Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mariachi "Allende" in the jardin

On one of the many beautiful evenings in San Miguel de Allende, I headed up to the jardin with my group that I was touring around town with. We were all going out to dinner together and I told them that I would treat them to some Mariachi music. We sat on the half wall that lines the jardin, soaked up the magnificent view of the Parroquia and listened to a few songs from "Mariachi Allende." Here's Jennifer, from my January tour group, singing and dancing with the mariachis to "Cielito Lindo." It was a song that she had sung in her high school days when she was in the school's Fandango program.

Caminos de Guanajuato - Click on the the left to hear "The streets of Guanajuato," one of my favorite songs! I had a great time shooting these videos.

Perdido Click on Perdido to the left. "El Nino Perdido" is one of the most beautiful songs with the dueling trumpets looking for the lost child. Notice how the trumpeters finally come together. Join me in the jardin for a little mariachi music!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spring time in San Miguel de Allende and Denver

It's hard to choose where springtime is the best. Well, I have two places. You could not look up in San Miguel without seeing the Jacaranda trees in full bloom. Such a beautiful purple.
Back in Denver, the Pear trees and the Crab Apple trees (above) are just as lush and brilliant all over town. Springtime seems to bring people outdoors. We went to a California wine tasting sponsored by Argonaut Liquors last night. My husband and I love a good Cabernet and there were many to sample.
Larry and Elizabeth were pouring some amazing good wines.

One of their wines was a 2006 William Hill Bench Blend Cabernet Sauvignon that was outstanding and my husband bought a case. It is very intense, yet a subtle cab from Napa with great viscosity to the palette. Superb now and will only improve with age. An added bonus was the price, $34 if you placed an order that evening. Normally is retails around $40 to $50. I call that a price performer. Another wine we thought was killer was the 2006 BV Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. Robust and extremely dry and I love it's nickname, "Dust."
We dined at Olivea, a cozy little place that serves cuisine influenced by Spain, Italy & France. Without thinking, we dived into our shared starter. So no photo. The Charcuterie plate had three parts to it: Duck liver mousse, fig compote & pickled onions - Pork Belly with tangerine glaze and lentils - Lamb sausage and minted yogurt with cucumbers. It was so good. Next time that will be my entree! Makes me want to plan one of my tapas dinners and have a party. Well, it is springtime and my patio will be open soon.
My entree was a winner. Duck meatballs on creamy polenta with shaved pecorino. Mmmm.
When we left Olivea, the skyline of downtown Denver was magnificent. I can not think of two better places to live than Denver and San Miguel de Allende, especially in the spring.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A busy day in San Miguel de Allende

One of my many busy days in San Miguel de Allende. Here I am delivering the welcome bags for my group that is arriving the next day for my guided tour of San Miguel and surrounding areas. Two days before, I was shopping for the welcome dinner and flowers for the house. I have been cooking like a mad woman making hors d' oeuvres, the entree and dessert.

The bags are full of good stuff. One special treat is the book, Visions of San Miguel: The Heartland old Mexico, which is full of interesting text and fabulous photography. There are two maps of San Miguel, one with a legend of historic sites. The other map is my own creation with a legend of restaurants, shops and useful places to know about (like a money exchange office, pharmacy, packing/shipping store, location of where you are staying and my house). There are my special lists, such as, "Some of Robin's favorite restaurants," "Some of Robin's favorite shopping spots," and more of Robin's lists. And there are more goodies in the bag. I won't give away all my secrets. Join me on one of my tours and see for yourself. And for those who have been on my tours, please tell your friends and have them check out my blog! Muchas gracias.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Mural at the Bellas Artes in San Miguel de Allende

My last post was about the Bellas Artes in San Miguel de Allende. On my guided walking tour, we spent some time in the cavernous room towards the back of the school. This 5,555 square foot, eighty-four foot long room was once the nuns dining room. The acoustics are unbelievable! David Alfaro Siqueiros was lecturing at the Bellas Artes and the director, Alfredo Campanella, was under pressure from the GI students to improve the courses so he employed Siqueros to paint a mural. Siqueiros was the founder of the Mexican Mural movement in the 1940's. Other muralist part of that movement were Diego Rivera and Jose Clements Orozco.

