All summer I was getting emails from my dear friend Janet. She lives in a small town in Mexico called Tepoztlan. It’s beautiful, mountainous, and very ancient. The indigenous Tepoztecans don’t consider anyone native unless their family has been there for several hundred years. For many years, Tepoztlan has been the weekend retreat for Mexico City’s well-heeled residents.
I met Janet when she and her husband Doug were in DC for a couple of years. They became landscape clients, then dear friends. They had a lifetime of moves from Miami to London, Toronto to Mexico City, and when they decided to retire, it was Tepoztlan that called to them. And I understand why. It’s lovely and there are so many ex-pats living there from all around the world, drawn by the artistic nature of the place. Painters, writers, film-makers all seem to gather under the pyramid.
And then this summer, Janet’s friend Magda developed an idea. Magda offers culinary and writing workshops, and Betty Fussell was renting Janet’s house, and somehow, the Under the Volcano writing workshop was imagined. My email was bombarded as both Janet and Betty encouraged me to attend. It wasn’t a difficult Yes, and Dennis understood how this could be a good thing for me, so plans were made.
Tepoztlan is magical. The zocalo – market – is bustling. There are piles of chiles, astonishing produce, local women making tortillas, fresh and hot. I learned so much about traditional Mexican cooking when staying with Janet. We would shop the market every day, return and cook for hours. The avocados! The oranges! The moles! The tamales! Seriously, I can taste them all, still, they were so fresh and so different than my previous experiences with Mexican food.
Tere, Janet’s talented kitchen helper, showed me how to make the most spectacular breakfast – so wonderful I had to share it immediately and posted it on Food52. Hidden Eggs. It takes some practice, but seriously, these are some amazing eggs.
Typical weekend activities in Tepoztlan involve lunch. This is not like lunch you know. About fifteen people usually. (I swear Janet knows everyone, and she never has fewer than 12 for a meal, more often it’s 20. And her table settings are amazing!)
Starting around 2pm, lunch begins with enormous bowls of fresh guacamole, homemade tortilla chips and salsa. Often sopes are passed around, small tortillas filled with duck or black beans or chopped mango, red onion and tomato. Special narrow, tall glasses of tequila are served with matching sips of icy cold Sangrita, a tomato, orange and chili beverage that balances the fire of tequila so well, you’ll be on your third, or fourth, before you know it. (Ut oh.)
Time is inconsequential in these hills, so it’s likely this apertif will last two or more hours, while lunch is being prepared. Everyone’s pretty happy by then. And starving. And then out come steaming bowls of mole, of beans, glorious rice, chile spiked dishes you’ve never even imagined. It gets loud and there is a lot of laughter. This is how I think of Tepoz – food, laughter and new, fascinating friends from all around the world.
So why am I choosing this gloomy cold October day to tell you about sunny, warm Mexico? Because my dear friends at Food52 are featuring Under the Volcano, and Tepoztlan. Go to the site and you’ll see a wonderful writing workshop with Magda, with Betty Fussell and even a guest appearance by Janet (the most amazing lecturer on the art of Mexico.) I have it on good authority that Janet will be hosting a lunch for the group, and that’s worth WALKING to Tepoztlan.
In the meantime, here’s the Sangrita recipe. If you don’t have these cute glasses and plates, don’t worry. They are easy to find in Tepoztlan.
Sangrita (little blood)
Makes enough for four little drinks
2 tomatoes, Roma are traditional
2 juice oranges
1 teaspoon grated onion
Generous pinch of arbol chile powder, or ancho chile powder if you are heat averse
Generous pinch of salt
Drop whole tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for three minutes. Fish the tomatoes out and set them aside until cool enough to touch.
Core the tomatoes and put them in a blender to puree. Press through a sieve.
Juice the oranges and the lime.
Combine the orange, lime and tomato juices. Grate in the onion. Add the chile and salt.
Stir well and chill for an hour.
Serve side by side with your favorite excellent tequila. Garnish with a dash of chile and a wedge of lime dipped in salt.
PS A little apple polishing — check out this lovely announcement of my book deal in the Washington Post, and a wonderful profile by the talented China Millman in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.