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My Abuela’s Distaste For Cooking Taught Me To Appreciate The History And Taste Of A Good Mole

My abuela resents cooking. By the time I came around as the first grandchild in 1984, she had been having to cook for our large family of eight since my own mother’s birth in 1962. And probably even before that. I have visions of grandma standing at my grandparent’s kitchen stove — the one whose oven did double-duty as storage space for an excess of pots, pans, and baking sheets — stirring a frying pan of ground beef for tacos, or gently placing tamales into a huge stockpot. Tacos were an almost every week occurrence, while tamales were, of course, an annual event made the night of Christmas Eve.

There was something special in the way my grandma made mole, though. While the mole itself came straight from the international section at the grocery store thanks to grandma’s utter aversion to cooking, the chicken thighs she would always serve with the mole were an all-afternoon endeavor. Simmered in water and the cult classic duo salt bomb of Lawry’s seasoned salt + Lawry’s garlic salt, the chicken fell apart at the bone when we’d just barely take a fork to it.

Back then my grandparents were more like my sister and brother and my extended parents.

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Even as we got older and had driver’s license with the literal license to spend time anywhere our cars would take us, a lot of the time we chose to hang out at grandma and grandpa’s. We’d do our homework at the dining room table while grandma prepped dinner for that night, all five senses turned to high volume by grandma’s cooking. The scent of the chicken thighs simmering away is what I remember most about mole nights. The velvety mole poured over the chicken — and on the occasions, grandma was feeling generous, Mexican rice — made the dish. Without the mole, the chicken was too salty, but somehow also lacked much flavor. God bless grandma. The mole made the biggest difference, and it’s really only now well into my mid-30s that I see the absolute beauty and bedrock in cooking that is a well-balanced sauce, a mole.

Long before I was a thought in my grandparent’s minds, my grandpa crossed a river into this country with his parents and fourteen other siblings. Coming from Guadalajara, the city in western Mexico best known for tequila and mariachi music, my family arrived in the U.S with the hopes of our ancestors and whatever else they could carry.

Mole is Mexico’s mother sauce, the way a béchamel or a hollandaise is to French cooking. The Mexican states of Oaxaca and Pueblo claim to be home to the mole, and it started with a legend, the way so much of Latinx culture does. Wanting to impress an archbishop and nuns during the Pre-Spanish period at a convent in Santa Clara, Pueblo they prepared a dish using what they had on hand — chocolate, chiles, day-old bread, and nuts and served it over turkey. Luckily for the nuns, the archbishop loved the sauce and the rest is, as they say, culinary history.

The ingredients used in both traditional and modern versions of mole include chile peppers, almonds or peanuts and pepitas for earthiness and inherent nuttiness.

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Cilantro for brightness and flavor; sweet ingredients like dried fruit; the bitterness of chocolate, and of course onion and garlic. These ingredients must come together in harmony with each other for the mole to be a success. The two classic moles — mole poblano (a deep reddish/brownish colored sauce made from ancho and considerably less chocolate than found in other kinds of mole ) and mole negro (a rich, black mole that relies on chocolate and a licorice-tasting herb called hoja santa) start off the same way: with chile peppers.

Building on flavor, mole ingredients must be roasted, toasted or be met with at least a kiss of fire before moving on to transforming the ingredients into a paste or powder. Chiles like ancho and chipotle are placed directly onto a stove top’s flame; pepitas and/or sesame seeds get placed in a dry skillet over medium-high heat to toast, bringing out the seeds’ inherent nutty flavors. The roasted ingredients are then placed into either a blender to create a paste or if you’re really wanting to stay true to mole’s roots, by hand using a molcajete. Water, or if you’re wanting more flavor — broth, is combined with the paste at this point and simmered on the stove until the sauce thickens and reduces in volume. At this point, mole is usually served the way my grandma served it: over fall-off-the-bone chicken thighs and mopped up with corn tortillas.

In the U.S., with all its proximity to authenticity, Mexican cuisine has long been translated for U.S. consumption.

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The birth of Tex-Mex, a direct result of the combining of cultures, is one example of a translated Mexican food. However, in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood, one Oaxacan restaurant pays homage to traditional mole. Guelaguetza, managed and operated by the Lopez family from Oaxaca has been a Los Angeles institution since its door’s first opened in 1994. “Mole to me is the perfect example of the beauty, evolution, and complexity of immigration,” Bricia Lopez, Co-Proprietor of Guelaguetza tells me in an interview via email. Guelaguetza, meaning an offering or a gift is just that — a gift to hungry Angelenos, and mole is the present eaters are lucky enough to feast on.

“Its ingredients are mostly Mexican, but items like sugar, cinnamon, sesame seeds, and cumin came from elsewhere,” said Lopez. “I always encourage people to make mole at home. Yes, it is laborious but as opposed to popular belief, it does not take days. Its complexity lies in its flavor, not the process.”

Serving up generous six-mole varieties, the 2015 James Beard Award-winning Guelaguetza has been credited with placing Oaxacan cuisine and its mole on the Southern California map.

About 340 miles north of Los Angeles, my sister drops a picture she’s taken of a recipe into my Instagram messages one night a few months ago.

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It’s a recipe for mole, so I instantly know that the mole is not our abuela’s. My sister and I have bonded over recipe-sharing, something I know makes our grandma proud of us — that we’re communicating even though I’m 1,500 miles away from home — even if we are connecting over something our grandma has always done out of obligation. It might seem counterproductive to tweak or update recipes that have been passed down between generations, but I’m arguing that recipes can evolve just like generations do. Being creative in the kitchen while using generations-old recipes as a kind of base for your cooking means bringing new life to not just your dish, but the history of the recipe. My grandma would have not wanted to use this mole recipe out of sheer protest of very involved cooking, but her two granddaughters — two people in a long lineage of Mexican food lovers and eaters — highly recommend it. And as Bricia Lopez says: “It [mole] is more than tradition, it’s our culture embedded in us.”

Mole Recipe:

4 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, with seeds set aside

4 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed, with seeds set aside

4 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, with seeds set aside

4 dried negro chiles, stemmed, with seeds set aside

⅓ cup whole unsalted peanuts, chopped

¼ cup whole almonds, chopped

4 teaspoons sesame seeds

4 teaspoons pepitas

3 cups chicken broth

5 whole cloves garlic

1 La Abuelita disk Mexican chocolate

Salt, to taste

  1. In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, boil all chiles in water until the chiles rehydrate, about 8-10 minutes.
  2. While the chiles are rehydrating, add the chile seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds and pepitas to a medium-sized dry skillet set over medium-high heat. Toast the seeds until they give off an aroma, about 5-6 minutes.
  3. Transfer all chiles, toasted seeds and the garlic cloves to a blender with the chicken broth. Blend until mixture is very smooth, blending twice if necessary.
  4. Pour mixture into a large saucepan set over medium heat. Stir in the chocolate disk.
  5. Add salt to taste, reduce heat to medium-low and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir frequently, until the chocolate disk has melted completely. The sauce will thicken and reduce as it simmers.
  6. Serve mole over chicken with a side of Mexican rice.

Read: My Sexual Assault Case Victory Is Not Mine Alone, It’s Ours

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The Spanish ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Is Being Shared To Honor Hispanic Workers Fighting COVID-19

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The Spanish ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Is Being Shared To Honor Hispanic Workers Fighting COVID-19

There’s no denying that the world looks a lot different now than it did in 1947. And while the list of all of the positive changes that the decades stretching between now and then have done for the world and minorities, a recent campaign is also highlighting the ways in which our current president could take some notes on certain values the United States held dear during this time. Particularly ones that had been pressed for by one of our former presidents.

As part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” effort, he worked to promote positive and healthy relations between the United States in Latin American countries.

At the time Rooseveltaimed to ensure that the North, Central and South American countries avoided breaking under the influence of Axis countries during World War II. As part of this campaign, Roosevelt comissioned a Spanish and a Portuguese version of the U.S. national anthem. According to Time Magazine he also “recruited Hollywood to participate in this Good Neighbor Policy; Walt Disney went on goodwill tour of South America, hoping to find a new market for his films, and ended up producing two movies inspired by the trip: Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). The Brazilian star Carmen Miranda also got a boost, and her role in The Gang’s All Here made her even more famous in the U.S. And alongside these cross-cultural exchanges, the U.S. government decided it needed an anthem that could reach Spanish speakers.”

According to NPR, Clotilde Arias, wrote wrote the translation at the end of World War II, was born in the small Peruvian city, Iquitos in 1901 and moved to New York City to become a composer when she was 22-years-old. Her version of the anthem is now part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Now in an effort to support Latino communities affected by the coronavirus, the non-profit We Are All Human Foundation’s Hispanic Star campaign commissioned the a remake of the song.

Hoping to raise awareness of its Hispanic Recovery Plan and efforts to help to connect Hispanic small businesses and workers with resources during the pandemic, the campaign brought the old recording from obscurity.

For the song, the 2019 winner of the singing competition La Voz,  Jeidimar Rijos, performed “El Pendón Estrellado.” Or, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

The song has already received quite a bit of comments and support on Youtube.

Hang in there, fam. We can only get through this together.

