Pancho the Campesino

    Pots and panchos outside Caoba

Pots and panchos outside Caoba

A while back, as I was placing the chimeneas and pots outside the shop, a passer-by remarked on the negative perception she had of the Pancho figures in our display. I don’t like not having an answer so I looked into the Pancho’s back story. Happily, as it turns out this lady’s concerns are not shared by the craftsmen who make these resting figures.

Pancho is in fact a Campesino, a Mexican farmer or farm worker. They typically start their long working day early to avoid the heat of the sun. Our Pancho statues represent these campesinos taking their hard-earned siesta before heading back out into the fields, shielded from the sun by their traditional wide-brimmed hats.

A painted Pancho

A painted campesino taking his well-earned siesta

These terracotta Pancho statues are proudly made by Jesus, working out of his small workshop in Mexico, where he also produces circles-of-friends for us. Each figure is hand made, some of them painted, some left undecorated. The terracotta wide-brimmed hats, representing vital protection from the heat of the Mexican sun here in Edinburgh serve as effective bird baths, collecting rainwater… We can bring you many delightful items from Mexico, but we can’t change the Scottish weather!

Mexican Roast Chipotle Chicken

When lacquered with a rich chipotle chilli sauce and roasted, chicken becomes a delicious crowd pleaser. There’s enough chipotle here to make your lips hum, but not so much as to overshadow the other ingredients. Roast in the oven for now, but at the first sign of fine weather reach for the barbecue!Roast Chipotle Chicken

Ingredients – serves 4
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
½ can chipotle chillies in adobo ( about 3 whole chiles chopped)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp cider vinegar
½ tbsp ground cinnamon
8 skinless chicken thighs (wings or drumsticks work well too)
salt and pepper

Preparation
Preheat oven to 190°c/gas mark 5
Heat the oil in a heavy pan over a medium high heat until it shimmers. Cook the sliced garlic, stirring constantly until golden, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate. Reduce heat to medium and cook onions, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Return the garlic together with the remaining ingredients, except the chicken thighs, to pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 25 minutes.

Mexican stoneware dinner plate

Mexican stoneware dinner plate

Place the chicken thighs in a roasting tin and coat with half the sauce. Roast in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and brush chicken pieces with the remaining sauce. Roast for a further 20 – 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and well browned in spots.
Serve with rice and green beans and a dollop of sour cream on the side.

Mexican Masks: The masks behind Nacho Libre

This isn’t a review of the movie Nacho Libre (2006), a film you either love or hate, depending how in touch you are with your inner teenage boy. However the film and its star Jack Black did much to bring Lucha Libre to the attention of the world outside Mexico and North America.

Mask for Nacho from the movie Nacho Libre

Mask for Nacho from the movie Nacho Libre

The film’s plot is (very) loosely based on the real life story of a Mexican catholic priest who as his alter ego Fray Tormenta had a 23 year career as a luchador, to raise money for his orphanage. Jack Black’s character, Ignacio the priest, similarly fights incognito as Nacho (it’s not a film known for its subtly).

His hero-turned-nemesis is Ramses, a champion luchador. All comes good in the end for our hero but not before he is humiliated and unmasked by the bad guy, Ramses.

The mask of luchador Ramses

The mask of luchador Ramses

In the real world of lucha libre Ramses is played by César Cuauhtémoc González Barrón, better known as Silver King. Like many luchadors he comes from a family of masked wrestlers, his father was Dr Wagner, his brother is Dr Wagner Jr. In 1987 Silver King was unmasked by El Hijo del Santo and his identity revealed. González continued to wrestle under different masks, then in a break with tradition in 2007 returned, remasked as Silver King.

Mexican Recycled Glassware and the Margarita

Say Mexican glassware and we all think of the iconic modern margarita glass and the cocktail* that goes in it, but Mexico has a long and honourable tradition of glass-making. Craftsmen brought to Mexico by the Spanish as long ago as the 16th century were the first to produce hand blown glass on the North American continent. Since then Mexican master craftsmen have given the art of vidrio soplado or mouth-blown glass-making their own flair.

