Friday, January 31, 2014

Meet Senor Antonio Feliz

On a Sunday morning, I was sitting on a bench in Oaxaca with my friend Esther.  While we were waiting for the shops to open, a man came by with all his straw woven pigs.  You can clearly see that he is the artist that had crafted these beautiful little piggies by his orange hands.  We really had no intention of buying a pig more less two but he was so persistent and he did give us a great price on both.  I ended up buying the small natural colored pig and Esther bought the big orange and pink one. 
We were sitting there admiring our purchases when a lady came up to us with more pigs and purses for sale.  We politely said, "No gracias senora."  She looked at our pigs and asked what we had paid for them.  A smart move on our part, we told her that we could not remember.  Well.... She said it was probably her husband who had sold us the pigs and that he would have had orange hands.  Thank goodness for digital cameras.  I showed her the photo I had taken of her husband and she immediately replied, "Yes, that is my husband Antonio."  We had a nice conversation and it was then that we decided to name the large pig Senor Antonio Feliz (happy).   
Sitting next to us were some other Mexican ladies waiting to sell their wares to tourist passing by.  I had put my little pig inside Esther's pig.  We struck up a conversation about this and that.  I then told them that Senor Antonio Feliz had a big problem.  They inquired, "What?"  I told them that the senor was pregnant, I lifted his back flap and took out the little one.  They just roared with laughter. 
It's those little moments like that that make traveling around Mexico so special.
Back at the hotel, I decorated a table with Senor Antonio Feliz and his little buddy.  My group and I indulged in margaritas and spicy peanuts while we listened (and some danced) to a wonderful duo that I had hired for the evening. 
Here I am with one of the singers.  Can you believe this handsome guy is only 14 years old but boy could he sing.What a great day with great memories.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The most decadent chocolate gelato!

For New Years Eve, I made the most decadent chocolate Gelato.    I have to admit, I did not make it completely from scratch.  I had been given the gelato starter a while ago and every time I opened up my kitchen cabinets, it stared me straight in the face.   So what the heck, it sounded truly decadent (just like the label read) so I decided to make it and I am so glad that I did.  Talk about easy.  The can has two packets in it and they each make one quart of gelato.  All you have to do is add heavy cream and half and half to the mix, stir well until the starter has dissolved and transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker.
It turned out to be some of the best chocolate gelato I have ever had.  Rich, creamy and full of flavor.
You can find it at their companies website:
Or you can order it through Amazon and buy it a bit cheaper.
Bon Appetit!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hand-made Candlery in Oaxaca

When I was in The Temple and Ex-convento of San Jeronimo in Tlacocahuaya, east of Oaxaca City, there were the most beautiful hand-made candles!  Candles are a very important element in the life of a Oaxacan.  They are used in religious and other celebrations such as weddings, confirmations and "quinceanos" (a grandiose celebration of when a young girl turns 15 years old).  These candles above were made in celebration of Saint Jeronimo. 
The majority of these candles are made by a few women in the town, Teotitlan del Valle, also renown for is hand-woven rugs.  Many learned this craft when they were very young children working side by side with their mother or grandmother.
The wax is bought in a large block.  Later it is boiled along with herbs and lime to remove the impurities.  Once the wax has cooled and the impurities have sunk to the bottom of the tub, it is carefully poured into another large tub until it becomes solid again.  Then the wax is washed and placed in the sun to eliminate any excess moisture.  The dried wax is a golden yellow color. To achieve a pure white, the wax is left in the sun for 30 days so the sun will bleach it to the desired white.   
Cheaper, aniline dyed candles are used occasionally but that color only lasts a few days.  Natural dyes are used for better candles and those maintain their color up to one to five years.  Cochineal is used for the achieving pinks and red.  (I wrote about cochineal on August 27, 2013).
Some artist will lick the finished candles to enhance their sheen; another reason to use natural dyes.
A string (the wick) is suspended from a wrought iron rack and hot wax is poured down the string to start forming the body of the candle.  It is a time consuming process for it takes an hour between each pouring and the over all process can take up to several days!  Each individual petal on the flower is made from a mold, then cut with a scissor and then all the petals are assembled to make one flower. 
Papel de chino (tissue paper), gold foil paper and even tinsel are used in the design of some the roses.
The designs of the candles have evolved.  Many artisans have introduced calla lilies (alcatrazes),dahlias, carnations, sunflowers and even gladiolas.  
Some of the most ornate candles can take up to three months to make and even up to 250 pourings over the wick to make some of the larger candles.
So next time you are in a church in the Oaxaca area, stop and smell the roses... Check out these magnificent candle masterpieces.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Temple and Exconvent of San Jeronimo in Tlacocahuaya, Oaxaca

