Glittery Mexican Weddings

When I think of all the Mexican weddings I’ve attended in my life there’s always certain parts that we as Mexicanos have to include in the ceremony – the lazos that bind the newlyweds, the arras – a gift to the bride from the groom, the dollar dance, the mariachis and the padrinos! Lots and lots of padrinos!

There’s something about our culture that has no problem asking the padrinos to help pay for the wedding. I’ve seen invitations that had a couple of pages of padrinos – for the dress, the cake, the salon, the flowers, invitations, and on and on and on.

But overall our weddings are pretty standard. The beautiful bride in a white dress, all her damas in matching colors and the groomsmen in tuxedos.

Nearly four years ago I got the idea to make wedding favors that had a Mexican theme. To me what is more Mexican then Loteria, Luchadores, Dia de los Muertos and La Virgen de Guadalupe?

Yeah I make favors with all those themes and a few others. They are small matchboxes with La Calavera or La Sirena on the cover and then surrounded by the most vibrant glitters I can find. They pop with color like a serape, talavera, or a pinata. The colors are endless from blues and greens, to magenta and purple, gold and silver!

I bought my first set of Mexican matchboxes in 2010. The boxes were on my desk for an entire year. I would pick them up and turn them over in my hand and I kept telling myself I should be able to make something with them. About the same time I ordered some Day of the Dead graphics online and knew somehow the pictures and the boxes would come together.

An entire year went by before I made my first Dia de los Muertos matchbox favors. Within weeks of putting them online they started selling. At first by the dozens, then by the hundreds.

But over the years rarely have my customers been Mexicanos. When I’ve shown my wedding favors to Hispanic friends they’re shocked that anyone would include calaveras, catrina or luchadores in any part of their wedding. They always ask, “why would someone give these away at their wedding? Why?”

The customers have always been Americanos who wanted to add some fun and color to their weddings. Their weddings have a Mexican theme or they’re traveling to Cabo or the Yucatan for a destination wedding. The matchboxes are very popular with same-sex couples who are finally getting the opportunity to celebrate their own marriages.

Over time I’ve made tens of thousands of wedding favors and sold them all over the world. From Australia to Canada, from Italy to Indonesia, couples have given the tiny treats to their guests filled with matches, Mexican chicle or candies. Others have added milagros, jewelry and gambling money. They’ve been sold in gift shops and festivals in New York City, Europe and Australia.

In the last year I’ve finally noticed that more of my customers are Hispanic. Some want to pay tribute to parents who migrated from south of the border, others are marrying someone from Mexico and they want just a touch of the culture as part of the ceremony. One couple ordered Loteria favors because the groom remembered playing the game as a young child and he told me the favors brought him such wonderful memories of his childhood.

My wedding favors are available on my website or Etsy at

Mastering the Masa

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There’s a bad joke that says, “why do Mexicans make tamales for Christmas? So we can have something to open Christmas morning.” I know it’s corny and some probably think it’s politically incorrect, but the holidays are over so for Mexican-Americans that means we’re done eating tamales until next December.

I don’t think I know a single Mexican or Mexican-American family that doesn’t eat tamales during the holidays. We start talking about making and eating them just about the time we finish with the Thanksgiving turkey. Every family has their own recipe – which usually only grandma knows. And you know grandmas – they don’t use recipes!

That’s why my mom and my aunt decided years ago they were going to teach us how to make tamales. Mom and Tia Espi were really the only ones on my maternal side of the family who could make the masa and the carne for the tamales. The cousins knew how to assemble them, but we always left the meat and masa to our moms.

So Tamalada 2000 was born. We all knew what went into the process – masa, pork roast, chicken, spices, corn husks and lard and lots of it.

Now imagine trying to make one dish for dinner and having about a dozen people give their opinions on how to make it? Mix in several bottles of wine, some beer and you can imagine what that first tamalada was like.

In the kitchen the big questions were how many packages of black peppercorns and cumin do you grind in the molcajete for the meat? How much garlic do we need? Are we putting in too much chili powder? Of course my aunt and mom never used recipes they just judged the flavor and knew everything would work out.

In the dining room we had this giant mound of masa on the table and we kept adding lard, chicken broth, salt and chili powder until mom said the masa looked good and shiny.

