Yesterday was Karina’s 1st birthday. It’s amazing to me how much she has grown and how much has happened since then. I’ve spent the last two weeks making all the preparations for her birthday party. We decided to have a Korean 1st birthday (Doljanchi). Thomas, my husband, is half Korean and he had a traditional party when he was 1 and so did our son. This time around though, I got to plan everything and I think I went a little overboard.

karina birthday

I’m a perfectionist, ambitious, and very type A person. I have always had a hard time saying no to projects, because I want to be the best at everything. Having two children has definitely taught me that just because I want to be the best at everything doesn’t mean I can or have time to, I mean unless I want to neglect my children completely. This was a special occasion though, so I decided to indulge in my perfectionism and plan an amazing party. 

karina birthday

karina birthday

There is a lot of symbolism in a Korean Dol. Some of the symbolisms we used are:

Dress: Birthday babies wear a hanbok (traditional dress) and a jobawi or gulle (traditional headgear) for baby girls and a bokgeon or hogeon (traditional headgear) for baby boys. We purchased the dress at Kim Mehee in LA.

Dol sang (birthday table) with banner backdrop and customized dol go im or dol towers. Food is stacked high to symbolize a long prosperous life for the child.

Dol towers were traditionally used in 60th/70th dol parties to signify lifetime achievements; they have come to represent future accomplishments. I found a great tutorial on how to make your own towers.

Dduk (korean rice cakes) represents purity and a long lasting life. The rice cakes should be colorful since the colors will represent a bright future. Rainbow rice cakes represent a dream come true. We purchased our rice cakes and kimbap at Zion Market in Irvine. 

Food stacking food is stacked high to symbolize a life of prosperity for the child.

Ceremony The highlight of a doljanchi is a ritual where a child is placed in front of food and objects. The child is urged to pick one, and the item the child picks is believed to foretell the child’s future. This ritual is called Doljabi. Guests are urged to guess what the child will pick and to submit their guesses. A raffle is then held and the winner receives a prize. I made a doljabi poster on Canva and then had it printed for the raffle.

(Source: littlelotusparty.com)

doljabi poster

The party was a success and you can check out the video below to see what Karina chose in the doljabi ceremony. I do have to say that the best part of the celebration was being able to play and spend time with our friends. We are blessed to be a part of a wonderful community of people who we love and care about very much. We hope to share many more birthdays together. The one thing that was missing, our family. They all live far away and couldn’t attend and they were missed dearly. 

 

 

dol birthday

dol birthday

dol birthday

dol birthday

Unfortunately, we didn’t take pictures of the food, so no food pictures or recipes this time. I’ll be back to posting soon. Happy Easter!

 

When Dora first approached me about writing a piece about my mother, Kihong Stone,  I had some serious apprehensions.  Her passing in May of 2010 is still a fresh wound.   Last year Dora put up an altar of her grandfather in the Mexican tradition.  It was a little bit of an uncomfortable experience watching her set up his favorite foods, ornate sugar skulls with gold leaf, candles, marigolds, rainbows of paper skeletons and other objects connecting the dead to the living world so they can find their way back.  The last thing I wanted was an omnipresent relative in the house watching everything we said and did.  But growing up a son of a first generation immigrant, we had traditions in my house that were not considered ‘normal’.   Growing up I got to experience a culture and a world view outside of the one I was going to school and playing with friends in.  I don’t want my son to miss out on anything that was a part of who he is or where he came from.  So I embraced this bit of culture at arm’s length.  Literally, I didn’t get too close to the altar because I swear his eyes were following me.

A touching tribute to an amazing woman, Kihong Stone, on the Day of the Dead. The blending of two cultures and honoring the dead.

A touching tribute to an amazing woman, Kihong Stone, on the Day of the Dead. The blending of two cultures and honoring the dead.

This year Dora asked if she could put up an altar of my mother.  I sighed and gave in because I knew what Dora was trying to do is considered very kind, but her death seemed so final the more we spoke of her in the past tense.  There was and still is this tiny part of my mind that says she might call tomorrow with a  dumb joke or that if I fly back to Annapolis she will be there waiting to give me a hug.  Hence, I don’t talk about my mother much.  So Dora started assembling the altar; putting up the sugar skulls and the delicate paper cutouts from last year that she painstakingly saved from several ant invasions and a much-too-curious three year old.  She started to ask me what my mom’s favorite foods were, what was her favorite color, what kind of personality she had, etc.  So I started to remember the good things, memories that should and must be preserved and passed down especially since my son was only an infant when she was alive.

