Mexican marzipan, known as mazapan, is perhaps one of the simplest candy treats to make. After all, it’s typically only got two ingredients: ground peanuts and powdered sugar. Earlier this week, a friend at work brought me a bag full of mazapanes from her cousin’s trip to Mexico. He had given her too many and so I offered to take some of them off her hands. This simple, traditional candy reminds me of my husband’s abuelita Ana and her sweet, sly smile when she talked about her favorite foods. Her eyes twinkled and she would get this contagious grin that started on one side and slowly spread across her mouth, as if she knew the world’s best secret.
Since moving to Los Angeles in 2013, we’ve eaten a lot of tacos. There aren’t a lot of places where we’ve returned to eat twice, but one place I like is Lotería Grill—specifically their location at the LA Farmers Market. It has a taco stand feel, the hustle and bustle of an open air market, a whimsical lotería board wall and the tacos I’ve eaten there are consistently good. I recommend this taco de carnitas, pictured below, which is made with Michoacan-style carnitas, salsa de chile morita (which is really not that spicy—although it says spicy on the menu—but is perfectly smoky), and is garnished with a slice of avocado, onion and cilantro. A few weeks ago I enjoyed lunch here with some girlfriends and couldn’t resist snapping a few photos to share.
Cesar Chavez Day is celebrated every year on March 31, the birth date of the famed Mexican-American labor leader and civil rights activist who helped unionize farm workers. I recently had a chance to visit a strawberry farm in Southern California with the California Strawberry Commission, where I had the chance to ask farmers questions about everything from how they grow their crops to their workers’ safety and healthcare, and immigration issues in the agricultural industry.
I’m sharing one of my favorite Cesar Chavez quotes with you, written over a photo I took at the strawberry farm. More on that trip soon, but for today, just the quote.
- If you’d like to know more about Cesar Chavez, you can read his biography and about his work, archives of his speeches and writing, and more, courtesy of the Cesar Chavez Foundation.
A few years ago, I spent a beautiful weekend with a large group of family friends in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. While I was there, we witnessed some pretty spectacular sunsets each evening as we gathered on the patio for dinner. I couldn’t resist pulling out my camera to capture the golden sky as the sun slipped away from us.
Over the holidays we spent time with our family at a resort in the Riviera Maya, just south of Puerto Morelos, Mexico. We love to explore when we travel together, so we rented a car and headed to the sea port town to find a place to snorkel. I took this photo as we were returning from snorkeling, pulling the little boat back up to the dock.
On the last full day of my most recent trip to Mexico City, my sister-in-law and I ran some errands together, culminating in a stop at the mercado Coyoacán—one of my absolute favorite places to visit in Mexico City. There’s a little, nondescript stand on the outskirts of the market with a yellow sign, which our family has long frequented because of the awesome quesadillas and gordas. My favorite item on the menu is the gorda de chicharrón, served with cheese on the inside. I like to also add some fresh salsa verde. As you can see, I REALLY enjoy eating these because you just can’t get the same thing at home in the U.S.
A few weeks ago, I visited the state of Yucatán on a press trip for a few days to get to know the city of Mérida and the surrounding area, which was incredibly charming. Though my visit was short, it was jam-packed with activities—including things I didn’t think that I’d ever do on my own, but that I had a lot of fun doing—such as kayaking in a mangrove and bicycling several miles on a path through an estuary, where I spotted wild flamingos. One afternoon, we had a little bit of down time before the bicycle ride, so we hung out in a tiny little beach town called Chelem near Progreso. Here are a few photos from the time I spent there.
I loved the quiet beach and the water was like a warm bath, very calm with hardly any waves. I hunted for sea shells—a favorite pastime since I was a kid—and also walked around the town square, checking out the little neighborhood bodegas to see what kind of local produce they had available. More about this trip soon! In the meantime, if you’d like to find more of my photos from the trip, check out my Instagram feed (@MauraHernandez) and also search the hashtag #yodescubriyucatan on Instagram for photos from other travelers.
- Have you been to any of the little beach towns near Progreso in the state of Yucatán?
Since we’re still relatively new to Los Angeles, we decided to get out of the house during L.A. Restaurant Week after I saw the #dineLA hastag on Twitter. We hadn’t been downtown yet, so we decided to head into the city for an experience. We ended up at Rosa Mexicano (the LA Live location) because I’d eaten there in another city when I was traveling for work a few years ago and liked it quite a bit.
Here’s what I ate at Rosa Mexicano for L.A. Restaurant Week:
Appetizer: Tacos dorados de pollo (also known as flautas) served with crema Mexicana, cheese and salsa verde.
Main Course: Carne asada, frijoles con chorizo, esquites and a fresh salsa verde. The esquites were so good that I had to steal José’s since he’s not really a fan. I couldn’t let them go to waste!
Dessert : Espresso flan with a cinnamon whipped cream and nueces (pecans). The galleta on the bottom was divine!
I also loved this little detail in the decor on the walls at this location that reminded me of the cliff divers in Acapulco.
