Celebrating Easter in Ajijic

by Judy King 21. April 2011 21:06

Backlit by a brilliant setting sun, the Palm Sunday procession of Jesus riding a donkey and the townspeople makes it way toward the Ajijic Templo de San Andrés.

Spring has sprung here, the jacaranda trees are covered with tiny beautiful lavender blooms, some primavera trees are full of palest pink orchid-like flowers while the branches of another variation have burst with bunches of sunshine yellow flowers. They look like mother nature has strewn the area with Easter eggs.

Easter Celebrations—Semana Santa and Semana de Pascua
Celebrating Easter in Mexico is not about a new dress, hat or dusting off last year's white shoes and purse. The two parts of this enormous spring holiday center on the church and religion on one hand and family and festivity on the other.

Mexico is renowned for local interpretations of the Easter events in the form of Passion Plays which portray the last days of Christ as reported in the Bible. The best known of these meaningful productions at Lakeside takes place each year in Ajijic.

Eduardo Ramos Cordero (Lalo) and his companions began by researching the clothing and details of the Biblical stories of the events during the last week of Christ and then Lalo wrote a script and the group started planning scenes that they could portray.

Nearly 40 years later Lalo is still directing his friends and dozens of other townspeople in a Semana Santa (Holy Week) theatrical extravaganza. From the opening event, the triumphal entry of Christ into the city riding on a donkey on Palm Sunday (this year on April 17) through the last supper, trial, crucifixion and the light show which accompanies the resurrection late on Holy Saturday (April 23), this is a beautiful moving event you'll not want to miss.

(Left:) All day, artists work weaving fresh palm fronds into intricate designs. (Right:) Before the procession, neighbors cover the street with fragrant, freshly cut alfalfa.


Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday)
On the corner across from San Andrés Church, artesanias work all day forming intricately woven crosses, virgins and other figures from fresh palm fronds. These small works of art are sold for a dollar or two and are carried to the day's masses to be blessed. After the day's events the palms are kept near the door of village homes where family members can see them and bring to mind the life and death of Jesus every time they enter or leave the house.

Shopkeepers and homeowners along Parroquia and Hidalgo, all the way from Ajijic's San Andrés Church to Six Corners, clean the sidewalks and street then dampen the area to help control the dust for the several hundred people who will walk in the procession. By 5 p.m. they are covering the street with fragrant, freshly cut alfalfa. The entire length of the Hidalgo procession route is as green as a lush lawn.

When the re-enactment of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem begins, the men playing Jesus' disciples lead the burro carrying Jesus to the church. The setting sun in the west creates a spectacular effect for photographers. Some shots show the rays of sunlight forming a natural halo around the head of the village man who will portray Christ this year.

Just as described in the scriptures, the followers of Jesus walk along the path which has been covered with the branches of the fields and wave their palms singing hosannas.

As the procession nears San Andrés Church, small boys climb up into the steeple to ring the old bells with the clangors and mallets while the town's newer bells peal pneumatically. Jesus and his disciples lead the crowd through the church gates for a 7 p.m. outdoor celebration of mass in the church's atrium.

Jueves Santo (Maundy or Holy Thursday)
In some of Mexico's cities and villages, the faithful spend Holy Thursday visiting seven different churches to commemorate seven moments of Christ between his arrest at Gethsemane and his crucifixion at Calvary. For some the custom has been expanded to meditate on one or two of the Stations of the Cross (Via del Crucis) in each church.

Thursday night's feature is an outdoor mass in the atrium of the Ajijic Templo de San Andrés which includes Jesus washing of the feet of the disciples and commemorates the last supper.

(Left:) Jesus and his followers arrive for the Thursday evening Last Supper service in the church atrium. (Right:) Local residents take their roles in the Passion Play very seriously and the committee and players work hard to make the costumes as true to the time as possible.

After the service, Jesus and his followers walk up onto the mountain for the scene in which Jesus retreated from the group to pray and returned to find his disciples asleep. By the time the Roman soldiers go up the mountain to find and arrest Jesus, it is dark in Ajijic. The torches carried by the Romans and by the disciples can be seen from the village as if a serpent of fire is curving up the hill.

Following the arrest Jesus is marched to the town plaza where he is taken to the courtyard of the chapel on the north side of the plaza which represents the court of the Sanhedrin. There he is placed in custody to await trial. To complete the prophecies, the spectators also witness the three betrayals of Christ by Peter, and hear the crowing of the cock.

With the arrest of Jesus, the church bells which normally chime every hour, mark the quarter hours, and announce several daily masses are silenced. They will not ring again and there will be no masses held until the end of the Easter Eve vigil and the resurrection of Christ on Saturday night.

Santo Viernes (Holy Friday)
The front of Ajijic's San Andrés Church is transformed into the opulent palace of King Herod for the trial of Jesus as the passion play resumes on Friday morning.

The human statues and fountains that decorate the palace of Herod are Ajijic's younger residents who are painted gold and stand motionless in classic poses — for hours in the blazing sun. It is considered a great honor to be selected to portray one of the statues.

(Left:) Three young women form a motionless fountain — the water is the only movement. (Right:) A young archer held this position for more than an hour in the mid-day sun.

The local townspeople take honor in portraying the cast mentioned in the Bible. Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are there, along with wonderfully costumed early Christians and complacent Roman townspeople and authority figures.

(Left:) The players depict the townspeople who watched the trial of Jesus as spectators watch.


The Roman soldiers fend off the angry uprising of the people in the mob who cry, "Crucify Him" in response to the offer to release Jesus. The action is as real as the players can provide in the annual event.

(Right:) Pilate appears during the trial to confront Jesus with the charges.


