Dia de los Muertos Sugar Skulls Tutorial

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By now, almost everyone knows of Dia de los Muertos or has at least seen the colorful altars and ornately decorated sugar skills that are emblematic of this Mexican holiday. Interestingly, it’s origins are ancient, rooted in a pre-Columbian past. Modern day festivities take place on November 2 and include visiting graves of deceased family members and bringing them some of their favorite foods and beverages for offerings. This holiday is all about celebrating the dearly departed.

At home, a simple altar can be created with sugar skulls, marigolds, and photos of the deceased. We also include some of their favorite food items in the form of clay representations. Here you will find a simple tutorial on how to assemble sugar skulls.

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Since they will be decorated, sugar skulls are usually made of plain white sugar. This time, I made two batches- one plain as usual and the other got a hit of glitter for extra sparkle.

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You’ll need a plastic skull mold, cardboard squares, utensil for mixing, bench scraper or the back of a large knife, granulated sugar, meringue powder, water, and glitter if you’re want to make ‘em flashy (optional).

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Combine sugar, meringue powder, and water and thoroughly incorporate until the mixture resembles beach sand. It should be damp and when squeezed in your hand it should hold its shape. If you can see your finger marks, it’s ready.

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Pack the mold and scrape the excess sugar off with a bench scraper or use the back of a large knife.

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You will want a completely smooth surface.

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Invert onto a cardboard square and place onto a paper lined sheetpan. Let dry uncovered for 24 hours. The following day, they will be rock hard and ready to attach the front and back of the heads with royal icing. The decorative elements for faces are made with colored royal icing, glitter, and colorful pieces of foil.

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Sugar Skulls

yield: 2 small- medium size skulls

2 cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons meringue powder

2 teaspoon water, more if necessary

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52 Weeks: 43/52

Oh, it was a busy week this time around. Not only did we get a lot of mundane stuff checked off the “to- do” list but we also went camping!

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“Are there any showers? How about running water?” This is my response when I get asked about going camping. I’m good for a day, that’s 1 day without a shower and I will be counting down the hours until it’s time to come home and take a hot shower and free myself from the dust and grime. Since there are long stretches between camping trips, each time is like starting new again for me. Meaning, I need to be eased in, starting with an overnight.

We went to Paso Picacho near Julian for my first camping trip in I don’t remember how many years. I am happy to report that there are hot showers, clean restrooms, and the car parking is right next to each camp site. We were off to a good start.

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Catching moths while keeping mosquitos away.

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I can sometimes be convinced to camp if there are marshmallows involved. I like mine charred.

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Early morning walk up Stonewall Peak. It looks a lot bigger in real life. Thankfully it was very early in the morning and the trail was mostly shaded.

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We saw a lot of manzanita and these gnarled trees with white bark.

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Success! Made it to the summit and this nice panorama view was rewarding and so was a few minutes’ rest before my favorite part… downhill!

I have to say, this turned out to be a nice quick trip and I can add it to my mental list of acceptable camp sites which I would return to. Maybe next time it can be stretched for 2 days, but let’s not rush it just yet.

Hope you’re weekend was great.

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The Strange and Unusual

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It’s that time again. Time for pumpkins, goblins, and ghouls. I like Halloween for the creative costumes, candy, decorations, but most of all, I love the creep factor. I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I can’t resist a good ghost story, a tour of historic houses with stories of hauntings and strange goings-ons, and old graveyards with tombstones and mausoleums. The older, the better.

In the spirit of Halloween and my fascination with the strange, here’s a roundup of some of the interesting and worthwhile creepy places I’ve visited, some more than once.

La Isla de Las Munecas

Xochimilco/Mexico City

Original Post here

No trip to Mexico City is complete without a visit to Xochimilco (for me). I always insist on a visit to this lake and an even further excursion via trajinera out to the remote chinampa of Don Julian. Obviously, it’s the hanging baby dolls, doll parts, and hallowed out eyes of heads that are the main draw here as they seem to have multiplied in recent years. The shack is where you’ll find the oldest and creepiest ones.

