Gluten-free Cherry Blueberry Pie

Gluten-free Cherry Blueberry Pie
Gluten-free Cherry Blueberry Pie

Pablo Picasso is quoted as saying, “Love is the greatest refreshment in life.” I would agree and with Valentine’s Day approaching, let’s add a scrumptious cherry pie to the mix.

A key element of a good pie is a light and flaky crust. I find The Gluten-Free Pantry Perfect Pie Crust Mix comes closest to my homemade regular pie crust recipe. Many stores now sell the Gluten-Free Pantry mixes and I highly recommend them.

Combining the tart cherries, jammy blueberries, vanilla and cinnamon produces a complex taste that is very satisfying and requires little sweetening. Hard to put my finger on it but a deliciously nuanced flavor ensues.

CHERRY BLUEBERRY PIE

Single gluten-free (or regular) pie crust, uncooked
1 can sour cherries, drained
1 can each of dark sweet cherries, drained
2 c blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar (or 2 TBSP honey or agave)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 TBSP arrowroot

Combine fruit, lemon juice and sugar; stir in arrowroot and let stand while rolling out crust. Pour filling into bottom crust and lay crust hearts over top.

Bake pie at 400 degrees on top rack of oven for 20 minutes (375 degrees if using a glass pie pan). After 20 minutes lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until crust is golden. Cool for about an hour to allow the liquid to set. Serve warm with ice cream.

When fresh fruit is in season I love making fruit galettes. For a good recipe and photo visit my post:  Nectarine Cherry Galette

Happy Baking & Happy Valentines Day!

San Miguel de Allende: La semana cuarta y última

Historical Museum in San Miguel de Allende
Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende.

The Museo Histórico de San Miguel de Allende is one of many “regional museums” of Mexico. It was the home of Ignacio Allende, who was a principle protagonist in the early part of the Mexican War of Independence. The structure, built in 1759 with Baroque and Neoclassical elements, is located next to the San Miguel parish church, La Parroquia. The museum focuses on the history of the local area from the prehistoric period to the present, especially the area’s role in Mexico’s national history.

The first floor has exhibits about the founding of the town, its role in protecting the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro which was the Royal Inland Road, also known as the Silver Route. Although it was a route motivated and consolidated by the mining industry, it also fostered the creation of social, cultural and religious links in particular between Spanish and Amerindian cultures. I really enjoy the upper floor which has exhibits related to the family of Ignacio Allende and rooms preserved as they were when he lived here.

cat in doorway of house in san miguel de allende
The doorcat keeps watch... notice the cobblestone street.

If I have not mentioned this before, San Miguel de Allende is a city to be explored on foot, so I recommend you bring comfortable shoes because the streets are cobblestone and the sidewalks uneven stone with frequent steps.

Cobblestones are stones that were often used in paving early streets and the word derives from the very old English word “cob”, which had a range of meanings, one of which was “rounded lump” with overtones of large size. “Cobble”, which appeared in the 15th century and meant a small stone rounded by the flow of water; essentially, a large pebble. It was these smooth “cobbles”, gathered from stream beds, that paved the first “cobblestone” streets.

Laundry blowing in the wind, San Miguel de Allende.
We catch a glimpse of laundry blowing in the wind.

This is our last week in San Miguel and we have a list of things to do and see before we leave. One of mine is to visit the LifePath Center and the Pura Vida Store/Cafe on Pila Seca #9. My friend, Polly, brought me a gift of their decadent flourless chocolate cake, and I want to visit myself and check out the other gluten-free goodies!

Alicia Wilson Rivero is the owner of both the Pura Vida Store and the Cooking School at the LifePath Center.  She shares in a global mission to create and offer healthy, delicious food using locally harvested, fresh and organic products.  She develops menus and provides meals for LifePath retreat guests interested in following a special menu plan.   Raw food, vegans, wheat-free diets are among the diets she can cater to. The day we visit I find two deliciously healthy and moist gluten-free muffins – one carrot and the other banana.

LifePath is a center for personal growth and wellness of body, mind, and spirit. It has served the international community for over a decade, and offers programs for learning, healing, and retreat in their centuries-old villa.

Pura Vida Cafe in San Miguel de Allende
Pura Vida Store/Cafe with the owner, Alicia Wilson Rivero, in the doorway.