A touching tribute to an amazing woman, Kihong Stone, on the Day of the Dead. The blending of two cultures and honoring the dead.

A touching tribute to an amazing woman, Kihong Stone, on the Day of the Dead. The blending of two cultures and honoring the dead.

My mother was a hardworking, intelligent, tenacious, brutally honest, well-traveled person that only accepted the best.  She would take French fries back to fast food restaurants because they were cold.  My first car was brokered with me outside the dealership because she didn’t want the salesman feeding on my emotions raising the price.  My favorite story is the time my mother went to Venice and checked in to her hotel.  She didn’t like the view so she came to the front desk and said there was a ‘smell’.  The front desk agent told her the hotel was sold out and there was nothing he could do.  So my mother waited until he could do something,  she stared at this poor, unsuspecting man for two hours while he checked in guests and tried to go about a normal day at work while this 5’6” Korean woman eyed him down.  First mistake, don’t underestimate my mother; she will outsmart you, outwit you, outclass you, and out will you into submission.  But I’m using the present tense when it should be the past. She got a room with a balcony overlooking the canal.

A touching tribute to an amazing woman, Kihong Stone, on the Day of the Dead. The blending of two cultures and honoring the dead.

All of these memories came back when we started her altar and now I’m so glad Dora asked.  I created a list of items I would like on my altar for when I pass into the next world; green decorations, a bottle of tequila (Clase Azul Reposado), a bottle of burgundy (DRC Richebourg), kimchi (gaktugi, moowoo malaengyee), Dr. Pepper, my grandmother’s rosary, my cowboy boots, Dora’s Chiles en Nogada, my son’s Thomas the train, and my father’s pocket knife.  We can and should mold traditions from the past to our lives in the present.  It keeps where we came from connected to where we can and should go.  It’s going to be the strangest looking Mexican Day of the Dead altar ever but that’s the benefit of combining traditions and cultures.  After all, it’s my altar and I’m watching you.

A touching tribute to an amazing woman, Kihong Stone, on the Day of the Dead. The blending of two cultures and honoring the dead.

 

 

There’s a Day of the Dead festival in Oceanside every year, and no, it’s not a convention of the Walking Dead or related to Halloween at all, as you might think. The Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration of life and a mocking of death. Aztec beliefs fused with that of their conquerors have made this day one full of symbolism, both pagan and Catholic at the same time. It is shouting in death’s face: “You might have taken our loves ones, but they are not forgotten.” And so we celebrate, dance, make altars for the departed, eat, and rejoice in the triumph over death brought by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There's a Day of the Dead festival in Oceanside every year, and no, it's not a convention of the Walking Dead or related to Halloween at all, as you might think. The Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration of life and a mocking of death. Aztec beliefs fused with that of their conquerors have made this day one full of symbolism, both pagan and Catholic at the same time. It is shouting in death's face: "You might have taken our loves ones, but they are not forgotten." And so we celebrate, dance, make altars for the departed, eat, and rejoice in the triumph over death brought by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

There's a Day of the Dead festival in Oceanside every year, and no, it's not a convention of the Walking Dead or related to Halloween at all, as you might think. The Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration of life and a mocking of death. Aztec beliefs fused with that of their conquerors have made this day one full of symbolism, both pagan and Catholic at the same time. It is shouting in death's face: "You might have taken our loves ones, but they are not forgotten." And so we celebrate, dance, make altars for the departed, eat, and rejoice in the triumph over death brought by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you are interested in learning more about the symbolism and origin of the Day of the Dead, I wrote about this in greater detail last year, you can find the article here.

 

The Mission San Luis Rey, where the festival took place, set a beautiful stage for this celebration. There was food of course, tamales, tacos, tortas, aguas frescas, pan de muerto, and many more Mexican classics. There was also face painting, in the Day of the Dead fashion, for adults and kids alike. The munchkin got to decorate his own sugar skull, while donating the proceeds to the American Cancer Society. My favorite part of the festivities was the altars, and there were so many. Some representing various Mexican states and built by whole communities, and some were built by families honoring their loved ones.