As Jesus is scourged by the Romans' whips, sometimes real blood dots his back as one of the men with the whips miscalculates and actually strikes the actor. Trickles of stage blood dot his head under the crown of thorns.

When he picks up the huge cross to carry it through the village and up onto the mountain to the site of his crucifixion, spectators are visibly moved.

On the mountain, Jesus is hung between two thieves to die. As he speaks from the cross, weakens and dies, the agony and grief in the crowd is palatable, heavy and real. Subdued, most of the crowd disperses but his mourners remain on the mountain with him until nightfall. Then, as Jesus said in his last words, "It is over."

You'll find that it doesn't matter that none of the participants are professional actors. Each participant offers all of their energy to God, taking great personal pride in the sacrifices of time, energy and money needed to accurately fulfill their role. Each participant observes the Catholic tradition of the story of Christ's passion as closely as possible. Their suffering and courage is mixed with a great deal of enthusiasm, soul and love.

The Procession of Silence
Friday evening the year's most moving and emotional procession is held. Townspeople gather and move in absolute silence through the streets. In sharp contrast to other processions punctuated by sky rockets and the music of the town's brass band, the mournful slow drum cadence and the quiet shuffling of the feet on the cobblestones is the only sound. One of their throng moves through the streets ahead of the procession turning out streetlights and leading the sad entourage in darkness. At the head of the group, banners proclaim, "Silence! Jesus is dead."

Throughout the somber crowd, village people carry signs listing the sins for which Jesus died. This is a solemn, quiet, very serious and moving event. Please turn out your house lights, do not chat, smoke or drink as the procession passes.

Sábado de Gloria or Sábado Santo (Holy Saturday)
On Easter Saturday, most church doors in Mexico are closed and locked. The always-burning candles at the altar were extinguished at the hour of Jesus death, and the altar remains veiled. In church buildings where from two and eight masses are celebrated on every day of the year, only a brief prayer service is held on this day of deep mourning.

All remaining consecrated communion wafers and wine are removed from the church buildings and for two days, there is no one home in the church. It is a dark, sad, empty shell.

The Easter Eve vigil
On Saturday night around seven, Ajijic townspeople carrying two-liter bottles of water and candles begin to gather on the plaza and in the churchyard for the Easter Eve vigil. During the first portion of this three-hour service the parish priest blesses the year's supply of holy water and sacred candles, for the church and the people who have brought them to keep in their homes.

The first candle to be lit is the huge ceremonial candle that resides in front of the altar all year and burns during baptisms, confirmations, first communions, weddings and other special ceremonies. From it all the other candles are lit, and the blessed fire is passed on from person to person through the crowd until the dark area begins to glow.

The hundreds of chairs in the churchyard aren't nearly enough to hold the crowd that has assembled. The service is highlighted by a chorus of bells and skyrockets. The light, smoke and sound show accompany the announcement that Christ's tomb is empty and that he has risen from the dead.

The candles, the holy water and the Host are carried into the church (empty and dark since Friday afternoon) bringing life back to the building. The religious portion of the night ends with this service and mass, the first held since early Friday morning.The social portion of the night begins when Mass ends and the dances and celebrations continue until dawn.

Domingo de Gloria or Pascua (Easter Sunday)
Until I learned the tradition of the Easter Eve vigil, I was puzzled by the absence of riotous celebration at the church on Easter morning. I thought that if ever there was a time for pealing bells and skyrockets, it would be Easter morning.

But Easter is like other holidays in Mexico — celebrated the night before. Christmas morning and Easter morning are eerily quiet with few people on the streets and virtually no traffic until near noon. There are also no Easter baskets, colored Easter eggs, jelly beans or chocolates – those are all customs that have remained north of the border.

It can be very sunny and hot in late April, still, witnessing the Semana Santa events in Ajijic is a rare privilege. Bring your camera, wear a hat, use sunscreen and carry plenty of water. This touching portrayal of the last days of Jesus will be one of the highlights of your Lake Chapala experience.


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Mexico + Chocolate = Aztec Cake and Tequila Truffles

by Judy King 23. January 2011 22:05


After a few months away, I’m back with a long look at cooking with one of Mexico’s gifts to the world – chocolate. As you read in the last post, I was recently invited to present a program about chocolate at the Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic (CASA).

Rather than print sheaves of handouts for those who attended, I promised to publish the recipes for the goodies I took for tasting here in my blog – it served a double purpose – they get the recipes, and I’m getting back in the swing of sharing interesting facts and details of life in Mexico here again!

melangeurHave you seen a real pod of cacao? The pods (shown here, grow on trees in the southernmost states of Mexico – primarily Tabasco, Oaxaca, Vera Cruz and Chiapas – and in the countries of Central America. Each 12” pod contains from 25-40 “beans” which are fermented and then roasted and winnowed so that the viable chocolate can be separated from the fiber.

Today most chocolate is ground in simple mechanical grinders. The entire central market in Oaxaca smells like chocolate. In the back, housewives have their own favorite mixtures ground to order while they wait, choosing their favorite combination of chocolate beans, sugar, cinnamon and almonds. The mixture is heated as it is ground, to melt the chocolate and dissolve the sugar. The mixture is then shaped into disks or logs and allowed to cool for later use.

Blending Chocolate and Chile

codexOne of the chocolate specialties I made to share with the cooks at CASA was the following Chocolate Cake – it’s made with chipotle chiles. The combination of chocolate and chiles goes back to the time of the Aztecs – Moctezuma’s famous cold, unsweetened chocolate drink contained a healthy dose of chile. Chocolate even figured prominently in the notes kept by the visiting Spanish historians and in the remaining Aztec pictographs – the Codex.

