Monthly Archives: June 2010

When buzzards have a choice ……

    

 “When buzzards have a choice between fresh roadkill or a decayed animal carcass, they will always choose the fresh kill.” …. eHow.com       

by Jill Negronida Hampton       

I’m not very comfortable with having someone clean our house but as we need Evalinda (Eve) to clean when we’re not here we have her  come in one day a week even while we are here so we can hold on to her. I seem to not be able to just sit and read while she’s cleaning so if I don’t have ACTUAL work such as gardening to do, matching her, work for work to justify the situation, I feel the need to leave the property. This particular day I grabbed my book, a towel, camera and tripod and headed to the beach. Though the surf tryouts had ended, the fish were still running and thus the birds were still flocking actively. The Pacific Ocean was in a pretty mellow mood that day, a bit too calm to offer much to the surfers or a camera. I spread out a towel and settled down to read for a while. Apparently I lay there a bit too still for a bit too long.       

All of a sudden there was this light tapping on the bottom of my foot. I cranked my neck around quickly enough to cause a good case of whiplash and there a few inches from my foot was a buzzard. Beyond him, his entire buzzard family was waiting to see if I was ready to be feasted upon.  Indignantly I grabbed a handful of sand and tossed it at him. Ohhhh that scared him, as he backed up exactly 2” and continued to eye me, trying to determine my actual state in relationship to his family having staked out their rights to feast first. I tried to go back to reading while all the time bobbing  my feet up and down to dissuade the buzzard clan. After 10 minutes I realized I had read the same 2 lines over and over again and my new best friends clearly were not going to relinquish their stake or is that steak. My mind was too distracted by my audience and the idea that “Buzzard Breathe” wanted to aerate my foot and frankly, I’m found of it as is.  Sorry guys, I’m packing it in and as I’ll not be accommodating you, you’ll have to start the search for dindin over again. Luckily I was just thinking this as I glanced at the feathered clan rather than actually standing there talking out loud to them as my irritation was tempting me to do. Because right then I  turned slightly and was startled to find Martin, a local guy talking to me. He had come over to point out the crocodile that was sunning itself in the estuary. I grabbed my things and relocated away from the peeking beak of my stalker but an even safer distance from Mr. Croc O. Dile.       

San Pancho estuary

San Pancho’s uncrowded beach is really an oasis. A very quiet and tranquil slice of paradise. Towards the south end of the mile long beach sits an estuary seperated from the Pacific Ocean by a band of sand whose measurement changes with the rains. In the rainy season, the river that feeds into the estuary fills often causing the estuary to swell and surge westward connecting with the Pacific. You can count on the estuary to be filled with a variety of birds.       

Well, on this particular day the estuary had more to offer than birds. Sunning itself on a bank, which I might add was separated by a body of water from the bank I was standing on, was a crocodile. Apparently I was looking at an American crocodile. They inhabit areas where fresh and salt waters mix, called brackish water, such as coastal wetlands and canals. Crocodiles fall within an order of large reptiles that appeared some 84 million years ago. They are said to be the closest living relatives of birds. Now Mr. Croc O. Dile made for quite the cooperative model, one that proved to be oh so photogenic.       

       

       

So a couple of days later, we headed down for another Sunday afternoon at the beach and guess who else was making an appearance.  Despite the fact that I was making every effort to keep a safe body of water between the croc and myself, I was making a number of people quite nervous in my efforts to get more shots of my new pal. So much so that the next day I was enlightened by many facts neighbors had unearthed regarding crocodiles. Facts such as the speed at which a croc can move at whether it be on land or in the water. Also that a mother croc with a wee croc is much more aggressive. As it turns out this fact indeed did apply because after returning to the house and loading my new batch of ppictures on to my computer I realized that I had been wrong. My new friends was not Mr. Croc O. Dial but Mrs. Croc O. Dial in the comany of mini croc. 

         

What are those birds looking at?                                              Ahhhh, it’s Mini Croc O, Dial  

                               

Our home in San Pancho, Mexico

      

Click the Jeff Oster link just below then shrink that page to enjoy the music while you read this blog post. We’ll explain why it’s here later.    

