Monday, May 31, 2010

The Best Pizza in San Miguel de Allende

La Grotta Restaurante at Cuadrante No. 5 in San Miguel de Allende has the best pizza in town! It's right around the corner from Calle Cuna de Allende that leads you up to the jardin. My friends, Esther and Daniel, own and run the place along with the help of their son, Dyami.
It is a cozy little restaurant that is decorated with a lot of charm. Proceed up the spiral staircase to the second floor and enjoy a view of the street below.
Here's Esther. We were out and about one afternoon during Easter week (Semana de Santos) watching some of the processions around town and taking in all the altars.
The pizzas have thin crusts that come with an assortment delicious toppings. Order off the menu or select your own toppings. My favorite is chorizo and rajas (strips of jalapeno peppers). The salads are cold and crisp. I love the refreshing salad with grapefruit sections, greens, pecans and goat cheese.
On my previous guided tour of San Miguel, Linda and Trudy stayed an extra day and they were gracious enough to invite me out to dinner. We walked up to La Grotta and enjoyed a margarita and a couple of pizzas. I bet you could not tell they are mother and daughter!

Next time you're in a mood for pizza, tell Esther and Daniel that Robin sent you in. La Grotta is open daily from 1:00 to 11:00pm. Buen provecho.

Friday, May 28, 2010

More fun at Rancho Casa Luna

Wednesday I wrote about how I love cooking at Rancho Casa Luna just outside of San Miguel de Allende. When I was with my last group, I took them out to the Rancho for a tour and a cooking lesson. Talk about a beautiful setting!
This is a view from the garden looking up at the Rancho. Up the first set of stone steps is a pool that is so refreshing.
The Agapanthus were gigantic and the orange Montbretia were brilliant!
The menagerie of animals at the Rancho is fabulous. This is one of the furriest burros I have ever seen.
Back in the kitchen, here's Trudy chopping up cilantro for her dish.
(Click on the purple above to view some of the ladies cooking)
Diane is selecting her ingredients for her recipe. And enjoying that margarita too!

We are given paper mache figures on a stick by our cooking instructor. Helene selected one with a coiled snake. Watch Helene act out her "Snake Dance" with her stick. Click on the purple below. She is just hilarious! As you can tell by the videos that I shot, we are having so much fun.
San Miguel de Allende - Snake dance

And the parting shot is of Bravo, one of my favorite dogs at the Rancho. When Diane, the owner of the Rancho, turns on the fountain, Bravo attacts it with gusto!

Life is GOOD at the Rancho!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Robin Cooking out at Rancho Casa Luna

I love being in the kitchen and one of the best kitchens I love to cook in is at Rancho Casa Luna outside of San Miguel de Allende. (Check out my post on May 7 to see pictures of the Rancho and read about how I took my group out to their for a cooking class). This is just one of the kitchens at the Rancho. There is another one in the large sala (living/dining room). And an outdoor kitchen that has a pizza oven and a big wood burning grill.
I have a great kitchen in my Denver house and my casa in San Miguel de Allende; If you read my post on May 10, you will see what I am talking about. But to have a pantry like this, I would kill for. My husband would not even consider it in his wildest dreams, for it would give me just another excuse to buy more dishes!
Dianne, good friend and the owner of the Rancho and Casa Luna B & B in town, raises rabbits (conejos) along with chickens and goats. I had already braised two rabbits earlier in the day. In the one skillet, I have shitakes, porchinis and the rabbit along with some butter, garlic and shallots. I have risotto in the other skillet. This recipe is an adaption from Frank Bonano's braised rabbit that is in his cookbook, Mizuna. Mizuna, along with Luca d'italia, are two of my favorite restaurants in Denver, Colorado.
I am about to plate the plates. I used sections of water bottles that I had cut for my rings. I first drizzle the reduced braising liquid on the plate. I set the ring on the plate and partially fill it with the risotto and then with the rabbit mixture. I gently press down on the risotto and rabbit with a back of a spoon and carefully slide the ring off. It makes for a great presentation. To add to the meal, I seved a fresh green salad straight out of Dianne's garden with a cilantro dressing that I had just whipped up.

