Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a beautiful city, full of amazing restaurants and many beautiful buildings.  The zocalo always has something happening.  Whether it is families socializing or protests underway it is lively.  We’ve been a few times now, and will be a few more I’m sure.

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The zocalo is the heart of all Mexican communities, big or small.  Families gather, young people “court”, vendors sell necessities like balloons and ice cream, and music is everywhere.  At any time of day the zocalo is entertaining, but Sundays are particularly lively.

We had a great place to stay in Oaxaca this time, loving AIRBNB for granting us access to these places – so nice to have a place that feels like home to relax and enjoy while being able to explore whatever area we are in.

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We have explored the ruins of Monte Alban a few times, and are always amazed at the sheer size of it all.  Originally home of Zapotec people, these ruins are still being uncovered.  This visit we explored Atzompa, newly discovered!  Seriously, Mexican officials and archeologists must be suspiciously looking at every hillside and wondering what is underneath.

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We took a collectivo taxi up to this area, about 8 km from Oaxaca itself, and then continued uphill to explore the ruins.  It is crazy that every time you think you have reached the top you only uncover more terraces.

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From here you can look across at Monte Alban – they were all part of the same community, and the vantage point is incredible.dsc03249

dsc03241The ever present ball court …. maybe we find them so fascinating because of the soccer similarities … you can use any part of your body except your hands.  Authorities are divided on whether the loser or winner was sacrificed ….. it is a great honour to be sacrificed though so I guess it is all depends on your point of view.

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The flora …… Honestly I don’t often take so many photos of flowers in Mexico but the flowers alongside the ruins and the road leading up to it were just stunning, and I couldn’t help myself.

From the site, we walked down the road (2 km) to the nearest town in order to get a taxi back to Oaxaca.  You really don’t ever know what you are going to encounter along the roads in Mexico.

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From livestock to world renowned potter …. this roadside gallery was a real surprise.

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It was only 2 km from the archeological site to the town, but it was hot!

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Every year we try to bring back a couple of “Servin” mugs … the pottery is a marvel – wonderful to hold, perfect for coffee or tea and so beautiful.fullsizeoutput_4759

servin-pottery

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It seems like there is a cathedral on every corner in Mexico, and it is likely true.  They are absolutely beautiful, and regardless of your religion it is a wonderful spot to just sit and take a moment … maybe just to realize how lucky we are to travel.

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We toured the Cultural center and once again, we marvel at both the building and the art it houses.  dsc03213

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This is the ceiling …. seriously …. this much effort going into the ceiling.  dsc03221

dsc03212Yes, more ceilings …. how on earth did they do this?

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Every floor had an area where they had outside space – no doubt to reflect and appreciate your environment.  This one overlooked the ethnobotanical gardens below.

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As for the food ….. oh my goodness ….  eating in Oaxaca is a foodie dream.  We had outstanding food here.dsc03234

Origen Restaurant – the food here is without doubt picture perfect and the flavours live up to the image, I’d encourage anybody to eat here.

In fact, every meal we ate in Oaxaca was outstanding.  We kept saying “that was the best, I’d like to eat here again!”  We need more time in Oaxaca to do that.

However, it is time to move on ….. time for Mexico City!

 

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.

Guanajuato

Tuesday morning it was time to leave San Miguel de Allende and move on to Guanajuato.  That trip turned out to be pretty simple!  We walked out our door, dragging our suitcases and walked down to the main drag, literally 7 minutes (down, 15 back up Vivi says).  We flagged down a taxi to take us to the bus station, but then asked him how much to take us directly to Guanajuato … 600 pesos and the deal was made.  Off we went.  Things were super easy until we got into Guanajuato and it became apparent that our driver had never been into the big city of Guanajuato.  Thankfully he had no problem flagging down any and all pedestrians to ask for directions to “Teatro Principal”.  Eventually, many tunnels later, we found it, much to his relief but I think he was a bit worried about getting out of the maze.

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Strangely enough, the last time Grant and I were in Guanajuato, we were also dropped off at Teatro Principal by the taxi driver.  That time we argued with him that it was not our address, and after much gesticulation, we understood that our driver could NOT drive to the destination, this was as far as a car could go.  Pretty funny this time when the same thing happened, and we were met by our hosts in order to walk up and up and up.

Guanajuato is built with most of its road system underground, in tunnels that were formerly underground rivers.  Above ground there are very narrow streets, single lane with SUPER skinny sidewalks, single file if you are thin.  I don’t know how anybody builds a house here, or even buys a new fridge.  Very few roads, with all the houses built up on the hillsides, and only narrow pathways or stairs to get to them.

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We took a few photos of our path down to the centro, just so we could find our way back through the maze!

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This is the University of Guanajuato – 25,000 students here really give the whole area that student buzz.

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The view from our balcony at Guanajuato.

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I think we have certainly had our fair share of odd things to check out in Mexico, but this was right up there in bizarre stuff …… We went to the mummy museum.  The first mummy dug up was in 1865, and there are more than 100 remains on display. Authorities were shocked to find not skeletons, but mummified bodies, complete with clothing and shoes intact. Somehow the lime in the soil kept these mummies preserved.

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Just weird.

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The buildings are colourful, and just beautiful – every street is so pretty.  A really clean city as well.

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Pretty much the first order of business when we get to a new location is to purchase fresh tortillas – ready for breakfast.

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The streets are lined with sculptures.

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After our long hike UP UP UP to the mummy museum we stopped for a coffee, hot chocolate and pastry ….. Wilson was a little disconcerted to realize that glass in the floor beside him was a view of the tunnels and road system below the city.

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Our living room (salon) in Guanajuato, and yes, another night of salsa and guacamole before going out for dinner.

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Basilica interior – the churches are often very ornate, but this was incredible. . . chandeliers everywhere and absolutely stunning.  A real sense of the wealth behind the Catholic church, yet incredibly peaceful.

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I know, I can’t get enough of the house colours around here …. but I think it might be time to paint my kitchen this shade of blue!

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I love the way each little neighbourhood has its own courtyard for socializing.  The further away from the centro that you get, the quieter it will be.

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We went to Diego Rivera’s home, where he lived in his early years.  It has been restored beautifully and not only houses much of his own work, but two of the floors are used as art galleries.

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Honestly, sorry, can’t remember the name of this artist, but impressionist art is a bit lost on me ….

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However, this one of his we both loved.

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One floor was devoted to photographs of life in Angola, and these photos were so captivating I just couldn’t believe it.

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These would have made amazing prints to purchase and take away, but there weren’t any for sale.

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There is simply no reason to be hungry in Mexico – without looking too hard it is easy to find a vendor selling cut up fruit and vegetables – sprinkle on a bit of chile, lime and salt and find yourself a park bench to sit on.  Those are plentiful too!

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We made it to the top of the look out – a monument to El Pipila overlooking Guanajuato – quite a steep climb.  We had planned to take the funicular (tram) but it wasn’t working.

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I’m really hoping that one of the many photos I have taken of this picturesque city will turn out well enough to be enlarged and hung on a wall – it is truly one of the most beautiful cities.

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Waiting for our “comida” – the mid day meal is the most economical way to eat in Mexico.  This four course meal is usually around 70-90 pesos and is pretty much always a great idea.  Today turned out to have a bit of a surprise …. one of the words in the first choice was unfamiliar to me.  I did recognize tomato, peppers and onions so I thought it might be a vegetable dish, and since I knew the next course I was choosing was pork, we went with that.  Sure, there were a few of those vegetables in there ….. but it was mainly cut up weiners!!!

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Really??  says Vivi …… these last few steep steps into our home almost do her in …..

 

On Thursday morning we say Hasta la vista to Guanajuato and fly from Leon to Puerta Vallarta, and from there to beach life at Chacala, where Casa Monarca awaits us …..

 

Tacos al Pastor

When in Mexico, one of our favorite street foods is Tacos al Pastor. We can’t equal the flavour at home without an upright spit to grill it, but this is a close second!

A plate of pork, seasoned with Tacos al Pastor flavours and just waiting for fresh corn tortillas!

A plate of pork, seasoned with Tacos al Pastor flavours and just waiting for fresh corn tortillas!

1-4 lbs pork “butt” or blade roast (just make sure it is a cheaper cut, well marbled)
1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped
2 ancho chiles
2 guajillo chiles
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce
1 Tbsp adobo sauce
5 clove garlic, peeled
A few sprigs of oregano (or 1 tbsp dried oregano)
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp vinegar
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
1 large onion, sliced
Slices of pineapple
4 – 6 carrots, peeled and kept whole

1. Put the ancho and guajillo chiles in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow the chiles to steep until they are rehydrated, about 30 minutes. Discard the seeds and stems and toss the chiles in a food processor along with the remaining ingredients, except onion.

