Tacos al Pastor (at home!)

I was able to find a recipe from Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill, and when you get a great recipe like this one, don’t mess with it!  I’ve tried to make tacos mimicking the tacos al pastor from Mexico before, but without that upright spit to grill it all on, it is very difficult to achieve. We found this to be the closest thing I could do at home.

Serve it with Mexican Pickled Vegetables, Pickled Red Onions and it is a real hit.

INGREDIENTS

  • A 3 1/2ounce packageachiote paste
  • 3canned chipotle chile en adobo, plus 4 tablespoons of the canning sauce
  • 1/4cup vegetable or olive oil, plus a little more for the onion and pineapple
  • 1 1/2pounds thin-sliced pork shoulder (1/4-inch-thick slices are ideal—the kind Mexican butchers sell for making tacos al pastor)
  • 1medium red onion, sliced 1/4- inch thick
  • Salt
  • 1/4of a medium pineapple, sliced 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 20 warm corn tortillas
  • About 1 1/2cups raw tomatillo salsa
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If you have a great butcher, have him slice the meat super fine – you’ll be thankful!

INSTRUCTIONS

In a blender, combine the achiote paste, chiles, canning sauce, oil and 3/4 cup water. Blend until smooth. Use 1/3 of the marinade to smear over both sides of each piece of meat (refrigerate the rest of the marinade to use on other meat or fish). Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

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Marinate for at least an hour, but I did this overnight.  The flavour gets right through the meat.

Light a charcoal fire and let the coals burn until covered with gray ash but still very hot; bank the coals to one side and set the grill grate in place. Or, heat one side of a gas grill to high. Brush both sides of the onions slices with oil and sprinkle with salt. Lay in a single layer on the hot side of the grill. When richly browned, usually just about a minute, flip and brown the other side; move to the cool side of the grill to finish softening to grilled-onion sweetness. Oil and grill the pineapple in the same way. Finally, in batches, grill the meat: it’ll take about a minute per side as well. As the meat is done, transfer it to a cutting board and chop it up (between 1/4- and 1/2-inch pieces). Scoop into a skillet and set over the grill to keep the meat warm. Chop the onion and pineapple into small pieces as well, add them to the skillet and toss everything together. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Serve with the tortillas and salsa for your guests to make soft tacos.

Pickled Mexican Vegetables

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I don’t know if any dinner featuring the tastes of Mexico would be complete without this dish … in Mexico it is often found sitting on tables just waiting for you to nibble.

This keeps for weeks in your fridge and is a great accompaniment to sandwiches or burgers and always perfect for tacos.

Like many pickled recipes, this is just a guide.  Use whatever vegetables are fresh and ready at hand.  Today’s version included garden fresh cauliflower, zucchini, green & yellow beans, carrots and sweet Walla Walla onions.  Prepare vegetables in bite size portions, i.e., cauliflower florets, wedges of zucchini, carrots sliced on diagonal … you get the idea.  I like to prepare everything ahead of time, and have them ready on the cutting board so I can see the colours and shapes together to make sure it is a pretty picture.  (yep, I’m that weirdo)  If you like a bit of spicy kick, slice up a jalapeño or two as well.

Start by heating up some good olive oil, (a generous portion – more than you would normally use to sauce) sauté onions until soft.  Add garlic, carrot, and any veg you think might take a while to soften.  You are only looking for crisp tender as your finished product, not soft and overcooked veg.

Add:

2 1/2 cups white vinegar

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp peppercorns

1 tbsp dried mexican oregano

4 bay leaves

Simmer just until heated through and remove from heat.  Store in glass jar (or non reactive container) in the fridge for weeks!

 

 

 

 

Chicken Flautas with Tomatillo Sauce

You never know where you will find a mouth watering bite in Mexico City.  These chicken flautas, crispy and crunchy on the outside with tender tasty chicken inside, were served out of a spotlessly clean corner of a car wash!!

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Keep it simple, just the way it should be.  Using cooked, shredded chicken put a small amount on a tortilla and roll it up.  Secure with a toothpick – don’t skip this step otherwise the moment you put it into the hot oil it will want to unravel.