David Lozeau at The Day of the Dead Festival Oceanside

There was also a large section of artisanal paintings, sculptures, hand made jewelry,  Mexican linen dresses, and religious images. I was able to talk to an artist that I have been wanting to meet, his name is David Lozeau. His work is full of bright colors, bold lines, and death; it is a modern rendition of Jose Guadalupe Posada’s skeleton images of the early 1900’s. David is American, from the East coast, he was raised Catholic and grew up with the idea that death equaled sadness and pain. It wasn’t until he moved to CA that he discovered that death could be joyful and so it became his inspiration. Some of his depictions of skeletal figures mirror traditional Mexican art, but others are infused with pop culture and his unique view of death. He sees the world with a Day of the Dead filter and his art reflects it. He does not limit himself to paintings, thus his work can be seen on motorcycles, tattoos, murals, and instruments. David attends the Day of the Dead festival in Oceanside every year, and can also be seen at various SoCal events and festivals. Thank for taking the time to talk to me David! Here is some of his work:

After a long day, we left the festival tired and happy. This was a very joyful event filled with music, color, and flowers, but the hundreds of pictures of those gone reminded us that just like death, this celebration is bittersweet.

My sister just left, and as I try to hold back the sadness that threatens to engulf me I realize I’m just really glad she came. She got here about a week ago, but instead of spending a whole week in OC, we met her in Tijuana for a quick road trip to Ensenada and Rosarito, Baja Califorinia, MX. The hubby and I have been wanting to go there for a while, since we live so close, but we had never made the time.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

We walked across the border, where my sister and her boyfriend picked us up. We decided to skip Tijuana and went on to Rosarito, we stopped for breakfast at Los Pelicanos Restaurante. The restaurant is supplied by their own farm where they raise quail, deer, and lamb. In season you can find these items on the menu cooked over an oak and mezquite wood fired grill, served with warm tortillas, and homemade jams. After a a breakfast of crispy chilaquiles, fried quail eggs, and refried beans we drove off to Ensenada.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

We decided to take a detour and visit el Valle de Guadalupe, which is Mexico’s wine country. We only visited one winery, L.A Cetto. We had a wine tasting led by a Chef Iker, who shared his knowledge of the local wines and gave us some recommendations on where to eat. Honestly, we weren’t too impressed with the wines or the winery, but we did just come back from a trip to Napa, so it’s not really fair to compare.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

While driving back to Ensenada, on a last minute whim, we decided to go to ” La Bufadora”. “La Bufadora” is the site of one of North Americas largest blowholes, and one of the many tourist attractions in Ensenada. The site is surrounded by shops selling all kinds of hand crafts and souvenirs. There are also small food stands offering fresh seafood and cold drinks to quench the summer heat.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.On our return to Ensenada we stopped for tacos before checking into the hotel. Did you now fish tacos are said to have originated in Ensenada? So naturally I just had to have some. I can’t seem to remember the name of where we ate, I’ll have to get back to you in that one. The tacos were simple: battered and fried fish, a chile ‘guero’ stuffed with smoked marlin, topped with pickled onions, cabbage, and salsa verde. Quite unique and delicious.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

Finally we arrived at Hotel Coral and Marina and spent the rest of the day at the pool. In the evening my sister watched the munchkin so we could go out for a drink. Well at least that was the plan, but after a whole day of travel and activity all we could muster was to stop by the hotel bar. I like Mexican hotel bars. They have plenty of tequila, and are generally “old school”. The bartender was an older gentleman dressed in a classic waiter’s uniform, bow tie and all. We had margaritas, no sour mix (thank goodness!), and peanuts.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

The next day, the guys went deep sea fishing while we walked around the center of town, stopped at Sanborns for some caldo Tlalpeño (spicy chicken soup), and paid a visit to the Mercado Negro (local fish market).  On the drive back to Tijuana we stopped at Puerto Nuevo to feast on their famous lobster dish: broiled lobster, refried beans, hand-made flour tortillas, and Mexican rice. All in all, for such a short trip we had a wonderful time. With our bellies full and our hearts content, we walked across the border pondering how two worlds so different can be so close, and yet the wall that claims to separate them cannot keep them from blending into each other.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

An amazing road trip to Ensenada and Rosario with the family. Great food and friends made the trip one to remember.