This cake recipe calls for ground chipotle. I’ve seen it in stores in Guadalajara, but didn’t find it here at Lakeside, so I just removed the stems from a couple of the dried chiles, and then removed the seeds and inner veins and tossed them into the food processor and and ground them into fine powder. Be sure to use Mexican canela (cinnamon) in this recipe. The flavor of Mexican cinnamon is softer and not as bitter as that of the variety of the spice sold in the US.

Actually I made two of these cakes for the CASA folks. I baked the first a day ahead. The recipe is good and moist, so I knew it would hold well. The cake was well-covered with foil and pushed back on the kitchen counter when I headed out for Monday breakfast with friends. When I returned, I found the foil on the kitchen floor, a big Black Labrador with cake crumbs on her muzzle and a happy smile.

Please remember to not give chocolate to dogs. It’s not only bad for them, it’s downright dangerous. Thankfully Molly had only skimmed the top 1/4” from a quarter of the cake, not enough to harm a dog of her size. While I was relieved to know she was safe and healthy, I sure wasn’t pleased to be baking another cake. She wasn’t thrilled either to be in a lengthy back yard timeout.

The Sublime Aztec Flavor -- Chipotle Chocolate Cake

Remember that easy chocolate cake that was mixed all in one bowl – the liquids poured into wells made in the dry mixture? In our house we called it the “Wacky Cake.” This recipe is a Mexican version of that ridiculously easy, old-favorite. 

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup cocoa, plus extra for sprinkling on the cake
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground chipotle or grind dry chipotle chiles into a fine powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups water
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons red wine
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar and or cocoa to sprinkle on the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a small mixing bowl, mix together the chiles, water, oil, red wine and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients and stir just until combined. Do not overmix. Pour the batter into an ungreased 9-by-13-inch baking pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Cool on rack for 10 minutes; turn out on serving tray-- if desired. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and cocoa just before slicing and serving.

What’s Better than Chocolate? Truffles

Who know that rich, luscious, expensive truffles could be so easy to make at home. There’s really only a few secrets to obtain the best results. The number one tip is to use the best dark, unsweetened or semisweet chocolate you can find and afford.

Take note, when you only have 2 or 3 ingredients in a recipe, they’d better all be top notch – each will need to shine and to combine into a high quality product.

What are your favorite flavors – peppermint, raspberry, orange, brandy, cappuccino? You can do what you love best in this basic recipe. Adjust it to suit your taste and mood.

Basic Dark ChocolateTruffles

Create your own truffles using your favorite flavors. How about chai, lavender, or rose petals just for Valentine’s Day? In this basic recipe, you can do it your way. 

1 cup heavy cream

1 pound dark chocolate, chopped

Flavoring as desired – 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon liqueur or flavorings, cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom to simmer in cream, expresso powder, etc.

cocoa powder for rolling truffles – add nuts, ground cinnamon, etc to cocoa.

Place the chopped chocolate in a large bowl and set aside. Put cream in a heavy saucepan, and heat until the cream just starts to boil. Remove from heat, and then pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for one minute before beginning to whisk the mixture steadily but not too vigorously—you want it to be well-combined and very smooth but without air bubbles.

Cover the ganache with plastic wrap, placing the plastic directly on top of the ganache so that it is not exposed to air. Allow the ganache to set at room temperature for at least 4 hours, and preferably overnight to allow the flavors to mingle and fully ripen. When your ganache is firm enough to shape, scoop teaspoonfuls onto a foil, parchment or plastic wrap-lined baking sheet. Place the truffles in the refrigerator to harden for at least an hour.

Put the rolling mixture --cocoa powder, cinnamon, cinnamon and sugar, etc. in a shallow bowl. Coat hands with cocoa powder and roll truffles between hands to round and then roll them in the cocoa-cinnamon mixture in a shallow bowl. Return finished truffles to baking sheet and chill. Store in a single layer in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Bring to room temperature before serving to allow flavor and texture to be at their best.

We can even bring those old Aztec flavors together in truffle form. In fact, this recipe was one of the big hits at the CASA meeting. To bring out the best of the orange flavor, I brought the cream, orange zest and cinnamon sticks just to scalding (cream steams and a skin forms on top). I turned off the heat and let the mixture steep for about 90 minutes, then returned the cream just to a boil before pouring it over the chocolate.

When I make this recipe next (and I will make it again) I think I’ll boost that delicious subtle orange flavor with a couple of teaspoons of orange liqueur -- Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Triple Sec

Aztec Truffles

The dark chocolate is flavored with cinnamon and chile, two spices commonly paired with chocolate in Aztec culture. There is also a hint of orange to complement the fruitiness of the dark chocolate. Splurge on the best chocolate you can afford--good chocolate transforms truffles into a truly gourmet experience.

cocoa truffles2/3 cup heavy cream

12 ounces best-quality dark chocolate, finely chopped or grated

Zest from one orange

One cinnamon stick

1/3 cup best-quality cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Heat the orange rind and cinnamon stick with the cream in a heavy saucepan; simmer until the cream just starts to boil. Remove from heat, strain out the zest and cinnamon and pour over chopped chocolate in a large bowl.

See method above. Roll the finished truffles in a mixture of cocoa, cinnamon and chile.

What’s Better than Truffles? Tequila Truffles!!

El Tesoro Tequila Truffles

These truffles were developed by a New York City pastry chef who traveled to Arandas, Jalisco, to make her specialty for the 70th anniversary of the Tapito/El Tesoro Tequila distillery on 7/7/07. The truffles with their sea salt bite on the shiny dark chocolate coating to match the deep tequila flavor were served at the end of the sumptuous banquet, along with the Aniversario Tequila (certified aged 7 years) which was artisan created (as are all of the company’s tequilas) by the Camarena family.

