Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lentejas con platano frito

Lentils with fried plantain
My grandfather had a banana plantation in the Soconusco region, in Chiapas. This Southern region of Mexico is at times unbearably hot, so the vegetation is very lush, the perfect place to grow bananas. My mother used to tell me that no matter what, her childhood home in Tapachula always had this fruit. This included "platano manzano" a fat banana that tasted like apples, pink bananas, plantain, miniature "platano Dominico" and several other banana species that are not well know here in the US. Plantains were as popular as potatoes, and just as widely used.

My grandmother used to make this simple dish. It is no surprise that Tapachula's cuisine has a lot of tropical influences, like the plantain topping on this lentil stew. A secret of tierra caliente, is to serve hot stews and dishes that promote perspiration to "cool off" the body. If you want to make this family recipe you will need the following ingredients:

1 large green plantain
1 package of lentils
1 cup vegetable broth or water
2 cloves of garlic
1 small onion
1 spring of cilantro
1 celery rib
Vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the plantain and cut into slices. Soak the plaintain in cold water with a smashed clove of garlic and salt to taste.

Sort the lentils and get rid of any impurities. Wash the lentils and cover with water. Boil in medium heat for about 15 minutes. Add the celery, a minced garlic clove, the chopped onion and the cilantro spring. Boil for about 20 minutes more. If necessary add more water or broth to the lentils until they are fully cooked and creamy. Season with salt and pepper.

Drain the plantains and dry on a paper towel. Fry in the vegetable oil until brown. If you like your plantains crispy, you need to flatten them (with the back of a glass, or another instrument) and fry for a second time. Drain again on paper towels. Remove the celery and serve the lentils, topped with fried plantains.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Creating personal space

I paint and make small sculptures, but one of the things I really enjoy is making vignettes. One of my favorite hobbies when I was a kid was making dioramas with tissue boxes and cardboard cutouts. It may be in my genes: from roadside memorials to market stalls, Mexicans may be born display artists! I tend to collect things, so I have to remind myself to only keep items that are meaningful and personal. Besides useful things like chap stick and wrist watches, these are some of the items on top of my dresser:

I painted the canvas on the background, it represents the soul of purgatory. For me it is a symbol of overcoming difficulty. This painting belongs to my boyfriend, there is also a note from him inside a cigar box. The two antique art books and the clay figurine are gifts from my father. The figurine is from Chiapas, it was found by my grandfather. The pocket watch is a gift from my mother. She got if for me back in 1980, in Moscow. It has a Mishka bear on the back commemorating the Olympic games. There's some candy that my sister got for me in Italy, while visiting her sweetheart (there is also a photo of my sister to the right, not pictured). I got the miniature mask in Venice. It represents a Dottore della Peste, a character in Commedia dell' arte and what could be an early version of a gas mask. It represents protection and good health. The "Dottore" has a little golden crown on top that would generally be placed on a Santo figurine.

A museum once listed me as an "altar maker" as opposed to other colleagues that were given the label "installation artist". So, what is the difference? Creating vignettes in our personal space could be a form of altar making. Altars are generally crated for religious, spiritual or ceremonial practices. I think displaying personal items goes beyond decorating or religious practice. The purpose is not to create something beautiful, or to simply decorate. So, what is it then? Displaying your belongings can be whatever you want it to be. Anyone can create a personal vignette. For me, it is a manifestation of the things I hold dear and the people I love. It is also an art form, that is also a continuing source of more artistic inspiration.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Let them eat cake! And babies....?!

This first image a comes from Diana Maya's blog Fiestas de Mexico. Recently Mexicans celebrated the feast of the Epiphany, what is commonly known as "El Dia de Reyes", or King's day on January 6th. During this holiday a traditional ring cake (loosely resembling the shape of a crown) is eaten among family and friends. A little porcelain doll, nowadays plastic, is baked inside. Explanations for this tradition vary, but most explain it has to do with the birth of Christ. Whoever gets the little doll becomes his "godfather" and has to throw a party during the feast of Candlemass on February 2nd. This holiday tradition got me thinking about the associations of cakes and babies...