In the whole state of Oaxaca, I would have to say that this church and setting is one of my favorites.  Only 20 kilometers east of Oaxaca City, this sanctuary was in a very remote area during the colonial times.  It was a dedicated Dominican friar, Jordan de Santa Catalina, who chose this spot for retreat and dedicated it to St. Jerome (San Jeronimo), the patron saint of hermits and penitents. By the 17th century, it was transformed into a monastery to serve the surrounding Zapotec villages.  The church is Oaxaca's best example of folk Baroque architecture and decoration.
The paved courtyard with its big shade trees is enclosed by white stucco walls with domes posas (a posa is a covered shrine or processional chapel at each corner in a monastery atrium). 
It was a special day when my group and I visited the church.  It was St. Jeronimo's saint's day!
The pink stucco facade is typical Baroque. In the niche above the main door, you will find St. Jeronimo kneeling in penitence before the crucifix, one hand holding a rock and the other resting on a skull while listening to the voice of God through a trumpet.  As we saw the other day at the Cuilipam monastery, there are two dogs holding a burning torch in their mouths - a symbol of the Dominicans.
Specially made plastico picados were made for the occasion and strung throughout the courtyard. 
 A few families in the town are chosen each year to decorate the courtyard and church in honor of St. Jeronimo.  I would bet that the competition gets harder every year when the one group of families attempts to outdo last years presentation.
The main altar was over the top with the flowers and the hand-made ceremonial beeswax candles. What a lavish display of devotion.
I found the Cristo de Cana crucifix with its twisted arms and emaciated body somewhat eerie with the almost cheery background of brightly painted flowers and urns. 
Cristo de Cana is a light weight processional crucifix made out of corn pith and orchid glue.   This is a process that was introduced by Don Vasco in the state of Michoacan in the mid 1500's and many of the Churches in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacan and Oaxaca have Cristo de Canas dating back to that era.
Then you come upon the simple figure of Christ entering Jerusalem on his donkey that is a little bit out of proportion.   I just love all the folk art and images one finds in these old, colonial churches.
The floor plan is the shape of a Latin cross with a vaulted ceiling. The walls and ceilings are  ornately decorated with decorative murals painted in vibrant reds, blues, greens and golds.  The walls are adorned with cherubs, saints, archangels, decorative banding, urns and floral motifs.
Looking back to the entrance of the church, you will see the choir above.
The choir is the only space in the church that has a domed ceiling.
After a perilous climb up the dark, circular stairway with its steep and narrow steps, we were pleasantly rewarded by the magnificent, colorful old organ.  There is a non-profit organization in Oaxaca City that was created in 2009 solely for the preservation of the old and rare organs that are located in over sixty churches in the area.
With all the gilding, decorative surfaces, paintings, retablos.... There is an immediate serenity to the humble convent behind the church.
Even with all the decorative richness in the main church, the view through the side door that was open just for a few minutes was breathtaking. The San Jeronimo Church is such a gem in so many ways and we were so fortunate to be there on the day the townsfolk were celebrating St. Jeronimo.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Another birthday party and a lot of good food. But the margarita souffle was the big hit!

