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/

 

 

Living

On beauty in Madrid…

Despite humans wanting to be practical and efficient, we are helplessly drawn to beauty. That’s what I thought as I watched the clusters of people at the museums and botanical garden in Madrid. We have a collective need for creativity that pushes us beyond ‘survival’ being enough in this crazy world.

Museums can be overwhelming. It is almost impossible to take in that much beauty at once. I like to find 2-3 paintings or aspects of the museum that ‘speak’ to me to make the experience more memorable.

The Women of the Thyssen Museum:

  1. salmon wallsCarmen Thyssen, a baroness through her marriage to her third husband Heinrich and Miss Spain in 1961, started collecting art in the 1980s using her husband’s fortune. She amassed a collection that includes Monet, Braque, Hassam, Rubens, Degas and many more. There has been a lot of social scandal concerning her collection since her husband’s death that make her life sound like a telenovela. In the museum, the walls are all salmon pink, it is SO bold and one of the requirements made by Carmen. In 2011, she also opened a museum in Malaga that focuses primarily on 19th century Spanish art.

 

  1. hotel roomThe nameless woman in The Hotel Room by Edward Hopper is a wonderful piece for a solo female traveler to contemplate. Here is what the museum has to say about this extraordinary work:

“The loneliness of the modern city is a central theme in Hopper’s work. In this painting, a woman sits on the edge of a bed in an anonymous hotel room. It is night and she is tired. She has taken off her hat, dress and shoes, and—too exhausted to unpack—she is checking the time of her train the next day. The space is confined by the wall in the foreground and the chest of drawers on the right; while the long diagonal line of the bed directs our gaze to the background, where an open window turns the viewer into a voyeur on what is happening in the room. The female figure, sunk in her own thoughts, contrasts with the coldness of the room, whose sharp lines and bright, flat colours are heightened by strong artificial lighting from above.”

  1. duchessDuchess Millicent Sutherland painted by John Singer Sargent in 1904 was much more than a pretty face. A fierce advocate for social reform and better working conditions despite her social status, she was sometimes called ‘meddlesome Millie’. During WW1 she organized an ambulance unit and was recognized by the Belgium, French and British Red Cross for her work during the war. She was married three times and penned several novels. The 1926 review of her novel ‘That Fool of a Woman’ in The Saturday Review stated: The power of the book lies in an emotional but extremely intelligent style, in an analysis of character which is revealed as much by detail as by words, in a feeling for atmosphere (war-charged Europe is particularly real), but mostly in the fact that the heroine is a sentimental heroine with a brain. Never does she see her mistakes quite in time—but neither is she hopelessly stupid nor a wilful misrepresenter of unflattering fact. Lonely, lovely, sentimental creature that she is, very much too late she sees the wherefore and why of foolish choice and subsequent disaster.

More than a pretty face indeed!

 

 

 

Living

Happy Love Month!

february-coverHappy Love Month! This is my editorial from The Eye magazine this month. For those of you who don’t me personally, I am the editor of an English-language magazine in Mexico called The Eye, in addition to owning a restaurant and a cooking school. The magazine really allows me to explore different aspects of life in Mexico and connect with amazing writers and of course our readers. You can check out current and back issues online at http://www.TheEyeHuatulco.com or if you are fortunate enough to be in Oaxaca or Huatulco you can pick up a hard copy.

 

Editor’s Letter | Beach, Village & Urban Living in Oaxaca

“I need to be alone. I need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion; I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the streets without companions, without conversation, face to face with myself, with only the music of my heart for company.”

― Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

I am feeling very exhausted. Everywhere people are bubbling over with their opinions, demanding their right to be heard but it seems we are so busy talking that the entire planet has actually stopped listening. All mouths are open and everyone I meet is ready to let me know where they stand on the state of world politics – by this I mean American politics – since WWII, America has prided itself on being the leader of the Free World and the consequence is that much of the world feels totally within its rights to weigh in. Add that to the fact that America has rarely hesitated to weigh in on the politics of other nations – and we all carry our opinions about those actions – layers and layers of ‘I thinks’ and ‘I believes’- each of us holding onto these values, believing that they have come to define us.

Strangely for me, an outspoken feminist, the day of The March did not incite in me the feeling of power it seemed to for the rest of my contemporaries. As I looked through my social media feed and saw photos of many people I respected taking to the streets, I felt sad rather than exhilarated. I felt even sadder when I read comments from those who were against the march. I asked myself… ‘Can I respect people whose opinions are so offensive to me and different from my own?’

