New Mexican Tiles from Caoba

Spring is finally here in Edinburgh and, happily, so is our latest shipment of tiles from Mexico. We are now fully stocked with our beautiful range of handmade tiles, including several new designs.

Cactus Tile

Cactus

Lion Tile

Lion

When we say “hand made” we actually mean hand and foot made… The clay is mixed in a gigantic bath, the artisans using both their hands and feet to get a good mix. The clay is then rolled out, hand cut and left to dry in the sun. This takes several days, longer in the rainy season.

The tiles have an off white blanco background glaze applied, before the different designs are added using a screen.

Many of the tile designs owe their origins to the Spanish/Moorish influences of the conquistadors, but over time the Mexican culture has stamped (or screen printed!) it’s own unique style into the range.

A good quality grout is best used when applying Caoba’s Mexican tiles to walls (Mapei or Ardex for example) and the bear in mind that you’ll need to take a slightly different approach to your DIY; the tiler needs to work with the unevenness, not aspire to factory-made uniformity.

But it’s the quirks of these terracotta tiles that we all love. Just look at what some of our customers have done over the years… Check out our Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest pages for more inspiration and shop updates

A collage of inspiration

A collage of inspiration

Champurrado: A Mexican hot chocolate for a Scottish cold November

A steaming mug of champurrado

A steaming mug of champurrado

Early November can be gloomy at the best of times and these aren’t especially the best of times. So here’s a comforting recipe for Champurrado, a thick, warming Mexican hot chocolate. The thickening agent is masa harina, the corn flour traditionally used for making tortillas, giving the drink an unusual corn flavour.
The masa marina and the Mexican chocolate are both available from us at Caoba.

Ingredients for 3 mugs of Champurrado:

What you will need: tools and ingredients

What you will need

 

3 cups (710ml) water or milk or mix of the two
1/2 tablet Mexican chocolate, broken into pieces
1/2 cup (32gm) masa harina
brown sugar to taste
cinnamon sticks (optional)
dried chile flakes (optional)

 

 

 

Heat the liquids in a saucepan over a medium heat until lukewarm. Add the chocolate pieces and whisk until dissolved.

Whisking the liquid and chocolate

Whisking the liquid and chocolate

Add sugar and if you fancy it a tiny pinch of dried chile flakes. Increase the heat under the pan to high, continue whisking briskly while slowly adding in the masa marina.

Simmering the masa harina

Simmering the masa harina

Keep whisking to prevent lumps forming.
Once the mixture has thickened (about 8-10 minutes) remove from the heat and pour into your favourite mug. Ours are these hand painted stoneware mugs.

Tips:
Pop the chocolate disc into a plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin to break it up.
You can use any type of milk, or non-diary variant, or just water depending on the level of richness you want to achieve. Some recipes also flavour with a little star anise and/or salt. I added the chile flakes because I am addicted, but I don’t think it’s traditional.

Caoba Day of the Dead Flyer

El Día de los Muertos at Caoba

The traditional Mexican day of celebration El Día de los Muertos is coming to Caoba.
While we never turn our noses up at a good Halloween party, November 1st, El Día de los Muertos is a special time of year. We usually mark the day in some way, with special bread and cookies, even making our own sugar skulls.

This year, Tuesday 1st November we are inviting our Edinburgh-based customers to join us in-store for some fun with face painting (not just for children), tequila (definitely just for adults), cookies and a 10% discount. All from 4 until 7pm.

We will be serving our tequila flavoured with a hibiscus syrup. Try making some yourself as a refreshing change from the ubiquitous lime.

Dried hibiscus flowers

Dried hibiscus flowers in a Talavera dish

To make the syrup:
Mix 5g dried hibiscus flowers, 250ml water and 100g of sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir to make sure all the sugar has dissolved and remove from the heat. You can either leave the syrup to infuse for a few minutes to strengthen the colour and flavour or strain straight away.

Add tequila* to taste. The syrup works well on its own over ice too.

*Enjoy in moderation

Is it Hot in Here or…

Our unusually warm September has been breaking temperature records especially in the south of England. Here at Caoba we’ve been generating our own heat, chile heat.
Latin American in origin, the chile pepper (capsicum) has spread its fascination across the world. In culinary terms they are both challenging and highly addictive. As ceramic decorations they brighten up any northern European kitchen with their fiery red, yellow and green glazes.

