Love Fresh Produce?

Margaret Hefner

Mazatlán is blessed with a cornucopia of fresh locally grown vegetables and fruits, as well as those that arrive here from the interior of the country. Yet the large variety astounds those of us who haven’t grown up here; when we walk through the market or past a street vendor there is so much produce that is new and unfamiliar.

Now there is an interactive book—Frutas y Verduras: A Fresh Food Lover’s Guide to Mexico—that you can download to your phone, tablet or PC to help us learn the name of the item as well as hear an audio recording of its pronunciation in Spanish! You can click to get information on its nutritional composition, tips for storing it most effectively, and chef-created recipes for using that ingredient. What a godsend for anyone not familiar with indigenous Mexican produce!

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The “enhanced e-book” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s basically a website in e-book format: clicking on a photo, icon or link opens up further information. I learned that you can make pastry dough from cassava (yuca), that taro (malanga) improves digestion and gives you energy, and got a great recipe for prickly pear (tuna) syrup. It can be downloaded to your device from Apple (iBooks) or Kobo; because Kindle doesn’t allow such functionality, the book is not available there.

The volume is authored by Margaret Hefner, a Canadian chef living in Mexico City. When I recently spoke with her about Frutas y Verduras, I imagined we’d be talking about the book and her passion for the food. She surprised me, however, by spending most of our interview talking about her passion for the indigenous growers of Mexico. She has been moved to action in an incredibly heartfelt way by the fact that these farmers are way too often the voiceless in Mexican society, despite the fact that they are the custodians of ancestral knowledge regarding their plants and the medicinal value they contain. She wanted to do something to show her respect and appreciation for the campesinos whose stewardship has made Mexico a world heritage cuisine.

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Photo from Margaret Hefner

Margaret, who was neither an author, publisher or programmer before this project, spent over two years researching, collaborating (with other chefs, UNAM professors, the Herdéz Museum) and experimenting to produce the content for the book. She travelled throughout the central portion of the country as well as to Yucatán, Oaxaca and Chiapas. While every region of Mexico is included in her book, her budget did not allow her to make it to the west coast. Margaret found Ricardo Muñoz Zurita’s “Larousse Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Gastronomía Mexicana” very helpful; she hired a nutritionist in Guatemala to calculate of the nutritional values for each entry. Finally, Margaret spent six months glued to her computer screen programming the book’s interactivity.

The result is an absolutely beautiful and highly practical volume that I am delighted to own. Her goal? That more of us will buy local, from the growers, supporting family farms. She told me she believes many people are uncomfortable speaking to a vendor sitting on the ground; they may feel it uncomfortable, too hierarchical. Yet buying ten pesos worth of produce from that woman could make the difference in whether her children have books or shoes.

Margaret first fell in love with Mexican produce when she worked as a personal chef for an expat family living in San Miguel de Allende. She was used to only having imported produce over the snowy Canadian winters; the year-round fresh food here “blew her mind.” She loved throwing cocktail parties in which every canapé used a different indigenous ingredient in a surprising way. Her book contains multiple photos, indigenous names, and helpful information on over 60 of the hundreds of indigenous fruits and vegetables that exist in Mexico.

During her time in SMA she learned that the ingredients she had grown to love were often associated with the poor; that they had long been out of style and have only regained popularity in the past five years or so thanks to a few celebrity chefs.

Frutas y Verduras has a Facebook page where Margaret encourages people to upload photos of the fruits and vegetables they find throughout Mexico, in order to keep building the information depository. In this way, she hopes also to include more of the indigenous produce of Sinaloa and other regions where she was unable to travel. Margaret is offering a 30% discount to our readers through the month of January 2018. Just go to Kobo, https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/frutas-y-verduras-1 and enter the code FYVmaz when you check out. You can also choose your own price here: http://fyvmexico.com/fyv-book-pwyw/

 

If You’re Ever in Cartagena…

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Last night Greg and I were very excited about dinner. He’s traveling with me in Colombia, where I am on business. We’ve made a side trip to Cartagena, and he took the time to research the best restaurants and pick  out one that he was confident we would love—Carmen’s, in the gorgeous Hotel Ananda. Click on any photo to see it larger and view the full description, or to view a slideshow.

The meal so did not disappoint! We paid for a 7-course tasting menu with wine (about US$80 per person now with the low valuation of the Colombian peso), and received TEN courses and SEVEN wines.

