Dia de Los Muertos Celebration Round Up


a traditional Dia de Los Muertos altar
photo credit: http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/special/articles/oaxaca-mexico-day-of-the-dead.shtml

One of my favorite Mexican traditions is the celebration of Dia de Los Muertos–Day of the Dead.   Every November 1 and 2,  Catholic and indigenous traditions blend to honor the dead.  Spirits of the dearly departed are believed to return to their homes and those of friends and family.  They are lovingly welcomed with beautiful homemade altars filled with traditional flowers, fruit, sweet bread (pan de muerto), candy and the deceased’s favorite foods–along with whimsical skulls (often made from sugar) and skeletons.   A magical blend of the macabre and beautiful that ultimately helps to demystify death and loss.  I’ve scoured the web for creative and easy-to-follow/purchase inspirations.  Here are my picks:


traditional altar lit at night
photo credit: http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/travel/special/articles/oaxaca-mexico-day-of-the-dead.shtml


Papel Picado symbolizes wind. It’s generally draped around the edges of the altar or around the altar.

I found a great online retailer who specializes in all things Dia de los Muertos and carries everything from sugar skulls to papel picado to folk inspired skeletons.  Check out: http://www.mexicansugarskull.com/index.html


Religious Candles blend Catholic tradition.

Religious candles can be picked up at your local Latin American market or bodega and add a beautiful touch to your altar or tablescape.



The marigold is the traditional Dia de los Muertos flower.  Known as the flower of the dead, their scent is believed to attract the souls and draw them back. Paper flowers are a great alternative.


These paper marigolds are easy to make. I love this link for the very best how-to online: http://www.artsycraftsymom.com/2013/10/diy-paper-marigold-flowers-diwali-dussehra.html

Altars and tablescapes can range from the elaborate to simple.  I’ve chosen two minimalist designs below as inspiration:


Beautiful and minimal Dia del los Muertos Altar that nicely incorporates papel picado and religious candles. Photo credit: www.theothersideofthetortilla.com

Gorgeous Dia de los Muertos inspired tablescape from: www.lilacandgrey.com


Delicious traditional sweet bread pan de muerto from http://anecdotesandapples.weebly.com/1/post/2010/9/pan-de-muertochallenge-two.html

The traditional sweet bread pan de muerto is a main staple of the Dia de los Muertos celebration.  If you feel like breaking out the yeast and flour, I’ve included a great recipe link above.  An easier alternative, buy ‘em from the baking professionals!  Because I live in New York while my heart is in LA…here are some yummy bicoastal leads:


Don Paco Lopez

4703 4th Avenue, Brooklyn NY 12200  Tel: 718-492-7443
2129 3rd Avenue, New York NY 10035 Tel: 212-876-0700


Venice Bakery

10943 Venice Boulevard, Los Angeles CA 90034  Tel:  310-839-3478

Panaderia Mexico

6817 Woodman Ave Van Nuys, CA 91405 Tel: (818) 782-6873


Skeletons or Calaveras–used to honor the dead–are an integral part of Dia de Los Muertos. This cookie  is the absolute coolest! Check out: http://cupookie.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/traditional-bah-humbug.html for details.

How cute is this easy to make calavera sammie?!


Raddest sugar accent… Purchase at: http://www.etsy.com/listing/85233174/sugar-cubes-6-bags-of-four-skulls?ref=sr_gallery_17&ga_search_query=sugar+skull+sugar+cubes&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_ship_to=US&ga_search_type=all

Why not add theatrical flair to your festivities with an amazing makeup transformation.  Spellbound skeletons…




Adore these whimsical nails.  Tutorial at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwszO2N6M3M

Bonus…as Dia de los Muertos falls just after Halloween, you can often find great last minute deals on decorations and supplies.








