Category Archives: Mexico

Farmers Market Friday

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Friday, on the way home from work, I stopped by the Buford Highway Farmers Market.  It’s my favorite thing to do, and I was making good time, so I decided to make a detour.  The only thing is that I usually spend at least an hour and a half there – I could easily spend more time, but I try to limit it.

When you enter, the first thing you see is the produce.  I wandered around, looking at all of the fruit – fresh guava, horn melon, mangoes… I settled on a pound of strawberries for $1.49. I also bought some red seedless grapes and HUGE Red Delicious apples for my husband.  The only “unusual” fruit I got was a variety of apple called Prince.

Then, I spied the rhubarb. I have never had rhubarb before.  I guess it’s not a big thing in my family, or in Louisiana, or Texas.  It was $3.99 a pound, but I was feeling adventurous, so I grabbed a fistful that came to just over a pound and a half. I used them to make a rhubarb crisp – gluten free. I just followed the recipe and replaced the flour with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour Mix.

Last Christmas, I roasted my own beets, and made an Ensalada de Nochebuena from a recipe by the Homesick Texan.  I found not one, but three different varieties of beet, with greens intact, and bought them.  The were regular beets ($1.79), golden beets ($2.49) and Candy Striped beets ($2.39).  I have to admit it was the Candy Striped beets that sold me. Who can resist cooking with three colors of beets? Not I.  So far, I have roasted the beets and cleaned the greens. I will probably saute the greens in garlic and shallots and olive oil. Two side dishes in one veggie.

In produce, I also picked up herbs: sage, tarragon, oregano, mint, Italian parsley, and cilantro.  I plan on chopping them up and freezing them. I want to buy mini ice cube trays to freeze them in.  I have still not forgiven Trader Joe’s for not offering ALL of the Dorot frozen herb trays at their store.  I have heard claims of people finding them in regular supermarkets, but I have not had that luck yet.

Then, I went to the meat department. Now, there are a plethora of meats to choose from.  I almost got some marinated quail, but they were advertised a “spicy”, so I passed. Instead, I perused the beef “offal” aisle, and espied something called “beef cheeks” (in Spanish, cachete).  There was a meat clerk nearby, so I asked him “Como se cocina? (How does one cook this?).  He explained that it is usually boiled (or simmered) in a pot of water for a long time – 2 to 3 hours. So then I asked him, “Usted sabe que es un ‘slow cooker’?” 😉

My original plan was to cook it in the slow cooker, but I found a recipe for Barbacoa Beef Cheek Tacos.  So they have been marinating overnight, and I’m about to brown them in my oddly shaped Dutch oven and braise them in the over for 3 hours. Thank goodness I bought fresh tortillas while I was there.  Next time, I may make Beef Bourguignon – I got 1.67 pounds for $3.74, so I want to work with it some more if this barbacoa works out.

I wandered the Asian, Philippine, and Indonesian aisles for a while, but only picked up a small can of Massaman Curry Paste (89 cents) and a packet of Instant Miso Soup Individual packets in Clam flavor (8 servings for $1.49). I just had a big bowl of Miso Soup using two of the little pouches – I added shrimp, rice noodles, a sliced boiled egg, and garnished it with cilantro.  Not bad!

Finally I picked up some snack food and candy oddities to share with my students. I bought some Indonesian tamarind candy – I have one student from Indonesia, and the most of the rest of my classes are from Mexico and Latin America.  They also enjoy tamarind, so I thought this would show something their cultures have in common. Then, I bought a bag of , which will surely be vile to everyone EXCEPT my Indonesian student. I also have two African and one Nepalese student, and that will just probably be a new experience for them.

Okay, my beef cheek barbacoa is slow cooking, and I need to go and get some avocado and red onions to go with it.  Can’t wait to see how it comes out!  The rhubarb crisp was sure great, as were the beets.

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On Grant Writing

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National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars and Institutes for Teachers

Last year, I applied for and was accepted to participate in an NEH Summer Institute for Teachers.  This grant was to visit Oaxaca for four weeks to participate in an Institute on Mesoamerican Culture and the National Endowment for the Humanities paid $3300 towards the trip. That money covered the apartment rental, air fare, meals and various other expenses.  I had some money left over to buy some art and books – and I may have had some left over to pay for expenses for some of my family to visit…

I have spent some time trying to get the word out about the NEH seminars and institutes that are available this year.  I have encouraged my colleagues to apply.  There are two seminars that are going to be in France – one in Avignon and another in Paris, Lyon, and Normandy.  There appear to be many offerings for Spanish Speakers, with destinations such as Spain, Mexico, and New York City. Many of the seminars and institutes are in the United States, but there are others (besides the ones I mentioned) that will take you to Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Austria.