In Mexico we also have a cake known as niño envuelto. Take a look at the image above, on the left. It comes from Mexico Cooks. The name of this cake literally means "Child wrap" or wrapped child. Of course, there are no children wrapped inside. It looks just like an ordinary jelly roll. There are other traditions about baking things inside cakes (eggs, rings, charms, etc). I hope to post more on the subject. For the most part, those traditions have roots in rituals related to fertility. But back to dolls and babies...Here's another image of a doll baked inside a cake. This one comes from Cake Wrecks, via Penn Appetit. Hmmm. Interesting. Maybe it was created for a baby shower?

Finally another image. This one comes from Michelle's sugar art. This one is from a cake that is actually shaped like a baby! It reminds me of the movie "The wicker man" (the original one, not the recent Nicholas Cage re-make). In the movie, didn't the town's people ritually created candy shaped like babies? Interesting, yet a bit creepy. Does anyone know of any symbolism or other traditions of making food shaped like babies? On the mean time, enjoy a video of this cake being made here.

Lucky pomelos...inviting health and prosperity

Yesterday at the Civic Center farmer's market I saw a woman selling these big, wonderful pomelos! When a gentleman picked one up by the stem the seller quickly asked him to hold the fruit from the bottom, as she demonstrates in the picture. I asked why and she said these fruits are associated with good luck, and people need their pomelos with leaves and stems undisturbed. According to wikipedia's page on Chinese New Year, the tradition of bathing with pomelo leaves assures prosperity in the upcoming year.

Personally, I think that a big healthy pomelo with leaves looks nicer than one without them. Displaying a simple bowl of any fruit is a subliminal symbol of abundance and welcoming health. I know I have something to eat and enjoy for the week....and having fruit is a lot healthier than having other snacks in the house. What about you? What items do you keep around, and what are their meanings? What are you inviting in, as you arrange your personal space this year?

Oh yeah...Happy year of the ox!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Strange Hope

I'm honored to have been invited to participate in Strange Hope, at Galeria de la Raza. I created this small gouache painting for the upcoming show. It was inspired by a man I saw on Mission Street. This man was in a wheel chair, and had created an impromptu art installation by placing a broken pinata head on top of a garbage can. If this man can find hope and humor, so can we.


Galería de la Raza|Studio 24
Friday, February 06, 2009
2857 24th St. @ Bryant
Reception starts at 7:30 p.m.


Pilar Aguëro-Esparza, Raúl Aguilar, Juan Alicia, Jesus Barraza, Charles Beronio, Sylvia Buettner, Monica Canilao, Tân Khánh Cao, Victor Cartagena, Melanie Cervantez, Jaime Cortez, Rudy Cuellar, Ali Dadgar, Andy Díaz-Hope, Ana T. Fernández, Colleen Flaherty, Pato Hebert, Giovanni Higuera, Jason Jägel, Jody Jock, Sahar Khoury, John Leaños, Juan Luna Avin, Scott McLeod, Sean McFarland, Julio César Morales, Michelle Muennig, Angélica Muro, Mabel Negrete, Johanna Poethig, Sylvia Poloto, Juan Carlos Quintana, Rigo 23, Artemio Rodríguez, Favianna Rodriguez, Rosa Valdez, Jenifer Wofford and Rio Yañez

Galería’s new exhibition welcomes the Strange Hope of a new era. In honoring creativity and resourcefulness, we invited 40 artists to produce 8.5” x 8.5” works on paper that will respond both to the hopeful aspirations as well as to the uncertainty of these times. Through its collective message of transformation, renewal and collectivity, Strange Hope seeks to bring about unexpected artistic messages to motivate us through the coming times.

The opening night will include a one-time, on-site lottery during which participating artists will randomly swap their work among themselves. In anticipation of the resourcefulness we will need to develop in the current economic climate, this collective action and community exchange seeks to encourage the flow of artistic capitol and welcome an era that calls for refreshing creative economies.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ekeko's fair of prosperity!