On One Knee by Jeff Oster             

Our home in Mexico.

At some point years ago, we realized that we really wanted to have a home-base in Mexico. Over many years of traveling throughout Mexico we realized how much we enjoyed the country. There has always been for us, something that feels so right about our time there.The people, the culture, the food of course the art… everything. Originally we were just looking to buy a little house that we could just fix up enough to run away to now and then. We focused our search on coastal Mexico. Linc being Mr. Storm Chaser (oh yeah, we’re talking chasing tornadoes, no lie) and Jill loves watching a good storm but not wanting to deal with hurricane damage, we decided to focus on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. After a number of years we found where we wanted to kick off our sandals off and watch the pelicans fish.           

We ended up buying property and building a house in a sweet little pueblo about a half hour north of Puerto Vallarta along the coast. We’re very much seperated from the tourism of Vallarta. The road connecting the 2 areas turns into a windy, full of vegitation area refered to as “The Jungle”.  San Pancho was originally a small little fishing village comprised of a few extended families. Our house sits 2 1/2 blocks from the beach. A beautiful 1 mile long stretch of beach. Believe it or not we do work a good deal while we’re there so Sunday afternoons are beach time. Every year now our talk turns to spending more and more time here, who knows.             

Just another beautiful San Pancho sunset!

We tell people that if you’re looking for entertainment, San Pancho is not the place to come. Unless that is, sitting on the  beach  and watching the birds dive for their dinner while you sip on something cool floats your boat. Now watching pelicans can be quite entertaining in a very relaxing way. They fly in a line, seeming to mirror the arcs of the waves. Apparently this is flight pattern is referred to as the “ground effect”, which is said to be experienced by pilots as they approach a runway. Oh yeah, you can also watch the local fishermen come in with their days catch, maybe spot dolphins or a whale spouting off, or the surfers riding the waves. Then there are the daily or we should say nightly sunsets at the beach             

We have a couple of restaurants on the beach and then a smattering of restaurants from tasty taco stands to a couple trendy spots scattered throughout the small pueblo. Every morning we can walk a block away and buy tortillas as they’re made. A block in a different direction leads us to Pando’s house, a local fisherman where we buy redsnapper he’s just caught. Passing vendors go up and down the streets of the pueblo selling shrimp, scallops, fruits, veggies, brooms, plants, you name it, they sell it.             

El Indio is the little tienda (store) a block away where we run to get, say a stalk of celery. Yup, you can rip one stalk of celery off and they sell it by the weight. Fresh tortillas are lept in a cooler and now someone in town is making delicious homemade bread thay is sold there.          

This year our big project This was  building a palapa covered dining area complete with a ceiling fan and lights. A palapa is a thatched-roof, open-sided structure. The material used for the roof of a palapa typically consists of woven palm-tree leaves. Don Felix (in Mexico, placing the word Don in front of a man’s name and Doña in  front of a woman’s name is a sign of respect) was our palapero. A Palapero is someone who………………… makes palapas. To begin with, Don Felix’s son Martin (Marteen) brought his crew in to build the main skeleton of the structure which is made out of Guayabillo wood.             

  We were able to have a birds-eye view of the entire process from the second story veranda of our house from which we took hundreds of pictures from beginning to end. After Martin and his guys were done, Don Felix brought his crew in. They weave the palms into the skeleton of the structure which creates the roof that provides protection from water and sun. This new dining area with lights and fan, is a real plus as we can now actually see our dinner when we sit down to eat. Interesting concept.             

Jeff Oster plays at the San Pancho Music Festival

Now about that music prompt at the begining of this posting. We know that we said that there isn’t much entertainment in San Pancho but every year at the end of Feb there is the San Pancho Music Festival. The festival is a weekend full of a wide variety of musical offerings from local to international talents. One of the many talents found there every year is Jeff Oster, an incredible trumpet player. We now sell Jeff’s cds at Casita Azul Folk Art in Evanston.             