She told us that making enough truffles to serve the 500 tequila buffs from around the world attending the dinner was a feat in itself, especially in a small apartment kitchen – in July.

Among the guests of honor at the event were Ajijic’s Marilyn and Bob Denton, tequila experts who had worked with the Camarena family to create the top tequila in the prestigious El Tesoro line – El Paridiso. Others at the two-day event included large groups from San Francisco and from the Jim Beam company and marketing groups, other old tequila producing families – the Orendeins, Cuervos, etc, and aficionados from Greece, Italy, England, Scandinavia, Australia – 20 countries in all.

Tesoro Tequila Ganache

1 cup heavy cream

1 ¼ pound 55% high quality chocolate chips

1/4 cup El Tesoro del Don Carlos Tequila – reposado

Bring cream to a full boil over medium heat. Turn off heat. Add the 1 ¼ pound of chocolate chips and let sit for 3 minutes and then add tequila and whisk slowly to combine a smooth ganache.

Transfer the ganache into a chilled foil covered baking sheet and cover with plastic. Chill ganache for 45 minutes to one hour until ganache is firm. (The original recipe called for ½ cup tequila, my ganache didn’t firm up well. I’ve cut I back to ¼ cup for you.)

Line two more baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a mini ice cream scoop or two spoons, form the ganache into one-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheets. Chill in refrigerator for about ten minutes.

Tempering the Chocolate

1 pound 55% cocoa high quality chocolate chips, tempered

How the chocolate is tempered (heated and cooled) determines the final gloss and hard coating of the finished chocolate. There are many ways to do it, but the simplest is to place the pound of chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time on high power – just until the chocolate is almost completely melted. Be careful not to overheat it. The chocolate should be just slightly warmer than your bottom lip. If there are still a few lumps, don’t worry; the residual heat will melt them.

saltAs the chocolate begins to set on the sides of the bowl, mix it back into the melted chocolate. Repeat this process. To test the chocolate, dip a piece of parchment paper into the chocolate and let it sit on the counter for a few minutes. If chocolate is tempered the chocolate on the test paper will be hardened with a glossy finish. Continue to stir the chocolate every few minutes to keep it in temper.

Coating the balls

Remove balls from the refrigerator. Using one hand, dip the balls into the tempered chocolate. Roll around in your hand; allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Roll balls off of hand gently onto the lined baking sheets. While chocolate is still wet, garnish by sprinkling a few grains of sea salt on the top of each truffle. Repeat with all balls.  Store truffles in an air tight container, keep cool.

CASA FOLKS:  This Tequila recipe is that good example of “do what I say, not what I do.” Remember that I told you I misread this recipe – my ganache was too soft – with good reason, I used twice as much cream!  Follow the recipe and they will be perfect!

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Mexico Kitchen - Recipes, Foods & Restaurants

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

We’re Back … And With Chocolate!

by Judy King 18. January 2011 13:26


We’re been AWOL from this blog now for three months, and after that good bit of R&R, I decided the perfect time to come back is with a set of recipes for using Mexico’s Gift to the World…chocolate.

January 17, I was honored to speak again for a great Lakeside group – the Culinary Association of Ajijic (CASA). Each month these cooks get together to compete in two food categories. Yesterday they were fixing beef dishes and side dishes (and there were some really great entries).

However, my talk was intended to get the members fired up for the February meeting when one of the categories will be Valentine Desserts.

Chocolate’s history goes back far beyond the arrival of the Europeans in what is now Mexico and Central America – cacao trees were growing wild in these southern areas 3500 years ago, or more. They were first planted as a crop by the Olmecs as early as 300-500 BCE. Hernan Cortez shared Moctezuma’s trademark beverage – a cold, frothy, unsweetened mixture of chocolate and chile. Cortez was impressed with the strength the drink imparted – some of this scribes reported that the Aztec king consumed 50-100 cups of the drink a day – especially before he visited one of his dozens of wives – giving chocolate its reputation of being an aphrodisiac.

AbuelitaWho knows – recent scientists have confirmed that consuming chocolate does increase our supply of endorphins – that brain chemical that creates our sense of well being. Women have known for years that while chocolate might not be a worthy substitute for sex, it at least certainly eases hormonal ups and downs and soothes away bad moods.

Of course I took visual aids to the talk – including a variety of types of chocolate and the equipment used to make and prepare chocolate here in Mexico. In the photo above you can see chocolate beans on the metate (the lava stone grinding surface). There are also molinillos – the wooden utensils rapidly rolled between the hands to produce froth on the hot chocolate. A foamy cup of chocolate best releases the flavor and scent of the chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla. If you don’t have a molinillo, try using a chef’s whisk, a stick blender or your kitchen blender – any will do the job – so will pouring the drink back and forth between a pair of cups.

IbarraAlso pictured here are the yellow boxes of two of Mexico’s favorite hot chocolates – Ibarra (a Guadalajara company) and Abuelita (currently celebrating their 70th year). Another favorite is El Rey Amargo. Each brand is sold in bars, round disks (in these distinctive six-sided boxes and now available in powdered form. These “Chocolates para Mesa” have combined the chocolate, sugar, almonds and cinnamon – all you have to do is melt them in hot milk or hot water, bring to a boil and whip until you have a thick froth on top.

For yesterday’s talk I prepared three types of hot chocolate, sugar-free chocolate-macadamia candies, tequila truffles, cinnamon orange truffles with chile and a chocolate cake with chipotle chile. I’ll share the hot chocolate recipes today and return next time with the recipes for the cake and truffles.

Here are the recipes for the hot chocolates served yesterday at CASA – in the order those members found them on the table.

