Cafe Enchilado – October, 2013 : Mole, Chiles and Tortillas Under Autumn Skies

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PUEBLA VS. OAXACA: THE WAR OF THE MOLES

Autumn is food festival season in Los Angeles and Orange County, from Lobsterfests being held in Redondo Beach and San Pedro to Italian Festivals and Oktoberfests up and down the coast. While these feeding frenzies are a great way  to enjoy a bite of culinary and brewing culture, I’m normally not excited to attend because, let’s admit it, this is L.A. and whenever I go to a place where thousands of other people will also be, there are space problems. Lines with no beginnings, nonexistent parking, nowhere to sit, and the last time I attended the San Pedro Lobsterfest, there were no clean forks in sight. I had to pry my lobster out of the shell and dip it in the scary weirder-than-butter sauce with a stick that was intended for corn on the cob. However, there were positive moments in my festival going experience. I got to ride a restored burnished wood paneled Red Line Trolley, the kind that used to take people around Los Angeles before we became a sittin’ on the freeway society.

With all of the above reasons considered, I don’t know why it was that when I heard about the annual mole fest on the news that I immediately announced, “I am going!” Yet,  that was my reaction and I committed to it.  I applied for and was promptly granted a press pass. I gathered my camera, lens, note pad, press releases, pens and I was off to the races. Well, not exactly the races, but more of a CicLAvia event that spread across the downtown in the shape of a sloppily drawn swastika, so there was no getting around the street closures. As I tried to use my cell phones navigation to free myself from the unbreakable traffic clog I had driven into, a  traffic cop accused me of texting while driving.  I envisioned breaking my cell phone over his head, but I breathed deeply and continued on in the never ending labyrinth of  cars looking for a way off the crazy ride called Downtown L.A.

When I say mole,  I am not talking about the little animal that lives in subterranean environments, the dark spot on my neck or the double agent who ratted someone out. I am talking about the delectable sauce made from precise mixtures of chiles, spices and seeds that tops many Mexican dishes. Moles are complex to make, and when they are good, their taste reveals the generations of expertise that has been passed down, probably without ever being written.

As I found my way to 9th Street, I realized that the bikers weren’t going to be cruising skid row. I followed the graffiti, broken glass and garbage-lined streets of the city’s bowels toward Union Station, broke free near the entrance to Chinatown, and began looking for parking. As I walked toward Placita Olvera, I saw the Gold Line train dropping people off at the mouth of the festivities. I promised myself that I would learn to take the train on a day, some day, when I don’t have to be somewhere in a hurry.

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The almost 100 degree heat was not suited for a day when a throng of gente came to eat heavy food outdoors, but nothing was happening like the idyllic picture of the 6th annual Feria de los Moles that I had conjured in my head. Except maybe the food, it might be the food that would save this otherwise intolerable fiasco of L.A. style drama. I entered the plaza, went once around the booths looking for the press table where I had VIP status, and was not surprised that I couldn’t find it. I found the gazebo where young musicians were playing, the boxing ring where the Lucha Libre would later be held, and the bandstand where groups sang Spanish rock and roll. I strolled past the vendors of las cositas que no necesito comprar and the travel posters advertising Puebla as a grand destination toward the reason I was here: the food.

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There were daft temptations surrounding me that I ignored with every cell in my body. The churro stand was one of them. Who needs a golden fried sugar and cinnamon covered calorie stick? I had a plan. At this culinary battle between the Mexican states of Puebla and Oaxaca, I  was going to try the mole poblano first because my goddaughter is from Puebla, and it was the right thing to do, to try and like the mole poblano best. As I got to the front of the line at the Moles Tepatlaxco stand, a man pushed ahead of me and ordered. I snarled and he smiled as they stuck a paper plate with a chicken leg drown in  pumpkin seed colored mole pipian in his face. Luckily, another party walked off, abandoning the two tamales they had just ordered so I put a bid in for them. I realized it wasn’t going to be easy to juggle the food and the Nikon with its huge lens, so I quickly found a shady spot to sit down and rest the camera safely.

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The mole from Puebla is famous for its chile bite and chocolaty sweetness, and this mole was bursting with flavorful perfection. I  savored each spoonful, but I had to admit, the tamal’s masa was as dry as the chicken filling. Being that lately, lettuce is putting weight on me, I took a few bites and then covered my plate in foil and pressed on to find a Oaxacan mole stand. I chose the one right next to the dry tamale vendor.