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Take-Out Phobic and/or Howard Hughes inspired Shrimp Scampi Spaghetti

shrimpscamptitle shrimp scamppull Weekday dinners of late have been ass-kickers.  It’s 6:30pm and I’ve clocked some serious miles walking, pushing and pulling my troops all over upper and midtown Manhattan.  My oldest is weaseling her way out of homework by way of an Arthur Miller Crucible inspired nervous breakdown, while my napless toddler (think apocalyptic zombie) is also about to mentally combust right on the kitchen floor…cut to my husband texting me his perfectly timed “What do you want for dinner?” stock phrase.  At this point, I realize most sane-ish SAH (Stay-At-Homes) reach for the phone and order pizza, Thai, (fill-in the blank).  After all this is NYC, very possibly the birthplace of all takeout.  But I am neither sane-ish nor a big fan of the takeout…which, I understand, is sacrilege in these here parts.  Soggy, styrofoam, plastic and aluminum infused food aside…even more emphatically, I got a weird thing about fingernails. My great love of cooking basically stems from my irrational fear of unpleasant fingers.  While I can completely rationalize this phobia is a nutty ode to Howard Hughes, a delivery persons’ hands can make or break a meal for me.  One filthy cuticle bed, an angry chewed nail or an inflamed hanger and I am so eating a stale Wassa topped with the murky year-old pimiento olives from waaaay back in the fridge.  I can’t, I can’t (and I refuse to medicate) I just cannot.  Eating out is even more challenging: my inner Woody Allen all the while pleading, “avert your eyes,  cuckoo bird, avert those darting crazy eyes.”  Nor can an entire hungry family live–in perpetuity–on Amy’s frozen mac & cheese (even if it is organic).  After all, any OCD riddled, non-medicating neurotic housewife knows that a microwave is the gateway to marital discord and the ultimate collapse of the nuclear family.  Close the radiating divorce door (kidding, sort of…though that title would make an awesome Pinterest board curated with sad sallow pictures of Hungry Mans and deflated nuked Mama Celeste Pizzas, of course) and just step away.  This Shrimp Scampi Spaghetti takes all of 15 minutes to make (consisting of things you most likely already have on hand in your pantry and fridge: boxed dry pasta, garlic, tomatoes and frozen shrimp) and might be one of the best things you eat all week. SHRIMP SCAMPI SPAGHETTI Serves 6-8

  • boxed dry pasta, I like thin spaghetti or linguine
  • 4 large teeth of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 pint of grape tomatoes
  • 1 lemon (for juicing)
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 20 frozen shrimp
  • 1 cup of reserved boiling water of cooked pasta
  • a splash or two of dry white wine (whatever you have leftover or on hand)
  • parsley or fresh basil, minced for topping
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prepare boxed pasta and reserve approximately 1 cup of boiled water.  In a large frying pan or wok, heat olive oil on medium/high heat.  Add garlic and tomatoes to saute with a few splashes of dry white wine.  Once garlic has lightly browned and tomatoes are soft, add frozen shrimp to cook while squeezing the two seedless halves of a lemon into pan.  Saute until shrimp are thoroughly cooked and pink.  Add 3/4 of the cooked pasta and 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water (use more if needed). Salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well and top with minced parsley or basil.

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Leek and Potato Soup–Toddler Favorite



One of the easiest–and–also the most delicious soups in my family favorite meal time arsenal.   I personally love this soup because it is rich and tasty and dairy free (if we’re not counting the yummy shredded cheese toppings).  The leeks help make it even lighter, as they act as a natural diuretic–this mommy is ALWAYS watching her water weight.  Making life sooo much easier, the kids also love it…well, mostly because there are croutons and the gooey goodness of melted cheese on top.  Nevertheless, I’ll take validation–and an easy one pot meal–wherever I can get it.

