Friday, May 18, 2012

More Real Corn!
Real Corn -- nonGMO






Greetings!  I'm hoping you will look at my more current blog, which is devoted to a small farming community just north of Oaxaca, and how important sustainable agriculture is to them, to the world -- we are fighting big business there...Monsanto.....and would love your on-line support.....http://sustainablemilpa.blogspot.com/ 


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Again, Oaxaca is Wonderfully Safe....

This is just a quick overview, to calm the jagged nerves of leary travelers:

So many people look completely shocked when I say I am going to Oaxaca, Mexico...this is my 6th, yes SIXTH trip in the last 13 months as I am working on a new book project.  As one of my friends here at Casa Colonial says, the only thing to fear about coming to Oaxaca is that you will exceed your credit card limit!  I walk the 20 minutes back to my B&B (the "Casa") by myself after dark, until about 9:30. I would not walk around alone in my home town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, as lovely as it is. Too many questionable types, too many drugs around.

Here in Oaxaca, here in the Historic District and in the outlying smaller villages, you don't see lots of things:  stressed out people, rudeness, screaming nagging children, anger, sharp retorts, fighting couples, impatience, constant blaring of TV and teens with their noses in their smart phones (although the latter is making headways).  What you do see is a lot of smiling, happy and content people who love their families and who are normal, nice folks....by our standards they are 'poor,' i.e. they don't own a lot of stuff, and the system fails them in terms of health care, but they are a heck of a lot happier than people in the US.   I've been coming here a lot and, as it clearly shows, I love it. Sunny blue skies.  Prices are great in hotels and B&B's (you can ask for a reduced rate as tourism has flagged here recently due to narco fears) , modern and folk art are thriving, and there are many wonderful creative restaurants to dine in at bargain rates.

To wit: yesterday at La Jicara for the mid-day meal ('comida') I had a Tortilla Soup with cheese, avocados, herbs, broth; a large Green Salad with Amaranth, Carrots, Avocado and Cucumbers in a Sweet Balsamic dressing; Sauteed Fish with Mango/Cinammon Salsa and a reduction of Hibiscus Flowers with a mild spicy chile ; Rice with a faint flavor of lemon grass; a Mango/Strawberry thick juice drink, and terrific Coffee that would put Starbucks to shame.  Grand total: $6.32.





A new friend confided she had moved back to the countryside from Mexico City where she had been a maid (servant is what she actually said, with a 'perdon' after her statement).  She and four generations of women live in very, VERY  humble conditions; they earn maybe $550 a YEAR.   She quoted the lyrics of a popular singing group:  "Aunque la jaula sea de oro, no deje de ser prision."  Even though the jail is made of gold, it's still a prision.    She would much rather live in the country, growing her own food, and cook over a wood stove, than earn money and live in Mexico City.   Another woman in the same village confided:  'somos libres aqui.'  We are free here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Again, Oaxaca is Wonderfully Safe....

This is just a quick overview, to calm the jagged nerves of leary travelers:

So many people look completely shocked when I say I am going to Oaxaca, Mexico...this is my 6th, yes SIXTH trip in the last 13 months as I am working on a new book project.  As one of my friends here at Casa Colonial says, the only thing to fear about coming to Oaxaca is that you will exceed your credit card limit!  I walk the 20 minutes back to my B&B (the "Casa") by myself after dark, until about 9:30. I would not walk around alone in my home town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, as lovely as it is. Too many questionable types, too many drugs around.

Here in Oaxaca, here in the Historic District and in the outlying smaller villages, you don't see lots of things:  stressed out people, rudeness, screaming nagging children, anger, sharp retorts, fighting couples, impatience, constant blaring of TV and teens with their noses in their smart phones (although the latter is making headways).  What you do see is a lot of smiling, happy and content people who love their families and who are normal, nice folks....by our standards they are 'poor,' i.e. they don't own a lot of stuff, and the system fails them in terms of health care, but they are a heck of a lot happier than people in the US.   I've been coming here a lot and, as it clearly shows, I love it. Sunny blue skies.  Prices are great in hotels and B&B's (you can ask for a reduced rate as tourism has flagged here recently due to narco fears) , modern and folk art are thriving, and there are many wonderful creative restaurants to dine in at bargain rates.