The restaurant is based in Medellín and owned by Diego Angel, a former video game entrepreneur. Executive Chefs and proprietors Carmen Angel and Rob Pevitts are graduates of the Cordon Bleu San Francisco. The chef here in Cartagena, Jaime Galindo, is an incredible talent! He does not have a culinary arts degree but, rather, has learned on-the-job and through sheer raw talent or the don de cocinar. Having worked with chefs with degrees from the top cooking schools in the world, Greg was very impressed by the passion and talent that Jaime demonstrated.

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Chef Jaime Galindo – Job well done!

His brother Yonatan is the sous-chef. Not one course was less than spectacular, and we only felt one wine pairing was less than ideal: the rosé with the crab. The wine was just so acidic and overwhelmed the flavor of the food.

Kudos, Jaime and staff!!! The kitchen is small, and open to the diners. Everyone working there was nose down and focused on making every plate perfect. The restaurant serves not only the tasting menu that we had but a full a la carte menu and creative cocktails as well. In addition, front-of-the-house service was impeccable thanks to our terrific waiter, Juan Carlos, who took special care to ensure his Spanish-language explanations of the food and wine made sense to Greg and me.

Farm to Table 2016—Unbelievably Better than the First!

©08.DSC_0308The Farm to Table is absolutely the best food event of the year, IMHO. Ok, Delfos’ Cuerpo Gourmet is really cool, too, and it involves performance art as well as good food in a great setting. But nothing beats great food and awesome friends in the fresh air and sunshine on a nice cool day! FTT took place on Sunday, 20 minutes north of Mazatlán, at Chuy Lizárraga’s organic farm in El Recreo. The farm is just off the highway, at kilometer 21 heading north on the toll road towards Culiacán. All 150 or so of us absolutely had a MARVELOUS time!

The day didn’t start out so great. I was so excited to have our son, Danny, home from school for Farm to Table this year. We planned to go together—along with a large group of friends with kids his age—and it was to be a wonderful way to celebrate one last hurrah as a family before he left today. Alas, Danny got sick, and had to cancel out on Sunday morning. So, we all went and had a good time, while he stayed home alone on his last day, suffering. 😦

The day fortunately ended up wonderfully. Danny felt better this morning, and I yet again realized how very blessed we are with wonderful, talented, interesting friends. What an absolutely spectacular day we had! Thank you all for joining us! And for bringing your heartfelt smiles and laughter!

The event featured seven food courses prepared on site by seven chefs—two from Culiacán and the rest from our own beloved port. In addition to the excellent cuisine, we had all-we-could-drink cucumber-mint margaritas, red and white wine, and Mazatlán’s own micro-brew, Tres Islas . So, what was on the menu, and who prepared it?

  1. Welcome cocktail—those cucumber-mint margaritas made with Mazatlán’s own Los Osuna—prepared by Chef Alistair Porteous, Water’s Edge
  2. Green ceviche—shrimp, mahi, avocado, cilantro, parsley, garlic, chilaca and anaheim chile pesto—by Chefs Gabriel Ocampo and Luis Vargas, FISH
  3. Tres Islas micro-brew—Belgian-style, amber color, light body, dry finish, notes of fruits and spices—by Brewmaster Edvin Jonsson
  4. Dual temperature salad—grilled eggplant and portobello, squash that had been roasted in the ground, tomato trilogy and sweet baby bell peppers with a cranberry, raspbery and balsamic vinaigrette—by Chef Daniel Soto, El Caprichito Mio
  5. Traditional risotto—on a bed of huitlachoche/corn truffles, with radish garnish, parmesan crust, and tempura zucchini blossoms—by Enrique Freyre, Raggio Cucina Casual
  6. My favorite: grilled sea bass—in a smoked tomatillo sauce topped with seafood gratin—by Chef Luis Osuna of Cayenna
  7. Greg’s favorite: chamorro/pork shoulder rib—braised with red wine, star anise, garlic, cumin and thyme—by Chef Alistair Porteous, Water’s Edge
  8. Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from Chucaro, along with hibiscus tea
  9. Fresh fruit and cheese petit fours, plus incredible breads—by Susan Reynolds, Miel Fresh Baked Goods
  10. Dessert coffee—organic Chiapas espresso with a spiced date pure over vanilla ice cream, topped with toasted almonds and coconut—by Marianne Bisotti of Rico’s Café

This was the second Farm to Table that’s been held, and I’m told it will now be an annual event. Thank goodness! We sat at long tables covered with white linen and decorated with sunflowers, in the middle of a green pepper field. We were entertained with saxophone music and a raffle, and were able to purchase the centerpieces to take home. The proceeds from a silent auction at the end, with LOADS of wonderful gift baskets, all went to Floreser.

