Good and Good for You

Havesting Nopales

Nopales are a super food.  We have a stand in our garden and I prepare them as a side dish, a salad and a taco filling. Nopales can be purchased ready to cook in most latin groceries both here and in the U.S.  Lucky you, because cleaning them is sort of a pain, but I don’t mind because they’re easy to grow, delicious and free!

Nopales al Vapor (this recipe is roughly from Dianna Kennedy’s Essential Cuisines of México)

2 Tbles vegetable oil

2 cloves of garlic chopped

1 pound nopales, cleaned and cut in strips or cubes (I prefer strips)

2 Tbles chopped onion

1-2 serranoes thinly sliced


2 large sprigs epazote or cilantro, roughly chopped

2 eggs

Heat the oil, fry the garlic until translucent and then add everything but the epazote. Cover the pan and cook over low heat, stirring from time to time until the nopales are almost tender: their viscose juices will exude.

Uncover and raise the heat a bit cooking until the sticky liquid has dried up.  At this point I like to whisk in a couple of eggs, though it’s not traditional. They make the nopales hang together and easier to eat, also the richness offsets the acidity of the cactus paddles.  Add the herb in the last couple of minutes, stir, and fill your tortillas.

Nopal Tacos

I chose machine made tortillas this time. The traditional condiments are queso fresco, and a dollop of sour cream. I also added Salsa de chili Arbol, which I buy because it’s brutal to make. The frying and blending of chili arbol chokes the air with capsicum!  But the tacos don’t really need salsa, I was just in the mood for major heat.





How To Eat a Live Bug

A jumile is a stink bug and they are in season for about eight weeks, from mid-November through the first of the year.  They are’ in season’ because during this time they eat exclusively oak leaf litter and it makes them taste spicy.

Jumiles can be foraged on the Cerro Frio or bought in the markets from Doña’s with writhing baskets full with a straw down the center, or in this case a paper cone.  The bugs crawl up the cone and then fall back into the basket which keeps them from flying away. They are also sold  in small bags with a bit of leaf litter and pinholes pricked for air, because you see, the jumiles are eaten alive.

Jumiles in the Pente De Itzla Mercado.

Jumiles in the Pente De Itzla Mercado.

How to eat a live bug:

Pick up a bug with two fingers to keep its wings from flapping…which is a really creepy feeling in your mouth.  Place it between your molars and bite down.  Be careful, because the weirdness of this act can cause you to chop down and bite your own fingers if you’re not careful.  I have done this.  Masticate the bug well before releasing it into your mouth, because wings can be texturally unpleasant, like choke in your artichoke bottom.  After you get the hang of it you can just place a bug on your tongue and flip it back to your molars.

Jumiles are delicious.  Sometimes they are so spicy they burn your tongue and cause the affected area to go numb. I must say I don’t at all agree with the descriptions I have read about what jumiles taste like, cinnamon, tutty fruity chewing gum, but I can’t really come up with a description of my own. They taste like jumiles; you will just have to try one.

Felipe is positive that bugs are the protein source of the future, and though I don’t necessarily agree with this, I do believe that the United Nations study that suggests one feasible way to combat world hunger is by reducing meat consumption, bugs are a viable option to that end.

Here in Morelos, we also eat grasshoppers, sautéed with salt and lime.

I was amazed when I researched this article how many bug eating blogs there, this is my favorite(girl meets bug). The link will lead you to an unbelievable list of bugs that are eaten worldwide. I was shocked, and honestly, especially in relation to food that is not an easy thing to do.  What a delight to be amazed, surely it is one life’s vsvevg pleasures.


If you happen to have access to some jumiles and cannot eat live bugs but don’t mind blending them up, this is a delicious salsa.

Salsa de Jumiles

2 oz. live jumiles(eat one to see how spicy they are)

1-3 chili serrano depending on the heat of the jumiles

½ pd roasted tomatillos

1 clove garlic


Blend In your bug ‘o’ matic!


Favorite Forage

The month I was away in the US(aug/sept) both of my favorite foraged foods, hongos azules(blue mushrooms) and ilamas were in season. It was a bummer. I consoled myself with the wide variety of good cheap wine available in the US.

This is a photo of last years’ mushroom harvest. VSVEVGs ’logo is also a photo I took of the spectacular mushrooms, which are so blue they bleed blue when you break them, unfortunately they turn the color of a regular mushroom when cooked.

