Monday, May 30, 2011

The Woodman Vase at the Denver Art Museum

About every four to five months, I design a new arrangement with my friends, Judy and Liz, for the Woodman Urn that is on display at the Denver Art Museum.  We wanted come up with a design that was really over the top.  We made a huge armature of long pieces of bamboo.  From that we hung Spanish moss and orchids.
We have received rave reviews on our newest design but unfortunately we have had to take it down.  To many people passing by just could not resist tugging on the moss to see if it was real and jumping up to touch the bamboo armature.  I guess even in an art museum, people still can not resist touching things.
In the next week or so, we will have a new design in place.  But believe me, I know people still will not be able to resist touching the flowers to see if the are real.  Stayed tuned.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Aguas Frescas hits the spot when if is hot out!

When it is hot out, a tall glass of Agua fresca can hit the spot, especially when it has been so, so hot in San Miguel de Allende.  Aguas Frescas can be found in large glass containers in the markets all over Mexico.  This light and refreshing drink comes in a variety of flavors:  milk-looking guava, deep garnet red jamaica, bright red watermelon, cantaloupe, mango, vibrant yellow pineapple, orangey-brown tamarind, pale-green lime, creamy rice, seeds... 
I was in the market the other day and came across a whole box of jamaica blossoms.  Jamaica has a dusty, somewhat tart cranberry taste.  It is made from the so called flowers of a smaller plant of the Hibiscus family.  It's sold as "flor de jamaica", flower of the jamaica, but it is actually the flower's calyces (the coverings of the flower buds).  I have even used them in some of my more exotic quesadillas.
A refreshing pitcher of Agua de Jamaica.

2 - 3 cups fruit, finely chopped
          (very important that the fruit be very ripe and sweet)
4 cups water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
1/3 cup sugar, or to taste (some prefer to substitute honey)

Puree the fruit in the blender with a ½ cup of the water. Strain into a glass jar or pitcher. Add remaining water, lime juice and sugar. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Chill before serving. Garnish with chopped fruit.

** With the Jamaica or Tamarind, boil in the water with the sugar for 5 minutes, let cool and then drain thru a sieve. Add lime. Chill before serving. (Use jamaica flower for another use, a filling in a quesadilla)

** For a different twist, add a few large orange peels to the jamaica when boiling. Jamaica is high in vitamin C & is a diuretic. It is acidic, so only store it in a glass or plastic container.

** Add tequila, rum or white wine to the aguas fresca for a refreshing summertime cocktail.
Rick Bayless has a recipe for Agua Fresca de Jamaica with red wine and Cointrea, a special kind of Sangria.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Last Night in San Miguel de Allende

It was the last day of my Artisan and Architecture tour and what a fabulous week we have had.  Around 6:30 my group came over to my home in San Miguel de Allende and we went up on the mirador (my rooftop patio) with its incredible views.  One of my best friends, Judy, is enjoying a glass of my homemade sangria.
Cindy, who has been on one of my Meet Me in San Miguel tours and this most recent tour, Artisans & Architecture, is wearing the intricately embroidered blouse that she had bought over in Cocucho.  It looks stunning on her!
With all the frenzy of my group arriving, pouring sangria, getting everyone up on the mirador, I neglected taking a photo of all the food I had out prior to their arrival.  As you can see, it was a big hit. I had stopped by the Blue Door Bakery (not its real name but that is what I have and most of the gringo population in town has called it for over 36 years) and bought two kinds of empanadas that have the flakiest crust; a chorizo & potato empanada and another one with flavorful ground meat with tomatoes.  I also bought a few dozen Mexican wedding cookies that just melt in your mouth.
I loved the fact that most of the ladies got up and danced with my trio.  Barb and Elaine were having the time of their lives.
After we had had our full of empanadas, sangria and cookies, we went up to the jardin to watch the light show that is projected on the Parroquia Church (the Parrish church).  It was produced by a French artist along with some great music for the celebration of the Bi-Centennial.  It shows ever Friday, Saturday and Sunday night around 9:00 pm.  It was a perfect ending to a perfect week.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Special Treat at Andrea's