Leek and Potato Soup

(Serves about 6)


  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2  leeks, (white and light green parts only) chopped
  • 2 garlic teeth, minced
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and medium cubed
  • 6 cups of cold water
  • 1 tablespoon of chicken stock paste  (or veggie stock paste for vegetarians) I feel like a shill for Better Than Bouillon, but I’m a huge fan of the brand
  • store bought croutons to garnish
  • your favorite shredded hard cheese to garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste


Heat olive oil (on medium heat) and add leeks and garlic to saute.   After a few minutes, add potatoes to saute.  When the potatoes are slightly brown on the edges, add 6 cups of cold water and 1 tablespoon of chicken stock paste.  Stir well.  Bring everything to a boil and then cover and reduce heat to a simmer.  Let cook for an additional 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with croutons and your favorite shredded hard cheese.


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Apple Cranberry Muesli


muesli closeup


T-R-Y-I-N-G to get back on the healthier eating horse…very apropos that I’m bringing along apples and oats.  Summer vacay and back-to-school hysteria have pushed my muffin top to the brink of 2nd trimester pregnancy confusion.  Baby or booze bloat?  The later with everything sweet, spicy, fried and unholy thrown in.  This Apple Cranberry Muesli is a light, fresh and filling.  Packed with protein and fiber, keeps you “keeping on” through to late lunch.   The apples and cranberries add a delicious autumn touch, but really you can adjust this easy recipe to factor in fresh fruit from all seasons.  I love to sit down on my Ikea chair at my Ikea breakfast table and ladle in cold and creamy heaps of this Swedish breakfast gem into my Ikea bowls…all the while licking my Ikea spoon and heartily shouting “God Morgan!” to the husband and kids as I peruse, you guessed it, the Ikea catalogue.   Swedes man, they bring good stuff:  Alex Skarsgard, Abba, Stockholm Syndrome (works into my parenting style), sensibly priced furniture and home goods…AND this simple and delicious Muesli.

Apple Cranberry Muesli

Serves 6

  • 1 1/4 cup of quick cooking rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup of 1% milk (or whatever you have stocked in fridge)
  • 2/3 cup of low fat vanilla yogurt (I like to use a Greek brand like Chobani)
  • 2 fresh medium oranges squeezed and juiced
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 3 heaping tablespoons of honey
  • 3 apples chopped and diced
  • 2 handfuls of dried cranberries


Add first 7 ingredients in a large bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Mix in chopped apples and dried cranberries.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.  Top with a little drizzled honey in individual serving bowls.






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Papas Huancaina: Peruvian Comfort Food

papas front

Managing to go 30+ years without ever tasting Peruvian food is one of the biggest culinary travesties of my life.  It took an unexpected domicile detour to Miami to right that serious wrong (we set up shop there for 5 good eatin’ years).  And catch up–my belly did indeed–play.  Peruvian cuisine as a whole, easily makes my top 5 favorites to feast on.  Culturally diverse, menu influences included European, African, Indigenous Native, Chinese and Japanese.  A veritable melting pot to gorge yourself on.  Ceviche is probably the most well recognized Peruvian dish (unless you count a pitcher full of Pisco Sour) but Papas Huancaina, most surely follows a close second.   While I certainly love me some citrus cooked fish, I honestly don’t mess with it much in my own kitchen–frankly, cebicherias do it better.  Could I? Yes.  Should I…incidentally, I feel the same way about sushi.  Potatoes though, I’m always looking for new and delicious ways to put cheese on ‘em…go south, dear taste buds, go south.  Papas H fits that creamy bill.  Think savory meets tangy meets a hint of smoky spice (gracias to the aji amarillo chile).  Shout out to those who eat with a higher conscious (you greatly inspire me, save me a seat someday…) these are also a nice vegetarian side dish in lieu of a yawny potato salad or staid scalloped potatoes.  Mix me up a Pisco y me pasas las papas!

papas side

How To:

  • 6 medium Yukon gold or red potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 (6 0z) container of feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 (3 0z) pack of cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp. of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large garlic tooth (minced)
  • 1 seeded (and membrane removed) serrano chile
  • 2 tbsp. of aji amarillo chile paste (can be found in many South American speciality markets.  Here in NYC, I found mine at the amazing Kalustyans.  Check them out for ALL of your spice needs.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup of whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup of whole milk
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • romaine or red leaf lettuce (to garnish)
  • black canned slice olives (to garnish)
  • 1 hard boiled egg, sliced (serious vegetarians can omit the egg)

Boil potatoes in a large saucepan–cover with at least 1 inch of water.  Add a pinch of salt and cook until potatoes are tender (about 1/2 an hour).  Drain, peel and set aside to cool.

In a blender or food processor, add feta cheese, cream cheese, garlic, lemon juice, serrano, aji amarillo paste, turmeric, 1/2 tsp of salt, black pepper, whipping cream, whole milk and olive oil.  Blend until smooth.  Transfer to a saucepan and cook over low heat while stirring constantly, about 4 minutes.  Additional milk (by the tablespoon) can be added to thin sauce, if needed.   Taste for salt and pepper.   Sauce can be made ahead, refrigerated and reheated, as needed.

To plate, line a serving platter with lettuce leaves.  Cut the potatoes in half and arrange on the bed of lettuce.  Generously pour the sauce over all the potatoes and garnish with slices of hardboiled egg and black olive slices.




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I subscribe to like a gazillion magazines…old school, glossy, bulky and actual paper magazines.  Well, I’ve been obsessed with Sunset Magazine since I was a 20 something, west coast aspirational homesteader.  I still get my trusted copy every month even though I’m 3000 miles away from its target demographic (west coast outdoor living enthusiasts).  Well, I’m completely infatuated with the August issue’s spread on a stunning prefab house in the expansive wilds of Montana.  With some further Google snooping turns out Inhabitat.com has an even more spectacularly detailed spread of my Ruby Springs dream paradise.  My poor, poor husband.  I’m exhaustively annoying when I become fixated on a vision.  This quick afternoon search yielded these numerous links featuring some great info on pre-fab home ownership (including a cautionary tale to go along with the awesome architecture and interior design porn):

1) More design porn…


2) Great details A to Z…


3) The good…


4) and the cautionary…


I swear this here and now:  I will have my green, custom, dream pre-fab home one (not-so-far-away) day…said with absolute conviction by the girl who NEVER got the Barbie Dream House she begged and begged for…honey, blame my negligent parents for the link madness I’m about to virtually thrust upon you.

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Back to School Lunch AND Dinner…Turkey Patties







I’m back, Bitches!!!  So says school.  Well it’s about time muttered EVERY parent EVERY where.  Time to start thinking about lunches and dinners on the fly.  These yummy turkey patties fit the bill.  So technically they’re kid-sized sliders, but we eat them all kinds around here.  Yeah, sometimes we slap cheese and buns on them and serve with some kettle chips, sometimes we go with a basic rice or leafy green salad…and sometimes we simply eat them with our bare hands…dipping away at a table buffet full of condiments–think ketchup, mustard, sriracha, et al.  They’re versatile: easy to pack up in a lunch or reheat for dinner.  Oh and good Mommy bonus…I pack ‘em full of vegetables that not a small person will say boo to.  Veggies 1 vs. Kids 0.


  • 1 lb of lean ground turkey breast
  • 2 teeth of garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon of Lea & Perrins
  • 1 teaspoon of onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 small zucchini finely chopped
  • 1 carrot finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 F bake.  In a large bowl, add all ingredients and mix together well–the egg binding everything.  Form little “meatballs” and flatten with your palm.  Heat oil in pan on medium flame/setting.  Add patties and thoroughly sear on each side. Remove patties and place on cookie sheet.  Place cookie sheet in oven and cook for an additional 20-25 minutes.


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Summer Sippin’…Iced White Tea






So I’m currently obsessed with this Teavana White Tea: Youthberry and Wild Orange Blossom blend.

While green and black tea have substantial health benefits, white tea is the least processed and has the highest levels of antioxidants which have been shown to protect the body from DNA damaging and age accelerating free radicals.  Hell yeahs…I’ll happily sip myself far from 40.

Ahh, Youthberry and Wild Orange Blossom…the name alone automatically sends your pinky finger into a raised tea salute as this magical elixir tastes as though it was brewed directly from the fountain of youth.  The loose tea smells of a heavenly spring citrus orchard and–when fully steeped–has the most gloriously light and orange accented flavor to it.   I like to add a tiny teaspoon of german rock sugar (really as yummy as it is good looking–teatime visual show stopper also available for sale at Teavana) pure, unprocessed sugar crystals that enhance the natural sweetness of the tea without changing the flavor.

Got the kids at the park with Dad, sun shining bright, my feet up on the balcony, a sliver view of the Hudson River and an ice cold glass of this awesome tea…life sure is um um good.


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Oven S’mores–Urban Indoor Camping

smores cover

Confession: this might be the laziest blog post in the 8 month history of Mommy Despot…blame it on the dog days of summer.  While s’mores aren’t exactly molecular gastronomy–really a one-handed monkey (or tired/frazzled mom) can make ‘em in a snap–they remain a classic summer treat and an ageless crowd favorite.   Here in NYC, we can’t go setting Central Park ablaze in crackling campfires… and pyro-parenting has a distinctive Child Protective Services ring to it, I’ll stick to the top shelf of my oven broiler.  Pull out a play tent, some small flash lights, a toy compass and dust off the ‘ol scary ghost stories from your frontal lobes…and BOOM! There you have it: an awesome play date where the only thing fired up is their imaginations.  Eat up, happy campers!

giant smore


Who needs a fire pit?! Crank up that oven broiler.


Yum yum good.


“Deconstructed” S’mores tent-side.



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Veggie Summer Rolls


Last week felt like NYC was (as my ever descriptive friend Michelle C. explained) “colliding with the sun”…which is basically the summer menu theme of I Made It, You Eat It.  At last, a girl (and by girl I mean middle-aged mom..aka me) can’t live off of coconut water and sunscreen alone…but throw in some fresh Veggie Summer Rolls and I cope.  Crisp, light, raw and delicious…best part: you’ll go no where near the oven.  Oh and if you’re doing Weight Watchers, they’re practically the equivalent of eating air…seriously, the rice paper is like 20 calories (which isn’t even a point) and the veg are FREE! FREE! FREE! (though I like to add a bit of avocado at 1 point per ounce). I’ve included the simplest dipping sauce made from garlic chili paste, ginger and sesame oil (recipe below).  With the exception of a little chopping monotony (julienne or close to julienne veg is best) these are tremendously easy to make…my local Whole Foods is running a total racket charging $7 a pop for 2 of these guys!  Save your dough for a ticket out of this god-forsaken hotbox and make ‘em at home.  Happy dipping, fellow citizens of Hades.

veg plate

Clean and julienne cut fresh ingredients like carrots, red cabbage, cucumber, lettuce and avocado.  Rinse fresh cilantro and mint and add to prep plate.

place rice paper sheet in tepid water for a few seconds

place rice paper sheet in tepid water for a few seconds

In a large bowl, add tepid water and place individual rice paper to soften.

place julienned vegetables and herbs in center of moist rice paper

place julienned vegetables and herbs in center of moist rice paper

On a large serving plate or cutting board, place moist rice paper wrapper down and add fresh vegetables and herb sprigs.

crisp and fresh

crisp and fresh

Roll left and right sides of rice paper closed (or almost closed, if working with small wrapper) and then roll from bottom to top and tuck to seal.  Place on serving platter along with ginger chili dipping sauce.



  • romaine lettuce
  • red cabbage
  • carrots
  • cucumber
  • avocado
  • cilantr0
  • mint
  • rice paper

(for dipping sauce)

  • 1/2 teaspoon of fresh chopped ginger
  • 1 tablespoon of chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil






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