Glass blowers at work

Glass blowers at work

In 2001 Caoba began working directly with small Mexican businesses to develop the wide selection of glassware the shop carries today.  The skill of glass blowing has been passed down through the generations and today’s workers are fiercely proud of their craft. Visiting the family-run glass workshops is always one of the most exciting features of our buying trips to the region.  The workshop floor is a hot, all-male environment, full of machismo bravado and humour but none of that detracts from the speed, dexterity and artistry with which these artists work; from molten glass to wine glass in 12 minutes.

The vidrio soplado Caoba stocks is all made from recycled glass. Old un-reusable glass such as beer and Coke bottles are saved from the landfill, melted down in the workshop furnaces and refashioned into our unique, eco-friendly Mexican glassware range. The traditional style blue-rimmed glass is complimented by bright, jewel-like reds, orange and aquamarines, as well as multi-coloured confetti designs, in all shapes and sizes from wine and high-ball glasses to (naturally) the Margarita glass.

An elegant, fluted champagne-style glass

An elegant, fluted champagne-style glass from Caoba

No one piece of glass is the same as another; mouth-blowing recycled glass means each item will have slight variations in shape and colour with little trapped air bubbles, like frozen champagne. This unique finish cannot be achieved by mechanised techniques.

On a practical level Mexican recycled glass is sturdy and dishwasher proof. But be aware, because it is so solid extremes of heat should be avoided. If taken straight out of the dishwasher, let it cool down before piling the ice in and don’t use with boiling water.

During one of our first trips to Mexico we discovered that ever-enterprising Mexican artisans had taken their glass-making skills to the streets. Setting up stalls with rods of coloured glass, pliers and

blow torches they can swiftly pinch out delicate flamingoes, octopus, parrots, lizards and chillies from the hot glass to sit atop cocktail or swizzle sticks. Needless to say, we had to bring these back too.

*Yes, we mean the Margarita (Daisy in Spanish). There are many theories and traditions about how the Margarita came into being; my own favourite is the Prohibition-based theory, that thirsty Americans drove over the border and had their brandy-based Daisy cocktail remade with Tequila….  !Ya esta! the Margarita was born (possibly).

Whatever its origins, the December 1953 issue of Esquire Magazine named it their Drink of the Month and published the first recorded recipe:
1oz tequila
    A dash of Triple Sec
    The juice of ½ lime or lemon
    Crushed ice
Rub the rim of a stem glass with the rind of a lemon or lime, dip rim in a shallow plate of salt to coat. Pour the tequila, Triple Sec and juice over the crushed ice in a container and stir. Strain into the glass and enjoy.
Salud!

Marigolds decorating a gate

A Wee Trip to Mexico

Back in early November Caoba took a trip to Mexico.

Many of the little shrines built for the Dia de los Muertos shrines were still standing, decorated with glorious, gold Mexican marigolds. Decorations also included gifts of food, beer and tequila as well as skulls, catrinas, candles and in one instance that we saw, a coffin.

Death as something to celebrate may be an unfamiliar idea to some of us, but it is a little easier to imagine when looking at these photographs.

Mexican Marigolds

Mexican marigolds; the flower of the Day of the Dead

Skeleton figures watching over a marigold-decorated coffin

Skeleton figures watching over a marigold-decorated coffin

Sugar cane, beer and tequila join the skulls and marigolds

Sugar cane, beer and tequila join the skulls and marigolds

Lots of marigolds

A beautiful splash of colour

A very fine candle holder

A very fine candle holder

An elegant shrine in the workplace

An elegant shrine in the workplace – a ceramics workshop

Calavera Catrina, the Elegant Skeleton

Mexico’s Day of the Dead actually takes place over two days; All Saints Day (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). There are many images associated with the celebration, some we’ve already mentioned.

One of Caoba’s favourites is Calavera Catrina, the Skeleton Dame or Elegant Skeleton.

Retablo featuring Posada's Catrina

A retablo featuring Posada’s Catrina. From a range at Caoba

She originates from the beginning of the 20th century as a creation of the Mexican illustrator and satirist José Guadalupe Posada as a mocking representation of the Mexican

middle classes (and was said to bear more than a passing resemblance to the wife of Mexico’s then president). Much of Posada’s work was influenced by his contemporary, the lesser-known artist Manuel Manilla, but his famous series of satirical skeletons has embedded the character of Catrina as a Mexican icon, closely associated with the country’s national and cultural identity.