This week I threw a surprise birthday party for a good friend, Jennifer, that I know from the Denver Athletic Club.  We are part of the water aerobics group and Len, my husband nick-named us the Mermaids and it has become our official name at the club!  Jennifer is also my biking buddy once the weather starts to warm up.  She and her husband love to travel all over Mexico so you guessed it, the theme for this little fiesta was Mexican.  I had fun setting the table with all of my plates that I had bought years ago over in Dolores Hidalgo, a town devoted to ceramics that is a thirty minute drive from San Miguel de Allende.
The little nopal cacti held decorative strips of paper with Mexican proverbs and sayings (dichos) that I had made.  Here are a few of my favorites ones:  
"Si tomas para olividar, paga antes de tomar - If you drink to forget, pay first."  
"Tomas tequila, quema la gallina - Too many shots spoil the cook." 
"Cuando andes a medios chiles, buscante medias cebollas - When you are half-pickled, look for the barrel." 
Pouring some Spanish Cava for my guests.
Clockwise:  Silvia, Grace and Marilyn (non-mermaids), Jennifer (birthday girl), Beth, Ann and Annie.  Prior to sitting down, we all had a little nip of Jose Cuervo Traditional with guacamole with granadas (pomegranate seeds). For that recipe, see my post dated 9/29/2010.
For the main entree, I made masa corn cakes with shredded pork and onions topped with a fresh tomatilla salsa and creme fraiche.  (check back in a week or so for that recipe - it's a winner)
I served a mixed green salad with mangoes and pumpkin seeds dressed with a cilantro vinaigrette.  I had bought this bowl a few years ago over in Patzcuaro at the Friday market.  When back in Denver, I was at a little French restaurant that had a small gift shop.  I could not believe my eyes, they had a set of dishes that was from a small town in Provence with the same exact pattern!
Beth made some sinfully delicious crab enchiladas with a truly decadent cheese sauce.
The big hit of the day was my Margarita souffle!  This recipe is from the cookbook, Something New Under The Sun - a selection of favorite recipes collected from the Junior League of Phoenix.  There is no publishing date in the book but I do know it is at least 40 years old and it sold back then for only $4.50 (that included postage and handling!)  The mother, Wilma Bartholomay, of one of my best friends, submitted this recipe.  Margaret would love that I made her mom's souffle.  And would even love it more that 40 years later it still is a big hit and that everyone wanted the recipe.


10 eggs, separated
1  cup sugar
1 cup lime juice
grated rind of 4 limes
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons plain gelatin
1/2 cup triple sec
1/2 cup tequila
2 cups heavy cream

Beat egg yolks until light and fluffy.   Add the sugar gradually and beat until smooth and light in color.  Add the lime juice, rind and salt.  Mix until blended.  Cook in a double boiler, stirring constantly until mixture thickens.  Soak gelatin in the triple sec and tequila and stir into hot custard.  Cool.  
Oil a 6-cup souffle dish and wrap an oiled parchment paper collar around the top.  Beat egg whites until stiff.  Whip cream until thick.  Fold egg whites into the custard and then fold in the whipped cream.  Pour mixture into the souffle dish and chill.
The souffle improves in flavor if made a day in advance and kept in refrigerator.
Freezes well too.
Buon Provecho!
And finally, the birthday girl showing off some of her new treasures:  scarves, tea towel, travel bag... It was decided that we should have birthday parties more often.  I totally agree.  Let's just forget the number part of the equation. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cuilapan, an unique monastery in Oaxaca

