Little Faces / Caritas

This is my favorite picture in the whole world!
Esta es mi foto favorita en todo el mundo!
But this is the winner because when I took it he asked me; "Did I blink?"
Pero esta es la ganadora porque cuando la tome él me pregunto; "¿cerré los ojos?"

Merry Christmas Everyone!
¡Feliz Navidad para todos!


The Pearl of the West / La Perla de Occidente

This year I visited the city of Guadalajara, "The Pearl of the West". State capital of Jalisco and one of the largest cities of Mexico.

I had been to this city several times in the past and to tell you the truth, when my cousin invited me to visit Guadalajara I did not get too excited. I remembered this place as a huge and busy city, which is not exciting to me because I like rustic and quiet places, but still agreed to go and to be honest, I have no regrets.

The most exciting thing for me about this place is its people. Although Guadalajara is a grand and vibrant city, the atmosphere has a small-town feel. Its inhabitants are extremely friendly and simple people. Walking through the streets, people greet you even if they don't know you. And if they know you, they invite you to their homes without any qualms.

It's a beautiful city with great colonial architecture that is evident everywhere. The city is considered the cultural center of Mexico. Guadalajara hosts a number of cultural and sporting events which draw international crowds such as the annual Guadalajara International Book Fair and the 2011 Pan American Games. 

Guadalajara is also the birthplace of Mariachi music, tortas ahogadas (follow the link for Pily's recipe in Mely's blog), carnes en su jugo (follow the link for Leslie's version) and the world famous San Juan de Dios Market, where you can find everything. 

Guadalajara, a beautiful city that I will certainly visit again.


Celebrating The Dead / Celebrando A Los Muertos

"Death is something we should not fear because, as we are, death is not and when death is, we are not"

In México, the Day of the Dead celebrations can be traced back to the indigenous cultures. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 3,000 years. Originally, this festivity fell on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, approximately the beginning of August, and was celebrated for the entire month. Festivities were presided over the goddess Mictechacihuatl, the "Lady of the Dead", who is now being related with La Catrina.

Altar made by Esteban Aguilar dedicated to Rafa, my nephew

With the arrival of the Spaniards, the date of this festivity changed to coincide with All Souls' Day celebrated by the Catholic Church. Today, as in many Latin American countries, México commemorates the Day of the Dead on November 2nd. The custom established by past civilizations became a ceremony where indigenous beliefs blend with Catholic beliefs. This celebration in México is not filled with sadness; on the contrary, it is a happy and colorful celebration where death takes a lively, friendly expression. People go to cemeteries to visit the souls of the departed and build private altars containing the favorite foods and beverages as well as photos and memorabilia of their loved ones. 

This little altar was for my dear friend Faten

In most regions of Mexico, November 1 honors children and infants with special designs in the altars, using color white flowers and candles. On November 2nd the souls of the adults are remembered with a variety of rituals according to the different states of México. Everywhere, people build altars for the departed and decorate their graves with offerings that often include sugar skulls made with the names of the dead person written on the forehead, cempasúchitl, Mexican marigolds, and pan de muerto, a special bread made for this occasion. The intention is to encourage the dead to return home and visit loved ones, feast on their favorite foods and listen to their favorite music. 

In United States, many American communities with Mexican residents are celebrating the Day of the Dead in a very similar way as in México but in the community, some have taken their own personality in which Mexican traditions are being extended to make artistic statements. 

In San Francisco for instance, The Day of the Dead has been celebrated in the Mission District since the early 70s. Over 15,000 people gather in the Mission to participate in the Annual Day of the Dead Procession and Altars. The altars are community art installations that are intended to change as each person adds something to them. Through art, music and performances this event honors our ancestors and celebrates the vitality and richness of today's community. 

In Tucson, Arizona, the All Souls Procession is a festivity inspired by the Day of the Dead. It is celebrated with a two-mile long procession that ends in the finalizing action of burning a large urn filled with the hopes, offerings and wishes of the public for those who have passed. The procession is a perfect opportunity for artist to collaborate, create, and inspire the public through their art. It was created in 1990 by Susan Johnson, local artist, who felt she should honor her late father in celebration and creativity.