Our daily routine is back in place, the familiar faces and places of Orange County surrounding our thoughts and our lives. Yet, the sweet memories of our road trip to Napa still flood my days.

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

That’s what vacations are for right? To get away from our lives even if it is momentarily. So here are the best pictures of our trip, the places we visited and where we ate, just in case you were thinking of planning a trip to Napa.

Road Trip to Napa: The Pictures

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

 

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

 

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

This road trip to Napa has created so many sweet memories for our family. Dinner at the French Laundry, wineries, a dinner with friends.

Note: I promise this is the last post on Napa. The next one will have a recipe for sure!!

So I mentioned before this trip to Napa is our first real vacation in 3 yrs, due mostly to the birth of our son and the ‘living on one income’ thing. It was also about that time when we stopped going to fine dining restaurants. We still manage to go out to plenty of restaurants, but the Michelin starred ones are way out of our budget. So when the opportunity and the funds became available for this trip, you can only imagine how thrilled we were to finally be having dinner at the French Laundry.Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

 

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

Just like our recent visit to Chez Panisse, this was not at all what I expected, in a good way of course. I was taken by surprise by the actual dining room. It really is an old house turned into a restaurant. The service was exceptional as well as the food. Course after course, nine to be exact, the food was perfect.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

When we eat out we usually measure how good a restaurant is with one question: can we make it at home? Trust me when I tell you I couldn’t have made this at home. There was only one problem, the bill, all $1,200.00 of it. Was it worth it? Yes. Was it the best meal of my life? It was one of the best, but maybe it’s because I’m out of practice eating in the fine dining world, but it felt a bit stuffy, almost too formal. I usually enjoy the dance of a multi-course meal, the way the service flows, the wine being poured, etc. But somehow this time it felt too ceremonious, like I was in the church of Thomas Keller and I should consider myself lucky to be there. Let me be clear, this is not a criticism of the food or the service, just my impression of the ambiance.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

[My husband just brought up a good point, we’ve never dined at a 3 star Michelin restaurant before, so maybe I would have to eat at another restaurant of that caliber to be able to make a proper comparison of the service.]

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

There’s a dreaded rumor out there that fine dining is on its last legs, that its death is imminent. The never ending recession has changed the face of elegant dining in America. Fine dining restaurants aren’t as popular as they used to be. Tapas bars, gastro-pubs, bistros, pop-ups and food trucks have taken over the dining scene by serving high quality food at a decent price. Also, with the emergence of “foodies”, a select number of people are preparing really good meals in their own homes. Meals that not too long ago they would’ve eaten at restaurants. Furthermore, ingredients that were once available only to restaurants are now available to home cooks, which only makes the preparation of high end meals at home easier and easier. Even so, fine dining shouldn’t die. It is part of the cooking craft, of its history, and future. Maybe fine dining just has to change, and adapt to the current situation and growing knowledge of those once considered amateur diners.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

All in all, it was a wonderful and much needed date night with my husband, but I can’t help thinking that maybe we should have used the money to buy a new computer before this one finally dies. I think I would’ve been just as happy.

Dinner at the French Laundry where the service was exceptional and so was the food. Course after course, nine of them, the food was perfect.

I’ve been back in Cali for a couple of days now, we’re back on our old schedule and getting on with our everyday lives. Yet, something happens every time I come back from a trip home,(Ciudad Acuña) my heart starts to ache. It aches for my family, for myself, for how life without them can be isolating and lonely. This is why I want to do one more post about Mexico before the fleeting images disappear into my memory. Wow! I didn’t mean to start this post so depressingly.

Why don’t we start over again. I just got back from spending 3 weeks with my family in Mexico, and it seemed like I could stay forever. However, I do have a husband, so we’re back in good old Orange County. Besides the inevitable sadness that results from returning from a long trip home, I also came back with an extra 3 pounds. That would be because I spent the last week touring my town a la Anthony Bourdain. We visited all our favorite food spots, ate, and took pictures. A lot of the vendors asked me quite excitedly if I was going to put the pictures up on “el facebuk“.