We think the only way to decide if the masa is truly ready for the tamales is to make gorditas. You take a handful of masa and pat it down until you have a small, fat tortilla – hence the word gordita – which is Spanish for “a little bit fat.” Cook the gorditas on a hot cast iron skillet, turning them once or twice until the masa is cooked.

Now comes the real test when we break apart the gordita so everyone can have a tiny taste and give their opinions about the masa. Does it need more salt, should we add more lard, does it lack chili powder? Those same dozen people who were giving their opinions earlier about the carne and masa are the same ones giving their opinions on the masa, but really only mom and Tia Espi’s opinions counted.

Once we determined the masa was perfect it was time to make gorditas!

That’s right … here’s where I tell you that my family isn’t big on tamales. We each only eat a few during the holidays. It’s not that we don’t like them, we just don’t eat them a lot. Instead we made several dozen gorditas and layered them with the spicy meat, refried beans, guacamole and pico de gallo. You can also add a green salsa, queso fresco, jalapenos or diced onions. Either way they are delicious!

Now it’s time to make the tamales, laugh over lame jokes, retell stories of the stupid things we did as children growing up and make memories. For three years we got together in December and went through the whole routine all over again.

We made beautiful memories. Then tragedy struck in 2003. My aunt Espi got sick and died two weeks before Christmas. It took years before we got together to make tamales again, but it just wasn’t the same. How could we make tamales when one half of the reason we were together is missing? The tamaladas ended, but my mom and aunt had accomplished what they wanted … they’d taught their children how to make tamales.

This Christmas my mother wanted to make tamales. My sister suggested we order them, but I wanted to make them just like mom and Tia Espi had shown us. I made the masa all by myself. I shared the first gordita with mom who said it needed more lard and salt.

In a molcajete my Tia Gloria, mom’s oldest sister, gave me when I went away to college in 1981 I ground the black peppercorns, garlic and comino. My sister and brother arrived just in time to try out the new and improved gorditas and help mix the huge pot of spicy carne. Then the four of us laughed, ate and made new memories.

I thought to myself, “wow I mastered the masa. Mom and Tia Espi really did show us how to make tamales.”

A border crisis

As long as we have different political parties we will always have a difference of opinions.

A U.S. House congressional hearing was held recently in McAllen, Texas to discuss the current immigration crisis that has swept across South Texas – thousands of illegal immigrants making their way from Central America to the United States of America.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is adamant the flow of immigrants must stop.

“Unless the United States clearly sends the message that we are not going to allow this flow … it will be a deluge (of immigrants),” he testified at the hearing. “You can not come to the United States just because someone is handing out a flyer.”

The flyer he mentions refers to the rumors spreading throughout countries in Central America that if immigrants, especially women with small children, make their way to the United States they will be allowed to stay in the U.S.

I’m broken up over the issue.

I think I understand the plight of the women – thousands upon thousands of them – wanting to leave what they say are their battle scarred, cartel controlled towns. I have nothing in my life to even begin to comprehend what their families have endured.

A few weeks ago I drove near the bus station wondering if I’d find Central Americans arriving in the Valley. It didn’t take but a few seconds to find a group walking through town.

Four young women with eight small children. In one hand each woman held tightly to the youngest children and in the other they each carried backpacks and jackets.

That’s it. No luggage. No food. No car. No smartphone. No ear buds. Just 12 people 1000 miles away from home walking along a street in the Rio Grande Valley in the middle of a blistering South Texas afternoon.

This month the militia announced they’re coming to South Texas to “stop an invasion,” according to the Minuteman Project website. They’re looking for 3,500 non-militia volunteers for “Project Normandy.”

Oh dear Lord that’s all we need in the Rio Grande Valley … another influx of Americans making their way to the border.

Each time I read another story I wonder should the immigrants be allowed to remain in our country or should they be sent back to their own? Should the militiamen and others be allowed to stay in our communities or should we send them back to their own?

What do you put in your taquitos?

Mexican-Taquitos Growing up in Southern California and South Texas my mom always made tacos for dinner – lightly fried corn tortillas with seasoned carne picada, tomato, onions, cilantro and guacamole.

And if she was making tacos for dinner then mom was most certainly making her Mexican rice to go on the side. I love the smell of comino being toasted with onion and freshly ground black pepper.

