Chicharrón de queso

On any trip to Mexico City, I look forward to my first visit to any of my usual taquerías. Not only because I need to satiate my appetite for tacos (read: stuff myself to practically the point of no return), but also because I get an order of chicharrón de queso while I wait.

It’s a delicate, crunchy salty treat—the name basically translates to cheese cracklings.

For years, I never considered making my own chicharrón de queso. Not because I thought it was too hard, but because I don’t have a flat top griddle like the taquerías do. I thought the hot griddle was the key to the texture and the high heat was responsible for the ability to mold it; but one day I had a nagging craving that forced me to experiment and I discovered it can be done at home in an easy way that doesn’t sacrifice any of the things that you’d expect from a good chicharrón de queso…. 

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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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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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Wordless Wednesday: Fruta cristalizada

I’ve always been fascinated by frutas cristalizadas (candied fruits). I spotted these in the Mercado de Coyoacán a few weeks ago during my visit to Mexico City. Pictured clockwise from left: naranjas (oranges) that were hollowed out, tunas verdes y rojas (green and red prickly pears), chabacanos (apricots) and higos (figs). My favorite kind is calabaza cristalizada (candied pumpkin), and I brought back a big piece that I don’t plan to share.

  • What’s your favorite kind of fruta cristalizada?

Wordless Wednesday: Estadio Olímpico Universitario

I snapped this photo of the Estadio Olímpico while zipping through C.U. (Ciudad Universitaria, the main campus of UNAM) on my last visit to Mexico City. The stadium opened in 1952 and was also used for the 1968 Olympic games. The mural on the outside of the stadium as pictured here, titled “La Universidad, la Familia y el Deporte en México,” was created by the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera. The stadium is one of our favorite places, especially because it’s the home of the Pumas—our favorite soccer team. Read more about the history of the stadium in Spanish on UNAM’s website.

  • Have you been to the Estadio Olímpico? What’s your favorite part about it?
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