It was the last day of my Artisan & Architecture tour and I had arranged a wonderful menu with Andrea at his Restaurante Italiano just outside of San Miguel de Allende at hacienda de Landetta.  Both Marge and Beth were pretty in pink in their newly purchasely Mexican blouses.
Nancy, Debra and Yvonne were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their margaritas. As we all were.
We started with a salad straight out of the garden accompanied with a scrumptious stuffed portabella mushroom.
Jose Manuel was serving everyone home made spinach raviolli dressed with a delicate gorgonzola sauce.  We had a choice of four different entrees.  Duck and quail seemed to be the most popular orders of the day.
This was a typical scene through out the trip.  There were a lot of laughs and for the life of me, I could not tell you what Bonnie was laughing about and I was sitting right next to her.  All I know, we had a great week.
We ended the meal with my favorite dessert of Andrea's, a dense chocolate cake with almonds topped with a little cream and raspberry sauce.  It was a perfect lunch, so relaxing in such a beautiful setting and one that we will not foget for a long time.

Friday, May 20, 2011

This Dessert was a big hit with my San Miguel de Allende group

When I had my group out at Rancho Casa Luna, just outside of San Miguel de Allende, I was the head honcho giving a cooking class.  This Torta de Elote (Corn Cake) was an instant hit.  It is a pretty easy recipe and one dessert that many have never had.  There are so many diferent toppings that can compliment the cake.

Fresh Corn Cake Veracruz Style

Adapted from Rick Bayless’s, Fiesta at Rick’s
This is one of those desserts that combines sweet and a little bit of savory.

4 ears fresh sweet corn, husk & silk removed
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter,
         softened to room temperature
3 large eggs
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup yellow corn meal
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

Cut the corn kernels from the cob and measure 3 cups. In a blender, add the corn, butter and eggs and process until smooth. If you want a smoother texture to the cake, from the blender, put this mixture through a food mill. Pour into a bowl. Add the sweetened condensed milk, corn meal, cinnamon and baking powder. Whisk well.

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9" loaf pan. Cut a rectangle piece of parchment to fit the bottom of the pan and press firmly in place. Pour batter into pan. Bake on the middle shelf in a 350' oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden and set (no longer jiggly).

Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Turn out on a rack and immediately flip the cake over with the parchment side down.  Cool completely.

The torta is best cut when completely cooled. Heat a knife under hot tap water between cuts.

The torta, well wrapped, keeps well in the refrigerator for several days. Bring to room temperature or warm in a 300' oven before serving.

Serving Suggestions:
** Serve with a scoop or scoops of vanilla ice cream drizzled with jamaica syrup with fresh blueberries.

For the Jamaica Syrup: 1 cup jamaica, 3 large orange peels, ½ cup sugar & 2 cups water. Boil and let steep. Remove the jamaica and simmer liquid in a small saucepan until reduced to a syrupy stage. Cool.
Flambee bananas or mango slices in butter and rum or Kalhua.

*Option ~ Add a bit of orange juice to the mix.

Either way, you can not go wrong.  Bon Provecho!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Market in San Miguel de Allende has the best fresh Cilantro

With cilantro at my fingertips, you can not pass up making this soup.  This Cream of Cilantro Soup was a recipe that I had included in the cooking class that I had for my Artisan and Architecture group when we were in San Miguel de Allende.  Even if you are not a fan of cilantro, this soup almost has a watercress taste to it.  It is very light and a nice addition to most menus.

Cream of Cilantro Soup

A refreshing and light soup that will please everyone’s palate.

Omit the queso fresco and the tortilla chips
and serve as shots of soup as a hors d’oeuvre.

Makes 5 cups ~ Serves 6

2 cups milk
2 bay leaves
2 ½ tablespoons butter
1/3 cup onion, chopped
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups fresh cilantro (about 2 large bunches), main stems removed
4 cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ cup cream
1 cup totopos (fried corn tortilla strips)
½ cup queso fresco, crumbled

In a small pan, heat the milk and bay leaves to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter and saute the onions until soft. Add the flour and cook, stiring constantly until thick. Remove the bay leaf from the milk. Slowly whisk the milk into the onion mixture over medium heat until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Pour the onion/milk mixture into the blender, add the cilantro and blend until smooth. Depending on the size of your blender, you may have to have do this in two batches. Pour into a medium saucepan, add the chicken stock and salt and heat for ten minutes over medium heat. Stir in the cream and pour into bowls. Sprinkle with the totopos and the queso fresco.

Bon Provecho!