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 Castillo Torre Salvana

Colonia Guell/Santa Coloma de Cervelló

Original Post here

We spotted this castle from a distance and decided to do some trespassing. It’s magnificent from the outside, but inside is where you’ll get the chills. It’s downright dilapidated, but what can one expect afterall, it dates from 992. That’s 992, folks! Among many claims of paranormal activity, the scariest of all is the claim that it has a portal to hell.

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Sorrell Weed House

6 W Harris Street/Savannah, GA/ 31401

Original post here

Wealthy plantation owner, infidelity, suicide, and grisly deaths… the Sorrell Weed House has all the elements of a tragic story. The midnight ghost tour further entices morbid curiosities with all the trappings of a spooky haunting and the possibility of experiencing hair-raising paranormal activity for yourself. If you dare…

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Basilica Sants Just i Pastor

Pl Sant Just, 6/ Barri Gòtic/Barcelona

Original Post here

This is the church to visit if you want to view a nightmarish altar of unfortunate souls aglow in the pit of hell. Actually, this gothic church is a marvel of its own and quite eerie if you’re the only one in there. Don’t miss the skulls etched into the floor that also serve as headstones.

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Hotel Connor

164 Main Street/Jerome, AZ

Whispers in the night, cold sensations, doors opening by themselves, and laughter coming from empty rooms are just a few of the ghostly reports associated with rooms in this hotel. Located in the ghost town of Jerome, Arizona, the Connor Hotel and Spirit Room was built during the mining heyday only to suffer repeated destruction from fire and eventual abandonment after the decline in mining. Luckily, the hotel was reopened and once again hosts visitors of this historic town.

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 House of the Devil

Calle Josep Torres 20/Barcelona

Original Post here

Who wants to sell their soul to the devil in exchange for a profitable business? Augustin Atzerias, that’s who. As one might guess, shortly after making a pact with the devil, Mr. Atzerias hit it big with a winning lottery ticket and held up his end of the bargain. To show his undying loyalty, Mr. Atzerias went about decorating his palatial home with ghoulish demon heads much to the chagrin of his neighbors. As if the terrifying heads were not enough, there were also murals depicting hell on the facade that have long since been destroyed and covered up.

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Chicken Tomatillo Tacos

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As the nights get a bit cooler, the grill gets far less action and the slow cooker makes its grand appearance. I love my slow cooker and am always looking for new recipes that practically cook themselves. I tend to prep everything at night before bedtime and right before I retire for the night, the slow cooker gets switched on and voila! By morning, dinner is made.

This recipe is more labor intensive as it calls for de-boning chicken breast and thighs and making a quick chicken stock from scratch. If you’re pressed for time and want a quicker way, you can brown the chicken, bones on and all, add the vegetables and saute for a few minutes. Remove and place the whole lot into a slow cooker and cover with water. It will still yield a flavorful dish and is perfectly acceptable when short on time and who isn’t, right? But for the times when you have some extra to spare, you’ll love the full blown homemade chicken stock version and bonus! Extra stock for future delicious dishes like soups, sauces, braises, etc… But, be warned, this recipe is spicy so if you’re sensitive to spicy foods, just scale back the chiles to 2-3 and you should be fine.

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For the Chicken:

yield: 4 servings

1 breast, bone in

2 thighs, bone in

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 celery rib, chopped

1 teaspoon peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

6 cups water

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Remove the bones from the chicken pieces and set the meat aside. Make a simple chicken stock by browning chicken bones in a neutral oil such a grapeseed oil. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are softened but not brown. Add the water, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cover partially with the lid, simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 hours. Add salt, stir to dissolve and strain into a clean container.

Place the boneless chicken breast and thighs into a slow cooker. Pour in chicken stock, enough to just cover the chicken. You will have leftover stock to save for a soup or freeze for future use.

Set the slow cooker for 6-8 hours (depending on how much time you have).

Tomatillo Salsa:

8 tomatillos, husked and washed

10 red chile peppers

1 clove garlic

splash of white vinegar

salt to taste

Blacken the tomatillos, peppers, and garlic over a gas flame, dry skillet, or on a comal. Place all in a blender and process until smooth.

