East LA Meets Napa 2014

AltaMed held its 9th annual East LA Meets Napa fundraiser last Friday evening, and I was lucky enough to be invited.

Established over 40 years ago, AltaMed is Southern California’s leading non-profit health care system delivering integrated primary care services, senior care programs and health and human services for the entire family.

The theme of the event is to showcase Southern California’s best Mexican restaurants, and the best Latino-owned wineries. It’s an inspired combination, and everyone put their best foot forward. News is getting out, and the event was sold out early, as I’m sure it will be next year, judging by the happy faces of the attendees.


The location couldn’t have been more perfect… or more unexpected. We’ve all been to Union Station, but everyone is so focused on catching a train that very few people notice the lovely outdoor courtyards of this historic building. It provided a free flow that allowed us to listen to the great live music, meet new friends and sample delicious food and wines.


Each of the participating restaurants brought one or two of their signature dishes. Especially memorable were the chiles en nogada from La Huasteca, flautas de jamaica from Casa Oaxaca and the panuchos from Chichén Itzá. I was also delighted with dishes from La Parilla, Rivera Restaurant, Rocio’s Moles de los Dioses and several others. I even tried eating grasshopper for the first time… it was served in a salsa, so I could concentrate on the delicious flavor, and not the little beasts themselves.


There were wonderful wines from Alex Sotelo Cellars, Gustavo Wines and Trujillo Wines. It was a temptation to visit Nevarez Vineyard, Luis Ochoa Family Vineyards, Delgadillo Cellars and others, but there was only one of me, and it was only one evening. I’ll be looking out for their wines in the future.


The event was perfectly organized, and was a big success in all aspects. I was very fortunate to be a part of it. I have a list of restaurants that will keep me busy for months, and I’m already looking forward to next year.



10 Things Mexico Does Better Than Anywhere Else


A nice piece from CNN News. Here’s the link:


Icy beers, empty beaches. It’s a compelling image, but it captures only a feeble percentage of the diversity and excellence that imbues one of the most incredible countries in the world. Here are 10 things Mexico does better than anywhere else.

Celebrating death
Plenty of cultures do ancestor worship.
But who else turns the commemoration of their dearly departed into an annual fiesta of art, food and community?
On November 1, aka the Day of the Dead, Mexicans put together ofrendas (shrines) for loved ones who have passed away.Every ofrenda includes pictures of the deceased, food, drinks, skull-shaped candies, candles and cempasuchil, the Aztec marigold or flower of the dead.
The belief is that souls of children come back to earth to visit family and friends on November 1 and the souls of adults do the same on November 2.
Day of the Dead festivals take place across Mexico. Three of the most elaborate are held in San Andrés Mixquic (in Tláhuac, Mexico City), Patzcuaro, Michoacán and Janitzio, Michoacán.

Horn sections
From symphony orchestras to oompah bands to soul and R&B horn sections, everyone loves a blast of brass.
Whereas most countries tend to save their horns for parties and special occasions, however, Mexico kicks out the brass jams on a daily basis.
Where else can you hear tubas — actual tubas! — laying down bass lines on the radio every hour of the week?
It all comes down to bandas, the heart of both traditional and popular genres of Mexican music.
Bandas are typically comprised of 10 to 20 musicians who play brass instruments, woodwinds and various percussion.
Every Mexico traveler is charmed by mariachi, but bandas are a part of several broader genres, the most characteristic being ranchera, quebradita and corridos.

Mexico’s national liquor is a worldwide bar standard, with exports to 96 countries.
But don’t come to Mexico expecting to impress locals by chugging a syrupy sweet margarita or knocking down manly shots all night.
Tequila is meant to be sipped and savored, like fine whiskey, which, as any Mexican will tell you, the best tequila can compete with.
You can get a taste of the top-shelf stuff on the Tequila Trail, which includes some of the country’s most renowned distilleries.
Alternates are The Tequila Express tour operated by Casa Herradura and the Jose Cuervo Express tour.

Curing hangovers
Mexican parties are notorious for going berserk in the blink of a bleary eye.
That, of course, leads to a familiar disaster the following morning.
Fortunately, Mexico’s kitchens spring to life with the best hangover grub on the planet.
Wake up, guzzle water then inhale some spicy chilaquiles, carnitas (pork) or barbacoa (sheep) tacos with hot sauce and plenty of revitalizing grease — maybe slam a light breakfast beer if you’re in really rough shape — and you’ll be back making requests from the band by nightfall.

