Texas to Mexico

Discriptions, pictures, recipes & monologue of life for a Texan in Mexico. The Mexico experience...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Corn Tortillas are a way of life in Mexico! While recently watching the whole commercial tortilla process I noticed ladies arrive to buy just a few pesos worth of fresh tortillas for the day while others bought prepared masa for making tamales & gorditas. The large scale masa/tortilla operations cut several steps out for a busy housewife or cook in Mexico. There were even Tortilla riots in parts of Mexico recently because the price increase of the tortillas in Mexico...many unhappy people south of the border!! The prices have gone up as much as 5 pesos per kilo here, which is substantial for the working poor. Mexico imports an average of 4.2 million tons of U.S. corn per year~that translates to a whole lot of tortillas!
While the Corn Tortilla & Masa has been a staple in the Mexican diet for centuries & centuries, flour tortillas were brought to Mexico by Spanish Conquistadors. It is a carryover from the Moorish influence in Spain & is very similar to the Pan de Arabie still sold in Markets & groceries across Mexico today.

The whole dried corn is treated with a heat & steam bath so it is soft for the grinding process to make masa.

Tortilla Soup Recipe

1 medium onion chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. Oil
2 lb Chicken breast with bone & skin
1 14oz. can tomatoes
1 10 1/2 oz. cans water
2 10 3/4 oz. can chicken broth
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2tsp. pepper
8-10 tortillas, cut in 1" squares, fried in skillet with oil (or baked)
1/2 cup grated Monterrey Jack Cheese or Queso Asadero
sliced avocado

Saute the first 5 ingredients in a large skillet.
Add remaining ingredients, except tortillas, cheese & avocado, and simmer for 50 minutes. Pull chicken off the bone, remove skin, dice & put back into the soup.
Pour into bowls over tortilla strips and sprinkle with cheese, avocado & extra cilantro. Also delicious with squeeze of lime!

Serves 6-8.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Good Day, Beautiful People!

In order to instill a bit more than my Tex-Mex version of Espanol my Spanish teacher Lily decided we need a field trip. We visited the Mercado Juarez where I met & spoke to many of the local vendors, learned a few more names of the commonly used Mexican vegetables, herbs & fruits. We also visited a Bakery~Panderia & a well known candy shop. With way more information than my brain could comprehend we then went to meet her family. Lily's Familia owns many chicken rotisserie shops in both Torreon & Gomez Palacio. They speak 100% Spanish which forced me to utilize my Spanish one on one. The Lopez family is wonderful, warm, full of love & life! I was taken behind the scenes where the fresh Red & Green Salsa Jalapeno is made in 25-30 gallon batches. I saw crates of fresh peppers, learned how they make their fresh red & green salsas & even toured the Tortilleria her family runs to provide fresh tortillas & gorditas for their Chicken Businesses. Her father has a fleet of little motorcycles & guys to run deliveries to local customers who want the fresh roasted chickens! I felt very blessed to meet & be a part of this family for a day. *And, incidently the hottest fresh salsa!!!!!

Millions of Mexican phrases & sayings...
some of the local phrases mean nothing to me when translated word for word, others have romantic endearments...

Del cielo cayó un perico con una flor en el pico,
yo sólo sé que te quiero y a nadie se lo platico....
A parrot fell from the sky with a flower in his peak
I only know that I love you and I will not tell that to anybody....

A Whimsical phrase & Olla Perico por Agua!
Mercado Juarez, Torreon

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Isauro Martinez Theater a cultural Icon in the middle of Mexico!
A worthwhile visit.

The paintings in the theater by Salvador Tarazona took more than 2 years to complete.
The design of the façade & interiors are Art Deco with Spanish, Arab & very stylized designs. Of particular note is a frontal rose window contained inside an immense Moorish arch that surrounds the stage; however, it is Tarazona’s art containing elements from Arabia, Indochina & the Ottoman Empire that draws the eye to the ceiling & stage. The impressive murals Tarazona painted show exotic scenes that could have been taken from the One Thousand and One Nights. The murals are somewhat faded but haven't been retouched even through an extensive remodeling to retain the artistic integrity that Salvador Tarazona intended.

We all had a great time on our tour even when our tour guide told us very unbelievable ghost stories! ...some sort of 3rd row "ghost seat"? My friend Carolyn smiled even when we were taken up into the dizzy uppermost portion of the theater where the cheap seats were! Isauro Martinez Theater is one of the national historic art treasures. It is said to be rated as the 2nd most beautiful theater in Latin America.

Beauty, Wisdom & an evil doer! Always at part of a dramatic setting! These carved columns were part of the interior artworks that took several years to complete when Isauro Martinez built this theater.

Eternal Love as painted by Salvador Tarazona in the Theater Isauro Martinez, Torreon Coahuila.

Also in historic Centro, we toured the "Canal de la Perla" which is an old irrigation channel running underneath the Historical Center of Torreon. The origins of the Perla irrigation channel date from 1890's & actually predate Torreon as a city. The corridor of the old canal which has been preserved is now host to modern day art exhibits.

Quiet subterranean stroll...while the Traffic flies by overhead!! (Probably the most orderly Mexican traffic I have ever seen or photographed!)


Friday, February 16, 2007

This beautiful Arbol de Vida~Tree of Life was a gift. While the shape of the cross is a bit out of the ordinary for the Tree of Life, it is popular in Southern Mexico & is actually Mayan in origin. I think they are beautiful with each one a little different & themes widely varying. There are even Dia de los Muertos trees I have seen with the macabre little skeletons decorating the entire piece.

The Tree of Life is often compared to the construction of Mayan temples, which was also a vertical structure representing the passage from subterranean to the heavens & afterlife.

~Many years ago, Mexican Godparents would give a candlestick to newly weds as a wedding gift. If the couple didn't receive one they had misfortune in everything they did. Their land, crops & even ability to have children would fail & therefore their marriage would fail. However, if they had a candlestick or Tree of Life, it was said they would live in abundance, have many children & a very happy life together.
So it is that the simple candlestick became a symbol of life, and people began to call the candlestick 'Arbol de la vida,' tree of life, since it offers a miracle of a healthy, rich and happy life. And so the story goes...

The original versions of the Tree of Life consisted of a clay tree with its branches ending in candleholders. On the tree are leaves, molded flowers and round "fruit" balls and often religious figures of some sort. Sometime in the 1940s Diego Rivera showed a Metepec family how to use aniline paints to create a bright polychrome effect. The same polychromics decorate many church interiors throughout Mexico. Rivera promoted production of the ceramic trees in Mexico City & both he & his wife Frida Kahlo collected them. The Tree of Life theme is carried out in several of her paintings but most notably in her "Tree of Life", "Tree of Hope" & "Frame" portrait of herself. It is one of my favorites since it has use of such bold colors & reminds me of a the small tissue paper banners & painted tin decorations used at fiestas in Mexico.

There is a Wonderful book published about these beautiful works of art called:
Ceramic Trees of Life: Popular Art from Mexico by Lenore Hoag Mulryan

Frida Kahlo, "The Frame"


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Fork bending Pot Roast, a Valentines Day surprise.

In an area of Mexico known for the big cattle ranches & well aged beef, I am never sure what cut of meat I am buying. I know a lady here who is the daughter of a butcher from the states & she actually took a chart with the meat cuts illustrated to a butcher here! The Norteños are very proud of the ranches & cattle industry which plays such a large part in the economy here in Northern Mexico. I made a Pot Roast for St. Valentines Day dinner. After cooking it all day I removed it & let it rest on the cutting board then put a fork into is so I could slice the meat. The fork I put into the meat actually bent in half from the toughness of the "roast". I don't buy many roasts here since the cuts are so unusual & different from what we are used to in the states. It does explain the popularity & variety of stewed meat dishes in Mexico. Possibly Tacos, Carne Guisada or Picadillo would have been the route to take with my beef! We have had good luck with steak here but larger cuts can sometimes be a case of mystery meat! Unfortunately for the fork we will never know...considering, it could have been worse! My knife survived the experience.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Don't forget to tell somebody you love them today! Make each moment count.