This image is from a storefront on Mission Street, San Francisco. This little fellow may look like an Andean merchant wearing his traditional hat and carrying sacks of grain to market. It is hard to tell from the picture but he also carries a bunch of bills. He is actually the god of abundance and prosperity named Ekeko (I've also seen it spelled "Equeco").

Ekeko has a wide smile, doesn't he? According to lore, you are supposed to place a lit cigarette inside his mouth as an offering on certain days. Smoking makes Ekeko happy and he'll grant you prosperity and wishes - but only if he smokes it all the way trough, without the cigarette going off. Ekekos are seen in Peru, Bolivia and some places in Argentina. There is actually a big fair (La Feria de las Alacitas) in La Paz, on January the 24th. At this fair you can buy Ekko figurines and the miniature items he carries - clothing, food, grain, colorful fabric and other goods. These miniatures serve as representations of the things one wishes Ekeko to bring, in order to have an abundant and lush life.

There is one caveat: You have to rely on the generosity of others in order to have an Ekeko figurine. You can't buy a figurine for yourself, it would be tremendously unlucky. Someone needs to give you the Ekeko as a gift in order for his magic to be effective. With this economy being what it is I hope someone gets one for me! I think Ekekos are charming works of folk art. They are also a South American reminder that even the prosperous have to rely on other people.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Art Chef

Chef Jimmy Zhang creates beautiful works of art. His website, Art Chef is full of examples of birds, fish and flowers made by cutting and carving ordinary fruits and vegetables.

Making these intricate pieces must take a lot of patience! It also takes a deep understanding of sculpture and the characteristics of the delicate materials. For example, utilizing the shape and natural color gradation of watermelons, Chef Jimmy intricately carves the outer layer of the fruit to create flowers of extraordinary beauty.

If you are in the San Francisco Bay area you can take one of his classes at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. He can also do a carving demonstration for your next event.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Viva Obama! Awesome Lil' Piñatas™

These tiny little beauties are made by Isaias and Claudia, in San Francisco. They look just like traditional piñatas "grandes" but they fit in the palm of your hand. Isaias Rodriguez is an ingenious multi media, multi discipline artist and a good friend. You have to check his blog (where you can purchase a Lil' Piñata™of your own) and read about the day he met Barack Obama.

If you want to meet Isaias in person, please visit Galeria de la Raza on February the 7th, at 2:00 pm and support an Art Bazaar featuring local artists.

Galería is located in the heart of the San Francisco Mission District in San Francisco

Galería de la Raza
2857 24th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415-826-8009

Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy inauguration...Saint Barack Obama?

These are images from a window display at Trunk, on Haight street. They feature novenaria candles with Barack Obama in the guise of Saint Martin de Porres! Let's look at some differences and similarities between our new president and San Martin de Porres:

San Martin:
He was the first saint of color in the Americas.

First president of color of the US.

San Martin:
Other friars would call him "brother broom" since he was in charge of sweeping, cooking and household chores. He is often depicted carrying a broom as a reminder that all work can be sacred.

He may need a broom to clean up some of the messes on Capitol Hill.

Saint Martin: Like Saint Francis, he could also speak with animals. According to lore, he inspired such a sense of peace and well being that he could even make a mouse, a dog and a cat eat dinner from the same plate.

Bi-partisan efforts may be more challenging that having cats and dogs not kill each other.

Saint Martin:
He was attributed some strange miracles, like walking trough locked doors to cure the ill, feeding hundreds of people when resources were scarse, and even teleporting to far away places to relieve the unconsolable.

He doesn't teleport, but insists on using a blackberry. Hey may also need to perform miracles with the tasks he has ahead. Lighting one of these candles on inauguration day couldn't hurt.

I leave you with more images of San Martin. The first one I took at Mission Dolores in San Francisco, during a particularly inspiring weekend. The second one is from pop artists Pierre et Gilles.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chilaquiles verdes con huevos revueltos

This tortilla "hash" is very popular in Mexico. It can be made with leftover tortillas, and can be prepared with red or green sauce. Serve with fruit and scrambled eggs for a hearty brunch!