My parents live in a small town-city on the border with Texas. This is where I grew up. Below is a picture of the Rio Grande and the bridge that acts as a connection between Mexico and the US. As you can see, that part of the river is not very wide, but I don’t really know how difficult it would be to cross. One of the unique advantages of living in a border town is the possibility of getting a border crossing card, which allows Mexicans to visit the “other side” for recreational purposes. This means that you can go to the movies, grocery shop, eat out, or just do what you want. It’s the best of both worlds in one place.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

The super nacho is from my dad’s restaurant, but it is very typical of the area. Allegedly the nacho was invented in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, which is an hour away from Acuña. As you can see they have nothing to do with the big gloppy mess most people call nachos. The chips are fried at the restaurant and each one is smeared with refried beans and topped with cheddar cheese. They’re place under the broiler in order to melt the cheese, and afterwards they’re topped with guacamole. In the center is grilled skirt steak.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

Aguas con Chabelo sells refreshing fruit drinks, usually made with water, sugar, and your fruit of choice. That particular day they had lime, melon, and pineapple available.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

Lake Amistad is known as one of the best bass fishing destinations in the US. The lake extends across the border, so there is an American and Mexican side. We spent the day on the Mexican side.

We are missing Ciudad Acuña so much now that we are back in OC, Here is a list of places you have to visit if you happen to be there.

We had lunch at the Plaza Tlaloc restaurant, where we chose our own fish from the catch of the day. There was only bass and catfish left, so we ordered both. They only serve it one way, fried. It is seasoned with a spice mix, served on a bed of lettuce, and topped with french fries.

Just so you know, Anthony Bourdain did happen to visit my town on Season 2 of No Reservations, episode 4. Sadly he only visits the Corona Club, where the movie El Mariachi and Desperado were filmed. He doesn’t even go to the lake or eat anywhere for that matter. Anyway, I know it may not seem like it, but I am glad to back.

Today is the last day of Christmas. Also known as the feast of the Epiphany, Three Kings Day or Dia de Reyes. In Mexico, as I had mentioned before, this means that children receive gifts from the Reyes Magos (Magi) instead of Santa. Traditionally the children leave a note for the Magi in their shoes, the night before, and place them under the Christmas tree or outside. The Magi respond by bringing them gifts the following morning, just as they brought gifts to the Christ child.

Living on the border, our traditions are a mixture of Mexican and American customs. This being said, as a child Santa brought most of our gifts on Christmas, and the Reyes Magos filled our stockings with treats and small toys on Jan 6th.

Also on this day, an anise and orange scented dough is baked in the form of a crown, and topped with dried and candied fruits to make the Rosca de Reyes( King Cake). The fruit is meant to represent the crown´s jewels, and inside the bread is hidden a small figurine of baby Jesus. The lucky person to find baby Jesus in their piece of bread is designated to bring tamales on  Feb. 2nd to the Feast of the Candelaria, but that´s another story.

The rosca is usually served with hot chocolate and eaten at any time of the day or all day! One of the candied fruits used to top the rosca is called acitrón. Acitrón is made from a species of cactus, also know as biznaga, only found in Mexico. The candy is made by extracting the pulp from the cacti, cutting it into blocks, and cooking it in a simple syrup. The result is an opaque sugary block, firm to the touch, but soft and juicy on the inside. It is commercially sold in red and green tinted blocks or cut into strips. Acitrón is widely used in Mexican Cuisine, thus depleting the population of the cacti used to make this candy. Why am I telling you this?? I don´t think many people know this, especially Mexicans. So if you do eat a rosca today, please eat the acitrón and enjoy what surely is a true jewel of Mexican Gastronomy.

One of the greatest things about Christmas is tradition, making new ones and reliving old ones. Traditions are a simple way of transmitting our values and our culture, making us part of history, thus becoming the glue between the past and the present. Mexican culture has many Christmas traditions, they vary from family to family and region to region, but some of them transcend all differences and have been part of the culture for centuries.

Mexican Christmas Traditions

Las Posadas:

Are part of a Roman Catholic tradition called a Novena, which in this case consists of 9 days of prayer prior to Christmas in order to obtain special graces. The passing of time and the jovial nature of the Mexican culture has transformed this tradition into 9 days of partying. Most posadas include pedir posada (reenacting the journey of Mary and Joseph trying to find a place in the Inn through song), a pastorela, the breaking of the piñata, and of course a small feast.

Mexican Christmas traditions are rich, varied, and full of symbolisms. They are passed on from generation to generation.