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These Online Botanicas Will Satisfy The Bruja In You

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These Online Botanicas Will Satisfy The Bruja In You

With young Latinxs reclaiming the bruja identity, the demand for access to novenas, herbs and other specially crafted ritual tools has grown tremendously. Luckily, these Latinx-owned online botanicas have made it easy for brujas, or anyone who wants to dive deeper into the practice, to get their hands on the goods. Whether you’re looking to conjure up more cash flow or secure some extra protection from those pesky mal de ojos, these shops have the magia you need.

1. The Flowerchild Bruja

You know you’ve received some real tesoro when you open your delivery and see the holographic cellophane. Unmistakable and unique products are what make The Flowerchild Bruja’s shop un cielo de flores. Garden Smudge Sticks adorned with colorful flowers and loose herbs packaged in clear hearts make this online botanica a must-visit if you’re looking to manifest more love and beauty into your life.

2. Brooklyn Brujeria

No forlorn-looking saints and pale stricken Marys here! Brookyn Brujeria offers a fresh and modern take on the classic bruja necessity of novena candles. At $10 a candle, you can enhance the vibrations and style of your space without blowing all your chavo. With intentions like Boss Bitch and F*ck Outta Here, these ain’t your abuelitas’ novenas.

3. The Hoodwitch Store

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Thank you for all of your love & support to those who have been readers and customers of @thehoodwitch over the years. ♥️You know truly how hard I work and that this is my livelihood and culture. Visual art and magic ARE my life and practice. Not a peach flavored “turquoise” glitter drink. My magic is in my blood, my magic is in my ability to bring life to my visions, it is creation & destruction. Over the last 6 years, I have been so honored and lucky to be featured in some of the largest media publications internationally not limited to Instagram. This is bigger than that and the creative team for Starbucks knew that. I have personally worked on consulting large companies in their design concepts this work comes naturally to me. “So what’s the big fuss?” My personal style has become synonymous with the visual aesthetic of my brand. No, I absolutely did not “invent” the crystal balls nor acrylic nails but What I created was a space for myself along with other POC to feel represented and have visual imagery that was representative of us. The colorful candles of my local botanicas, my gold jewelry, and my long nails clutching my crystals are certainly not “new” but to see them presented in a manner that I shared visually in this space was. Katherine de Vos Devine @devosdevine is a lawyer and art historian who wrote a powerful and insightful look as to what exactly is happening with this situation and we are sharing it in our story today because more than anything she truly gives the full tea of the situation. I can strip away the crystal balls, the nail art, and delete all of my beautifully curated photos but I will always be me, I will always be my grandmother’s voices and wisdom. I will create, and I will always know my value and my worth. I trust and believe that my ancestors and my guides are looking after me. These giants may have the money to bully artists, creatives, and small business but we know the truth and absolutely must not allow it. As a small business owner, I appreciate you standing with us in this uphill journey and even if it goes nowhere, at the end of the day I can laugh to myself knowing that Starbucks made a drink inspired by HW 🔮

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If you’re in the market for an obsidian scrying mirror, unique tarot decks or nail polish for your mystic manos, then The Hoodwitch Store is your one-stop bruja shop. Be sure to also check out the Bruja Bookshop tab, where you’ll find vintage, one-of-a-kind libros to up your witchy wisdom. The shop offers some rare finds en español as well. However, make sure you stay up to date on the latest inventory. These goods sell out fast!

4. House of Intuition

If you live in LA, you’ve most likely heard of House of Intuition. With four brick and mortar stores throughout the area, plus an online shop, it’s probably a wise investment to grab one of their “Success” intention candles. Their beautifully colored novenas aren’t the only reason to check out the shop, though. Seriously, this casa is staked with everything from crystals skulls, cauldrons and wands to a line called “Hair Mystics” featuring crystal-infused hair mists. You’ll be glad your intuition led you here.  

5. Lunar Magic Shop

Lunar Magic Shop is the super affordable and super thoughtful shop with some of our favorite bruja apparel. You will for sure want to grab the “My Mom Will Hex You” tee for the little one in your life or the “I Am My Own Sacred Place” one for yourself. While you’re at it, you might as well secure the “Motherhood”and “Student” crystal kit bags. This small shop definitely has the whole family’s brujeria needs in mind.

6. Curandera Press

While this shop is currently taking a small hiatus, they will re-launch on August 1. This gives us time to save up for a big vela haul. We could all use some divine intervention with lazy lovers and bad hair days, right? With Curandera Press’ “No Mas Amante Perezoso” and “Good Hair Day” velas, your prayers are answered. We’re excited to see what intentions they roll out next.

Read: In These Trying Times, Boricua Bruja Emilia Ortiz Provides A Digital Space For Healing

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