Siqueiros had always admired this room and visualized a mural that would cover the entire space; the vaulted ceiling, walls and floor. His plan was to create a perspective of the mural to change as the viewer moved around the room. The mural project started with 24 students and teachers under his supervision. It depicted the life and work of Ignacio Allende, one of the founding fathers of the Mexican Revolution of 1810. The bolt of lightening down the middle of the ceiling symbolizes the struggle of the Mexican Independence.

The mural was never completed, for Siqueiros and Campanella had a falling out. Siqueiros shoved him down the stairs (really!), because of a dispute over salaries and the lack of art supplies. The fact that Siqueiros was a lifelong member of the communist party did not help either. The grievances of students were never met by Campanella and the majority of them left with Siqueiros in support. The school was eventually closed down.

The room just screams for a photo shoot. Above is Ann and her Mom, Barbara.

Diane doing her "King Tut" or should I say, "Queen Tut."

It's a very cool space and not to be missed. Don't forget, the acoustics are worth a song or two!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Bellas Artes, a cultural center in San Miguel de Allende

I was at the Bellas Artes a few weeks ago on one of my guided tours of San Miguel de Allende with my group. I had a wonderful group of people from Colorado and Washington who loved every minute of their time in San Miguel.

At one time, the Bellas Artes was part of a magnificent complex and the buildings and gardens went on for blocks. Originally it was a convent created by the donation of the eldest daughter of the Canal family back in 1754. It has seen major changes over the years from a convent, military outpost, a private art school and currently, a government run cultural center, "El Nigromante", for the arts. Today it is host to lectures, art exhibits and many concerts. The interior courtyard is exceptionally large, especially for a convent in Mexico. Thanks to the numerous philanthropic endeavours in town, this garden has been beautifully restored.

In January of 1948, Life magazine ran an article with the headline, "GI Paradise: Veterans go to Mexico to study art, live cheaply and have a good time." Back then, apartments rented for $10 a month, maids were $8 a month, rum was 65 cents a quart & cigarettes 10 cents a pack. Due to this article, 6,000 applied to the Bellas Artes. The town's population at the time was only 10,000! 100 applications were accepted making the total enrollment 140.

After the revolution of 1910 and the decline of the silver mining, San Miguel was dangerously close to becoming a ghost town. It was the arts that has brought San Miguel back to life and it has prospered ever since.
One of the beautiful, expansive portales within the Bellas Artes.

In its early days as an art school, the students and young artists painted many murals on the buildings walls. This mural, The Vampire Bat, by Pedro Martinez depicts the Chupacabras. OK, what's a chupacabras? It means "goatsucker" and it attacks livestock and makes incisions into its victim's bodies like a vampire. It's like the "Lock Ness" monster in Scotland and "Sasquatch" in North America.

This mural pretty much depicts life in a small town and the school itself. You can still see large looms in the school's class rooms. It's a beautiful building, tranquil setting and the various art exhibits throughout the year makes it worth a visit. But watch out for the Chupacabras!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Joaquinita Chocolate

Joaquinita Chocolate Supremo Casero Tablets are famous through out the state of Michoacan. And I have never had such good hot chocolate than when I am in Mexico! This is one stop that I will take my group to in 2011. I am planning a tour centered around the folk art of this state in addition to my tours to San Miguel de Allende.

Maria Guadalupe Garcia Lopez's family has been making the darkly roasted, Mexican chocolate tablets since 1898.

Here's my friend Paula, standing in the little store which is also the entrance to the Lopez's home. We both could not resist and bought a package of the tablets. Also for sale, where huge loafs of Membrillo (quince paste). I would have bought one but they were gigantic and there was no way that I could even use that up in one year more less five years.

The market in Patzcuaro sells the jarros de barro (clay pots) to make the hot chocolate in. Note that some of the pots are slightly rounded on the bottom and tapered at the top. This is to keep the liquid from splashing out when you are stirring it. It also has a pouring spout and a handle.

In the photo above, on the left, is the traditional wooden utensil, molinillo, that is used to mix the chocolate and milk together for the hot chocolate. They are made from one piece of wood and there are loose rings that spin when rubbing the handle back and forth between your palms.