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Unlike the well organized Moles Tepatlaxco stand, El Nuevo Rinconcito Oaxaqueño had no cardboard menu on the canvas tent wall or samples lined up to try. Instead, they had jars of mole negro begging to be purchased. Their operation was spread out far to the rear of the tent because they were making tlayudas out back. Tlayudas are crispy tortillas, larger than dinner plates, spread with refried beans, pork and other toppings, and of course for this occasion, they were dripping with a thick layer of mole. It seemed ridiculous to eat one or two bites of such an oversized offering, so I decided I would order another tamal and sit near someone who was enjoying a tlayuda so I could absorb the Oaxacan delicacy through osmosis.

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I didn’t want to like the banana leaf wrapped Oaxacan tamal that I ordered. My intentions were always to side with Puebla in this war, but when I unwrapped an end and tasted the tender masa melting in my mouth, I began to cave. The mole negro isn’t immediately as “in your taste buds” as the mole poblano. It took me several bites to decide if I liked the blend of chiles and seeds offering their flavors to my picky palate. Against my wishes, the mole negro began to assault my brain with gentle sensations of pleasure. I stopped eating my tamal halfway through, carefully wrapped it, and decided that this was the one I would return to later. This was the tamal that I would learn to make at home.

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My last stop at the 2013 Feria de los Moles was to buy a horchata. My head wanted to order water, but that wasn’t what my mouth said, and as I sipped I noted, “This is way too gritty and sweet for such a hot day.”  I started walking toward Chinatown to find my car, cheeks flushed with an afternoon of sun. Soon there was nothing left in the styrofoam cup except ice that wasn’t melting fast enough to keep me hydrated, and the cinnamon remembrances of horchata that lingered on each cube.

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If you plan to attend next year’s mole festivities at Olvera Street, come hungry and ready to enjoy the many culinary feats that these two Mexican states have to offer. Dress comfortably, bring a bag to carry the food that you don’t finish and the jars of mole you might purchase, and be sure to look into taking public transportation to make arriving at this busy downtown location much less hectic. Sit down, relax and talk to the people who are eating near you. If you happen to be playing journalist like I was, make sure to bring a friend to hold the food while you take the pictures because one item mole should not cover is a lens. Oh, and always tell your godchildren that you like the mole from their state best, whether it’s true or not.

 

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OCTOBER POEMS

october sky

Photo Credit: Mark C.

Feeling Small  Against the Sky

by Leigh-Anne Fraser

Feeling small against the sky

Tonight the October winds are blowing

Straight through me to the stars

I am looking for myself in the shadows

Looking in-between the lines

Of street lights and empty playgrounds

I am wondering where you are

Life in the flash of a candle flame

You were here you were gone

Leaving me stretched and undone

A hand over the dying flame

Feeling small against the sky

Tonight the October winds are blowing

Straight through me to the stars

Smaller than the house of my soul

Heart beats outside inside

Lead the way in the night

Oh voice calling me back to you

Could have been the one I loved

If only you had told me

Told me truth with your eyes

But the day came to an end too soon

Feeling small against the sky

Tonight the October winds are blowing

Straight through me to the stars

~

 tortillacomal

Loyalties

by Andrea Hernandez Holm

She would rise at 4 am to make tortillas

even though there were no troops to feed

after her eleven children were grown

and most of her grandchildren

had gone away too, asleep in their own houses

where she could not hear them toss and turn

in the dark.

She did these things to fill her day:

Make tortillas, panasitos, sopa de arroz con pollo,

frijoles, fideos, and chicharrones;

Watch one telenovela;

Sew quilts, camisas, other cositas

and one pillow

that was red, white and blue on one side

and red, white and green on the other.

tortillabasket

tortillera

by Esmeralda Bernal

in the kitchen,

making the sustenance

of xicano hearts,

my hands glide the rolling pin

over the tortilla.

cooked to a light degree,

of my preita skin, they aromize

the nooks and crannies of

la casa; happiness abounds,

soon stomachs will fill.

after finishing, i put the palote

away, pensando how the act

of creating this ancient disc

is often used

to designate a sexual preference.

never mind, how pan is broken

into sexual innuendo.

why devalue women’s work?

especially, if its intent is

the sustenance of xicano hearts.

after all – todos comemos tortillas –

Que no?

(This poem was previously published online in El Toque run by Juan Rodriguez)

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Ode to the Hatch Chile

 by Tim Z. Hernandez

On the tongue

one can taste

Pizarro’s sword

piercing hide

of a thousand tribes

where skin bruises

calloused heel of naked foot,

loin cloth and brass,

Bolivia unfolding.

If you listen to the crackle

gunning against lustful chicharras

perched among the mesquite’s

still limbs, delicate

as a child’s embrace

you get fallout of acidic torrents,

Tarahumara talismans

strewn in the heart of seeds.

