Category Archives: New Mexico

The Piñata Exhibit – Sure to be a Smash Hit!

The piñata exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Visiting the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque is always high on my list when I’m in New Mexico.  We were in town for our Zuniga Family Reunion over the Fourth of July holiday weekend and the family always builds in time for everyone to do a little exploring.  My cousin, Boogie (real name Ophelia),  my mother and I set out to check out the Center and found out there was a Piñata exhibit!

An entire exhibit devoted to piñatas???  We were intrigued!  I mean, we all know what piñatas are…. papier-mache figures, typically of donkeys that are filled with candy.  You are blindfolded, you hit them with a stick until they bust and then everyone scatters for the treats!  I still remember a birthday party I went to when I was around 8 years old in Puerto Rico.  All the kids were in a circle surrounding the hanging piñata waiting our turn to hit the donkey.  We were also close enough to dart for the candy if it got busted!  I guess I may have been a little too close, or maybe the stick was just that long.  I was standing in just the right spot for the little boy taking his turn to bring that long stick down, miss the donkey, and hit me squarely in the head!  I don’t remember if I got any candy after that or not!

While walking through the exhibit, we got a great history of piñatas as we admired the display.  The first ones were rather old, including one said to be a vintage China Poblana piñata from the 1930s.  This particular piñata was the inspiration to create this exhibit.  It’s faded from age and looks so fragile!  I guess I didn’t think of these objects of art as being very old but in truth, it’s thought that they originated in China and that Marco Polo was so fascinated by them in the late 1200’s that he took some back to Europe.  At the time, piñatas were made by using a clay jar (an “olla”) as the base.  They were then covered with paper or reeds and ultimately decorated with things like tissue paper, foil and other festive items.

Something I didn’t know was that piñatas were a religious custom in Spain during Lent in the 14th century.  In particular, they were broken on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday which was called “Piñata Sunday!”  They were seen as a symbol of temptation and represented evil.  Covering the person’s eyes while attempting to hit the piñata represented blind faith and the ability to conquer evil.  When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico during the 16th century they discovered piñatas already existed in the Indigenous culture to honor Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and the sun.  This festivity took place in December which was the god’s birth month.

In current Mexican culture, piñatas are very popular during Christmastime as part of Las Posadas.  These are the festivities that happen the nine days before Christmas when people gather to reenact  the Virgin Mary and Joseph in a procession, searching for a place to have the birth of Jesus.  During the procession, a piñata is carried from house to house and when the last house is reached, there is a piñata party.  The traditional style piñata used for the procession is a multi-pointed star representing the Star of Bethlehem that guided the three wise men.

The vintage Zozobra piñatas were rather interesting!  This one is extremely popular in northern New Mexico and Santa Fe.  The Zozobra is part piñata and part marionette – an effigy – that is burned every year during the Santa Fe Fiestas in September.  He’s referred to as Old Man Gloom (OMG) and was introduced in 1926.  His burning is done to dispel the hardships and troubles of the past year.

Who knew there was such a rich history surrounding piñatas?!  Mom, Boogie and I had a lot of fun exploring the rest of museum afterward, but not before stopping for a photo shoot of us posing with a stick in front of a piñata!  If you are in Albuquerque between now and March 31, 2018, stop by the Hispanic National Cultural Center and check out this really unique exhibit.

 

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Honoring One Who Served

My dad, Praxedis S. Zuniga – posing on his plane. (1945-46)

Tomorrow is Veterans Day…a day set aside to honor the service of all US military veterans.  Today I was watching a DIY program and the man in the segment was talking about his father’s service and how when he died recently, he was buried at Arlington Cemetery.  He said just driving through the cemetery and seeing tombstone after tombstone that it really hit him…this is the price of freedom.  All these men and women who have served, and in many cases gave their lives in the field of combat.

I thought about the time I visited Arlington several years ago and remember having a similar feeling as I walked through and watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier.  Reading some of the headstones was somber as well…so many young lives.  Their young ages made me think about my father.

My dad was 20 years old when he enlisted in the Army in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  His occupation at the time was listed as fountain clerk in his hometown of Carlsbad.  He had already been taking flying lessons and wanted to be a pilot prior to enlisting.  Eventually he became a pilot instructor for the Army.  My mother always had a picture of dad visibly stationed in our home.  It’s a picture of dad in his uniform…you know the old saying – “I love a man in uniform.”  Well, I always loved this photo of my father in his uniform.

