Sunday Market in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle

A new Sunday Market has come to La Cruz, full of organic veggies, hand-crafted jewelry, clothing and paintings, and lots of wonderful baked breads and pastries. Organized by a group of local residents calling themselves Cooperativa Huanacaxtle, this market has the great feel of farmers markets many of us grew accustomed to north of the border, while still retaining a connection to tianguis, the Mexican street markets.

Pictures speak louder than words, so take a virtual walk with me through last Sunday’s market. Be sure to check out the organic squash blossoms, arugula, radishes, baby squash, cilantro and much more from San Jose. Beautifully fresh at reasonable prices, what more could we ask for.

If you haven’t yet had breakfast, are you in for a treat. Whole wheat breads, quiches, pies, cookies — home made or made by a local bakery, they, too shout freshness. Christian of Vera Bakery in Bucerias offers mouthwatering focaccia and Argentine cookies, alfojores, filled with dulce de leche and rolled in organic coconut, sold by his market neighbor Kathleen (ahem, yours truly). Grace specializes in American baked goods, including fruit pies, buttermilk doughnuts and cupcakes. Her son helps her sales just by sitting there and looking so cute.

Organic Super Foods from Puerto Vallarta has homemade organic peanut butter. I bought some, along with their flaxseed tostadas, and it was hard not to eat the whole tub of peanut butter with a spoon. Archie’s Wok was represented by a big selection of salsas, with chips for sampling each one.

There was also fresh cheese, a product no longer seen in U.S. farmer’s markets, with the concern over raw milk. (I have been eating locally purchased fresh cheeses for years, and can only say the panelas and queso frescos are wonderful and cause me no problems.) Doña Guera also has yard eggs, something not seen too often here, a surprise given the numbers of hens and noisy roosters that roam the streets our town, crowing their presence day and night.

Obviously, I focused on the food and not the hand-crafts, but they are worth checking out, also. I’m just too food-oriented for my own good, but I’ll try to make up for it with another market report in the future.

La Cruz Sunday Market is 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on the plaza. You might want to bring a shopping bag and a bottle of water. There is a children’s program to entertain the youngsters while their parents shop.

NOTE: The Sunday Market in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle has begun a new season, and has a new location. You can find it next the the Fish Market at the La Cruz Marina. It is bigger than ever and may be Banderas Bay’s premiere farmers’ Market.

More Reading:

Farmers Market May Be Finding Their Niche in Mexico (Banderas News)

Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Check


Salad of grilled nopal with carrot, jícama and beet

Salad of Grilled Nopal with Carrot, Jícama and Beet owes its existence to two inspirations. The first was a conversation with my friend Maria who told me about a salad of grated jícama and beet dressed with freshly squeezed lime juice she makes for her boys. When she told me about it, I pictured the garnet color of beets set against the clean white of jícama, forming a palette of edible art. I accented the colors with the addition of carrots to make it even more brilliant. The second inspiration was a photo of a nopal cactus pad serving as the “plate” for a banana dish featured on the cover of the 2011 calendar by Muy Bueno Cookbook. I wanted to make this salad and I wanted to eat it off of a nopal, one of my favorite Mexican veggies.

Nopales are the young pads of prickly pear cactus and dished up in many Mexican restaurants as a salad or appetizer. I like to seek out new and unusual foods — part of the joy of being a foodie in Mexico —  and learned to love nopales many years ago.  Most of my friends make a face when I mention nopal and say something like, “Oh, it’s so slimy!” Well, yes it is if it is overcooked. The secret is to cook nopal only until it starts to get tender, but still has its crunch and most of its green color. If it has turned gray and has slimy threads oozing out, sorry, but you cooked it too long. And I have to say that en mi opinión, most Mexican cooks overcook nopales. You will have to cook it for yourself to see how fresh and crisp it can be.

See a past article from Cooking in Mexico on preparing jícama if you are not familiar with it.

Update: this recipe for Salad of Grilled Nopal with Carrot, Jícama and Beet has been selected as the winning entry by Muy Bueno Cookbook for their calendar give-away contest. (Dec. 28, 2010)

Salad of Grilled Nopal with Carrot, Jícama and Beet serves 4

  • 4  small, tender nopal cactus pads
  • olive oil
  • 1 large raw carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1 large jícama, peeled and grated
  • 1 large raw beet, peeled and grated
  • freshly squeezed lime juice
  • coarse sea salt
  1. Pre-heat your grill.
  2. Brush nopales with olive oil and grill no longer than 1 minute per side. (Thicker, more mature nopales may need more time.)
  3. Arrange grated vegetables on the nopales.
  4. Serve with a cruet of olive oil, wedges of lime and sea salt.


Nopal is from the Nahuatl word for pads, nopalli. A branch of the Uto-Aztecan language, Nahuatl is still spoken in Mexico today.

Many families have a few nopal plants in their yard to supply the table, and they are also common in supermarkets, large and small. Look for young, small pads that are bright green. Don’t worry about any cactus spines — they are removed at the grocery store.

Nopales are rich in fiber, vitamins A, C and K, as well as high in minerals. When eaten in a mixed meal, it is thought that nopales reduce the glycemic effect.

Avoid nopales that are in cans or jars. They will be gray and limp and will make a poor introduction to this great vegetable.

Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Check Registered & Protected

Salsa de chile piquin del estado San Luis Potosí

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and today I’m making salsa with chile piquin to spoon on left-overs of yesterday’s grilled tenderloin of beef. The Thanksgiving tenderloin was incredible. How could it have been otherwise? Organic and range-fed. Grilled on the beach under coconut palms, in sight of the Pacific Ocean. And yes, we were truly grateful to be in paradise, listening to the waves and seabirds. Gracias a Dios.

The salsa recipe is from the Cocino Estado por Estado cookbooklet published by El Universal featuring the state of San Luis Potosí. The photo shows a salsa with a very coarse texture, unlike most salsas which are smoother. The recipe calls for twelve chiles piquin and is called, appropriately, Salsa de Chile Piquin. One piquin (also spelled pequin) is enough to set my mouth on fire. But twelve? Maybe there is a mistake in the recipe. Maybe it should have read, “1-2 chiles piquin“. Maybe the editor was having a bad day.

After I couldn’t find any piquins at the store, I visited my neighbor Guadalupe to ask if she had any. I knew she would, as chile piquin is commonly grown in Mexican home gardens and she has a splendid garden. She proudly showed me her four potted chile plants, and gave me three tiny orange-red chiles. I told her my recipe called for twelve chiles. She made a face of both surprise and warning, waving her hand in front of her open mouth as if cooling a fire. We both agreed that one chile would be plenty. In addition I used three serrano chiles to compensate for the volume of the omitted eleven chiles piquin, and the salsa was muy picante. Unless you like your salsa on fire, just use one serrano and one piquin. It will still be worthy of a fine Mexican table.

Chile piquin is one of the smallest chiles, measuring only 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch long (12-19 mm.). In Mexico, it is found growing in home gardens more often than it is seen in stores. In The Great Chile Book by Mark Miller, chile piquin is described as tasting of citrus and corn, with nutty and smoky tones. It is an extremely hot chile, more than making up in heat what it lacks in size. You may not be able to find fresh chile piquin north of the border, but you can order it in dried form from If you use dried chiles, toast them very briefly for only thirty seconds per side, then rehydrate in very hot water.

Stating how much chile to use in a recipe really is a subjective call. The heat level of Mexican salsas varies from being so mild it almost isn’t there to so hot, I can only reach for a cold beer and wonder how I will ever finish my meal. I hope by now you know how much or how little chile you like. If not, it’s time to start experimenting.

Salsa de Chile Piquin makes about 3/4 cup (170 ml.)

  • 1 chile piquin and/or 1 serrano chile
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 3 tomatillos (also known as tomate verde in Mexico), husks removed
  • 3 small cilantro sprigs, chopped
  • salt to taste
  1. Place the tomato and chile(s) in an ungreased skillet or on a griddle and blister over medium heat until soft.
  2. Cook the tomatillos in simmering water until tender, about 10 minutes. Do not overcook, or they will burst.
  3. When cool enough to handle, seed chiles, remove stems and roughly chop tomato, chile and tomatillo.
  4. Zizz  tomato, chile and tomatillo in a blender, but don’t puree; leave it chunky.
  5. Add a little water for a thin, spoonable consistency.
  6. Salt to taste and stir in chopped cilantro.

Note:  Thank you to our dear friends L&J for the use of their beach house.  Scenes from their paradise…

Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Check Registered & Protected

Chocolate, slavery and our collective guilt

There is no delicate way to ask this question: Are we complicit in the use of slavery today to produce chocolate?