Is it chile the or chili? The former is largely Spanish in usage, the latter American English. One suggested way to distinguish between the two is to use chile for the plants and fruit and chili for the stew. There are hundreds of chile varieties and as the fiery fruit’s use has spread across continents so have these varieties and different names proliferated.
The relative heat of a chile is measured on the Scoville Scale, named for its creator Wilbur Scoville.
What follows is a very short and not in the least comprehensive guide to the chiles available in edible and decorative form from Caoba:

The Jalapeño Pepper

Large, red, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Large, red, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Small, red, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Small, red, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Large, red and green, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Large, red and green, ceramic Chile Jalapeños

Chile Jalapeño, the one familiar to most of us. Dried and smoked it becomes the chipotle chile used in salsas and chilis. It has a heat range of 1,000-20,000 Scoville units. The Jalapeño is usually eaten when still unripe i.e. green, although our ceramic versions are resplendent in a very ripe, bright red. With a nod to Wikipedia I can tell you that Jalapeño pepper is the state chile for Texas and has in the past been taken into space. It doesn’t report whether or not they returned.

The Serrano Chile

Tinned Serranos available from Caoba

Steve, our resident strong man eats these serranos straight from the tin

The Serrano chile, originally from the mountainous regions of Puebla and Hildago (Sierra = Mountain in Spanish). They are usually hotter than a Jalapeño with a Scoville range of 10,000-25,000 units. The Serrano is most often used in a Pico de gallo (fresh, chopped tomatoes, onion, coriander and chiles) and as such, eaten raw.

The Chile Hungaro de Cera

Ceramic red, yellow and green Chile Hungaro de Cera

Ceramic red, yellow and green Chile Hungaro de Cera

In English, the Hungarian Wax chile, is widely grown across eastern Europe and in its red, ripened form used a lot in Hungarian cooking.
It has a wide  range of 1,000-15,000 Scoville units. i.e. mild to moderate heat.

Red ceramic Chile Hungarito, the Hungaro's smaller cousin

Red ceramic Chile Hungarito, the Hungaro’s smaller cousin

 

 

 

 

 

Chile Cristalino

Red ceramic Chile Cristalino

The mysterious Red ceramic Chile Cristalino

This mild chile (just 500-700 Scoville units) is known by  so many different names you have to wonder whether it has something to hide.
From the Yucatan region of Mexico, it is variously known as the Xcatic chile,  the Santa Fe Grande Chili pepper and the Carrocillo chile. There may be other aliases…

The Miracielo Chile

Also known as the Mirasol chile, on the plant these chiles grow upwards towards the sun and the sky.  Dried, they are called Guajillo and often used in moles (sauces), particularly in Peruvian cuisine. They measure a healthy 2,500-5,000 units on the Scoville Scale

Red ceramic Miracielo Chile

Red ceramic Miracielo Chile

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The Mexican Serape in Gullane (not Rio)

During 2016 we have started importing Mexican serapes/blankets these iconic blankets come it a variety of vibrant colours.

The serape is recognised as a symbol of Mexico and is used for many purposes. It is used as a bed cover, blanket, picnic rug in modern times however historically it was used by men as a shawl or cloak.

We are selling a selection of these versatile Mexican blankets online.

Image

Not quite Rio but still beach life on the East Coast of Scotland.  You could always wrap it around you to keep warm!

Paper folding: Not just for maps

Our latest obsession here at Caoba is Origami, the Japanese art of folding paper.

Our new range of papers include plain, beautifully coloured squares in packs of 100 (perfect for practising and playing with colour) as well as exquisite kyo yuzen chiyogami papers. Chiyogami  is hand screened paper, kyo yuzen is the traditional elaborate dyeing method used for kimono fabrics. Put the two together and you get 15cm (6″) squares of intricately patterned delight.

A swag of cranes

A swag of cranes

Here’s how we make our cranes:

Start with the reverse side

Fig 1. Start with the reverse side

Fold in half diagonally

Fig 2. Fold in half diagonally

Fold in half again

Fig 3. Fold in half again

Take the top flap and fold down...