The traditional method of making MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE
Makes: 4 one cup servings
2 Joaquinta chocolate tablets
1 qt. milk
Heat the milk over a medium heat in a jarro (or a saucepan).
Add the chocolate tablets, broken-up, to the milk. Using a molinillo, quickly rub the handle back and forth between your palms. When chocolate has melted, reduce heat to a simmer. Continue using the molinillo until a thick foam has formed.
If you do not have a molinillo, use a mixer or blender.
In the states, you can substitute the tablets with Ibarra tablets found at any grocery store.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shopping, dining and sight seeing

On second day of my most recent tour which took place from April 6 - 12, it was a fun, full day. I started off with a little history of San Miguel de Allende and then off we went, up the hill to the jardin (central plaza). After touring the Parroquia, the parish church, we stopped into Galleria San Miguel which is the oldest art gallery in town. Sylvia Samuelson opened this gallery 48 years ago!

Here's Ann and Diane hamming it up for the camera.
I limit the group to 13 people so we can have an intimate experience and move at our own pace.  We really enjoy all the sights in San Miguel.

Next door, at a great shop that has beautiful textiles, clothing, rebozas and a lot more, Trudy is trying on a hand made shawl with the help of her daughter, Linda.

After touring a few more churches, Plaza Civica and the market, pass by some of the town's oldest mansions, it was time for comida (lunch). We headed over to one of my all time, favorite restaurants in San Miguel, Casa Blanca. Wayne and Cynthia are enjoying the hors d'oeuvres and a big, cold margarita before deciding on their entrees.
After comida, we strolled by the Teatro Angela Peralta and then stopped in a beautiful little boutique noted for their linen clothing, jewelry and leather purses. Arrieana is modeling the purse for me. And yes, she did buy it.

Not only am I the tour's leader, I have been known to be the "personal shopper." Gail is checking out the purse that Cynthia is contemplating on buying . And yes, she bought it too.

I love the fresh Calla Lilies with the boutique's window display and how the sun light was hitting them. After all the purchases were paid for, we gathered up our shopping bags and walked over to the Bellas Artes, the first art school in town.

Look for my next post in a few days. I will be writing about the Bellas Artes. Photos too!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Never a dull moment

I was at Carmela's in San Miguel de Allende getting a pedicure one morning and reading one of my favorite Mexican magazine's, Hola. I looked up and there was a lady standing in the doorway selling cheese that she had made and the perfectly balanced bundle of Birds of Paradise. Never a dull moment!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bola Suriana in Patzcuaro, Mexico

A couple of weekends ago, I was in Patzcuaro with a good friend of mine. Patzcuaro is located in the state of Michaocan and is a beautiful, three hour drive south from San Miguel de Allende. Being one of my favorites towns, I was in that state doing some research for a "once in a lifetime" tour of the area and its crafts that I am planning on putting together for 2011.

The architecture is completely different from that of San Miguel. I find it to be more like that of Toledo, Spain with is tile roofs, white and reddish, rust painted walls, wood spindles instead of wrought iron in the windows and huge columns and beams everywhere.

We were sitting under the portale above, having something cold to drink. I shot this photo the next morning and the little table and chairs had not been set out yet - with my camera in tow, I was up taking advantage of the morning light and the town was just waking up. (Last time I was here, I was with my husband in August and it was raining "gatos y perros." We sat here for a while until the rain subsided and warmed up with a healthy shot of Jose Cuervo Traditional.)
Back to cooooooling off with my lemonada. This interesting looking gentleman came walking by and I could not help myself but to ask about his attractive clothing. He was so happy to stop and chat. He told us that he is part of an older men's dance group, that they had won first prize in a competition in Morelia and he was on his way to the Casa de la Cultura for an event that started at 7:00. I think his main motivation was that there was going to be free food! He was very impressed and excited about that. This beautiful, old building was constructed over a prehistoric temple. Originally, it was the second Jesuit college in Mexico, Mexico City having the first. The white structure on the left is the Cultural center.

The interior patio was being set up for a performance. What a treat to be here! We sat on the half wall under the arches. It was just a beautiful evening. People kept filtering in and eventually it was a full house. The group, Bola Suriana, playing that night were incredible. They are from the nearby capital of Michoacan, Morelia and have been together for 18 years. Over time, they have developed their own style, a variety of Mexican and Latin American folk music with an emphasis on their own heritage from Michoacan. Many of the songs relate to the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the name of the group was taken from Zapata's army.