Are you wondering who organized this event? Our thanks go to geniuses Alastair Porteous, Sarah Emerson and Chuy Lizárraga for the vision. Though, of course, execution is thanks to a huge team of talented and passionate people!

If you want to get one of the limited number of tickets for this event next year, get your name on a list with any of the participating chefs/restaurants now. BLESS YOU ALL who made this event happen!

PS: is your mouth watering? Want more? Read about the first FTT here.

My Interview with the Queen of Sinaloan Cooking

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“The Most Extensive Book on Mexican Culinary Arts”: Doña Cuca and her husband, Ernesto, in 1980.

In 2010 UNESCO honored traditional Mexican cuisine as the first and ONLY world cuisine to be named an Intangible World Heritage.* Cooking is part of the cultural identity of a community, and I’m more than happy to sacrifice myself to having to eat traditional Mexican food nearly every day!

Sinaloa, the state in which we live, is the food basket of Mexico—home to thousands of hectares of corn, chile, tomatoes, pork, beef, fish and all the fresh seafood your tastebuds might desire. Leave it to a Sinaloa native, then—Doña Cuca, or María del Refugio Fonseca de Cárdenas—to do us the favor of recording recipes that were traditionally handed down orally into the “most extensive book on Mexican culinary arts,” according to a national Mexican newspaper. Just think… that makes this woman, born in Guasave, who now lives in Mazatlán, author of an authoritative work on the only Intangible World Heritage cuisine!

Doña Cuca has taught thousands of Mexican women the art of cooking; her cookbook is a Bible for newly married women. Just ask your friends—they know her. Dozens if not hundreds of women have opened cocinas económicas using her recipes as their guide, so La Maestra has contributed to Mexico’s growing middle class, as well, enabling women to send their children to school with the money they earn.

I have long wanted to interview Doña Cuca, but she turns down cold most interview requests. She’s been known to say that at 85 “she’s had her day in the sun.” So what were the odds this strange gringa woman could score an interview with the icon of Mexican cooking?

Well, last week, my girlfriend brought the honest-to-goodness-best-pie-in-the-history-of-humanity to my house. I asked her about it, and she explained that she had gotten married at 18 and learned to cook from her mother-in-law; the pie was just one of many recipes she’d learned. Small world, but I found out that my friend Patty is related to Doña Cuca, so arranging to interview the Maestra was easy peasy! (Thank you, hermosa!)

I was intimidated going into our meeting; I had heard Doña Cuca could be a tough interview, and that she is quite the perfectionist. We were invited to her home, so I wanted to take a hostess gift. But I sure as heck wasn’t going to take any homemade snack or baked goods! Flowers, maybe? I settled on a scented candle.

What a joy our afternoon turned out to be! Doña Cuca has such a spark, and my oh my does she have the charm! She welcomed Patty and me into her home where she regaled us with stories that ranged from the ribald to the heartwarming. She brought out photos, clippings, letters, and, of course, some fresh juice and snacks. As if that weren’t enough, she gifted us signed copies of her book, first published in 1980 and now in its 21st printing!

Doña Cuca told me she’s loved cooking since she was seven years old. She was fortunate to learn from her grandmother, her mother, and the wonderful cook at her grandparents’ hacienda in Guasave, which led us to her first earthy story. As a pre-teen, Doña Cuca was jealous of the large bosoms she saw on the cook and her daughters. She asked them how they got such big breasts. “From milling the corn!” they exclaimed. Obviously they were clever women, as their response got Doña Cuca to take over grinding the corn for quite some time before she figured out it didn’t help her breasts grow bigger!

At her grandparents’ hacienda Refugio learned the importance of fresh produce, meat and cheeses, and that simple cooking with quality ingredients is often the best. She got married and had five children. The family lived in Mexico City and Ciudad Obregón, but after serious financial setbacks, they ended up back in Guasave. There Doña Cuca started El Instituto de Seguridad Social: para el bienestar de la familia with two girlfriends. As part of that effort she often taught cooking classes in the ejidos. She remembers that she’d take notes about the many cooking techniques shared by the housewives of the area during her classes. Years later she conducted research in 18 municipalities of Sinaloa, focusing on the traditional recipes. That book, with sets of 100 recipes for seafood, beef, chicken, gourmet food, etc., will be published in January, 2016 under the title, Colache: Para Mis Pequeñas Cocineras.

