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Sugar Skull as Decorated by Casey Barrett

October is finally here and it’s time to make sugar skulls!  You can learn how to make them right at home and decorate them yourself, or you can buy them pre-made. This fun and festive Mexican folk art is a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) tradition.  The decorated sugar skulls are used to adorn the altars of loved ones along with marigolds, papel picado and candles.  It is not a somber holiday but one of remembrance and joy. For more information about Dia de los Muertos and more about Mexican Cooking, visit Mexican Food at About.com

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Consumers seeking for "authenticity" in Mexican dining.
Special Article Contribution by Kathleen Furore

The new Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trends Report from Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm, was full of interesting information about consumers’ preferences in ethnic cuisine. The finding that most intrigued me: only about one-fourth of people polled are satisfied with restaurants’ selection of ethnic foods. That included just 23 percent of consumers speaking about limited-service chains and 28 percent about full-service brands.

If those consumers are unhappy with selections of Mexican food specifically I have to admit I’m a bit surprised, considering how significantly Mexican food has evolved since I started covering the industry in 1997—the year el Restaurante Mexicano magazine debuted.

Consumers responding to the Technomic survey said they want more “authenticity” in the ethnic cuisine they’re consuming. And that is exactly what Mexican restaurants today are striving to provide. From taquerias and food trucks to fast food chains and sit-down family restaurants to fine dining chains and single-unit independents alike, chefs are reaching beyond the nachos, ground beef tacos and melted cheese-drenched enchiladas that once prevailed on U.S. Mexican menus.

Examples of the authentic food these establishments are serving:

Puesto Mexican Street FoodTaco stand/fast-casual eatery: At Puesto Mexican Street Food, a restaurant in La Jolla, Calif., that is modeled after a Mexico City taco stand, customers enjoy homemade salsas prepared fresh daily and tortillas made on-site from stone ground maize. The menu focuses on guisados (grilled foods) that include fish, shrimp, chicken al pastor, carne asada and gourmet Mexican vegetarian items like zucchini flower, corn truffle and soy chorizo potatoes.

Rubios Mexican Fast FoodFast food chain: Rubios, famous for its fish tacos, features a Mango Habanero Pacific Mahi Mahi taco. The fish is seasoned in olive oil and garlic or house blackened, then grilled on an authentic comal and topped with mango pineapple salsa, a smoky red chile sauce made with guajillo, ancho and red jalapeño chiles, crema and serrano cabbage slaw.

Rosa MexicanoFine dining chain: Rosa Mexicano debuted in New York City in 1984. Back then New York Magazine applauded the restaurant for introducing New Yorkers to a “hitherto unfamiliar, elevated version of Mexican cuisine.” Today, Rosa Mexicano serves “contemporary Mexican cuisine rooted in authentic flavors utilizing socially responsible ingredients combined with stylish spaces and festive atmosphere” at its 15 locations (with one scheduled to open in San Francisco soon). Upscale menu items include ceviches such as Camarones (Rock Shrimp) with sweet mango, pineapple, heirloom tomato, mint, toasted pumpkin seeds and chile pasilla-avocado sauce; Tablones (Tequila Braised Short Ribs) with Mestiza sauce (tomatillo-tomato-chipotle) and rajas (slow-cooked Mexican peppers); and the Cochinita Pibil (Yucatan Baked Pork Shoulder) that has been on the menu since 1984.

Babita MexicuisineFine dining, single-unit independent: Babita Mexicuisine, owned and operated by Chef Roberto Berrelleza, specializes in the kind of gourmet Mexican fare often found in Mexico City. Popular dishes at this San Gabriel, Calif., restaurant include Chiles en Nogada, Lamb Shank Mixiote and the classic Chile Relleno Oaxaqueno along with unique culinary creations such as the award-winning Shrimp “Topolobampo” in a super hot habanero, mustard, tomato and white wine sauce and the Chicken and Shrimp “Elba” sautéed in tequila, banana-chipotle sauce and served over chayote gratin. Chef Roberto prepares every dish, using such unique ingredients as zucchini blossoms, cuitlacoche, prickly pear and guamuchil.

Those are just a few of myriad restaurants answering consumers’ calls for authentic ethnic cuisine. Based on my experience covering the food and beverage industry—and on the fact that the Mexican restaurant segment is experiencing higher growth rates than the industry overall—I am confident chefs will continue to innovate as Mexican cuisine in the U.S. continues to evolve.