Bola Suriana in Patzcuaro Click on this to check out one of their performances that evening.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Parroquia - Our Lord of Conquest

In the Parroquia, the parish church on the jardin (the main square) in San Miguel de Allende, is the Statue of Our Lord of Conquest. Just down the left isle, in the first chapel, is this beautiful piece of artwork made by the Indians of Patzcuaro in the late 1500's.

It is constructed of corn stalks and glue made from orchid bulbs. The glue not only seals the statue, it also preserves the vegetable matter. Leather thongs were used to emulate muscles and veins. Even though it is life size, it only weights a few pounds.

Back in the 1500's, this statue and a similar one were being delivered by two friars to San Miguel de Allende. They were ambushed out side of town and both friars were murdered. It was rumored that the blood of one of the friars stained one of the statues. One statue was sold back to some Spaniards who in turned donated to La Parroquia.

My group and I were just in this church on my walking tour of San Miguel this week and they were very interested in hearing about the history behind each church. This particular story really intrigued them. One lady, a docent at the Denver Art Museum, had heard about statues being made out of corn husks but had never actually seen one. With the smooth appearance of the statue, one would never know it is made of corn husks. It's a pretty amazing piece of art!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mayer Shacter's Gallery & Home outside of San Miguel de Allende

Mayer Shacter and his wife, Susan Page, found this property in 2001 which consisted of two warehouses that had been a factory for rattan furniture.

They transformed the property and buildings into a striking home (above) and gallery (below). It has been referred to as "contemporary organic" and even "modern baroque."

Located five miles outside of San Miguel de Allende, their gallery and home sits on eight acres among beautiful, old mesquite trees and lush landscaping.

Yesterday morning, my group and I traveled to the countryside to tour two homes. Both have outstanding art collections and Shacter's property is one of my all time favorite stops.

The gallery houses one of the best folk art collections around. Their home also displays their amazing, personal folk art along with a few other pieces for purchase.

Mayer has one of the finest private collections of old serapes from the "post-classic" period dating from 1875 to 1940. They are available to view (and purchase) upon request.
Their collection consists of folk art from all over Mexico; ceramic figures by the Aguilar family from the Oaxaca area, burnished ceramic pots and plates from Tonala (an area outside of Guadalajara), antique furniture, inlaid wood boxes, lacquer trays, paper mache figures, retablos, santos, huichol, old jewelry and much more.
This is the tranquil setting of the pool, with an old limb of a Mesquite tree growing over the water.

Besides having the amazing selection of folk art, it's just a beautiful place to visit.

If you do not want to carry your purchases home with you, Mayer will be more than happy to arrange to have your newly acquired treasures shipped back to you in the states.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Robin's Sangia

What could be better than an ice cold, glass of Sangria on a hot day. Having experimented with many batches, I have finally perfected my Sangria recipe that I find to be flavorful, light and refreshing! On a hot day, it can go down real fast, so watch out.


1 bottle dry red wine, 750 milliliters
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup triple sec
1 3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup superfine sugar
slices of oranges and limes for garnish

ice cubes
1 12 oz. can/bottle of club soda

In a large pitcher, mix the wine, brandy, sugar, juices, triple sec and fruit together. Let sit in the refrigerator for a couple hours for the flavors to meld together and the fruit to macerate some. Just before serving, add the club soda and ice to the pitcher.

Salud !

Monday, April 5, 2010

Love to garden

Talk about going to a nursery and having such a selection of pots to choose from. Armed with a tape measure, my list and some pesos, I headed out to one of my favorite nursery's in San Miguel de Allende, just east of Mega.

I have bought a few citrus trees here in the past, every time hoping to have brought home a lemon tree. Lemons that we buy in the states are unheard of at the market or grocery store. Well, one out of three purchase wasn't too bad. I now have one grapefruit tree, one lemon tree and one lime tree. Maybe I should get an orange tree! Hmmm, sounds like the start of good sangria! Now, all I need is some vino tinto (red wine) and some brandy.