Tryouts were being held for our local surfers to compete in a comletion that was being held up the coast in Mazatlan. The weather was quite agreeable in that the waves were rolling and the sun was shining brightly. An added interesting twist was tossed in by nature though. Schools of fish were making their way up the coast of The Bahia de Banderas just off shore, slowly! There were massive flocks of birds following them. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pelicans, frigates, herons, seagulls & egrets. Something of an, “Alfred Hitchcock goes Tropic”.      

      

Surfin’ with the Birds ala San Pancho.
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Meanwhile back at the shop in Evanston:
                                        

Aguilar Sisters, Ocotlán de Morelos, Oaxaca, Mexico.

       

      Oaxaca is a folk art mecca. One of our first stops here in a folk art lovers paradise is always out to visit the famous clay artists, the Aguilar Sisters. They all live in Ocotlán de Morelos, Oaxaca, Mexico. Ocotlán, three right in a row

The four sisters, Guillermina, Josefina, Irene and Concepcíon as well as many of their children carry each have adapted their own unique style of working with this earthy medium. The sisters learned their art from their mother Isaura Alc‡ntara. Their colorful, decorative and often times whimsical figures are all hand formed and hand painted. Guillermina is the oldest, then Josefina, Irene, and Concepción. They as well as many of their children are all accomplished artisans whose works are shown in major museums in Mexico and abroad. In fact Guillermina, Josefina and her son Demetrio often can be found demonstrating their craft at Chicago’s own National Museum of Mexican Art.  Josefina  is famous for her  figures of women carrying  on their heads baskets of fruit, flowers, turkeys and animals. Irene and Guillermina produce ladies of the night, exotic creatures complete with key anatomy showing as well as religious based sculptures. Concepción creates beautiful renditions of Frida Kahlo that she displays next to astounding Day of the Dead sculptures. The sisters, as well as many of their children also are known for their wedding scenes, nativities and entire town plazas complete with palm trees and a bandstand full of musicians.

Josefina Aguilar gained international acclaim in the 1975 when Nelson Rockefeller began collecting while visiting Oaxaca. Chicago’s own National Museum of Mexican Art is often the hosts of one of the Aguilar sisters around the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos. There you can meet them, see a demonstration by them and view many pieces of the art. At Casita Azul Folk Art in Evanston we most likely have about the largest selection of their works in the area as on each and every trip out to see them we find many pieces we feel we could live with forever. Some go to the store for awhile while we determine the perfect place for them in our home, them home they go.

The Aguilar’s use a local clay that is beaten, soaked, and set on the floor to dry followed by kneading. Firing is then done in an updraft ground pit kiln.

Friday in Ocotlan is market day (tianguis). Produce and hand crafted items from surrounding towns are available as well as manufactured products. Market day is not just for the buying and selling in rural Mexico, it is also cultural ritual, a time and place of social gathering thousands of years old. Locals as well as families from small outlying villages come to buy, sell and catch up on the state of affairs. It’s a time to socialize with neighbors due to distance you would normally not see. You’ll find plants, flowers, local crafts, fruit, live animals, plastic buckets, brooms and vendors selling nothing but bras. There are ceramics, baskets, homeopathic remedies, bootleg cd’s and dvd’s, knives, saddles, hats, rope and traditional sandals called huaraches. Varying region to region there will always be a fine selection of the traditional food and drinks of the area. In a Oaxacan tianguis it is common to find women with inverted basket tops selling chapulines (fried grasshoppers).

As I mentioned we’re big fans of the Aguilar family so not only do we carry many of their sculptures in the store but now in our on-line store as well.

Heading To Oaxaca.

We’re headed to Oaxaca.
 