Monday, May 16, 2011

A day of Cooking in San Miguel de Allende

We had just gotten back from our side trip over in Patzcuaro, part of my Artisan & Architecture tour.   I had a laid back day in store for everyone on Friday.  We spent a good part of the day out at Rancho Casa Luna, just a few miles outside of San Miguel de Allende.  I was conducting a cooking class with some rather unusual recipes along with the history of how indigenous foods of Mexico influenced the Old World and how Old Workd ingredients and products influenced the New World, Mexico.  Cilantro and tomatoes, native to Mexico, have been a major influence on many, many cultures.
The large dining table had a wonderful centerpiece of paper flowers, baskets, paper mache dolls and seasonal twigs of berries.  I had the menu and recipes all printed and ready to go.

Robin’s Margaritas

Aguas Frescas

Quesadillas de Tocino y Flor de Jamaica 

Quesadillas de Cebollas y Mango

Salsa Verde ~ Salsa de Chile Seco

Sopa de Crema de Cilantro con queso fresco y totopos

Ensalada de Sandia y Arugula

Rajas y Cebollas

Frijoles con Epazote de la Olla ~ Arroz Rojo Mexicano

Tortillas de maiz

Pollo Asada con Salsa Achiote

Torta de Elote

Café de Olla

Judy and Debra were a bit heavy handed with the quesadilla fillings but there were extra delicious.
Yvonne was having a cup of Cafe de Olla and a piece of the Torta de Elote with flambled bananas.  She said it was the best dessert that she had had all week.  Well, I certainly hit the mark on that one!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A spectacular visit with artist Juan Torres Calderon

We had just finished lunch at my favorite little restaurant in El Tigre.  I had one special stop to make with my Artisan & Architecture group before we headed back to San Miguel de Allende.  We drove over to Capula to meet with Juan Torres Calderon, a well known Mexican painter and sculpture.   We drove through the large adobe archway that lead into his grounds.  Female sculptures made of bronze and stone adorned the landscape.  I particular like the one above.
We first met up with Juan in the church which is his  magnificent gallery. 
He had just had a show at the University titled Mujeres en La Revolucion, Women in the Revolution.  I am sure you are familiar with this scene that was borrowed from a photograph taken during that time.  These woman who accompanied and supported the Mexican troops during the Revolution were called Soldaderas.
Juan concentrates his attention and energy to the female figure.  He had recently completed the painting of the woman with the lace veil.  This handsome woman is his mother who had passed away a few years ago.  His studio is a painters paradise.  With classical music in the air, the studio measures around 4o' x 40', with a center staircase leading down to another level.  But the most impressive thing about this space was that three of the four walls had floor to ceiling glass windows with incredible views of his property and the mountains in the background.
This painting of the woman with the large fish on her head was spectacular.  I was tempted to buy it but my husband and I had just made another large art purchase a few months ago so I thought I had better not.  I still dream about it.  Maybe if it is there next time I go back for a visit...
After touring his home and studio, we walked down to his taller (workshop) where the Catrinas are made.  I wrote about these Catrinas and his taller in a post dated July 23, 2010.  Juan Torres is such a delightful man and it was a real treat to be able to spend some time with him.   Muchas gracias Senor Torres!!!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Santa Fe de La Laguna is a hidden gem

For a special treat for my group that were on my Artisan & Architecture tour, we stopped in Santa Fe de La Laguna.  This is the main church that is part of the "pueblo-hospital" community.  The carved stone cross is typical of those carved in the 1500's.  The cross was the most notable Christian symbol, designed to attract the Indians into the fold and the settlement.  It was familiar to the native people because of it resemblance to the Tree of Life.
In the courtyard stands a stone statue of Don Vasco de Quiroga.  For it was Don Vasco, originally from Spain, who became Bishop in the mid 1500's and he was responsible for the creation of a series of model Christian villages, each with a mission hospital.   They were designed to attract the Indians with their hospital and small chapel.  The second community was established in Santa Fe de La Laguna, on the north shore of Lake Patzcuaro and it was active into the late 1700's.  It was Don Vasco who established different crafts in each village in order to make then self sufficient.  It is a regional tradition that remains strong to this day.
Santa Fe de La Laguna is an old town, as you can see by its ancient adobe walls.  Wouldn't you love to live on a street named Utopia?
It was close to lunch time and the town's plaza was pretty sleepy. 
There were stands selling fresh meat.
Fresh fish just caught from Lake Patzcuaro were also for sell.
Men were relaxing and visiting under the large arcade that is home to a vibrant tile mural depicting the struggle of the Revolution.
The main street leading into the main plaza was lined with a few shops selling intricately embroidered blouses and belts and rebozos of all colors and designs.  
Santa Fe de Laguna is a hidden gem and not one to be missed. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

I shot this photo of my Mom one morning as we were in front of the San Francisco church in San Miguel de Allende on the way to the market to buy flowers for the house.
We always have such a great time together. 