See Related Articles:
Restaurant Reviews: Xoco (by Rick Bayless) in Chicago, IL

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I discovered Cherimoya (Chair-ee-moya) one day as I was looking at a list of fruit in season. Recognizing every fruit listed but this one, of course, my interest was sparked to do some research. Finding an article that called this the “Ice Cream Fruit” drew me in further. The fruit looks like a cross-pollination between an artichoke and an avocado… oval,  with a smooth or slightly tuberculated skin. The fruit flesh is white and creamy, and has numerous dark brown seeds embedded in it.  According to one article, “Some characterize the flavor as a blend of banana, pineapple, papaya, peach, and strawberry. Others describe it as tasting like commercial bubblegum. ” which is probably the reason why Mark Twain called the cherimoya “the most delicious fruit known to men.”

Unfortunately, you won’t find this treasure on the shelf of your local Whole Foods Market. Though grown throughout Central and North America (even making it up to growers in California), the soft skin and short season of this fruit makes it hard to produce commercially. After doing a little search for it myself, I found it online for $15 a fruit! Despite it’s rarity, the cherimoya’s popularity in the U.S. and Mexico is growing. There’s even a Cherimoya Fair held in Irvine, Ca (and a website dedicated to the fruit, too: cherimoya.com).

And it’s no wonder, though the flavor could sell itself, the cherimoya has multiple health benefits too.

  • “100 g of fresh fruit pulp provide about 75 calories. It contains, however, no saturated fats or cholesterol. It characteristically contains a good amount of dietary fiber (3 g per100 g) that helps prevent absorption of cholesterol in the gut.
  • Cherimoya contains several poly-phenolic antioxidants. Among them, the most prominent in annona family fruits are Annonaceous acetogenins. Acetogenin compounds such as asimicin, bullatacinare…etc are powerful cytotoxins and have been found to have anti-cancer, anti-malarial, and anti-helminthes properties.
  • It is very good in vitamin-C.
  • In addition, cherimoya fruit is a good source of B-complex vitamins, especially vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine). 100 g fresh fruit provides 0.257 mg or 20% of daily-recommended levels. Pyridoxine helps keep-up GABA neuro chemical in the brain. High GABA levels calm down nervous irritability, tension, and headache ailments.Further, it has a well balanced sodium-potassium ratio. A good potassium level in the body helps control heart rate and blood pressure; thus, counters the bad influences of sodium. It also contains more minerals weight per weight than many common fruits like apples, rich in copper, magnesium, iron and manganese.”

    I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed. Looks like I’ll be ordering some cherimoya very soon.

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    En un cacerola derrita la inercia, la amargura y el tedio. Unte bien con mucha risa, especialmente sobre las propias tragedias. En bol aparte, pele y corte en tiras la ansiedad, pique fino el egoísmo. Ponga en remojo el yo hasta que se macere, pero cuide de no derretirlo enteramente.
    El rencor (que es furia rancia) aplástelo contra una tabla, troce el reproche y la envidia. Tire a la basura el pellejo, la pereza para pensar, la vanidad de no cometer errores y la cobardía de no admitirlos. Deje largo rato bajo la canilla, hasta que se vayan por el sumidero, el remordimiento por el pasado, la culpabilidad por el presente y el miedo por el futuro. Amase todo con ternura, sin ahorrar algún gramo de locura.
    No se preocupe si tarda en ablandarse: la impaciencia no es compatible con la ternura. Sazone con la defensa de algún derecho, propio, y sobre todo ajeno. Cocine al fuego lento de la pasión, pero vigile que no se queme. Para decorar, use armonía con la existencia y distribuya en la fuente combinando imaginación y lucidez. Deje reposar dos horas (o veinte años) y sirvalo con mucho amor.

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    Rosca de Reyes, una gran tradición Mexicana y fiesta religiosa
    For English

    La Rosca de Reyes, roscón o rosco de reyes es un pan dulce festivo en forma redonda u ovalada, adornada con rodajas de fruta cristalizada o confitada de colores. Los Roscones de Reyes tambien se denominan: biscocho, pastel o pan de dulce para celebrar los reyes magos.

    Rosca de Reyes El Molino

    Rosca de Reyes El Molino

    La celebración del Día de Reyes para partir la Rosca de Reyes es una tradición Mexicana que se lleva a cabo cada año juntando amistades cercanas ya sean familiares, amigos o compañeros de trabajo en las oficinas o casas. Esta reunión normalmente se hace unos días antes del 6 de Enero en las oficinas o lugares fuera de la casa y para las reuniones familiares se celebran en las casas el día seis de Enero en la tarde, día de la Epifanía o aparición de los Reyes Magos: Melchor, Gaspar y Baltazar.