To eat Hatch

is to eat Española and Chimayó,

monsoon downpour of silt and filament,

is to eat adobe horno

smoke tendrils of cedar and sassafras,

unfurling dusk and the sun torn faces

of its people—

is to lift the hood of an old pick up

and bash the knuckles on failing engines,

curse carburetors and canticles

of Church mad sufferings,

is to taste the Saints of the downtrodden,

eat them too, in molcajete mash

peyote and holy waters for broken levies

in the ducts, ablutionary floods

wrecked glands in the aftermath.

To eat Hatch is to eat Deming

& Rock City, Old Mesilla,

receive sacred Capsaicin

& excavate the bones of Papago,

make offerings to Chiltepín

L’itoi Ko’okal

prayers of new beginnings

—red soil that retains the sweat

of the first Saguaro

and of those who once crossed

themselves, pant pockets empty,

blood on the knees, speckled

like red strewn ristras

& half drunk water bottles

love letters left to stew

in ghosts of parched dreams

where discarded sheaths of rattlesnake

slither in the breeze.

To eat Hatch

is to eat all sedimentary layers—

exoskeleton of trembling coyote,

volcanic rubble and fossil of fern,

desert clamshells that keep rainbows

that mimic the cosmogenesis unfolding,

is to eat a reptilian abode

deep in the red, nuclear fallout

of spent bombs

smoked honeycombs

& petrified oysters,

rusted harmonicas

wailing nursery rhymes

half throated war ballads,

electric duende,

in the seed—Flamenco!

To eat Hatch

is to clutch the stem and bite down,

surrender, hands up

to flautist blowing dangerous aria,

etching the esophagus

with the abandon of a poet’s pen

devouring each verse with

wild consideration

the way an infant goat gobbles

at its mother’s breast

for that noble nectar

only to be harvested

and flared forth

in the gut of origin.

Published in Culture of Flow (Monkey Puzzle Press, 2012)

(All photographs were taken by Andrea Garcia Mauk in the above sections unless otherwise noted.)

BIOGRAPHIES

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Leigh-Anne Fraser is a poet, artist, writer and photographer who holds her Honours Bachelor degree in Anthropology and French and calls Southwestern Ontario, Canada home. She has worked in the non-profit social service industry for 20 years and is currently the Fundraising and Special Events Coordinator at the Boys & Girls Club of London. The mother of two teenaged daughters teaches yoga and is actively involved with Art for AIDS International, an organization that helps youth use art to address a wide range of social justice issues including the plight of women and children affected by the global HIV and AIDS pandemic.

AHHolm

Born and raised in the desert of central Arizona, Andrea Hernandez Holm is a writer of poetry,fiction, and creative non-fiction. Most of her writing focuses on the exploration of identity. Her poetry, essays and short fiction have been published in Our Spirit, Our Reality (WheatmarkmPress 2011), Wisdom of Our Mothers (La Familia Books, 2009), The Blue Guitar Magazine, LaSagrada (Mujeres the Maiz), Red Ink, and on “La Bloga” online. Andrea received her MA in American Indian Studies and is currently a doctoral student in the Mexican American Studies Department at the University of Arizona. She is a moderator for the Facebook page “PoetsResponding to SB 1070”. Visit Andrea at www.andreahernandezholm.webs.com.

esmebernal

Esmeralda Bernal resides in Phoenix, Arizona. She strongly supports the dreamers and their valiant efforts to have the Dream Act become a reality. Her poetry has appeared in La Bloga, HaLapid, Yellow Medicine Review and recently in Nahualliandoing Dos: An Anthology in Nahuatl, Espanol and Engish.

TimHeadshot

Tim Z. Hernandez is a poet, novelist, and performance artist whose awards include the 2006 American Book Award, the 2010 Premio Aztlan Prize in Fiction, and the James Duval Phelan Award from the San Francisco Foundation. He is the author of three collections of poetry and two novels, most recently, Mañana Means Heaven, based on the life of Bea Franco. His books have been widely acclaimed, including a spot on NPR’s All Things Considered. In 2011 the Poetry Society of America named him one of sixteen New American Poets. He holds a BA from Naropa University and an MFA from Bennington College and currently calls the Rocky Mountains home. You can find more info at his website:www.timzhernandez.com
 Tim Z. Hernandez, Author
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3 Comments

  1. Reply Francisco X. Alarcon October 25, 2013

    I love Cafe Enchilado and all the poems–Francisco X. Alarcón

  2. Reply Andrea October 26, 2013

    Thank you, Francisco.

  3. Reply louis vuitton official website November 3, 2013

    louis vuitton official website

    Well done ! Drinking water might have been more useful, but hey …

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