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.

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Smoky Margarita Syrup

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I ran out of my last batch of smoky tea syrup and did not take notes when I made it.  So, today, I’m making some more.  I made regular margaritas yesterday and found them less tasty (okay, sweet.) than my new regular.

So, I have all of the ingredients handy, and I did write my measurements down:

First, start with the chile water:

Put the three chile peppers in a pan with 3 cups water. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat off and let the chile peppers “steep” for a whle – you may smush the chile peppers with a wooden spoon if you like.

Strain the chiles into a receptacle to catch the chile water.  You may save the chiles for another use. Check the measurements and add more water if necessary to bring the amount to 3 cups again.

Next, use the chile water to steep your tea:

Return the chile water to the pot and bring to a light boil again.  Place tea bags in pot and steep for a while.

Add:

  • 1/2 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Penzey’s smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. Penzey’s ground red chipotle
  • a dash of cinnamon (okay, that may not be necessary)

Strain the mixture one more time and add the following while the water is still hot:

  • 2 cups sugar (1 cup white and 1 cup brown) – I ran out of white sugar.

I strained it one last time, adding a paper towel to my strainer to sift out most of the grains of spice.

Transfer to a glass or plastic bottle or container and keep in the refrigerator. Keeps in the refrigerator for over a month.

It looks sort of like this...Here is the first try-out:

Pour the ingredients (except the lime wedge) over ice into a cocktail shaker.  Shake well, then pour into a glass with crushed or chipped ice cubes.  Garnish with lime wedge.

Now, ordinarily, this is also supposed to include Mezcal, but I didn’t buy any this time.  I have to say that this is pretty good – I could taste the chipotle only in the concentrated syrup.  I didn’t think that the drink itself was spicy in a bad way.

Pay de Pastor (Mexican Shepherd’s Pie)

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I am stuck at home on the fourth snow day of 2011 in Georgia.  A record, at least, in my lifetime…  Lucky for me, I have a well-stocked kitchen.  So, I have been cooking quite a bit.  Here is a recipe I whipped up last night.  Now, I know that some sticklers are going to get me for calling this a Shepherd’s Pie (Pay is Spanglish and pronounced “pie” BTW) because it uses turkey (and a little bit of beef because I thought it needed more meat), but that’s okay.

One caveat:  This is my best attempt to write down what I did to make the casserole last night.  I did not measure all of the spice ingredients, so you can monkey with that at will.  Also, you may make any meat, veggie, or cheese substitute you want!  I used the Old El Paso enchilada sauce because it is gluten-free (many enchilada sauces are NOT).

Pay de Pastor: Mexican Shepherd’s Pie with Sour Cream and Green Chile Mashed Potato Topping

Vegetable Filling:

1 onion
2 shallots
4 celery stalks
1 orange or yellow bell pepper
1/3 to 1/2 cup baby carrots
1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Fire-Roasted Corn
2 cubes Dorot Chopped Garlic Cubes
3 – 4 cubes Dorot Chopped Cilantro
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 Tbsp olive oil

Chop onion, shallots, celery, bell pepper, and carrots to small dice. Heat olive oil in a large skillet on the stove. Put all of the vegetables in the pan and add the garlic, cilantro, and cumin.  Saute until vegetables are soft, then add roasted corn. Blend corn with vegetables until defrosted.  Put the vegetables aside in a bowl and wipe out pan.

Meat Filling:

1 pkg. ground turkey (19.2 oz.)
1 angus burger patty (5.3 oz.)
1/2 Tbsp. olive oil

Put the ground turkey and beef patty together in a bowl and mix the meat together. Heat the oil in the large skillet and saute the meat until lightly brown.  Pour the contents of the skillet through a strainer and return to the pan.

Gravy:

1 pasilla chile
1 guajillo chile
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 can Old El Paso mild enchilada sauce
1/4 – 1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tsp. Don Julio Cumin/Pepper blend
1 tsp. Penzey’s Ground Red Chipotle Chile Pepper
1 tsp. Penzey’s Smoked Spanish paprika
2 – 3 cubes Dorot Chopped Cilantro
2 cubes Dorot Chopped Garlic

Soak the chile peppers in a bowl until soft.  Discard the stem, seeds, and veins of the chiles and slice into smaller pieces.  Place the chiles in a blender with the tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, and some chicken broth and puree ingredients. Pour contents of blender over the meat in the skillet (use some more chicken broth to get the rest of the sauce out if necessary).

Mix the sauce and the meat and add spices as needed.  I added Don Julio cumin/pepper powder, chipotle powder, and smoked paprika.  I also added the enchilada sauce as an afterthought, but it could be added to the blender gravy if desired.