Praxedis Sotelo Zuniga – 1945-46

As I got into researching our family tree and history, I was fortunate enough to accumulate some more great photos of dad in uniform and by his plane.  For his memorial service in 2001, I created a scrapbook of these photos along with newspaper clippings that my grandmother had saved all these years from dad when he was star quarterback for the Carlsbad Cavemen football team.  He was so young…and so handsome!  Most of our family had never seen these photos either so it was a great memory to watch everyone’s reaction to them at the service.

I can’t think of a better way to honor my dad on Veterans Day then to share these photos today.  Our family is so proud of his service and how it shaped his life.  Happy Veterans Day.

Remembering A Veteran

My dad...in flight training

My dad…in flight training

Today is Veterans Day.  From the time I woke up this morning to just a few minutes ago, every other social media post today has been about Veterans and remembering their contributions to our country.  It has been a welcome diversion from the recent election and with the divisiveness of what has transpired, it really got me thinking about my dad and his brothers and their sacrifice as Mexican-Americans to our great country.

I don’t actually know a lot about what my dad and his brothers went through when they each joined the service but I do know about the time period when they enlisted and served.  I also know what my dad experienced when he was growing up in Carlsbad, New Mexico through letters I received from several of his classmates/football teammates after he passed away in 2001.  I’ll share those remembrances in another post.  But suffice it to say, it wasn’t all fun and acceptance back then.  My dad didn’t talk much about it, choosing to just tell certain stories without any reference to discrimination or unfairness.  I think that was his way of just working hard and getting ahead.  I admire that in him because later in life, it served me well as I grew up overseas and in Puerto Rico during my formative years.

Dad's Air Force pins an his pilot log books.

Dad’s Air Force pins an his pilot log books.

I wish I knew more about dad’s time in service to our country.  I regret that I didn’t talk to him about this but then again, there is no guarantee that he would have shared anything about this time either.  I’ve heard that sentiment from a number of people who I know.  These are memories that have remained locked away to some of those who served.

I love looking in my dad's pilot log books and seeing his handwriting as he documented his training...

I love looking in my dad’s pilot log books and seeing his handwriting as he documented his training…

What I do have are photos, dad’s pilot logs and a few other artifacts from those years.  I also have two yearbooks from his pilot training in Texas.  One in particular is very touching because dad had placed check marks beside the photos of his friends who didn’t make it back during the war.  I didn’t know what these check marks were until my mother shared that with me several years ago.

One of dad's training yearbooks....

One of dad’s training yearbooks….

So as today closes out, I am grateful for the sacrifices of my dad, Praxedis Sotelo Zuniga, his brothers – Felix and Lorenzo Zuniga – and all the faces in the two yearbooks made for our country.  Some paid the ultimate sacrifice and that is humbling to see in my dad’s yearbook, the faces of those brave young men who did this for our freedom.

On this Veterans Day, God Bless the brave men and women who have served this great nation of ours…

 

 

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The Official State Cookie of New Mexico!

Biscochitos - fresh out of the oven and on my dining room table!

Biscochitos – fresh out of the oven and on my dining room table!

Biscochitos!!!  Say this word to any Mexican and they will immediately begin to drool!  I kid you not!

These cookies are some of the best you will ever taste.  They are SO good that the New Mexico legislature named them the official state cookie in 1989!  Of course, the cookies go further back when the Spanish brought the recipe over from Spain to Mexico many moons ago…

My New Mexico Zuniga family makes the best biscochitos ever.  No lie…I always look forward to having a few at our family reunions…that is, if I can get to them in time!  They are in high demand and you really have to grab one when you can or they are gone in a flash!  Both my cousins Nelinda (aka Danda) and Hortencia (aka Wiro) each have their own unique recipes of this delicious cookie.

I’ve been doing a little research into the ingredients and decided to give this one a try for my annual cookie swap party.  I always make Mexican Wedding Cake cookies and one other in case a friend comes to the party and doesn’t have time to make cookies.  This year I decided on biscochitos as my “one other.”

Ingredients for my biscochitos...except for the cloves...I decided not to use those...

Ingredients for my biscochitos…except for the cloves…I decided not to use those…

One of the main ingredients in the recipe is lard.  Yep, LARD!  As my cousin Danda always says…when people see that the recipe takes one pound of lard, they get a little scared of these cookies!  I’ve seen a number of variations to this cookie but substituting lard for anything else is a no-no.  One of my cousins uses cloves in her recipe but I opted not to use this in mine.  One uses brandy in hers while my other cousin does not.  It’s interesting how a recipe can vary.  I decided on using the brandy and I can tell you…wow!!!  What a great flavor!