Hundreds of years ago, Mesoamerican slave labor harvested cocoa beans to supply European demand for chocolate. I recently came face to face with this horror from the past while visiting Chocolate: The Exhibit,at the Minnesota History Center.

This exhibit is on loan from the Chicago Field Museum. Upon returning home, I visited the Field Museum web page to learn more about chocolate (a taste I love so much, I think it should have its own place on the food pyramid). One thing led to another, as it does when you trip from link to link on the internet, and it wasn’t long before I was reading that history has repeated itself, that slave labor is being  used again to harvest cocoa beans, this time with child slaves, in parts of West Africa. And, to answer the question in the first paragraph, yes, we are complicit. You and I support this evil each time we purchase a chocolate product that is not labeled fair trade, free trade, slave-free or organic. Time to rethink my relationship with chocolate.

Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, where hundreds of thousands of children work the plantations, many of them as slaves, supply 70% of the world’s cocoa. (Certifying Blood Chocolate, June 25, 2010) Teen-age boys are sold into slavery by their impoverished parents. Others are lured by agents who scout for homeless children in Mali and then transport them to Cote d’Ivoire where they work in appalling conditions without the ability and resources to find their way home. (Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote d’Ivoire)

Consumer outrage over this situation forced many chocolate producers, including giants in the industry, such as Nestle, Mars and Kraft, to sign the non-binding Harkin-Engel Cocoa Protocol in 2001, which commits the companies to eliminate “… the worst of child labor. The Protocol did not commit the industry to ending all child labor in cocoa production, only the worst forms of it … the protocol was criticized by some, criticism which seems to have been validated by the fact that industry still has not delivered on farm level certification against the worst forms of child labour”. (Cocoa Protocol — Wikipedia)

Chocolate has deep roots in Mexican culture, history and cuisine (Oaxaca al Gusto, by Diana Kennedy)

Other chocolate producers have signed on with the Rain Forest Alliance to ensure the entire cocoa supply is “sustainably produced”. Critics say that RA standards aren’t severe enough to change the industry, and instead offer its members a way to look good for consumers without significantly changing business practices. (Certifying Blood Chocolate)

Compliance seems spotty and mixed. And confusing. Do the labels “organic” and “fair trade” mean slave free? According to Caroline Tiger, writing for the online magazine Salon, there is, apparently, another option that is slavery-free. “Organic chocolate, sold by such U.S. companies as Newman’s Own and Dagoba, is also ‘slave free,’ since organic farms are subject to their own independent monitoring system that checks labor practices.” And from Stop Chocolate Slavery , “It has also been noted that, as of now, they don’t grow cocoa beans organically in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), which is where the vast majority of the reports about chocolate slavery have come from. Finally, according to Camille Littlejohn of Newman’s Own Organics, the limited supply of certified organic cocoa ensures that organic cocoa farmers receive a premium price. So, apparently, organic is also okay”.

After writing this, I eyed my chocolate stash with a wary eye. Hershey’s cocoa. Trader Joe’s bittersweet chocolate. My old standby, Mexican Ibarra chocolate. Surely the artisanal chocolate bars from B.T. McElrath Chocolatier in Minneapolis were untainted, but why was there no label on the packaging assuring the buyer of free trade, fair trade, organic, anything?

Back to the web pages, where I read that B.T. McElrath “support(s) sustainable agriculture by sourcing chocolate products with UTZ Certified Sustainability Program and socially responsible business practices.” So why not state “Free Trade” on the label?

UTZ is not without its critics. It requires its members to follow national laws regarding renumeration of employees. If a country, such as Cote d’Ivoire, has poor or non-existent laws regarding child labor and adult employment, but the laws, such as they are, are followed, UTZ is satisfied. (Wikipedia)

Hershey has an impressive web page devoted to explaining their social commitment. “Building on Milton Hershey’s legacy of commitment to consumers, community and children, we provide high-quality Hershey products while conducting our business in a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable manner.” Again, there is nothing on the cocoa can label to indicate free trade or their social responsibility. Perhaps it is because Hershey is not as committed as it claims to be. An article by John Robbins in the Huffington Report, dated as recently as September 2010, states “this carefully researched report pointed out that the Hershey company lags well behind its competitors in taking responsibility for the impact the company is having on the local communities from which it sources cocoa around the world … While Hershey’s primary competitors have at least taken steps to reduce or eliminate slavery and other forms of abusive child labor from their chocolate supply chains, Hershey has done almost nothing”. (Huffinton Report)

My 500-gram bar of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate, measuring almost 11″ by 5″, has all the room in the world to state something about its free trade commitment, if it has one. The package is happy to tell me the chocolate bars are “made exclusively for Trader Joe’s in a small town outside of Antwerp by confectionery artisans”, but nothing about their social commitment. Nothing about being slave free. Perhaps the S word is too dirty to mention, even in a positive context, if Trader Joe’s has anything positive to say.

