baby showers, graduation parties, birthday parties – my favorite was one for a little girl’s tea party.  Going with the Latino theme, it only follows that quinceaneras are next.

When I got married, I thought I would like to do something like a cake charm pull, too.  I wasn’t going to do it for the wedding itself, but thought about it for the bridesmaids’ luncheon.  It was at a Mexican restaurant called La Paz in Vinings (Georgia), where I was living at the time.  The luncheon was pretty small and intimate.  The guests were my mother, my future mother -in-law, an old friend of the family, my two bridesmaids (my sister and my best friend), and my little niece, who was going to be the flower girl.

I ordered this small, but really over-the-top chocolate cake from a great little bakery that used to be in Buckhead.  I think it was called Sweet Stuff and it may now be in Roswell.  The baker decorated the cakes with all sorts of tinsel and ribbon and it was very festive.  I tied the charms to these beautiful silk ribbon – exactly like this, but in several different color combinations. I arranged them under the cake board so they didn’t get all messy.

Isn't this pretty?

I was originally looking for milagros to use for my charms – La Paz at the time had a Mexican import store on the lower level.  I didn’t like their selection of milagros (or maybe I lacked imagination at the time) so I went with gold-toned charms instead.  But one day, I will come through with a milagro cake event.

Milagros (also known as an ex-voto or dijes) are religious folk charms that are traditionally used for healing purposes and as votive offerings in Mexico, the southern United States, other areas of Latin America, as well as parts of the Iberian peninsula. They are frequently attached onto altars, shrines, and sacred objects found in places of worship, and they are often purchased in churches, cathedrals or from street vendors.

Milagros come in a variety of shapes and dimensions and are fabricated from many different materials, depending on local customs. For example, they might be nearly flat or fully three-dimensional ; and they can be constructed from gold, silver, tin, lead, wood, bone, or wax. In Spanish, the word milagro literally means miracle or surprise.

From Teresa Villegas' Loteria installation

While I was doing my research, I decided to try searching under the terms “dijes” and “ex voto”. If you look up “dijes” on Google, you will just get standard charm bracelet charms, however.  An ex-voto can be a milagro,  an ornate heart, a painting, or some other representation of thanks or petition. It’s complicated.  For our purposes now, we are talking about the little metal charms.

Use your imagination – of course, there are lots of hearts – that’s easy.  All you have to do is provide the meaning.  There are little houses (stability), people kneeling in prayer (your prayers will be answered), horses (travel), a hen (good mother), angel or cherub (true love), a man or couple dancing…  There are also modern things like airplanes, trains, and telephones.

There are a couple of good books that can flesh out some of the symbolism for you.  I have two of those books.  I really love Milagros: A Book of Miracles by Helen Thompson.  The artwork is by Paddy Bruce and includes a lot of stamped tin accents.  It’s a fun book to read, and discusses the spiritual implications and applications of milagros.  Here is an excerpt from the book I found online.  You can also preview the book on Amazon.

The other book I have is a more academic work.  It is called Milagros: Votive Offerings from the Americas and is written by Martha Egan.  The outside is decorated by a lovely pattern of milagros – I once purchased an unmounted rubber stamp with that pattern.  But I digress…  I found another book called Vow:  The Way of the Milagro by Kay Leigh Hagan.  It manages to be somewhere in between the other two in idea, but with much fewer words.

Here are some other Milagro Resources:

  • The Collector’s Guide – a good resource with history and use of milagros.
  • Zanzibar Tribal Arts – this site sells milagros and has some meanings.
  • World Folk – great selection of unusual milagros – some pricey.
  • Sacred Art Images – good milagro category explanations.
  • – bead site.  The milagros meaning chart was salvaged from Fausto’s Gallery website, which seems to be closed now.
  • Saints and – great selection – they say that their milagros are made from sterling silver and they are priced accordingly.
  • – a good selection, including milagros on plaques from Peru (they are still small, but might make a nice change of pace.