So let’s get started…

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sift the 6 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a bowl, and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together 2 cups of lard and 1 1/2 cups sugar until smooth. Mix in 1 teaspoon of anise extract (I over poured a bit), and beat until fluffy. Stir in 2 eggs, one at a time. Add the sifted ingredients and 1/4 cup of brandy, and stir until well blended.
  3. Roll dough into balls.
  4. Mix together the 1/4 cup of sugar and cinnamon; roll the balls in the mixture.
  5. Place cookies onto baking sheets and gently press down on the mixture so they aren’t perfectly round.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the bottoms are lightly browned.

Que bueno!!!  Here are a few photos of the prep work in a slideshow!

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The Fabulous Zuniga Men

Photos of my dad (center) and his two brothers - Lorenzo and Felix - from my Day of the Dead altar.

Photos of my dad (center) and his two brothers – Lorenzo and Felix – from my Day of the Dead altar.

Today is Veterans Day.

It’s a work holiday for my office.  I decided to stay at home today and take down my Day of the Dead altars.   While I was dismantling and gathering all the photos, I put aside the ones of my dad and his brothers in their military uniforms.

The Zuniga Brothers…Praxedis, Lorenzo and Felix….

All the Zuniga men were Veterans.  All so handsome.  All so ready to serve in some capacity.  Today I reflected on these photos and those that my extended Zuniga family posted on social media.  Today I took some time to reflect upon their sacrifice for our freedom.

Thank you dad, Uncle Lencho and Uncle Felix…so proud of you all.

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My dad…Praxedis Sotelo Zuniga

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Uncle Lorenzo Zuniga

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Uncle Felix Zuniga

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Uncle Lencho and my dad – Praxedis Zuniga

 

A Quick Stop at the Thrift Store…

Grab bag of ornaments from New Mexico - plus one Hallmark ornament from the thrift store!

Grab bag of ornaments from New Mexico – plus one Hallmark ornament from the thrift store!

Just like the title of this post…every time I make a “quick” stop at a thrift store, I always come away with some fabulous finds!

My baby sister, Kanista, is to blame for my obsession with thrift store shopping.  She lives in North Carolina and has a Saturday routine of breakfast and then waiting at her favorite thrift store for the doors to open.  I went with her a few years ago and saw very quickly that she had a definite system for going through the racks of clothes and the shelves of tchotchkes.  We left that store with two large bags of great finds!  I was officially OBSESSED!

Back in Alabama, I developed my own “system” when stopping by certain thrift stores that I now frequent.  A few of my favorites include the Salvation Army stores – both in Hoover and on Green Springs highway, Lovelady Thrift and 55th Place in Woodlawn.  Alabama Thrift in Alabaster is another good one but I don’t get out there as often.

This past Saturday though, I decided to make the trip to Alabaster and see what I could find.  I was running errands in the area so I allotted about 30 minutes before I needed to get back to Hoover.  First I started through the knickknacks.  They had SO much Christmas stuff out already and Christmas music was blaring through the store.  Honestly, I was a little annoyed and not quite wanting to hear Christmas music yet.  I walked through the dishes and platters and low and behold, I found a Mexican pottery dish in green and bright yellow!  Beautiful!  And it was sectioned like a lazy susan.  I turned it over and the price was $3.99.  Score!

Mexican pottery piece found at Alabama Thrift store for $3.99!

Mexican pottery piece found at Alabama Thrift store for $3.99!

I next went through the clothes and found an Anne Klein pea-coat for $4.99 and an Eileen Fisher Italian yarn pink sweater for $4.99.  Not bad!  I was running out of time so I went through the knickknacks one more time and as I was rounding one of the aisles saw a bunch of “grab bag” Christmas items.  Now, these grab bags don’t generally get my attention.  Usually they are “like” items bunched together for a quick sale.  But one of the bags got my attention…

I saw a round clay ornament with the words – New Mexico – on it.  I picked up the bag and noticed several other clay ornaments – a kokopelli, a lizard, prairie dog, mission church and two tepees.  There was also a 1997 Hallmark ornament – a mouse in a Mexican sombrero!  Now, I have collected Hallmark ornaments since they first came out in the 1970s so this was right up my alley!  The price tag for all of these items… $2.99!!!  Cannot WAIT to add these to my Mexican Christmas tree this year!  They are going to be perfect!  (Stay tuned to a future post!)

Hallmark "Feliz Navidad" ornament from 1997 - part of the grab bag items.

Hallmark “Feliz Navidad” ornament from 1997 – part of the grab bag items.

So I walked away from Alabama Thrift with all these items just under $20!  I DO love a bargain!!!

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Salsa Señorita, the Tamale Task Force and the HICA Tapes.

