A MEXICAN LOVE AFFAIR

Courtesy of generous grandparents, my kids have been treated to beachy getaways since they were tiny, sometimes as far afield as the coast of Mexico. Mr. Mom’s Kitchen and I are lucky enough to tag along. This year though, something was troubling me about a trip planned for Puerto Vallarta. Although we’d visited our culture-rich, south-of-the-border neighbor several times, my kids knew little more of Mexico than body surfing and swim-up pool bars (though I do love a good swim up pool bar). So, I cajoled Mr. Mom’s Kitchen into handing over his hard-earned frequent-flier miles and tacked on a family side-trip to Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca), a city ripe with history and world famous for its food.

Frankly, my crew was skeptical about this cultural sojourn, particularly since it involved a one a.m. flight out of San Francisco, multiple stops, and a giant layover  (that’s what frequent flier miles will do for you). But once we hit the streets of our destination, lined as they are with colonial-era houses, picturesque churches, and vendors selling everything from grilled corn slathered in cheese to paletas (popsicles) in a rainbow of colors, I knew we were onto something good.

I wish I could have taken you with me. It was magical. But I did bring back photos to share, mostly of the food we saw, and tasted, and cooked.

Oaxaca’s famous hot chocolate was top priority. Accompanied by a basket of lightly sweetened bread for dipping? Top ten breakfasts ever.


The hot chocolate is made from these hockey puck-shaped cakes of ground cacao, sugar, and almonds, and then stirred into hot water or milk, whichever you fancy. Milk for me, thank you very much.

We’d heard that grasshoppers are common at the Oaxacan table, although I didn’t expect to eat them.  But we did, within hours of arrival, fried crispy and served on little tortillas with guacamole. I know, kinda crazy but they were tasty little guys.

Called chapulines, this is what they looked like in the Sunday market we visited in a village outside of Oaxaca city.

A market that was a feast for the senses unmatched by nearly anything I can remember.

Squash blossoms piled high; refreshments in every hue; chiles everywhere, fresh and dried; and hearty, hand-made flour tortillas cooked on makeshift griddles.


And the beautiful children, of every age, selling food alongside their mothers and sometimes all alone. It was sobering for my own children to witness kids their own age spending their day at work instead of at play.


I had a soft spot for this handsome boy, so darn charming I was contemplating an arranged marriage for Rosie. Could avoid a lot of heartache in the teen years.


We visited a nearby village to eat at a restaurant recommended by Alice Waters. I’d follow her anywhere, and so we did. Though the food was lovely, it was the  cheerful, rosy-cheeked women cooking and serving that touched us most.  I wanted to move right into that darling kitchen, and couldn’t get enough of those braids woven with colorful ribbons. I told Virginia she had to grow her hair out immediately.

The ladies  set tiny cups of mescal in front of us (minus the kids), the Oaxacan answer to tequila, along with limes to dip in chili and suck before tossing back the booze. Then they fed us bowls of squash blossom soup nearly too pretty to eat.

The question became, how do we cook like this? So we spent a day picking up pointers at a cooking school in the center of Oaxaca. The menu was vast…from chicken mole to rose water ice cream, but we started with that staple of every Mexican kitchen: handmade tortillas. Some were topped with cheese and squash blossoms.


And others with the blossoms chopped and rolled right into the masa dough.


Weilding knives and peeling chiles in an roomful of adults required concentration, especially as we made no fewer than six types of salsa.

 

Using this recipe as the foundation.

Roasted Tomato Salsa

The basic ingredients of a salsa are tomatoes, chilies and garlic; in this recipe, the roasted tomatoes add a smoky flavor to the salsa. This is a basic salsa and by just changing the type of chili or by adding extra ingredients like cumin seeds, avocado leaves, cilantro, onion, and vinegar can give it another flavor. You can use fresh, green chilies or dried ones.

2 medium tomatoes (8 ounces)
1 serrano chili
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste

Put the unpeeled tomatoes, chili, and garlic under a broiler or in a piping hot pan and cook until the outside is browned. Peel the garlic.

Put the tomatoes, chili, and garlic and blend until smooth, about 1 minutes. Add salt to taste.
adapted from Casa Crespo, Oaxaca

 

In the morning, it was time to leave.

Goodbye beautiful Oaxaca

Hello swim up pool bar.

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14  Comments

Comments

  1. Annie
    01.30.2013 at 5:06 AM #

    Amazing! Almost felt like I was there. Wish I had a cup of mexican hot chocolate in front of me as we speak.

    • katiemorford
      01.30.2013 at 9:19 AM #

      Wish you had been there. You would love that hot chocolate

  2. Anne Mullen
    01.30.2013 at 7:12 AM #

    Great post! Makes me want to go back to Mexico! However, with a Tex-Mex restaurant on every corner here in Dallas, I might not be making Mexican food.

  3. Nancy
    01.30.2013 at 9:38 AM #

    Thanks for posting! This brought me back to Oaxaca.
    I lived there years ago for a couple of months, before my son was born, and just loved it.
    You are right, it is immensely rich in culture and the food is the best in Mexico! (in my opinion)
    My mom was actually born there, but lived throughout her life in other Mexican states. This summer, my husband and I are taking our one year old son.
    We are looking forward to the lovely people, rich culture, and very yummy food!

    • katiemorford
      01.30.2013 at 5:19 PM #

      Lucky you to have lived there…I’m harboring a fantasy to do the same one day.

  4. Alison
    01.30.2013 at 9:51 AM #

    We went to a wedding in Oaxaca and had the most fantastic appetizer consisting of a mini tortilla-ish base with a dollap of guacamole and a delicious crunchy thing on top. The room was dimly lit and we were well into our 3 or 4th serving before someone told us the crunchy things were dried crickets! They were delicious though.

    • katiemorford
      01.30.2013 at 5:19 PM #

      Great story. Thanks for sharing that.

  5. 01.30.2013 at 11:42 AM #

    Stop. Stop it right now. The jealousy is too much for me to handle! :)

    • katiemorford
      01.30.2013 at 12:16 PM #

      Save your frequent flier miles…it’s pretty cheap once you get there!

  6. 01.31.2013 at 12:40 AM #

    Thanks for sharing, we just spent a week in San Felipe and my mouth waters thinking about their fish tacos! I love that you and the family take these trips and add a cooking class to it each time! What a great way to lean about a culture and hang as a family… nothing against pool side bars! I look forward to when my LO’s are old enough to do that (and then I can once again hang at the poolside bar while they play).

    • katiemorford
      01.31.2013 at 9:33 AM #

      Oaxacan food is magical…but there’s nothing like a Baja fish taco. Enjoy your LOs while they are little….but yes, look forward to the day when you can have a poolside margarita.

  7. Kristin Dickerson
    03.20.2013 at 12:56 AM #

    OMG, Katie, how warm and delicious everything looks! What a wonderful trip…I wish we could have been there with you guys! Hope you are well.

    • katiemorford
      03.20.2013 at 8:39 AM #

      Oaxaca was really wonderful, Kristin. You should take Elizabeth!

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    [...] Mom’s Kitchen Handbook Meanwhile, Mom’s Kitchen Handbook is also working magic with kids. We thought it was a big deal when our kids ate olives, but she got hers to eat grasshoppers. Actual insects. Here’s how:  A Mexican Love Affair [...]

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