Monthly Archives: November 2010

Ollas de Barro

Do you have any clay cooking pots – ollas de barro? They are inexpensive, not-too-durable but once you have seasoned them, your favorite recipe will come out tasting better than ever before. Now, a lot of my friends worry about using them… stories of lead poisoning frighten them away. I’m sure there is some metal in the glaze but I’ve cooked in these pots for decades and have not suffered any ill effects. I believe this is because I followed my mother-in-law’s instructions for proper preparation.

Doña Bertha says there are certain steps that must be taken to ensure your barros are safe. You need to undertake the “seasoning” I spoke of in the preceding paragraph. And, I don’t mean a sprinkling with salt, pepper and herbs!

When you bring a new pot home, wash it in lots of soapy water, rinse and then allow it to completely dry before seasoning. 

To season, coat the entire inside of the pot with cooking oil (you don’t need to use a high quality oil). Put the pot over a medium flame for about 15 minutes or until it begins to smoke.  Remove the pot from the heat and wipe it as clean as possible with paper towel. Allow it to cool, and then repeat the process about three more times. You will be able to see the pot is seasoned when it has a nice shiny patina. My mother in law told me that this procedure removes the lead and that it “seals” the surface. If your barro is well seasoned, your food will not stick and you’ll notice the special flavor it gives to food…  Here are a few tips for the proper care of your barros.

After a few months, the surface may start losing the sheen. Repeat the whole seasoning method.

One thing I never do is to put anything really acidic in the pots like orange juice, ceviche,  or chile.

Do not bang the pots they will crack easily, especially if they are hot. And once they crack, you can no longer use them to cook in.

Don’t put the hot pots into water, again, this will cause them to crack.

But the good news is… cracked barros make great plant pots!


Filed under Vida Latina


For me, the poinsettia is the unmistakable herald of the Holiday season. I remember how my dad would bring one home as soon as they came available and Mom would place the cheery red bloomed plant on the wide ledge of the front hallway window. Throughout my childhood, the exotic star flower was a part of the anticipation of Christmas.

As a young girl, little did I know that I would one day live in the land of the poinsettia.  When I first arrived to live in Merida, I did not realize that the thriving lanky limbed bush on the far side of our fledgling garden was a poinsettia. In late October, before my startled eyes, the green leaves on the tips of the long branches began turning color. By mid November they were scarlet.

The Latin name is Euphorbia pulcherrima. Endemic to Mexico’s central valleys, in the Nahuatl language it is called Cuitlaxochitl. The Aztecs used it to produce a red dye and also discovered that the resin was a powerful drug to lower fever.

The plant’s association with Christmas began in the 16th century in Mexico, where it is said that a small child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the side of the road and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson “blossoms” sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. The leaf  reminded the colonial priests of the star of Bethlehem . During the XVII  Century, they baptised the plant with the name, “Noche Buena” and were the first to use it as an emblem of the Christmas season.

In 1828, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the United States Minister to Mexico introduced the plant to his countrymen…  and as they say, the rest is history.  

Although we no longer have the poinsettia shrub in the garden, several (red, pink and white) potted plants are on tabletops and tucked into corners of our home… letting everyone know that Navidad is not far away.            


Poinsettias decorate the gardens of Chapultapec Castle in Mexico City


 The images of the poinsettia are from my albums and

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La Virgen de Guadalupe…

As November draws to a close, all of Mexico gears up to celebrate December 12th… “El Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe” – the feast day of the patron saint of Mexico. The devotion that most Mexicans have for La Virgen is not understood by many residents not born in this country. Those who are not Catholic have a particularly difficult time with the whole concept.

The Virgen of Guadalupe is not merely an icon, she is considered to be “the Heart of Mexico”. If you want to better understand Mexico’s culture, a good place to start is with the story of Guadalupe and her apparition to Juan Diego, a poor peasant in 1531.

The defeat of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital occurred just ten years earlier and the indigenous central Mexicans were very confused with the “New Order.” The religion of the colonial priests became an obligatory part of day to day life. So when Mary appeared before Juan Diego, in Tepeyac, (a site that was sacred to Tonansin, the Aztec mother goddess) she was fully embraced by the people.  Her dark skin and familiar features further fostered acceptance. The conquered citizens of New Spain felt that La Virgen de Guadalupe was their own saint.

And throughout the violent, turbulent history of Mexico, the image of La Virgen has been the one carried on standards, leading the way to a better future. For many, the allegiance is absolute. When there is trouble, prayers are directed to Guadalupe and when situations are resolved, this is very often credited to her intervention.

Belief in the Virgen of Guadalupe is not a logical phenomenon. It is a matter of the heart. Is that not what faith is all about? Faith does not require proof. It doesn’t need thoughtful assessment – it just IS.

I have been to the Basilica de Guadalupe on several occasions and have been awed by the examples of this basic faith the La Virgen instills. It is quite amazing to witness. Although I do not possess this unshakable faith, I firmly believe this unquestioning belief is one of the Mexican people’s sources of strength.

I will post more on the Virgen of Guadalupe on some of the days leading up to December 12th. But if you wish to know more now, here are some informative links:

The image of the Guadalupana shrine is one I took last December.

The image of the antochistas is from

I downloaded the most well known image of La Virgen de Guadalupe from:


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