Carlos Aleman, Lori Sours, Clementine Tufts and myself at the HICA tamale sale video filming this month.

Carlos Aleman, Lori Sours, Clementine Tufts and myself at the HICA tamale sale video filming this month.

Sounds like Hispanic intrigue, doesn’t it? But it’s really a new way for the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama – better known as HICA – to get the word out about their annual tamale sale!

Some of the many varieties of Salsa Señorita Salsa!

Some of the many varieties of Salsa Señorita Salsa!

Since our tamale sale took a little “siesta” last year we decided to create a Tamale Task Force of staff and board members to really amp things up this year!  I love it when creativity starts to flow and everyone throws out any and ALL ideas, no matter how crazy they may seem.  We narrowed down our list and decided to make a few YouTube videos.  We invited Lori Sours, co-creator of Salsa Señorita, to join us and make and share some of her tasty recipes using her delicious salsa.  Two years ago, Lori was gracious enough to partner with us on our 2013 tamale sale.  During tamale pick up day, we used to get questions like “do you have any salsa for sale to go with the tamales?”  – and so that year we had salsa on site for sale thanks to Lori!

UAB Film Making Graduate - Jessica Chriesman - works the angles during the tamale sale videos. This one features Lori Sours, co-creator of Salsa Senorita and Ernesto Martinez of Hacienda Grill.

UAB Film Making Graduate – Jessica Chriesman – works the angles during the tamale sale videos. This one features Lori Sours, co-creator of Salsa Senorita and Ernesto Martinez of Hacienda Grill.

We worked with UAB Film-making graduate, Jessica Chriesman, to create the videos and had a blast in the process.  Lori came ready with recipes for four segments.  Who knew you could make so many delicious dishes with salsa?  The first was a beer cocktail also called a michelada.  Seriously, there was salsa in that beer drink!  Lori also made a salsa slaw, guacamole with salsa and finally a salsa cheese dip!  Ernesto Martinez of Hacienda Mexican Grill did the michelada segment – lucky guy!  I got the slaw segment and not only did Lori add salsa to the slaw…she also added honey!  OMGEEE!  It was SO DELISH!  Never would have thought of that combination in a million years!

Carlos Aleman studies his lines as Lori Sours sets up for their guacamole segment of the HICA tamale sale videos.

Carlos Aleman studies his lines as Lori Sours sets up for their guacamole segment of the HICA tamale sale videos.

Carlos Aleman, History Professor at Samford University, got the guacamole segment.  I was a little jealous because I absolutely LOVE guacamole.  There was plenty though and we all dug into guac with chips between segments.  Maricela Garcia rounded things out with the cheese dip segment.  Before each segment began, we would run though lines and during Carlos’ and Lori’s segment, they got tickled about something and kept breaking out into laugher!  You know how it is…no matter how hard you try, you just keep breaking out into laughter?  That went on for a little while until we were all laughing.  I think we may have a great “out-takes’ video in the making!  Jessica was definitely patient with us all as we goofed up, goofed around and well…acted goofy!  (Thanks Jessica!)

Of course in addition to promoting Salsa Señorita and the recipes, we also had tamales on hand with information on how to order beginning Thanksgiving through December 11th.  We had pork, chicken and my favorite – cheese and pepper tamales in these videos.  I had not eaten much that day so I devoured whatever I could!

Photo opp with Lori after our salsa slaw segment.

Photo opp with Lori after our salsa slaw segment.

Spending the afternoon with Lori was the best.  She is so down to earth and really loves what she does.  A native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, she and her brother, Mark Coffman, created a salsa company based on their mother’s recipe.  They use all natural ingredients and as she describes – “it’s vegetables in a jar with a kick!”  Growing up she said her family put salsa on everything.  I told her I could relate with my own New Mexican family!  We got into an animated conversation about Hatch chile peppers and she told me she keeps a freezer full at her house.  I showed her a picture of my cousin Nino, in Alaska, getting ready to roast a huge batch of peppers and she said she could relate!

The videos will be ready soon.  I’ll provide the links so you can get a sense of the fun we had filming that day as well as the great salsa recipes.  And remember, if you are in the Birmingham area and want some great tamales, you can buy them through HICA’s website beginning Thanksgiving day through December 11th!  And guess what…we’ll be selling Salsa Senorita too!  Be sure to buy a jar or two on pick up day.  A portion of the proceeds will go to HICA!

Muchas gracias, Salsa Señorita!  And HUGE shout out to HICA staff members, Clementine Tufts and Holly Hilton for handling all the arrangements and logistics of the day!

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