Double entendre (Albur)
Called “albur” in Spanish, double entendre isn’t just a linguistic trick for Mexicans, it’s an art form requiring a nimble mind and the ability to convey smart but subtle messages, often laced with sexual or R-rated undertones.
Many languages, of course, employ veiled connotations and witty wordplay.
But albur is so important in Mexico that there’s a national tournament to crown the best alburero.
The current champ is Lourdes Ruiz, who’s won the competition every year since 1997, defeating men and women. She even teaches albur courses.
Still not convinced Mexicans take double entendre more seriously than anyone else?
What other country has a day devoted to the subtle intricacies of its language?
In Mexico, Albur’s Day is celebrated on March 1.
Diplomado de Albures Finos (Course of Fine/Classy Albures) classes are held at the Galería José María Velasco (Peralvillo 55, colonia Morelos, Tepito, Mexico City); free admission; participants receive a diploma.

Vatican City does a pretty fair job as the center of the faith and it has some decent paintings on its ceiling. But its population of 800 souls isn’t exactly staggering.
Mexico, by contrast, ranks second in the world for number of Catholics (Brazil is first, the Philippines third) and, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography of Mexico, 83.9% of the Mexicans are Catholic.
Nothing says “Mexican Catholic” like a reverence for the country’s seemingly endless manifestations of the Virgin Mary.
Which may be why the priest Miguel Hidalgo carried a symbolic flag of Guadalupe when he led the opening stages of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most venerated Virgin in Mexico, maybe the world.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is also one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Mexico, reportedly the most visited Marian shrine in the world.
Each December 12, about 5 million pilgrims from across Mexico visit the Basilica to thank the Virgin for her favors or to ask for a miracle.
Basilica of Our Lady of Gaudalupe, Plaza de las Americas 1, Col. Villa de Guadalupe, Delegación Gustavo A. Madero, Mexico City; +52 55 5118 0500

Quick lunches
Known around the country as Vitamin T, tacos, tortas, tamales and tostadas are part of the everyday life.
Mexicans are constantly on the go, so it’s no wonder puestos and changarros (food stands) can be found on practically every corner.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in the subway, leaving school or taking a lunch break away from the office — Mexico’s streets offer endless options for a fast and delicious meal cooked right in front of you with super-fresh ingredients.

Soap operas
In 1958, Telesistema Mexicano produced “Senda Prohibida” (“Forbidden Path”), the first Mexican telenovela (soap opera).
Fifty-six years later, its successor Televisa has produced a whopping 740 telenovelas.
The formula hasn’t changed much.
A man and woman fall in love but, for tragic reasons, can’t be together. After overcoming obstacles they finally get married.
Fifteen years after exporting its first soap opera, “Los Ricos Tambien Lloran” (“The Rich Cry Too”), Televisa has found a rich market outside Mexico.
Of all countries that export soap operas, Mexico ships out the most, carving niches in other Spanish-speaking countries, as well as China, the Philippines, Israel and Saudi Arabia. (Link in Spanish.)
Televisa isn’t the only network producing successful telenovelas.
TV Azteca and Argos Comunicación also create top-notch weepers.

Wrestling costumes
Professional wrestling (lucha libre) may be more Hollywood north of the border, and grittier in other countries, but nowhere is it as full of pathos as in Mexico.
Those hilarious/spooky masks aren’t just fun to look at, they’re a major part of the drama.
Removing one from an opponent’s head is one of the greatest triumphs and most thrilling moments in lucha libre.
Matches are held at Arena Mexico in Mexico City on Tuesdays (7:30 p.m.), Fridays (8:30 p.m.) and Sundays (5 p.m.). Tickets can be purchased from Ticketmaster.

