Cafe Enchilado – A Little Late for November 2013: Much to Be Thankful For: Past, Present and Future



Andrea García Mauk

Corn, a symbolic gift from the earth, a giver of life. How can it be that we are now being told by nutritionists to avoid it at all costs because it is a genetically modified crop? For many of us, we ignore the warnings because losing access to corn would be an overwhelming cultural loss of a food source that has been a staple since 7,500 B.C. It’s easy to close our eyes and not listen to warnings now, but if we continue to do so, what will the consequences be in a few years?


 We live in times when we can’t trust the food that is being grown and marketed for us to consume. As Christmas nears, many families prepare to purchase tamales at a favorite restaurant, from a neighborhood friend who sells them, or to host a tamalada, where family and friends gather to engage in the tamale making ritual. Other families gather to make pupusas and  empanadas from masa harina. However, with corn being one of the most transgenic (genetically modified) crops produced, many people don’t realize that they are not eating the same wholesome kernels that they were served as children, or if they do, they pass the GMO issue off as “hogwash,” maybe because it is too difficult a problem to fathom.

In Mexico, where corn has been a staple since pre-hispanic times, where, in remote villages, it is cooperatively grown for daily use and traded rather than sold, heirloom crops are treasured. Contamination by GMO organisms has already happened, and if it continues, the biodiversity of the world’s second most important crop could be damaged irreparably. Authentic native corn could cease to exist, a scary thought. Even though Mexico has banned genetically modified crops, they cannot control the flow of the wind, or of U.S. GMO corn being imported due to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Plus, the GMO corn sells for 1/3rd of the price of locally grown organic corn, which puts local economies at risk as price wins over quality. Scientists in Mexico have identified gross deformities in other crops that have been injected with transgenic material, so to say that GMOs are harmless is akin to putting our heads in the sand. A constant diet of genetically modified corn will probably lead to health problems in the future. What they are, no one is sure of yet, however by watching the Millions Against Monsanto video above, you can get a pretty clear picture of how serious the effects of previous Monsanto chemical products have been.

On top of the fact that 85% of the U.S. corn crop is transgenic, and the other 15 percent is highly likely to be GMO contaminated due to cross-pollination, other problems exist. The University of Minnesota Taking Charge of Your Health and Well Being website states that corn, as a federally subsidized crop, is grown in vast amounts with fields being replanted each year. The problem with this is that when the same crop is grown repeatedly, the soil becomes depleted so there are less nutrients available in the food being harvested, and more pesticides and fertilizers must be used to get acceptable results. Using more pesticides means that resistance to those chemicals may develop, which could lead to loss of crops as insects and bacteria develop immunity to the chemicals being used in excess.

Some people don’t understand why any of this matters. I know, because I hear friends and relatives talking. It’s hard to care about the problem when the solution costs two or three times as much as using the same old products. It’s even harder to voluntarily pay more for better quality food when the economy has been so tough for such a number of years, especially because the genetically modified products look fine . “If it was good enough for my parents and their parents…” That’s just it, though. We aren’t eating the same corn we were 10 or 15 years ago. We are eating this stuff that looks just like corn but which has had its DNA altered to resist the effects of being sprayed with glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s powerful pesticide Round-Up®. If the corn won’t die when the most potent insect poison available is dumped on it, what did they put in it to make that possible? What does that chemical cocktail injection do to our bodies when we eat it?

Even farmers across the heartland are now balking at Monsanto’s and Dow’s GMO seeds, opting to plant higher yielding non-transgenic varieties, but it may be too late. If a field has ever been planted with genetically modified seeds, those organisms may still exist in that soil. Farmers pay about $100 more per acre for genetically modified seeds which have a lower yield. They are beginning to question why, but as they do, heirloom seeds are getting harder to obtain. “The Monsantos of the world have everyone convinced through a massive misinformation campaigns that biotech crops are essential to feed the world, and patents are necessary for biotech crops. So there’s this patina of virtuous innovation when in fact what biotechnology is really used for primarily is to develop pesticide-promoting crops,” stated Bill Freese, a science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, a Washington DC based watchdog group in a March 2013 Corpwatch article.

Mexican teosinte.

Mexican teosinte

I cannot encourage people enough to learn more about GMOs, and not to trust the manufacturers of the seeds or government publications as their only sources of information. Read the pros and cons. Read everything you can. If you have a chance, talk to a farmer in a remote village in Oaxaca, Mexico to find out how he or she would feel if teosinte, the heirloom variety known as “the lord of corn” was to become contaminated by GMO corn due to cross-pollination.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 75 percent of the world’s crop genetic diversity has already been lost just in the last century. Biodiversity helps organisms thrive. Figure out what that means to our future.