      Ahhhh, home-away-from-home or I guess we should say, home-away-from homes. The city of Oaxaca is one of our favorite places.  It’s is this incredible blend of, culture, history, food, art, the perpetual spring climate and the people, now THEY are the salt of the earth. Nestled in a valley in the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range, beauty is  all around. When people tell us they’re going there for a few days we say, “don’t bother”.  Really, a week barely allows you to touch all the area has to offer. Even with a week your time will be limited so you’ll have to decide upon a focus.  Which path shall you follow, history, culture, local cuisine, or art. Maybe it’s your goal to go out and visit the  various weekly tianguis (market ) of not only Oaxaca itself but of the outlining towns for there does exist one on almost every day of the week. You see, still even today it can be hard for the villagers to get to where something they want is sold. So instead it comes to them either in the form of a weekly tianguis or as in our San Pancho, on the back of a pick-up truck.  

Most towns small or large (cities) have a central pedestrian park if you will. They are often referred to as  a  Zocalo, El Jardin, or La Plaza. We’ll not go and on about them beyond saying that the Zocalo in Oaxaca  is one of our favorite spots to just sit and smell the roses or in this case it may be basket after basket of gardenias being passed under your nose by local women selling them. In the evenings you may be treated to the local orchestra or symphony playing there. Either in the centrally located gazebo or on the plaza near the Cathedral. ALWAYS, ALWAYS though, every night you can count on the Mariachi and Marimba bands, UNBELIEVEABLE!       

Benito Juárez Market

The regional cuisine is a mix of tamales, handmade tortillas, and spicy salsas that date back to the Mixtec and Zapotec peoples. Two stars on the Oaxacan gastronomy horizon are Queso Oaxaca (cheese similar to string cheese that comes rolled in a long continuous rope) and the very famous Oaxacan Mole. They say there are 7 different Oaxacan moles. The most famous being, Mole Negro which uses six kinds of chiles, almonds, raisins, pumpkin seeds, tomato, garlic, onions, plantains, chocolate, spices, chile seeds, lard and more.       

Queso Oaxaca and Mole are but two of the offerings to be found at Oaxaca’s Benito Juárez Market. You’ll find fresh produce, mounds of spices, herbal remedies, flowers, handicrafts & clothing. Beautiful regional textiles such as wool shawls, huipiles (traditional women’s tops). These pieces of clothing can take months to weave on backstrap looms. The designs and colors tell you the region they are made in. Offerings of locally produced honey, rice, pasta, coffee and cacao beans for making the famous Oaxacan chocolate. Leather boots, briefcases purses and shoes next to a stall filled to the ceiling with hats. The Market is enclosed but there are also little stalls/shops lining the streets on all sides of the market building. Tin Christmas ornaments fill one while black and green pottery or wooden carvings of animals, musicians, angels, and birds.       

Iliana de la Vega, former owner of El Naranjo

      A few years ago we treated Jill’s mother, known as Bunny, Bun, The Bunster or Janet depending on who you talk to, to a cooking class here. To simplify things she’ll be refered to as “The Bunster” within our blog. The class was taught by Iliana de La Vega who at the time owned the restaurant “El Naranjo” in Oaxaca and had quite a write-up in Bon Appetit. The class included a bit of history on the dishes we were to prepare, followed by a trip to the local produce market where we bought all that was needed to prepare the dish. We returned to the restaurant to cook up the mouth-watering dishes and then all sat down to maul.       

We’ve often been asked by customers to put together a group trip to Oaxaca that would include cooking classes. Iliana left Oaxaca a few years ago but there are some other excellent options for this possibility. Who knows………       

Next, off to Ocotlán de Morelos, Oaxaca, Mexico, to visit the famous clay artists, The Aguilar Sisters and their families.   

   

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Meanwhile coming up at Casita Azul Folk Art in Evanston…………   

 

  

         

**************** The discount during the Custer Street Fair does NOT apply to the works that Cilau will be selling. Only on IN STORE purchases.******************

Huichol Indian Artist @ Custer Street Fair, June 19/20 2010

      

 

                         

  

      Please stop by and meet Cilau and his mother Susana, who founded the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival in the 1980s. She did this in an effort to rescue and conserve the Huicholes stories and symbols. http://thehuicholcenter.org/ They will also be bringing with them many beautiful pieces of Huichol Art and Jewelry that will be available to purchase.