- Rosa Mexicano has a Festival de Helados going on through August 26 (at all locations) with paletas, raspados, helados and more in interesting flavors such as guava, chile de árbol and huckleberry, honey-amaranth crunch, plantain and peanut butter, and others. Check RosaMexicano.com for the addresses of locations in New York, L.A., Miami, Boston, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, San Francisco and other cities.
We’ve been really busy this sumer in the test kitchen developing paleta recipes. Here’s the most recent batch that got taste-tested this week: Fresas con crema!
It’s so much fun developing flavors! This recipe was a big hit with my taste-tester group… there’s nothing better than seeing everyone smile and ask for a second one, right?
- Do you have a flavor you’d like me to make? Let me know in the comments below and you might see the recipe here soon!
Last week while we were visiting Mexico City, we checked out a new coffee shop we hadn’t seen before called Cielito Querido Café. Not only is the coffee some of the best we’ve tasted in Mexico (even their café de olla passed my test), but I also loved their cute, cheeky to-go cups that poke fun at Starbucks. Like Starbucks, they have the normal assortment of coffees, espresso and frappes, but they have a host of other offerings on the menu that are muy Mexicano, such as chamoyadas (in no less than four flavors), additions to your café con leche that include cajeta and rompope, chocolate caliente con chile and a house-made horchata. The snack offerings didn’t disappoint either, with selections such as muéganos, palanqueta, molletes, panqué, pasteles and galletas.
I was surprised to learn that the quickly-growing Mexican chain has more than 30 locations in Mexico City as of July 2013 and that I hadn’t stumbled upon one before. I went looking for some more information after a friend on Instagram mentioned that the company is looking to expand to the U.S. (and possibly to Los Angeles) and and found this story on NBC Latino with a great slideshow so you can get a feel for the ambience of Cielito Querido Café. We’ll definitely be back again the next time we visit.
- Have you been to Cielito Querido Café? What did you order? If you haven’t been, do you think you’ll try it out next time you’re in Mexico City?
Each time I visit Mexico City, I end up going home with my suitcase full of books that aren’t available in the U.S. Lately, my bookshelves are looking rather full (despite thinning my library when we moved) so I’ve been a bit choosier about which books I take home since I’m running out of places to put them. I always browse the cookbook and culinary history sections for books that are new since my last visit. Yesterday, I made a stop at the bookstore nearby José’s parents’ house. This book caught my eye because there are tons of books in Spanish about Mexican cuisine and using traditional ingredients, but not as many that highlight healthy recipes. It’s the latest acquisition for my extensive collection of books about Mexican cuisine. I can’t wait to cook my way through it!
If you want to try your luck looking for it, the book is called “México Sano” and is written by Pía Quintana Beristain.
- Do you like to buy books in Mexico? What kind of books do you look for that you can’t get in the U.S.?
For many years while living in Chicago, I bought my tortillas each Saturday morning from Tortilleria El Milagro on South Blue Island Avenue in Pilsen. It was also the only place where I would ever buy ensalada de nopales, for which I’d have to wake up extra early because they always ran out quickly. On the back side of the building is this beautiful mural I often stopped to admire when picking up my tortillas. The neighborhood, located on the Lower West Side, is one of the city’s two Mexican enclaves, and is one of the things I most miss about living in Chicago. My weekly trips to the market, tortilleria and panaderia were like briefly stepping out of Chicago and into Mexico for a few hours at a time.
- Does your city have something special that transports you to Mexico?
I don’t have a green thumb by any means—in fact, I’ve been known to accidentally kill hibiscus bushes so many summers in a row that I gave up on having them anymore—but I really love nature and plant life. Especially in Mexico, there are lots of plants that I’ve grown to love that I wasn’t exposed to while growing up in the Midwest. The Reserva Ecológica del Pedregal de San Ángel at UNAM is one of my most-cherished nature spots in Mexico City because of all the wildflowers, wild nopales and cactus fruits known as tunas. As you might recall, bugambilias are one of my favorite plants in Mexico (I’ve shared photos of them in Cuernavaca, Huatulco and other cities).
Another of my favorites is the jacaranda tree, pictured here, which has beautiful bluish-purple hued blooms. They bloom in the spring in Mexico City, so I love going to visit during Semana Santa to see them. My suegro sent me this photo several weeks ago, taken on the UNAM campus, because he knows how much I love to see the trees full of flowers.
In Los Angeles, thanks to the climate, bugambilias are abundant here, and jacarandas too. In fact, the jacarandas have been blooming for several weeks in my neighborhood. Aren’t they beautiful?
- What kind of plants do you love in Mexico?
There’s nothing like the joy when you discover something familiar in a new place. I recently started shopping at a new grocery store where I stumbled upon an entire aisle of Mexican refrescos. What’s your favorite Jarritos flavor? Me… I love toronja, tamarindo and limón.
- Tell me your favorite flavor in the comments below!
During Semana Santa in 2012, we took a road trip from Mexico City to San Miguel de Allende with José’s parents. I stumbled across a folder of photos from the trip recently and realized I’ve never written about it here. While I take some time to piece together some of my photos and journals from the trip, I wanted to share this photo. I can’t recall the name of this cafe, but San Miguel de Allende has a number of intriguing doorways that just make you want to peek inside. I can remember with such clarity how delighted I was to discover this little restaurant’s colorful and intricate papel picado hanging from the ceiling.