    Esta tradición de juntarse a comer y compartir una rosca de reyes con un chocolate caliente para recordar los Santos Reyes Magos, se hace con una merienda o cena a una hora temprana de la tarde noche, para que estén presentes los niños y participen en la tradición de todos partir juntos una rebanada de rosca de reyes

    Rosca de Reyes con figura

    Rosca de Reyes con figura

    y que vean todos los presentes, que por ambos lados del corte no aparezca la figura del niño Jesus (muñeco de plástico que simboliza a Jesús recién nacido). Vale la pena mencionar que actualmente también se esconde adentro del pan de dulce o rosca: otra figura de Rey Mago de plástico para que exista la oportunidad de que sean dos las personas que los encuentren al partir la rosca y se dice que la persona que se saca o encuentra al Niño Jesus, debe poner la casa para hacer una fiesta el dia de La Candelaria que es el 2 de Febrero. Ese dia se comen tamales y antojitos Mexicanos y se vuelven a juntar el mismo grupo que estuvo presente cuando se partió la rosca. Por cierto, la persona que se saca en su rebanada el Rey de plástico es el que normalmente debe pagar los gastos de la fiesta, pero en la realidad la fiesta la hacen ambas personas poniéndose de acuerdo y se considera que tienen buena suerte y que son afortunadas por encontrar al Niño Jesús y al Rey Mago.

    La tradición de celebrar la reunión de cortar las Roscas de Reyes, rosca de pan dulce o Roscón viene desde la Edad Media en Europa, principalmente en España y Francia. Este celebración llego a México en la época de los primeros años del Virreinato.

    Pastelería El Molino hornea la mejor Rosca de Reyes que se vende en México desde 1928, MexGrocer.com la importa de su pastelería en Tijuana que se congela recién horneada y nosotros la mantenemos así hasta que la enviamos a nuestros clientes en todo Estados Unidos para que les llegue a su casa fresca y lista para comerse.

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    Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe es una de las grandes milagrosas aparaciones de la tan renombrada por la religión Católica Romana “Virgen María”. El 9 de Diciembre de 1531 cuenta la historia que un indio llamado Juan Diego mientras caminaba hacia la Ciudad de México vió en el Monte Tepeyac la visión de una niña de aproximadamente 15  o 16 años de edad. Cuando el Indio se acercó afirmó que era La Virgen de Guadalupe la que se encontraba ahí. La Virgen en el lenguaje natal Náhuatl le dijo a Juan Diego que una iglesia debía ser edificada sobre el suelo que pisaban. Inmediatamente el Indio fué a comunicarle al Fray Juan De Zumárraga. El Fray  no le creyó al instante y le pidió que confirmara que en realidad era La Virgen la que le había hablado. Cuando el Fray y el Indio regresaron al Monte Tepeyac La Virgen estaba ahí y les pidio que reunieran flores, un estilo de flor muy peculiar que en ésa época no se encontraba en La Ciudad de México. El Indio tomó su manto y La Virgen reunion las flores. Juan Diego con las flores en el manto lo tomó y las flores cayeron. El día 12 de Diciembre el Indio y el Fray presenciaron la aparición de la Virgen de Guadalupe sobre el manto de el Indio Juan Diego. Milagrosamente al despejar las flores de el manto apareció la famosa imagen sobre el manto, manto que se encuentra en la Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe en la famosa Ciudad de México.

    El pueblo Mexicano y sudamericano celebra el 12 de Diciembre la conmemoración y adoración a la Virgen de Guadalupe. Las celebraciones consisten en miles de peregrinaciones desde diferentes estados de la República Mexicana y Centroamérica hacia la Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

    En México La Virgen es el ícono más fuerte y más reconocido por la Religión Católica. El 12 de Diciembre se celebra el día de la “Patrona de México” La Virgen de Guadalupe.

    Imagen de Sumandoluz.com

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    The winter holiday brings a season of festivities, friends, and food. I LOVE this holiday season, who doesn’t? And MexGrocer is here to help your party planning all the way. You know we sell food, but our website also features recipes and sells decor too! Here’s something to get your inspiration kick-started for your next fiesta:

    Choose your menu

    Most of these recipes are a breeze to prepare –  but only you need to know how easy! Impress your friends with a delicious spread of finger foods, and the stand-by staple: chips and guacamole! Click a name for the full recipe details.