These seminars are open to teachers from K thru 12th grade.  All subjects are welcome – don’t assume that a trip to Mexico, for instance, is just for Spanish teachers.  In our Institute, which took place in Oaxaca, there were art teachers, Spanish teachers, social studies teachers, and even a media specialist and a science teacher.  Read the Dear Colleague letter and think to yourself about what you can bring to the table.  There is a new part of the program where graduate students may also apply (up to 3 positions can be filled with graduate student applicants).

In order to apply for a grant, you need to register online with the NEH.  An applicant can apply for up to two different seminars or programs, but can only attend one of the choices (if the applicant is offered a spot on both!).  Then, the application process is spelled out on the web pages of each of the participating universities.  Basically, it involves writing a 4 page essay on why you want/need/have to participate in that particular seminar.  I encourage you to have some concrete ideas or lesson plans or units that you envision completing during the seminar.  You will need to procure 2 to 3 sealed letters of reference from colleagues or administrators, and write up a curriculum vitae as well.

If you are planning on taking family or your spouse with you, I suggest that you contact the director of that program.  When I went to Oaxaca, my husband was able to accompany me there.  He could not participate in any of the classes or field trips, but he did go to the opening and closing receptions.  He also did all of the shopping and errands – it was good for his Spanish, I think.

The application deadline for an NEH Summer Seminar is March 1, 2011.  The application envelope has to be postmarked before March 1st.  I recommend that you use a delivery confirmation or something that will let you know it got to its destination.  I had a really great Director who was patient when I kept e-mailing to ask if my application had arrived (even though I had used delivery confirmation, there was a snafu in even THAT process!)  The participants are notified, I think, in April, and have a limited amount of time to accept or refuse the grant so that alternates can take their places.

Fund for Teachers Travel Grants

Four years ago, I was awarded $5000 from the Fund for Teachers to study Spanish in Morelia, Michoacan (Mexico) and to collect art and arts integration ideas from the region.  The grant was for five weeks and included air fare, apartment rental, one-on-one language classes and trips to Patzcuaro, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, and Puebla.  I also had money left over from my budget to buy art pieces to exhibit at my school.

Unfortunately for most teachers who live in Georgia, there are not many school systems that are eligible for Fund for Teachers Grants.  The organization is out of Houston, Texas and the year that I applied was the one and only year that Marietta City Schools employees were eligible to apply.  I believe that there must be some sort of auxiliary present in the system – a group of wealthy people, I mean – to raise part of the funds for their teachers.  That’s just a guess.  I think I’m right:  here is a page for Partners who provide funding.  But some Partners cover a lot of states.  You need to go to the Apply page and see if your school system is eligible.

When it comes to the application process, the Fund for Teachers Program is really the most user-friendly of the two.  The entire application is done online.  That means, of course, that you need to read over the instructions carefully and come up with your itinerary, project, and projected budget before you go online “live”.  There are all sorts of helpful resources – examples of successful essays, budget tips – really everything you need to get the process done right.  The added bonus is that you don’t have to worry about postmarking and mailing the application – and then worrying about when it gets there. I think that I remember that correctly, but it may have been necessary to apply online AND send in a written application.  Check the website.

Now, when you are awarded your trip, you are expected to keep up with all of your receipts and expenses, and make a detailed financial report when you return.  You are given a couple of months to gather your report materials, and to write an essay or make a scrapbook or do SOMETHING to record your experience.

One more note on the Fund for Teachers application process.  A couple of years ago, I was invited to participate in choosing the candidates for the Atlanta Program.  I believe that I received 3 to 4 applications ahead of time to read and evaluate. It was a lot of fun – we gathered at a nice restaurant and sat at round tables (about 7 to 8 to a table, I think).  After a presentation of the program and past participants, the people at my table got up and presented the application (or applications) that we thought merited a grant.  When we were done, we had ranked the applications in order of importance.  Then, the emcee went around to each table and chose grant recipients until there was no more grant money left!

It was amazing how passionate and defensive some of us got about our “pet” applicants.  We were truly disappointed when our pets did not make it.  On the other hand, it seemed easy to see those applicants who mixed up the name of the organization.  It’s not FUN for Teachers – although it can be.  I’m just saying that your application really does have to have some evidence that you will be sharing your experience with your students and colleagues.  Keep that in mind before you ask for that trip to Vegas to study “math”.

