Agua Verde

If you want a refreshing, and cleansing, good for you drink, try this traditional Mexican “agua de fruta” (fruit water.)

Green Water (juice drink)

A big bunch of parsley, washed and chopped, discarding any long thick stems (about 2 cups)*
A large cucumber, peeled and cut into bite size chunks (about 2 cups)*
1\3 of a pineapple, peeled and cut into bite size chunks (about 2 cups)*
2 Tbsp lime juice (1 large or several small)
1 1\2 quarts cold water In a 1/2 gallon pitcher

In a blender blend the parsley with 1\2 quart water and add it to the rest of the water in a 1/2 gallon pitcher. Blend the cucumber with some of the parsley water in the pitcher, strain through a colander into the pitcher. Do the same with the pineapple. Squeeze the lime(s) and add to green water. Stir well and serve. If you prefer a little sweeter, add a little sugar or mix with lemonade instead of water.

Best fresh, but drink within 24 hours.

Actually you can follow this procedure for most any juice drink. Just blend the fruit down to pulp, strain, and add to water. Sweeten to taste. Good combinations are papaya, orange and lime, guava and lime, watermelon, cantaloupe and lime or your favorite combination. The idea is to add to water to make the juice go farther and make it more refreshing by reducing the sugar content (and calories.)

* Ingredients are not exact, start with approximately equal parts of parsley, cucumber and pineapple, then adjust to your taste.

Cheese, please

The word of the day is “queso.” Cheese in English.

In Mexico they only have a few kinds of cheese and except for queso Oaxaca (Mexican string cheese) they are all pretty much the same, only varying in ripeness (aging) and, thus, firmness and stronger flavor. The way I, a gringo, see it is that they have the kind that crumbles, the hard kind either grated or whole, and Oaxaca. Little do I know!

Once a week, a friend of mine who lives in Buena Vista, a small town near Taxco, comes to town bearing handmade cheese that everyone says is “the best.” I decided to get some for the house and was asked what kind I wanted. I knew I wanted Oaxaca (for quesadillas or just eating) and I wanted the kind that crumbles to put on tacos, tostadas, etc. so that is what I asked for.

My friend was apparently confused by my using the word crumbles (and I found out later, that he asked another American what I meant by that) and by text he replied, “Sorry I’m not sure which is the second one. What do you want to do with it? I know you want to eat it but how??”

I, thinking this is a simple request (after all, they only have 4 kinds of cheese), answered, “For tacos and such.”

Still confused about “what kind” of cheese I wanted, he told me he would send a message in Spanish and would I please show it to Irma and have her respond. But Irma, not having her “lentes” (glasses), could not read the message, so I handed my phone to her grandson to read and reply in Spanish.

Cheese stall at the mercado, Chilpancingo, MexicoA very lively conversation discussing cheese names ensued between them. I imagine, she just buys it, like I do, hard, soft or crumbly, from the cheese stalls in the “mercado” (market.) Finally, they settled on a couple kinds by name (manchego or criollo), then changed their minds and asked for cotija or criollo.

Thinking we had settled on the quantity and kind of cheese, I headed up to my room on the fourth floor. About the time I was taking off my shoes, I received another message. My friend wanted to know if they wanted “suave” (soft) or “seko” (hard) and told me that one kind came both ways and the other only came “seko.” So down the stairs I went to ask an “otro pregunta” (another question.)

Criollo seko being decided upon, my friend acknowledged the choice with a “Sorry now.”

This sent me into peals of laughter. He was not the one to take 20 minutes to figure out what kind of cheese we wanted, nor was it his confusion to be sorry for. After saying so, I replied facetiously, “You only have a few kinds of cheese, how hard can it be?”

To which he replied, “Just a little hard. Don’t worry,” which had me laughing even harder.

I explained that, “In Wisconsin, we have hundreds of kinds of cheese to choose from. This is too funny!”

“jaja” (ha ha),he replied.

To be fair, the Mexican food guru at Epicurious says there are seven kinds of Mexican cheese. The kinds I know are:

Queso Fresco (Fresh cheese): Aged only a few days, it is soft and crumbly and can be used like feta. (I think this may be the kind I was thinking of.) I have since learned that cheese here is made from raw milk and because this cheese is not aged very long, it can possibly carry a bacteria that can make you sick. You should definitely cook it.