Most of all, I encourage people to consider finding an organically-grown GMO free source of corn products. If we keep buying the GMO corn, they will keep growing it. Frozen non-GMO Project Certified corn is available at Whole Foods Markets under their 365 Brand label. If you would like to find a source for ready-made masa or masa harina that is organic and GMO free, there are a few:

La Guera Tamalera

Purcell Mountain Farms

Gold Mine Natural Foods

Bob’s Red Mill Masa Harina


Andrea García Mauk


I remember my friend’s mother giving me her recipe for enchiladas when I was a teenager. She threw tortilla chips in a pan layered with sauce and cheese and  bam! Enchiladas. Kind of, sort of enchiladas. They tasted good and seemed harmless enough. In the 80s and 90s, people were looking for convenience when it came to cooking. Why should anyone have to make their own tortillas anymore when they have perfectly acceptable ones at the store? Grind their own spices? Don’t even think about it.

Now you may think I’ve flipped, but I believe there is a danger in not being involved in the process of preparing what goes into your body beyond dumping it in a pan and adding heat. No, you will not instantaneously blow up or anything so dramatic, but there is a loss of energy exchange between you and what you eat. I’m not the only one who thinks this. When I went to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Wilshire to hear Jerry Lewis speak about his technical advances in film making, he swore that when you cut a brussel sprout in half, it lets out a little sigh. He imitated the sound it makes with such care. (I know. How is that about film?)  Food holds vital energy we need, and many an abuelita or abuelito would tell you that when you prepare it by hand, love is the hidden ingredient infused into the meal. You can taste it on the plate, and sense it in how the food agrees with your system.

Attitudes run in cycles just like other aspects of life, and after growing up amongst a generation who had all but lost the know-how to make a meal like their grandmothers had, it seems that things are swinging back. There is more of an interest in how dishes were cooked “authentically,” and this is evidenced by the availability of tortilla presses and molcajetes at stores that carry kitchen wares.

There are many reasons for the resurgent interest in historical cooking methods. One is an interest in all things indigenous. Many Latinos today are distancing themselves from their European ancestry in favor of embracing their native past for both personal and political reasons. Through learning and using pre-conquest languages and engaging in daily activities and ceremonies, they are able to acquaint themselves with a part of their identity which, at times and in various places around the Americas, has been everything from denied to persecuted. They are able to understand who they are at a much deeper level.

One ritual that has made a comeback is grinding food the old fashioned way. Part of the interest in the molcajete may have come from restaurants using them as serving dishes for salsa and guacamole, after all, having the server show up and make your guac in front of your eyes is pretty exciting. However, another part of it is understanding what the molcajete is and what it represents.


Mortar and pestle grinders have been used across cultures by the Mayan and Aztecs, the Native Americans, Japanese, Thai, Egyptians, Romans and even Anglo Saxons. They show up in Italian frescoes being used by Apothecaries in the 15th century A.D. They have been used for mixing paint; grinding seeds, nuts and acorns; for grinding spices during wedding ceremonies; for making hummus and even meatloaf; to grind medicines and medicinal plants; to grind rocks into powder; to produce makeup and to make magical potions.

In Mexico, the mortar is called a molcajete and the pestle, tejolote. Authentic Mexican molcajetes are made from volcanic basalt. They have three legs which represent the hearths of the Aztecs, which had three stones, and were watched over by the God of Fire, Huehueteotl.


If you use a molcajete to grind seeds, herbs and spices, you will gently release oils and aromas that create subtle flavor differences in cooking. You will put a lot of heart, soul and effort into the grinding process. It isn’t easy. After trying it, you may decide the food processor is more your style, or you may find yourself swept up in the process of grinding by hand as you take in enticing aromas as you’ve never experienced before.

A molcajete must be seasoned before use, and it cannot be washed with soap and water after each use because the pourous rock will retain the soap, and you will taste it. That’s the magic of the molcajete. It retains a little flavor of everything that has been ground in it in the past, like a sliver of history, and each remaining infinitesimal particle adds to the flavor of all you will grind in the future. The molcajete will produce fresh salsas and spice blends that no blender or food processor can match in texture and flavor, but seasoning it in the traditional way will not be easy.

In Mexico and the Southwestern United States, well-seasoned molcajetes are handed down from generation to generation.

First, you must make sure you have a good quality Mexican molcajete made out of real volcanic basalt. The marketplace has been saturated with cheap knockoffs, many made in China, and they are inferior in many ways. You can season them until your arms are ready to fall off from grinding so diligently, and you may still wind up with gritty grindings. That’s right. Before you buy it, turn the box over and check where it was made. If in doubt, or if it’s too excellent of a bargain, be wary.