    Killer Chile Rellenos

    Chiles rellenos are made of Chile Poblano (Ancho)or Anaheim chiles, with skins removed, dipped in batter, stuffed with cheese or meat and covered  with lightly spiced red sauce.

    Queso Fundido – Mexican Fondue

    This is always popular at parties. Serve with tortilla chips or roll up some of the dip in a warm tortilla.

    Guacamole Mixtec Style

    Guacamole is a spicy Mexican paste made from crushed avocado and various seasonings, usually including onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes.

    Set the soundtrack

    No party is a party without some music! Here are a few of our favorite tunes sure to get the party moving:

    Bamboleo by Gipsy Kings

    Cool and catchy with a strong vocal

    La Marea by Manu Chao

    Lively and busy – great fun with friends

    Plan party game
    Forget pin-the-tail, play a couple of party games that get your guests up and moving!

    Fiesta Flash

    Here’s a great idea for a simple game to play with mates – all you need is a camera with a self-timer and a few ‘up-for-it’ friends!

    Number of players? As many as you have!

    Who can play? This one’s for everyone – especially the camera shy!

    What’s needed? A camera with a flash and self-timer (most digital cameras and some disposable cameras have both – just check first!)

    What’s the gist?
    1. Grab the camera, set the self-timer and the game begins.
    2. Each player must hold the camera at arm’s length and point it at themselves for a second or two – before passing it on to their left.
    3. Keep going, until the camera goes off with a flash of light, a startled face and much laughter.
    4. If the flash goes off, that person must do a quick forfeit (you decide!) before the game continues. Of course, random forfeits can also be awarded for not holding the camera long enough…

    Who wins? Anyone lucky enough to avoid the flash.

    Sombrero Dance

    In this fiesta game if you get caught with the sombrero you must eat a hot pepper!

    To play you’ll need a sombrero, music, fun loving players, and chili peppers. As your dancing to some festive music take the sombrero and place it on somebody else’s head, they then must place it on another’s head, and so on.

    When the music stops whoever last had the sombrero on must eat a pepper!

    Decorate your space!

    Don’t forget to make your space lively by adding some fun colors and decor! Check out what MexGrocer has to offer:

    Party Decorations

    Party Tableware

    Party Drinkware

    Enjoy your fiesta! And don’t forget to check out MexGrocer.com for more recipes, decorations, party favors, and ideas!

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    Beyond being delicious, Avocado (the main ingredient in guacamole, in case you didn’t know) is pretty nutritious. It packs a lot of calories, but eaten in moderation, it can be a healthy, and lip-licking delicious, eat! Check out just a few of the health benefits below:

    Avocado is a rich source of healthy fat. What is healthy fat, you ask? Healthy fats are monounsaturated fats which, according to the American Heart Association, decrease harmful LDL cholesterol, raise beneficial HDL cholesterol and last but not least, lower your risk of stroke and heart disease. One-half cup of guacamole contains 15 grams of fat. The majority, about 10 grams of the 15, is monounsaturated fat, the California Avocado Commission says. There are only 2 g of saturated fat, and no cholesterol.

    Finally, the avocado is an excellent source of vitamins B-6,C, K and Folate, and the minerals: copper and potassium. Folate is necessary for your body’s production of red blood cells, and it decreases your risk for cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C aids in healing by  increasing the absorption of calcium and iron,and  maintains healthy teeth, bones, gums and blood vessels. Vitamin B-6 is vital for the normal function of your neurological system, and potassium is necessary to maintain normal heartbeat and blood pressure. Avocado is high in oleic acid, which has been shown to prevent breast cancer in numerous studies.

    One-half cup serving of avocado also provides about 8 grams of Fiber, too. Fiber is found in all plant-based foods, and  promotes normal bowel function, reduces the risk for heart disease (a healthy heart is a happy heart!) and diabetes by lowering your glucose  and cholesterol levels, according to MayoClinic.com.

    According to Livestrong.com, “Avocados have more of the carotenoid lutein than any other commonly consumed fruit. Lutein protects against macular degeneration and cataracts, two disabling age-related eye diseases.”

    All in all, sounds like every day should be guacamole day!