You'll need the following ingredients:

  • 8 tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 6 green tomatillos (or a dozen, if they are small)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • half a white onion
  • 3 springs of fresh cilantro
  • 1 serrano or jalapeno chile (to taste)
  • half a cup of shredded cheese

Remove the dry husk from the tomatillos and discard. They will be sticky, so rinse well under cold water. In a saucepan boil the tomatillos with the onion, garlic, 4 cups of water and the chile pepper. If you want the chilaquiles to be less spicy, devein and remove the chile seeds before adding. Boil everything for about 5 minutes. Let cool and blend until smooth. Season with salt to taste.

Cut the tortillas into quarters, then into eights. Fry the tortilla pieces in the olive oil until they are crispy but not completely brown. Turn the tortilla pieces often so they don't burn.

Add the green sauce to the crispy tortillas. Add the cheese and heat until the cheese starts to melt. Serve immediately with scrambled eggs and garnish with chopped cilantro.

For more photos visit my flickr account

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Revolutionary Gnomes!

I found this image via La Tête Krançien's on flickr. Are they Mexican wrestlers figurines? Porcelain Zapatistas? NO! These radically adorable insurgents wear marks reminiscent of Dia de los Muertos (the Mexican "Day of the Dead" holiday) and are part of the FLNJ - Front de Liberation des Nanins de Jardin (Garden Gnome Liberation Front). It is great to see the EZLN influencing and inspriring people in Europe...and fantasy land!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Amazing edible art

What are some one of the most craved desserts in contemporary Mexico? Could it be the ever so popular flan, so common in Mexican restaurants north of the border? Well, not quite.

When I was growing up during the 1970's I remember attending kid's parties in Mexico City where the "gelatina" (a molded gelatin dessert) was just as important as the birthday cake. One of the most memorable birthday gelatin desserts I encountered was in the shape of a mama Dalmatian dog complete with a dozen little pups, all made out of vanilla and chocolate flavored gelatin. Gelatin was so popular that at times you could also see street vendors balancing trays of these jiggly concoctions in a variety of colors. I even won a cooking contest when I was nine, cooking aspic, a savory gelatin (but I'll leave that for another post!)

Apparently there has been a renaissance in the artistic gelatin craze. These images came via Gaby Beltran's web page. Don't they look like beautiful glass paper weights? They are actually intricate gelatin desserts that are 100% edible. Yes, you could run a knife trough these creations and not encounter anything solid. The technique used to create these beauties requires preparing a flavored clear gelatin dome that is set in the refrigerator. The petals, pistils and leaves are created using skewers, molds and specially shaped tools that are patiently filled with a syringe using an opaque gelatin mix prepared with milk and a variety of vegetable colorings.

If you are ever in Mexico City and want to learn these artful flower "gelatina" making techniques, pay a visit to Gaby's website (it is in Spanish). This talented lady also offers courses in how to make marzipan fruit, chocolate truffles, cupcakes and extremely cute gummy lollies. Another very talented Mexican lady is Lourdes Reyes. Lourdes also teaches these flower techniques and her website advertises other interesting classes. On her website you'll see courses offering techniques used to create a variety of gelatin shapes, not just flowers. She also mentions a "watercolor" technique used to draw on gelatin. Here is a link to Lourdes's business, Gelart Floral. Her website is both in English and Spanish. Lourdes also teaches some of her classes in California. I hope you save room for gelatina!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Eat your veggie-ta-bulls!

This image cracks me up! It is from a market's canopy on Mission street, San Francisco. Look at the strategically placed green can you not laugh?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mexican Tarot

From Raul Jose Pere'z Mexican Tarot.