Polite lies
Mexicans’ deep fear of appearing rude has given us a bred-in-the-bone aversion to uttering the word “no.”
Instead — and unfortunately for those unfamiliar with the rules of courtesy here — we’ve developed a talent for white lies that allow us to say yes to fulfilling any request.
Even if we can’t do anything about it.
White lies can be as clichéd as “the dog ate my homework” or as morbid as “my beloved great aunt has suddenly developed pancreatic cancer.”
But the granddaddy of polite lies is “ahorita.”
“Ahorita” literally means “right now,” but it’s almost never that.
When a Mexican tells you they’ll do something “ahorita,” be prepared to take a seat, because the wait can be long.
Think of ahorita as the Mexican art of procrastination — it’s been passed from generation to generation — a term that can mean anything from “in 10 minutes” to “in three weeks.”
Ahorita’s cousin in crime is “I’m on my way.”
This really means, “I’m on my way to finishing this TV show, maybe getting off the couch, calling my sister, taking a shower, grabbing a snack and actually leaving home to meet you.”
You’ve been warned — we’re great at it!

Cinco de Mayo Isn’t Mexico’s Independence Day


Not only is Cinco de Mayo not Mexican Independece Day, but it isn’t even celebrated in most of Mexico.

This NPR piece explains it well: http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/05/02/308624630/cinco-de-mayo-whose-holiday-is-it-anyway?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20140502


On a less serious note, here’s a list of Cinco de Mayo Do’s and Don’ts from Buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/adriancarrasquillo/20-dos-and-donts-of-cinco-de-mayo

Urban Renewal in Aguascalientes


The city of Aguascalientes has completed a highly imaginative and successful urban renewal project by building a huge park on top of an oil pipeline property.

Here’s the article in The Atlantic Cities… it’s well worth a read.


San Diego – Tijuana Airport


They’re building a bridge from San Diego directly to the Tijuana airport. It will make a huge difference in cost and convenience for travellers.

Here’s the New York Times article:


Rosca de los Reyes


I was in a Mexican bakery in Los Angeles the other day, and wondered what the big round cake was. It was a Rosca de los Reyes, the traditional cake to celebrate Epiphany on January 6th. According to tradition, that’s the day the 3 wise men arrived in Bethlehem.

rosca (1)

Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Roscón de reyes or rosca de reyes (kings’ ring) is a Spanish and Latin American king’s cake pastry traditionally eaten to celebrate Epiphany.
Although the name indicates that it should be round, the “rosca de reyes” generally has an oval shape due to the need to make cakes larger than 30 cm across for larger parties. Recipes vary from country to country. For decoration, fig fruit, quinces, cherries or dried and candied fruits are used.
It is traditionally eaten on January 6, during the celebration of the “Día de Reyes” (literally “Kings’ Day”), which commemorates the arrival of the three Magi or Wise Men. In most of Spain, Spanish America, and sometimes, Hispanic communities in the United States, this is the day when children traditionally get presents, which are attributed to the Three Wise Men (and not Santa Claus or Father Christmas). In Mexico before children go to bed, they leave their shoes outside filled with hay or dried grass for the animals the Wise Men ride, along with a note.
The tradition of placing a trinket (figurine of the Christ Child) in the cake is very old. The baby Jesus hidden in the bread represents the flight of the Holy Family, fleeing from King Herod’s evil plan to kill all babies that could be the prophesied messiah. Whoever finds the baby Jesus figurine is blessed and must take the figurine to the nearest church on February 2, Candlemas Day (Día de la Candelaria). In the Mexican culture, this person also has to throw a party and provide tamales and atole to the guests. In US communities with large Mexican and Mexican-American populations such as Los Angeles, San Jose, and Chicago, the celebration includes the Mexican hominy stew pozole, which is made for all one’s neighbors.
In Spain, roscones bought in pastry shops have a small figure hidden inside, either of a baby Jesus or little toys for children, as well as the more traditional dry fava bean. Whoever finds the figure is crowned “king” or “queen” of the celebration, whereas whoever finds the bean has to pay for the next year’s roscón or Epiphany party.

n Argentina, there is a similar tradition of eating the rosca on January 6, although no figurine is included. A similar version of the pastry with whole eggs baked on top is served on Easter as rosca de Pascua.
In some places, the roscón de reyes is replaced by panettone, also baked with trinkets inside.
In France, a similar pastry known as a galette de rois (made with puff pastry and almond cream) is eaten on Epiphany, and in the US, the formerly French/Spanish city of New Orleans LA continues this tradition later in the year with their Kings’ Cake, a rich yeasted bread decorated with colored sugar and eaten before Mardi Gras.