Once you get your molcajete, soak it in water for several hours. Some people say wash it out with soap and water, but considering it retains everything, I say forget the soap. After soaking, let it dry, and then let the seasoning begin. The objective of the task is to wear the rock down enough so that no grit breaks free into the foodstuff you will be grinding. The instruction in your molcajete’s box will undoubtedly advise you to grind white rice into a powder a number of times until there are no chunks of rock present. The process can take days – or longer- depending how much time you devote to grinding. If you happen to be furious with someone, this method is good therapy.

In The Mija Chronicles, food writer Lesley Téllez humorously describes learning to cure a molcajete after days of grinding corn on the larger metate. Her cooking instructor told her she would need to grind ” four turns of dried corn, four of dried beans, four of dried rice and three soaked rice.” She found the molcajete harder to use than the metate because when using the metate, you are down on your hands and knees and able to use the weight of your body. The molcajete requires upper arm strength. So when you’ve got the corn and beens and rice ground to fine flour, you can probably try a few pull ups and be amazed at your results.


Rocks have been used to make metates and molcajetes in many cultures.


If you are still with me and not already in the kitchen hugging and kissing your food processor, there are some tricks. Texas food writer and online vendor, Melissa Guerra, suggests using a Rubbermaid wire brush with a plastic handle. This method, Melissa explains, will only take 30 minutes to one hour of continuous scrubbing, with occasional trips to the sink to rinse out the loosened pebbles. If you use this method, you’re only cheating a little bit.

Still too complicated? Guerra has an even better cheat. Use a pressure washer. Oh, you don’t have one? Well, that’s simple. Gather your quarters or a few dollars, go to the DIY car wash, get change from the machine if necessary, pull your car into the stall and place your molcajete on the ground in front of it so most people won’t notice what you’re doing, insert the coins and make sure the dial is set to “high powered wash” or something similar, blast that molcajete and tejolote like there’s no tomorrow both inside and out for about five minutes, pick up your molcajete and wrap it in a towel, whistle as though you were up to nothing, dry off your car, go home and when it’s dry at least try grinding a bit of rice so you know how to do it. I won’t tell on you, I promise.

Ah, a perfectly seasoned mocajete that you can hand down to your children or grandchildren. You can make up all kinds of stories about what you went through to get it that way and get back in touch with your roots. Buena suerte con eso.


As we find ourselves immersed in the holiday season, as 2013 wraps itself up, our poets write about life as it hits them. Poetry filled with longing for times gone by, and irony as one culture melds with another is given to us by Ramón Piñero. Odilia Galvan Rodriguez’s feet are planted in reality as she writes, while Francisco Alarcon balances past injustices with future hopes.

Our past has been riddled with injustices and never ending challenges, but we are resilient, and we find pathways to change minds, explore identity and build roads toward the future with words, art, music and dance. In the wise words of poet Javier B. Pacheco, we have much to be thankful for:


 Grace Notes

My song of gratitude:

To Mother Earth,

all living creatures

forests, valleys, and mountains;

to all celestial bodies

archangels, guides, and

spiritual warriors

resonating within;

I sing with wonderment and awe

for my honorable ancestors,

the ones who’ve shared

time, wisdom, caring, love,

and essence at my doorstep

my guardians at night,

the next creative balloon

an intonation of  the miraculous,

and the divine.

Thank you, elements, resources,

I bow to your enchantment,

to the souls who have conspired

with these poor skills to reverberate

and presume following great footsteps.

I bow in reverence

to the masters who schooled me,

to my teachers and mentors,

their acceptance and genuine intentions,

mystic revelations,

melodic inspirations,

love flowing through me.

I sincerely thank the universe

for granting me another year

to follow the enlightened path

expanding awareness,

applying gentleness and compassion,

to pierce the dimensions

beyond realms of mere words;

to practice generosity

to give back to people

to dare to dream about

creating conditions for

Heaven on Earth.

Thank you for good health

and the motivation to continue

Thank you for this heart

that continues to thrive

despite shattering disappointment,

emotional thrashings, and even neglect

sobbing in profound confusion.

I forgive this fear-filled world,

for acquaintances and those

whose distance and silence

may confuse or wound me

into finding reasons

for coming back around

to solve the grace notes

that tie us together again.

I sing to our alignment

to our synchronicity

to shared moments

when there was only

goodwill between us.

To those who make my

spirit soar

to the wondrous entities

gracing this world,

beckoning and challenging

with honor, truth, passion

in impeccable portals

I sing to your eternity

love that will never leave me.