 

 

Las Pastorelas

Are plays or artistic representations of the story of baby Jesus. They take place in the days before Christmas, at schools, churches, or outdoor settings. They were first introduced by the Spanish missionaries in the 1500’s as a means of teaching the faith and the bible to the Indians.

The basic plot of a pastorela consists of several shepherds that are on their way to adore baby Jesus, but are discouraged by Lucifer himself. All of Lucifer’s attempts to stop the shepherds from reaching their destination fail, and they are safely able to deliver their offerings to the Christ child. Over the years the plays have been adapted to modern culture, and are funny, full of song, dance, and creative costumes. (The town of Tepotzotlan, Edo. de Mexico is famous for its pastorelas.)

Mexican Christmas traditions are rich, varied, and full of symbolisms. They are passed on from generation to generation.

La Piñata:

Is usually in the shape of a star with seven peaks, representing the 7 deadly sins. The person with the stick represents the faith, and the candy represents the temptation of evil. Pretty deep stuff! Even though the religious significance continues to get watered down through the years, the kids really enjoy it and some grown ups do too.

 

Mexican Christmas traditions are rich, varied, and full of symbolisms. They are passed on from generation to generation.

 

Nacimientos (Nativities):

Nativities were also introduced by the Spanish missionaries, but their origin can be traced back to Italy around 1223, where St. Francis of Assisi recreated the nativity with people, animals, and a little house made of straw. The live nativity tradition caught on in Europe and later evolved into figurines in people’s homes. When the nativity was adapted by the indigenous people of Mexico, it transformed into a scene of vivid color, with dark skinned characters made with materials such as glass, silver, lead, wood, or wax.

Today, nativity scenes are rarely historically accurate. They are decorated with green shrubbery, cactus, and maguey; they can have figurines like the mail man, milk man, the baker, and even the devil; and the size of baby Jesus can sometimes border on the ridiculous. Baby Jesus can almost be as large as the Mary and Joseph figurines or very, very tiny.

 

Mexican Christmas traditions are rich, varied, and full of symbolisms. They are passed on from generation to generation.

Noche Buena (Christmas Eve):

Christmas dinner in Mexico is usually celebrated on Christmas Eve, instead of Christmas day. Some families attend midnight mass, and some don’t. It is on this night when a large figurine of baby Jesus is laid down to rest in the manger and everyone adores and celebrates his birth. The dinner differs from region to region, but in our case we have turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, tamales, pozole, menudo, ponche, and beer or wine. Dessert would be buñuelos or my Tia Laura’s famous frozen cheesecake.

Mexican Christmas traditions are rich, varied, and full of symbolisms. They are passed on from generation to generation.

Mexican Christmas traditions are rich, varied, and full of symbolisms. They are passed on from generation to generation.

 

Fireworks:

Fireworks came to Mexico in the 19th century and were used (and still are) for ceremony and religious purposes. For Christmas, churches will light them after midnight mass or families set them off in their back yards to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Dia de Reyes (The Feast of the Epiphany):

Santa is becoming more popular in Mexico, especially in the border towns, but most kids get their gifts in January 6th, on the feast of the Epiphany. Traditionally the children leave a note for the Magi in their shoes, the night before, and place them under the Christmas tree or outside. The Magi respond by bringing them gifts the following morning, just as they brought gifts to the Christ child.

The Feast of the Epiphany is also commemorated with a Rosca de Reyes, an orange and anise scented king cake topped with dried and candied fruit. The fruit is meant to represent the crown´s jewels, and inside the bread is hidden a small figurine of baby Jesus. The lucky person to find baby Jesus in their piece of bread is designated to bring tamales on Feb. 2nd to the Feast of the Candelaria, but that´s another story.

Mexican Christmas traditions are rich, varied, and full of symbolisms. They are passed on from generation to generation.

Rosca de reyes mexicana|Source=commons.wikipedia|Author=Itzcuauhtli |Date=2009 |

Traditional Christmas Foods:

Tamales – Consist of seasoned corn dough (masa) filled with savory or sweet fillings, and wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaf and steamed. Their origin dates back to prehispanic times. The Aztecs, Mayans, Olmecas, and Toltecas prepared them for feasts and as a portable food.