Here’s what I realized. The wall has already been built. Without laying a single brick we have completely divided ourselves by allowing our beliefs to define and separate us. None of the issues being presented at the moment are new; access to abortion, equal pay, sexual assault, immigration reform, gay rights, police brutality. These are not just issues concerning the USA – these are issues we need to be concerned about worldwide. Human rights are a problem worldwide. There are many people around the world who do not have the privilege and freedom to attend a march or have access to rant on social media. If you are even reading this, you are most likely a lot ‘freer’ than the rest of the world.

If we really don’t want a wall, we need to stop talking. We need to stop shouting at people to love more. Shhhhhhh. Enjoy the silence. Listen to your heart beating inside your body. Before your gender, your culture, the randomness of the country where you were born, the religious and political beliefs you were raised with- before all that, you were just a beating heart, in the bubble of quiet of your mother’s womb. It was safe. You were most definitely loved.

Can I respect people whose opinions are offensive to me and different from my own? If I really want to be a part of the change I want to see, then I am going to have to learn to.

Happy Valentine’s Day,

Jane

Living

Happy New Year!

the-eye-jan-2017This is my editorial from The Eye magazine this month. For those of you who don’t me personally, I am the editor of an English-language magazine in Mexico called The Eye, in addition to owning a restaurant and a cooking school. The magazine really allows me to explore different aspects of life in Mexico and connect with amazing writers and of course our readers. You can check out current and back issues online at http://www.TheEyeHuatulco.com or if you are fortunate enough to be in Oaxaca or Huatulco you can pick up a hard copy.

Happy New Year!

“The Seven Social Sins are:

Wealth without work.

Pleasure without conscience.

Knowledge without character.

Commerce without morality.

Science without humanity.

Worship without sacrifice.

Politics without principle.

From a sermon given by Frederick Lewis Donaldson in Westminster Abbey, London, on March 20, 1925.”

There has been a lot of chatter about how crappy 2016 was. The list of mishaps for humanity and social consciousness is staggering; Brexit, the US election, Syria, school shootings, a return to misogynistic and racist comments being socially acceptable and all the fake news, to mention just a few of the cringe-worthy items that happened this year. Headlines have become so ridiculous and we seem to be living in a time where truth really is stranger than fiction. With all of that, most of us are hoping that 2017 will be better. However, I doubt it will be. How can I be so cynical? Because 2017 isn’t a thing, it’s time. People in 2016 were full of hate, greed and intolerance. We are those people.

Even if you are thinking, ‘Well not me, I was good,’ or maybe you are thinking about all the good stuff you did in 2016: helping people out, donating to causes, listening to your daily affirmations on your new phone or in your car while you drove to work. I’m sure you work hard for all that you have and that you mean well – me too. But if 2017 is going to be better, we have to be better – a whole lot better! I don’t know if we can do it. We are selfish by nature.

How far would you go? Would you invite a stranger to live in your spare room to help the refugee crisis? Would you stop driving to help the environment? Would you tolerate a woman’s right to have an abortion, even if you don’t agree with it? Would you let a person choose which bathroom to use based on which gender they identify with, even if you don’t agree with their choice?

We need to: Love more. Support women’s rights. Protect children from human trafficking. No more walls. Read books. Stop watching shitty TV. Eat real food – support farmers. Walk more. Take public transportation. Talk to our neighbors. Stop buying stuff we don’t need – it won’t make us happy. Stop feeding the hate machine. Stop hating immigrants – it’s called globalization and it is part of our progress. Improve human rights in other countries- we need to stop buying cheap goods made by little hands. Pay more for less.

If we are really going to be better in 2017, we are going to have to sacrifice some of our comfort, some of our feeling of entitlement and start nourishing the love machine until peace, not violence and hatred, is the norm of our human condition.

See you next month,

Jane

 

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

Living

Election Thoughts

libertycrying1

It’s an awkward situation. You can hear your neighbor next door raising his voice, punching a wall, talking shit. Should you say anything? Is it any of your business? It’s so ugly. The voices get louder, he’s calling her all sorts of names, the kids are crying and then a fatal punch… boom.

It’s late. I should be in bed as I have to get up early, but I am drawn to the election results like a bad accident and as the numbers go up in favor of Donald Trump I feel sick. I am not American- is it even my problem? Am I entitled to feel the complete disgust that is washing over me?

