Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Cochineal Bug - An Oaxacan treasure

The Grana Cochinilla Fina, commonly known as simply Cochineal, is a vibrant red dye produced from the female scale insect (Dactylopius Coccus)  that lives on and feeds off the the pads of the Nopal cactus.  The dye is produced after the insects are dried and ground up.  It takes 70,000 insects to make one pound of dye!
Bulmaro Perez Mendoza is showing one of the cactus pads with the Cochineal.  He and his family live in the town of Teotitlan de Valle that is famous in the state of Oaxaca for their hand woven rugs.
Not all Nopal cacti are the home to these insects.  Other Nopal cacti are used in making salads and others produce the sweet red edible fruits known as tunas that are used in syrups, beverages and ice creams.
A huge Nopal cactus in the courtyard of the ex-convent in Ocotlan.
Bulmaro is showing me how he and his family dye the yarns with the Cochineal.  

From 1750 to 1810, Oaxaca was the world capital for its export of Cochineal to other areas of the world: Europe, Asia and Africa.   After gold and silver, this was the next valuable commodity.  It was first shipped to Spain in 1526, just after the conquest and soon became the most popular dye of choice.  The uniforms of the British army were dyed with Cochineal as were the wool coats worn by European royalty.  
Today Cochineal is used in a variety of products:  coloring for lipsticks and makeup (especially for hyper-allergenic cosmetics), pharmaceutical companies for their pills,  some strawberry yogurts, Campari and even some of Campbell's soups.
The dyed yarns are set with a mixture of lime (available in the market as seen above) and water.
In the early 1880's there was a decline in the industry due to the introduction of synthetic dyes.  There has been a resurgence of the use of Cochineal and the weavers of Teotitlan de Valle are going back to using the natural dyes.  In fact, there is a research farm, Tlapanochestli, in Santa Maria Coyotepec, dedicated to the revival of Cochineal.  Visitors are welcome, demonstrations are conducted and there is even a small gift shop where one can purchase Cochineal paint sets, soaps, yarns....  A visit by Prince Charles's to Tlapanochestli is a testament of the continued interest in the history and significance of Cochineal!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Chapulines, an aquired taste

In Oaxaca, Mexico, Chapulines are a very popular delicacy.  Chapulines are toasted grasshoppers.  They are definitely not for the squeamish. Above, these Chapulines were served with a little guacamole.  Packed with enough protein comparable to lean ground beef while having much less fat.  And they contain useful minerals (iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc) and are a good source of fiber.  Even with all these favorable attributes, I am sure it will be tough to convince my friends to try them.  OK, maybe I can.
You can buy them from the street vendors or in one of the many markets.  The Chapulines are collected a certain time of year; from May which is their hatching time to late summer and early fall.  Chapultepec Park, Mexico City's famous landmark, name is derived from Nahuatl meaning "Grasshopper Hill."  It is said that if you eat Chapulines, it is guaranteed that you will return to Oaxaca.  I guess that is true, I did this spring and I am heading back soon!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pizza, a little of this and a little of that

 The other night I just did not know what to make for dinner.  And I did not feel like going to the grocery store.  Fortunately I had purchased a container of pizza dough (great flavor) from Whole Foods the day before.  And I had a lot of good stuff in the refrigerator.
Years ago I was talked into going to a friend's house for a "Pampered Chef" demo.  The crowd was quite rowdy and the younger gals did not appear to be interested in anything to do with cooking more less the kitchen.  My friend Suzy who I dragged along with me and I felt so sorry for the lady doing the demo, we just had to buy something.  Having a well stocked kitchen, I really did not need anything but I did buy this pizza stone which has proved to be a great addition to my kitchen. 
I let the dough come to room temperature for about an hour.  I rolled it out and laid it on the pizza stone that I had brushed with a little olive oil.  I layered the dough with thin slices of prosciutto, pieces of Burrata, thinly sliced onions (I would have preferred a red onion but that meant a trip to the store...), slices of nectarines and then topped with some grated cheese (mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan).  
I baked the pizza for about 25 minutes at 350' (until the crust was a golden color).  I cut the pizza into large squares and topped each piece with a handful of arugula.  
What a great summer dinner.  I can still taste the fresh nectarines. 
Bon Appetit!

Monday, August 5, 2013

A morning at the Botanic Gardens in Denver

I spent the morning at the Denver Botanic Gardens yesterday.  The flowers were spectacular and the lighting was just perfect.  Near the east side of the gardens is the sleek steel "Barracuda" by Wolfgang Pogzena.   

 The colors were simply brilliant and the bees were busy.
A new installation by artist Nancy Lovendahl titled "Spiral Dancer" - a combination of painted Aspen trunks, rebar and steel wire.  It had a sense of eeriness in the flat lighting.
It had rained earlier that morning and the water lilies were a bit water logged.  This one seems to look almost transparent.
The water lily ponds are some of my favorite places in the gardens.
This looks like a real life Monet.
I love this cast bronze piece, "Colorado Loop No. 5" by Yoshitomo Saito.  I could easily see that in my garden.
There were so many shades of pink and salmon. 
I was fascinated by the intricate center of the flowers.
Such color!  Reminds me of some of the hot lipstick pink house facades in Guanajuato, Mexico.
Who can not resist the happy yellow face of this Daisy.  It was a great morning!