The application deadline for a Fund for Teachers Grant is January 28, 2011 @ 5:00 PM.  After that, the computer application center closes.  I know that’s short notice for this year, but, if your school system is eligible, consider it for next year.

In Pursuit of the Smokey Margarita…

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I spent the month of July and part of August in Oaxaca – it was an amazing opportunity.  I was awarded a fellowship to the NEH Summer Institute for Teachers there, where we studied Mesoamerican Cultures in History.  While we were there, we were educated on the production of mezcal, and even visited a mezcal distillery run by Beneva called Rancho Zapata.  The waiters there were kind enough to pass out free samples.  As were all of the pretty girls who ran the tasting rooms on the streets of Oaxaca.

The main difference between tequila and mezcal is the type of agave used, and the process for distillation.  The main characteristic, I think, for mezcal is that the agave is roasted before it’s fermented.  Here is a cute little video that leans a bit in the favor of mezcal…

Anyhoo… When I returned to Atlanta, I was happy to see that at my favorite restaurant – El Agavero Cantina – there was a drink offered called the Smokey Margarita.  It was actually a happy accident that I got to taste it.  My friend who arrived early had ordered it and did not like it.  She mentioned that it had mezcal in it.  So, I traded my margarita for hers.  Every since then, I have ordered it when I dine there.

Of course, I started wondering just what made it smokey.  Sure, mezcal has a smokey taste, but not that smokey.  So… to the internet!!!

In my search for the terms “smokey” and “margarita” – this is what I got:

A recipe by Bobby Flay for the Food Network:

  • 2 ounces tequila (recommended: El Tesoro)
  • 1-ounce Triple Sec
  • 1-ounce fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon simple syrup
  • Ice cubes
  • 1/2-ounce mezcal (recommended: Del Maguey “Chichicapa” Single Village Mezcal)

Place tequila, Triple Sec, lime juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker and shake until combined. Serve over ice in a rocks glass and pour mezcal on top; do not stir the mezcal into the drink, as it should “float” on top.

It was kicked up a notch by this reviewer: ” The mescal really adds some nice flavor. Took it one step further and picked up some smoked salt at whole foods to rim the glass and all I can say is that is one fantastic margarita smokey goodness.”

Here is another from the blog Daddy-O’s Martinis:

Build over ice in a double old fashioned glass.
1 oz metl silver mezcal
1/2 oz metl silver tequila
1/2 oz grand marnier
1/1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz agave nectar

Place the bottom of a cocktail shaker upside down to cover the old fashion glass and shake vigorously. Reserve drink in tin and salt rim of glass, pour back into the same glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

This one from Mission: Margarita – it is similar to Bobby Flay’s recipe.

Here is one that uses smoked paprika to add flavor:

Ingredients For 2 Cocktails

  • 3 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon
    smoked paprika,* divided
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 6 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 2 ounces tequila

Preparation

  1. Mix sea salt and 1 tablespoon of the smoked paprika on a small plate. Wet outside rims of margarita or other beverage glasses with lime wedge. Dip glasses into sea salt mixture to coat.
  2. Fill cocktail shaker with 2 cups of ice. Add lime juice, agave nectar, tequila and remaining 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika; shake until well mixed and chilled. Immediately pour into prepared glasses.

*The regular paprika you have in the spice cabinet is probably sweet paprika. Spanish smoked paprika is a special kind, smoked over oak fires so it takes on a smoky flavor. In Hungary, there are six classes, or types, of paprika ranging from delicate to hot. In order to achieve the flavors of this recipe, you’ll need to use Spanish smoked paprika.

But this recipe – Carlyle’s Smoky Margarita (notice the smoky instead of smokey?) – gave me some real ideas:

1.75 oz Herradura reposado tequila
.5 oz Cointreau
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz lapsang souchong syrup

Shake over ice and serve on the rocks in a salt-rimmed glass.

Here’s his note about the lapsang souchong syrup:

Lapsang souchong is a delicious Chinese black tea dried over burning pine wood. This distinctive process gives it a strong smoky aroma that lends itself well to use in cocktails. To make the syrup, simply brew hot lapsang souchong and mix with an equal volume of sugar.

So, I’ve been working with smokey things:  dried ancho chiles soaked in hot water, powdered chipotle chiles and ancho chiles, paprika (not the smoked kind, though), and I even a couple of packets of All Night Samba Yerba Mate tea I had in the pantry.  And, yes, I mixed them all together.  It wasn’t bad.

Now, so far, the only variety of Mezcal I have been able to find is Monte Alban.  It’s not bad, but I was just curious as to whether or not there was a smokier brand.