It seems that if a company is taking the high road by certifying that all their chocolate is sourced from free trade growers, they would want to announce this fact. Is the absence of this information because their chocolate is not 100% fair trade, therefore the fair trade label is only on a few chocolate items, if any? Is an agreement with the Harkin-Engel Cocoa Protocol, which lacks any enforcement, enough to make them look good without really changing anything?

I would love to know that there is more up-to-date information, that the above mentioned companies — and the hundreds of other companies not discussed here — are now in 100% compliance with the Harkin-Engel Cocoa Protocol. I would love to be corrected by more current information. I want to be corrected and told that blood chocolate is a thing of the past. Sadly, I can’t find anything more current that disputes my conclusions. Bittersweet, indeed.

What You Can Do:

  • Be a responsible buyer. Check  for fair trade or organic labels.
  • Call or write the producer and ask tough questions. Demand slave free chocolate.
  • Boycott companies that have no commitment to slave free chocolate.
  • Sign a petition telling Hershey to shift toward Fair Trade certified cocoa
  • Spread the word.

Related Articles:

More Reading:

Protected by Copyscape Duplicate Content Check


Chocolate: The Exhibition

Chocolate: The Exhibition, is showing now until January 2 at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. While visiting family in Minneapolis, I was able to visit this exhibit, on loan from the Field Museum in Chicago. This is a very well assembled presentation, both educational and entertaining. It begins with the history of cocao, starting with its Aztec origins, follows chocolate’s introduction to Europe by the Spaniards, explains its connection with the slave trade, and ends with a well detailed display of commercial chocolate candy production.

Chocolate making tools, historical and modern, are on display. I smiled to see a molinillo, almost identical to the two I brought from Mexico as gifts. This ancient tool, used for hundreds of years to foam hot chocolate, is still widely used in Mexico today. The molinillo on display is labeled a “stirrer”, which I think is a misnomer. When using a molinillo, a whisking action, not a stirring action, is employed to create foam and bubbles.

Two more molinillos are in the case pictured below, with the deep, clay pots used for foaming chocolate drinks. Molinillos, hand carved with their jangly rings from a single piece of wood, are still sold in Mexican markets and even in some modern supermercados.

I thought I already knew a lot about chocolate, but I was surprised to learn about its connection to slavery. The Aztecs had yet to discover sugar and drank their chocolate bitter, seasoned with chiles and other spices, but the Europeans added sugar and the new drink became a favorite.  As this new taste swept through Europe, a great demand for cocao beans and cane sugar grew. The dark side to this story is that a huge pool of slave labor was required to supply Europe with chocolate and sugar. Ironically, the first people pressed into slavery to harvest great quantities of cocao beans and sugar cane were Mesoamericans, who labored from the early 16th. until the late 18th. century to supply European demand.

I regret including such a negative note about one of my favorite foods, but I would be amiss to ignore the fact that much of today’s chocolate is still produced from cocao beans harvested by children, literally working as slaves. This is a dirty secret of the chocolate industry, one swept under the rug as profits trump ethics. Buy chocolate labeled “Fair Trade” to insure you are not participating in a commerce that exploits slave workers. To see a list of companies producing fair trade and organic chocolate, and to learn more about exploitation of cocao workers, read Stop Chocolate Slavery.

(Update: For more on this topic, see my more recent article , Chocolate, Slavery and our Collective Guilt.)

After writing this, I’m ready to eat chocolate. Thank goodness I have four bars of B.T. McElrath chocolate, handcrafted chocolate from Minneapolis. Thank goodness it is fair trade chocolate. I don’t know which bar I like best: Chile Limón, Dark Chocolate or Salty Dog, with a pop of salt crystals in each bite.

Please describe the photo

Chocolate: The Exhibition will be on on display through January 2, 2011, at the  Minnesota History Center, located at 345 Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for children. Phone: 651-259-3000.


More reading:

History of Chocolate (Field Museum)

How to Foam Hot Chocolate with a Molinillo