Living, Mexico

Visiting Veracruz!

There are so many places to explore in Mexico that for this year’s holiday I am doing several small trips within the country. First stop was Veracruz! From Huatulco it was a hassle-free seven-hour drive to Veracruz City one of Mexico’s oldest ports and also the first stop for Spanish conquistadors back in 1519. While Oaxaca is culturally rich in pre-colonial traditions, Veracruz is culturally-rich in Spanish influenced delicacies. Located on the Gulf of Mexico with a picturesque seawall for walking the city and a population of a million, Veracruz is a thriving metropolis.

My Top 3 Veracruzana experiences were:

33608622_10160402135615243_3688387583022202880_nThese French pastries (vol-au-vent) are everywhere! Their name means ‘windblown’ because they are so light. Growing up in Montreal my mother would use them to make her special ‘Chicken a la King’- covering the pastries with creamy chicken and veggies. In Veracruz there are street vendors selling volovanes from carts and every Veracruzano seems familiar with the call of the volovan vendor. I had an incredible crab volovan in the town of Tlacotalpan- the perfect marriage of pastry and seafood! I also had a chicken mole volovan at the Jarrito de Oro- my favorite café for breakfast! Side note: in 1838 there was a conflict between Mexico and France that has been dubbed ‘The Pastry War’. The urban legend is that some Mexican officers damaged the pastry shop of a Frenchman near Mexico City and the French government demanded restitution for these damages. In reality the war was fought because French citizens living in Mexico during a prolonged period of strife had their investments ruined and the Mexican government refused any sort of reparations, but it also had to do with long-standing Mexican debt. After a few months of blockades and naval bombardments of the port of Veracruz, the war ended when Mexico agreed to compensate France.

 

  1. Casas de Tablas.

Veracruz is a mish-mash of architectural styles and times. Old concrete houses are being abandoned for newer high rises and gated communities leaving some areas of the city less than aesthetically pleasing. However, one of my favorite areas was ‘La Huaca’ with its echoes of Havana. Specifically, I loved the colorful wooden ‘casas de tablas’. These flat board houses that were located outside the protection of the city walls in the 17th century, were said to be built by slaves who had been brought from Africa with the wood of old ships that washed ashore. To get inside one of these houses go have dinner at Fussion restaurant. An evening at Fussion is a complete delight! From the conscientious decor to the innovative dishes and excellent wine selection.  I started with the shrimp and mole picaditas and the fig salad- both full of flavor. I loved the presentation of the black bean and lobster soup with cilantro oil. The venison salpicon paired well with bits of mango and avocado. For dessert there was a cake made with the traditional bread ‘marquesita’- similar to a biscotti. It was a perfect last bite of the evening. I highly recommend a dinner here!

https://www.facebook.com/fussion.restaurante.taller/

 

  1. Aquarium

A1_444.jpgVeracruz has the largest and most important aquarium in Latin-American. While there are the cringe-worthy attractions such as shark-feeding and dolphin shows, there is also a selection 30 species of fish that many of the visitors to the aquarium would not have the chance to see anywhere else such the tambaquias, arowanas, pacus, red-tailed catfish, jackknife fish, African cichlids and many others in a tank holding an impressive 562,117 cubic liters of water.

While animal rights activists may protest, the facility promotes the preservation of the marine ecosystems and the care of the environment. In addition, the aquarium is government-owned and provides an important economy to the city of Veracruz.

To get to Veracruz from Huatulco you can fly with a stopover in CDMX although the easiest is to go via bus or car.  Happy travels and thanks for reading!

Food, Living, Mexico

New Food Magazine “Bite”!

Bite Cover 2Hi  ‘The Eye’ Readers!

I am so psyched to tell you about our new food magazine ‘Bite’!

‘The Eye’ just put out its 70th issue and over the years we have had such a great response to the articles which focus on real information by real people and not the puff-advertorial pieces we see in a lot of tourist-area magazines. We aim to explore the positive and often-overlooked aspects of Mexico and to enhance people’s appreciation of what a culturally-fascinating and beautiful place this country is.

While I love that every August is our Food Issue – one issue a year is hardly enough to even scratch the surface of all the interesting food happenings, customs, and traditions of Oaxaca.