Two of the guests were a cousin of my Mom's, Marje, and her daughter, Jill, who were visiting from Minneapolis. Jill was convinced she was going to loose weight on her visit since she did not like Mexican food and was sometimes a picky eater. When she got back home, her friends could not believe she was the same person for she loved the food on her trip and that she had eaten rabbit and liked that too!
Dianne is ready to dig into the "Conejo."
Bon Appetit! Seconds anyone?

Please let me know if you are interested in joining me on one of my tours. I would be more than happy to organize a custom cooking class for you ranging from Mexican dishes, Italian pastas & raviolis to Spanish tapas. You may reach me at .

Monday, May 24, 2010

Flowers in the Mercado in San Miguel de Allende

The activity in the market, el mercado, in San Miguel de Allende is always an adventure. Before my group arrives for their guided tour of San Miguel de Allende and the surrounding areas, I head to the mercado to buy flowers to fill the house.
People are visiting, shopping, children playing... When my group is in town, I take them to the mercado as part of my guided walking tour.
It is always a dilemma on what to buy. The Gladiolas look good and such an array of colors. I usually pick up five dozen Glads to fill my entry and living room.
I also like to buy an array of Gerber daisies and float them in one of my pilas (fountains).
The roses are always spectacular and they are grown not too far away. They are usually fresh in the market every other day, depending on what vendor you go to.

And when I have bought arms full of flowers, there is always a helpful someone to carry my bundles of flowers out to the street and help me hail a cab. Viva la mercado!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mexican Papel Picado

You can not walk around San Miguel de Allende without seeing the brightly colored strands of papel picado (cut paper) adorning the streets, churches or homes. This is a tradition that can be dated back to PreHispanic time. The indigenous native would make a textured paper called amate from the bark of the fig or mulberry tree. Designs were drawn and cut on the amate and they were strung together. These banners were hung as decorations for religious ceremonies and other celebrations. With the arrival of the Spaniards, large Manila Galleons sailed from China and the Philippines en route to Acapulco with fragile cargo wrapped in tissue paper, papel de China. This papel de China soon became the material of choice to make the papel picado for it was easier to dye and cut.
There are skilled craftsmen that make the papel picado and it is a skill that takes years to learn. Fifty layers of tissue are topped with a master pattern. A hammer and chisels, awls and small knives are used to cut the intricate designs. The designs vary from festival to festival. The designs may include historic figures, skeletons, flower & fauna, saints.... The colors also are specific to the occasion; red and white for Valentine's Day, white for weddings, pink and blue for celebrations in honor of the Virgin Mary, deep purple for Easter, colors of the Mexican flag (red, white & green) for national holidays and to venerate the nation's patroness (Virgin de Guadalupe).
These papel picados have been on Calle Jesus in front of the Parroquia Cafe in San Miguel as long as I can remember. Today you can find papel picado that has been machine stamped and made of plastic or mylar.

Isn't it fabulous how this room is decorated with the papel picado for this festive party. My good friend, Guadalupe Alvarez, who lives in San Miguel de Allende owns Penzi, an event planning company. Guadalupe organizes weddings, parties and events of all kinds. She and her staff take care of everything down to the smallest details; the location, food, decor, flowers, music, customized party favors... You name it, she can get it done. Last week she was in charge of a wedding with SIX HUNDRED guests. It was a huge success!

These custom, hand cut tablecloths take papel picado to another level! Guadalupe works hand and hand with the artisan on the design and the sizes. These mantales (tablecloths) are made from recylced fabric. Now that is green.
I just love the detail in the tablecloths and how beautifully they are used as an overlay on top of the brightly colored cloths.
Lucky me, Guadalupe is having a few table cloths made for me.