But, lucky for me, I live near downtown Norcross, home of a great shop called Taste of Britain.  And what do the British LOVE?  Tea!!!  Strong, black tea.  So, I stopped by and bought a large box of Taylor’s of Harrogate Lapsang Souchong tea bags.  And, boy are they smokey…

At the moment, this is my recipe:

1 part tequila (Jose Cuervo Traditional)

1/2 to 3/4  part Patron Citronge (or orange liqueur)

2 parts sour mix (I am using 1 part Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix and 1 part Sinless Margarita Mix at the moment)

1/2 to 1 part strong tea mix*

agave nectar to taste

*I am still tweaking the mix.  More on that later…

 

 

 

Two great meals in the Oaxaca area

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Yesterday, as part of our “Arts and Crafts Week” here at the NEH Summer Institute on Mesoamerican Culture, we went to the town of Teotitlan del Valle.  There, Lynn Stevens, a distinguished professor of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies who lived and studied the weavers in Teotitlan.  She even learned how to speak Zapotec while she lived there!  Just for our visit, the family she lived with gathered and made a big lunch for us at their compound.

One of the things we did while we were there was to go out into the milpa, the cornfield.  There, corn (maize), beans and squash are grown at the same time (I had thought they were rotated by season or year).   The corn provides a stalk for the beans to climb on, and the squash is planted between the rows to keep the ground covered and the weeds out.  While we were out there, one of the men pulled up a weed and told me to taste it.  He said that this weed was going to be a part of the soup we were going to eat shortly.

Here is a milpa

We went back to the compound, where we were given a demonstration of dying wool using natural colorings.  Then, we sat down to long tables and prepared to eat.  It is a tradition to toast the meal with mezcal shots, and we also had agua de jamaica (hibiscus flower drink) to drink.  As promised, the soup was served to us first.

I found out later that the herb used in the soup was called chepil (or chipil) and it was very good.  Here is the info on it from a website on Mexican culinary herbs:

Chepil or chipil crotalaria longirostrata:  An important ingredient in Oaxacan cooking, probably because of its drought resistance, the tiny leaves are tucked into the famous tamales de chepil and their green bean-like flavor adds a delicious touch to white rice.

The sopa de chepil was served with squash blossom quesadillas made with freshly made tortillas.  The soup itself seemed to be a broth (chicken?) with chilis and corn masa.  There was cut up squash and chepil leaves in the soup as well.  I thought it was great.

chepil in the wild

Following the soup was chicken in mole negro, accompanied by white rice.  The mole sauce was great and I ate all of mine.  Dessert was a strange regional dish called nicuatole.  It’s basically, in the words of a colleague, “corn jello”.  I had a version at one of the local restaurants that had a very smoky taste, but apparently this is not usual.  The nicuatole served in Teotitlan del Valle was made from blue corn and had a thin layer of red dye on the top (the dye came from cochineal beetles – the same red dye used to color the wool for the rugs.)

The next day, we had a very interesting talk on corn by Marietta Bernstorff of the MAMAZ (Mujeres Artistas y el Maíz) Collective.  She had gotten together a group of women artists who have made art related to corn and its importance in the cycle of life.  There is a wide variety of artwork in their shows, including photography, collage, installations and multi-media works.  They are very concerned in protecting the traditional varieties of corn indigenous to Mexico.

Nicuatole, or "corn jello"

Then, we went to Itanoní, a restaurant in Oaxaca City that specializes in native corn from the Oaxaca area.  We had a tasting menu that consisted of: quesadillas made with blue or white corn, memelas with beans and queso fresco, and chalupas.  Next time I go, I will need to try their agua fresca made with lime juice and mint (or the one with lime juice and parsley…).

Zapotec Ratatouille

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Before I came to Mexico, I made some (okay, a lot.  OKAY, TOO MUCH!) ratatouille in my crock pot.  Until we got tired of it, it was a good way to get our veggies in during the summer.  I am not always good about eating vegetables, and it’s nice to have some around to just heap in a bowl and run through the microwave.  With Parmesan or Mozzarella cheese on top, it was a meal.

There are a lot of recipes for ratatouille, but I definitely wanted to try and make it in the crock pot.  According to my computer, I either used this recipe or this one.  Because I live so close to the awesome and exotic Buford Highway Farmers’ Market, I had in the back of my mind an idea.  The idea was to make a ratatouille using vegetables and spices that come from Mexico.  I brainstormed:  Onion, Mexican zucchini, yellow squash, corn, poblano peppers, chayote, nopales, tomatillos… and I was going to use maybe epazote, dried chilies, cumin, Mexican oregano, and salsa verde to kick it up a bit.