Blue mushrooms taste like tilth, really good dirt, such as I imagine Iowa farmers are hoping to taste when they sample their fields in the spring.  One might even convince kids to like mushrooms if they were umpa lumpa blue, though a friend of my says they are more pitufo,(smurf) blue.

Wild mushrooms are harvested at a higher altitude than where we live, requiring a day trip up the mountain. Every family has their own secret spot in the oak forests of Cero Frio, just like when I was little girl hunting morels with my Mom and Dad in the Iowa woodlands. Hunting mushrooms is for me, a ritual of nostalgia.

I was lucky with ilamas, my sister- in-law has late fruiting trees, she knows I love them and saved one for me. They come in this pink, which is my favorite, and also a white variety which is good but doesn’t have the complexity the rosas(pinks) do. They taste like raspberry custard. They’re fun to eat, very similar to a bread fruit, you remove the segments each of which has a large seed and suck off the creamy flesh. They really are fantastic, especially if you delight in messy fruit eaten with your fingers as I do.

Finally, this strange and entertaining treat we enjoy  in October, I have no idea what it is, Felipe calls it peineta.

Each of the orange flower sprays sits in a  tiny cup of nectar, you press your face to the stamens and suck out the juice, it tastes like thin, light, fruity honey, and because the flower is pollinating when you’re done your face is covered in bright orange pollen. I never feel more akin to the insect world than when sipping peineta, unless I’m eating one!Don’t miss next month’s forage installment, I will teach you how to eat a live bug! Which is amazingly,  Very Simple, Very Easy and Very Good.

Sustain… Able

One of the more naive things I have done in my life was moving to a temperant climate, thinking it would magically propagate self-sustainability. I ignorantly thought (though I had a read a couple of books and raised a couple of gardens), you get some land, a couple of chickens, throw some seeds in the ground, plant some fruit trees, and in a few years, you have a self-seeding food forest, orchards, eggs, and meat. Maybe it won’t provide for every meal, but it should be a pretty solid foundation.


Perhaps if we had invested the 50,000 dollars we arrived in Mexico with: in a greenhouse, good animal facilities, and to travel Mexico in search of decent seeds and organic gardening products, we would have food now, but we’d be living in a tent.

What we have learned is self-sustainability is not romantic. It requires solid fences and safe facilities for your animals, like a chicken house. It seems like a no-brainer, right? But when Felipe was growing up, his family let their chickens run, they hand weeded all their crops and provided most of their food without using fancy row covers and organic pest deterrents. Why can’t we?

Abby Smith's chickens in Mexico

Our chickens at thier bath

Well–there were ten of them. Felipe’s parents, brothers, and sisters worked from pre-dawn into the darkness most every day. Something not even superman Felipe is willing to do, for which I am thankful.

A year ago, five years into our Mexican life, we reassessed our position here. Our stipend was to run out at the end of 2012, and we still had very little consistent food production, no constant cash flow outside of the dwindling 500 pesos a week payment, and no funds to improve our farm’s production.

We decided on a route that was uncharacteristic for us, we diversified. Meaning, that we decided to pursue individual projects to make money with the long-term goal of investing in a real self-sustainable farm. Unlike the play farm we have now, built of sticks, mud, and garbage strung together with barbed wire– those are the high-tech parts.

So I committed to writing like a person who plans to make a living at it (Felipe was relieved because I am a much better writer than gardener), and he started raising pigs. He has also, miraculously, had a job for nine months now! I don’t know if you’ve heard this or not, but it’s kinda hard to find work down here. If I could type in a whisper I would, for fear that saying he has a job aloud will somehow create bad juju and this most amazing state of affairs will cease.

To date, we have a prolific native lime tree we grew from seed, nopales, native sorrel, and basil, a fabulous multi-purpose passion flower ( it provides shade, fruit, and hummingbirds sitings). We also grow enough corn and sorghum for ourselves and our animals. When we’re lucky, a native tomato plant will pop up.

Regarding animals, this week, we’re getting about six eggs when the dogs or skunks don’t beat us to them. We have three drakes to eat if we can bring ourselves to kill them and five roosters that will be ready soon if we could ever catch them. And we will have a Christmas pig this year, which will mean a store of lard and maybe some smoked meats if we can get a smoker assembled.

Now our version of sustainability is: the ability to sustain the effort, to work toward the dream of a self sustainable life. Not Simple, Not Easy, but the feeling we get when something works—like picking limes, or harvesting eggs, is Very, Very Good.