Also on Pila Seca Street, just across from LifePath, I come across a wonderful little shop which sells a unique array of one-of-a-kind merchandise. The store opened in July 2007 with the philosophy of supporting artists and exposing people to an eclectic mix of local, national and international products. Their collection includes distinctive jewelry, interesting furniture, clothing, creative greeting cards and a variety of home decor and furnishings.

Mixta in San Miguel de Allende
Mixta sells unique pieces from local and international artists.

Our friend, Elisabeth, suggests we dine at Tacos don Felix (15th Fray Juan de San Miguel) before we leave, so Friday we hail a cab and venture out of the historic district. We arrive at the restaurant on the early side and easily get a table for four. As the evening passes the tables fill up with Mexican families and local ex-pats. Hungry for some veggies we start with a salad for four – greens, jicama, tomatoes, onions, carrots are piled on the platter. Known for their tacos we all get the taco sampler. Seven tacos – beef, pork, huitlacoche, spanish-style sausage, shrimp, chicken, beef rib with onions. Delicious. A neighboring table has steaks which look and smell tempting. The service is gracious and the owners young son is very official in his white jacket. After dinner the hostess happily calls a cab for us.

Tacos don Felix Kitchen in San Miguel de Allende
A budding restaurateur in the kitchen at Tacos don Felix.
Outdoor bar at Tacos don Felix in San Miguel de Allende
Waiting for our cab at the outdoor bar of Tacos don Felix.

As I look in the cupboard to see what needs eating before we leave early next week, I discover a bag of Pamela’s Gluten-free Classic Vanilla Cake Mix. Brought along in my suitcase from the U.S. I decide this mix is not getting a roundtrip ticket. Besides I have a few other acquisitions to pack… So, I decide to bake a Lime Poundcake (following the directions on the bag, but adding lime juice and making it dairy free by using olive oil instead of butter). We are having a little dinner party so Jay gets creative with the fresh blueberries – cooking them briefly in tequila and a bit of agave… the result is outrageously delicious!

Gluten-free lime poundcake with tequila blueberry compote
Gluten-free lime poundcake with tequila blueberry compote and fresh raspberries.

Today we take our last Sunday morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary three sheep surprise us as we round a curve on the path.

Sheep along the path at Jardin Botanica in San Miguel de Allende
Three sheep surprise us along the path.
Horse grazing, Jardin Botanica, San Miguel de Allende
As the sheep head up a side path we notice this horse gazing at us.
View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica.
Our last glorious view of San Miguel from up at the Jardin Botanica.

Walking down the hill into town for breakfast we spot Suites Santo Domingo on Callejon Santo Domingo 16. Elisabeth has friends coming who are looking for a place to stay so we venture in and look around the lovely property.

Suites Santo Domingo in San Miguel de Allende
An antique collection off the entry of Suites Santo Domingo.
Suites Santo Domingo courtyard in San Miguel de Allende
We peer into the inviting courtyard of Suites Santo Domingo.

Our walks always end with breakfast and today we go to Cafe de la Parroquia. They have a lovely patio with a central fountain artfully decorated with yellow roses this morning. Delicious fresh mini baguettes come with a wonderful avocado salsa or butter and &  jam. Good Americana coffee, normal & decaf. Many varieties of egg dishes are on the menu. We enjoy scrambled eggs with ham, onion & Serrano pepper; a omellette with potato, ham, onion, parsley & zucchini, scrambled eggs with chorizo, a green drink and fresh carrot juice. The service is very good and the owner stops by to thank us for coming in.

Cafe La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Our breakfast feast at Cafe La Parroquia.

As our month in San Miguel comes to its conclusion I will remember the joy of discovery in coming to a new place ~ the visual beauty of this historic city and the quiet dignity of the Mexican families that live and work here.

Alleyway in San Miguel de Allende
We pass a mother and her children walking down a colorful alleyway.

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”  Author, Bill Bryson

To read posts from our first three weeks in San Miguel de Allende, click below:

San Miguel de Allende: Saturday Organic Farmers Market

Entering the Saturday Organic Farmers Market one of the first things we notice is an outdoor dining area under the shade trees filled with people eating. Then the aromas of tortillas and gorditas frying on the griddles. Two Mexican families are cooking and serving up a storm of tacos, tamales, quesadillas, and huaraches – their tables covered with earthy brown pottery pots of all sizes filled with beef in red mole, guacamole, lamb stew, chicken in green sauce, chorizo and egg, grilled onions, spinach, beans… we quickly decide that this is the place to have Saturday brunch.