Today they are still used in celebrations, such as Christmas. They are the ultimate comfort food for us Mexicans, well at least for me.
There are many variations, but in Coahuila, the state where I’m from, tamales are small, filled with shredded meat, seasoned with a salsa made with dried chiles, and wrapped in a corn husk.

Champurrado: Warm chocolate beverage thickened with corn flour or masa. It can also be flavored with anise, cinnamon, and vanilla. The best part of this drink is that it is made with Mexican chocolate. Mexican chocolate is basically cacao beans ground with sugar and cinnamon, this gives the champurrado a unique flavor that differs from American hot chocolate.

Ponche: Warm fruit punch containing pear, thornapple, sugar cane, guava, prunes, tamarind, orange peel, clove, and cinnamon.

Menudo: Beef tripe soup, flavored with a dried chile and garlic mixture, and served with radishes, cabbage, tostadas, lime juice oregano, and cilantro.

Pozole: Also a pre-Hispanic dish, which consists of shredded beef, hominy, a dried chile and garlic mixture, and served with cabbage, limes, tostadas, radish, cilantro, oregano, and onion.

Ensalada de Noche Buena: Christmas Eve salad made with beets, orange segments, peanuts, pomegranate, orange juice, and sugar.

Bacalao a la Vizcaina: Salt cod served in a tomato, garlic, red pepper, and olive sauce.

Buñuelos: Orange scented fritters dusted with cinnamon sugar or drizzled with a piloncillo syrup.

All these traditions are part of Mexico’s rich culture. What are some some of your favorite Christmas traditions or foods?

 

Sources:

Christmas in Mexico, World Book Encyclopedia, 1976

I think all us have that one friend who’s cooking is so good, they know it, you know it, and they just make it look so easy, but when you ask them  for the recipe they reply, almost smirkingly, “Oh I don’t use recipes, good cooks don’t need recipes.” Now you feel awful, you live off recipes, you spend hours looking at recipes, planning your meals and orchestrating your next project. Well, I disagree. While good cooks may not be held hostage by recipes, they certainly do need them.

A good cook doesn’t let a recipe hold them back, and they’re not afraid to improvise, but how do you think cooks learn from each other? It is impossible to be an expert in every kind of cuisine. It is impossible, even after years of experience to have infinite knowledge of all things food. It is a craft that continuously changes, yet stays true to the basic techniques taught by the French masters of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Chefs rely on recipes to establish consistency in their restaurants. Otherwise, the flavor and appearance of the dishes would vary according to the cook. Recipes are essential to transmitting the chef’s vision from raw ingredients to the finished dish served to the guest. The only way the ego-driven line cooks will ever cook something the same way twice is with a recipe. Recipes are also essential to determining food cost of each particular menu item.

All the chefs I know have a massive cookbook collections. Why? They learn new techniques, look to them for inspiration, and of course admiration. What about the home cook? The problem with home cooks is that they sometimes can’t tell a good recipe from a bad one. Most home cooks look online to find their recipes, it’s easy and convenient, and some sites even make a shopping list for you and print the recipes to various sizes. There are a lot of good recipe sites and blogs out there, but there are also a lot of bad ones.

To be a good cook, is cooking without recipes necessary? Do chefs use recipes? How can I learn to cook without them.

Cooking Without Recipes: The Nitty Gritty

I have an OK cookbook collection. Now, I rely mostly on the public library to check out the books I can’t afford to buy. The one I use the most is The Flavor Bible, which ironically is not a cookbook in the traditional sense. It has no recipes; it is merely a list of ingredients. Below each ingredient is a list of the foods that best complement it, when the ingredient is in season, the cooking techniques that best work for that particular ingredient, and examples of flavor combinations used by renowned chefs. The book gives you the resources necessary to use your knowledge of cooking to develop your own style and creativity, without using somebody else’s recipe. A book you must have is Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio. In it you will learn all the basic formulas or ratios and techniques that will allow you to start cooking without recipes.

If you’re looking for recipes online try: Epicurious for recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit, Simply Recipes for detailed recipes with pictures for almost every step, Steamy Kitchen for creative recipes with an Asian touch and great photos, for Mexican recipes visit Pati’s Mexican Table, and finally for dessert try David Lebovitz.

If you are going to use somebody else’s recipe, please give them credit for it, nobody will think less of you because of it.