Traditional Hot Chocolate with Chiles

Here’s the favorite hot chocolate of the CASA members. You can (and should) go back to chocolate’s origins and try this drink which combines it with chiles, cinnamon, and vanilla bean. It’s almost how the Aztec shared it with Cortez – except they didn’t sweeten it or heat it!

2 cups boiling water
1 sweet ancho chile, cut in half with seeds removed

5 cups light cream or whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks, 6" long
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate or Mexican chocolate, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
Agave syrup, sugar, piloncillo or honey, to taste

Combine the chile and 1/2 cup of chopped piloncillo to the boiling water and continue to boil until there is only about a cup of liquid remaining. Strain and set the liquid aside.

In another heavy pan, heat the cream or milk with the vanilla bean and the cinnamon sticks. Bring almost to a boil and then reduce heat and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and then bring back just to a boil twice more to develop the flavors. Remove the vanilla bean and the cinnamon sticks. Add chile-piloncillo syrup to the desired picante level. Add additional agave syrup, honey, or sugar if desired. Top with cream; sprinkle with chile, grated chocolate or ground cinnamon.

Running a close second was this next hot chocolate. It’s so rich and dark and so simple, that it’s almost like drinking pudding! When One of my favorite movies is Chocolat. Each time I watched it I was fascinated by the really dark, thick rich hot chocolate she dipped and served to the older lady. I was thrilled when I found this recipe, I imagine that it is similar to that from the movie.  And, think about this – if you make it with mostly water, and sweeten it with Splenda, it becomes a wonderfully satisfying low carb treat on cold evenings.

Thick Dark Cocoa a la the movie, Chocolat

Bring out the demitasse cups for 1/3 cup servings of this special treat for the purists among you. Bring out those tiny spoons, too – you can make it almost that thick!  Note to CASA members – this will be thicker when you make it at home…with the extended heating time and serving time, the corn starch thickening broke down a bit at the meeting. It usually is thicker. 

2 1/4 cups nonfat milk (Heavier milk will soften the dark color of the chocolate. I sometimes use water for this.)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine milk, cocoa, sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking often, until steaming. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until it comes to a boil, then remove from the heat and serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon or pass a cream pitcher to add a swirl to the chocolate.

eatmexicoHot chocolate and pan dulce ( the slightly sweet breads you’ll find at every corner store) are served in many Mexican homes for the early light desayuno (a heavier breakfast is often served at about 10 a.m.) or for a light cena (supper). The favorite pan dulce for dunking in hot chocolate is the concha – named for the shell-like design on the rounded top of the bread.

In the photo at left are two favorite pan dulces. That’s an oreja (sugary ear) at left in the photo and a dome-topped concha (bread with shell design) at right.  The picture from the blog of Texan Leslie Tellez who is reporting her adventures living in Mexico City and most recently her quest to find the perfect concha in the Republic’s capitol city. This is obviously a woman after my own heart. Not only is she a writer, she’s just started offering culinary tours – including street food and tacos -- of Mexico City at http://www.eatmexico.com

Family-Style Mexican Hot Chocolate

The extra steps and chocolate in this recipe are worth the effort. Some households make their chocolate with just water, others with all milk. Adjust these ingredients to suit your taste.

3-4 servings

1-2 disk Abuelita or Ibarra Chocolate para mesa, coarsely chopped

1 cup water

2 cups milk

Bring the water to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat, add chocolate. Stir or whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Return to the heat, and gradually add milk, whisking or stirring to blend. Cook to a full boil. Remove from heat until the bubbles subside. Then bring to the boil twice more and then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes.

This process allows the starch in the chocolate disks to cook and swell, thickening the drink. Froth the chocolate by rubbing the molinillo between your palms, using a wire whisk or pulsing in the blender until a rich foam forms.

Another Mexican comfort food is Atole – a ancient corn-based hot drink. These days it’s frequently flavored with vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate. Atole is always served with tamales – in fact, I’ve been warned by Mexican friends to never, ever drink beer or Coca Cola (or other soft drinks) with tamales. “It’s very bad for your stomach, they solemnly vow.” You can buy Atole mixes in grocery stores, but as usual, the best is made from “scratch.”  Try this old favorite when you are in the mood for a sweet, smooth, gentle comfort food, when you are  entertaining young grandchildren, or at a party with other Mexican foods.

Chocolate Atole or Champurrado

Mexican Champurrado is a special family style chocolate drink thickened with masa and flavored with piloncillo and vanilla. It’s often served at family celebrations and with tamales. Great on evenings when you’re feeling peckish and don’t want a heavy meal. Try adding ¼ teaspoon aniseed with the cinnamon stick (or top off mug with a dollop of anise liqueur). Note: Masa Harina is the dry mix for making corn tortillas at home. You’ll find it in a white bag with green lettering in grocery stores. An alternative method would be to buy a small amount of masa (tortilla dough) from any of the local tortilla “factories”.  At home combine about 1/4 – 1/3 cup of the dough with 1 cup of the recipe’s cold water in the blender and blend until smooth, then combine with the rest of the water.

4 Servings

1/3 cup masa harina

4 cups cold water
2 disks Mexican chocolate
1 stick cinnamon

3 tablespoons piloncillo, chopped

½ teaspoon vanilla

Dissolve the masa harina in the cold water in a heavy medium saucepan. Add cinnamon stick and aniseed (if desired). Cook over medium heat until it is the consistency of heavy cream.

Strain mixture into a larger pan and add remaining ingredients and bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking constantly with a molinillo or whisk until the chocolate and sugar are melted and well-blended. Serve in hot mugs.

