Calaveritas de Mondragon para Día de Los Muertos

I recently visited the National Museum of Mexican Art, located in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, on a special mission: I was hoping to buy calaveras de azúcar for my altar de muertos. But not just any calaveras—I was hoping to buy handmade and hand-decorated calaveras from the famous Mondragon family.

Sugar skulls are truly an art form and the Mondragon family from Toluca, Mexico, has been making hand-decorated sugar skulls for around 150 years, spanning five generations. They’ve been coming to the museum to make them in Chicago since 1995 as a way for people to hang on to their culture so far from home and to share Mexican tradition and culture, they told me.

Sugar skulls are often used as a decoration for an altar de muertos or given as gifts for Día de Los Muertos. It’s common to also put the names of family members on the forehead of the sugar skull. Some families only put names of the deceased, while others put names of the living on them as well.

Alejandro Mondragon Arriaga and his wife Elvira Garcia Zinzu travel with one of their daughters to Chicago to make their famous sugar skulls at the museum every year while the rest of the family stays behind in Mexico to make them there. Their family is one of less than a dozen left who are dedicated to this traditional craft, Elvira told me. At one time, she said, there were dozens and dozens of families who made them and sold them all over Mexico…. 

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Antojos de la calle: papitas con limón y salsa

In many places in Mexico, you can find street vendors with little carts, selling antojitos, or snacks.

Usually, the standard offerings include chicharrones (pork rinds), chicharrones de harina (a fried, puffed wheat snack that looks orange) or papitas (potato chips).

Served in a little plastic bag with a squeeze of lime juice and your choice of salsa, it’s a great snack whether you’re on the go or just want to take a leisurely stroll through the park.

I like to keep a little bag of potato chips in my desk at work so I can make a quick afternoon snack—the only thing I need to remember to bring is a lime and a small bottle of salsa.

It’s a very simple and typical Mexican snack. You can choose whatever kind of salsa you like; spicy, medium, mild or even a salsa like chamoy, which is a sweet and spicy mixture usually made with chile powder and a salted fruit brine. It’s up to you!

I like to use the salsa pictured here, salsa clasica de Búfalo (but don’t be fooled; it’s not anything like buffalo sauce you’re used to seeing in the U.S.). It’s a slightly spicy and vinegary red salsa.

All you have to do to make your own is open the bag (be careful not to tear it), squeeze half a lime (or more if you like) inside the bag and then pour as much salsa in the bag as you like. Close the bag up and shake it so the salsa and lime juice distribute somewhat evenly and then just open the bag up and enjoy. ¿Que rico, no?

  • What’s your favorite kind of antojo de la calle?

Maura meets Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism, Gloria Guevara!

Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to a beautiful event by the Mexico Tourism Board in Chicago and there was a very special guest on hand: Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism, Gloria Guevara Manzo.

Not only did Secretary Guevara talk about new tourism initiatives, but she also introduced a sneak preview to all the guests of the new documentary, “Mexico: The Royal Tour,” what looks to be an absolutely thrilling journey around Mexico with Peter Greenberg and one of the country’s most distinguished tour guides: President Felipe Calderón.

The trailer brought tears to my eyes when I recognized a few of the places I have been and made my heart ache for Mexico. Thankfully, my next trip is only one month away. The rest of the night was filled with traditional music, excellent food from Mexique and a gallery viewing of simply stunning photographs by world-renowned Spanish photojournalist, César Russ (who, coincidentally, has been living in Chicago since 2006). The photos are incredible and so vibrant, you feel as if you’re really there. The detail is just amazing—have a look for yourself: I took video as I walked through the gallery and captured some of my favorite photos up-close.

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After the video presentation, I had the chance to speak with Secretary Guevara for a few minutes about tourism efforts, how online efforts are helping boost tourism and the Mexico Today program. As the only Mexico Today ambassador located in the Midwest, I was honored to represent my colleagues far and wide and was very proud when Secretary Guevara was able to mention some specific efforts within the program and that she was very pleased with the selection of ambassadors…. 

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#MexMonday: What I’m reading

I’ve been quiet lately because I’ve been busy in the test kitchen, out tasting new dishes and talking with chefs at local Mexican restaurants, and reading up on Mexico in the news. You can expect some new recipes here soon, but until then, here’s a small roundup of the best things I’ve read in the last week:

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Win a trip to Huatulco from Mexico Today!

Photo provided by Secrets Huatulco

I’ve written several times about our trip to Huatulco last year when we spent our Christmas vacation in Mexico. Lots of you have written to say you loved the photos and the stories, and even the video I took from the beach. Huatulco is, hands down, one of the most beautiful, peaceful places we’ve been in Mexico.

Now you have a chance to win a 3 day/2 night stay at the brand new Secrets Huatulco Resort & Spa!

Mexico Today is hosting a giveaway on their Facebook fan page for a trip for two that includes airfare, hotel accommodations and spending money for you to enjoy and discover Las Bahías de Huatulco. You must be a fan of the Mexico Today page to enter. You must be at least 18 years old and a resident of the U.S. or Canada in order to be eligible to win. The sweepstakes ends July 20 at 6 p.m. PDT. See the official rules and more information at the Mexico Today Facebook fan page…. 

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Mexican Chimichurri Marinated Flank Steak

Who doesn’t love to grill? With the 4th of July coming up, I know that we’re going to be out on the patio all weekend to enjoy the sunshine while sipping on some limonada with friends, grilling up some cebollitas and this tangy new recipe I came up with for the #MizkanLatino cooking challenge.

José, Mr. Picky-Picky when it comes to me experimenting with new ingredients, said this dish both smelled and tasted fantastic! With his stamp of approval, you know it has to be good. A note about the use of jalapeños in this recipe: you can absolutely leave the seeds and veins in the jalapeño if you want to give your chimichurri a little kick. I removed them in the video so that the chimichurri wouldn’t be spicy, but would still have all the flavor of a jalapeño so that I could serve it to guests who were a little apprehensive about eating spicy food.

I used flank steak here (also known as falda de res) but you can substitute with another cut such as skirt steak (arrachera) if you like.

Be sure to check out the linky below throughout the week to see more videos and recipes from others participating in this challenge with me. You can also find out more about Holland House products on the Mizkan website.

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