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,



  1. Love your blogs. Keep them and the recipes coming Jo. What a beautiful life you guys have carved out. bill

  2. :Wonderful. Can't wait to get there. is 30 here....

  3. Hey Jo,
    Sign me up for those cooking lessons and that wonderful restaurant! See you in 5! Roberta