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

“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

 

Caoba Goes to Mexico

A very pink house

A very pink house

The start of a chilly Edinburgh spring was time for one of our regular buying trips to Mexico. March is a great month for visiting Mexico City; the rainy months haven’t yet kicked in and the day times are warm and sunny. We were there to work, but it doesn’t hurt to have a spot of decent weather!

We caught up with old friends, stocked up on our favourite products from several of our family-run suppliers and found some spectacular new ceramics and jewellery from some amazing, talented artisans.

A margarita or two...

A margarita or two…

We also tried a margarita or two. For research purposes only.

Pachycereus Marginatus. Aka Mexican fence Posts

Pachycereus Marginatus. Mexican fence posts are very green

We’ll have to wait a few months before the main stock arrives by sea from Mexico, but the floral jewellery is already in the Edinburgh shop.

Real flower pendants, set in resin with silver

Real flower pendants, set in resin with silver

A Frida pendant, with real flowers

A Frida pendant, with real flowers

Hand decorating a plate

Hand decorating a plate

In the studio

In the studio

Work in Progress

Work in Progress

Ceramic Sugar Skulls

Brightly decorated ceramic Sugar Skulls

Terracotta lamps

Terracotta lamps. Pierced to let light shine through

A faithful Pre hispanic reproduction statue

A Pre hispanic style statue

Hand painted tiles

Hand painted tiles

Slow Cooking a Winter Warmer: A Scottish recipe for Mexican Pulled Pork.

We’ve been cooking up a storm here at Caoba Towers*.
Our most recent venture into Mexican food was a pulled pork dish, known variously as Achiote Pork, Mexican Pulled Pork or Cochinita Pibil. There are hundreds of different recipes if you search on sites such as Pinterest; most of them using American measurements, some requiring a barbecue pit in the back yard. This meant a little experimentation to accommodate our location in Edinburgh, Scotland. What follows makes no claims for being authentically Mexican but it will definitely warm you up!

Mexican Pulled Pork

Pulled pork with rice and some of the trimmings

The key ingredients are pork shoulder, citrus juices and achiote powder or paste, marinated over night and slow-cooked in a low oven or a slow cooker/crock pot. After that you can pretty much make things up as you go along if you are so inclined, otherwise use the following recipe as a guideline.
Achiote (also known as annatto) can be bought locally from Lupe Pinto’s, or is available from various online stores. The paste is a mixture of achiote powder and other spices, so omit the first step in the recipe if that’s what you’re using.

Serves 4
1kg boned shoulder of pork, trimmed of fat
Juice of approx 3 limes
Juice of approx 3 oranges
2 (or more, to taste) cloves crushed garlic
Pinch of salt to taste
Lots of ground black pepper
1 tsp (or more, to taste) dried chilli flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp achiote powder

Mix the ground spices and garlic together, adding in some of the citrus juices to form a thick paste.
Score the pork with a sharp knife and rub the paste into the surface of the meat. Place the meat in a glass or ceramic bowl (not metal) and pour over the remaining citrus juices. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours.
Place the pork in an oven-proof casserole dish or the slow cooker pot and strain over the marinade. Season with salt and add more juice or water (if necessary) to the depth of about 5cm.
If you are using the oven make sure the casserole lid has a tight seal, you don’t want any steam to escape or the liquid to dry out. Cook in a low oven 140°C/Gas 1 for about 5 hours.
If you are using a slow cooker use the low setting and cook for about 8 hours.
Once the meat is fall-apart tender, remove from the oven/cooker, drain and pull apart using 2 forks. Set the meat aside, keeping warm.

Serve with rice and some of the cooking juices or wrap up in warm, soft corn tortillas. Good side dishes are guacamole, bean salad, salsa or sliced jalapeño peppers or pickled red onions. NOT pickled onions from a jar; a finally sliced red onion pickled in lime and orange juices to cover, with 3 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt added. Covered and left to pickle for at least 2 hours. I repeat, not pickled onions from a jar.

Pickled Red Onions

Red Onion pickled in citrus juices

I am now very hungry so please excuse me while I sneak off to eat a pork-filled taco…
(*not a real tower)

Mexican bean salad

Mexican bean salad with sweetcorn, spring onions, cherry tomatoes and avocado

Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo

Christmas at Caoba

A selection of Christmas (and a sugar skull) at Caoba

Happy Christmas, Feliz Navidad, season’s greetings and happy holidays. Here’s to a splendid 2015 from all of us at Caoba, Edinburgh.
We’re open every day until the afternoon of Christmas Eve so there’s still time to pop in for last-minute giftwrap, cards, gifts and sugar skull cocktail sticks.

We’re working on a draft list of New Year’s resolutions for 2015:
To continue shopping locally and to remember to carry a spare bag*
To return to Mexico
To dust more often (ok that one’s just mine. JL)
To sort out a Christmas music playlist in time for next year’s festivities

*The 5p carrier bag charge was introduced to Scotland on 20th October 2014