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Cook in heated oil (350 degrees) turning gently, just until the tortilla is browned & crispy.  Do not overcrowd the pan or the temperature will drop.   As they are finished, set aside in a warm oven until you are finished.

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Garnish with slivered lettuce, and serve with mexican crema, alongside a dish of tomatillo sauce.

(I made my tomatillo sauce by heating the tomatillo sauce and adding enough chicken broth to make a light consistency)  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.

…….an easy cheat on the crema is to add a bit of lime juice to sour cream….

Puerto Escondido feels like home!

We’ve spent a lot of time in beach towns along the Pacific Coast of Mexico, and I think we’ve come to realize that Puerto Escondido provides everything we love about relaxing along the coast.  There is a bay to visit for whatever your activity; from calm waters to surfing the waves.  We’ve discovered Rinconada is our favourite area, quiet and calm, most residential and great restaurants.  Not only that, it is a great walk to Playa Bacocho.

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Playa Bacocho, 2 km long and a fantastic morning walk.  These waves and undertow can be treacherous, so watch the waves for 10 minutes or so before getting in.  We enjoyed swimming and bobbing in the waves every day here.

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Playa Carazalillo is perfect for playing in the water – safe and entertaining with snorkelling around the rocky areas, where turtles are often spotted.  This is also a great place for learning to surf or boogie boarding.  A popular spot with both locals and tourists, the entire bay is lined with palapa restaurants.

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It is difficult to figure out when it is going to be a “day off” in Mexico, but when it is the beaches are full of locals.  It is so much fun to watch the families arrive by the bus load, or truck bed, carting food and drink, swimming in clothes and generally having a fantastic time.  They laugh as they bob in the waves and their joy is contagious.  Who wouldn’t love to be hanging out on this beach?

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La Punta ….. a great beach for watching surfers, boogie boarding or body surfing.  Not for the faint of heart or weak swimmers.  Find a nice shaded palapa and relax with some guacamole or tacos while you are scanning the horizon for dolphins or whales.  We were treated to quite an amazing dolphin show here, with them leaping out of the water and playing for an hour or so.  I so wish either my camera or my skills had been able to capture that!

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Zicatela is the primary surf beach, and on a high surf day the waves will be packed with surfboards.

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dsc03459Our home in Puerto Escondido was amazing.  We loved staying at this small 6 unit complex with truly magnificient ocean views.

Take a peek at those ladders between our pool and the beach view …… The “ladder rep” wandered the streets with this push cart selling ladders.  Seems unlikely, but we watched that ladder carrier go from maximum capacity to these few over 2 days!

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Right across from our gate at Las Turquezas was a path winding down to the beach at Playa Bacocho, every day started with a trip down that path for a morning walk and bobbing in the waves.

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Okay, well maybe we didn’t manage to get Vivi out of her hammock EVERY day …

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Going local …. we had use of a wash machine so instead of taking our clothes to the lavanderia we washed them and hung them on the rooftop clothes line.  Now, that is my idea of laundry heaven.

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Sunsets were amazing here, so colourful and while the colours lasted for a while, it is always surprising how quickly that sun goes from just above the ocean to dropping off out of sight.

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sunset

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Puerto Escondido is a prime growing area for sesame seeds, peanuts and mango to name of few of the crops.  I’ve never seen how sesame seeds grow before so that was fun!

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Gina, the “information goddess” has a tourist information booth in Puerto Escondido, and she can organize pretty much any tour you’d like to take.  We did go on an agricultural tour with her, and while it was informative and entertaining, it was probably a bit overpriced at 600 pesos per person.

Loved the plants here, such vivid colour everywhere you look.

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One of the people we met on our tour is Gallo …. He runs a sanctuary for critters, everything from iguanas to turtles, to crocodiles and birds.  It was amazingly clean and well organized.  For years he did this on his own, from his own pocketbook, but is now partially subsidized.  Here he is, explaining that the reason he looks like Zapata is because that was his great uncle … or great great great uncle …. some things get lost in translation!