Chili con QuesoQueso Cotija: A hard cheese that is sold in rounds or grated from large blocks. The unique thing about this cheese is that it does not melt, it only softens, making it perfect for Chile con Queso – where you brown the cheese on a griddle, then serve it in chile verde sauce like soup. Yummy. The browned cheese is delicious all by itself too.

Tinga tosadas, Taxco, Mexico

 

Queso Criollo: Is a local cheese made only here in the state of Guerrero. It appears, by its use, to be similar in nature to Cotija. Better to crumble this kind than Fresco.

Queso Oaxaca, Mexico

 

Queso de Oaxaca:
My favorite, because we have nothing like it in the States, comes in broad strands that resemble string cheese, only softer. It’s unique texture comes from stretching the cheese as it is made. Pull it apart and put it on beans, tostadas, or soups, or because it melts wonderfully, in quesadillas. I will often buy a few pesos worth for an easy snack on the go.

Tostadas with crema, Taxco, MexicoAnd then of course there is that other dairy product — crema, a thick fresh or slightly sour cream (like the French creme fraiche) that is dolloped on tacos, tostadas, and in soups.

 

 

 

For a description of other Mexican cheeses and some delicious sounding recipes, see the Mexican cheese article in Epicurious.

Securidad

If you have been watching the news, you know that Guerrero state has been in a state of chaos recently. Some students, protesting the inequalities of the government’s placement of teachers (urban students favored over rural) were rounded up by police and disappeared. It is assumed that the then mayor of Iguala and his wife, who has connections to a drug cartel, ordered the police to transfer the students to the cartel inferring that some of the students had rival gang connections.

Well you can just imagine what happened.

The students are missing and presumed dead.

All over Mexico, and the world, people have protested these barbaric actions. Unrest is high and tempers are short.

Protesters, tent city, Chilpancingo, MexicoProtesters have built a tent city, on the zocolo, in the middle of the market in Chilpancingo, the state capital. The government is on full military alert, which means there is a heavy Federal Police presence in Chilpancingo, Iguala, and other cities with universities (including Taxco), especially so during holiday periods when the students do not have classes.

Tent City, Chilpancingo, MexicoAlthough all is quiet here, the heavy military presence feels a little like Madison during the height of the Vietnam War protests.

With this unrest comes insecurity and people are more aware than usual of their vulnerabilities. It is not uncommon for people known to be successful or have wealth to build a “fortress” of protection around themselves. Now even the average Juan is doing the same.

Wall with broken glass on top, Taxco, Mexico

Houses already secured by solid metal doors, walled courtyards, and decorative ironwork over windows, are raising walls higher to make access to their homes impossible.

 

 

Wall with broken glass on top, Taxco, Mexico

 

Broken bottles are set into the cement on top not so much to deter birds landing and dropping gifts into the patio below as to keep possible intruders out.

(This used to be one of my favorite houses too. A lovely courtyard behind a one story wall, provided privacy yet was bright and airy. Now with its three story wall, it is more like a dungeon.)

Houses, Taxco, MexicoEven the little guy, between these two much larger, taller buildings has added onto his house, though his found materials construction and corrugated metal roof pale in comparison.

Yet, if anyone were to consider his humble abode worthy of breaking into, the resident turkey would give a gobble.

The Singing Rocks of Teloloapan

As the sun lay low on the horizon, we took a little side trip to a massive uplifting of gigantic stones that tower above the city. Some of the rocks in this area are known to “sing,” emitting a deep, resonant musical tone, like a large bell, when struck with another rock.

Singing Rocks, Parque de Campana, Teloloapan, MexicoThe locals have been coming here for centuries to make the rocks sing, and as with many such places of uniqueness, a legend has grown up to explain the phenomenon. Like Romeo and Juliette and so many other legends, this too has an element of unrequited love.