‘Bite’ will be bigger, glossier, have restaurant listings with practical information such as hours of operation and whether they accept credit cards and delicious information about mouth-watering experiences you won’t want to miss!

Like ‘The Eye’, ‘Bite’ will be distributed for FREE in the best restaurants and hotels and of course, we will have an online version so you can keep up even when you aren’t on holiday.

Look for the Fall Edition of ‘Bite’ October 1st!

Cheers,

Jane Bauer

 

 

 

 

Food, Living

Coimbra, Portugal – An unexpected pleasure!

When I travel I am always looking for that one place that will beckon me to stop moving and stay a little longer.  It’s usually a small town, void of ‘hop-on hop-off’ buses or Michelin-rated restaurants, just something about the people that makes you slow down and pause. In Italy it was a place called Bevagna, in Mexico it was Mazunte and in Portugal it was Coimbra.

library-coimbra-interiorThe country’s former capital is home to the oldest university and has a mind-blowing library with an outstanding rare books collection, including several versions of The Bible form the 14th century.  One of the biggest “enemies” of the books is, apart from the humidity and temperature differences, the moths that feed on paper. The bookcases are made of oakwood which, apart from being extremely dense (making it difficult for the bugs to penetrate), has a scent that repels them. The books have yet another ally in this daily fight for conservation: the interior of this book temple houses a colony of bats which spend the night eating any insect that appears, thus freeing the books from their attack.

The Machado de Castro Museum was stunningly beautiful and while I usually tire quickly of religious art these pieces were so breathtaking that they seemed to transport you to another time, they beckoned silence and awe. The museum is built over a Roman crypt that you can visit- cool underground tunnels and arches.

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During my stay I had the privilege of participating in a private cooking workshop at the Escola de Hotelaria e Turismo. I inquired at my hotel and the owner went above and beyond in making this happen. I arrived at the school and was welcomed by the administrator and introduced to Chef Emanuel and his students Raquel and Rita. Chef explained the dishes we would be preparing; duck rice, octopus, bacaloa (cod), pork, Portuguese gazpacho, lemon rice pudding… just to name a few.  We worked in the commercial kitchen of the cooking school- all gleaming stainless steel and lots of space. The duck rice was phenomenal- rice that is cooked with duck stock and served with shredded roasted duck meat. The tender octopus was served with oven-roasted smashed potatoes and topped with a few splashes of olive oil and sea salt.  The rice pudding dessert was the perfect amount of sweetness and the creaminess contrasted perfectly with the bright lemon flavor. All served with delicious wine of course. Beyond the food, I loved the chance to talk with Raquel and Rita and to learn more about their lives in this region and what they hoped to do once they finished school.

Hands down this was the highlight of my journey!

Where to stay in Coimbra:  http://www.theluggagehostel.com/en/Utilities/Homepage.aspx

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Food, Living

Cooking Class in Marrakech

You may think you have never taken a cooking class but I bet you have. Maybe you didn’t learn to make gnocchi while you traveled through Italy or handmade tortillas in Mexico, but I am sure you have shared kitchen secrets. Your first teacher was likely your mother inviting you to mix the batter as she made oatmeal cookies, your father teaching you to flip a pancake on a Sunday morning and later your college roommate showing you how to make the perfect margarita. Food is the common denominator, a meal shared is the ultimate communication.

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A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking a cooking class in Marrakesh at Faim D’Epices. My instructor Ilam, a lovely young woman originally from Meknes (land of olives and wine) led me through the making of a beef, pear and orange tagine (a slow-cooked stew done stovetop in a clay pot), a traditional wheat and semolina bread and msemens (Morocco’s equivalent to flour tortillas).

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The Faim D’Epices Cooking School is located about 30 minutes from the center and after you have traipsed through Marrakesh’s busy Medina (old town) the open landscape is a welcome change with orchards of orange trees and friendly dogs to welcome you.

During the class we were taught how to check the authenticity of saffron- rub a piece on white paper and the color should be yellow, never red. Saffron is the highly prized dried stigma of the crocus flower, it takes over 70000 blossoms to make a pound of saffron, making it the most expensive spice in the world.

