During late October for the past eight years I have created a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) ofrenda (altar) during my Open Studio Tour. For many of my central California coast customers, it was their first experience of this vibrant celebration remembering our beloved relatives and friends who have passed on. On my altars I place bouquets of freshly picked marigolds, "the flower with 400 lives" which I grow each year in my garden. Named cempazuchitl by the Aztec peoples, the scent of marigolds is believed to draw the souls of our loved ones back to earth, forming a welcome path for them to follow home.
Also on my ofrenda, I place photographs of my dearly departed in colorful frames, alongside an offering of their favorite food. For my Minnesota dad, a plate of snicker doodles or divinity fudge, specialties he loved when made by his mother, my stalwart Norwegian grandmother Lila. For my mama, a child of Sicilian immigrants, a glass of deep burgundy table wine. For Marya, my "other mother", it has to be chocolate, bittersweet and dark, and plenty of it.
It was in Marya's memory that I set up my first Our Lady of Perpetual Chocolate Shrine and Snack Bar. The shrine is sculpted from clay, fired, painted and gilded. I usually balance some dark chocolate kisses on her head, and surround her with organic, fair trade chocolates, bon bons and brownies, cocoa dusted almonds and butterfingers.
Guest to my Open Studio are invited to enjoy some chocolate, as well as fresh baked Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead). I bake this bread (or ask my eleven year old nephew Aiden, a fine gourmet baker to do the honors) once a year for my altar. Redolent with anise and decorated with skull and bone shapes, the oval loaves of pan de muertos fill the air with an aroma to die for! This year, the ants found one loaf and invaded it. I set it outdoors as an offering to all the ants I have killed over the years. They seemed to enjoy it very much.Please visit our Day of the Dead Market showcasing the creative work of six unique artists:
Here is a prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Chocolate, which I wrote the year my other mother Marya passed away, suddenly and too soon.
Oh, Bountiful Mother, our Solace and Comfort. Give us this day our daily bar of dark and sweet delight. For all the children of war, transform all the bombs.....into bonbons. Where there is fear, let there appear.... a comforting cup of cocoa. For those who hunger and thirst for justice, gather us together and shower us......with fondue. When there is sickness and no desire to eat, bake us some magic brownies. For all the lonely hearts of our world, deliver a heart shaped box of......nuts & chews. Where there is bitterness in our lives, infuse it with the sweetness of.....fudge. Oh, Truffled Goddess of Delight, we yearn for your cocoa kisses. Be always present at our parties. Wrap us in your creamy arms. Melt in our mouths. Amen. Alleluia. Pass the brownies.