Here are a pair of other hot chocolate recipes for you to try. Remember that chocolate, in addition to being wonderfully satisfying is full of great antioxidants. Is there a better way to feel good about your health than with a

Super Simple, Healthy Hot Cocoa
The secret to this easy recipe? Heat it slowly. Slow heat helps release the antioxidants.
Use a high quality 70% cocoa powder – maybe Scharffen Berger or Ghiradelli

1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons sugar

Pinch of salt

1 cup skim or low-fat milk

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat gently (do not let it boil), stirring frequently, until cocoa is just beginning to steam. Pour into a mug and enjoy.

healthy hot chocolate drink? Here’s a recipe for a single serving – and it’s easy enough to make any time.

Here is just one more. I couldn’t resist adding this recipe – after all Valentine’s Day is coming soon and this recipe harkens back nearly 500 years to the legends of Moctezuma’s chocolate habit being part of the cause of the legend that he fathered 1,000 children with his 100 wives. We’re hoping one wife will be enough for the men among you gentle readers, and while we wouldn’t presume that anyone we know would have use for an aphrodisiac, this hot chocolate includes our favorite blend of spices.

Super Simple Aphrodisiac Hot Chocolate

The comforting aroma of this drink will awaken your senses, soothe your stress, and warm your heart. It’s just what the love doctor ordered.

2 Servings

2 cups light cream

½ to ¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips (best quality available)

2 whole cloves, 5-6 whole cardamom pods, 1 cinnamon stick,

A pinch each -- ground red chile (cayenne) and ground ginger

½ teaspoon vanilla

Heat cream and spices to a boil in a small saucepan. Add chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Add vanilla and strain into mugs. Top with whipped cream.

Wow, this array of hot chocolate is enough to make those of us living in Mexico welcome another few chilly evenings. We know those of you north of the border will enjoy the warmth and comfort of these simple drinks.

We’ll be back in a few days (I promise!) with the rest of the recipes from the CASA demonstration and tastings.

Until then, let’s lift our chocolate mugs in a traditional Mexican toast – Salud Dinero y Amor!! (Health, Money and Love!!)


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

It’s October!

by Judy King 3. October 2010 15:45

I’m so disappointed to have let a week go by without posting here – but I’ve a VERY good excuse. No, the dog didn’t eat my homework, but the result has been the same – my hard drive not only crashed, it burned…died…left no survivers. 

Thankfully, I’d backup up most of my information just four days before the death of the computer – but, I didn’t back up my email addresses and information (that’s a pain – get safe guards in place, now!). I can claim ignorance with the loss of 10-12 finished, ready-to-publish blog posts to same me time during deadline times.

So, I had no prepared material for you blog readers during the extremely busy time of moving into a different computer. The only thing I can compare that process to is getting the car back from the mechanic or body shop after several days – you know the feeling…the mirrors are off, someone changed the radio pre-set stations, there aren’t CDs in the player, they took the stuff out of the glove box and put it on the floor while they worked on the dash, the seat is in exactly the opposite position – it takes forever to make it feel right again.

The good news is that I made the deadline for the new issue of Living at Lake Chapala’snew October issue. It was up and running on September 30 about 7 p.m. as usual.

Since it’s now time to get the articles ready for the October 15 issue of the Lake Chapala Review, I’m the editor there, too, I have a great surprise for all of you.

Today and tomorrow I’m teasing you with the preview of the articles in the current October 2010 issue of Living at Lake Chapala. 

Meanwhile here is the preview we always include in the From the Editor’s Column. You can always read that, whether you are a subscriber or not.

October 2010: Celebrating a Saint, A Virgin, and a Great Rainy Season

With the first day of fall and that beautiful harvest moon in late September, we're trying hard to convince ourselves that it really is fall here at Lake Chapala. If the calendar doesn't convince you, try a trip to Chapala this week.

The huge downtown carnival set up, the stages, blocked off traffic flow and morning and evening processions will confirm that it really is early October and Chapala is well into the novena honoring the town's patron, San Francisco (St. Francis of Assisi).

If you hurry you can still join in the fun and celebration — it culminates on the feast day of the saint, October 4.

(Left:) The Virgin of the Rosary, the centuries-old figure from over the altar in Ajijic's small chapel is feted for the entire of October.


Meanwhile, not to be outdone in the devotion to local favorite icons, the last few days of September were studded with evening skyrockets as Ajijic's favorite Virgin of the Rosary, the patron of the old chapel on the north side of the plaza, moved to spend a night and day in the church in San Antonio and then headed for the church at Six Corners to spend a night with the parishioners there.

On September 30 she was positioned in a place of honor in the front of Ajijic's parish church, El Templo de San Andrés, where she'll receive early morning pilgrims all during her month. Don't miss the grand procession in her honor around 6 p.m. on October 31. It's a wonderful opportunity to see the indigenous dancers, local bands and hundreds of the local faithful walking in a solemn moment of honor and respect.

Lakeside religious processions are always perfect locations to snap wonderful pictures of unusual scenes. Here, at left below, a small girl depicts the Virgin of the Rosary on a procession float while at right, a troupe of dancers near the completion of the hour-long procession.

The Rainy Season and Ajijic's Waterfalls
The annual rainy season which usually stretches from early June to mid-September is still going strong, fueled by tropical storms which are continuing to develop and move up both shores of Mexico. Storms on either coast circle rain-producing clouds up and over the mountains to our high central plateau.

If you've been watching the temperatures and rainfall amounts on http://chapalaweather.netyou've rejoiced with us as we've received more rain than normal this season. We're 5" above normal rainfall for the months of June through September and topped the annual average rainfall more than a month ago. We're standing at over 42" of rainfall so far this year compared to the average of 33.5" per year.

