The nut from Peru that conquered
the world by storm 300 years ago.
How nutty is that?
by Natalie Taylor
Kirsten West, “The Culinary Explorer,” is an international chef and cooking instructor living and working in San Miguel de Allende. She has traveled to the different regions of Mexico for more than 25 years studying Mexican cuisine. During those years she has had many wonderful teachers, from home cooks to professional cooks. She has also learned from chefs who are authorities of the cuisine, such as Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless, with whom she collaborated for eight years. She was also personal chef to Mick Jagger but doesn’t want to talk too much about her time with him—“I don’t want to damage his image as a bad-boy…he is quite a nice man.”
Her fascination with the culture of Mexico started at the age of 12 in her native Germany. Her history class introduced her to Mexican culture, and she was enchanted right away. She finally visited Mexico with the intention of exploring its archeological ruins. Instead, she fell in love with Mexican food when she saw the rich offerings at the markets that surpassed anything she had ever seen. She came to understand how this fascinating cuisine had influenced the cuisines of Europe and Asia, and developed a true passion that motivated her food studies. To this day, Mexican cuisine never ceases to amaze and surprise her.
We invite you to join Mujeres en Cambio for a unique event that will forever change your views about a plant that is both familiar and highly unusual. Chef Kirsten West will focus on the lowly peanut—a New World plant that is now used in cuisines all over the world. She will explain how the plant’s astonishing process of growing, blooming, and then burrowing underground to form the pods that contain peanuts. You will find out how it is used in cooking, and specifically how peanuts are used in Mexican cuisine. And finally, she will prepare—before your eyes—three unique and distinct recipes featuring peanuts as part of the ingredients.
You should also check out Kirsten West’s cooking school, right here in the city. It’s a great place where you can learn many of her culinary techniques and combination of ingredients as she prepares featured dishes. You will also have the opportunity to meet her doppelganger—a mojiganga made to resemble Kirsten who stands proudly in the kitchen. La Piña Azul Escuela de Cocina, is located on Orizaba 39A. Contact: 415-101-4155 or US phone number 312-602-9650
Thursday, July 29 at 1 pm
Donation: $300 pesos ($15 US)
payable at www.mujeresencambio.org
For those who register but are unable to attend on that date, the video will be available for two weeks after. You will also receive an informative document about peanuts, and all the recipes.
Tuna Tradicional: An ancient musical tradition being kept alive in San Miguel de Allende
By Natalie Taylor
A musical “tuna” group has nothing to do with fishing, nothing to do with the fruit of the nopal. It’s a tradition born in Spain in the 13th century when poor university students created musical brotherhoods and played their instruments as a group to raise money. They traveled from place to place like troubadours and were eventually called tunas, from the Spanish verb “tunar” which means to wander, or to bum around.
Tuna Tradicional of San Miguel de Allende is definitely not a group of vagabonds—they are all working professionals living in the municipality. But they are also talented musicians who came together because they were friends and lovers of music. This is not simply a musical group, it’s a brotherhood bonded by their appreciation of this centuries-long tradition. They preserve the past with the music, with the instruments they play, and the colorful costumes they wear. The clothing harkens back to the dress of Spanish students in the 16th and 17th century and consists of a tight-fitting jacket worn over a white shirt with big cuffs and collar. Multi-colored ribbons and shreds attached to clothing or instruments represent expressions of love given to the musicians by sweethearts, wives, mothers, or friends.
During the Colonial period, Spaniards brought the tuna musical tradition and many such school groups evolved around Mexico. Several members of the current Tuna Tradicional were students at the Escuela Normal de Santo Domingo, and they formed a musical group while still there in the 1970s. It was (and still is) a joyful and fun-loving group; that sometimes did not sit well with the stern nuns who ran the school. So about 17 years ago they became independent, bringing their talents into what became the Tuna Tradicional musical ensemble.
Norberto Godinez Estrada, the nominal director of the group, told me that they are a species facing extinction. The young people are not interested in continuing the tradition, they find it difficult to learn the ancient tuna instruments such as the mandolin or the lute. In spite of that, Tuna Tradicional continues keeping the past alive with their music. They play and sing traditional Mexican songs, particularly those created by the great composers of the Golden Era of Mexican cinema, people like Roque Carbajo, and others.
On July 7, at 7pm through Zoom, Mujeres en Cambio presents a musical event featuring these unique musicians. You will be treated to their history, their connection to the ancient musical tradition, an explanation of the instruments they use, and the costumes they wear. You will also contribute to a great cause—the education of young women. Please join us with your favorite cocktail to listen to the music of these Sanmiguelense performers; we promise you will be delighted by the show!
Love, Marriage, Alliances and Respect in Ancient Mexico
By Natalie Taylor
February is the month of love, culminating on the 14th , a day dedicated to lovers everywhere. The tradition began in Europe, and it falls on the St. Valentine’s day who was an Italian saint living in Rome during the third century. But we know that love is universal, it transcends geographic boundaries, and we know it existed in Pre-Hispanic America, albeit manifested in different ways.
On February 18, Mujeres en Cambio will feature a fascinating virtual talk by archeologist Albert Coffee about love, marriage and marital alliances in ancient Mexico. Albert Coffee is a long-time resident of San Miguel de Allende who specializes in Mesoamerican studies. He participated in the excavation of the pyramid site Cañada de la Virgen. He has also documented the legends, wisdom and memories of the elders from the ranch communities around the site. Hear history and legends about how the Aztecs and other Pre-Hispanic people treated marriage and the ceremonies associated with them. Learn about the importance of rituals that are still part of Mexican culture and traditions. A special focus will be the role that food and drink played in these rituals, particularly chocolate and cacao. Both of these plants were incorporated into ceremonies and were imbued with religious meaning that reverberate to this day. Particularly poignant examples can be found in the context of marriage traditions of the Maya. Chocolate was used by the Maya to seal marriage negotiations and ceremonies. At their weddings, bride and groom would exchange five cacao beans along with their vows during the marriage contract.
So fix yourself a cup of steaming chocolate—the beverage of love—and join us for what is sure to be an enlightening presentation.