What Las Posadas mean to me

December 16th begins Las Posadas, the nine days of celebration leading up to Christmas Eve, also known as Nochebuena.

It’s customary for families to gather together, eat, sing and have a piñata at the party. Sometimes people celebrate posadas by going from home to home, singing the traditional song to ask for lodging the way Mary and Joseph did. But whether you travel around to different homes or stay in one place, there are certain elements of your family’s posadas that you inevitably love more than anything else, and will always try to recreate as you grow older, and especially as you have children so you can teach them your family’s traditions.

For me, the most beloved posadas tradition is making ponche Navideño. Every year, even if I don’t have access to fresh ingredients, I do my best to find canned, jarred or frozen ingredients for the things I can’t easily find in the U.S. Even though I know I’ll have it when I get to Mexico, I feel it’s really important to perfect the recipe at home with available ingredients.

I want our future children to know that it’s a Mexican Christmas staple and always have memories of the smell and taste. I want them to think of love and family and La Navidad when they think of ponche, just the way that I do. I always look forward to spending time with family in Mexico City during the holidays, and I know there will always be an abundance of ponche Navideño. It’s present at almost every family gathering but the most special thing about it for me is that it’s become a family tradition to make it together with my suegros, whom I adore con todo corazón.

We stand around the kitchen, my suegro chopping the caña (sugar cane), while my suegra takes care with the liquid measurements. I slice the guayabas and juice the oranges, add the canela and core the tejocotes. And before a few years ago when I finally put it on paper, our family recipe wasn’t officially written down anywhere with any information other than what should go in it. Learning how to make this family recipe with my suegros meant a lot to me in being able to eventually pass down this tradition.

So, last week when I was grocery shopping in a store I don’t usually frequent and I found a box of fresh tejocotes, I had tears in my eyes as I stood in disbelief in the middle of the produce aisle. This was the very first time I’d ever seen fresh tejocotes in a market near Chicago (also grown in the U.S., according to the box). Tejocotes have long been prohibited from being imported fresh from Mexico as a precaution due to the possibility of harboring exotic pests. Only in recent years have there been growers in the U.S. (mostly in California) who’ve begun cultivating crops of tejocotes, also known in English as Mexican hawthorn. I was surprised and overjoyed to see them in a local store. Though I was tempted to buy the whole box, I painstakingly picked through it to find the most perfect ones to add up to half a pound, just enough for one large pot of ponche.

This year, our family is still headed off on a vacation together as usual, but not within Mexico. As excited as I am to go somewhere new and experience new things, I can’t help but feel a little sad that I won’t be attending Tía Annette’s big posada Navideña in Mexico City.

I’ll miss sipping ponche and café con rompope and eating galletas with my other tías while catching up on all the gossip I’ve missed since my last visit. I’ll miss our tío dangling the piñata over the garden for the kids from the second story window, laughing and smiling as he tugs it just out of their reach. I’ll miss seeing how much some of the younger cousins have grown up this past year. I’ll miss Tía Nene and her famous pastel de dátil (something I still need to learn how to make). I’ll miss the nochebuenas, which are much more beautiful and exotic-looking in their native Mexico. I’ll miss posing for a huge family holiday photo, comprised of four generations of our beautiful family.

As I write this, my kitchen is perfumed by the scent of ripe guayabas, waiting to be made into ponche this weekend. There are oranges, tejocotes, canela and ciruelas pasas. I still need to find some fresh sugar cane; I have a good idea of where to get it locally, but I’ve still got some in a jar as a backup. And though there will be no cousins, tíos, piñatas, pidiendo posadas or certain favorite holiday foods this year, the memories will swirl steadfastly in my heart and my kitchen as I stew a big pot of ponche before I jet off to my holiday destination.