I offer these grace notes to

my creative friends and enemies,

to lifelong compadres

and those who’ll never really know me;

to my writer companions

and masterful musician allies

here and in the hereafter

I sing to enduring memories.

Grateful for the sonorities

and transcendent lights

of eternal Springtime,

manifested in the youth,

and the power of humanity

of movements, nations, continents,

with rainbow banners unfurled

dancing, chanting, loving,

struggling, crying,

even dying

for a better world.

©Javier B. Pacheco 21 January 2013


On Sundays, We Would Dance


We danced at the

Colgate Gardens

every Sunday

Barretto & Palmieri

Colon and Puente

would cap the

week with



rumba y bongo

we danced at the


and the

Hunts Point


every sunday

a little after

10 o’clock Mass

after lunch

at the Greeks

the small names

started at 1 pm

the big boys

began after


we danced at the

Colgate and the


every sunday;

every friday at

the Chez Jose

and the Corso

Monday was

El Tropicoro

con Richie

and Eddie

facing off

on piano

Ismael cleaning

Bobby’s clock

but every sunday

we were at

the Colgate

then Bronx Music

Palace, a renamed

Hunts Point

The small guys

would open at one

then the big boys


on to hold class

Machito and Graciela

Tito con Santitos

Ray Barretto con Adalberto

On sundays we danced at the

Colgate Gardens

then to the Palace

where the kings of rhythm

held court

Mambo’s bouncing

off the walls

guarachas con cha-cha’s

sultry boleros

in all

our finery

silk slacks

lizard shoes

alpaca knits

beaver hats

the finest


danced every

Sunday at the

Colgate Gardens





with every


¡vaya nena!

we preened


cocks of

the walk

stalking our

next dance


or our

next true


Saturdays at

the St. George

Brooklyn girls

were oh

so fine

we danced

a sweaty


relaxed with

a soothing


had dreams

of wonder

with our

arms wrapped


that wonderful


maybe not

Ms. Right

but surely

Ms. Right Now

El Malo

Subway Joe

Joe Cuba

y su

Bang Bang

Pete Rodriguez

I Like It Like That

warmed up the

crowd at

the Colgate

Bronx Music Palace

bought to a

sizzling climax

dizzying heights

by Eddie

or Richie


or el Rey

de la


Ray Barretto

On Sundays

we danced

a little after


and worshipped

at the Colgate

then on to

the Palace

where the

Gods of the Dance


where love was



many hearts

laid shattered

on the dance


till next Sunday

when we would

again dance

at the Colgate

 © Ramón Piñero


As She Walked


As she walked

past the boys

that seemed\to forever

be planted

by the streetlamp

(Like the sugarcane

straight and sharp)

Her eyes carried

in them

the promise of


the pot

at the end

of the


on her head

hair put up

hiding the

long tresses

that befitted

the princess

of the sun

her full skirt


with just

a hint of


past the

plaza mayor

as the

men look

up from

their game

of dominos

and exhale

a desire to

be young

once more

to be

counted as

a suitor

or pretender to

the throne

they waved

to her and,

a smile

would cross

her face

eyes gleaming

She walked

by the women

at the almacen

and they

would remember

when they

were the object

of desire and

smiled wistfully

but kindly

at the brown



as she

went about

her way.

The city

was a stranger;

faceless people

closed lips

unable to

sing a



to hear

the song

of life

the symphonic


of the


She spread

her magic

among those

she met

una cancion

a song

un tejido


with the

faces of

the young



she met

was lifted

from the

muck of


into the






Then a cloud

overtook her

and stole

her innocence

those eyes

that once

shone bright

now hid behind

darkened blinds

detras las



her heart


She fell

she stumbled

she bumped

her head

she was clumsy

she could not

face her sunshine

storm clouds

blocked her


that brown




into a

pallid version

of who she was

with sadness

and pain


hand maidens

sorrow her

cup of


the pain

was constant

her tears

rivers of salt

enough to

sculpt Lot’s


As she slept

her angel

de la guarda

swept her up

and carried her

to where she


and he spoke;

“Go, regain

your magic

the gleam

in your

eyes will

tell your


the glory

that is your


will spill

over to


you meet”.

Once again

she held

her head

up high

the men

at the

plaza major

the women

at the almacen

the boys who

forever stood

by the street


smiled as

she walked by\

her billowing skirt

with just a hint

of calf

her hair


with the


The women

who came

before her

at her side

invisible to

all but her.

