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Palo Santo – Holy Wood

PALO SANTO, THE HEALING TREE OF PUERTO LOPEZ

Puerto López county in the Manabi Province is one of the most visited by tourists who pass through the Spondylus Route each year. The diversity of activities, pleasant climate, delicious cuisine and warmth of its people make it one of the places you just must visit while in the Ecuadorian coast.

Recently the county was declared by presidential decree, as the first tourist area to be protected within the country. This politic is intended to carry out a comprehensive regeneration of the site and preservation of natural areas, including the Machalilla National Park, which is considered a nature sanctuary.

It is inside the park, as well as the extent of territory that includes Puerto Lopez, where it grows a tree with countless beneficial properties. The Palo Santo, or “Bursera graveolens” according to its scientific name, is a native species of the dry forests of South America.

In the specific case of Ecuador, it is believed that the Palo Santo has been around since prehistoric times. Ancient cultures such as Machalilla, Manteña and Valdivia were aware of its healing power and used it to heal both, body and soul of their patients through purification rituals led by healers or shamans.

At the time of burning, Palo Santo incense smoke produces a pleasant aroma which acts as a mosquito repellent and surprisingly, also relieves bone ailments, headaches, allergies, flu, among others. This is the reason why the Spanish conquerors, stunned by its healing properties, started calling it “Palo Santo”, which means “Holy Tree”.

Available to buy at CAOBA.

Frida Kahlo: Colour and style

There has been much excitement in the UK about the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo ever since the major exhibition Frida Kahlo – Making Herself Up opened at the V&A back in June 2018. And the exhibition is great; a fascinating and insightful mixture of her public works and her private possessions, artefacts never seen outside Mexico before. The exhibition runs until November but is pretty much sold out, with just a few tickets available from the museum on the day.

Meanwhile, here in Edinburgh we have been inspired by Frida since our first trip to Mexico back in 2001. Her image and style surrounds us in our shop in Stockbridge, Edinburgh and we are always delighted to introduce her to a new audience.

Frida beaded curtain

Frida’s keep her eye on us, above our collection of Otomi embroidered blouses

Kahlo’s dramatic style suits reproduction and in both our shops online and in store we carry a range of products featuring her striking image.

Frida Retablos on display in the Caoba shop in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Frida Retablos on display in the Caoba shop in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Viva Frida. Detail from the Alexander Henry fabric of the same name

Viva Frida. Detail from the Alexander Henry fabric of the same name

Viva Frida! Shopping bag

Viva Frida! Shopping bag available from our Stockbridge shop and online store

 

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