Fillings for tacos and huaraches at San Miguel de Allende Organic Farmers Market
Beautiful ceramic pots full of fillings for tacos and huaraches.
Gorditas at the San Miguel de Allende Farmers Market
Gorditas on the griddle.
Tamales and huraches at the San Miguel de Allende Farmers Market
Our delicious lunch of tamales and huraches.

Before or after filling your stomach there is the rest of the market to discover. A row of organic farmers selling their fresh vegetables – our weekly list includes avocados, kale, chard, tomatoes, cilantro, radishes, and a beautiful bag of mixed salad greens. Then there are the bakeries with delicious homemade desserts, breads, donuts, pastries, and pies. Other booths are selling natural skin care products made from distillations of cactus, wonderful small batch dark chocolates with ginger or orange, colorful embroidered pillow covers, rugs, and jewelry.

Penon de los Banos Cooperative at the San Miguel de Allende Farmers Market
Penon de los Banos Cooperative with their fresh produce.
Bakery at the San Miguel de Allende farmers market
La Buena Vida Bakery with their pastries, donuts and bread are hard to resist.
Organic honey at the Farmers Market in San Miguel de Allende
Organic honey and such fill the tables at the market.
Artesanal breads at the Farmers Market in San Miguel de Allende
Crusty artisanal breads to go with the organic cheeses.

One of the food stands is Via Organica where they sell fresh organic eggs and other foodstuffs from their store. We visit Via Organica store during the week to restock on organic fresh vegetables, pick up freshly made almond or peanut butter, gluten-free crackers & cereal and baked goods (gluten-free and regular). Their café serves delicious Mexican and international dishes which you can also get as take away. One visit we picked up some cilantro pesto which we have enjoyed on everything from veggies to pork. Via Organica is one part of Organic Way AC – a Mexican non-profit organization whose mission is to promote good nutrition through organic farming, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and protecting the planet. During our stay in San Miguel they had several viewings of the film, Food, Inc., which lifts the veil on the U.S. food industry, exposing how our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.

Having just spent time in avocadoland I can’t resist sharing this recipe from a blog I enjoy ~ With Style & Grace ~ Inspiration for a healthy and gluten-free life. Lisa adapted the recipe from Martha Stewart’s Whole Living.

Chocolate Avocado Pudding (Chocomole?)

Ingredients

2 medium avocados
5 tablespoons of cocoa powder
3 tablespoons honey OR 6 dates, pitted and soaked (to soften, if necessary)
3 tablespoons coconut milk or water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
sea salt

In a food processor or heavy-duty blender – puree avocados, cocoa powder, honey OR dates, coconut milk, vanilla extract and orange zest until smooth. Before serving, sprinkle with sea salt. Serves two.

Surprisingly good and best made a day ahead so the flavors meld.

Gluten-free, dairy-free & vegan.

Enjoy.

p.s. While in San Miguel, I wrote a blog post each week, click on each week below to view photos and read about our adventures:

San Miguel de Allende: La Tercera Semana

Cactus cutouts form tree sculpture in San Miguel de Allende.
Cactus hearts and skulls decorate a tree in the Jardin Botanica.

Each Sunday since our arrival in San Miguel de Allende we begin the day with a morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop 1.5 km northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary we come upon this fantastic tree decorated with cactus hearts and skulls (perhaps an homage to Dia de Muertos – Day of the Dead).

Ruin on path near Botanica, San Miguel de Allende
Ruin on path near Jardin Botanica, San Miguel de Allende.
Cairn sculpture in San Miguel de Allende
Jay builds a cairn sculpture on side of path in Jardin Botanica.

Heading to town after our walk, an artful old structure exposes its bones.

Old stone wall in San Miguel de Allende
An old stone structure is art to our eyes.
Cross in electric meter, San Miguel de Allende
Even the electric meter is blessed with a cross.

A favorite activity is strolling around the city with camera in hand. Today we seem to be attracted to a certain yellow/gold color vibe.