© Ramon Pinero


Saturday Morning


On Saturday


Mom would

send me

down to Pito’s,

la bodega en la

esquina de casa

to buy una libra

de Café Bustelo;

and when

Pito was

in the right

mood, he

would let

me ground

the beans.

The whirring


of the grinder

and aroma

of the bean

would transform

this city kid

into a Jibaro

del campo

(a country

boy from

the hollers)

del monte


She would boil

water en

la caserola

dumping the

grounds in

like she was


some special


a potion

full of

magic and


A potion full

of history;

of despair

and lost dreams

of newfound

loves and



of hopes and


of tomorrow

The bread

from the


still oven





no damn


for her.

Eggs and bacon

fried in lard

Tres Cochinitos


leftover grease

put away for

later use

(la manteca

que sobró)

pan con mantequilla

café con leche

more leche

than café.

As we talked

about our week

in school

at work

at play

face to face

eye to eye

Those mornings

come to mind

when I


my espresso

in the

new age


and fry

my egg

whites in

olive oil

toast my



spread with


while we

sit at the

dining room





at the


updating our


Please pass

the nutella.

© Ramón Piñero


Daily Living

all of a sudden

my tongue’s tied tight, with tears stuck.

life’s right in my face

past decisions loaded not locked,

but I’m a stray

bullet off target

always in the wrong place

at the right time waiting

for just the moment

to spring at a feast

like a Venus fly trap grabs

for its existence

internal bleeding

for your country and people

daily existence

align yourself

fine in fields of your own planting

chanting for new days

for peace

© Odilia Galván Rodríguez



o natives

made into

aliens —

but we survived

the slaughter

of our days!

© Francisco X. Alarcón

Thanksgiving Day – Nov. 28, 2013

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


oh nativos


extranjeros —

¡pero sobrevivimos

la masacre de

nuestros días!

© Francisco X. Alarcón

Día de Acción de Gracias – 28 de noviembre de 2013


iron keys arrange

themselves as letters

in poems to open hearts

hierros forman

las letras de poemas

para abrir corazones

© Francisco X. Alarcón

November 28, 2013



Javier B. Pacheco was the only poet/pianist at the first Flor y Canto Literary Festival at USC (1972). With a Masters in Music (UCLA 1986) and PhD in Ethnomusicology (UCLA 1994) he is a S.F. Bay Area pianist/poet, composer, arranger, teacher, and ethnomusicologist. His poetry has appeared in: Califas, Chismearte, Elektra, La Gente, Maize, Mestizo, Metamórfosis, Quarry West, RiverSedge, Saguaro, Tejidos, West End Press, and Puerto Del Sol. He directs and performs in his own Salsa group, Orquesta Pacheco, including Latin Jazz standards with the Pacheco Trio.

Me2 (2)

Ramón Piñero is an ex Bay Area poet living in the buckle of the Bible Belt, aka Florida. Where good little boys and girls grow up to be republicans who vote against their own interest. Father of three and Grandfather to six of the coolest kids ever.
Nuff said…
Odilia Galván Rodríguez is a poet/activist, writer and editor, has been involved in social justice organizing and helping people find their creative and spiritual voice for over two decades. Her poetry has been widely anthologized, and she is the author of three books. Her last editing job was as the English edition editor of Tricontinental Magazine in Havana, Cuba. Odilia is one of the founding members and a moderator of Poets Responding to SB 1070 on Facebook. She teaches creative writing workshops nationally, currently at Casa Latina, and also co-hosts, ”Poetry Express” a weekly open mike with featured poets, in Berkeley, CA. For more information about workshops see her blog or contact her at Red Earth Productions & Cultural Work 510-343-3693.

Francisco X. Alarcón, an award-winning Chicano poet and educator, is the author of twelve volumes of poetry, including From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002). His latest book isCe Uno One: Poemas para el Nuevo Sol/Poems for the New Sun (Swan Scythe  Press 2010). His most recent book of bilingual poetry for children is Animal Poems of Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008). He teaches at the University of California, Davis. He is the creator of the Facebook page, POETS RESPONDING TO SB 1070.

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  1. Reply Stacy Coleman Fleming December 9, 2013

    thanks, andrea

  2. Reply Guitar1 December 9, 2013

    I just want to say that this is the first time I read your magazine blog word for word. I mean, it was so good, it was like a warm book. The poets chosen, wow, all work together. I mean, everything worked here. Thank you Andrea

  3. Reply Anonymous December 9, 2013

    keep it up, an outstanding approach to healthy eating and a bit of poetry and prose to nourish the mind as well.

  4. Reply Odilia Galván Rodríguez December 9, 2013

    Love this beautiful issue, especially the article on maiz, and always grateful when you post one of my poems. Saludos!

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