We were also taught about argan oil. The argan tree is only found in a small region of southwestern Morocco and has not been successfully transplanted anywhere else. The argan tree has the amazing quality of pulling water from the ground and in the driest areas you will see everything brown except for the green of the argan tree. Because of this, goats have been known to climb the tree and eat the leaves. To check the authenticity of your oil you can put it in the freezer. Different oils freeze at different temperatures so they will separate and you will be able to see if your oil is pure.

18767221_10158757557275243_1599565076_oThe highlight of the class was the opportunity to meet Ilam. When touring Morocco most of the Moroccan people you interact with are men. Most of the waiters, tour guides and even hotel staff tended to be men, so I really appreciated the chance to chat with Ilam over lunch.

Overall a great experience!

 

Cooking classes in Marrakesh: http://www.faimdepices.com/

Cooking Classes with me in Huatulco, Mexico: http://www.huatulcocookingclasses.com/

 

 

Food, Living

It takes a village… the building of our Chiles&Chocolate Cooking School

picmonkey-collageI have been involved in several building projects while living in Mexico but none has been as exciting or as rewarding for me as our Chiles&Chocolate Cooking School. Located in the village of Zimatan, I wanted the building to fit in with the architecture of the buildings in this rural area. Most of the houses in the village are rectangular with small windows and galvanized metal roofing. Since our cooking classes showcase the beauty and dignity of Oaxacan cooking, our building needed to be a testament to that as well. In the same way a mole recipe evolves using the ingredients of a particular area, our building needed to use materials that were found around us; river rock, stone, wood and I felt the same should be applied to labor.

Village life is very gender segregated. Women in my village are not even permitted to attend town meetings unless they are the ‘head of their household’- meaning they have no husband. So I was more than a little nervous as this project was my first time building without a husband to negotiate and deal with decisions such as where to put the septic tank.

Blandino, the mason, and his two sons, who live in the village, collected rock from around the property to build our retaining wall and patio. In other projects I have been involved with we always ordered our cement blocks already made from the hardware store. Blandino mentioned that Andres, a man in our village, made blocks, so we decided to make them on-site. This decision led to us having a higher quality block, it was about the same price as buying the ready-made blocks, but we also created a job.

Seeing Andres make blocks was amazing. All cement was mixed by hand, poured into molds and then set in the sun to dry. When it came time to get a door, the metal smith in the village made one and the electrician who installed the lights lives just a few doors down.

In the cooking classes I talk a lot about the dignity of what we term ‘women’s work’- cooking, housekeeping, child rearing. My experience of being a stay-at-home mother in Mexico during my daughter’s early years was life changing and forced me to reevaluate my own ideas about gender. It was the beauty of this time that led me to want to give cooking classes.

I always have thought of the cooking classes as a way of shedding light on the dignity of ‘women’s work’ but as I look around the cooking school it dawns on me that the building is truly a testament to the beauty of ‘men’s work’.  Much in the same way it takes a village to make a tortilla; men to grow the corn and women to grind, form and cook it on the comal, our cooking school is the product of a long line of tradition.

For more information about our classes: www.HuatulcoCookingClasses.com

Food

Porcini Sea Salt

porcini-saltOur latest salt is made with wild porcinis from San Antonio Cuajimoloyas, a village 56 kilometers away from the Oaxaca city. Located 3200 meters above sea level, the high-altitude is the ideal climate for mushroom foraging in the rainy season.  I had the privilege of attending the annual Mushroom Festival in Cuajimoloyas last July and in addition to porcinis we collected over 200 different types of fungi during our 6-hour hike.

The name porcini means “piglets” in Italian. They’re also known as the king bolete, cèpe (in French), Steinpilz (the “stone mushroom” in German), and a host of other fun names from all over the world. The Latin name is Boletus edulis.

Porcini mushrooms are a famous and delicious addition to any dish. Forage the ultimate umami flavor with our Wild Porcini Sea Salt. Hearty porcini mushrooms are mixed with natural sea salt to produce a mouthwatering, savory blend that shines in any cuisine. Like so many other good edible mushrooms, porcini are mycorrhizal. This means that the underground vegetative growth of the mushroom, called the mycelia, enters into a symbiotic relationship with the roots of plants. Why would you care as a chef? It means that because of this complex relationship that occurs in nature, porcinis aren’t easily cultivated and are seasonal.