Once you leave the interior of Mexico, often the best food is also left behind, but not here!  We had some amazing meals here and can hardly wait to go back.  We usually mix things up quite a bit when we are away, cooking at home with local ingredients and eating out as well.  This time, I’ll admit, we ate out more than not, but it was an easy decision with such good restaurants within walking distance.

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Almoraduz Cocina Mexicana de Autor – OMG …… we ate here twice it was so good.  last year I also had back ribs here that I still dream about.

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Turtle Bay Cafe was also a real winner, this sesame crusted tuna was out of this world, and so were the prawns with saffron aioli.

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After day at the beach you just know you want a popsicle ….. we tried the lime, the strawberry with slices of kiwi and mango, and the fresh grated coconut popsicle, all were simply refreshingly perfect!

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I know, I know, the crowds are quite bothersome …..

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Thinking of this moment at home …. remembering the feel of the sun and the sound of the waves ….

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The nightly crib match kept Grant and Wilson competitive right to the trip home.

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Need a pick me up?  Juice water …. I love them all, from this pineapple water, to my all time favourite, green juice.

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Normally we eat at Mexican places ….. but the aromas drifting out of El Sultan finally dragged us in, and we had their chicken schawarma pita twice!  They make their own pitas fresh daily (about 4 times a day!) and it was fantastic.

The ultimate moment of the time spent in Puerto Escondido, of many fabulous moments, was the trip out to swim with bioluminescent plankton.  This is a spot you should visit after dark, preferably really dark, or raining.  Anything to avoid a bright moon.  A short drive from Puerto Escondido and you reach Laguna de Manialtepec, where boats are waiting.  Originally  the plankton was thought to be a curse by the fisherman when their nets were illuminated enough by the bioluminescence that the fish avoided them.  Only a short ten years later they no longer think of it as a curse as 20% of their income is derived from tourists to see this phenomenon.  If you are brave enough, you jump off the boat in darkness …. I wasn’t, but Grant, Vivian and Wilson sure did.  Once in the water the movement is totally illuminated by the plankton, and it is like your body is covered in sparkly jewels.  A few nibbling fish too …..   Another moment where I wish I could have taken a photo.

In many areas of the Pacific coast this is the time of year turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in droves.  We’ve participated in helping at sanctuaries, when the baby turtles are ready to make their journey to the sea, but this is the first time we have been around when the turtles make their way onto shore to begin that process.  It is pure magic.  Just take a moment to sit and watch the waves, and a turtle will suddenly appear, then another, then another.

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This entire beach is covered in mounds ….. how many turtle eggs are under those mounds is anybodies guess.  Each turtle lays between 80-150 eggs.

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With a determined pace they make their way up the beach.

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This same beach can see 2500 turtles appear on one night ….. and no, I didn’t take this particular photo, our driver had taken it on an earlier morning trip out there.  We went at dusk to watch them coming in.

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These poor mama turtles work so hard to get  up the beach, dig the hole with their hind flippers, drop in their eggs, cover them back up with sand and tamp the sand down.  It was amazing for us to watch the whole process, and listen to the sound of the weight she uses to tamp it all down.

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The eggs dropped out in singles and doubles until the hole was filled.  Once done, she makes her way back down the beach to return to the sea.

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We are usually in Mexico for the Revolution day parades, and they are so entertaining!

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Those dancers knew that Vivian and Wilson were tapping their feet, so they pulled them right into the street with them.

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Ahh, Puerto Escondido ….. love these beaches, the sunshine, the amazing food and I just know we’ll be back.

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Hasta la vista Puerto Escondido ……

Mexico City, revisited!

Mexico itself is a country full of contrasts, and truly evident in the city.  Grandiose architecture and magnificent art galleries alongside signs of poverty.  In that I am sure every major city in the world is similar.  What is very different are the smells – walking down any given street you have the contrast of delicious meat grilling, fresh cucumber being sliced or …….sewage.

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The contrasts between old church spires, modern buildings and electrical mayhem are everywhere!