To wit: yesterday at La Jicara for the mid-day meal ('comida') I had a Tortilla Soup with cheese, avocados, herbs, broth; a large Green Salad with Amaranth, Carrots, Avocado and Cucumbers in a Sweet Balsamic dressing; Sauteed Fish with Mango/Cinammon Salsa and a reduction of Hibiscus Flowers with a mild spicy chile ; Rice with a faint flavor of lemon grass; a Mango/Strawberry thick juice drink, and terrific Coffee that would put Starbucks to shame.  Grand total: $6.32.





A new friend confided she had moved back to the countryside from Mexico City where she had been a maid (servant is what she actually said, with a 'perdon' after her statement).  She and four generations of women live in very, VERY  humble conditions; they earn maybe $550 a YEAR.   She quoted the lyrics of a popular singing group:  "Aunque la jaula sea de oro, no deje de ser prision."  Even though the jail is made of gold, it's still a prision.    She would much rather live in the country, growing her own food, and cook over a wood stove, than earn money and live in Mexico City.   Another woman in the same village confided:  'somos libres aqui.'  We are free here.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Feast Day in San Miguel Huautla, OAXACA, Mexico

We arrived in San Miguel Huautla, Oaxaca three rugged, rutted hours after leaving Oaxaca City. Patron saint (Saint Michael the Archangel) festivities had been going on for several days, and we arrived on the last day, the 29th, in time for some traditional country festival cooking and the mass and procession of the patrol saint. A busload of local families living in Mexico City hire a bus each year to come for the week as it is a time of reunion, celebration and general merriment . This is a small town, located in the deep valley of lush surrounding countryside, very picture perfect at first glance. About 500 households ring the valley, with the historic colonial church nestled at the bottom of the hills.
The primary source of income in the village is the weaving hats and baskets, using both natural straw and the newly popular metalicised plastic look-alikes. The weavers earn THREE PESOS for each hat, the next person in line irons and shapes them, and the vendor gets $30 pesos for the hat. The creators are able to produce 3-4 a day. That translates into less than a dollar a day, which is the universally accepted definition of "the poorest of the poor." (Microcredit Summit, Washington DC) That, and agriculture, form the economic base of the community. They are taking making inroads into reverting back to the old agricultural ways of their forefathers, returning to sustainability and organics.
We had an early mid-day meal,or maybe a late breakfast at the home of Anastasia, the majordomo's sister. It is very similar to feast days on pueblos in New Mexico, each family opens its doors to friends and family for sharing of food and here, much drink. I had to refuse mescal and beer for breakfast several times, with "I don't drink" and "I am allergic" falling on deaf ears. Later, Anastasia kindly presented us to the Municipal President, which eased our acceptance into the festivities and made interviewing and picture taking much easier for our current book project about CEDICAM (Centro de Desarrollo Integral Campesino de la Mixteca). The women of the village cook for days and actually stay up all night long prior to the final feast day. Several managed to nod off occasionally in-between serving times …..They create a kitchen on the dirt floor of the community building using bricks (to hold both the heat and the pots) and firewood, and assemble their huge vats of mole, beans, rice, blood sausage and breakfast masa. The beef was cooked for hours in a brick lined pit which was filled with embers and then covered. Each family contributes 100 tortillas to the event.
The important men are served first(no comment)and then after mass, the entire village lines up for a huge plate of wonderful food. The downside is that everything is served on styrofoam, using plastic cutlery, using probably thousands of pieces of plates and glasses, which they then burn thereafter. When burned, polystyrene (styrofoam is expanded polystyrene) produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (which causes cancer) carbon soot (also can cause cancer) and carbon monoxide, which is poisonous and must certainly offset the rewards of returning to an organic diet.
The very organized woman in blue who was seemingly in charge of the food operation very kindly shared the mole recipe with Susana Trilling (www.SeasonsOfMyHeart.com) , which had been passed down through generations of women, and is always used during festivals. This day they used 25 kilos/55 pounds of just chiles; there are about 20 other ingredients…. they used beef for their mole, rather than the traditional turkey, and a local cow was sacrificed for the communal event. I was a bit taken aback to be told proudly that their cows were 'natural,' i.e. NOT inoculated. Oops. Glad I passed on the blood sausage. Other events included a series of basketball playoffs, a bullring, small carnival rides for kids, and the ever-present pop and junk food vendors. The kitchen was by far and most certainly the most interesting place to be! (I apologize for the lack of control of photo placement...I have tried an tried to no avail....)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Best Quesadillas are in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca

THE SHORT LIFE STORY OF A QUESADILLA IN NOCHIXTLAN, OAXACA...

There is a quesadilla stand just outside the main market in Nochixtlan in Oaxaca State, about an hour north of the superhighway out of Oaxaca. IF you can get on the superhighway. Parts were washed out during the last recent rains and yesterday we had to go on the old road, which was the main road for many years. Pleasant change. Felt like we were actually in Mexico.

So, it was about lunchtime. It's usually about lunchtime in Nochixtlan. And my favorite quesadilla lady, the mother in the family, was there, serving up her delights. Truth be told, I'm a bit of a tortilla snob, having cut my tortilla teeth in El Salvador years ago in the campo, always awakening to the sound of 'slap, slap, slap.' Here it's 'squeak, squeak, squeak' as the hinged metal tortilla press slams shut on the circular ball of dough, creating a perfect circle, of even diameter and enviable even thickness. Pure corn roundness about 12" in diameter.


After this modern approach to tortilla making, the insides are generously arranged. I asked for the 'works,' which here means a glorious array of sauteed mushrooms, fresh squash blossoms and that amazing string cheese that Oaxaca is known for. Maybe even invented.



The dough is then folded over in half, dampened around the outer inside edges, and crimped. Remember Grandma's pie crusts....like that. And then carefully put onto the comal heated atop the little habachi-like brazier to cook on each side...maybe three minutes per side. Served with an apple fizzy bottled drink (Manzanita) and some hot sauce....I passed on the latter, not because I don't like it hot (okay, okay....), but because the contents were a trifle murkey. And you know what THAT can mean in Mexico



I gobbled up the first one, and then Susana Trilling (Director and Founder, Seasons of my Heart Cooking School in Oaxaca) and I shared another. Bet you can't eat just one.

Best $2.75 lunch around.....





After lunch, Susana and I headed further north, in search of more authentic, Mixteca food delights from regional sustainable farms....our new joint project. (and it
s a good one....watch for further updates.....)



.



Thursday, August 11, 2011

STILL SAFE AFTER ALL THESE YEARS....OAXACA!

Still Safe After All These Years...OAXACA! Just a quick update...I've been to Oaxaca three times this year, 2011 -- January, March and June, and I also have trips planned for September and November as I am working on another book project......I feel safer there than I do in Espanola, New Mexico, if you want the truth. Tons of people on the Zocalo at night and on the weekends, no American tourists of course, as due to press coverage , and possibly a lack of understanding of the geography of Mexico --
they have extrapolated the dangers in the drug/crime-infested border towns and further south to mean the whole entire country! Oaxaca IS NOT JUAREZ! It's a great time to visit......come on down! Food's still wonderful, and the artisans will treat you right..... The image is from San Pablo Tijaltepec, about a 5 hour trip NW of Oaxaca City....the people are far re[Image] moved from the modern world, and create these amazing blouses. And they charge for them handily, which is just fine....about $200. Takes months to make them, they are a truly unique blouse in Mexico. If you go, make sure you go on a Saturday, and stop at the market in Tlaxiaco, which in itself is reason enough to go north....wonderful hotel there right on the plaza, best to drive up Friday, stay the night and watch the market setup and get first pick! Very vibrant, non-touristy, at least, until we get there!