Pizza in San Miguel de Allende
Pizza scooters lined up for the coming day's work.
Colorful San Miguel de Allende
Glorious colors surprise us on a quiet street in San Miguel de Allende.
Neighborhood juice bar, San Miguel de Allende
Neighborhood juice bars are a common sight.

January 21 is General Ignacio José de Allende’s birthday (January 21, 1769 – June 26, 1811). He was a captain of the Spanish Army in Mexico who came to sympathize with the Mexican independence movement, and attended the secret meetings organized by Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, where the possibility of an independent New Spain was discussed. He fought along with Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the first stage of the struggle, eventually succeeding him in leadership of the rebellion. In 1811 Allende was captured by Spanish colonial authorities while he was in Chihuahua and executed for treason. Each year his birthday is celebrated with a parade and all day festivities at the Jardin Principal.

General Ignacio Jose de Allende's birthday parade in San Miguel de Allende
Parade celebrating General Ignacio Jose de Allende's birthday.

To add an elegant and distinctive touch to a horse’s appearance, many of the riders create a design on their mount’s hindquarters. The most common of these designs, which are known as quarter marks, is the checkerboard pattern. A horse bearing quarter marks indicates that the owner has gone the extra mile in grooming and care.

Allende Parade in San Miguel de Allende
Many of the horses bear a quarter mark, in this case a checkerboard design.

We take a respite from the days festivities to have breakfast and shop at the Saturday Organic Market, where along with great vegetables and foodstuffs, we come across the local domestic violence booth. A blog post focused on the Market will be posted soon…

Domestic Violence booth at the Organic Market in San Miguel de Allende
Domestic Violence booth at the Organic Market in San Miguel de Allende.

From the market we head to the Jardin Principal where, amid all the birthday festivities, a wedding is under way at La Parroquia.

Wedding at La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Bride and father make their way through the crowd to La Parroquia.

Well into the evening the festivities continue with various musical guests, a full military symphony and choir.

Symphony at General Allende's birthday celebration in San Miguel de Allende
The Jardin Principal is aglow with lights and a symphony performance.

Our day comes to a satisfying conclusion at Cafe Rama, Calle Nueva #7. Known for its tapas, this Saturday evening we enjoy a fixed price tapas meal of their choice. Trusting in the chef’s abilities we relax with a bottle of wine as we received a taste delight every 10 minutes or so. Starting with a antipasto dish of serrano ham, goat cheese, pickled watermelon, olives and salty/sweet almonds, we go on to enjoy a savory polenta with a tasty tomato topping, a crispy risotto pancake topped with a shrimp, mussels with garlic & ginger… then a sensuous dessert finale of cappucino creme brulee and baked meringue with lemon custard and fresh strawberry sauce. Muy Bueno.

Note: Cafe Rama was able to accommodate my gluten-free needs without any problem.

Cafe Rama in San Miguel de Allende
We end the evening at the deliciously creative Cafe Rama.

Oaxaca, Mexico

La Zundunga in Oaxaca, Mexico
La Zundunga a popular spot in Oaxaca, Mexico. (photo courtesy of the NY Times)

Oaxaca is another artful city in Mexico on our list to visit – read about the town, some of its culture, food, and nightlife from New York Times writer, Freda Moon…

WITH Oaxaca’s imposing Baroque churches, plant-filled courtyards and shady plazas perfect for people-watching, it’s tempting to see the city as a photogenic relic of Mexico’s colonial past. But Oaxaca City, the capital of one of the country’s poorest states and a college town teeming with students, isn’t quaint or stagnant; it’s a small but dynamic city, still emerging economically from the social unrest that put it in the international spotlight, and crippled its tourism industry, in 2006. That uprising — a protest by striking teachers that was met with police violence and led to a protracted conflict — is now history, but its legacy is everywhere in a streetscape of politically inspired stencil art, which has turned adobe walls and concrete sidewalks into a public gallery. Combined with the city’s long-established studio art scene, a vibrant cafe culture, a mescal-fueled night life and one of Mexico’s most exciting regional cuisines, Oaxaca is as cosmopolitan as it is architecturally stunning.