I did a bit of searching on the internet, and of course, there are no new ideas under the sun, so I found a recipe for something called Mayan Ratatouille.  It is from Mario Martinez of A. J.’s Fine Foods in Phoenix, Arizona.  It is on several websites, so since I gave them credit, I will put it here:

Mayan Ratatouille

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 large Spanish onion, peeled, cored & coarsely chopped
  • 2 chayotes (also known as cho-cho or mirliton), halved, seeded & coarsely chopped
  • 1 large red pepper, seeded & coarsely chopped
  • 2 Arbol chilies, seeded & coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. achiote paste
  • 1 Turkish Bay leaf
  • 1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise & sliced
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded & diced (substitute canned diced tomatoes if desired)
  • 1 Tbsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 Tbsp. dried epazote or 2 sprigs fresh
  • ¼ cup salad olives with pimento (or chopped pimento-stuffed green olives)
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper or hot sauce to taste

Preparation:

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat until hot, but not smoking. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until lightly browned. Add the chayote, peppers, achiote and bay leaf and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Add the zucchini, tomato, paprika, cumin, and epazote and cook, stirring often, for 3-5 minutes.

Add all remaining ingredients except for the cilantro, mix well, lower heat to low and cook another 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat, mix in the cilantro, and season to taste with salt and pepper or hot sauce. Serves 6-8.

So, here I am in Oaxaca, with markets all over the place.  I sent my husband to the local equivalent of the WalMart here – interesting that they have a Sam’s Club, but no WalMart – with a translated list of ingredients.  The ones he was not able to find, I made up at the big market called Benito Juarez.  This afternoon, I chopped and chopped, and here is what I have so far:

Zapotec Ratatouille

Ingredients:

  • 2 Mexican zucchini
  • 2 chayote squash (also called mirlitons)
  • 1/2 pound of chopped cactus paddles (nopales)
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 1/2 to 2 poblano peppers
  • 3 – 4 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup tequila or mezcal
  • 1 – 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh epazote
  • 2 – 3 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs of Mexican oregano (1 tsp. crushed)
  • 1 – 2 tsp. of paprika (I sort of over-poured…)
  • 2 – 210 gram cans of Herdez salsa verde
  • 1 – 210 gram box of La Costena tomato puree
  • 1 ancho chili pepper

1.  First, crush and dice the cloves of garlic.  Then, chop up the poblano peppers and onions into a dice.  Pour olive oil in to a pan and sautee until fragrant and softened.  Add Tequila or mezcal and let it boil for a bit…

2. While you are doing the cutting, cut up the tomatoes, zucchini, chayote, and nopales (I bought my nopales already chopped).  I added the tomatoes first, then cumin and let it simmer for a while.

3.  I added a can of salsa verde to the mix, stirred a bit, then dumped the rest of the vegetables in.  They needed to cook until they are soft.

4.  Now is when I start to randomly add herbs and spices.  Epazote has a bit of an anise/licorice taste.  I chopped that up, added some parsley, then another can of Herdez, and the tomato puree.

5.  Finally, I soaked the ancho chiles in boiling water.  Then, after they were soft, I put some of the liquid in a blender, added the chiles, some cumin, and a clove of garlic and some tequila.  I used it as a marinade for the chicken I made, and then added the leftovers to the ratatouille.

Okay, so it’s not that scientific.  Obviously, I am not ready to write a cookbook yet…  But play around with it and let me know what you come up with.

Monte Alban and Mezcal, tour day part one

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Yesterday (Tuesday) was a field trip day.  The NEH fellows met at the corner of Constitucion and Reforma and boarded a large University bus with a very stoic bus driver with sideburns.  We made our way around the top of the valley to the archaeological zone of Monte Alban.  I had been there once before with my husband and father (in 2003), but this was a little different.

For one thing, we were accompanied by the foremost expert on Mixtec culture and history, Dr. Ronald Spores.  He would periodically stand up on the bus and point out places in the distance, usually covered by urban sprawl, that were Zapotec or Mixtec sites.  He maintains that the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca state never “died”, but are alive and well up until the present.

We got down at the entrance to Monte Alban, where we were met by family members who came on a separate bus.  My husband and nephew were there – my husband taking pictures, of course.  My nephew, who is into geocaching, was volunteered by me to operate a GPS donated to the Virtual Oaxaca Project.  The idea was to map the exact locations of the major buildings at the site so that it can be recreated in a virtual world, probably on Second Life.