Beautiful little girl dipping her "manos" into a fountain in Durango.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Sometimes it takes a Texan...
I taught a cooking class this week for the Ex Patriot women about how to cook with Nopal. Many of my Midwestern friends had no idea what to do with these little gems we find in the grocery stores & Mercados in Torreon. It is served in many restaraunts throughout Mexico. Texans have had this knowledge for many years even feeding Prickly Pear to cattle when food is scarce. Many a rancher has been thankful for our vast supply of cactus. With a taste like green beans & the benefits of lowering the cholesterol they are a great addition to a meal, Mexican or otherwise!

Cactus with Eggs & Chile Sauce

1 lb. fresh Nopalitos
3 ancho chiles
2 garlic cloves
3 Tbsp veg. oil
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped, tough stems removed
6 eggs, beaten
Salt & Pepper to taste

Cook Nopalitos in saucepan of boiling salted water 5- 8 minutes. Drain & set aside.

Put the ancho chiles in a small saucepan of H2O covering the chilies by 2 inches & bring to a boil. Boil 5 min., then drain & let cool slightly. De seed as much as possible & remove the stems. Transfer to a blender with garlic, blend & puree adding H2O from saucepan to thin.

Heat oil in large skillet over med. heat. Add the onion & saute' until translucent, about 4-5 min. Add the nopalitos & heat through. Add eggs & scramble them into the nopalitos. Add some of the chile puree & cilantro just at the end & serve with remaining chile puree & corn tortillas or flour tortillas.

Ensalada de Nopalitos (Cactus Salad)

3 cups cooked nopales (nopalitos)
3 tablespoons chopped white onion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano or Thyme
1/4 c. lime juice or vinegar
1/4 c. olive oil

3 tomatoes, sliced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup crumbled queso fresco or añejo or chihuahua
1/3 cup purple onion rings
3 canned chilies jalapeños pickled sliced in rings
1 avocado, peeled and sliced

Mix the nopalitos with the next four ingredients and set aside to season for 30 minutes. Stir well and adjust seasoning.
Spread the nopalitos over the platter about 1 1/2 inches deep. Decorate with the tomatoes slices and top with cilantro, cheese, onion rings, chile strips, and slices of avocado (if used). Excellent served as either appetizer or salad. We had it with black beans & thick nacho type chips.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Great find at the Mercado Juarez!

At the Mercado Juarez there were many molcajetes for sale. There were small & large molcajetes made of terracotta too which I have never seen in the states. These are almost certainly used for soft items like avocados. I found a very sweet little molcajete carved in the shape of a pig. There were several carved into a heart shape. This being a more traditional wedding gift for someone who likes to cook. Here in Mexico the common curing process for the basalt molcajete is to grind rice or dry beans to smooth the surface of the bowl & then wash it & grind up several cloves of garlic & then leave it to dry. When it is washed the final time it is ready to use. The garlic keeps the earthy flavor of the stone from getting into the food.

...and this Little Piggy went wee, wee, wee, all the way home! Silly & yet so appropriate!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Deco Entrance to the Mercado Juarez has details in stone of the produce one can hope to find inside!

I visited Mercado Juarez in the downtown historical district today. This Mercado dates back to the turn of the last century & the current structure actually replaced a more grand building that burned to the ground. The Mercado is where Torreon locals can still buy a wide variety of items including herbs, candles & religious items as well as food items like local veggies & fresh fish. We enjoyed looking around and found a few items which were typical Mexico! I loved the great selection of Mexican redware cazos, barros & ollas. And if I had needed a Lucite scorpion tie pin, a breast shaped beer mug or a Tequila cask this was truly the place. Other than that there were the prerequisite tee shirts, shot glasses, candies & dolls. My favorite place was the street next to the Mercado Juarez where all the flower vendors set up shop. The air was filled with the heady scents of roses, carnations & fresh cut greenery. For a few pesos you could have dozens of Pom Poms or Rosas. Very nice!

After leaving the Mercado we saw a beautiful old Theater building sitting vacant. The exterior is very "Gaudi~esque" but is in need of renovation. I was able to step into the lobby & see the old pale yellow vintage ticket windows, worn tile floors & gentile curving stairways leading up into the old Theater balconies. Torreon is attempting renovation & renewal in the historic center; one can only hope this building will be given new life one day. It makes me sad to see such long forgotten beauty sitting in a state of urban decline for who knows how long. This old Deco era building is seemingly ignored by most of the people who pass by it on their way to wherever in downtown Torreon. I saw a man selling tee shirts in front of the lobby doors & he seemed very unimpressed that anyone would care to look in the lobby much less snap a photo. I don't think he could envision restoring the past. I was just one more person moving past him on a busy Tuesday in Torreon.

