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
In Mexico the sweet loaf Pan de Muerto is as much part of the celebrations for the Day of the Dead as mince pies are part of Christmas.
There are almost as many variations of the Pan de Muerto recipe as there are cooks, but this is the one we use:
Ingredients for bread
500 gm (4 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
115 gm (½ cup) butter
100 gm (½ cup) granulated sugar
120 ml (½ cup) water
120 ml (½ cup) milk
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 level tsp salt
2 tsp dried yeast.
For the glaze
Juice of 1 orange
3 tbsp granulated sugar.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit ), gas mark 4.
Combine half the flour (reserve the rest), sugar, yeast, salt and spices in a bowl then put to one side. Melt the butter together with the milk and water. Once melted allow to cool until lukewarm then mix with the dry ingredients.
Add the eggs, mixing to make a wet batter, then slowly stir in the remaining flour until a soft, slightly sticky dough is formed.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Add more flour if the dough is too wet.
Return the dough to a clean bowl, cover the top and allow to rise in a warm place for approx 90 minutes or until risen to twice the size.
Shape the dough into a circle, cutting off a few pieces to make bone or skull decorations for the loaf (depending on your modelling skills!).
Transfer to a baking sheet then leave the shaped dough to rise for another 90 minutes. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 – 50 minutes or until golden brown*.
Make a glaze by combining the orange juice and sugar over a low heat, simmering gently until the sugar has melted (try not to stir the mixture).
Once the bread has cooled brush over with the glaze.
*Baking time is given for one large loaf. If you have made several smaller shapes (skulls for instance), shorten the baking time and decorate with coloured icing once the bread has cooled.
We did decorate the skulls but they were eaten before we could snap a picture!
Last week at Caoba Towers we had a crack at making sugar skulls in preparation for the Day of the Dead. We used silicone moulds that we bought on line and ready-made fondant/sugar paste (Mary Berry may not approve, but we love the stuff). If you search online for tips on making your own sugar skulls you’ll find lots of instructions for making a sugar paste, but many of them say don’t try making the paste on a rainy day as it won’t dry hard enough. They clearly don’t live in Scotland. As I said, we used ready-made fondant.
There are some fabulous examples of sugar skull making online; Pinterest has some particularly fine pictures and how-to tutorials which you can adapt to suit your own environment.
This week we tried a different method of skull-making; pumpkin carving.
Carved pumpkin decorated with acrylic paint
Any good illustration can act as a guide for your paring knife and paint brush. Leave the pumpkin bare or paint on a decorated skull using opaque acrylic paint* as we did here.
If you’re feeling more decorative than creative then sugar skulls in various media are available at Caoba, in store and online. We have Alexander Henry fabrics by the metre or made up into aprons and cushions, papier maché cocktail sticks, skull and skeleton wind chimes and more.
Alexander Henry Blue Sugar Skull fabric available from Caoba
*NB if you want to eat your sugar skulls DON’T use acrylic paint, it is most definitely not edible.
These days not having an online presence, whether as an individual or as a business is a rare thing. Indeed the difference between the two can sometimes be blurred. The internet can open up the world behind a business, humanising it.
Fresh from its packaging, our new nichos from Mexico, as seen on Instagram
Over the summer Caoba has embraced the social media world, adding Instagram to our social media palette, joining Facebook, Pinterest and this blog. Sometimes we want feedback, often we post pictures, useful shop and product updates, occasionally we just mutter to ourselves. But we always share our enthusiasm for where we are (Stockbridge, Edinburgh) and what we do (sell lovely stuff, mostly Mexican).
Margarita tasting at Caoba. Facebook update for Stockfest 2014
On Facebook we share pictures of our beautiful Mexican products and invite you to send us photos of your Caoba-inspired projects.
Caoba kitchen tiles in action on Pinterest
Pinterest acts as one giant mood board. Inspirational rooms, patterns, people and places. Instagram gives you a little behind-the-scenes insight into Caoba life… Days out, new displays as they are being created, the odd daft moment…
Two heads are better than one
We don’t have a Twitter account. Not yet anyway…
With more than 70 different designs in our Mexican terracotta tile range the choice can seem a little overwhelming. We should know, it took us 2 years to decide on the look for our kitchen at Caoba Towers.
Caoba kitchen splash back
So it seemed logical to put our experience to good use to create some unique tile sets, using patterns that we know work well when combined together. Each panel contains 36 10½cm x 10½cm tiles, comprising 4 each of 9 designs and measures approximately 63cm x 63cm when laid out as a square. We say ‘approximately’ because our tiles are made by hand, creating slight variations and quirks within each item.
Blue and terracotta patchwork
But we don’t want to take all the fun out of choosing your own style, so why not use one or more of these sets as a jumping-off point for your own design; lay the tiles out as a border, mix up together with a few of our plain colour tiles, dot in some mini tiles or stick to the plan and use a set as a panel for a stunning kitchen splash back.