- Have you been to San Miguel de Allende? Tell me something about your visit in the comments below! Haven’t been there yet but dying to go? Let me know what you’re interested in doing there while visiting.
We were visiting the Hawaiian island of Kauai last week for my sister’s wedding and look what we found: A taco truck with tacos al pastor! They had a proper trompo and everything. We didn’t get a chance to stop and eat there because we either were too early, too late or just passing through Kapa’a on our way to Lihue or Poipu to eat somewhere else. They were always busy when we passed by during business hours, so I figure they must be pretty good. I took it as a sign that we need to go back to visit again!
- Have you eaten the tacos from this place? How were they? If you haven’t eaten there, tell me where you’ve encountered unexpected tacos while traveling in the comments below!
In December 2012 during a visit to Mexico City for the holidays, I had a chance to once again visit La Casa Azul, the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, which is now the Museo Frida Kahlo. I visited specifically to see a new exhibit called “Las apariencias engañan: los vestidos de Frida Kahlo” (which runs through January 31, 2014 and is a must-see exhibit for any serious Frida fan).
In the museum, there are several displays of Frida Kahlo’s personal journals, filled with artwork between the pages of her thoughts. There’s a famous quote of Frida’s from one of her personal journals which reads: “Pies para qué los quiero si tengo alas pa’ volar.”
It means: “Feet, what do I need them for if I have wings to fly.” As I flew over Ciudad Universitaria in early January on my way back home to Chicago, I snapped this photo of one of my favorite views of the city and added the words.
- Do you have a favorite Frida Kahlo quote? Share it with me in the comments below!
As I’ve been checking out as many Mexican grocers in Los Angeles as possible, I’ve noticed one product (made by a few different brands) that was not common to find in the Mexican supermarkets in Chicago: bottled tepache. I haven’t tried any yet, but I think I will soon just because I’m seeing it everywhere and I’m getting more and more curious how it tastes compared to the homemade tepache I’ve had in Mexico and Chicago from taquerías and street stands.
The fermented pineapple drink has a hard cider quality and is originally from the state of Jalisco.
For a home-brewed recipe, check out this step-by-step tepache recipe and tutorial from my friend Pati Jinich from Pati’s Mexican Table.
I used to frequently find tepache at an aguas frecas stand at the Maxwell Street Market (every Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; free admission and most vendors only accept cash). For more places to find tepache in Chicago, check out this August 2012 article from the Chicago Tribune.
- Have you had store-bought or bottled tepache? Is it any good and do you have a preferred brand I should try?
If you’re a frequent reader, you know all about my deep love for pan dulce and all kinds of Mexican pastries and other baked goods. So, of course it was one of the first things I sought out during my first week living in Los Angeles. A good friend introduced me to this place and I can’t seem to stay away!
This perfect concha is from La Monarca Bakery in Santa Monica (they have two more locations: Huntington Park and South Pasadena). I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this place soon, as I like to stop by there whenever I can since it’s not too far from where I work.
- Is there a perfect piece of pan dulce in your neck of the woods? Let me know in the comments where you like to buy your pan dulce, wherever you live!
Sometimes we get caught up in the madness that is work, regular life or the holiday season and we forget to be thankful for the small things. My cuñada was recently in Cancún and sent me this photo of the beautiful turquoise ocean. I’ve been looking at it often, whenever I need a slice of tranquility. And it won’t be long before I see the ocean again, so looking at the photo is a nice reminder that my holiday vacation is not very far away.
- Do you have a photo that you look at often to remind you of a place in Mexico or that takes you to your happy place? Tell me about it in the comments below.
In September, I went on a quest for some new decorations to add to my altar for Día de los Muertos. I headed to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, where I also do most of my grocery shopping in the Mexican markets. The Tzintzuntzán gift shop at the museum never disappoints me and this time was no exception. I’ll be sharing more photos in a few days from the museum, which also has a Día de los Muertos exhibit running through December 16, but here’s a photo of the little Catrinas that I bought to place on my altar.
They’re modeled after Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada’s la calavera de la Catrina and stand about three inches tall, not including the little feather plume that sticks out of the hat.
Que lindas las Catrinas, no?
- Do you have any unique decorations for Día de los Muertos? Tell me about them in the comments and where they came from.
Día de los Muertos is next week and we’ve begun setting up our altar at home. On Sunday, we started gathering our ofrendas and hung papel picado. It’s nowhere near finished yet, but here’s a sneak peek from a few days ago.
- Are you making an altar for Día de Los Muertos? Let me know in the comments what kind of ofrendas you like to include. You can also share more about your altar with us and submit photos for your Día de Los Muertos altar to be featured on The Other Side of The Tortilla by using this form.
One of the great things about living in a city with a large Mexican population is that you can often find Mexican things in places you might not normally expect. This past weekend while running errands at Target, I turned a corner down an aisle I don’t usually shop in to cut through to another section and I saw these colorful piñatas.
- Do you have any fond memories of growing up or spending time with family that involves a piñata? Leave a comment below to tell me!