Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cristina Potters is Mexico Cooks!

For the first time in 2010 Morelia en Boca started showcasing Mexico’s gastronomic culture in Michoacán’s colonial capital.  Once a year traditional cooking methods, along with new trends in the culinary world are brought together in what has become one of the most significant gastronomic events in the country. Cristina Potters is among those to have been present since the beginning. Her close relationship with several of the event organizers gives Potters, whose website Mexico Cooks is praised by Lonely PlanetTravel Age West, and Mexico Premiere, an intimate view of this year’s event.  She confesses she couldn’t miss this year because “of the homage being paid to my good friend (restaurateur of Mexico City’s El Bajio) Carmen “Titita” Ramirez. I am also looking forward to learning about new products from Michoacán, seeing friends and exploring more about cuisines of Mexico and Michoacán from chefs and other producers.” After more than thirty years living in and traveling through Mexico, you’d think that Potters would have found her full, but the gray-haired, blue-eyed foodie is passionate about talking and partaking in gastronomic culture.

Photo Source: Taste of Tequila
Cristina’s first encounter with Mexican cooking was in the convent where she was living when she first arrived in Mexico. Volunteering in the overcrowded Tijuana jail, handing out food to the inmates, it was Mexico in the 80s. “I was studying a postgraduate degree in psychology and theology in the Northwest of the United States, volunteering with a group of people who were working with mentally ill addicts who were homeless. The Bishop of Tijuana got in touch with us. One of the other volunteers, a nun, had a close relationship with Mother Theresa and the Bishop had the hopes that Mother Theresa’s order could help with a very similar situation in Tijuana.” 

As it turned out, Cristina and some of the other volunteers ended up in Tijuana later that year.  That was Cristina’s very first contact with Mexico and Spanish. “I felt like a fish that had been caught and then thrown back into the water. It was bizarre. I loved it!” Her love for Mexico was marked by a disciplined dedication to learning the language. “I would wake up an hour earlier than everyone else and study Spanish. I had an old grammar book that I would use and a Spanish dictionary that I would read. I would memorize five new words a day and make a point of using them in conversation.” Her devotion to learning came turned out to be one of her best investments. She remained in Mexico and even became a Mexican citizen about a decade ago.

Food has been the common thread throughout Cristina’s life in her adopted land. “The first person I came close to in Tijuana was a man who had been in jail for four months.” The inmate, Sergio, was a coyote. “I was handing out food to the prisoners when this hand came out and grabbed my arm. ´Sister, do you speak English? Can you help me?´” After helping Sergio get back in touch with his family in California, Cristina received a Christmas card for years. “It was moving to be able to make an impact on a person’s life like that.” Two and half years later, Cristina’s culinary journey through Mexico continued with a trip to the heart of the country.  Traveling from Tijuana to Michoacán with a nun friend, Cristina found herself 10,000 feet above sea level in a very humble home in rural Tancitaro, Michoacán.  Her month long trip sparked in her a fervor for Michoacán and its food.  “We would eat fresh milk that we’d buy straight from the farmer who’d measure out the milk directly into the pot.  We’d have a piece of pan dulce for breakfast, maybe a piece of fruit. The tortillas were made by hand every day.”

Back in the convent in Tijuana, Cristina learned all she could about cooking Mexican food.  “I didn’t know anything about Mexican food. I knew about cooking, but I didn’t know the first things about how to make a green sauce.”