›› GET THE RECIPE FOR PONCHE NAVIDEÑO

›› WATCH A VIDEO OF HOW OUR FAMILY CELEBRATES LAS POSADAS (Includes lyrics to the piñata song and canciones para pedir posadas)

  • What makes you think most of las posadas? This post is part of a blog hop about posadas. I encourage you to check out some of the other related posts about how others celebrate the holidays in Mexico. If you’ve written about posadas, please feel free to add a link to your post!… 

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Honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe

December 12th is a very important day in Mexico for faithful Catholics—El día de la Virgen de Guadalupe. If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s the very abbreviated version: in 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to a poor Aztec man named Juan Diego, who had converted to Christianity several years before. He was so poor that he wore no shoes, and his mantle was coarsely woven of cactus cloth as he could not afford cotton. He often traveled hours to make his way from his home to the nearest church, and during one of his journeys, the Virgin Mary appeared to him and asked him to build a temple there in her honor. She appeared to him a total of four times before the miracle occurred when her image appeared on his cloak. The bishop requested that Juan Diego bring him a sign to prove what he had seen; after telling La Virgen that they requested physical proof of what he’d told them, she revealed to him several varieties of fresh, blooming Castilla roses (which were out of season), that he brought as proof and which amazed the bishop. When he unfolded his cloak (called a tilma), the roses scattered and the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe appeared, just as it exists on the tilma hanging in the Nueva Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe today. The sanctuary that stands at the location where Juan Diego revealed the roses to the bishop is called La Capilla del Cerrito.

In the 1730s, La Virgen (also sometimes referred to as La Morenita) was adopted as the patroness of Mexico City. This is why her image can be found just about everywhere—from churches to market stalls to homes and even on quirky trinkets. She is beloved by all and today, the basilica in Mexico City is one of the most-visited Catholic shrines in the world. She is credited for performing many miracles to those who pray to her to watch over them…. 

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Five steps for a successful tamalada

I adore tamales; they remind me of the holidays and various special occasions. When I smell them, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside that is hard to explain. No other food gives me the same exact feeling, actually.

There were tamales at my wedding shower in Mexico (called a despedida). There have always been tamales available for birthdays and Christmas and Día de La Candelaria. In fact, on Día de Los Reyes, I’ve had the luck to get the baby Jesus figurine in my piece of Rosca de Reyes several times in the past. As tradition goes, if you get the figurine, you’re responsible for bringing tamales for everyone on Día de La Candelaria. When José’s abuela passed away, everyone came back to the house after the prayer service to have tamales, like she would have wanted us to. They’re a staple and a symbol in Mexican cuisine.

So, it might surprise you to find out that I’ve never before hosted my own tamalada—a tamal-making party. Yes, it’s true. I’ve never hosted one, but I really want to in the coming year! My favorite savory tamales are usually tamales de pollo con salsa verde and when it comes to the sweet variety, un tamal de chocolate makes my mouth water and my heart skip a beat. I’ve made tamales on my own at home but never had a party and invited friends and family to help out and enjoy them with me afterward.

One reason a lot of people don’t make their own tamales at home is because it’s a bit labor intensive. There are several steps to successfully making them, and it’s time-consuming. To make it worthwhile, a tamalada is the perfect solution because everyone gathers together at one place and forms an assembly-line style workforce to get everything finished in less time. Then you can steam them in your tamalera. When they’re done, it’s party time! There’s nothing quite like a freshly-steamed tamal, whether it’s savory or sweet.

Here are the five basic steps for a successful tamalada, according to the advice I’ve received and what I’ve observed, and that I plan to follow when I host mine:

  • Ideally, as a hostess, you’ll have the masa ready in advance. I’m not suggesting you grind your corn from scratch and all that (unless you want to). But for a modern tamalada, it’s perfectly acceptable to buy pre-made masa at a tortillería or grocery store, or use Maseca instant masa without feeling guilty.
  • Every tamal needs a little grasa in the masa! If your tamal is lacking moisture, it might because you didn’t use any manteca. You don’t have to use a lot, but it helps with the consistency and flavor. The best tamales are the ones that have light and fluffy masa that isn’t dry.
  • Depending on which region your tamales come from, you’ll use either cornhusks or banana leaves to wrap them. Either way, they need to be pliable. Cornhusks need to be soaked in water well in advance so they won’t rip. Banana leaves can be heated and soaked, too.
  • You’re going to need a filling (or a few different fillings, depending on how many tamales you plan to made). You can use shredded meats stewed in salsa, vegetables such as rajas or even sweet fillings using fruit (my favorite is strawberry). Make sure your filling isn’t too wet when it comes time to spread it over the masa, or you’ll end up with weird, soggy tamales.
  • Learn how to wrap that tamal up! It’s really easy to learn how to properly fold the cornhusk. You can even find tons of advice on YouTube with how-to videos on the subject. I like to also use a small strip of cornhusk to tie a little bow around the middle to keep the flap closed for steaming. I find that closing it up completely gets the tamal uniformly steamed with no dry spots near the top.