Check out our Facebook page and Pinterest boards for some more terracotta tile ideas with a Mexican twist.
While demand is currently riding high for local, ethically sourced, fair traded products, we at Caoba have been working hard to be all those things since we opened in 2001. As a small, family-run business with a Mexican focus, we take pride in supporting similar small enterprises in Mexico, meeting the business owners and importing directly to ensure fair working conditions and prices.
We have often been told our greetings card range is one of the best in Edinburgh (thank you!) and yes, some of the range does come from Mexico. But with so much artistic talent on our door step we love being able to present the work of local, Scottish artists in a constantly changing selection. Artists with a particularly Scottish outlook; reflecting our beautiful scenery, or our Scottish dry wit… Here is a small selection of our Scottish cards, in store at the time of writing*:
Wet Yeti. Not as abominable as you think.
Scottish sayings from Psychopants
Cards by artist Kittie Jones
Landscape by Clare Arbuthnott
Card by Stockbridge artist Anne Denniss
Roger Takes a Walk on the Wild Side by Anna Wright
Earlier this month one card in our window in particular caught the eye of a customer, who shared it on Facebook. It’s the closest we’ve ever come to “going viral” and it clearly reflects everyone’s love for our city.
“If you’re lucky enough to be in Edinburgh… You’re lucky enough”
4 ripe avocados roughly chopped, 2 shallots finely chopped , 2 crushed cloves garlic, juice of 1 lime, 1cup tomatoes chopped, fresh coriander, fresh mint leaves, 1 or 2 jalapeños, salt, pepper.
Serve with tortilla chips and a cold corona. Summer dinner and no need for plates.
Talavera dish available at www.caoba.co.uk
Watching the World Cup is hungry work. The Caoba team sustain themselves with chillies all year round of course, but during intensive tv-watching sessions it is important to have food to hand without having to break screen/eye contact. Last night’s Mexico v Brazil match was one of those moments. Luckily our Caoba Chilli Wrap, prepared just before kick-off, fended off the hunger pangs as effectively as Guillermo Ochoa fended off that Brazillian header.
Caoba Chilli Wraps in 4 steps
1. Make a chilli: steak mince, chopped onion, garlic, tinned tomatoes, chipotle chillies, hot paprika, ground cumin, a tiny touch of cinnamon, oregano, salt and pepper. Cook about 1 hour.
2. Cut corn or flour wraps in half and fold into a pocket. Fill with the warm chilli mix.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and place the wraps with the seam facing down in for a few minutes each side until they are golden brown.
4. Serve with salad, avocado, sour cream, and a squeeze of fresh lime. And a cold beer.
What do Wellington boots and Caoba’s new espresso cups have in common? They both owe their origins to the Spanish city of Talavera de la Reina in the province of Toledo.
Talavera Espresso cups at Caoba
Mexican Talavera is a brightly decorated, tin-glazed terracotta in the style of maiolica. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, maiolica ceramics were at the height of their fashion across Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain. It was inevitable that examples would make their way to the New World and that they would in turn be recreated by local artisans and subsequently evolve into the glorious, uniquely Mexican Talavera.
Talavera storage jars
Talavera is defined by its white, tin oxide base, glazed over terracotta, with distinctive bright colours and raised surface detail. The vibrant floral decorations often have an arabesque quality to them, harking back to the Hispano-Moorish traditions that first inspired them. The cups are just one example of new editions to our Mexican Talavera collection. Dishwasher safe, perfect for hot drinks and serving food from (but not oven-proof).
… And the boots? Sir Arthur Wellesley was ennobled as Viscount Wellington, the Duke of Wellington his victory against the French at the 1809 Battle of Talavera. How he came to have rubber footwear name after him is a story for a different blog.
Mexican silver rings
One of the fun tasks in the Caoba shop is polishing the Mexican silver jewellery. The silver seems to buff up extra sparkly and it gives me a chance to try on all the rings. The additional sparkle comes from the slightly higher-than-normal silver content. While sterling silver must by law contain a minimum of 92.5% silver, Mexican silver is usually around 95% pure. As a guarantee of the high quality we get all our Mexican silver items weighing over 7 grams assayed and stamped .925 at the Edinburgh Assay Office.
Mexico is one of the world’s largest silver producers, with silver being commercially mined in the country for the last 500 years. In the twentieth century an American architect, William Spratling settled in Mexico and began designing and selling homewares and jewellery made from locally sourced metals. He worked with local goldsmiths and artisans to spawn a regional industry that continues to the present day, boosting the local economies and encouraging the valuable tourist trade.
Mexican silversmiths at work
A highlight of our regular trips to Mexico are the visits to these workshops and selecting the bracelets, bangles, earrings and necklaces to bring back to Edinburgh. These are handmade pieces, with no one item identical to another, making much of our range hard to find elsewhere in the UK.