Check out her website and let's have a party!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Who needs a calendar in San Miguel de Allende

Today is Saturday. How do I know? Well, let me tell you a cute story. This is Mariana Alvarada G., who has a darling little boutique, Boutique El Inquisidor, up the street from my house in San Miguel de Allende.
She sells typical Mexican cotton clothing and many of the pieces are beautiful hand embroidered.
Dresses, blouses, skirts, shawls, children clothes... very pretty and nicely displayed. Some hats and purses too.
After visiting with Mariana one afternoon, I commented on how I loved seeing the different "color coded" display of clothing in her doorway every day when I walked by. She said that she has a color for each day of the week; Monday is white, Tuesday is green, Wednesday is lavender, Friday is orange, Saturday is turquoise and Sunday is pink. A lady who lives up the street told Mariana that if she did not know what day it was, she would just look out her door to see what color clothing Mariana had on display in the doorway. Only in Mexico!
Green... I guess it must be Tuesday today!

Check out her boutique and meet Mariana, she's darling too! Tell her Robin sent you in!

Boutique "El Inquisidor"
Cuadrante No. 34
10 am - 2 pm / 4 pm - 7 pm

Monday, May 17, 2010

Conde Nast names San Miguel de Allende one of the 50 Top Cities to visit

Each year, Conde Nast Traveler magazine publishes their Top 100 - Best Hotels, Islands, Airlines, Cities and Cruises in the World. And guess what? Right there on page 172 of the November 2009 issues, along with Florence, Rome, Venice, Barcelona, San Francisco and Santa Fe is my great colonial gem in the Bahia Highlands of Old Mexico - chosen as one of the the 50 Top City selections of the world... San Miguel de Allende, Mexico!

Proves what I have been saying for some time... block by block, San Miguel de Allende is a world wonder! It's why I say - if you want a short break from the pressures of today's busy life... if you long for a brief holiday in a totally different and wonderful hideaway...if you want to shop 'till you drop...or dine where each menu exceeds the previous...or if you'd enjoy discovering art treasures the world seems to have forgotten... Meet me in San Miguel!

All my previous tours were a huge success. My October tour is filling fast. I will have another one in January. Please email me if you or someone you know might be interested in joining me on one of my tours.

Muchas gracias!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Trio, Los Comodines, in San Miguel de Allende

Before my group arrived for my guided tour of San Miguel de Allende and the surrounding area, I was out with my friend, Esther, looking for the trio, Los Comodines. Los Comodines roughly translates to "the jokers." They had played for Esther's son's birthday party and everyone loved them. So why not do something totally different and have them play for my group! There were no "jokers" in El Gato Negro.
Next stop, Bar El Tenampa!

What a funky interior. The things I do to make my tours the best!

I talked to Celestino, the guitarist, and arranged for his trio to come to my house for my group's farewell reception and dinner. Los Comodines play ranchera music. Ranchero is the traditional Mexican music that is often about the life on the ranch and in the countryside of rural Mexico. In the north, these trios are referred to as Conjuntos.

Los Comodines are up on my mirador (roof top patio) playing for the cocktail hour. Don Luis on the bass, me singing (not really), Celestino on the guitar and Jesus on the accordion. They were great! Get a peek at them performing - click on "Trio in ... Los Comodines" in the blue below.
Trio in San Miguel de Allende - Los Comodines
Los Comodines (singing the song, Caminos de Guanajuato)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Meeting New Friends

One of the bonuses of going on one of my guided tours of San Miguel de Allende and the surrounding areas is to meet new friends of similar tastes and interests.