If you haven’t been to Museo Soumaya yet, then please try to get there.  Built by Mexico’s wealthy Carlos Slim in honour of his wife the entire structure is amazing itself, but once you get in and have the opportunity to view the largest collection of art work you simply won’t believe it.  His son in law designed the place and it is as elaborate inside as out.  The different floors wind up along inside the building so you are either slanting in or out, depending on which floor you are on.  The displays change somewhat too, the last time we were here an entire floor was devoted to Sophia Loren.  Better still, it is free admission!

Sculptures by Rodin, paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir & Matisse to name a few, you can wander here for hours.

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The “Gates of Hell” was a particularly masterful piece, and just huge.

We were pretty fortunate to be in the city for longer than we have before so thoroughly enjoyed both eating out and touring art galleries and museums.  It is literally impossible to not eat well in Mexico City.  From spending mere pesos for a street taco to dining in one of the more elegant restaurants it is always less than we would spend at home and the food is fantastic.

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Try a roadside tostada, in this case shrimp ceviche.

Or – if you are fortunate enough to have a cozy place like we did, just pick up a rotisserie chicken for dinner.  This Columbian chicken dinner was 110 pesos, and fed us for 2 nights.  Not only that, it was incredibly delicious.  Under the skin they had rubbed an amazing herb blend and that skin was something Auntie Brigitte would have fought for ….

If you can’t find what you need at a mercado, then you either don’t need it, or you aren’t in the right mercado.  Smiling vendors are raring to sell you whatever you need, at a very reasonable price and guaranteed to make you smile too.

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In case you haven’t tried it ….. these large sheets below are pork fat.  Yep, pure pork fat fried up in all its goodness.  Mexicans eat it by the sheet, and as tasty as it is, we find a few crumbles on guacamole or in a soup are enough to hit the spot.

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Palacio de Bellas Artes – or the Fine Arts building.  Inside it is even more impressive with murals and incredible art galleries.  We have yet to make it to one of the traditional folk ballets they feature here, but one day ….

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Viewed from what was at one time the tallest building in the Americas, the Latin America building:

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Take the elevator to the top of the Latin America building and you just won’t believe how far you can see – particularly on a clear enough day when the smog isn’t too troublesome.

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Is there anything better than travel with family?  We think not!  Our youngest granddaughter Liv is already loving Mexico City as much as we do…

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Take some time at Chapultepec Park and Castle, well worth it to wander around, enjoy both the park and the walk up to the castle.

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These little guys are everywhere, hoping to catch the popcorn or peanut you drop.

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At the top of Chapultepec Park is the  Castle, as you can see not an especially brilliant day – smog combined with cool cloudy weather.

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Not sure if I was meant to live in a more elegant time or not, but I sure could have become accustomed to my bedroom and bathroom looking like this ….. Who am I kidding though, I would have been one of the servants!!  ha ha

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Imagine playing hopscotch or soccer inside these hallways … the stained glass is just incredible.

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Museum of Anthropology …… take a day.  In just over 3 hours we managed to view one side of the 3 you see here…. it is a touch overwhelming, but absolutely amazing and a must see.

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The reproductions of actual structures of ancient cities are so well done it is easy to imagine civilization as it was.  Just love the colours – and can picture how vivid the homes were.

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Amazing murals everywhere telling the stories of each civilization.

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And …. once you are worn out from walking your feet off (on this particular day we walked 13.3 kms….) it is entirely justified to stop and have a pastry … our favourite is La Boheme, situated next to Mercado Roma and serving up the most amazing pastries along with a perfectly Vivian size mug of hot chocolate.

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In Mexican culture, the mid day meal is very important … they linger over it, usually taking hours, and they certainly enjoy their alcoholic beverages along with it.  In fact, in a busy lunch spot like this, I think we were the only table without!

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Hungry for a light lunch or just a snack?  This tuna tostada is light, refreshing, and absolutely delicious. Contramar is one of the seafood restaurants in Mexico City that you must try to get in to.  Like many great places, they are only open for the main meal of the day, from noonish until 6ish.  Yes, that is how long lunch can be ….

