Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quick post

Hello, fans!

I'm not going to get into the fix I got into last time, where there was so much to write -- and so much for you to read -- that I run the risk of exhausting my audience!

First, I must give you this week's recipe from my cooking lesson with Yurina:  chiles rellenos -- stuffed peppers.


Chiles Rellenos de Queso, con Spaghetti
Stuffed Peppers with Cheese

Maestra de Cocina Yurina Peralta, February 22, 2011
San Miguel de Allende

Recipe for 8 people

This recipe is not difficult but it is slow and labor-intensive.

8 chiles poblanos (sweet green bell peppers) – choose large smooth ones, not indented
5 eggs
1 cup white flour
1 lb tomatoes
1 to 1.5 lbs hard cheese (gouda, gruyere, anything), 2 kinds if you like
1 lg clove garlic
½ onion
olive oil

On a gas fire, char the chiles directly on the burners, turning slowly until evenly charred all over.  (If stove is electric, blanch them briefly in boiling water.)  As soon as each chile is done, place it in a plastic bag big enough for them all and close tightly to keep in the heat and humidity.  This is a slow process.

For the tomato sauce

Peel the tomatoes and cut in chunks.
Cut up the garlic and onion.
Blend tomato, onion and garlic in blender until liquefied.
Add 2 tsp salt or to taste, blend again.
Put a little olive oil in saucepan, heat, and add tomato mixture.  Simmer on low heat about 15 minutes.

To prepare chiles

While tomatoes are simmering, peel chiles, very gently, by scraping off the skin with a small knife, being sure to leave the stem on.  When peeled, make a cut on one side only from top to bottom.  Cut out seeds on the inside, leaving stem intact as a handle to maneuver it with.  Gently slice out veins from the inside.  Rinse in water then place in bowl.

Separate eggs, with whites in mixing bowl and yolks in small bowl.  Beat egg whites until very frothy:  takes a while.  Then slowly add yolks and beat some more.

In large frypan place about half a cup of olive oil.

On a plate put about a cup of flour.

Cut cheese in eight roughly rectangular chunks, about 2 oz or so each.  Place a chunk (or two pieces of different cheeses) gently in each chile; close with a toothpick.

Very gently roll chile in flour, then dip in egg to cover.  Because it will drip, carry the chile over the egg bowl to the frypan and gently place it in the hot oil. 

Cook two chiles at a time over low-to-medium heat, turning gently to brown all over.  If there’s a side that’s too narrow to stand on its own, splash some of the hot oil onto the thin side with a flat-edged spatula so that the chile is brown all over.  When completely brown, remove to platter.  Add more oil to the frypan before cooking the next two chiles.  This too is a slow process.

When done, reheat if necessary in slow oven or microwave, and serve with heated tomato sauce dribbled on top.


Break in half and cook until al dente.  Strain.  In same pot, place spaghetti, butter, salt, and pepper.  Reheat.

This was totally delicious.  The lesson is on Tuesdays because our friend Louis comes to dinner, and this time we also invited Marcela, the woman from my chorus who gave me the chocolate cake for Valentine's Day -- a big deal here in Mexico, like Halloween is in some parts of the US -- and her 7-year-old daughter, Diana.  Between the entertainment provided by Mela the Dog and Diana the Kid, we had a lot to laugh at, even in Spanish.  

The pervasive Catholicism is starting to get to me a little.  Tuesday morning before Yurina arrived, Emma, our housekeeper -- ama de casa in Spanish, lover of the house -- sat and talked with me, which I normally love but for some reason she felt the need to tell me all about the joys of God, and about how God has blessed her, and on and on.  And then sure enough, Marcela Tuesday evening brought me a pair of delicate little earrings:  tiny paintings of La Virgen.  I will give them to Emma tomorrow, and think that maybe the two of them can skip the middlewoman next time.  I am also thinking that perhaps it is time to start telling friends, particular Mexican friends, that we are Jewish -- not that we have hidden it but it hasn't seemed relevant before.  It's starting to, in self-defense.

Tonight was a wonderful evening!  A couple of weeks ago we met an elderly man, Milt, in the Jardin and invited him to our housewarming party.  You may remember that I described him in the last post.  He invited us tonight to meet his visiting family, his daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter, first by showing them our house over drinks and snacks, and then out to a restaurant.  We went to Bugumbilla, the restaurant that specializes in traditional Mexican cooking with the superb chiles en nogada that we went to in September in honor of the Mexican Bicentennial.  Most of Milt's family ordered that and loved it, and loved the beautiful courtyard.  Then, a special treat for me!  Milt had met David Leonardo (the friend of a friend, the way one does in San Miguel), the artist who did the stunning mural in the Sala Quetzal at the Biblioteca that I raved about when I first got here last summer.  You can see two photos of his mural, which covers four sides of the room, in the August 5 blog:  David invited Milt to an opening of his art tonight, and Milt brought us.

David was born in Mexico City, lives here in San Miguel, is young, early 40s, and as bubbly as his art.  I apologize for the photo; believe it or not, this is the best of the half-dozen I took.  So if any of you know of a young woman who would like to start a family with this terrific and talented guy -- he told me so himself! -- here's your chance.

Tomorrow Rick and I go to Mexico City, where neither of us has been before. We will meet Seattle friends for the weekend and bring them back to the house they have rented for a month in San Miguel.  A city of 27 million is incomprehensible in the best of circumstances, but compared to a town of about 100,000 it's more so.  Our friend Gerardo told us about a restaurant specializing in pre-colonial Indian cuisine that serves gusanos -- worms, the kind in tequila bottles! -- and you can bet I am eager to try them!  Our friends aren't nearly as adventurous, so I hope we get to go.

Buenas noches, mis amigos -- more next week.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Oh, my, it's been too long!

I just looked at the little notebook where I jot down reminders of things to tell you about, and so much has happened -- too much for one post!  I truly apologize.  To make it less painful (more painful?), contemplate this image of San Miguel in mid-February:

In the daytime now it's in the low 80s, still not a drop of rain and so it's dusty.  At night it's in the 50s.  Every morning we wake up to sunshine:  astonishing.

One day we got in the car and explored a neighborhood (una colonia in Spanish) that was new to us:  marvelous architecture, and some of it very quirky.  We loved this house decorated with mosaics and even dinner plates:

Exploring further, we bumped down a single-lane dirt path to the Presa, a big lake/reservoir near San Miguel.  Someone told me it's an artificial lake, and I do believe it because the water is a colloidal suspension of dust particles such that it always reflects brown in the sun, not blue.  Our dog, Mela, however, saw no problem with that.

She had a fine time chasing the birds -- little swoopy ones were her favorites, but my favorites were white pelicans and white egrets.  I am going to have to start carrying my camera instead of my iPhone to take pictures in order to have a zoom:  I had to get too close to the birds to take a picture without a zoom, and they flew off.  Mela was also intrigued by the flocks of goats and sheep grazing by the side of the Presa.

Although, as you can see, it's hardly a beach there, it was spacious and calm and breezy in the sunshine.  Watching Mela romp through the water was delightful -- her happiness was contagious.  Next time we'll bring folding chairs and spend a couple of hours.

House-Warming Party

Last weekend we had a house-warming party!  We had originally planned for about 20 people, but in fact there were about 40.  We had arranged with our friends Yurina and Augustin to provide Mexican food cooked by Yurina (did I write about her before?  She's one of the singers we have heard each Friday night) -- huge bowls of chicken molé, chiles en nogada, enchiladas, rice, and more.  It was all delicious, and of course too much food.  Naturally, we put out more, more, and more food.

Yurina and Yoremi (pictured below), the two women we hear sing every week, entertained, along with still another musician.  I had been concerned that the music would stop people from talking, but in fact it was perfect.  This house allows groups of people to congregate at different places, and Yoremi is singing at the lower patio.

Some people, like my friends Béa Aaronson and Stephan Eaker below, listened intently (they are the artists we met on our first day in San Miguel in July; we just bought a couple of Stephan's drawings of the town, so when you're here to visit you'll see them):

Others schmoozed:

Yes, that's me in front.  The three men facing you are a good cross-section of how one makes friends here.  On the left is Milt, a man we met by accident in the Jardin last week.  He's in his mid-80s.  His wife died last year after 64 years of marriage and he's in town to see if he can re-invent his life.  I don't know a better place for that.  He has invited us for dinner later this week to meet a couple of his children, who I'd imagine are our age, who will be visiting.  In the center is Louis, one of the members of Rick's writers' group, who has become a good, good friend here.  Louis was an English teacher in Massachusetts and in Ghana, and has been in San Miguel since 1985.  You may recall that we had a friend who lives here on $595 US per month:  that's Louis, a complete joy as a friend.  On the right is Mike, a man I got to know when he and I talked about the possibility of his renting the house on the steep hillside we had planned to rent.  (It didn't work out.)  He grew up American in Mexico City and so is completely bilingual, and he has just moved to San Miguel.

Also at the party were our very first out-of-town guests, my oldest friend Ottie -- at whose suggestion we came to San Miguel last year, and her partner Eve.  Some of the pictures in this blog were taken by Ottie.  You'll see them in a picture or two below.  I have learned that having guests here is a different experience from what it was in the U.S.  Even though Ottie and Eve already knew San Miguel, I found that I spent so much time with them going places and doing things that I had no time for ordinary life -- paying bills, writing the blog, keeping up with emails, reading a book, and such.  That's exhausting.  It's very seductive, this place, and I learned it's necessary to resist the lure of doing all the interesting things it has to offer, necessary to resist the pleasure of watching people I love take pleasure in San Miguel.  So, fair warning -- when you come to visit, we will spend some time with you and then we will send you off with a map, a cell phone, and a house key to do some discovering on your own!

Cooking Lesson

This past week I had my first cooking lesson!  Yurina, one of the singers, is an accomplished cook.  She learned from her mother, who learned from professional chefs.  Here we are in my kitchen.

The lesson this week was how to make Pescada a la Veracruzana.  Yurina brought a list of ingredients, most of which I already had.  Part One of the lesson was to go to the market -- one of the major neighborhood markets, Mercado de San Juan de Dios, is right near the house -- for the few things we still needed.  Then as Yurina prepared the dish I chopped vegetables and took notes on what she was doing.  Here is a picture of the dish cooking; you can't see the fish filets, which are under the vegetables.   Except for the time it takes to dice the vegetables, it's a really easy recipe and utterly delicious.

And for the cooks among you, here's the recipe for the fish and the rice that went with it!


Pescado a la Veracruzana con Arroz

Maestra de Cocina Yurina Peralta, February 15, 2011
San Miguel de Allende

Recipe for 6 people

6 fish filets (tilapia or other)
½ cup or less olive oil
8 – 12 green olives
about ¼ cup capers
1 onion
2 lg cloves garlic
1 kilo tomatoes, about 5 medium/large
about 10-12 stems of parsley (if no parsley, use cilantro instead)
about 1 tsp dry oregano
half a sweet red pepper
optional:  diced potatoes

Prepare vegetables
            Dice onion
            Peel tomatoes with a knife and dice (or blanch and peel, then dice)
            Cut parsley leaves into small pieces
            Dice garlic finely
            Cut red pepper into larger dice than other vegetables

In big frypan, put olive oil at high heat.
Add diced tomatoes and cook until they turn orange and juice comes out
Add onions and garlic; cook until onions are translucent
If using potatoes, add now
Add parsley
Reduce heat to low
Add salt to taste
Add red pepper slices
Slice olives and add
Add capers
Crush oregano between hands and add.
Stir everything

Put fish filets on plate and pepper them.
Push vegetable mixture to one side of frypan and one by one add fish filets.  Cover with mixture.
Cover pan and simmer on low heat 20 to 30 minutes or until fish is white.

Can cook completely and take off fire, then reheat just before eating on very low heat at most 20 minutes.  Make sure there’s enough liquid in the pan.


Heat pot.
Add olive or other oil. 
When it is hot, add rice and stir.
If desired, can add peas for color (or any other vegetable)
Cook rice until slightly golden.
Add twice as much hot water as rice.
Add salt to taste
Cover and cook about 20 minutes over lowest flame until water is absorbed.  Taste for doneness near the end.  If needed, add a little bit of water.

To reheat just before eating, add a little water and cook over lowest possible flame a little while.


It was a superb experience, to say nothing of spectacularly delicious.  We've set the cooking lessons for Tuesdays, because on Tuesdays our friend Louis comes home with Rick after their writers' group for a standing weekly dinner invitation.  This coming Tuesday I'm going to learn how to make chiles rellenos, and we're going to have two other guests as well, Marcella, a lovely Mexican woman who sings in my chorus, and her eight-year-old daughter, so this dinner will be in Spanish.  Marcella last week brought to the chorus rehearsal a chocolate cake she had baked for me for Valentine's Day!  The warmth and generosity of the Mexicans we are meeting is extraordinary.


It remains for me in this post to tell you about my 68th birthday this week, my first in San Miguel.  It was a hell of a terrific birthday!

The first part of the day was arranged by Ottie and Eve, who connected with Lorna and John, friends who are building a compound of four houses in the campo (= countryside).  We got to ride out to the construction site in an open truck -- I loved that!  Ottie is on the left, then me, then Rick, then Eve.

All the houses are being made by hand -- not one power tool of any kind.  When it's all done it will be powered by solar collectors, entirely off the grid.  Here is one of the workers cutting a stone block to fit a corner space.

The site had a superb view out over the valley and the Presa.

And I must put this picture someplace.  I took it that day of Rick, and you can see how happy he is.

After visiting the construction site, we were given a tour of the ceramics studio owned by Lorna and John's son and daughter-in-law, who moved to San Miguel nine years ago and gradually lured out their family.  Nisha, the daughter-in-law, showed us around and explained the processes.  This is not ceramics as in dinner plates but ceramics as in works of art:  Oh, to have the money and the space to buy just a tiny part of the beautiful things we see here!  Adjoining the ceramics studio was, believe it or not, an aerial acrobatics circus training facility for GravityWorks: think Cirque du Soleil.  It seems Nisha has had this group for years and has trained others, many of whom are older (one woman is 58!), and every year they have a show here in San Miguel.  It will be next month, and you can be sure we'll go.  You can see some great short videos of the troupe's performances at

Last, dinner.  Here is what I posted right after dinner on the San Miguel Civil List, when I was still bubbling from the experience.

So I have to tell you about my birthday dinner tonight.  This past summer we lived a few doors from where Ricardo Landsman was preparing his new Argentinian steak restaurant, Virundela (at Codo #4), and we'd stop in every few days to see the progress and talk with Ricardo.  We hoped to eat there before we left in September but as it happened he opened a few days after we left town.  I decided that was where I wanted to have my birthday dinner.

It was utterly spectacular.  Because he's such a sweet man, his kindness and sweetness infused the atmosphere in the restaurant, even more so because there are only six tables.  All of them were full, even now at a time of diminished tourism.  He even told us that although something one of us wanted to order was on the menu it wasn't good enough, and he advised something else -- I loved that.  His wife is the cook, and EVERYTHING the four of us had was superb.  He has a black sausage appetizer that's extraordinary, and his steak is absolutely the best I've ever had in my 68 years on this earth.  What's even better is that the steak is 800 grams, so it's easily sharable and becomes a perfect serving for two people at 100 pesos per person.  The people at the next table had ribs, and they swooned over them.  One of us at our table, a vegetarian, was ecstatic at the empanadas and the grilled vegetables.  Ricardo's wife, Dede, is the cook, and she is totally amazing.  We brought her out for a round of applause.