Today while we were in downtown Torreon in the historic center I had an opportunity to see the inside of one of Torreon's best known churches, Templo de Nuestra de Guadalupe. While not breath taking I can see why it listed as a historic sight.

The Templo Nuestra de Guadalupe has a lovely if simple interior painted in a shade of pale turquoise that is prevalant in Virgen de Guadalupe paintings. The alter has a very elegant painting of her with quite abit of gold leafing surrounding the Virgen. The alter itself looks like it is made of mahogany & the sanctuary has chandeliers, beautiful stained glass & marble columns. Outside the church I was able to find a couple of beautiful Milagritos. In Mexico the Milagros are sold outside of the churches & are often times resold over & over since the churches fill up with them & the priests then give them to the poor to resell. One can never really tell how old they are or how long they have been in circulation. I guess this is part of the Milagro or Miracle!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Not normally a vindictive person~I do have my moments though!

Today was a national holiday in Mexico. Dia de la Constitucion. The celebrating in our neighborhood was going full force last night & we were trying to get to sleep when some loud Mariachis arrived on the scene. We heard trumpets & loud singing until the neighbor's pesos either ran out or the musicians had another engagement to attend. At that point we really thought we would get some sleep but that was prior to the drunken Karaoke music beginning. While Karaoke is very entertaining when you are there to see people make fools of themselves~it is not so entertaining at 2am! And it was certainly bad with the off key screeching voices I heard! It truly wasn't the 3 Tenors of Las Isabeles!
I don't generally resort to violence but believe me I was becoming vengeful & even murderous at 2am. I think an air horn would be a great investment here in Torreon. It would have been awesome to awaken the Karaoke crew this morning at about 6am! I guess we should be thankful since one of my friends here said they were awakened by Mariachis almost every weekend during the summer months!

Mariachi music is charming & even pleasant when it doesn't wake me up late at night!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Confused & asking WHY in Mexico!

In a country with so much culture & natural beauty I have to constantly ask the proverbial question....WHY???? I have run into many situations that make me scratch my head & wonder what are they thinking~the powers that be in Mexico? One of the busiest intersections in nearby Gomes Palacio has 6 lanes of east/west traffic that converge at the same point & then to make things interesting some civil engineer thought the situation called for a large X intersection to cris-cross that entire intersection with 4 more lanes of traffic. If I make myself clear on this: it is absolutely insane to drive through that intersection on any given Saturday or Sunday. Crazier yet is the fact that people there in the roadway are also begging for money & offering to wash car windows even though there are signs warning against this practice. I have told John that I will never drive through this chaotic intersection!!!
This past week once again I did ask: WHY? Wednesday evening a man came to my door asking if I called for repairs for our television cable; no amount of repairs could make the cable service improved or carry better programing though. I had to bite my tongue & not complain to the gentleman who simply needed directions. Sad but very true is the fact that television in Latin American basically is horrible! I told the technician that I had not called but he certainly must check with the other #39 on Paseo Nogales! In my neighborhood but certainly not restricted to Las Isabeles there is more than one house #39 on my very street! Three hours after I told the man to go to the other #39 Paseo Nogales he returned telling me he was very confused & still had not located the house to which I finally had to tell him~welcome to my world! The whole thing is stranger still if you know our street only has about 12 houses on it! I still have no idea why anyone would put 2 of the same house numbers on the very same street but I try to not let it stress me too much unless we are missing a delivery of some sort.
*One funny note on Mexican television came this week when my cousin asked me if we were able to see the show "Ugly Betty". I had to tell her no, we have the Mexico version called..."Fea"~Spanish for Ugly!!! So, no Ugly Betty here in Torreon, just Fea!!! (Samantha, I am still laughing!) I could never make this stuff up, it would be too hard! Just another "WHY??" in Mexico.