    P.S. – This is a really cool website you should check out for tips, recipes, and facts about the amazing avocado.

    http://www.avocadocentral.com/nutrition

    Read more:

    1.  http://www.livestrong.com/article/290000-what-are-the-benefits-of-eating-guacamole/#ixzz2CEcuZqep

    2. http://www.beinglatino.us/lifestyle/health/more-than-guacamole-5-health-benefits-of-the-avocado/

    3. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Know-Your-Fats_UCM_305628_Article.jsp

    4. http://www.avocado.org/avocado-nutrients/

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    Maybe some of you out there are like me. When it comes to cooking, I can hold my own, but when it gets down to the really good stuff, I’m pretty lost. That’s why I’ve taken an active interest in learning from the masters. Perhaps, like me, you’ve also never considered taking a cooking class — but in my research, cooking classes (even the online kind) are surprisingly pretty good deals.

    Here’s a few (online) cooking classes that you might like to check out:

    Epicurious Cooking School

    Mexican Cuisine: http://cookingschool.epicurious.com/c1-catalog-detail.php

    Cost: $49 for four hours of instruction, PLUS the first class is free!

    Lessons:

    • Overview and Salsas
    • Chiles
    • Moles
    • Tamales
    • Ceviches
    • Pork & Tortillas
    • Rice & Seafood
    • Beef & Beans

    Universal Class

    Tex-Mex Cuisine: http://www.universalclass.com/i/course/tex-mex-cooking-101.htm

    Cost: $30 for six-month subscription ($55 for a CEU Certificate)

    Lessons:

    • Tex Mex Cuisine
    • Classic Tex-Mex Recipes
    • Salsa, Rice, and Cheese
    • Pasta
    • Tex-Mex Flavors
    • Guacamole, Beans and Quesadillas
    • Beer Battered Fritters, Pizza, and Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
    • Nachos, Beef and Chipotle Pasta, and Corn on the Cob
    • Chimichangas, Potato Bake, and Baked Chicken
    • Chili
    • Marinades, Soups, and Potatoes
    • Beverages

    Live Linga

      Mexican (Link: http://www.livelingua.com/mexican-cooking-classes.php)

      Cost: $99 for 4-5 hours of instruction (cooking and language instruction simultaneously)

      Lesson: (Choose one of four)

      1. Sopes – Salsa de Chipotle Molcajeta – Jamaica

      2. Tostadas de Tinga – Guacamole en Molcajete – Pepino con Limon

      3. Gorditas – Salsa Verde Molcajeta – Pina con Apio

      4. Mole – Enchiladas de Pollo/Queso -Tamarindo

      Happy Cooking!

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      What would you do if someone invited you to a fiesta in a graveyard? Would you go? Or does the mere idea of it give you a major case of the creeps?! Well, you’re not alone, amigo. In the USA we try to deny, cheat and minimize death.

      Not so in Mexico. In Mexico, the symbol of death is a grinning, fleshless beauty called La Muerte-Lady Death (La Catrina). An elegantly and colorfully clad skeleton wearing a flower-laden hat, created by press artist José Guadalupe Posada (1853-1913), she’s an amazing metaphor of life embracing death. You can feel this in her name, for she goes by La Catrina-Fancy Lady, La Flaca-Skinny, La Huesuda-Bony and La Pelona-Baldy. There’s humor here, not fear. What’s up with that?!

      The renowned Mexican poet, Octavio Paz put it this way back in 1959:

      “The word death is not spoken aloud in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, chases after it, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, sleeps with it; it is his favorite toy and his most lasting love.”

      How did nextdoor neighbors-the US and Mexico-develop such wildly divergent attitudes toward death? And how did what was originally a pagan holiday survive the invasion of Catholicism? History holds the answer to those questions. Día de Muertos has its roots in pre-Columbian tradition where the people felt deeply connected to and lived harmoniously with the Earth. They viewed the cycle of life-conception, birth, growth, maturity, decline and death as part of a great and mysterious whole. Spiritually, rather than materialistically grounded, they felt themselves to be one with all that had ever existed or would exist-on this planet and in our universe. For these reasons, death didn’t scare them, nor did they try to outsmart it.

      Although the holiday’s exact origin is uncertain, it’s believed that it began with the Olmecs about 3000 years ago. They saw life as an illusion and believed that in dying, human beings truly awakened and their souls were set free. The Olmecs transmitted their ideas to the Toltecs and Mayans in Central America, who later shared them with the Aztecs, Tlaxcaltec, Chichimec, Tecpanec and other Indians native to Mexico.

