Category Archives: Useful Info

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

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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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

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

“He Who Makes Things Sprout”

Slate mask of Tlaloc c. 900-1200 AD

Slate mask of Tlaloc c. 900-1200 AD

Tlaloc – “He who makes things sprout” is a pre hispanic rain god; one of the major deities of the ancient Mexican pantheon of gods. He was believed to live on the cloud-covered mountain tops of Aztec Mexico, from whence he sent down rain, thunderstorms and hurricanes.

Terracotta statue of Tlaloc the Aztec rain god

Terracotta statue of Tlaloc the Aztec rain god, setting up camp in Caoba

To our modern eyes he may look a mite comical, like a seated Biggles (or is that just me?), but his cult was far from benign: Keeping this god appeased included ritual child sacrifice. Their precious tears were associated with Tlaloc and his ability to produce rain at will. For a largely agricultural society the weather, in particular rain, was the source of life.

These days Tlaloc serves as a decorative connection to harsher times. In Scotland at least rain is largely an irritant, something to get in the way of a good barbecue, but across the world the weather still has the power to give or take away life.

Our Tlaloc was made in terracotta by Mexican artisans and is available from the Caoba store in Stockbridge, Edinburgh.

Worry Not (The Mayan way)

Six Guatemalan Worry Dolls in each bag

Six little figures in each bag

One of most popular items sold in Caoba isn’t Mexican at all: Our fair trade Guatemalan worry dolls (muñecas quitapenas) are tiny little human figures, made from bits of wood and scraps of wool and fabrics fashioned into a traditional style costume. There are six dolls in each pouch or box, together with a slip of paper explaining their story.
Mayan tradition has it that by telling the dolls your worries, then placing them under your pillow at night they will take on the worry on your behalf. Thus leaving you with a restful sleep and a carefree feeling the next day.
We only have anecdotal evidence that the dolls work, but they do make an inexpensive and thoughtful gift, especially for anyone prone to anxiety!

Worry Dolls Label

Wherever possible our products are Fair Trade

We have a good range of Guatemalan textiles and accessories in our shop in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, adding even more bright and beautiful colour to our Mexican style.

Incense and Sensibilities

Satya incense from India.

Satya incense from India. Our best-selling range

The tradition of burning incense is a long one. Archeologists have found evidence of its use during the Neolithic age in China, ancient Egypt and the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas.
For some cultures incense burning has religious and ceremonial associations, for everyone it can provide a wide variety of aromas for creating a mood or subtly perfuming and freshening a room.

Caoba customers often ask us for the source of the beautiful aroma in the shop (note for all you online shoppers, Caoba does indeed smell glorious!) It’s not a secret formula, it is simply the unique blend of all the scented candles and incenses on the shelves.

Morning Star Japanese incense

Morning Star Japanese incense

At Caoba we stock a variety of incense sticks and cones from India and Japan. Great for relaxation, meditation and air freshening.

Arabesque small tile 5cm x 5cm

Arabesque small tile 5cm x 5cm

We also carry wooden and ceramic holders and burners. Our small Mexican tiles can even double up as decorative heat-proof stands.

Papier d'Arménie

Papier d’Arménie booklet of scented papers

One of our favourites is the delicate Papier d’Arménie incense paper; a booklet of paper strips infused with the dried resin from the Styrax tree (benzoin). These papers were developed as an air deodoriser in 19th century France by Auguste Ponsot, whose Armenian travels had introduced him to the pleasant benzoin aroma.

The glowing embers of a concertinaed strip used 3 or 4 times a week help to a keep a room’s air fresh.

We recently added to our online selection of incense for you to recreate your own glorious fragrance at home