When the chicken is done in the slow cooker, shread the meat and add about 1/4 cup of the salsa. Gently mix to combine. Serve with cubed avocado and cilantro.

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52 Weeks: 42/52

It sure doesn’t feel like fall yet, but at least it has cooled down quite a bit and I’m, loving it. See? What a nice day it was. Here’s what we were up to this week:

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Trying to squeeze in some activities after work but it was a race against the clock with the sun setting much earlier.

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This reminds me of bocce and makes me think of having a glass of wine to go with a leisurely game.

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These seeds are kinda creepy.

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Late night dining and the coco loco. There are shrimp hidden inside.

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Getting ready to make more sugar skulls.

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We took a sailing lesson and it was so much fun, but lots more work than I could have ever imagined. I’ll be back to try again next time.

Hope you’re having a fantastic weekend!

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A Day in Valle de Guadalupe

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Each time we visit Valle de Guadalupe, new restaurants seem to have popped up along with luxury lodging, more tasting rooms, and vineyards. Just last week we watched an old video of our very first trip to Valle de Guadalupe when there was only a small handful of wineries- L.A. Cetto, Domecq, and Dona Lupe. Although times have clearly changed and there are many more boutique wineries to choose from, it’s still nice to know that the valley retains its rural charm. This is truly what keeps us coming back.

This last time, we carefully planned an all day trip with friends complete with wine tastings, lunch, and dinner. Two winery visits plus a long and leisurely lunch in the valley turned out to be just the right amount of planned activity for our group without being too rushed. Any more than that and we would have to stay overnight to get it all in. For a day trip from San Diego, this was just right and even included a stop for dinner before crossing back over.

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Vena Cava

Exit left near Km. 88/Follow the signs approximately 3 miles to La Villa del Valle/Valle de Guadalupe/website

Vena Cava was our first destination as we knew our friends would enjoy the wines here and besides, we had wine of our own purchased from our first trip (more here) that we needed to pick up. Once again, we enjoyed the tasting, had a great time, and bought even more wine. Note to self: bring more people and tell them they can’t buy wine since they will have to mule my wines over as we are definitely over our limit for crossing over on foot. 

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Finca Altozano

Km. 83 Carretera Tecate – Ensenada/Ejido Francisco Zarco/Valle de Guadalupe/website

After wine tasting, we were all very hungry and ready for lunch. We headed to Finca Altozano. This time, I did my homework and made a reservation in advance. It’s a wonderful open dining room with plenty of shade, natural light, and a nice breeze all while overlooking the vineyards. Perfect. We decided to order a bunch of appetizers and mains and shared it all. I have to say, everything was delicious but my favorite, hands down was the quail. We were all raving about lunch and were quite impressed. The consensus was, we’d all happily go there again.

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Alximia

Km 3- Camino Vecinal al Tigre/Valle de Guadalupe/website

To cap off a delicious and quite filling lunch, we headed to our next destination, Alximia. This was our first time here and we were looking forward to trying new wines and touring this architectural wonder. The tasting room here is nothing like anything I’ve seen before. It is unique in design and blends very well with the desert backdrop. From the outside, it resembles what I would imagine the Mother ship to look like. Although we arranged for a tour in advance, by the time we finished our tasting, we forgot all about the tour. Of the 6-7 wines we tasted, our group was split between the fuller body wines, Pira and Magma.

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This is the part where we are pretty much tuckered out and are dreading the long drive back. We are also beginning to discuss another trip to the valley but this time perhaps we will make a weekend out of it and stay over night as this will afford us more time to explore even more wineries and indulge in another leisurely lunch and dinner or two (I already have a wish list of places I’d like to try).

Anyhow, on the way back, we stopped at Mariscos Mazateno for their shrimp enchilado tacos and my personal favorite, the fish chicharron taco. After we get through dinner, we are thoroughly stuffed, ready to call it a day and make our way back to the border. Lucky for us, there is a very short line.