Monday, April 11, 2011

In Search of Disappearing Huipiles in Coban

Hola, COBAN... and.... Adios, Huipiles.....
Coban. What a disappointment. Huge, sprawling, and noisy, with large malls at the entrance to town. We were told by an American living there for the last 35 years who works at our hotel that the big, new money is the product of the drug traffic as the heavy stuff passes up up north from Colombia. It is fairly unsafe at night, hard to trust unknown taxi drivers,etc. etc. Very commercial, 'modern.' Our hotel, Hotel La Posada, was a charming, old style colonial family inn started by North Americans decades ago, very similar to NaBalom in San Cristobal in Chiapas, or the Mayan Inn in ChiChi. Lovely, colonial, with lush gardens and a great dining room (with an unfortunately listless wait staff). Lots of ancient floor tiles, local textiles decorating the rooms on comfy beds, on the furniture and framed on the walls. Great mask collection. But NOISY. The truck traffic now shrieks by on both sides of the hotel, on what used to be horse drawn carriage lanes when the hotel was first built in colonial times. Earplugs a must, or an inside room in the older part of the hotel. (In all fairness, there is more to Coban than just our projected textile hopes. This is a land of great hiking, biospheres, orchid cloud forests, etc.etc. ) We looked for the traditional huipiles of the Coban region, only to learn yet again, that there weren't any. The young women now buy thin nylon or polyester huiplies in bright colors with machine- embroidered lace motifs. Gone are the lovely backstrap loomed white-on-white patterned base cloth with an embroided trim at the neck and sleeves. If not gone, then very difficult to find, even with good travels skills, good Spanish, and huge desire. The ocassional new huipil is usually a tenth of the quality and fineness of stitch we have come to love. Our hotel waitress told us of a nearby town with a market the next day: San Juan Chamelco. A 20 minute taxi ride from Coban. Market days are Monday,Wednesday and Friday, if anyone reading this is on their way there. Very little Spanish spoken, just the local dialect. I did find a more economical version of the old style huipil we were searching for, which I bought. A street vendor was wearing what I wanted, and I went her nearby house as she said she made them herself but when I got there she was actually making/selling the newer, cheaper version. She said the hand-loomed fabric of the earlier style is too expensive and no one can afford it any more; young women are no longer making their own at home because it's too time consuming and won't help pay the bills as a job in a bank or store will. Which of course is the lament of fine folk artisans the world over. Fine folk art has become, 'por fuerza,' a product aimed at the more well-off collector, the only people who can afford to pay the fair price to the producer who spends a month or two perfecting each piece. One very fine new huipil now sells for $200- $800 dollars now, if you are lucky enough to find someone who is still making them. The older, finer ones are now sold by antique dealers who specialize in this nearly disappeared craft, and whose markup is astonishing. With each passing year, the prices go up and up, and the supply will become less and less. It is a sad, somber realization. Our wonderful, amazing International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, (www.http://http://www.folkartmarket.org/) is addressing this problem head-on, and is thankfully having a world-wide positive impact on artisans due to the high volume of sales each summer generated by the great craftsmen of the world. And all the money earned goes directly to the vendors and creates a need to hire and train more creative talent. Bravo.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dia de San Jose in La Mixteca, Oaxaca






Today was a day that all true travelers long for, the kind of day that is increasingly difficult to even hope for: a truly authentic and unself-conscious cultural encounter. I was invited, along with my chef friend Susana Trilling (www.SeasonsOfMyHeart.com), to a special historic holy place, a tiny, one-room adobe church atop an unmarked hill, to celebrate a mass honoring San Jose/St.Joseph,and to take part in the special social events to follow.

Villagers from 24 small pueblos came to the sacred hilltop to begin the day with a special outdoor mass. As there were about 350 people assembled, too large a group for the tiny chapel, we met under a huge green tarp, spilling out the sides into the warm sun. A new young priest extolled the virtues of St. Joseph, using parables to discuss good parenting to the local fathers; how good San Jose/St. Joseph must have been in order to raise Jesus from infant to adult. And do ye likewise. Mass took about two hours with much singing, loud boisterous calling out of prayers in unison, with lots of waving of arms…..a new experience for me in the Catholic mass.

And then, lunch!! Most of the villages had cooked for several days, and consequently there were at least 20 different large food areas under the partially leaved oak trees which the priest blessed individually, sprinkling food and folks with huge amounts of holy water.

Everyone was given enough food for a week. Yellow and red moles, enchiladas de frijol con yerba santa (sarsparilla),huge rolled soft tacos… Nopal/cactus salads with a light vinaigrette, both white AND blue corn posole, white beans with "amarillo,"(a spicy yellow sauce)”, black beans with "rojo,"(a red chile sauce). Egg tacos, and on and on…..…. All this was grown on their own small family plots. Plenty, more than plenty, for all, with a lot left over. And all raised and prepared at home. Why is there hunger in the world? The large, thin tortillas utilize homemade nixtamal (dried raw corn cooked in quicklime/calcium oxide, then ground to make the dough), and are made on a large wooden press.There are three varieties: all corn, all wheat, and 'revueltos,' a mixture of both grains. An early frost killed much of their corn crop last fall and wheat is added to stretch the corn…. home grown organic wheat added to home-grown organic corn!

When all were satiated, the party started. Guelaguetza dances, several bands, recitations, candy gifts for the kids. Women of all ages wore simple regional costumes for each dance, tossing the traditional 'gueza,' gifts of candy and fruits, to the excited and happy audience. A loud, very loud, brass band played and was mercifully on-key and in tune! A youth Christan Christian rock band made their first public appearance among these, their friends and family, and a new local teenaged heart throb was born. A young woman gave a short one-act play extolling safe teen-age driving in parables,to much applause.

We finally departed around four o’clock when a new band surfaced bearing huge speakers and a shrieking out-of-tune violin that created a sensation similar to ramming a dull nail into one's eardrums. Time to go!

These small villages, for consisting on of 60-75 houses are all located about 45 minutes outside of Nochixtlan, an hour north of the city of Oaxaca in la Mixeca region. They own few cars or TVs, and there is little reason to leave home, as they are all “campesinos” /(farmers) and life is filled with the daily chores of raising food, caring for small children and animals and the elderly --– up to four generations are in a family compound. The kitchens are usually NOT of concrete block , but ventilated thatched- roofed rooms with wood burning handcrafted stoves. The walls are thin tree or bamboo branches which have been roped or wired together. Dishes are hand-washed, clothes hung on the line to dry next to the huge adobe oven that bakes the weekly bread. A group of townspeople in each village are politically involved in keeping their planting seeds free of GMO's. They trade and and barter their millennium- old native drought resistant seeds within the community. They participate in special fairs educating about native seeds. Posters on the wall proclaim their reality --– to live by the teachings of their grandparents -- going back to the old ways, dependent only upon themselves for food and shelter. Sound good?


Back in the big city, Oaxaca City, and walking back late from too much food at dinner, I saw a wealthy family's stylized,very self-conscious wedding leaving a church, complete with fancy bridesmaids in Juchitan/Frida finery, and a very tuneful pricey brass band. A lovely procession with flower-filed baskets on heads led a raised ornate St Joseph saint. The rose-bedecked Rolls Royce convertible (rented, made from a fiberglass kit ) awaited the bride and groom. Quite impressive. But I walked away, rather over whelmed by the sumptuousness and staged feeling of it all after my wonderful, genuine day.

And then, down the block I suddenly spotted my favorite,very old and very sick,once-upon-a-time-beautiful but now ancient and scrawny and frail beggar, a woman I always seek out. I gave her too much. I keep expecting never to see her again and yet she persists.

Teary,tough contrasts. Quite a day.