About 10 killometes south-west of Oaxaca City you will find the ruins of an Dominican monastery dating back to the middle 1500's.  With the introduction of wheat, fruit and walnut groves, this fertile valley grew in size and wealth.  Mysteriously the construction came to halt in 1580.  There are three main structures:  the main church, the convento and the basilica featured above.  There's Bonnie, ahead of the group, going towards the basilica.  The facade features many Renaissance elements with its semi-circular arches and Corinthian columns.
In the area above then entry, you will find human figures representing the virtues, faith and hope.  In the center, there is the shield of the Dominican order along with two dogs holding torches in their mouths.  The dogs are a symbol of the Dominican order.  To the side of each dog's head you will find a scallop shell.  These are the symbols of Santiago (St. James of Santiago de Campostella), the patron saint of the monastery.
The cross was the most conspicuous Christian symbol.  It was familiar to the native people because of its resemblance of the Tree of Life.  Almost all crosses bear the letters "INRI" which are the Latin initials of the legend, "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews." 
The interior was just breathtaking!  This is one of the most original buildings in the Americas.  It was designed to have a primitive pole and thatch ramada to shelter a large Indian congregation.
 About midway on the east side is a wall pulpit with its own stairwell.  Even thou the paneled part of the pulpit had been destroyed a long time ago, one can just imagine the grandiose scale of it with the overhanging scallop canopy.  Paula was doing a pretty good job looking saintly.
Built on a large scale, the architecture is beautifully simple.
A great photo of my fabulous group:  Yvonne, Paula, Debra, Millie, Cory, Dudley, Nancy, me, Bonnie, Esther, Cindy, Gail, Mary, Roz and Benita.  Tobi was off taking photos.  Many of us were sporting the hats that we had bought earlier that morning when we were at Monte Alban.
This is the west doorway going into the church. This massive door was ingeniously designed to maximize the light from the afternoon sun.  Similar to the technique called Chiaroscuro which was developed the Renaissance.  It refers to the use of exaggerated light contrasts in order to create the illusion of volume.  The doorway is flanked by two Tuscan columns on each side and two unusual arched windows.  In the pediment, another Dominican symbol.

It's a beautiful structure and I suggest visiting early in the morning or the afternoon to take advantage of the lighting, especially if you love to shoot photos like I do.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Santo Domingo Church in Oaxaca

The Santo Domingo de Guzman Church is first among the Dominican monasteries in Oaxaca.  In 1551, 24 lots were donated to the Dominican order to build a convent in the city.  But it was not until the early 1600's that they were able to move into the convent and it was not until 50 years later that the building was finally completed.
It is a beautiful structure, especially when the stonework takes on an amber glow with the setting sun.
The new world Baroque facade features many stone carved statues.
The side of the church shows how massive this church actually is.
The twin tile domes are impressive.
The structured facade certainly does not prepare you for what the interior has to offer.  Much of the interior had been vandalized and destroyed when the church was converted into stables during the War of Independence and later army barracks in the mid-19th century.  When the church was returned to the Dominican order, the church was restored to its original beauty by 1976.  The main naive of the church is almost 230 feet long.
I shot this photo when I was in Oaxaca with one of my groups.  There is my great guide, Victor, filling us in on the interior of the church.
Adorning the ceiling (the underchoir) as you enter, you will see some of the earliest works of art, the genealogy of Saint Dominic.  Based on the medieval motif of the Tree of Jesse, this grapevine branches out with Don Felix de Guzman at the base (the patriarch of the family and the founder of the Dominican order).  The Virgin was added later on at the top of the grapevine tree.
All the surfaces in the church are encrusted with ornament.  A wonderful example of baroque stucco work.   Saints and martyrs of the Order diminish in size as they ascend towards the the dove of the holy spirit.

Looking up into the choir with the Virgin in the center amid the gilded vines and foliage.
The decadent gilded main altar was reconstructed from examples of other altars in the region, mainly from the main retablo at Yanhuitlan.  The twisted baroque Solomonic columns and scalloped niches provide a beautiful setting for the painting and statues. 
The Santo Domingo Church truly is an experience not to be missed.
As Octavio Paz, the great Mexican writer wrote, "The age-old Mexican pre-occupation with elaborate outward forms as a device to mask and yet express profound inner feelings and an innate sense of order predates the Spanish conquest, and remains and enduring characteristic of Mexican life and society."