Add the vegetables to the meat mixture in the skillet or in a large bowl and mix them together.  Spread mixture in an 11 by 17 lasagna pan or clear baking dish.  Set aside while you are making the mashed potato topping.

Mashed Potato Topping:

3 large baking potatoes, peeled
1/3 cup light Sour Cream
1 small can chopped green chiles
1 7 oz. package Kraft 2% fat shredded Mexican Cheese blend

Chop the potatoes into approximately equal chunks – about 1 to 1 1/2 inches.  Put cut potatoes into a pot and cover with water.  Allow the water to come to a boil, then cook potatoes until they are able to be broken apart by a fork.

Strain the water out and return the potatoes to the pot.  Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes part-way.  Then, add sour cream and can of green chiles and mash until smooth.  Add half the package of shredded cheese to the potatoes and blend the mixture.

Spread the mashed potato mixture on top of the meat and vegetable mixture.  Place in a pre-heated oven (about 375 degrees), and bake for about 30 minutes.  Take the pan out and sprinkle the remainder of the cheese on top of the casserole.  Return to oven and cook for 10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly an casserole is heated through.

Remove from oven and allow the casserole to settle before slicing.  Serve with additional sour cream and salsa.

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…

 

 

 

A Long Absence

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I have not written in my blog in ages – I think the last entry was at the end of July, from Oaxaca.  So, obviously, I am not in the running to be one of those people who make money or generate thousands of followers with my blog.  Oh, well.

I am sitting at the Toyota Service Center – a really nice place, actually.  There is everything one could need for survival: tables, comfortable chairs, wi-fi, coke machines, a bathroom.  I may stay until my car is ready or call my husband to pick me up and come back later.  At the moment, I am cool.

Before I came, I went by the Georgia Bakery and picked up a chicken and pesto sandwich on French c0untry whole wheat and an almond croissant.  Despite its name, it is really a French bakery, and the proprietor, Olivier hails from France.  He makes his own bread and pastries, and has a great selection of sanwiches, panini, and ready-made quiches and savory pies available.

So, now I am checked in, settled in and eating my brunch.  I had planned on waking up at 8AM and coming up here earlier, but it is REALLY difficult for me to get up before 10AM on a weekend morning.  So I had to wait for a while to get checked in.  No problem – I’ve got time.

Lately, I have been busy with school, thinking about lesson plans to follow up my National Endowment of the Humanities Mesoamerican Institute in Oaxaca, and when I haven’t been busy with those things, I have been going out to eat too much and sleeping or napping when I can.

This year, to our surprise, we have twice the number of ESOL students than we had anticipated.  Pretty impressive, considering the measures that Cobb County is taking to scare immigrants off from our neck of the woods.  Actually, a small number of our students are new immigrants.  Unfortunately many of them have been in the United States for a very long time, which begs the question: why are they still in ESOL?

If there are any ESOL teachers reading this, it may not surprise them at all that a student can be a U.S. citizen, educated from kindergarten in the U.S. school system, and still be in the program.  Increasingly, the role of the ESOL teacher is becoming one of school detective and site interventionist.  I have been looking through files, requesting student files from other schools, and speaking directly with whomever I can to get a clue.

Several students have been in our school system since kindergarten, yet their ACCESS scores are below a 5 on the scale.  This means that teachers are reluctant to exit them from the program.  It is both a legalistic move and one that is made for self-preservation.  The fact is that with all of the “Reduction in Force” in school systems last year, the ESOL program lost a lot of teachers.

I won’t go off on my soapbox (or is that “get up on my soapbox” OR “go off”?) about how I feel about keeping students in the program past their “prime”.  I has been happening since I switched over to teaching ESOL 8 years ago.  The practices back then, when we were administering a placement test called the LAB were a little more open to interpretation.  I and other teachers could make the call as to whether a student still needed to be in the program, or needed to be exited for his or her own good.

There are basically three reasons why students do not make significant progress after being in ESOL for over 3 or 4 years.

  • Reason 1:  Lack of motivation – the fact is that they are comfortable with their friends and the perceived easier curriculum (Yes, it IS possible to fail a placement test on purpose).
  • Reason 2:  Truancy or excessive moving around – since they are forced to follow the cheaper rental rate or the more lucrative job market, immigrant families ten to move around a lot.
  • Reason 3:  Undiagnosed learning disabilities – some students may NEVER pass the ESOL program exit criteria, OR the ITBS, OR the CRCT.  Keeping them in the ESOL program often means that these problems are classified as “Limited English” problems.

And so it goes.  Now, I am not at all enthusiastic about there being a dearth of students for me to teach.  This might mean that I will have to go back to teaching French – in the MYP program, all students are required to take a foreign language.  Or, I could be called upon to employ one of my other certifications:  Middle Grades Language Arts and/or my “magically” appearing certification in Middle Grades Social Studies.  This means that I would have to cope with 4 times the student load, with the accompanying organizational and discipline challenges.