La Maestra told me her favorite fish is corvina, and she likes it on las brasas: cooked over an open fire. She told me the traditional way to make pescado zarandeado, that emblematic Mazatlecan dish, is to barbecue it over an open fire with only salt. The salsas and the vegetables (tomatoes, onions, green peppers) should be served separately.

Some of the typical Sinaloan dishes that we talked about included chilorio, machaca, and chorizo. I asked if some of these weren’t more typically Sonoran, but she replied that Sinaloa has always had great beef, too, and that many of these recipes date to before statehood, even to prehispanic times. The one that really stood out for me were the enchiladas del suelo—enchiladas of the floor! I read one newspaper account about how these very enchiladas, made by Doña Cuca, had been the hit of a huge society party in Guadalajara, given by the famous enchilada maker La Güera del Mercadito Vizcaíno, thus taking the limelight away from the hostess. Doña Cuca told me that enchiladas del suelo, along with el asado Sinaloense, are very typical, traditional dishes of this region. They were often served at parties (parrandas) and serenades, and were an alternative to menudo at the closing of a dance. She promised to teach me how to make them, and I am sure hoping to hold her to that invitation!

What about one of her heartwarming stories? Like any grandmother, it involves a grandchild; in this case, Ana Carola Cárdenas. Ana took after her grandmother, but in Ana’s case her love of cooking took her to study it in Europe. Grandma proudly showed me Ana Carola’s article, some photos of her culinary arts teacher, and the chair in which her children and grandchildren grew up enjoying her terrific cooking.

I feel honored and very lucky to have met and had the chance to interview this fine woman, and I am also extremely grateful to her for working so hard to keep our traditions alive. I look forward to using her book and doing my part in turn!

Provecho!

*Yes, French gastronomy was honored as well, but it was for the French custom of eating together, the serving of courses, etc.—not for the food itself.

Chicken Breakfast/Desayuno de Pollos: Main

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Kids charming the camera woman while they line up for candy!

Want to have the best Christmas ever? Join us to bring joy to those in need! It’s a whole lot of fun, and a memory you will never forget!

Since 1990, Yolanda Medina and her family from the Quince Letras area of town have spearheaded an effort to feed those in need at Christmas time. Each year we feed over 3000 families with your help!

What is the “Chicken Breakfast?”
It is a two-step process to feed the neediest in our community.

First is a fundraising breakfast held in early December to raise money to buy one whole chicken and ten days’ worth of food for each family—we buy for as many families as we possibly can.

Second, on Christmas Eve morning (24 December), dozens of us gather together to load trucks and go out to the invasiones, the poorest, “squatter” areas of Mazatlán, to make people happy and hand out the goods! We give the chickens and foodstuffs, plus gently used clothing, linens, shoes, coats, and new toys and candy.

It is important to know that several of us go out to the squatter areas the week before Christmas. There we meet with area leaders and go around with them to hand out tickets, to ensure that those in need receive what they need, and that no one cheats or “double dips.” We especially want to ensure that we get food and clothes to the elderly and the disabled, so we go door to door to make sure everyone knows about the event, and to make plans to get things to those who can’t walk to the delivery site.

The history:

Yolanda Medina’s daughter, María Yolanda, was very sick. She and her husband kept vigil in the hospital, taking care of all their daughter’s needs. As Yoly’s sister-in-law Isa tells the story:

“It was Christmas Eve 1990, and María Yolanda’s days were counted. Yolanda and her late husband, Modesto, were in no mood to eat, let alone have a Christmas Dinner with all the fixings. But that night, a woman knocked on the hospital room door and peeked to see if there was someone with the patient. She came in to hand Yolanda and Modesto a box with a hot Christmas Dinner meal — and told them Merry Christmas and that God was with them. Yolanda never forgot that gesture.

After María Yolanda passed away, Yolanda got us all together and told us what had happened. So, the first couple of years, we had culinary arts students volunteer their time to prepare a Christmas Dinner meal, with donated ingredients from friends and family, and all of us volunteered to fill disposable thermal boxes with the hot dinners, load them into cars and pick-up trucks, and off we went, to hospitals, traffic intersections, parks — wherever we thought we might find people that, for one reason or another, wouldn’t be privy to a nice Christmas Dinner.