But now when I eat tacos I think of taquitos – tiny corn tortillas filled with savory meat. In theory they’re just like my mom’s, but they’re different. They just are.

We used to have to go to Mexico to enjoy the four-inch little tacos that came half a dozen to an order. In Nuevo Progreso, Tamaulipas, they sell the tacos from carts pushed along the caliche filled streets.

Others set up what you might call pick-up-and-go restaurants on street corners. Each morning they set up their cart, a few tables and chairs, and fill an ice chest with Mexican Cokes.

Nowadays these tacos can be found in every Mexican restaurant in the Rio Grande Valley. And just like in Nuevo Progreso, the most difficult decision is deciding whether to have your taquitos with finely chopped fajitas, bistec or tripas.

The meat choice has never mattered to me because they all taste delicious. The tiny tacos are going to be covered in sauteed onions, cilantro and grated queso fresco.

Praying to Pancho Villa?

image I understand the power of prayer. It is part of my daily life. It is how I was raised. We went to Catholic school as children. We had to say our prayers during class and the nuns had us go to confession often.

Growing up my grandmother always kept an altar in her bedroom with a large statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe,  a rosary and pictures of loved ones. She always had  a candle burning as part of her faith.

But I am certain none of those candles ever had an image of Pancho Villa. La Virgen – yes. St. Jude – surely. Jesus Christ – definitely! But Pancho Villa is a definite no.

I came across these candles in the one tiny store you’ll find in Lozano, Texas. It is a community off the beaten path. The store had candles like my grandmother used, but right in the front it had these red candles with Pancho Villa.

I’m certain my grandmother never would have said her prayers to Pancho Villa even though my dad, her oldest son who was named after her brother, was nicknamed Pancho.

A drive along the border

South Texas clouds It was a beautiful day in South Texas today, so I told my mom to get in the truck and we took a long drive out in the country.

I drove the Military Highway which borders the Rio Grande – the river that separates the U.S. from Mexico.

In the distance you could see the Border Patrol and the security towers that mark the river’s edge.

Don’t mess up Mexican salsa

Mexican dinner

Pico de gallo with Mexican tacos and arroz

You can’t have a Mexican meal without pico de gallo … that’s our version of ketchup.

Don’t try to make it all fancy and add lime, chipolte, organic this or that. Pico de gallo needs tomato, onion, cilantro and serrano peppers. That’s it. Nothing else.

I love cilantro so I always make sure I have equal parts tomato, onion and cilantro … it taste better and looks beautiful.

If spicy salsa isn’t for you take out the serranos. Add a touch of salt and pepper, a few tablespoons of water and a drizzle of olive oil and you’ve mastered pico de gallo.

Ready for a Mexican Easter celebration?

You can’t have a family Easter along the Texas-Mexico border without dozens of cascarones.

What are they you ask? Colorful egg shells filled with confetti that you’ll crack on everyone’s head.

In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas there’s three ways to get a hold of cascarones.

The traditional method is to start saving the egg shells months ahead of the holiday. Each time you make breakfast, you gently crack the egg shell on the pointy top and peel back a small circular section of the shell. Shake out the egg, rinse the shell and set the shell aside to dry.

When you make breakfast the next day you’ll do it all over again. Maybe you baked a cake for work or cupcakes for your children. Save those shells as well. You’ll soon realize you’ve got several dozen egg shells.

A few days before Easter get your family together and dye the eggs. You can buy prepackaged dye kits, use food coloring or just let the kids go silly with markers. Fill the eggs with confetti, put a dab of glue along the edge and seal them with a piece of colorful tissue paper.

But like all things the Easter tradition has changed for many families. If you’re watching your cholesterol and might not eat a lot of eggs. Maybe you forgot to save them or just don’t have the time. That’s when you can visit your local grocery or discount store and buy the eggs already painted and filled with confetti. For less than $2 a dozen you’ll have the same fun as if you’d dyed the eggs yourself.

Option number three is paying the people at the street corner for cascarones.

That’s right. In the Rio Grande Valley lots of folks save egg shells all year long. Others collect them from restaurants or friends and family. They color and fill the eggs and then sell them at busy intersections a few days before Easter. For about $6 you can buy a tray of 2.5 dozen ready made confetti eggs.

However you get your cascarones, trust me everyone will have fun!