To that end, I walked around with a notebook and pen, and each time Robert (my nephew) plotted the coordinates of a major temple or the ball court, or anything major, I wrote down the name of the place and its coordinates (latitude and longitude).  It ended up being quicker to just do the last digit, the “seconds” because the degrees and the minutes did not change.

Let me tell you that we went to EVERY tomb, edifice, pile of rocks, etc. that there was at Monte Alban.  The only place I did not go was to the top of the South Pyramid.  My nephew, of course, trotted up and down that twice, measuring coordinates at the base of the steps and at the top of the structure.

I stayed at the bottom and tried to sketch a hieroglyph that looked a bit like Donald Duck – I don’t know what was up with the bill… Maybe it was a visor.  While I was sketching that, the husband of a co-participant (David Geer) was sketching me!

Can you tell it's me?

After we left Monte Alban, we were heading for Mitla.  First, we planned on stopping at a restaurant and mezcal distillery for lunch.  Alas, we has an adventurous side-track because the highway was blocked – we think it was some kind of protest.  Our bus driver said he knew a “short cut”. and turned off onto a dirt road.  A one-track dirt road.  With cars going in both directions as they made their way around the blockade.  Did I mention that we were in a tour bus?  He got through just fine, but boy, were we ready for some mezcal tasting when it was done!!!

Rancho Zapata was the name of the restaurant/showroom and it is one of those destination restaurants for families to come to for the weekend.  They bring their kids with them (there’s a playground), have a leisurely lunch on the covered patio, and buy a little mezcal.  The place is operated by Mezcal Benevá, and they also raise race horses there.  There are stables in the back.

The front of the restaurant is decorated with old pictures of Emilio Zapata, and the back room has starting gate and finish line photos of their winning horses.  In the back is also a palenque or press for getting the juice out of the maguey roots.  There are vats with maguey in several states of fermentation, and a big murky tub feeding liquid into the distillers.  From there, the mezcal drips into big plastic tanks to be bottled later, I guess.

Now, the one thing I learned about this whole process is that there are a LOT of flies.  Flies on the growing maguey plants, flies on the pulverized core, flies on the vats of fermenting pulp, and flies over the murky tub.  The one source of comfort is that that stuff is boiled, distilled and stored in a fly-proof tank.  Did you know that some mezcals (not all) have an maguey worm in them?  They should really put a fly in there!

More later!  I have another long day in a bus tomorrow and I’ve got to get to bed.

First Day of Class

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Exterior of Santo Domingo church

Yesterday was my first day of “classes”.  We meet in a beautiful convent (ex-convent?) called the Santo Domingo Cultural Center.  The best thing is that it’s only a couple of blocks from where we are staying.  We have to have ID badges to get in, and our class is being held in the back of the gigantic convent kitchen.  I will have to take pictures of the frescos – at least in our classroom.

First, we have “Homeroom” where we discuss things we’ve seen – this session was more of a “getting to know you” group.  After a break on the terrace overlooking the gardens, we were given an introduction to the different groups of indigenous people who live in the Oaxacan state by Dra. Maria de los Angeles Romero Frizzi, an ethnohistorian and senior researcher with the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH).

We walk past the cloisters to get to our classroom.

In the afternoon, we met at the Fundacion Bustamante for a  lecture given by Dr. Michael Swanton, Coordinator of Linguistic Projects at the Biblioteca Francisco Burgoa will speak to us on “Languages and Cultures in Oaxaca.”  It was not easy to find the Fundacion, but we finally got there.  As there were no more chairs, I sat on a table in the back.

In addition to this, my nephew, Robert, was scheduled to land at the airport at 7:00 PM for the third leg of his trip to visit us.  He first flew from New Orleans to Dallas/Ft. Worth, then from there to Mexico City, and finally from D. F. (another name for Mexico City) to Oaxaca.  There were several updates from my husband, but the bottom line was that his flight was 2 hours and 45 minutes late getting in.  To add to the confusion, Mexicana Click, the airline, changed the flight number.  So, although I was fairly certain they were the same flight, you never know…

When he got to the apartment, I made some sopes for him and we fixed up the futon in the living room for him to sleep on.  Even though he must have been beat, he wanted to come along on the trip to Monte Alban in the morning.  Since family members are not allowed on the bus, which is for US NEH scholars, there was an alternative plan.  All of the S. O.’s (Significant Others, so that no one get’s left out) were going to go separately and meet us there.

More about the field trip tomorrow.  Time to go to bed!

Getting a cell phone in Mexico…

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Yesterday, my husband and I got off to a slow start, exhausted from our travels.  Our priorities, after seeking breakfast – er, brunch – were:

  • find a Telcel cellphone retailer and buy SIM card chips to make our phones work less expensively in Mexico.
  • Go to a Soriana supermarket – which is the closest there is to a WalMart here in Oaxaca.  (Curiously, Sam’s Club – Yes; WalMart – No).
  • Get everything put away in our little kitchen and apartment.

After a lovely breakfast of chilaquiles and Diet Coke, we set off on foot to find the Telcel store recommended by Dr. Wood (my program chief).  It was located on 607 Porfirio Diaz, a street which is only one block over from our street, Garcia Vigil.  Or so we thought…

First, we did locate the local mercado (a street market, or hive of small business owners selling everything from blue jeans to saddles to meat to produce).  We took note of the location and plan to go there for stocking up on fresh foods.  Since it was on Porfirio Diaz, we kept going north.  The address numbers read 200, then 300, so we were pretty sure that 607 would come up soon.

After a while we were walking along a beautiful old aqueduct, and then we came upon a stretch of street where everything was broken up.  While we were trying to decide how to get around it, we noticed that the street numbers had far surpassed the 600s.  So, we tracked back, counting carefully as we retraced our steps.  No Telcel store.

We looked at the address again – it said 607 Calz. Porfirio Diaz.  Calz. stands for calzada.  Could there be two different Porfirio Diaz streets?  Well, coming from “Peachtree Street USA” – we figured it was possible.  The first person we asked – a young lady selling newspapers in candy from a booth on the sidewalk – had no idea what we were talking about.

We moved on to a hotel lobby with a gift shop, and that young lady led us to a big map they had posted on a wall in the shop.  Yes, Calzada Porfirio Diaz is different from Porfirio Diaz (calzada means road).  She then indulged me by showing me how to pronounce “Netzahualcoyotl” – the name of a street I espied and hoped I never had to use in giving directions.

As we were walking along Niños Héroes, a major thoroughfare, we espied an Office Depot.  My husband was so excited!  We could check on printer prices.  So, while I was temporarily distracted by the abundance of Distroller notebooks and backpacks, he went to the printer area and scoped things out.  We were able to buy a printer/scanner for about what you’d pay in the U.S. for a bottom of the line item of this sort.  We decided to return here after the Telcel store and buy one, taking a taxi home.

After we found the correct Porfirio Diaz, we started up the street.  Many businesses and residences do not have numbers, so we had to keep track whenever we espied one.  These blocks seemed MUCH longer than the ones on the previous street, and I didn’t know if I would make it to 607.  In the middle of the 200 block, I saw a 300 address – but it was just a cruel joke.  Finally, we took refuge in a paleta (ice cream popsicles) shop called Popeye.  I had a cajeta paleta and Wheat had a pineapple.

We agreed that it was going to take forever to get 4 more blocks under our beld, so we decided to ask at the Telcel store across the street.  There was a security guard there, and he had no idea where 607 was.  He was very friendly, though, and this was a large Telcel store, so we decided to settle on that one.  Recommendations be damned.

(My husband wanted me to include his joke – He requested “Dos tarjetas SIM por Carlos Slim” – the guy did laugh)

The process of replacing our chips was fairly straightforward, since my husband had obtained the unlock codes from AT&T before we left.  For about $15 each, we got a Oaxacan phone number and 50 pesos of talk time (about 20 local minutes).  After it was all said and done, the cashier handed over our paper work.  Guess where we were?  607 Calz. Porfirio Diaz.  Talk about an inscrutable address system!

We hailed a taxi, who took us to the Office Depot and waited while we got the printer and some paper (and a Distroller notebook for me).  Then, we went home.  Throughout the day, my pedometer told me we had walked 6.66 miles.  Whew!

The Virgin of Juquila

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I know that there is the Virgin de la Soledad in the Cathedral of Oaxaca.  I plan on focusing on her later.  There is another miraculous virgin called La Morenita de Juquila.  I first read about her in Laura Resau’s book Red Glass.  Angel, the young man from Guatemala that travels with the protagonist,

This is a tin ornament of the Virgin

Sophie’s, group to Mexico wears one on a gold chain around his neck.  I think that he buys it in a mercado at Huajuapan de Leon – here’s a quote from the book:

“For himself, Angel picked out a gold Virgin of Juquila pendant. The patron Virgin of Oaxaca. ‘Muy milagrosa, esta Virgen,’ the woman assured us.”

It is significant because it gives Sophie a valuable clue towards the end of the book.  I found it interesting that Laura chose the Virgin of Juquila instead of the the more readily recognized Virgin de la Soledad (who is mentioned in the book Becoming Naomi Leon, by Pam Muñoz Ryan).

Here is the basic story of the miracle of Virgen de Juquila as told by Carlos Amantea:

The story is that she arrived from Spain some two hundred years ago in the form of a statue, about two feet tall.

She was installed in the chapel near Juquila, and many years later, there was a fire. The entire building was destroyed, except for the Virgin. They moved her into the town of Juquila — but when, after reconstructing the chapel, she was taken back to her original home (Amialtepec), she would have none of it: she disappeared and reappeared in the church in the town. After she did this three times, they figured that was where she wanted to be and, of course, she was attributed with deep magic powers.

The only thing that happened to her in all these adventures was that, after the fire, her skin turned dark — what they call morena — like most of the people who live here. She is no longer one of those light-skinned güero virgins out of the Iberian culture but — like the more famous Virgin of Guadelupe — has become a dark beauty. Her skin is the color of the rich brown earth that surrounds the town of Juquila.

There is another version of the story on this website.  There, it says that a covetous bishop wanted to take the Virgin from a peasant to whom it was given.  That story says that she kept trying to go back, but by the fourth time, she decided to stay in the Cathedral built for her in Juquila.  The original spot where she resided is commemorated by a smaller chapel called La Capilla del Pedimento (Amialtepec).  From the article: “Nonetheless the image remained there and gradually people accepted the Mother’s new home. She appeased them by continuing to work miracles in both her old and new domicile. Her children learned how to honor her in both places.”

Approaching El Pedimento - the original resting place.

Many people make pilgrimages to Juquila, to ask for miracles on their behalf.  Here is a description of a typical pilgrimage:

“This is what they do to this day: For the thousands of pilgrims who come to Juquila every week their visit starts in Amialtepec, 9 kilometers before Juquila. There they go to the chapel of ‘El Pedimento’ (the request), a shrine high on a hill near the original site. The ground around El Pedimento is dense clay, which is considered sacred and is said to have healing properties. People use this clay in various ways. Some rub their faces with it, some eat it, but most use it to give shape to their requests. They sculpt little clay houses, cars, farm animals, food, husbands, body parts that need healing, anything they want….

Then they attach a message addressed to the Virgin and lay their “request” at the feet of a large ceramic copy of the Black Madonna. On their return the following year they bring a cross with some type of sign on which they give thanks for the granting of last year’s favor.  So popular is this shrine that each day a caretaker hauls all of the offerings, requests, and crosses out back, forming an enormous holy dump pile.”

Look at all of the crosses!

Now, that, I would like to see!  From there, they proceed to Santa Catarina Juquila, the Basilica erected around the original Virgin’s statue.

“Having finished at El Pedimento, the pilgrims continue to Juquila. Many crawl the last two kilometers, from the entry area to the actual statue, on their knees. They make their way along a dirt road that leaves their knees bloody upon arrival. Once at the feet of their Mother, many pilgrims make a promise (a promesa), something like: “If you get me safely to the USA I will come back here to give you thanks when I return to Mexico.” Or: “If you grant me a child I will make this pilgrimage three more times in my life.”

Many stories testify to this Dark Mother’s willingness to help her children. She is credited with curing the ill, raising dead babies back to life, granting sudden wealth, etc.”

Medal of the Virgin

There are a couple of conditions:  most people pledge to return the year following their miracle – or more than one year.  Also, there’s an amusing story about chastity during the Pilgrimage itself:

“…you have to observe chastity during the pilgrimage. One story tells of “a lusty, overeager couple who stopped by the roadside to engage in some hanky-panky and presto, were changed to stone. To this day, it is said, they are stuck there, somewhere off in the mountains, belly-to-belly.”

Here are a couple of links I found:

A Day in Santa Catarina Juquila – by Geri Anderson and Carol Alice

Prayer to the Virgin for a Miracle –  for people taking the Pilgrimage

Moon Guides information on Juquila – Moon is a great guide book

Travel Pod.com – Tourist’s tale of going to Juquila – with pictures

Website for the Sanctuary – on Oaxaca Mio

Video – great news feature done by a Mexican news station

An Unexpected Pilgrimage by John Todd, Jr. – great account of a side trip to Juquila

House of the Scorpion Loteria, Card #4

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How else do you get a spare heart?

Spoiler alert!  If you have not read House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer, yet: this may upset you…  On the other hand, it tells you right on the back of the book in the blurb what is supposed to happen.  I think that the only person who does not know is Matt, the clone.