(At Left:) A hiker marvels at a section of Tepalo, Ajijic's triple waterfalls which cascade down through a canyon just above the village.

All that rain is great news for our gardens and for Lake Chapala which this week reached 82% capacity; that's up more than 31 inches from a year ago and tops the 2009 September levels by 10%. It looks like the lake could easily surpass the record high levels of 2008.

Of course the gain in lake water is not just due to the heavy rains here at Lakeside. This summer's storm systems have dropped good amounts of water all along the Rio Lerma basin, and the 11 upstream reservoirs are holding an average of 93% of their capacities — far better than the 63% levels they marked in September of last year. Because they are all nearly full, we know that water will be released downstream for Lake Chapala.

What does that upstream water report mean? I expect that Lake Chapala's water level will continue to rise for at least two more months, and may continue to rise into the new year as runoff and excess water continues to enter the lake from the river.

This year's abundant rainfall has another benefit for hikers, casual walkers and the just plain curious — Tepalo, Ajijic's waterfalls cascading down the mountains just above town.

That's right — Ajijic has a waterfall — well actually there are several falls in this system, lower falls and a series of triple falls up a little higher.

Jim Cook, the resident hiking expert on the Living at Lake Chapala writing team, headed up to Tepalo in mid-September to take pictures and get the scoop so that you can make the fairly easy walk up to the falls, too. Jim gives the specifics in his article, but this is a walk that is doable for most of our readers, even the non-hikers. And if you join the crowds of Mexican families heading up the hill by the Donut shop in the late afternoon, you'll be joining flocks of children, parents, abuelos (grandparents) and even bisabuelos (great-grandparents).

Making the walk to Tepalo is a happy town tradition. You see the waterfall doesn't "run" in drier years — and if "Tepalo is running," you know there's plenty of rain for a good corn crop and a good harvest. Life in Mexico tends to break down to the simplest level of expectations and celebration. Join the fun!

Traveling With the Experts: Tapalpa and Jalapa
I'm amazed at the amount of traveling some of our Living at Lake Chapala writers do each year — yet they still have time to be actively involved with the community, and to write the results of their trips for you.

(Left:) When Carol Bowman headed for a weekend away in Tapalpa, she found some special entertainment for a very traditional event along the way. (Right:) Michael McLaughlin and Anita Lee visited the village of San Antonio near Jalapa — and this bell tower which was constructed in 1546.

Carol Bowman has taken the traveler's prize among the members of our writing team. Although she has just been back a few days from a three-week journey to the Holy Lands, she is filling us in on her pampered weekend away in Tapalpa in this month's Out and About column.

Lucky woman that she is, Carol was able to see first hand one of the most enduring customs of area ranchers and farmers — the pajaretes. She was a little confused, too, when on the side of the road she saw a tent, filled with tables and huge ceramic cups and heard a trio playing ranchero music.

Her driver explained the tradition to Carol and her husband, Ernie, while pointing out the milk cows tied up nearby. It seems that a goodly shot of tequila or grain alcohol, instant coffee, sugar, cinnamon (to the cowboy's taste) are poured into one of the big cups and then comes the milk, fresh, directly from the cow, foamy and warm. As Carol says, it's truly a "breakfast of champions," at least to hear these guys tell it.

(Left:) In the Vera Cruz plaza, all decorated for the September Independence Day activities, Michael and Anita watched a performance of folkloric dancing. (Right:) As Michael explains in his article, the anthropological museum in Jalapa was one of the best he's visited. This sculpture fragment wears an owl headdress.

Last year Michael McLaughlin and his wife, Anita Lee, spent six months traveling Mexico. In this month's People, Places and Things, he writes about their adventures in Vera Cruz, Jalapa, and some of the other small villages, including his favorite, Xico Xico and Coatepec, the coffee producing center of Vera Cruz.

They may not have found the perfect place to live (they report that it's far too hot and humid) but they certainly found adventures enough to last most of us several weeks.

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

Huele de Noche: The Fragrant White Night Flowers

by Judy King 22. September 2010 18:41

jesus2 075 I planned of creating a special garden of all the scented white blooming plants from the time I realized plants like jasmine, gardenia, frangipani, and orange blossoms all thrive here at Lakeside. Several years ago I purchased a house, and when the construction workers finished making their messes and just before the rains began, I started designing gardens and buying plants to sink into the rich earth.

As I hauled car load after car load home from the nursery, I remembered a quip from a former associate.  "Landscaping is easy," he said with a grin. "Just stand in the middle of your yard and throw money!"

(Left:) Datura features giant bell-shaped blooms. These are double, two bells in each flower. You may know it better as Giant Loco Weed or Giant Jimson.

For years, my friend José had waxed eloquently about his favorite Mexican plant with white flowers and a romantic fragrance. he called it huele de noche (scent of the night). With a name like that, I was hooked.

Within days I had planted the wonderfully lacy, frothy, viney type of jasmine the guy at the nursery promised was  huele de noche. But when José and his wife Marta stopped by, he admired the scent of the plant, shook his head and said, "It's good, but it's not huele de noche."

editor3-flower  bushes 005 monday 005 

(Above:) At left is Queen of the Nile – it isn’t fragrant, but between that name and the giant balls of white flowers, it earned a place in my garden. In center is the common vine-style jasmine. You’ll find clouds of small leaves and deliciously scented tiny flowers billowing over Lakeside walls. (Right:) Gardenias – those fragile flowers of prom corsage fame bloom in area gardens.

I caught a whiff of a wonderful fragrance as I walked through a friend’s gate. I zeroed in on a shrub with glossy green leaves and clusters of tiny white flowers. Because my friend didn't know the name of the plant, I cut off a sprig to take to the nursery. The nursery’s owner examined the sprig and nodded her head definitively. Brushing dirt from her gloves, said, "It's a shrub type of jasmín (jasmine). My workers call iit huele noche."