2. Slice the roast into 3/4inch thick slices, but not all the way through.

3. I usually put on plastic gloves for this part – the marinade REALLY stains …Slather the marinade between each layer until all the meat is covered. Stack the onion and pineapple slices in between the slices of meat. Tie the roast back together. Cover it and allow it to marinade for at least 3 hours or overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 245 °C (475 °F). Put the roast on a row of carrots in the bottom of a roasting pan and add water to the bottom of the pan (this is to keep the drippings from smoking). You can use a meat rack if you want, but those carrots will be incredibly delicious if you use them for a roasting rack! Roast for 30 minutes at this temperature then turn down the heat to 160 °C (300 °F). Roast until the meat is very tender (about 3 hours).

5. After removing the meat from the oven, cover it with foil and let it rest for at least 20 minutes.

6. Pull or shred meat apart

Out of the oven, and ready to rest for 30 minutes or so before shredding.

Out of the oven, and ready to rest for 30 minutes or so before shredding.

Serve with:

fresh corn tortillas
minced white onion
roughly chopped cilantro

Mexican Chicken Salad

Last night I made a couple of beer can chickens with a smoky rub …. enough left over that I thought it would make a perfect Mexican Chicken Salad tonight! This would be a great vegetarian dinner, just leave out the chicken….

Mexican Chicken Salad

Dressing:
1/2 tsp Mexican Chile powder
1/2 tsp Chipotle Chile powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried mustard powder
1/4 tsp dried chile flakes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
juice of 1/2 a lime
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 minced garlic cloves
Blend well and slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup grapeseed oil.

Taste it (with a sliver of lettuce) and adjust your seasonings to your preference.

Make a green salad packed with all your favorite ingredients, ours tonight included:

red leaf lettuce
roasted corn
garden peas (uncooked, and shelled)
roasted baby spring onions
cucumber
red and yellow peppers
toasted pumpkin seeds
toasted slivered almonds
(I wish we had avocado but there weren’t any available that were perfect..)

Garnish with:

shredded white cheese
cooked and shredded chicken
crushed tortilla chips
croutons
cooked and cooked Mexican rice
(Mexican rice is easily made substituting the liquid in your rice recipe with chicken stock, a bit of tomato paste, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper.

We love salads like this – arrange the toppings around the salad and everybody gets to build their own at the table.

Salsa Verde

Salsa Verde

This is great served as an appetizer with taco chips, drizzled over eggs and served as a topping for any meat.

 

 

1 pound tomatillos – husked and washed

1 large white onion, sliced thickly

4 cloves garlic

2 jalapenos

1/3 bunch cilantro

We like our salsa grill roasted, so everything but the cilantro gets a little time on the grill before hitting the blender.  Give it a zap or two until purified.  Taste for seasoning and adjust a bit if you need to – adding salt and pepper to your preference.

If you don’t have a grill handy you could either use a comal, as they do in Mexico, which is just a simple flat fry pan, or your own favorite fry pan.  Nothing wrong with just blending it all fresh either – try it both ways and see which you like best.

This can be processed in a hot water bath to preserve it for the winter, or put it in the freezer.  Either way works really well. Bring it to a boil on the stovetop prior to processing and use hot jars.  If you do a hot water bath, make sure your jars and seals are all sterilized and the seals are new – place carefully in hot water bath with 2 inches water over top of the jar and process pint jars for 35 minutes.

Chicken Chile Soup

Chicken Chile Soup

I’m not sure what is going on with the weather, but we are having an unseasonal amount of rain and grey skies.  Today just felt like soup and biscuits.  After a look into the freezer, I discovered some chicken stock, and chicken breast – perfect – I had lots of vegetables in the fridge so a hearty, warm soup was exactly what we needed.

6 – 8 cups chicken stock

3 chicken breasts, thinly sliced

1 tin (14 oz) tomato

1 dried ancho chile

1 dried guajillo chile

1 onion, minced

1 each red, green, yellow and orange pepper, roughly chopped

3 stalks celery, sliced

1 tsp ancho chile powder

1 tbsp regular chile powder

2 tbsp masa (corn flour)

Throw it all into a pot – leaving the ancho and guajillo chiles whole, and allow it to simmer – taste and adjust for seasoning – add a little salt and pepper.  If you like it spicy add more chile.

To dress the soup up a bit, garnish with chives, avocado and fresh herbs.