Because it was a celebration Ricardo recommended a Uruguayan wine that was half wine and half bubbly, predictably Medio y Medio, that was delicious and more than the four of us could drink so we shared it with others.  By the end of the evening all the people at all the tables were talking and laughing together.  Now really, how could that happen in the US or Canada???

It was SUCH a joyful evening, and we were lucky to get in without a reservation!  Call for one at 552-4400.  If you have an occasion to celebrate, or even if you don't, go -- you will love it.

Now isn't this an amazing life???  With my love,


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Back by popular demand

I have been adamant that the time for this blog has passed.  Our summer of exploration in San Miguel has ended and now we live here every day.  Do you tell everyone about your everyday life?  But so many people have asked me to continue the blog -- I am immensely flattered!  Okay, every now and then I'll write something.  If you go to Google Reader you can set up a notification when there's a new post.

We arrived here on Rick's birthday on January 13:  San Miguel is a hell of a great birthday present!  We found the house to be as beautiful as we hoped, but the moving-in process was an unpleasant surprise.  We discovered that we're not 35 any more!  The physical exhaustion of age sure does sneak up on you.

But now that we've been here for almost a month we are almost completely done with settling in.  It's a very comfortable house, with a kitchen, dining room, living room, guest room/TV room, and full bath downstairs, and upstairs a big light room we call the solarium that we're using as our study, our bedroom/sewing room, a full bath, and a half bath.  There's a balcony patio off the solarium and a patio downstairs, and there's a fountain in the garden.  Our house has a Madonna painted on the wall out front, and it's surely not a coincidence that our wall has no graffiti.  We're living in a Mexican neighborhood and haven't yet seen any Gringos living on this street.  The Mexican women and I smile shyly at each other, "Buenos dias, señora," as we pass.

We are gradually reintroducing ourselves to the life of this marvelous town.  Rick has rejoined his Tuesday writers' group and I have rejoined my chorus, with a concert coming up this Friday.  The other day we walked through the Jardin and had not one but two fascinating conversations with people.  One was a spontaneous conversation with an elderly man who turned out to be 85, whose wife of 64 years died last year.  He was here because he'd heard the town's reputation of being the place where people come to reinvent their lives.  My experience of San Miguel is that it's true.

We're having a house-warming party a week from today.  We had thought to invite maybe 20 people but it has just mushroomed.  Some people want to bring others, and we meet new people and invite them.  It will even be catered!  We have made some Mexican friends where the husband has a little cafe for which his wife cooks, and the wife is a musician, a singer.  So they will prepare tapas for the party and she will sing!  Also starting next weekend we will have our first out-of-town company:  my oldest friend Ottie, from junior high school, and her partner Eve.  Ottie is responsible for our life here since it was originally her suggestion that we check out San Miguel.  Because this will be their third trip, we still have in our future the heady experience of introducing the town to people who don't know it at all.  Honestly, I would not believe me when I rave about this place!  It must be experienced to be believed.

Every year there's a ten-day Candelaria festival, celebrating flowers and plants, held in a lovely park, Parque Juarez.  We went today.  Imagine hundreds of florists and nursery owners spreading out their wares along long walkways!

It is early February and there were pots of open tulips and hyacinths, as well as almost every other flower.  Here are mostly cyclamens.

And here is the flower that represents Mexico to me, thanks to Diego Rivera's paintings, the calla lily.

For someone like me from the Pacific Northwest, the weather is just ideal now:  daytimes in the 70s, nights in the 50s.  Short-sleeve weather for Rick and me, but many Mexicans think it's cold.  Well, no wonder oranges grow here.

In our garden we have a lime tree.  Lime is "limon" in Spanish, and our yellow lemons are nowhere to be seen.  Another odd food thing is that we went to Costco in Celaya, a town maybe an hour from here, and bought some sushi.  It turns out that Mexican sushi is not made with rice, but with mashed potatoes! Very weird to be dipping mashed potatoes into soy sauce and wasabi.

Welcome back!