Fig 4. Take the top flap and fold down…

...into a square

Fig 5 …into a square

Repeat for the reverse side

Fig 6. Repeat for the reverse side

Fold the sides of the top layer into the centre

Fig 7a. Fold the sides of the top layer into the centre

Fold the sides of the top layer into the centre

Fig 7b. Fold the sides of the top layer into the centre, to create a crease

Make a crease along the top to make the next stage easier

Fig 8. Make a crease along the top to make the next stage easier

Lift up the top flap from the bottom and fold back along horizontal crease, easing the sides in as you do so

Fig 9. Lift up the top flap from the bottom and fold back along horizontal crease, easing the sides in as you do so

Flatten the folds into a kite shape

Fig 10. Flatten the folds into a kite shape

Repeat on the reverse side so the paper looks like this

Fig 11. Repeat on the reverse side so the paper looks like this

Fold one side of the kite into the middle

Fig 12. Fold one side of the kite into the middle

Repeat with the other side of the kite

Fig 13. Repeat with the other side of the kite

Repeat these two folds on the reverse

Fig 14. Repeat these two folds on the reverse

Fold the front and reverse flaps over left to right so that the insides are uppermost

Fig 15. Fold the front and reverse flaps over left to right so that the insides are uppermost

It should look like a thin kite

Fig 16. It should look like this

Fold up the top flap so the bottom point meets the top ones.

Fig 17. Fold up the top flap so the bottom point meets the top ones.

Repeat on the reverse side

Fig 18. Repeat on the reverse side

Fold the front and reverse flaps over left to right so the inside is uppermost again

Fig 19. Fold the front and reverse flaps over left to right so the inside is uppermost again

Take one of the inner flaps and fold it out at an angle

Fig 20. Take one of the inner flaps and fold it out at an angle

Repeat on the other side

Fig 21. Repeat on the other side

Make an inverted fold on one of the points to create the crane's "head"

Fig 22. Make an inverted fold on one of the points to create the crane’s “head”

Fold the "wings" down so that they sit at 90 degrees from the body

Fig 23. Fold the “wings” down so that they sit at 90 degrees from the body

Gently pull the wings apart a little to fill out the body

Fig 24. Gently pull the wings apart a little to fill out the body

Ceramic chillis L

Some Like it Hot

But not everybody does. Chilli peppers are associated with heat because some of them are blisteringly hot. Literally.

Kankun Mexican Habanero sauce (red)

Kankun Mexican Habanero sauce. This one is HOT!

In 1912 American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville developed the Scoville scale. It is still used to measure the heat of the many varieties of chillies and is useful in identifying the scarily hot ones and the non-threatening mild ones. What it cannot take into account is the human element; an individual’s response to capsaicin, the source of a chilli’s heat, will come down to taste and experience. And yes, chills are addictive. The kick (or blast) of heat from the chilli produces endorphins in the brain and we humans like endorphins, so we go back for more! This same feature explains why we can build up a resistance to the heat with practice.

Brain Tacos

Brain Tacos in Mexico: If you’re a chilli fiend a dash of the hot stuff can make almost anything palatable

Three things to bear in mind when cooking with or eating chillies:

  • Chilli peppers are a rich source of vitamin C; combine that with the nasal-clearing qualities of the heat and you have temporary relief from the bleurgh* of a head cold.
  • Beware the capsaicin on your fingers, it can burn your skin if the chilli is hot enough. Always wash your hands after preparing them raw or wear gloves. Seriously, I’m not kidding.
  • Milk is better than water for cooling down that burning sensation if you misjudge your hotness threshold (or lose a bet). So sour cream and yoghurt are perfect accompaniments for a chilli-hot meal.

*not a medical term

Jalapeño Chillis

Jalapeño Chillis

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that we at Caoba all love chilli. We carry a range of tinned chillies and bottled hot sauces in the Edinburgh shop and online and happily add a dash of the liquid heat to food whenever we can.

Chipotles in Adobado sauce

Chipotles in Adobado sauce

The Scottish weather may not be known for its heat, but you can always turn to our ranges of decorative and edible chillies to warm up a frosty day.

Kankun Mexican Chipotle sauce

Kankun Mexican Chipotle sauce

Chilli Pepper Lights

Chilli Pepper Lights. Perfect for parties with a Mexican theme

One of our Catrinas

The Day of the Dead: A Spectre to Enjoy

While the rest of the UK concentrates on Halloween, at Caoba Towers we usually mark October 31st/ November 1st with Mexico’s traditional celebration of lives that have lived*. The Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos) is a party where the whole family joins in, including those that have passed away. Favourite foods, drink and gifts are laid out in brightly decorated shrines to loved ones, to entice them to come, join in the party.