      When the Spaniards defeated the Aztecs in the 1500′s, they converted the Indians to Catholicism. However, they encountered resistence when attempting to eradicate all native religious traditions. In a compromise sanctioned by the Church, Día de Muertos was merged with two Christian holidays-All Saints Day on November first and All Souls Day on November second. This makes it a thoroughly unique, cross-cultural holiday, effectively blending two very different traditions. In that regard, it is symbolic of the Mexican people, for they are also a synthesis of the brown-skinned “people of the earth” and their white-skinned conquerors, the “people of the “sky”-as the Spanish were initially called.

      True to its roots, Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead is a celebration, not of death but of the continuum of life. It consists of prayerful reflection, joy and revelry honoring those who came before. In a culture without written family trees, parents and grandparents pass stories on to their children. These aren’t boring lists of names, facts and dates, but lively, humorous tales about those who came before. Their favorite foods, passions and possessions are discussed, along with their triumphs, their foibles and all sorts of other anecdotal details about their lives-forging a tangible, emotional link between the past and the present.

      So now that we have a little background on the holiday-onward-to the graveyard fiestas, amigo! One more thing before we go. Be advised that there’s no connection between Día de los Muertos and Halloween whatsoever. This holiday is as important to Mexicans as Thanksgiving is to us. It’s a time when people travel long distances to be with their families, some coming from as far away as the northern US.

      So-here we go! It’s the last week in October in a rural Mexican village. Along the sides of the roads and in the open-air marketplace, homemade stands pop up. They’re filled with pan de muerto – a special sweet bread with crossed bones on top (recipe follows article), amaranth seed skulls with raisin eyes and peanut teeth, candied Marzipan and chocolate skulls called calaveras, roasted corn or elotes, dancing skeletons or calacas carrying cardboard coffins, votive candles, and mountains of golden yellow marigolds-the flowers used to summon the spirits of the departed.

      By October thirty-first, we see altars springing up in every home. As we stroll down the cobblestone streets, we notice that the front doors are wide open. We see entire families joining together in decorating tables topped with wooden crates and lace table cloths. They’re covered with marigolds or zenpasuchitl, along with the purchases from the street vendors. There’s an abundances of candles, pictures of saints and photos of the deceased. In homes where there have been children who died, we see toys, balloons, piñatas. Even clothing and tiny pairs of shoes. Suspended from the ceilings are rectangular sheets of yellow, pink, Orange, blue and green papel picado-tissue paper with cutouts-that impart an airy feeling reminiscent of the sky at sunset. We inhale pungent, delicious aromas. The smell of the marigolds. The strong odor of copal incense, mixed with the chocolate-nut-and-chile aroma of mole and the earthy, meaty smell of tamales. We see pottery urns of mescal or pulque (native drinks made from cactus) and bottles of tequila. Our attention is momentarily diverted by a band of mariachis strolling down the middle of the sidewalk, playing, singing and laughing, followed by a troop of children.

      November first, All Saints Day is reserved for honoring the children, or angelitos. Early in the morning we head toward the local graveyard, where the family members are cutting down weeds, raking, touching up chipped plaster and repainting the tombs. Decorations are springing up here too. We see crosses made from marigold petals, elaborate multi-colored floral wreaths and artificial flower arrangements, along with more of the fruits, vegetables, goodies, photos, personal mementos and statues we saw in the homes. It’s colorful. It’s powerful. It’s noisy. At 2:00 p.m. a hush falls over the crowd as the priest appears to conduct an open-air mass. Relatives huddle together, mourning their dead with la llorada-the weeping. It chokes every one of us up. At sunset, hundreds of candles are lit, mingling with the powerful scents of the food, incense and flowers. At midnight, the church bells begin to toll, summoning the dead. Many families will spend the entire night here, remembering their loved ones with recitations of the Rosary and praying that they will come and partake of the aromas of their favorite foods.

      On November second the entire village gathers in the cemetery for the big fiesta. It’s packed. Every family has a picnic basket, plus beer and tequila for toasting the departed. Street vendors are selling tacos, tamales, shrimp and fruit cocktails, drinks and fireworks. Mariachis compete with one another and with the occasional radio blasting Mexican Ranchero music. At the close of the all-day festivities, multi-colored explosions light up the sky. Then the ancestors return to heaven and it’s over until next year.

      To celebrate Día de Muertos in your own home, try making an altar to honor and remember your ancestors. Then cook up some Pan de Muerto, some colorful Sugar Skulls and serve after a luscious, soulful, authentic meal consisting of Mole and Tamales. Some real Mexican tequila for slow, thoughtful sipping with this feast just might be in order too!

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