However, this was a huge effort, and very expensive, so we couldn’t cover that much ground. So we thought in terms of something more practical, something that could be cooked and prepared at home. This way, we could make sure many more families could have a Christmas Dinner. That’s when we started the Desayuno de los Pollos.”

How to help:

  1. Buy (or sell) tickets for the fundraising breakfast. Contact me at dianne@vidamaz.com, or buy them from anyone selling them around town. Post and Ship in the Golden Zone (down the side street from Farmacía Moderna/Bum Dólar), Tippy Toes in the historic center (across from the art museum), and Surf’s Up Café in Emerald Bay will have tickets also.
  2. Make crafts or baked goods to be sold at the bazaar during the breakfast. Contact me and we’ll arrange a pick up or drop off, or bring them the morning of the breakfast.
  3. Donate (or gather) items for the silent auction (download a gift certificate, artwork, restaurant meals, hotel stays, airfares…). Just contact me and we’ll pick your stuff up.
  4. Help set up, cook, serve or clean up after the breakfast.
  5. Donate money (in person or click on the link), gently used clothing, diapers, lightly worn shoes, linens, blankets coats, new toys, or candy. 100% goes to those in need. Post and Ship will be happy to collect items if you drop them off there (beside Dolce Mami, across from FedEx).
  6. Help pack the food into packets—the two weeks before Christmas.
  7. Join us to go out with community leaders to deliver tickets for chickens, to ensure all receive their fair share, the weekend before Christmas. Instructions are below.
  8. Help us load the trucks and deliver the goodies on December 24th! This is, of course, the most fun and a terrific tradition with friends and family.

When and where is the breakfast?
It’s usually the first Saturday in December, 8:30-10:30 am in the cruise ship dock/API. In 2018 the breakfast will be on Saturday December 8th. Please join us and bring all your friends! Your ticket includes a full homemade breakfast, coffee and juice, a ticket for the door prize, a ticket for the raffle, and access to the Christmas bazaar. This is a very multicultural affair, with announcements in Spanish and English and hundreds of locals and expats attending.

API dock is on Emilio Barragón nearly across from the OXXO. Below is a map. If you can’t find it, ask any taxi driver or blue shirt/Tourism Volunteer.

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How can I get to Quince Letras on December 24th?
Come by 6:30 am if you are driving a truck, 7:00 am if you are helping us load and deliver. We usually finish by 11:30 or noon, but some years it’s taken longer (depends how many routes you participate in).

Quince Letras, corner of Tampico and Francisco Villas streets We load from either side of this

Quince Letras, corner of Tampico and Francisco Villas streets We load from either side of this “Coca Cola” store on the corner

LOCATION: 15 (QUINCE) LETRAS, corner of Francisco Villa and Tampico, just down the hill from the Church of Cristo Rey (Christ the King—photo below).

  1. From Avenida del Mar turn East at the Fisherman’s Monument.
  2. Go to the first light and turn right.
  3. Proceed one block and turn left (Francisco Villa street, just before the Pemex station).
  4. Go two blocks.
  5. If you are NOT driving a truck or transporting supplies, please park in the next block. This will give us room for loading. Once you’ve parked, walk another block down, past the iron works business called “Quince Letras.” On the corner of Francisco Villa and Tampico you will see a small store with a bright red “Coca Cola” hand painted on the outside, across from a tortillería. A door next to the Cocheras Automaticas business will be open. That’s Yolanda’s mother’s house, and it’s from there that we’ll be loading.
  6. If you are driving a truck or transporting supplies, please drive up to Tampico street (the “Coca Cola” store on your right on the corner), turn right, and park. We will be loading right there.

IMG_0669If you can’t find it, just ask someone for “Quince Letras” or “Desayuno de los Pollos/Medina family.” Everyone in the area will know.

Merry Christmas to all! And see you there!

  1. Download and view or use a PowerPoint presentation with a full explanation of the project: chicken-breakfast-presentation
  2. Download a gift certificate to fill out, and we’ll advertise your business or service at the breakfast! Just contact us and we’ll pick it up!
  3. Download and print a poster to help advertise.

Have questions? Contact the organizers:

  • Jorge Medina (speaks English well) on his mobile, (669) 110-0744
  • Yolanda Medina (some English) at (669) 431-4529