According to one version of the Aztec legend, on the death of King Azteca Ahuitzol, in order for his son, Tecampa , to succeed him, he had to conquer more land and bring more people into the empire. Tecampa conquered many peoples but when he came to Mexicapan, the chief, Texol, and his people battled with Tecampa for nearly a month.

Though Tecampa did not capture the city, he did succeed in capturing the springs that were the only water source, thus the people of Mexicapan were dying of thirst. Texol’s daughter, princess Na, who was always at his side, even in battle, feeling that the life of the warriors was more important than her own, volunteered to go and get water for the people, even at the cost her life.

With her maidens to accompany her, she set off for the pile of rocks where the  springs were located. When she arrived, she found a strong, young warrior, the king of the Aztecs, “contemplating the infinite.” He fell instantly in love with the beautiful princess, and granted her request for water for her people under the condition that she return the next day at sunrise where he would give her not water, but his heart.

She returned the next day and Tecampa asked her to go with him to the center of his empire near the mountain of Toluca, where together they would make his people happy.

But King Texol followed his daughter that day, and upon seeing her in the arms of his mortal enemy, his heart was broken and he angrily uttered a curse that the two young lovers be turned to stone. Immediately the two bodies were merged into one large stone, one seemingly holding the other, forever. Now when a stone is touched to the rock, the young lovers sing with tenderness.

Now named Parque de Tecampana, what used to be just a local attraction, where you scrambled up the mountainside on a dirt path to climb the rocks and make your own music, the city has decided to create a real tourist attraction, with gates, paved paths, a playground, an amphitheater, bathrooms, and even exercise area at the top (though really, just climbing the hill is exercise enough!)

 

Main Entrance, Parque de Tecampana, Teloloapan, MexicoLove this accessible entrance, don’t you? There is no way you could push a wheelchair up this ramp, nor the pathway above; I don’t think even my friend Shelley’s electric scooter would make it. But if you ask, the locals, they will direct you to a back entrance that is a fright to drive but takes you to a much more level path to the singing rocks.

Amphitheater, Parque de Campana, Teloloapan, MexicoAmidst all this “beautiful,” new construction, is an old shack. It seems that the land is owned by a young man whose family has lived there for generations. The city wanted to buy the land to make it into an official park, but he refused — it was his ancestral home. Finally they made him an offer he could not refuse. Let them improve the area into a park and they will build him a better home and let him be the caretaker. A win-win — he and his ancestors, who may just be related to Tecampa and Princess Na, can continue to make the rocks sing, at least for his lifetime.

FYI — I did some research on what might make the rocks sing and came across an article by someone with some scientific background that determined that it is a combination of the type of rock, crystalline diabase, and the fact that the ringing rocks are supported on points of other rocks thus allowing them to ring rather than thud. If you want more information on ringing rocks, which occur in various places around the world, see this article about Ringing Rocks Park, in Pennsylvania. Or follow this link to hear them ring. (They kind of sound like the bell the trash collectors ring in Mexico.)

Teloloapan

A little over an hour, and two buses, north and west of Taxco is the town of Teloloapan,  where mi amiga ,Vanessa, lived when she first came to Mexico.

We went for a special event and stayed with Pedro and Bonfilla (hope that’s spelled correctly) and their family, whom Vanessa had gotten to know in the States.

The family runs a tienda, a little neighborhood store, high on a hillside overlooking town, though not quite as high as his parents’ house which has a fabulous view of the city.

They literally live “above the store,” which is only a few steps from the open door to their living room. Rather than having to sit and “man the store”, this arrangement allows them to be doing something in the living or kitchen area and still hear and greet customers as they come in.

Tienda, Teloloapan, MexicoLike a PDQ, they sell a little of everything — things one might need immediately, avoiding a time consuming trip to the big market downtown. Children come in for candy or snacks and are often sent to get milk, cheese, or Coke  for the meal while mama is cooking.

 

 

Grinding corn into masa, Teloloapan, MexicoThe day starts early as, each morning, neighborhood women bring their corn to be ground into masa so they can make fresh tortillas for the day’s meals.