Happy Mother's Day Mom!
And Happy Mother's Day to all of my followers.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A morning meeting some talented ceramists

It was day six of my Artisan & Architecture tour and we had just finished a scrumptious breakfast at the hotel. We were all packed and ready to head back to San Miguel de Allende. But we were not going directly back to San Miguel, we had a full day ahead of us. Out first stop was in Tzintzuntzan. The vendors in the market were just starting to open their stalls.  The market is jam packed with straw decorations, baskets, purses, you name it, if something is made out of wicker, reeds or straw, you will find it here.  The green glazed pineapples, pinas, from Patamban can also be found in a few of the stalls. 
After we had checked out all the stalls, we walked over to the large courtyard that houses a monastery dating back to the 1500's, the La Soledad church and the Open Chapel of the Hospital dating back to 1619.  The courtyard has quite a few very old olive trees that were planted by Don Vasco de Quiroga in the late 1500's.  It must have been a miracle that these trees were not destroyed by the Spaniards.  After the Spaniards brought the olive trees to the new world, it was later decided that Mexican olive oil would be in direct competition with Spain's. An edict was declared to destroy all olive trees in Mexico.

On this particular day, we we lucky.  We found the maestro Manuel Morales in his workshop, taller, which is in the large courtyard next to the open Chapel.
His contemporary pottery has such beautiful, brilliant glazes on them.
His palette ranges from blue, browns and blacks.  I could have bought ever piece in his taller.
Next stop in town was to the home and taller of Consuelo Pena.
These glazed plates and bowls show common area motifs of men fishing with butterfly nets, animals, woman selling fish, scenes of everyday life in the village...
I just love how this photo captured the love this grandpa, Consuelo's husband, had for his precious granddaughter.
Not far from Tzintzuntzan, we stopped in the town of Santa Fe La Laguna.  Check my blog on Monday and I will tell you more about this special town.  In the mean time, meet Nicholas Fabian, another very talented ceramist.
It is amazing that in such a rather small area that these ceramist techniques and styles are so vastly different.  Again, I could have bought, bought and bought.
Nicolas's home was neat and tidy and my group was very intrigued with his kitchen.  I bet some great meals come out of here.  There was a pot of beans simmering on the stove that smelled really good.  And talking about food, next stop was to the small village of El Tigre to one of my favorite places for lunch. 
We had covered a lot of ground, met some talented artisans, seen some beautiful old architecture and I still had one very special stop in store for my group after lunch.  Check my blog out next week and see where we went next.
Buena viaje!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Exploring Cocucho and meeting the artisans

Still day five of my Artisan & Architecture tour and we have already covered a lot of ground and it wasn't even time for lunch.  The artisans were awaiting our arrival.  Mother and daughter demonstrated on how the cocochas (pots) are made by using the coil method from clay found in the nearby mountains that were once active volcanoes.
The pots are dried inside and then carefully carried out into the sun for further drying.  Another use for that grand rebozo.
Once the pots have sufficiently dried and the face of the pot varnished with a corn cob, wood is placed over the pot in a big heap and then set on fire.
It was truly special to see the cocucha being made from the start.

Many of the ladies were fascinated on the how the women carry their children on their backs with their rebozos.  One of the artisans was more than happy to give us a demonstration.  Somehow, I don't think I would dream of carrying a child that way.  I think I would keep hearing a big thud and then a lot of crying.
There was a frenzy of everyone buying a cocucha.  The different colored yarns wrapped around the neck of the cocucha identified who had made the pot and who we were to pay.  Cochuco is also known for their embroidered blouses and aprons.  The cross stich embroidery is done on a white cotton blouse called a guanengo.  It can take up to three to four months to make a guanengo.  Nancy bought two aprons for her granddaughters and Chica Cindy bought a beautiful blouse with her favorite color in it, purple.
Here sits the matriarch of the family with her granddaughter in her lap.  What gracious people to have invited us into their home and into their lives.  I am fortunate to have a large cochuca that stands about four feet tall in my home in Denver and in San Miguel de Allende.  I can hardly wait to go back.