"Great," I was smiling from ear to ear. That's just what I'm looking for." Ready to carry the plant to the car, I overheard one of the workers showing a plant to a pair of shoppers. He pointed out the tiny white rose-like blooms and described the slow growth of the plant, the Grand Duke Jasmine. Then I heard the lady shopper exclaim as she smelled the flowers, "Ah, it's huele de noche, just like in my grandmother's garden. Of course I bought one of those, too. 

flowers 011 more fall flowers 025

(Above at left, this shrub jasmine has miniature star-shaped flowers that bloom in clusters – they small wonderful on the night breeze. At right is the regal gran duque (Grand Duke) jasmine. Each of the blossoms on this slower growing plant looks like a tiny full-blown white rose. The scent is incredibly beautiful – the best of all, in my opinion.)

When José and Marta stopped by to sip a little tequila and admire the progress in the garden, they stooped to inhale the scent of the new plants. "Lovely, simply lovely," he said. "They have such wonderful fragrances, and they are good, but they're just not huele de noche."

Each time I purchased a fragrant white flowering plant I was more convinced I'd found the "real" huele de noche. Once I learned to translate the phrase more correctly as "scent of the night", I came to accept that each of these plants is the “real” one. After all, each certainly had a wonderful fragrance that was more pronounced after dark.

I planted three other sweet-smelling jasmine plants near the carport so I'd catch the scent as soon as I got out of the car. On a visit to a local nursery, the middle-aged owner showed me an upright shrub that she claimed was the ancestor to today's gardenias and is called sombra de la montaña (shade on the mountain). She smiled when she clasped her dirt-caked hands across her rounded belly and said with a nod, "my mother always called her huele de noche." I bought three sombras and planted then at the end of the sidewalk. 

The next two plants I found were both in the jasmine family, with star-shaped white flowers. Both had glossy green leaves that resembled those of the gardenia, and both had a delightful fragrance.


(Above:) These two jasmine plants bear fragrant white star-shaped flowers. (Left:) These tiny flowers have just five petals. (Right:) On this plant the larger stars have nine longer, thinner, curving petals.

I planted three of each in triangle formations at the back of each side garden. An older gentleman at a nursery assured me that one of them was the real huele de noche, but he just couldn't quite remember which was which. Still, I'd enjoy having both, he knew that for sure. Then he added, "Be sure to leave plenty of space for them to grow. Huele de noche is a big plant."

I called my friends to come see the new garden additions. "Come and see!" I said. "Check out these star-flowering jasmines – one of them is really huele de noche."

I caught Marta throwing a funny little smile at her husband as he admired the new jasmine and the sombra de la montaña, but before he could make is now familiar proclamation Marta interrupted. "Heavens, José," quit torturing the poor woman and show her the gift you have for her garden.” 

José was smiling from ear to ear "Get ready to smell the scent of heaven." With a gesture broader than his smile, he indicated the thriving plants covered with lovely white flowers, he said, "See. Smell. Now that's good, that's really good, because it is huele de noche!"

 Honeysuckle 22

I began laughing and I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks. I laughed until I could barely stand. Poor José looked at Marta and she looked back at José. I realized that they thought there was something wrong with the plants and tried desperately to recover from the laughter that was still making it difficult to breathe or speak.

"Thank you, my friends, Oh my goodness thank you. I'm so thrilled to finally have the “real” huele de noche for my garden, but it's … so...funny...." I paused, overcome with another burst of laughter.

A few minutes later we placed the plants at the kitchen door. As I regained my composure, I poured coffee and then taking the sugar from the cupboard and the milk from the refrigerator, I explained that I'd seen this fragrant plant before.

"When you first mentioned huele de noche, I knew I had to have it in my garden. Just the name, 'the fragrance of the night'—well, it just sounded so tropical, so Latin, so exotic, so romantic. "So, I began searching, and I've searched for over two years. I've found and bought wonderful exotic, tropical plants, but none of them was the right one... the true one. I wondered how huele de noche could be more special and exotic than the plants I'd found.

"Now, here it is. The plant of with the romantic scent for which I've been searching and it's,"...I giggled..."plain, old-fashioned honeysuckle, a plant I've known my whole life."

bushes 003"Is that bad?" Marta looked concerned.

"No," I took her hand, and said, "No, no, it's not bad. In fact it's just wonderful. I picked flowers from this vine when I was eight years old and visited Aunt Margaret the summer after she got married. The vines flourished on the dinner bell pole just outside the kitchen door.

"At Aunt Betty's house, it was climbing up the mailbox post. Great-Aunt Lulu grew it by the clothes line. Honeysuckle covered the fence in front of Mrs. Norman's house. She was my piano teacher.

"It was just everywhere I liked to go when I was growing up. I loved the smell and I couldn't understand when Grandma said it was too common and  kept trying to kill it out of her garden." I grinned as I remembered the vine stubbornly twining onto the lattice work of Grandma's front porch.

"It's a wonderful plant, and a wonderfully special scent. Now I'll also remember the two of you when I smell it."

When I moved from that house with the exotic, sweet smelling plants, I propagated pieces of several of the jasmines and planted them into pots to take with me. As I write, I can smell the scent of the star jasmine drifting through the window on the night air. In a few minutes, when I go outside on my way to the bedroom, I'll pick one flower from José and Marta's huele de noche to lay on my bedside table. Its scent always brings me memories from childhood, and reminds me of the love of good friends in both Mexico and the middle of the United States.

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Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at www.mexico-insights.com, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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