I loved the posts earlier in the day of women flocking to Susan B Anthony’s grave because it highlighted the importance of gender in this election- wait… that is still too narrow, as ‘election’ implies that for just this moment, as though it is important- because maybe something just happened. But that’s not it… Gender is ALWAYS the issue. Yet, it is the issue that gets brushed aside like some Mad Men ad exec asking a woman to bring him coffee with a hearty guffaw and then calling her uppity if she dares to protest.

The election season in the US has been a shit-show, a live-Jerry-Springer for those of us on the outside, but during the whole thing I have been amazed at how gender has taken a backseat to ‘black-lives-matter’ and the economy (women still earning 77 cents on the dollar with men in the US) with a gentle pat on the back and condescending ‘we’ll get to you later dear… calm down.’

In many places throughout the world, women are denied access to education, married as children or forced into human trafficking. Gender issues transcend race by being inclusive of the majority of the population and yet in this past election were sidebars. Anti-women propaganda and behavior was labeled ‘inappropriate’ rather than criminal and women’s issues were barely discussed with any real seriousness.

With the results of the US election, I feel a great sadness for the women that came before me. For the first time, it feels like their strides have been too short. I feel sadness for myself and my daughter, for the women in my Mexican village who are not allowed to attend town meetings, for the single mothers of the world, for women earning half of what men earn, for the women who believe their sexuality is their greatest asset, for the women wishing they had a voice in their own homes, for the women who need to work against ‘feeling’ like a victim in a society that victimizes them every day with a worldwide political system that belittles their power.

I am so tired of Donald Trump and the culture of slicing and dicing up our self-esteem and measuring our worth. I am sick of the American media machine that had a female candidate defending being ‘nasty’. Enough! There are more important issues and they involve humanity. They involve slowing down the ‘hate and winning machine’ and working on ‘empowering, cooperation and finding solutions.’

What do you say to your neighbor when you see her the next day with a black eye and a swollen lip? I don’t know.

 

 

Living

Supporting Girls’ Education

PicMonkey CollageFifteen is a magical age- in Mexico it is the time of quinceañeras and celebration as girls teeter on the brink of womanhood. It is also the age of high teen pregnancy rates- especially in lower income areas. The report — “Maternity childhood” Population Fund United Nations (UNFPA) revealed that Mexico is the leading nation in teen pregnancies with the alarming rate of 64.2 teen pregnancies per thousand births. Generally speaking, teen pregnancies are associated with poorer living conditions and the girls receiving lower levels of education. Girls with a higher education level, with a dream for the future and with a hope of success are much less likely to get pregnant.
A few years ago I met Johanne Lalonde in one of my cooking classes. In my classes I talk a great deal about the magic of the tiny village where I live- just 25 minutes from a world-class resort area but a world away- with no telephones, internet and many households still cooking on open fire, growing their own corn and maintaining an incredible amount of self-sufficient living. The village has a kindergarten, an elementary school and a secondary school (grades 7, 8 and 9)- making it possible for children to be educated within the village until that magical age of 15.
I started to notice that while some girls continued studying to high school even though their families now had to cover transportation costs to attend the high school in a neighboring village- many did not. Many got pregnant.
While some studies point to the lack of contraceptive education or acceptance with regards to teen pregnancy. I firmly believe that education, visualization and hope of a future are much bigger factors. Young women and girls need to proactively choose their future.
From this idea, Johanne and I started a program we named ‘Sigue Estudiando’ (Keep Studying) with the goal of keeping girls in school. One girl from each grade in secondary school would receive a scholarship towards her future educational needs.
Unicef reports in their study on gender equality ‘Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.’
When we support girl’s education we are supporting not only the individuals but helping communities to break the cycle of poverty. We are in the second year of the program currently have 6 scholarship recipients and while it is early to track the success of such a program, I have no doubt that it is having a positive effect. I asked last year’s recipients to write a letter to Johanne and I was very moved when one of the young women succinctly wrote that the biggest gift, more so than the money, was the knowledge and encouragement that came from knowing someone was caring for their education.
If you are interested in helping or getting involved please contact me through The Eye.
theeyehuatulco@gmail.com
Currently I am trying to get laptops for this years recipients- if you would like to donate one or have a gently used one that you don’t use, please let me know.