Two years ago this summer, my husband and I went on a Crystal Cruise starting in Venice with stops in parts of Greece and Turkey. We met some great people from all over the United States and Latin America. One such couple was Charlotte and Jim from Naples, Florida. Standing: Len (my husband), Jim and Howard. Seated: Charlotte, ME, Arne (chief officer) and Leslie.
We immediately hit it off with Jim and Charlotte and often joined each other for cocktails and some of our meals. Since the cruise, we have stayed in touch via emails. I wrote Charlotte about my tours to San Miguel and she said they might be interested in joining me on my next one. I sent them the itinerary and within days I received a note that they wanted to sign up! They sent me their deposit checks and all we had to do was wait until January rolled around to get together.

We are on one of the side trips with my group to Guanajuato which is a full day of sight seeing. Above are Charlotte and Jim with the center of town in the back ground.
Charlotte poising with this lavishly adorned mannequin at one of the wild homes I take my group to. But that's another story!
Jim is taking a break from all the chopping and cooking out at Rancho Casa Luna where I take my group for their cooking extravaganza. It was great reconnecting with them and having them on my tour!

Charlotte and Jim were in Denver this last week and my husband and I had a wonderful dinner with them at Luca d'italia along with their two daughters who live in Colorado. It was just like the four of us were back on the cruise ship and no time had elapsed. I am sure that before too much time has passed, we'll plan to get together in the near future. Charlotte told me that she enjoys reading my posts and checks my blog daily!

Yesterday I talked to a friend of mine, Ann, who was on my April tour. She was about to meet another gal, Linda, that she had met on the tour for a round of golf. Reunion dinners are being planned. Promises of margaritas on each other's patios are on the agenda, if it ever warms up. I often hear from people in Denver and out of town that have been on my tours. Acquaintances have become friends. These tours have enriched my life tremendously from all the new friends I have made.

You can't teach an old dog new tricks but you're never too old to make new friends.

Viva los amigos!

If you are interested in joining me on one of my tours for a great week and meeting new people, please contact me at .

Monday, May 10, 2010

My Kitchen has a NEW look !

As I promised a few, below are some photos showing off the design changes I made in my kitchen in Denver. I've also added a few photos of my "cocina" (kitchen) in San Miguel de Allende. I do love to cook!
My house in an International style home that was designed and built by architect Edwin Francis in 1938. The cabinets are original to the home. I have since given them a fresh coat of white paint, piano hinges and new hardware. The Carrera marble counter tops replaced darker Granatech counters. The kitchen has really become so much brighter, more open and a real treat to cook and entertain in.
I put in an under counter, 16 gauge, deep, double bowl, stainless steel sink that came with two sinks grids. The brushed, stainless goose neck faucet and spray are also new to the kithen.
The back splash was changed to a brushed stainless and low voltage lighting was added. The lighting gives the kitchen such a "glamorous" look. My husband thinks it looks like a kitchen one would find on a Deco cruise ship in a Thin Man movie. I agree. The only thing missing is Asta, the Jack Russel Terrier, and a few martinis.

The left wall of the kitchen is curved. The cabinets have three interior shelves and are deeper than the standard wall cabinet. Can you imagine getting curved cabinet door fronts made today! $$$$!!!
I've just rolled out my dough for empanadas and the filling is a Mediterranean approach, lamb, onions, mint, cilantro, seasoning and cheese. I like the flour on my sweater. I better put on an apron.
Let's head south, back to San Miguel de Allende. My "cocina" has two glass, french doors at the end of the kitchen that open up right to the courtyard. Nothing like having the patio and the outdoors right at you fingertips! Like my Denver kitchen, I adore working in such a light and airy space. My brother and I hosted a 60th anniversary party for my parents. I did all the food (of course) and the trio above is the wait staff that I hired to serve.
And here I am, plating a dinner for some of my friends that had come over for dinner. Being an interior designer, I had the cabinets painted with a blue wash to give the kitchen more of a "Mexican" feeling. The original beige wash was too "gringo" looking for me and besides, I love blue.To add the crowning touch to the kitchen, I painted this wonderful saying on one of the walls.

"The secret to a long life is to eat garlic, but the difficult part is to hide the secret.."