These images come from Raul Jose Pere'z Mexican Tarot. They were shot in Mexico City, the city where I grew up. I think they really capture the flamboyant, often bizarre urban mix of "La Capital". Each card features a different city character (shop keepers, street performers, a housewife hanging laundry, etc). The models are shot in fantastic , yet very real settings. Those familiar with Mexico City would agree that it wouldn't be that unusual finding these characters just around the corner. The artist has managed to give traditional archetypes a more human form, while maintaining the fantastic charcteristics of the Tarot. Wouldn't it be interesting to see other Tarot cards featuring the local flavor of other cities?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wing of a graphite angel

Could you believe that this beautiful miniature sculpture is also a writing object? Sculptor Agelio Batle creates stunningly beautiful "pencils" in a variety of shapes. You must visit his website. With drawing materials like these how could you not be inspired?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sopa Seca de Fideo

I learned to make this dish by watching Felipa, our family maid when I was little. I used to stick my fat little fingers in the plate where she kept the crunchy toasted noodles before boiling them in sauce. This "dry soup" can be served as a side dish, as opposed to a "Sopa aguada" (brothy soup) that is often served as a first course. It could also make a nice lite lunch with a leafy green salad. Use vegetable bouillon if you want to make this a vegetarian dish.

You'll need the following ingredients:

  • 1 package of capellini, 12 oz ("fideo", in Spanish)
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 bouillon cube (chicken, beef or vegetarian)
  • 1 canned chipotle chile
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • pinch of oregano
Garnishes (to taste):

1 avocado
grated queso fresco, or parmesan cheese
chopped cilantro
sour cream

First, start by pan frying the noodles in the olive oil until they are toasty, crunchy and golden brown. This will change the flavor of the noodles. It is easier to use a good non-stick pan (it uses less olive oil) to avoid the noodles from sticking. Turn them often and be careful...they can burn easily! If necessary fry the noodles in small batches.

Chop half of the onion and the clove or garlic. Add it to the noodles and continue to fry until the onion turns transparent. Make sure not to brown the onions.

Peel the tomatoes by scoring them with a knife, then dunk them in a pan of boiling water for about a minute. Save the water for later. Rinse the tomatoes under running water, the skin should be easy to peel now. Cut in half and seed by squeezing the tomatoes gently.
Soften the bouillon cube in a cup of the hot water where you boiled the tomatoes.

Blend the tomato pulp with the rest of the onion (quartered), the chipotle pepper, two tablespoons of tomato paste, oregano and the hot water with the softened bouillon cube. Add more of the warm water (about another cup) in order to have enough sauce to cover the noodles.

Pour the sauce over the noodles and simmer for about 10 - 20 minutes until the pasta is very soft, the sauce is thick and most of the liquid is absorbed.
Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the rest of the ingredients to taste. To look at more pictures of this recipe, visit my flickr account.

Speaking of enchiladas....

"A proposito de enchiladas" (speaking of enchiladas) is a saying my father uses. It means you are changing the subject bluntly. So, speaking of holy enchiladas, I created these little "bite size" enchiladas as proxy food offerings for miniature altars. And why miniature enchiladas? Well, they are not for eating, but they are eye candy. I made them for last year's Fruitvale Day of the Dead Festival.

Holy Mole

If you are wondering about the name of the blog: I'm not talking about images of the Virgen de Guadalupe appearing on tortillas. This blog is mostly about things that I find inspiring as an artist, and about finding inspiration in unusual places.

Things that inspire me are like food for my creative soul. Just like food, I seem to crave them. For example, growing up in Mexico I remember being almost overfed with color. You could find stunning color on markets, folk art, comic books or street advertising. Some times I would feel starved for color. I would open and savored a new package of crayons, in the same way other kids craved candy.

What inspires you? Have you ever had a craving for something warm, gooey, saucy or spicy? Doesn't it feel like the flavor slaps your taste buds and wakes them up (making your jaw almost hurt)? Does perspiration starts to build on your forehead? Are you having a religious experience? I do get a rush when I explore a new art medium or by cooking a plate of chilaquiles or by visiting an art exhibit. Like an enchilada, art can either make you sweat, or it can nourish you...or even make you sick. The best thing is that it creates a reaction that makes you feel alive.

Welcome to my blog, I hope you enjoy the tasty morsels! ;-)