If you have any questions please call us at 847-424-8180 or email us at casitaazul@earthlink.net

ON THE ROAD AGAIN.

     We‘re on the road again, heading south from Evanston through Texas crossing the Mexican border at Laredo. We overnight in Saltillo, then continue south to San Miguel de Allende. This is the official starting point of our annual buying trip as we begin the never ending search for the beautiful, colorful and oftentimes quirky pieces of folkart to bring back to the loyal customers at Casita Azul.

Ratings of 1 - 5 Chicken Feet

 This trip is also known as “One couple’s trek to find the finest Pollo Rostizado, or Roasted Chicken in Mexico.”     Updates on this search to come soon.

    Talavera from Dolores Hidalgo

San Miguel de Allende, located in the state of Guanajato,  and its northern neighbor, Dolores Hidalgo have been a home to many ex-pats, enjoying the picturesque cobblestone streets and colonial architecture. Much of the famous Talavera Pottery that comes from Mexico is made in Dolores Hidalgo. A type of majolica earthenware, it was introduced to Mexico by the Spaniards. Talavera is the oldest tin-glazed ceramic in the Americas. The same techniques are used today in making it as were in the 16th Century.

In San Miguel de Allende, silver, ceramics, artisan crafts, antiques, tin, folk art, clothing, art, are all plentiful. Many treasures to be found This time through we meet up for dinner with a couple of friends from Evanston, George and Linda Stevenson who are there studying Spanish.

From San Miguel we head to Taxco for the Saturday silver market.  This is a drive that if all goes well should only take about 6 hours. We say if all goes well because the section of road to the north of Taxco is a winding, one lane in either direction road. As is very typical in Mexico this “highway” has no shoulders and therefore is very unforgiving to motorists who swing wide  or to the car that meets those who swing wide. That being said it really is a pretty, very mountainous drive. 

    Taxco, which sits approximately 100 miles southwest of Mexico City, is known worldwide as the silver capital of Mexico. William Spratling, a U.S. citizen moved to Mexico in 1929 where he and his designs helped revive the art of silversmithing. He is remembered fondly as “The father of Mexican Silver”.

Nestled into the steep hillside it’s not the best destination for those lacking packmule genes. The narrow streets were clearly not made for today’s larger vehicles. In fact many are a problem to navigate even in the traditional Mexican cab of choice, the VW Bug! Good walking shoes are a must, in other words, shoes with traction. The streets (hills) are steep so if you should fall forward or backward there is but a very short distance to fall.

Next stop Oaxaca!

     But first, a brief update on the before mentioned, “Search for the best Pollo Rostizado in Mexico. WeI discovered on our many trips throughout Mexico that once you’re outside of the larger urban areas finding a quick meal on the road is near impossible. Unlike in the U.S., there are no McDonald’s or Burger Kings (not that we would be opting for those anyhow) found along the roadways, only regional Mexican favorites such as birria, a bowl of broth with freshly chopped roasted meat served with a corn tortilla, onions and cilantro, all seasoned with fresh squeezed lime juice. Now as good as this is, eating it is something of an event that disqualifies it from EVER being considered “fast”.

The ultimate in Fast Foods, Pollo Rostizado!

  Many a time we’d find ourselves starving and desperately trying  to find something simple to eat that wouldn‘t  require restaurant dining. This, as any traveler knows, tends to slow the trip down. So one day while traveling through areas surrounding Zamora and Morelia, we happened upon what has become one of our favorite stops for Pollo Rostizado in the pueblo of Zacapu. What exactly is pollo rostizado, you ask? It is prepared as you might have guessed on a rotisserie, chickens rotating over  a hot fire. In some regions potatoes and chiles, jalapeno or serrano,  are placed below the chickens as they cook catching the drippings which further enhances the flavors of both the potatoes and peppers.  [Note: Pavlov’s Theory kicking in, I’m starting to drool a little just thinking about it!}. Sorry we digressed!!   

¡Hasta la próxima vez! Until next time! When you’ll find us heading to Oaxaca.