Caoba, Edinburgh carries a range of Catrinas represented in various forms; from greetings cards to fabric and most beautifully in a ceramic form almost too fragile to look at.

While researching the Catrinas I came across this article at huffingtonpost.com. It’s a comprehensive look at the Day of the Dead and makes fascinating reading if you want to learn more.

Sugar Skull print by Steven Howells

Sugar Skulls aren’t just for the Day of the Dead…

During the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations homemade altars (ofrendas) are decorated with ornate sugar skulls as part of the traditional display, to attract and honour visiting spirits. Over the generations the brightly coloured, clay-moulded skulls have been have elevated into an artisanal art form in a uniquely Mexican way, to celebrate the happy return of the souls of lost friends and family.

Latterly sugar skull imagery has crossed borders and cultural boundaries; you will find sugar skulls on t-shirts, as tattoos, in jewellery; there is even an annual competition for creating the best sugar skulls in bead work. And what about a Sugar Skull Decorating party anyone?

Sugar skulls cushion cover

Sugar skulls cushion cover

At Caoba we carry Alexander Henry fabrics and prints and cards featuring sugar skulls all year round because we love them and know our customers do too!

El Dia de los Muertos

Skeletons

Skeletons

While most of us are preparing for Halloween at the end of October, November 1st in Mexico is the Day of the Dead, el Dia de los Muertos. Preparations go on all year for the National holiday, which extends over two days and centres around the celebration of lives of deceased family and friends.  It’s not the maudlin, bleak occasion we British might expect but one of joy, colour, and funny stories; a party to celebrate the lives already lived.

 

Friends and family gather in cemeteries, around highly decorated altars covered with bright yellow and orange marigold blossoms as well as the deceased’s favourite foods, drink and possessions. Trails of the flowers are often laid out to encourage the souls to return for the party, to join the gathering for prayers and the celebration of their lives. Light and smoke from candles and Copal incense add to the heady atmosphere.

Greetings cards featuring Catrin and Catrina

Greetings cards featuring Catrin and Catrina

Orange and purple papel picado for the Day of the Dead

Orange and purple papel picado for the Day of the Dead

With a growing number of Day of the Dead-inspired celebrations taking place in the UK, sugar skulls, Catrins and Catrinas, candles, papel picados and skeletons in many forms are all increasingly familiar images and decorations. And lots of them, as well as copal incense are available from our Stockbridge shop, or online.

Last of the summer lime

You’ll find no pandering to the newly arrived autumnal weather here at Caoba. We’re still drinking cocktails like it’s a balmy 25 degrees outside. Well I say cocktails but really I mean Mexican beer with the juice of a lime squeezed into it for a sharp, refreshing, Mexican alternative to lager and lime.

Take one Mexican blue-rimmed, high-ball glass and dampen the rim with water then dip into a saucer of salt flakes (table salt will work just as well), as if you were preparing a Margarita. Allow to dry. Squeeze into the glass the juice of one lime*, two if the lime is small. Top up with beer from a chilled bottle of Sol or Corona, stir gently and drink. Responsibly of course.

Glass, beer, lime, salt

Before…

*Insider tip: Before cutting the lime in half, roll it around on the work surface to release more of the juice and/or pop it in the microwave for 10 seconds.

Beer and fresh lime juice with a salt rim

After… stirred with a paper maché swizzle stick

Mexican Wrestling Masks: El Santo

The 2006 film Nacho Libre has made Mexican wrestling familiar to teenage boys of all ages and, behind Jack Black’s anarchy, gave us a taste of the phenomenon of lucha libre, the luchadores (the wrestlers) and the masks they wear.

Each of Caoba’s reproduction masks has a professional wrestling personality behind it (pun intended).

The silver mask of El Santo

The silver mask of El Santo

The masks are a key feature of the Wrestler’s personality and never removed during a bout. Some luchadores remain masked in public at all times; one of the greatest, El Santo was buried wearing his famous silver mask, having removed it only briefly during a TV appearance just before his death in 1984.

El Santo is a true legend of the Mexican wrestling world. A champion in the ring and a movie superhero appearing in over 50 films; he became a Mexican folk hero and icon, immortalised in film and song. His wrestling legacy continues in his son El Hijo del Santo, who became a professional wrestler in 1982.

Man in an El Santo mask

Mascara de lucha libre
© Steven Collier