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Oyster Bar in Mexico City?  Definitely!!  La Docena Oyster Bar has an impressive array of seafood choices and these oysters were so fresh and sweet we had 2 plates.  Incredibly delightful and this plate of raw oysters probably cost about the same as a small plate of chicken wings at home.  The crunchy oysters on top of the salad were a perfect crouton, and the sandwich a treat.

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Reforma is one of the busiest streets, and yet every Sunday morning they close it to vehicle traffic and it is full of Mexican families out exercising, bike riding, roller blading or doing dance classes.  Such a great idea, and I just wish we thought to do that in some of our major cities as well.

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Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are much loved in all of Mexico, and the museums dedicated to their lives and art are plentiful.  This particular one is in San Angel, which is a beautiful neighbourhood in the city, very artsy and upscale.  Saturday market holds some of the most tempting pieces you will find anywhere.

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Every neighbourhood has a spot like this to sit and enjoy peace and quiet.

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The Frida and Diego museum is actually one of their former homes- in this case they each had their own home, created by an architect friend.  See the walkway above to join the two?  Small bedrooms but huge art studios! (Frida’s house was the blue one, no surprise there, given the Blue House Museum in Coyoacan)

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Diego’s art studio sits as he left it …..fullsizeoutput_476a

Time for another snack in the park ….

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Well, it’s taken me some time to get this blog on Mexico City completed, but it is time to move on to the beach at Puerto Escondido.  We always seem to find a lot to do in DF, so I’m sure we will be back.

San Pedro Cholula

dsc03134Once upon a time San Pedro Cholula was a city with evident boundaries … now it is hard to tell where Puebla ends and Cholula begins.  The largest pyramid (by land mass) was only discovered after the Spaniards decided to build a church on top of the best vantage point.  During construction they found artifacts suggesting previous inhabitants of the land ….. sure enough, the whole hillside is a pyramid.  The church remains, but it is now possible to go in through tunnels and come out the other side.  Interestingly enough for me, on another of my visits to this area I discovered my little brother Bruce is afraid of heights!  And this wasn’t even from a high vantage point, ha ha.  Still love you anyway Bruce.

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Another beautiful cathedral in Mexico, each with their own beauty.  I seem to photograph a lot of them.

Wilson:  You take a lot of photos of churches because it is all about you.

Me:  Blank look

Wilson:  You know …… Kathy-drals …..(yes, cathedrals)  yuk yuk

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No matter what church you find to photograph, you are also certain to find some sort of festivities going on.  Who knew what this one was, but they sure were loving it.

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The view from the grounds around the church.  It is easy to understand why the spaniards chose this location to build on … the vantage point is incredible.  In the foreground is an ex-convent.

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dsc03140The ex-convent is a beautiful spot to tour also, huge grounds and so peaceful inside.

Cholula is a short distance from Puebla itself and well worth the trip out for a few hours.  From the church grounds you also get a great view of the voladores climbing up their tall pole.

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These guys fling themselves off the top of the pole, backwards and with a rope wrapped around one ankle slowly spiral all the way around the pole, lowering themselves to the ground.  Not sure what their Workers Comp rates would be, but it would never fly in Canada!

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Puebla

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One thing is constant in Mexico, and that is cathedrals – each area uses the stone from that region, so they all have a slightly different colour to the rock but in all cases, they are beautiful.

 

 

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We have just missed “Day of the Dead” celebrations, and everywhere is evidence of the festivities.  Really, it might sound morbid, but it is a lovely and fascinating way of celebrating all those that have passed before us.  Family and friends gather to discuss and remember the loved ones, their favourite foods are cooked and the parties are endless.

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Our 3rd time in Puebla, and I finally bought a small piece of the pottery Puebla is famous for, Talavera Pottery.  The clay is sourced locally and most colors are also found naturally in local areas.  Blue is the only colour they import, from Morocco.  All colours are made from natural and traditional dyes.  They have over 100 employees in this building – we did a tour and the place just went on forever. It takes about 8 weeks for each piece of clay to become a piece of pottery, get fired numerous times, painted, glazed, hand marked with the year and then prepared for sale.  I asked about seconds, because I didn’t see any in the shop, but they don’t sell any seconds – instead the pottery is broken up and sold by the kilo for work in art pieces.