Check out these recipes from Maseca for all kinds of different tamales.

  • Have you hosted a tamalada? Do you have any tips for me?

This is a sponsored post through a campaign with Maseca and Latina Bloggers Connect. Though I am being compensated for participating, all opinions, recipes and stories are my own.

10 things to love about Mexico City’s Museo Dolores Olmedo

The tiles on the wall at the Museo Dolores Olmedo read: “By the example of my mother, professor Maria Patiño Suarez, widow of Olmedo, who always told me: ‘Share all you have with those around you.’ I leave this house with all my collections of art, the product of my life’s work, so the people of Mexico can enjoy it.” —Dolores Olmedo Patiño

Last year on a visit to Mexico City during the holidays, I spent a special day with friends exploring a few places I had never been before. Thanks to the abundance of cultural activities the city has to offer, there’s always something new to discover. I was thrilled to hear that the Museo Dolores Olmedo was on the itinerary they planned since I’m a big Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera fan.

Dolores Olmedo Patiño, also known to many as Doña Lola, was an aggressive collector and patron of the arts and is still revered today as one of the biggest individual benefactors and promoters of Mexican art and culture. At age 17, she met Diego Rivera by chance in an elevator at the Ministry of Public Education when he was still working on the murals there (that can still be seen today), and he ended up asking her to model for him. According to the museum, she modeled in nearly 30 nude sketches and then was the subject of other later paintings by Rivera. After separating from her husband, British journalist Howard Phillips (whom she married in 1935), the well-to-do single Olmedo made a career as a partner in a construction materials firm in the late 1940s. In the mid-1950s, she reconnected with Rivera and eventually became his benefactor, caretaker and eventually, executor of his estate and that of Frida Kahlo.

In the early 1960s Olmedo acquired Hacienda La Noria, a 16th-century Spanish colonial hacienda located in Xochimilco (a neighborhood in the south of Mexico City). At the time she acquired the property, it was a shell of its original state and so she set out on a mission to restore and preserve the hacienda. In the late 1980s, Olmedo announced plans to convert her hacienda into a museum, which opened in September 1994. Olmedo passed away in 2002 but her legacy still lives on in this charming museum she left behind for all to admire just as intended.

Here are my top ten reasons to visit the Museo Dolores Olmedo
the next time you’re in Mexico City… 

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Visiting the ex hacienda de Apanquetzalco in Yautepec

In October, I traveled to Mexico for a cousin’s wedding. It wasn’t your typical church wedding followed by a reception at a banquet hall. Instead, it was held at a beautiful ex hacienda in the town of Yautepec, located in the state of Morelos. Not far from Cuernavaca, Yautepec is a short trip (about an hour and a half drive) from Mexico City. If you go, I recommend a stay at the very hospitable Villa Iyautli, where our family often stays. This area is incredibly rich with history and I was thrilled to visit and learn all about it.

THE HISTORY OF THE AREA AND EX HACIENDA APANQUETZALCO… 

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Camotes al chipotle: A Mexican twist on a Thanksgiving classic

If you’ve spent even one Thanksgiving at an average American dinner table, you’ve likely encountered sweet potatoes or yams with some kind of brown sugar or maple syrup and a marshmallow topping. I’m not knocking the tradition—in fact, I grew up eating it and usually get a craving around this time of year—but there are lots of other interesting things you can do with sweet potatoes, in my honest opinion.

Now that everyone in my family knows about my culinary skills, I’ve felt the need to give my menu a few new touches to keep things interesting. Though Thanksgiving is not a Mexican holiday, I decided this year to give a few traditional dishes a Mexican twist to surprise my family.

Here’s a recipe I developed to dress up the traditional sweet potatoes we usually serve on our Thanksgiving table. And, with the calorie-rich menus typically served around the holidays, this recipe is a bit healthier than traditional mashed potatoes that may be made with tons of butter and heavy cream. The marsala is a non-traditional ingredient to Mexican cooking but adds an interesting depth and sweet, nutty flavor to this dish. The chipotle should add a smoky flavor, but not be too spicy. If you’re afraid your troops will stage a revolt at the dinner table for doing something too different, you can always cut out the chipotle and add twice the adobo sauce to weaken the chile flavor so they don’t notice too much that you’ve given them the old switcheroo on the sweet potatoes.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving from our home to yours!

YouTube Preview Image… 

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