The family, their parents, and even neighbors up the street, hosted a house full of company from other towns, far and wide. Everyone congregated at their house for a simple dinner of beans and hot homemade tortillas with fresh salsa roja (red) and, of course, Coca (Cola.)   We laughed, we talked, we shared photos of family — a good time was had by all. Every bed in the house, and even makeshift pallets on the floor provided a good night’s rest.

Making breakfast the following morning proved to be a bit of a challenge as we discovered that we had run out of gas for cooking and heating water. Being Sunday and not being able to get more until Monday, cooking was done the old fashioned way — over an open fire.

Calabasa (squash), Teloloapan, MexicoAn overhang in the yard protects the cooking area from rain and the relentless sun. A big pot of corn boiled away in the corner (to be ground into masa later), water was heated for baths (aka bucket showers) in the other, and in between tortillas were made (even we gingos got in on the act) and a pan of hot coals cooked other breakfast items — huevos (eggs), frijoles (beans), salsa, and a huge pot of calabasa (squash).

Cooked slowly with piloncillo, cones of natural brown sugar, the squash  turns into a delectable, mouth watering treat, to be served, sometimes with milk, for breakfast or as a snack or desert. MMMMMMM!

After breakfast, we all piled into the car and drove to the assembly grounds, where an old quarry site was transformed for the day with the aid of a makeshift tent, made out of corn and flour sacks, which provided much needed shade from the hot sun. I loved watching the wind ripple through the floating panels to the end where, with a poof, it escaped once more to the open air. Almost as interesting as cloud watching.

I am always amazed at the resourcefulness of the people here; nothing useful ever goes to waste.

Caliente y Frio (Hot and Cold)

These are the words of the day in honor of my friend, Vanessa, who left this morning to visit her family in Wisconsin. It will be an adventure for sure.

When I awoke I checked the temperature and she is in for a shock when she lands.
Taxco    59 with sunshine and a high expected of 78
Madison   -5 with a high expected of only 14

At Posade de Mision, Taxco, MexicoVanessa has not been to Wisconsin in the winter for many years and I am afraid her “blood has been thinned,” as it is said, by many years in a warm climate. A couple weeks ago, we had a cold spell here, everyone was “freezing.” She admitted one morning that she was so cold the night before that she had a hard time sleeping. Finally she got up to check the temperature and was shocked to see that it was only 61 degrees. Oh my!!!!

Yet, despite her “thin blood,” she is looking forward to seeing and playing in the snow.A I am sure she will be warmed from the inside out by her family’s love.

Vanessa & Blue BearA heated house, plenty of warm clothing, and a hot tub will help too. (I want a picture of that!) She may even find Taxco muy caliente when she returns in a few weeks.

Bien Viaje! Nos vemos pronto!
Safe travels! See you soon!

Mexican Traditions – Three Kings Day

Band in the street, Festival of OUr Lady Guadalupe, Taxco, Mexico

 

The holiday season in Mexico just goes on and on. First there is the The Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe which begins on December 1st and culminates on December 12th with marching bands playing repetitive music, feverish dancing, and of course fireworks.

Las Posadas procession, Taxco, Mexico

 

 

 

Then on the 16th, Las Posadas start and the calles (streets) and barrios (neighborhoods) are filled with the sound of children singing and pinatas breaking, along with candlelit processions, and more fireworks.

 

Families gather for Christmas Eve and Christmas but unlike back home, these are only days for family to be together; no gifts under the tree to open — well maybe a small gift or two.

Tonight is the night that Mexican children most look forward to. They set out their shoes in eager anticipation of finding them filled with gifts in the morning. Three Kings Day, January 6th, marks twelve days after Christmas Day, when supposedly the three kings appeared before the baby Jesus and presented him with the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

At midnight, the sky will be punctuated with the sight and sound of fireworks and airworks (fireworks with only the boom), church bells will peal, and if they do not sleep though all that noise, children will open their gifts. The day will be marked with yet another family gathering where Rosca de Reyes (Wreath of Kings) bread will be eaten and whomever finds the baby Jesus in their piece gets to host the final holiday celebration, Dia de Candelaria, on February 2.

(To learn more about these Mexican traditions, follow the links above.)

Three Kings Day, Taxco, MexicoNo doubt there will also be another parade down my street. Can’t wait!