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Inside the Uriarte Gallery – established in 1824, and specializing in certified Talavera Pottery.  Until very recently it was exclusively managed by the Uriarte family, however recently it has been bought out and is now owned by 3 Mexicans and 1 Canadian.dsc03179This large stone goes around the rocks to crush them (in this case the blue stones) and once it is a fine powder they add the water to get their colour.  This stone is now powered by electricity but for years it was by a donkey going in circles.  Poor guy.

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Clay work stations, small pieces are created by hand on the wheel, (anything that is in size from fingertips to elbows) and larger pieces are created with molds.

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Pieces air dry first, before being fired in the kiln – now heated with gas where it was previously wood or coal.

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After being fired the pieces air dry again.

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Once fired, there are a couple of guys that spend all day correcting minor imperfections by sanding.  Before glazing anything they test each piece to see if it has survived the firing without any damage to the piece – the sound is amazingly bell like on a good piece, and very dull on a piece with a hairline crack that the eye can barely see.

dsc03168This guy attentively dips every single piece into the glazing.  We couldn’t believe how quickly it dried onto the pottery.  After this it is ready for another firing.

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Talk about dedication – this sole employee is responsible for hand signing (with a donkey hair brush) each and every single one of the pieces produced.

dsc03175First painting – then more firing.  The firing changes the colour significantly – the light blue turns very strong, and the orange turns yellow.

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This definitely requires attention to detail.

We loved the tour and each came home with a small piece.  Difficult when travelling – it would have been nice to come home with more!

Puebla is known for food, and one of their specialties is the cemita.  A sandwich, to end all sandwich dreams.  dsc03137

Piled high with (traditionally) pork Milanesa style, avocado, cheese, lettuce, onions and served in a special bun, which is what makes it a cemita, other than a “torta” (sandwich).

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Fusion has hit Mexico and these are upscale cemita’s.  Served with some delicious dipping sauces that really hit the spot.

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Moles are another big thing here, and I don’t mean little critters.  Pronounced “molay”, it really just means sauce.

fullsizeoutput_46f9Enchiladas tres moles.  Means, enchiladas served with the 3 traditional Mole sauces – the red is Colaradito pepper sauce, the black is mole negro, made typically with leftover tortillas cooked until they are black and ash like and chocolate.  The green is a pipian mole, made with pumpkin seeds.  That sounds simplistic and it certainly is not a simple sauce.  Each one has many many ingredients, and every cook/chef is very protective of their recipe.

fullsizeoutput_46faMixiote (pronounced misheeote).  Really fabulous meat dish cooked low and slow in parchment paper, in this case lamb.  The flavour is out of this world.  In days gone by the parchment paper would have been ant larvae, but now they settle for parchment.

fullsizeoutput_46f8Tinga.  Sounds easy, and looks kind of boring, but one bite and you will wake up.  Honestly, so frickin delicious.

fitbitYes, that really does say we walked 15.89 km in one day.  At that rate we can eat and drink whatever we want!!

churro-lineupSo, needless to say in Mexico, that means Churros.  This place had a line up every night and it was easy to see why.  Delicious, no really really delicious.

got-the-churrosFinally made it to the front of the line.

churros-yumThe best …. sorry, photo is blurry.

dsc03159Taken through the window, this guy works incredibly hard hand stirring this massive pot of churro dough – SUPER impressive.

dsc03158If you haven’t done enough walking in a day, there are always other snacking options too ….. every street will have vendors selling fruit or vegetables.  Our favourite is jicama and cucumber,  sprinkled with salt,  lime squeezed over and lightly drizzled with hot sauce.

snacksPuebla is a beautiful city, in fact probably one of the cleanest and home of the most courteous drivers!  They stop for yellow lights and pedestrians…. amazing.