After buying quite a few pots of red geraniums, a small fig tree, purple Daisies, a basil plant, some new pots and dirt, I was ready to go home and whip up a pitcher of Sangria. Salud!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Breakfast at La Cafe Parroquia is not to be missed

This mural is on the wall just before you enter the courtyard of La Cafe Parroquia located at Calle Jesus 11. This is Saint Michael the Archangel, who is the Saint on the main altar of the Parroquia Church in San Miguel de Allende.

Francois, the owner of La Cafe Parroquia, is arranging the lush, beautiful roses in the fountain. She is the most delightful lady, who always greets me with a big smile and hug. I think she has eyes on the back of her head, for she knows when someone needs a refill on their coffee, when someone needs the check..... Needless to say, she runs a tight ship.
What I can not get enough of, is the Salsa Verde that Antonio makes. It is a family recipe from Veracruz, that is a divine combination of serranos, cilantro, garlic and avocados. That on a piece of bolillo is the best way to kick start the day. And the fresh squeezed orange..... mmmmmmmm.

Often, Valeria, Francois and Antonio's daughter, is working hard at the Cafe in the mornings, even thou she has her own little French restaurant at night in the front of the property, La Brasserie.
When I am really hungry and not in the mood for eggs, which by the way are delicious in Mexico for the hens are fed marigolds which enhances their color and flavor, I order the mouth watering, Chili Rellenos. The poblanos are roasted to perfection and filled with cheese. Then coated with a light batter and fried. They are served in a delicate, tomato salsa that is to die for!

What else can I say but, "Buen Provecho!"

Thursday, April 1, 2010


You don't have to be Catholic - or even Christian - to have Patron Saints. The original patron saint is determined by the date of your birth. By church law, every child at birth is given a Saint's name, a first or given name. There are saints that watch over you, saints assigned to your occupation, saints for every physical illness, saints for personal dilemmas and even saints for environmental crisises to the family pet.

This is my particular favorite, Santo Pascal, the patron saint of cooks and the kitchen! Pascal, or more correctly, Pascal Baylon, often served as a cook and was widely known for his unfailing courtesy and humility.

Here is San Pedro, which translates to St. Peter, or more specifically, Peter the Apostle. Out of the entire world, he was chosen to preside over all the nations and was told "To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Thus, the key the Santos holds high in his right hand.

Francisco or Francis of Assisi is almost always portrayed with a bird on his shoulder or at his hand. He lived with animals, worked with his hands, cared for lepers, cleaned churches and sent food to thieves. He is a favorite subject for the few, really talented wood cavers who still continue this lost and rapidly disappearing art.

I just visited the Basilica of Our Lady, the parish church in Guanajuato, Mexico. Guanajuato is just an hour drive from San Miguel de Allende. Martin of Charity is best known as the Saint of the Broom because of his devotion to work, no matter how menial. Many miraculous cures were attributed to him. He was the first Black American saint.
A hand carved, wood, Saint Martin.
In the parish church, La Parroquia, in San Miguel de Allende is San Rosque, known for nursing plague victims in his native town. He was driven into the countryside when he himself had contracted the plague. He survived because a little dog (the symbol of fidelity) brought him bread everyday. The sculptured dog is beside the Saint because this being Mexico, he has a bolillo in his mouth which is the typical Mexican roll. Since plagues have come to a halt, his contribution box is ignored.
Below San Rosque is San Martin that replaced him in admiration. After the Virgen of Guadalupe, he ranks second in devotion to the Mexican People.
For years, I have been purchasing the hand carved, wood Santos from Senora Maria Luz Espinosa. Her tidy little shop at Pepe Llanos No. 10, right in front of the Oratorio Church in San Miguel de Allende, is filled to the brim with baskets, wood carvings of all shapes and forms and other hand crafted items.

Getting a little hard of hearing, she still greets me with a twinkle in her eye, a gentle handshake and invites me to sit for a visit.

Being an only child, it was she and her mother that ran the store after her father had passed away when she was only 14 years old. Seventy-six year later, at the age of ninety, she is still going strong. The store originally sold barro (clay pots), ollas cocinar (pots to cook in), cazuelas (clay casseroles) and canestas (baskets). There was a sewing machine in which she made table cloths and napkins. She went on to have 11 children; only 8 are alive today. Other than her lack of hearing, the Santos that surround her, keep her protected and in good health.