Here’s a good website for a listing of wineries and pertinent information in case I’ve piqued your interest in Baja wines… and food.

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52 Weeks: 41/52

It’s always good to have something to look forward to, right? My friend calls it the “happy thought”, a place one can revert to when the week is dragging or when you have a bad day. Well, we had plans to head to Baja this past week so that was my happy thought that made the hum-drum week go by faster.

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Lunch in Valle de Guadalupe. We pretty much ordered one of each and enjoyed quite a buffet between us all.

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In Tijuana, trying to escape to madness.

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Pitaya! My first time eating the red one. I had the black and white one in Mexico City, but this one was good too.

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Too cute.

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Dipping noodles, satisfying and delicious.

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Japanese fried chicken.

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Coffee and scones to start the day.

Here’s to another good week ahead and hopefully it’s a quick one!

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Ultra Thin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I did the unthinkable this week and turned the oven on. I dreaded the excess heat the oven was soon to emit, but at the end of this sweaty venture, I knew there would be some lacy, buttery, thin oatmeal chocolate chip cookies waiting for me. What can  say, I am highly motivated by my cravings. After all, the stomach wants what it wants, when it wants and it cares not for the weather forecast.

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Ultra Thin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies:

adapted from Sweet Dreams on Food Network

yield: approximately 4 dozen

3/4 pound (3 sticks salted butter)

1 cup light brown sugar

1 1/8 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups rolled oats (not instant)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp baking soda

6 oz semi sweet miniature chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugars and cream together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix until just combined. Add the chocolate chips.

Let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Using an ice cream scoop, scoop the dough into flat balls and place on a parchment lined sheetpan at least 2″ apart.

Bake until slightly browned on the edges, about 8- 10 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes on the sheetpan and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling and firm up.

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Tortas with Chile Tepin Salsa

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Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I’m not generally a fan of sandwiches. Sandwiches never register on the “Things I like to eat” list. It’s more like, anything BUT sandwiches. Then, there are tortas although not technically sandwiches, but the most delicious filling slapped between two slices of bread.

There are all kinds of tortas, more versions than you can shake a stick at. Tortas soaked in sauce, filled with deli meat, stuffed with grilled meats, etc… Then there’s the variety of garnishes: pickled onions, tomatoes, avocado slices, guacamole, salsa, cheese, jalapenos. Whatever you like. My personal favorite is the simpler version made with seasoned grilled beef, refried beans, toasty bread, ripe avocado slices, tomato, and a dash of spicy salsa. Now, that’s a sandwich torta.

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Tortas:

yield: 2 tortas

2 rolls of telera bread, sliced in half

1/2 pound thin sliced beef, seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled and chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup refried beans

1/2 avocado, sliced thin

1 tomato, sliced thin

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Using a brush, spread vegetable oil over each side of the bread. Sprinkle with salt and toast on the grill or in a hot pan.

Spread a layer of beans on the bottom, then top with chopped beef. Continue to layer with tomato and avocado slices. Place other half of telera on top and press down to flatten. Serve with chile tepin salsa (or your favorite salsa).

Chile Tepin Salsa:

4 tomatoes, blackened on the grill

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon chile tepin, blackened

squeeze of lime

1 teaspoon salt

Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Set aside.

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52 Weeks: 40/52

Fall is here but it still feels like summer. I’m very much looking forward to cooler weather although we have yet to see any. The web is brimming with all kinds of pumpkin spice lattes, baked goods and what have you but I just can’t go there yet, not when it’s still 80+ degrees out. For now, it’s eternal summer.

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Part of a larger mural in Barrio Logan. I especially like the tile part.

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This busted donkey head was abandoned on a curb, but I guess somebody decided to take it because it was gone the next day.

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Preparing to make sugar skulls.

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Somen noodles for lunch.

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Torta with super spicy chile tepin salsa.

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Watermelon snack cause we’re trying to stay healthy.

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Glitter for an upcoming project and little “H”. He is not as dazzled by glitter as I am. However, a sock will have him jumping for joy.

Happy weekend!

 

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