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Archive for October, 2009

the pumpkin patch

A couple of weekends ago, J and I decided to go apple-picking. After some research on the internet and a long drive, we arrived at a farm in the east bay, only to be told that the orchards were closed due to storms that had hit just a few days before. Our disappointment upon hearing this was only fleeting — this farm also had a pumpkin patch!

So, instead of picking apples, we went in search of the perfect pumpkins.

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It took a lot of walking back and forth to find just the right one.

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Our final picks:

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Last night, we finally carved our pumpkins.

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I carved a monster  from Where The Wild Things Are (It was named “Carol” in the movie). I think it ended up looking a lot like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. It must be the toothy grin and the stripes.

J carved a sinister-looking Garfield. He half-carved some details which you can see more easily with better lighting.

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Happy Halloween!

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The next day in Oaxaca we took a class in Zapotec cooking, offered by Casa de los Sabores. Our instructor, chef Reyna Mendoza, is a native of Teotitlan del Valle, a Zapotec village where she grew up learning traditional cooking techniques from her mother.

Our class began with a trip to a market nearby, La Merced, where we could find the freshest ingredients for the meal that we were about to prepare.

At the market, Reyna showed us the differences between several kinds of chile. I believe the two shown are guajilla (left) and ancho (right).

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Oaxaca is known to be the “land of seven moles.” Chocolate, which is a component in some of these moles, is an ingredient commonly sold at the markets. These chocolate chunks are usually made of chocolate mixed with cinnamon and sugar.

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We picked up some fresh chicken,

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tomatoes,

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tomatillos,

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cheese,

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squash blossoms,

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and homemade flour tortillas from a woman who comes to the market to sell her steaming hot, towel-wrapped tortillas.

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We also got to sample empanadas de huitlacoche con quesillo (empanadas with corn fungus and Oaxacan string cheese), cooked on a large comal.

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Huitlacoche is harvested and available fresh only during the rainy season.

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We returned to the kitchen, where the five of us, along with our instructor and assistants, created the following menu. We were not allowed to take photos during the class (too distracting), so here are photos of the completed dishes.

Enchiladas de Mole con Pollo (mole enchiladas with chicken)

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Ensalada de Nopales con Aderezco (cactus salad with dressing)

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Indias Vestidas (figurative name for fried, cheese-stuffed squash blossoms)

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Salsa de Miltomate y Chile Pasilla de Oaxaca (tomatillo and Oaxacan pasilla chile salsa)

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Helado de Frambuesa (raspberry ice cream)

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We are excited about recreating these recipes someday, and sharing the recipes and results here.

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From our hotel, we walked towards el zòcalo, or the town square, in search of a bite to eat. On our way, we stopped at a bakery for a snack. That bakery soon became a favorite of ours.

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(I liked the bun in the middle best.)

It so happened to be Mexican independence day, and it seemed like the city of Oaxaca had converged upon el zòcalo to celebrate. The festivities had only begun, and would continue late into the night.

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Near el zòcalo are two big markets, where they sell meats, fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, shoes, clothes, sombreros, and anything you can think of. Outside the markets, the streets are lined with vendors selling produce, tlayudas, breads, desserts, and chapulines (roasted and seasoned grasshoppers, a Oaxacan specialty).

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At La Abuelita, a restaurant in one of the markets, we enjoyed a dinner of cecina and mole negro con pollo (black mole with chicken).

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To end the night, we returned to el zòcalo to listen to a mariachi band play.

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the cathedral in el zòcalo

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street lights

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Shortly after our arrival in Oaxaca, we boarded a bus that would take us to the Zapotec villages that lie east of the city, in the Sierra Norte mountain range. For centuries, these villages (Pueblos Mancomunados) have thrived by pooling their natural resources and cooperating as a community. In the past 15 years, they have also been part of an ecotourism program that not only works to preserve one of the world’s oldest ecosystems (the Sierra Madre), but also to provide jobs and tourism revenue to the villages.

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the bus terminal

An old, clunky bus with the letters xXx emblazoned in front, a crazy driver, and winding roads that barely fit the girth of the bus (plus oncoming traffic every now and then) made for a harrowing bus ride. We climbed and lurched to-and-fro. After a two hour ride, we arrived at one of the villages, Cuajimoloyas. Cuajimoloyas resides at an elevation of 3,000 meters.

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our cabin

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view from the cabins

After we were shown our cabin, our rumbling stomachs reminded us that it was far past lunchtime. We headed down to a trucheria, or trout restaurant, and made our selections off a simple menu. We ordered one trout to be fried, and the other to be baked with onions, tomatoes, and herbs. Our hostess then began to prepare our meal. She piled more wood into her stove, cleaned the fresh fish, and proceeded to fry and cook the fish as her baby slept nearby in a stroller.

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Our appetites sated, we donned our rain gear and went for a short hike up the tallest rock near the village, passing through villagers’ backyards on the way. Most of the people raise their own livestock — there were chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, cows, and the burros that they use for transporting materials.

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We climbed and admired the spectacular view of the surrounding mountains as the clouds rolled in. As we neared the top, it began to rain as predicted, so we turned around and descended the little mountain. The light drizzle turned into big, heavy sheets of rain, and the streets became streams. Back in our room and shivering with cold, we dried ourselves and changed out of our damp clothes in record time and dove for the bed, burrowing deep into the blankets and sleeping bags.  Later in the night, someone from the village came to light a fire for us. When the smoky fire was roaring, J parked himself in front of the fireplace; I refused to come out from under the warm covers to join him. Only my nose peeked out so that I could breathe, and even it was cold. In the mountains, the temperature drops dramatically with nightfall.

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The next morning, we were greeted by sunshine. We stopped at a comedor for a breakfast of hot chocolate, coffee with chocolate, wheat bread, and an amazing chicken stew that was recommended to us by another customer.

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We then met with our Spanish-speaking guide, Paola, who would take us to Llano Grande, one of the neighboring villages.

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Along the trail, Paola pointed out many wildflowers, herbs, and plants with medicinal uses.

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a cactus plant

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“laurel” – bay leaf

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“carlos santo” – used to treat gastritis

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“hoja de sapo” – lowers cholesterol

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aspirin plant – our guide told us that if you chew on two of these leaves, any aches that you may have will be gone in ten minutes. As someone who often gets headaches, I decided to chew on half of a leaf as a preventive measure. Not surprisingly, it was extremely bitter. I was also headache-free that day.

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“flor de rana”

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“flor de papel”

The hike was very pleasant, and the air crisp and clean. Using my very elementary and broken Spanish, we conversed with our guide the entire way.

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We reached Llano Grande by afternoon. We had hoped to do some more hiking and exploring in Llano Grande, but the villagers we met pointed to the ominous clouds overhead and told us that it wasn’t such a great idea. So instead we sat down to a lunch of cecina (chile-marinated sheets of pork) and chile relleño (fried poblano pepper stuffed with cheese).

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After lunch, we returned to Oaxaca on a colectivo. We rode in the back, where there was a bench on either side of the truck and ropes to hold onto. It was a fun ride, with great views and plenty of fresh air.

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in just a bit…

I’ve been meaning to get around to posting about our trip to Mexico. It will happen soon, over the next few days (I hope).

Oh, please go and buy yourself some persimmons, the Hachiya variety. Get them ripe, as if they were ready to rupture — skin paper-thin and flesh soft and squishy. Wash the persimmons gently before eating. To eat, sink your teeth into the skin of the fruit’s pointed end and suck the pulpy flesh out. As you watch the persimmon deflate, pretend that you are a vampire feasting on Halloween. Tasty.

persimmon

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