But, on the other hand, is it really fair to hold children back from getting the education and help that they really need – just to hang on to my job?  I don’t think so.  I am not trained to diagnose and accommodate Special Ed. students, and those students need to be identified and sent on to other people who can help them.

Also, with the big emphasis on student performance, I understand why many regular ed teachers would prefer NOT to have more unmotivated students in their classroom.  It’s easier to blame the problem on language acquisition.  I don’t know what the solution is – this is just what I happened to be able to write about today.

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.

Lord Eight Deer Jaguar Claw

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Just before I left for Oaxaca, I started collecting Zapotec (and other Oaxacan) myths and legends.  I just happened to come across this book called The Legend of Lord Eight Deer: An Epic of Ancient Mexico by Dr. John M. D. Pohl.  I ordered a second-hand copy on Amazon.com and received it a while before I left for Mexico.

The story is based on Dr. Pohl’s interpretation of the Codex Nuttall, and on his research in the Oaxaca area.  Apparently, Lord Eight Deer was an important historical figure of the area’s past.  Here is a brief description:

“The Codex Nuttall is made of deerhide, pieced together to make one continuous strip over 40 feet long and roughly 6-1/2 inches high, then folded fan-wise into 10 inch sections to form a compact, 98 page “book”. Both sides were coated with fine lime plaster and 88 of the pages were painted with the vivid little scenes and date glyphs in bright colors.

The book is very well-written, and actually helped me to understand some of my high falutin’ readings on the codices.  When I bought it, I planned on taking it with me in my suitcase, but my husband scanned it and made PDF’s for me.  It was a really good idea, but…

The first night that we all met as colleagues, the NEH Mesoamerican Studies people threw us this fabulous party at the Casa de la Cultura here in Oaxaca.  There was food, and mezcal, and honored guests… including Dr. Pohl.  Of course, after he was introduced, and they had finished talking, I made a beeline to speak to him.  I told him how much I enjoyed his book and he said, “Oh, if you have your copy with you, I could sign it for you!”

Um, er, well…

I explained to him about the scanning (purely to save space – I DO own a copy of the book) and we had a little chuckle about it.  Since then, of course, we have been honored with his presence at a talk last Monday on Mixtec Codices.  He happens to be here with a group of his students and accompanied our group on tours of Coixtlahuaca and the ruins nearby.

A Spanish version of the Lord 8 Deer story

I have also bought this book: Ocho Venado, Garra de Jaguar, héroe de varios códices by Krystyna Magdalena Libura – It is in Spanish, but has great illustrations and descriptions. I plan on buying a copy of the Codex Nuttall, which Dr. Pohl told us that he used as a “guidebook and map” of the Mixtec Valley of Oaxaca.

I know that I have spoken a lot about Lord Eight Deer, but have not given much information about him.  I have really enjoyed, however, testing my knowledge of the calendar naming system of the Aztecs – so that I can at least read some of the names.  Dr. Pohl, Dr. Spores, and Dr. Wood have also given us some basic instructions on reading the codices, as well.

Mezcal and Mitlan, Part Two

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After having a tour of the mezcal making area, me and my new friend, Gabriel went to a covered hut where a woman was making corn tortillas.  He asked the nice lady to make a fresh tortilla for me, and I got to eat it after adding a bit of salt.  Then, it was time to taste mezcal.

It’s so strange, the variety of flavors that mezcal comes in.  I tasted some coco(nut) and strawberry.  Then, when we sat down to lunch, the waiters came around, offering MORE tastes of mezcal.  I had ordered beef tongue in a sauce, and it was okay.  The tongue, however, was a little sinewy, which doesn’t have to happen.  I did buy a small bottle of mezcal for our friends in Atlixco, as a hostess gift.


After lunch, we set off for Mitla, which is a ruin with a church built right on top of it, and a town all around the ruins.  It began to rain a little as we were touring, but it was not too bad.  I was fascinated by the intricate patterns formed by the limestone (?) bricks in the friezes at the top of the walls.  My favorite one was inside one of the rooms in the back part of the site.  I am still working on recreating that on graph paper.

This represents lightning...

After we left Mitla, I was really tired.  I think a lot of us were.  But, we took a little side trip to Tule, where they have an enormous tree.  It was truly magnificent, and I did go and look at it, but I didn’t take pictures.  You see, my husband took the camera with him after we parted ways at Monte Alban.  Tule also has a beautiful square, and I got to see it again when I went after some strays who took a wrong turn getting back to the bus.

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.