Cristina affirms that her two main passions in life are food and politics and though she insists the former is “neutral” while the latter is left leaning, her thoughts on GMOs seem to go the same way as her politics. “GMOs mess up the regional cuisines.  Those Monsanto crops, the corn, can cross-pollenate with the native criollo corn. The problem is that the GMO corn is infertile. The seeds are saved from one year to the next, and if the seeds are not fertile, the criollo corn will die off.  Plus, you can’t make a Oaxacan dish with corn from Michoacán. These corns are specific to their region. Those three color tortillas are not gonna happen if the criollo corn disappears!” Her passion for food and politics merge, and Cristina Potters´s love for Mexico is as clear as mezcal joven. Her love for learning translates easily into a love for education and sharing knowledge.  She asks me if I know how to pick out Chinese chile de arbol.  “Chinese chile de arbol?” I am incredulous.  She nods and explains. “If there is no stem, or seeds and it is flat, you can be sure those chiles are Chinese.  They pick off the stems, so there is no excess weight and the same with the seeds. They are flat because they are packed tight.  These chiles are flavorless and bland.” And what about jamaica flowers, she asks me. “The jamaica flower is also being imported from other countries like The Sudan.  The jamaica flower that is dark purple is usually Mexican but ask your marchante if it is nacional.”  Buy local and national food. Now those are political ideals I can get behind and, happily put in my mouth.

Cristina Potters lives in Mexico City with her wife, cellist Judith McKnight. She writes regularly for her blog, Mexico Cooks!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

American Food and Old Mexico

With yet another Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, I´d like to pause a moment and reflect upon the definition of American food. American food  is as varied as it is hard to define.  From beignets to burritos, barbecue to clam chowder, American food is nothing more and nothing less then a hodge podge of flavors, ingredients and culinary traditions from around the world.  

Keeping that in mind, take a look at this map showing the pre-1848 war US-Mexican border.  Then appreciate how much of America is really not that "American" after all.  After the war, basically from one day to the next, a large portion of Mexico became a part of the United States. Which means the food that people ate did the same, it stayed in the same communities but with a different name. The border might have moved but the people didn't. So the next time someone offers you some "good, old fashioned American" food, ask them which kind of tacos they have. 

Note: My apologies to those who caught my mispelling of beignets, just thinking about them makes me lose focus....

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Online Learning: Effective Thinking Through Mathematics

Readers on this blog know that I am an online education advocate, having been an online instructor and a MOOC student for several years now. I have been asked to review a website that helps you learn languages in an easy and entertaining manner, so keep an eye out for that post.


Writers are constantly re-writing, reviewing, reassessing their work. Several months ago I found myself stuck on a particular piece of writing, not sure if I was obsessively reviewing and not advancing becauase of it.  A step back and new perspective was needed, I had to look at my work from a new light.  It just so happened that around the same time an email from featuring new courses caught my eye.  I read the description of one of the courses,  EffectiveThinking Through Mathematics and thought that was just what I needed.  I signed up and several weeks later the Professor, the quirky and constantly jovial, Michael Starbird, introduced himself in a Youtube video.  Professor Starbird began by presenting the elements of effective thinking.  According to Starbird, there are five elements of effective thinking. First you must understand deeply, second, you must be willing to make mistakes, third raise questions, ask yourself ‘what’s missing?’, the fourth element of effective thinking is to follow the flow of ideas, while having a perspective on your life, and finally, the fifth element is to change, to become a different person.

This course, as it turns out, did not have a direct impact on my writing, but rather in how I approach problems in my daily life.  I have started to take a step back and look at different problems in my life using effective thinking strategies.  And as it so happens, it also has helped me with my sixth grader´s math homework.  We can sit down together and work through problems using the elements of effective thinking!  When we do this, I have to say that the element of effective thinking that I appreciate the most, is the second element, because when making mistakes is ok, we can learn more effectively from them. And where parenting is concerned, learning from mistakes is a given. So it turns out, that my need for perspective on my writing has lead me to a new perspective on parenting. 

For more information on Professor Starbird or courses, please visit

Sunday, May 11, 2014

When Life Takes Over

Lately, I have not been writing a lot.  It has been more than a month since I have posted here. My readership has taken a nose dive. This is thanks to that fact that there have been some major changes in my life. Among them being, a divorce and surgery. Life has taken over and my writing has had to wait. The lull in my posts and my other online collaborations isn't permanent. In the meanwhile, as I get my posts going again, I am going to explore the usefullness of recycling old ideas. I'm taking out some old posts, dusting them off, and sharing them here, just like Professor Michael Starbird suggests trying in his online class Effective Thinking Through Mathematics, so for now, here are some posts from that past that I hope you enjoy: