La Merienda and Mexico’s Abuelita

“La merienda” is a traditional Latin American snack break which can be taken between breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and dinner. It’s different from most American snack or coffee breaks because la merienda isn’t something you would scarf down behind the wheel of your car, buy from a vending machine, or mindlessly munch while checking E-mail. It’s a moment each day, often shared with others, where you sit down at the table and savor what is more like a miniature meal. This tradition is about taking a moment to relax and truly appreciate comida, familia and amigos, which creates a thankful spirit.

Nestlé Abuelita sent me some of their products to enjoy during our daily merienda and although I wish you could have been sitting at the table with me, I took some photos so you can share in the experience.

I usually use the Abuelita "tableta" to make hot chocolate, and I love to add cinnamon.

Nestlé Abuelita sent me the granulated form and instant hot chocolate mix packets which make it easier for the boys to make their own.

Using hot milk instead of water provides calcium and a creamier drink.

Merienda time with a cup of hot chocolate and a tamal de elote.

History & Culture

Coincidentally this past weekend, while watching a Pedro Infante film, (Los tres García) with Carlos, I said, “That old lady looks familiar,” – referring to one of the actresses on screen. Carlos laughed, “That’s abuelita!”

“I know that’s the abuelita,” I said, for she was the grandmother of the three main characters in the movie, “I mean I’ve seen her somewhere else.”

“Yes, she’s the abuelita on the hot chocolate!” Carlos said.

I thought he was joking, but it’s true. After a little research I discovered that the woman on packages of Abuelita is Mexican actress Sara García – She so often played the part of the “abuela” in films during the 1940’s-1950’s that she became known as “Mexican Cinema’s Grandmother.”

Are you ready for your merienda?

Below, find out how to win a Nestlé Abuelita Prize Pack. Also know that sometime on or around March 7th, you can visit and RSVP to join a special event where you’ll have another chance to win a merienda prize pack from Nestlé Abuelita.



Prize: The Nestlé Abuelita Prize Pack for ONE lucky winner which values at $50 will include:

• Nestlé Abuelita Instant and Nestlé Abuelita Granulado product
• Two coffee/hot chocolate mugs and saucers
• One hot chocolate spoon
• A set of recipe cards to provide some ideas for enjoying your Nestlé Abuelita products
• Nestle note cards
• Disposable digital camera

How to Enter:

In the comments section, tell us if you currently partake in a daily afternoon snack break or “merienda.”

Official Rules:

No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years of age or older to enter. You must be able to provide a U.S. address for prize shipment. Your name and address will only be shared with the company in charge of prize fulfillment. Please no P.O. Boxes. One entry per household. Make sure that you enter a valid E-mail address in the E-mail address field so you can be contacted if you win. Winner will be selected at random. Winner has 48 hours to respond. After 48 hours, a new winner will be selected at random. Giveaway entries are being accepted between February 20th, 2012 through February 25th, 2012. Entries received after February 25th, 2012 at 11:59 PM, will not be considered. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. If you win, by accepting the prize, you are agreeing that assumes no liability for damages of any kind. By entering your name below you are agreeing to these Official Rules. Void where prohibited by law.

Disclosure: I received products from Nestlé to facilitate the review and writing of this post. All opinions are my own.

Resolutions + Perspective

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but this year it became a time of self-examination and a clear starting point to make some changes. The changes I’ve made have been a long time coming – some once, (or many times), attempted and abandoned, others have been bouncing around in my head waiting for me to give them importance – still others have only come to me recently, as if they knew now was the moment I would welcome them.

I don’t like to call them “goals” or “resolutions” because I prefer to think I spend every day of my life stepping toward the self-actualized version of myself – Admittedly it’s a two steps adelante and one step atrás sort of thing.

Like many others, one of my “resolutions” (for want of a better word), is to take my health more seriously. I’m starting to feel my age and that – even more than wanting to look like a bikini chica in a Pitbull video, may be enough to scare me straight. My back hurts when I wake up. My knees ache when it rains. It’s too early to consider retiring to Miami so maybe, just maybe, I need to put down the Bubu Lubus.

When my dedication to working towards these “resolutions” wavers, (as it always does), I need to try to remember that my “problem” – my “struggle” – is only difficult from my perspective.

Think about this with me. Think about the ridiculousness of the challenges we face. Some common complaints:

• Food is too accessible and abundant. I can’t get away from the temptations.
• It’s too cold out so I can’t [leave the warmth of my house to] get some exercise.
• I’ve become bored with my workout. I don’t feel motivated.
• Food blogs tempt me with delicious photos of flan and burritos.

(Okay, that last complaint is mine.)

These are what you call “first world problems.” If you just shift your perspective, you may start to laugh at the once mountainous obstacles that seemed insurmountable.

This should shift your perspective. I took this photo in El Salvador – but what does it have to do with anything I’m talking about here? Let me explain.

While we were in El Salvador we went to visit family in Chalatenango. It was a long drive from San Salvador in an unairconditioned microbus. On the way back to the city, the traffic became thick. We shoved at the already open windows to let more air into the vehicle which now moved at a crawl. We fanned ourselves, watched beads of sweat roll down the sides of each others’ faces.

At some point, we came to a stop in front of a public well just off the highway. There I watched women and children washing laundry and scooping water over their heads – bathing fully-clothed with no privacy. I tried not to stare, didn’t want them to feel self-conscious, but Salvadorans are famous starers and I was probably the only one on the highway trying to watch without being obvious about it.

The laundry now heavy and wet, was put back into large plastic tubs, balanced on sturdy heads, and walked home, who knows how far, to be hung to dry.

…Something to remember next time taking a walk around my quiet suburban neighborhood seems too difficult.

El Salvador – El dentista

Image source: Meredith Farmer

While brushing my teeth a week before we went to El Salvador, a filling broke off a back tooth. I won’t pretend it was the brushing that did it, as it was more likely the JuJuBes candy I had eaten a day or two before. Though I wasn’t happy, we had planned on going to a dentist in El Salvador anyway, so at least it was good timing.

The original plan had been to go to a dentist in Carlos’s neighborhood, but after all the drama that happened the first day, we decided we would have to find a different dentist somewhere else in San Salvador.

That may seem like an inconvenience but the good thing about El Salvador is that whatever you need, a random stranger will have connections to get it for you. In this case, our favorite taxi driver’s son turned out to be a dentist. He was too busy to schedule us in, but he referred us to a colleague of his.

So we went to the office that was recommended by the son of our taxi driver. The office we went to was clean and modern. Of course, clean and modern are very important when choosing a dentist. We knew it would cost a little more than maybe some other offices in El Salvador, but this is one thing you really don’t want to get the best deal on, ya sabes.

The receptionist, dental hygienist, and the dentist himself, were all very nice. The first day they only cleaned our teeth and said we should come back another day due to excessive bleeding and the need for the swelling to go down in our gums. This sounded very logical and professional, so although I wanted to get it all done, I was pleased that this guy definitely knew what he was doing. Two days later we would have to return a second time to have my filling repaired, take care of a new small cavity I didn’t even know I had – and as it turned out, Carlos had a broken crown which was very close to becoming a root canal which he needed fixed too.

After our first appointment, the dentist actually closed up shop and gave us a ride back to our hotel. How’s that for full service?

The second appointment was a little less fun and a little more painful – but nothing out of the ordinary. Towards the end of my time in the dental chair, I was feeling pretty proud of myself.

I went to a dentist appointment in El Salvador! I said to myself. I understood everything and the dentist understood me! I learned new words like “Enjuaguese” for “Rinse” and “Relleno” for “Filling” … I’m so clever! I smiled to myself as the dentist finished brushing some terrible tasting “flúor” (flouride) on my teeth and then started to walk away. My mouth was full of saliva but he hadn’t told me “Enjuaguese.” I wanted to spit it out! This stuff was nasty, it seemed like a dangerous idea to swallow it and I was ready to drool on myself.

“Doctor!” I managed to get out.

He turned and looked at me expectantly.

“Puedo… puedo…” My mind went blank.

The dentist cocked his head and waited patiently.

I pointed a finger from my mouth to the little sink.

“Puedo…” Argh! What was the word for spit?!


The dentist looked amused and perplexed, as he took off his gloves and smiled at me. Obviously he didn’t speak Spanglish.

Carlos sat in a chair in the next room through an open doorway. I called to him for help but by now I was definitely drooling.

“CARLOS!” I gurgled, “How you say spit?”

“Um… Tirar saliva?”

Maybe “tirar saliva” was perfectly fine to use, but my mind translated it literally to “throw saliva” and it seemed too rude and reckless so I rejected it immediately.

“No – that’s weird! I want a real verb!”

The dentist looked back forth between us.

“Escupir?” Carlos said.

“YES! Escupir! Doctor, puedo escupir?”

The dentist smiled kindly and said “No” – explaining that I needed to be patient and try to hang in there for a few more minutes. All that panic and drooling on my shirt for nothing. I closed my mouth full of spit until he gave me the okay.

After Carlos’s cleaning I went downstairs to wait with the boys in the other waiting room. While I waited, I noticed that several people who seemed to be friends of the receptionist, came in and sat down. I figured they were just waiting for her to get off work so they could go out together but lost interest in figuring it out when Carlos came downstairs.

We went to the counter to pay. For two cleanings, fluoride for both, one filling replaced, one new cavity filled, and one crown replaced, our total was less than $300.

I said something like “Wow! It would have been more than a thousand in the United States” and Carlos gave me ‘the look’ which means I said something I shouldn’t have. “Do you want them to charge us double next time?” he whispered.

So, we paid, called our ride to come pick us up, and went to wait outside the clinic because from what we understood, we were the last appointment of the day and we didn’t want to hold up the staff if they wanted to close up and go home.

We waited under the narrow awning as it rained but our ride didn’t arrive right away. The receptionist kept opening the door and begging us to come back in and wait comfortably inside. We turned her down twice. The third time, the dentist himself insisted we come back in and “enjoy the movie.”

As we followed him back into the clinic, I whispered to Carlos, “Did he say movie?”

Back in the waiting room, the office staff and friends of the receptionist had rearranged the chairs movie theater-style to face a TV in the corner of the room. We obediently sat down and waited as the dentist started the DVD and sat down to watch with us.

The boys kept looking at me but I avoided eye contact precisely because I knew they wanted to laugh and that they would make me laugh. It isn’t every day you get to watch a movie in the dentist’s office.

The movie was called, “Bosco: La historia de mi secuestro.” It seemed to be a documentary about a real life kidnapping that took place – in other words – very serious subject matter – Which is why I was horrified when I realized Carlos and the boys were shaking silently with laughter, trying to hold it in. Carlos literally had a hand clapped over our younger son’s mouth to keep him quiet. They weren’t laughing at the film, but at the fact that we were watching a movie at the dentist’s office. It was all very surreal and I wanted to laugh too. I needed to get out of there, because if Carlos was laughing, I definitely wasn’t going to be able to hold it in much longer. Thankfully I saw our ride pull up outside just in time and we excused ourselves.

On our ride back to the hotel I smiled at the irony of the situation. Here I had been lamenting the loss of a day at a dentist’s office – disappointed that we would be losing time in which we could have been experiencing something more uniquely Salvadoran. As it turns out, doing the most mundane tasks in El Salvador is always educational and culturally authentic – even going to the dentist.


Lately Suegra has been suffering from “empacho” … This illness has always confused me – And Suegra is equally confused as to how it’s possible that gringos have never even heard of it.

“Empacho” is a gastrointestinal illness that many people in El Salvador and other parts of Latin America believe can kill you. I decided to interview her about it for anthropological reasons because it doesn’t seem well documented.

Interview below, (in Spanish.)

Note: The use of the word “chibolitas” in Salvadoran Caliche means “little round objects” or “little balls.” (The word has other meanings in other parts of Latin America.)

(If interested in a translation to English, let me know in comments and I’ll see about transcribing it.)


Suegra está enferma. Ha pasado unas semanas así, tosiendo por todos lados. Después de verla en la cocina, con un gabinete abierto, tosiendo sobre todas las ollas y sartenes, no podía soportarlo más. No podía quedarme en silencio.

“Por favor, cúbrete la boca.”
“¿Cubrirme la boca?” ella repitió, un poco incrédula.
“Sí, por favor, cuando estés tosiendo, cúbrete la boca,” dije yo.

“¿Para qué?” Me preguntó con la cara toda confundida.

“Para que no riegues gérmenes por toda la casa. Nos vas a enfermar a todos,” dije yo, “No te enseñaron eso en la escuela cuándo era niña?”

“No,” ella dijo con desdén. “En El Salvador no hay necesidad de cubrirse la boca. Allá los gérmenes no se quedan en las casas como aquí. Las casas allá están bien abiertas…y aquí todo cerrado…ay no,” suspiró.

Bueno, después de esta conversación, ella se puso un poco molesta conmigo. Cada vez que ella tosía y cubría su boca, me miraba con los ojos entreabiertos como si dijera: Mira! Mira la inconveniencia que me has obligado a hacer!

En la mesa durante la cena, aquella noche, ella continuó tosiendo y cubriendo su boca. Carlos le preguntó entre bocados, “¿Estás enferma todavía pues, madre?” (Como que si no fuera obvio.)

“Ojalá no me vaya a morir de esta gripe,” dijo Suegra, “Porque si me muero, tienes que mandar mi cuerpo a El Salvador.” Ella tosió, cubriéndose la boca, “Y Tracy,” me dijo, “si no acompañas mi cuerpo en el avión, no te voy a dejar en paz.”

Y después de decir eso, ella rió tanto que no dejaba de toser.


• Special thanks to mi comadre, Claudia. Carlos y yo tuvimos broncas last night so I had too much pride to ask him to double check my Spanish for errors. Claudia came to my rescue this week! Gracias, amiga!

• Partisipaste en Spanish Friday? Deja tu link en comentarios! Did you participate in Spanish Friday? Leave your link in comments!

English translation:

Suegra is sick. She’s been like this for a few weeks already, coughing all over the place. After I saw her in the kitchen coughing into an open cabinet full of pots and pan, I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stay silent.

“Please, cover your mouth.”
“Cover my mouth?” she repeated, a little incredulous.
“Yes, please, when you’re coughing, cover your mouth,” I said.
“For what?” she asked with a confused expression on her face.

“So that you don’t throw germs all over the house. You’re going to get everyone sick,” I said, “Didn’t they teach you that in school when you were little?”

“No,” she sniffed. “In El Salvador there is no need to cover your mouth. The germs don’t stick around like they do here. The houses there are wide open … and here they’re so closed up … ay no,” she sighed.

Well, after this conversation, she got a little upset with me. Every time she coughed and covered her mouth, she looked at me with narrowed eyes as if to say: Look! Look at this inconvenience which you’ve obligated me to do.

At the dinner table that night, she kept coughing and covering her mouth. Carlos asked between bites, “Are you still sick then, madre?” (As if it was not obvious.)

“Hopefully I will not die of the flu,” said Suegra, “If I die, you have to send my body back to El Salvador.”

She coughed, covering her mouth, “And Tracy,” she continued, “If you don’t accompany my body on the airplane, I will haunt you.”

And having said that, she laughed until she coughed and coughed.

Comida “Mexicana” – School Lunch Style

Hoy fuimos a comer almuerzo en la escuela con nuestro hijito. Es un privilegio que le dan a “El Estudiante de la Semana.”

En años pasados, comimos pizza porque el día cuando los padres son bienvenidos es viernes, y como todos saben, el viernes es “Pizza Day.” — Pero, por las regulaciones de salud que ha puesto el gobierno, ahora los niños sólo comen pizza de vez en cuando. Estoy de acuerdo con los almuerzos más saludables, pero no entiendo porque no pueden cambiar la pizza, pues? Pizza puede ser una comida bien saludable si es hecha de ingredientes de calidad. Si las hacen con la orilla de “whole grain”, queso bajo en grasa, salsa de tomate con menos azúcar, y verduras en vez de pepperoni – sera delicioso y saludable.

Ni modo, si no hay pizza, no hay pizza. Tengo que comer lo que tienen. Y sabes qué estaban sirviendo? Aquí es el menú:

Chicken Fajita
Spanish Rice
Fresh Fruit
Wheat Sugar Cookie

Y aquí es una foto de mi almuerzo:

Usualmente, me gustan los almuerzos de la escuela, pero esto era un poco horible. La galleta estaba deliciosa, aunque mi tazita de salsa se calló un poco encima de ella. La “fajita” le falta sal y Valentina hot sauce pero estaban bien más o menos. El arroz tenía la misma textura de pure de papas y no podría comerlo. Este almuerzo me pone a pensar en empacar los almuerzos de mis niños de aquí en adelante. Vamos a ver.

¿Participaste en Spanish Friday? Deja tu link en comentarios!

Go to the doctor? Nah. We have a bunch of guys from Veracruz, Mexico for medical advice.

My husband started having back pain the day after we picked Suegra up at the airport. I think he pulled something lifting her enormous suitcase into the car. When I mentioned this possibility, Suegra gave me la mirada that means she is cursing me inside her head, and she responded that if he hurt himself lifting then he is “más débil que yo” – and so therefore, it was his own fault.

Ni modo, back pain or no back pain, my husband has to work. The guys he supervises, (all from Veracruz, Mexico), eventually noticed that his back hurt and they asked him about it. They began trying to help him by asking some rather personal questions, which I think even our doctor has not asked my husband before. Ultimately they all agreed on a diagnosis. My husband has been instructed to stop having sex with the ceiling fan on. Apparently the cold air on his bare back while he’s…um… exerting himself… is not good for him.