Some Day of the Dead celebrations are bigger than others… The opening sequence for James Bond’s latest movie SPECTRE is set in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead. And some remarkable props from this spectacular will be on display at the British Museum for the whole of November.

*This year we’ll be doing both!

So You Want To Make a Spider Piñata…?

We had a lot of fun at Caoba making these Spider Piñatas for the Day of the Dead, so we thought we’d share…

Materials

Fig 1 Materials

 

Covering the body

Fig 2 Covering the body

Making the fringes

Fig 3 Making the fringes

Attaching legs to body

Fig 4 Attaching legs to body

Fringing the body

Fig 5 Fringing the body

The head

Fig 6 The head

 

The finished spider....BOOO!

Fig 7 The finished spider….BOOO!

You will need: A balloon, a couple of newspapers, paste (made with 1 part water, 2 parts PVA), black and orange crepe paper, Sellotape (lots), string for hanging, small sweets and treats*
*Try to avoid choking hazards for young children

 

 

 

To make the spider’s body inflate the balloon and tear up a couple of newspaper sheets into small pieces. Stick the pieces down so that they overlap slightly. Apply two more coats, allowing each layer to thoroughly dry out in between.
Once the body is dry cut off the balloon end to let the air out and leave a hole to fill with sweets. Make a hole in the top centre of the body and thread through some string to make a hanging loop.

 

Make the crepe paper fringes by cutting the folded sheets into strips about 7cm wide. Then make half-width cuts along the long edge of each strip

 

 

 

 

Make a leg x 8: take 2 sheets of newspaper and roll up on the diagonal making a firm tube. Fold over one end by about 2cm and tape down. Bend the tube in the middle to make the “knee” joint.
Wrap each leg with black fringing using the tape to hold each end in place.
Attach the legs to the body by taping the folded ends to the underside of the body (hole at the front, this is where the head will eventually go). Use LOTS of tape to keep each leg in place.

 

 

Cover the body with more crepe paper fringing. We used black and orange to create a particularly dangerous-looking spider.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally the head: Scrunch up a couple of sheets of newspaper into a tight ball with a stalk at one end. Wrap lots of tape around the stalk. Cover the head with another sheet of paper and then a sheet of black crepe paper. Decorate the head with a face to suit your spider’s personality.

Slot the head into the hole in the body and tape into place. Don’t forget to put the sweets in first!

 

 

!Ya esta! A Spider Piñata.

Thanks to Nick for doing all the hard work in putting our workshop together.

 

Margaritas optional

Margaritas optional

Worry Doll key rings

More things Bright and Beautiful

Caoba may mean mahogany to Spanish-speaking nations, but to our shop visitors and on-line store customers it represents sunshine!  Call in to 56, Raeburn Place, Edinburgh and whatever the weather outside, you’ll immediately feel happier. Perhaps not an actual cure for SAD, but certainly a respite from the Scottish weather.

A sunny Caoba on a rainy day

A sunny Caoba on a rainy day

Our core Mexican range has recently been brightened by a delivery of glorious Guatemalan textiles, belts, bags and gifts.

Leather and woven belts

Leather and woven belts

Beaded star key ring

Beaded star key ring

Pouch-shaped purse

Pouch-shaped purse

Like the majority of our goods we source our Guatemalan products from Fair Trade suppliers with much of the range coming from the north of Guatemala around Lake Atitlan (”The place where the rainbow gets its colours”), an area of astonishing natural beauty and still largely away from the tourist trail.

Mayan woven textiles date back at least two thousand years with an intricate story directly linked to the region’s economic and social history. Each piece of handiwork contains the story of the indigenous people as well as that of the artisan who made it. For more information on Guatemalan weavers try this excellent book: Traditional Weavers of Guatemala: Their Stories, Their Lives.

Traditional Weavers of Guatemala book cover

Traditional Weavers of Guatemala by Deborah Chandler and Teresa Cordon

The money collected from the sale of our plastic bags goes to the Maya Health Alliance  an organisation committed to the health and well-being of the Mayan community in Guatemala.

Maya Health Alliance on Instagram

Maya Health Alliance on Instagram