Sprinkle Wild Porcini Sea Salt on beef, veal, pork, poultry, fish, rice, potatoes, pasta, polenta, popcorn, soup, cream sauces, tomatoes, dipping oil, rubs.

Other sea salts in our line are Rosemary Sea Salt and Hibiscus Sea Salt. They are available at our restaurant Café Juanita in Marina Chahue, Huatulco and at our cooking school, Chiles&Chocolate. http://www.huatulcocookingclasses.com

 

Food

Save the Fish Taco

4073ADD6-FACA-4F2E-9FD8-74F984CE9B25.jpgLiving by the ocean, it is amazing to me that when I go to the corporate-owned supermarket the only seafood available is imported and most likely farmed. To get local fresh fish one needs to go find the guys with coolers on the street corner or small fish stalls.

While for most of us fish is an occasional meal, chicken, beef and pork being the most common protein in the North American diet, for much of the world fish is a main staple.

About 1 billion people largely in developing countries rely on fish as their primary animal protein source. In 2010, fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with almost 20% of their intake of animal protein, and 4.3 billion people with about 15 % of such protein.

At Café Juanita and Frida’s Fish Taco Food Truck, we are committed to only serving locally caught fish. This means occasionally not having fish or at times ‘making do’ with fish that are less popular.

When I first moved to Southern Mexico almost 20 years ago the waters were abundant with marine life. My then-husband routinely went diving for lobster, came home with fresh yellow fin tuna or amberjack.

In the past few years I have noticed a large decline in the amount and variety of fish available. Part of this is due to warmer waters and less cold currents that my favorite fish favor. Causes of this are global warming, overfishing by large-scale fisheries, pollution and contamination.

A few things you can do to protect the ocean and guarantee delicious fish tacos will still be available in 20 years!

  1. Eat sustainable seafood.

Global fisheries are on the verge of collapse. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), three quarters of the world’s fisheries are now overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering from overexploitation. Ask your seafood restaurant or fish market to buy from sustainable fisheries. Look for special terms like “line caught”, “diver caught”, “sustainably caught” or “sustainably harvested.”

  1. Reduce energy use.

Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is making our oceans more acidic. One consequence could be the loss of corals on a global scale, as their calcium skeletons are weakened by the increasing acidity of the water. There are many simple ways you can reduce your energy use. Ride a bike, walk or use public transportation. Use high efficiency appliances in your home. Turn off appliances when they aren’t in use. Turn up your thermostat a few degrees in the summer and down a few degrees in the winter. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs in your house.

  1. Use reusable plastic products.

Plastic debris in the ocean degrades marine habitats and contributes to the deaths of many marine animals. Because floating plastic often resembles food to many marine birds, sea turtles and marine mammals, they can choke or starve because their digestive systems get blocked when they eat it. Help prevent these unnecessary deaths—use cloth grocery bags and reusable water bottles.

  1. Properly dispose of hazardous materials.

Motor oil and other hazardous materials often end up washing into coastal areas because they aren’t disposed of properly.  This pollutes the water and hurts the overall health of our oceans. Be sure to dispose of hazardous waste in an environmentally safe way.

  1. Use less fertilizer.

When fertilizers are used in gardening and agriculture, the excess eventually ends up in the ocean. One result is a “dead zone” — an area with very low levels of oxygen in the water — the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico during the spring and summer. Since all marine life requires oxygen to live, including fish and shrimp, they must flee the area or die. Many other coastal areas are at risk too. So, use fertilizer sparingly and remember more is usually not better.

  1. Pick up garbage and litter near beaches.

Much of the plastic and debris found in the ocean has its beginnings in beach litter. As beach crowds increase, so does the amount of trash left behind. Don’t let your day at the beach contribute to the destruction of our oceans. Bring a trash bag with you for your garbage and volunteer for beach clean-ups.

  1. Buy ocean-friendly products.

Avoid products produced through unsustainable or environmentally harmful methods. For example, avoid cosmetics containing shark squalene and jewelry made of coral or sea turtle shell. These products are directly linked to unsustainable fishing methods and the destruction of entire ecosystems.