¡Hoy es el cumpleaños de Frida Kahlo!

Today marks the 104th anniversary of the birthday of my favorite Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo!

If you’re not familiar with Frida’s life, work, or the famous Casa Azul, you can read more about them on the Museo Frida Kahlo website (in English). And if you’re ever visiting Mexico City, Casa Azul is one of the places you absolutely must visit.

It’s a magical place where you can feel her presence in just about every room and in the garden as well.

At the time I last visited Casa Azul, a stunning and thought-provoking private collection of photographs of Frida, Diego and their family and friends, entitled “Frida Kahlo: Sus Fotos,” was on display and many of the photographs were taken by Frida herself. It was an incredibly interesting glimpse into her life and how things looked from her point of view. You can read more about the photo exhibition, which ran through December 2010, on the museum’s website (in Spanish).… 

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¡Feliz cumpleaños, Benito Juárez!

Feliz cumpleaños to one of Mexico’s most famous presidents, Benito Juárez, who was born on this day in 1806. This monument pictured above, gifted to the city of Chicago in 1977 by Mexican president José López Portillo, stands along Michigan Avenue in the Plaza of the Americas next door to the Wrigley Building and across the street from the Chicago Tribune.

Often regarded as Mexico’s greatest and most-loved leader, Juárez died of a heart attack in 1872. If you need to brush up on your Mexican history, read about Benito Juárez and what he did for the Mexican people both before and during his presidency. You might also be surprised to know that he spent a short time living in New Orleans from 1853-1854. Juárez came from a Zapotec family in Oaxaca and served in a variety of political positions during his career. Today, there are numerous monuments and locations dedicated or named in his honor. In Mexico City, the international airport is just one of many, many locations named after Juárez.

Check out some additional photos and details about the Chicago monument on the Public Art in Chicago blog.

  • Do you know of a monument or location dedicated to Benito Juárez? Leave a comment with where it’s located!

Feliz Día de la Candelaria

Today marks the Catholic holiday of Día de la Candelaria, known as Candlemas in English.

In Mexico, whoever cuts the Rosca de Reyes on Día de Los Reyes and ends up with the baby Jesus figurine is responsible for bringing tamales for everyone on February 2. Several times I’ve gotten the figurine while celebrating Día de Los Reyes with our family in Mexico and always get teased that I’ll have to come back for a visit soon (with tamales in tow).

Today, we’re eating tamales de pollo con mole verde at our house to celebrate. I admit: I bought mine this year from my favorite tamalería, the Tamalli Space Charros. They’ve got a tamal truck and when they stopped near my house the other day, I just couldn’t resist and bought a few for the holiday.

It’s also common in Mexico to enjoy your tamales on Día de la Candelaria with an atole. You can check out my recipe for champurrado for a delicious chocolate atole.

We’re working on a great recipe for tamales in the test kitchen based on a recipe given to us by a friend who grew up along the Texas-Mexico border. Her mother owns a well-known restaurant and one of the cooks there was generous enough to share their recipe with us. We can’t wait to pass it on to you soon!

  • How does your family celebrate Día de la Candelaria? What are your favorite kind of tamales?

Feliz Día de Los Reyes

Feliz Día de Los Reyes and Happy Three Kings Day; today is the holiday known as Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas and the day that the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the baby Jesus.

In Mexico, one of the most common ways to celebrate this holiday is with a rosca de reyes, a sweet yeast-bread adorned with dried or candied fruits that have been soaked in rum or brandy and topped with a buttery and sugary paste akin to the topping on a concha roll.

Baked inside the cake is a tiny baby Jesus figurine, and whoever cuts the piece of cake with the baby Jesus inside is responsible for bringing tamales to the family’s Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) celebration on February 2. The figurine symbolizes the hiding of the baby Jesus from King Herod’s men. Traditionally, the whole family gathers around the table to cut the cake while sipping on chocolate caliente, each person taking their turn until everyone gets a piece and until the baby Jesus figurine is found.

My favorite Rosca de Reyes (pictured here) comes from a bakery chain called El Globo, which I first got to know in Mexico City. Their traditional rosca is also made in an individual size and this year on my last day in Mexico, my suegra bought me one, wrapped it up and stuck it in my carry-on bag so I’d have a rosca to cut on Día de Los Reyes…. 

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Nacimientos: The tradition of the nativity scene

La Navidad has come and gone but Día de Los Reyes is only a few days away and I realized that we’ve never talked about nacimientos, or nativity scenes, here before! And every nativity scene has Los Reyes Magos, the three kings who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus on the Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas.

Displaying a nativity scene at home is a storied tradition in Mexico, but nacimientos actually originated in Italy, thanks to Saint Francis of Assisi.

Here are two nacimientos belonging to our family. The figurines on the left are made from hojas de maiz, or corn husks, and belong to my suegra; the one on the right is made of wood with clay figurines and belongs to our Tía Leda.

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Mexique: Celebrating Mexican Cuisine with a French Twist

A few weeks ago I attended a dinner given by the Mexico Tourism Board and Chef Carlos Gaytan at his restaurant, Mexique, in honor of the recent UNESCO designation of Mexican cuisine as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Tourism Board over the last several weeks has hosted authentic Mexican dinners in a number of major North American cities to celebrate, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Miami, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, so I was thrilled to receive the invitation.

Did you know that French recipes and cooking techniques during the French occupation of Mexico in the 1860s became an important element in the evolution of modern Mexican gastronomy?

Gaytan’s concept behind Mexique is modern Mexican food with French influence. Hailing from Huitzuco, Guerrero, Gaytan’s love of food helped him rise from pantry cook to executive chef. He trained with French chef Dominique Tougne of Bistro 110 (Gold Coast) and has also spent time in the kitchens at Bistrot Margo (Old Town) and the Union League Club (Loop), all in Chicago. If you live in Chicago or are visiting, I highly recommend you visit Mexique for a meal.

One thing that left an impression on me at the dinner was when Carlos explained why he doesn’t serve mixed drinks in his restaurant: they take away from the palate and so instead, he serves wine and tequila. And God bless him for telling everyone in the dining room that tequila should be sipped. Someone at a table near me chimed in that “only heathens drink tequila shooters,” which caused an eruption of laughter at my table.

And I can’t end without showing you what we ate. It was a lovely four-course tasting meal with excellent wines and ended with tequila. I can’t wait to return to Mexique for another meal!

PRIMERO: Ceviche

Ahi tuna, avocado mousse, chipotle aioli, mango habanero galette… 

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