In San Diego, my city, there are many organized events to celebrate this festivity. From the artsy ones, to the commercial, to the traditional. One I have enjoyed throughout the years is the one organized by the Sherman Heights Community Center. In the heart of the Historic District of Sherman Heights, this event has a little bit of everything. The celebration includes the viewing of altars throughout the neighborhood, arts and crafts, workshops, food, Aztec blessing, live performances and a procession. Powered by Hispanic community members, this event encourage pride in our Mexican traditions while honoring our ancestors.

This year I'm dedicating my personal altar to my beloved father- and brother-in-law, two people who I miss having in my live.


This Is Just To Say / Esto Es Sólo Para Decir

This is just to say

I have eaten 
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which 
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet 
and so cold

-- William Carlos William 

Cheesecake decorated with red and yellow plum dessert sauce and fresh plums

Used in this delicious dessert sauce, plums make even ordinary vanilla ice cream a real treat. And they elevate the humble cheesecake to a celestial place.

Plum Dessert Sauce

1 Cup water
6 Medium size yellow or red plums, peeled, halved and stoned
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place water, plums and sugar in a large, heavy saucepan, over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then transfer it to a blender and puree. Return to the saucepan, dissolve cornstarch in the lemon juice and add to the sauce while stirring. Simmer for 10 minutes. Let sauce completely cool before beating in the vanilla. Serve at room temperature.

Cheesecake decorated with yellow plum dessert sauce, fresh kiwi and blueberries


Morelia and Nearby Towns/ Morelia y Pueblos Cercanos

When I take a vacation in México I almost never go to big cities or tourist beaches where almost everything is set to attract visitors from abroad, especially those from the United States. These places show a beautiful and well manicured México where foreigners can feel comfortable and safe. The shops and restaurants are equipped to cater to these visitors. English is spoken and exclusive products are sold to appeal to visitors from abroad. The typical food is prepared in more modern forms and bottled drinking water is sold to invite visitors to eat and drink without fear of contracting stomach infections. This is all very fine but I prefer to go to rustic and picturesque small towns and to visit cities with beautiful architecture and historical heritage. Places where I can see the daily life of the Mexican people and learn more about our culture, customs, traditions and, of course, food.

A few days ago I visited the beautiful city of Morelia, the state capital of Michoacán. A city rich in history and with beautiful architecture.  Some of the most important people in the Mexican War of Independence, were born or lived in this city;  Morelos, Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, Iturbide and Hidalgo.

Morelia is the city that shows the noble and distinguished style of the entire state. Its monumental buildings, reflect of the viceroyalty period, are preserved in all their grandeur and its beautiful streets lead you, almost always, to the magnificence of a colonial style construction. 

The villages near Morelia are no less beautiful than the spectacular city. Beginning with the originality of their names to the picturesque landscapes and the authenticity of its inhabitants, many are referred to as "Pueblos Mágicos" (magical towns). 

According to the Tourist Bureau in México (SECTUR), A "Magic Town" is a place that has symbolic attributes, legends, history, important facts, day-to-day-live; in other words, MAGIC that emanates from its social and cultural manifestations.

Cuitzeo (place of pools), Cuto (place of torture), Uriangato, Huandacareo (place known for its hot springs spas), Iramuco, Chucándiro, Tarímbaro (place of willows), Huriramba (Calzonzin Inspector, the movie, was filmed here), Compandaro, Tzurumútaro, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio (where you can eat white fish and charales like nowhere else!), Capacho, Tiripetío (place of gold) and many others that it's impossible to name them all. 

Thanks to my dear friend, Lolita, I got to visit and learned the names of all these towns and she also told me the meaning of some of the names. Lolita is a retired Spanish Professor who used to teach in secondary schools in some of these towns as well as in the city. She was born and raised in Meson Nuevo, a town near Morelia, so she knows all about the city and she was so kind to show me around many wonderful places. I spent 4 days in Michoacán and, although this is not the first time I visited this state, I went to so many new places and learned so many new things that it feels like the first time.  I'm sure I will be back!