Link to the full article… 36 Hours: Oaxaca, Mexico

We are in San Miguel de Allende enjoying the warm sun, beautiful architecture, history, and food. Read about our adventures and take in the great photos…

San Miguel de Allende: La Primera Semana

San Miguel de Allende: Le Segundo Semana

San Miguel de Allende: Le Segundo Semana

Indian parade in San Miguel de Allende
Indian dancers and drummers parade in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The day is just dawning this Sunday morning when we hear the sound of drummers very close by… Jay quickly dresses, grabs his camera and heads out the door. Men and boys dressed as Indian dancers and drummers are parading down a nearby street, creating a rich drum beat in rolling 4/4 time, as they dance and chant together. A ragtag procession of campesinas follow, carrying an altar on their shoulders. At the head of the parade an old man carries a wire contraption, from which he launches fireworks, signaling the imminent arrival of the parade to neighbors down the road.

The morning progresses with our walk down and around the Jardin Botanica, then breakfast at Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito. During breakfast, a new acquaintance, Ruth, recommends the tamarind margarita’s on the rooftop terrace of La Posadita. We make a mental note. Ruth is a realtor in San Miguel and has a lovely property in the historic center of the town with two rentals. Comfortably elegant and private, you can view them on VRBO: Villa and Casita.

La Posadita restaurant in San Miguel de Allende
La Posadita restaurant has amazing views, good food and tamarind margaritas.

As the evening approaches we decide to walk over to Cuna de Allende and experience our first tamarind margarita as the sun sets. We walk up the narrow stairway to La Posadita, settle down at one of the rooftop tables and order our margarita. It’s wonderful and intense, not like anything I’ve ever tasted. Neither of us knows what a tamarind is. (I research later and learn it is the sweet & sour fruit of a tropical tree. It looks a bit like a carob pod and is an underlying flavor in Worcestershire sauce.) In the evening sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. Next week when our friends arrive we will definitely return for dinner… and another margarita.

San Miguel de Allende at night.
View of San Miguel de Allende at sunset.

Walking home through the Jardin we once again step into La Parroquia to absorb its quiet magnificence.

Interior of La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Evening view of La Parroquia interior
St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in San Miguel de Allende
We arrive early for a piano concert at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church.
Donkey carrying potting soil in San Miguel de Allende
Donkey carrying potting soil for sale in our neighborhood.

Peñon de los Banos, is a women-owned sustainable organic farm cooperative, a short ride from San Miguel de Allende. Jay and I are part of a field trip, organized by The Center for Global Justice, visiting the Campo (farm), to learn more about their work.

Residents of this small dairy farm have been part of a traditional ejido system for generations. Ejidos are communal lands, for growing food, shared and co-managed by the people of the community. The system was developed during ancient Aztec rule of Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced the Mexican government to do away with the ejido system, and open the land up to foreign agri-business. To read the full story, see: Peñon de los Banos, a women-owned farm cooperative.

Greenhouse at Penon del Los Banos
One of 8 greenhouses at the Penon del Los Banos Cooperative.
Comida at Penon de Los Banos
Sharing a midday meal, "comida", prepared by the women of the cooperative farm.

Cafe Teatro Athanor, just around the corner from where we live (this month) is a gem of a theater that holds about 20 people or so. Most nights they show a thoughtful foreign film and this week we saw El Mural – a UK film about the renowned Mexican artist, David Siqueiros, and his time spent in Argentina painting a mural. A political, historical and romantic drama that we recommend. But on Friday nights they have a musical event – The Magic Mystery of Flamenco – featuring two female dancers/singers, a male dancer and a wonderful classical guitarist.

Flameno in San Miguel de Allende
Flamenco performance at Cafe Teatro Athanor.

Sunday morning ritual is a walk, and the Saturday morning ritual is the outdoor Organic Market. Entering the market one of the first things you see are tables of fresh organic vegetables – lettuces, spinach, kale, tomatoes, avocados, herbs… then you notice the tables and chairs under the shade trees and the smell of tortillas grilling and coffee brewing. Pottery pots filled with chicken in green mole, lamb stew, guacamole, chorizo and egg… next week we will skip breakfast at home and eat here. And that’s not all – there are homemade breads, cheeses, baked goods, natural skin care products, fresh eggs and a small selection of hand crafted items.

Cover of San Miguel de Allende bookMany ex-pats frequent the market and today we meet John Scherber, an American ex-pat and author of San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. His book explores the possibilities of starting an exciting new life in Mexico by sharing the experiences of 32 people who confess why they left the United States and show how their new life is more fulfilling than they ever dreamed. Imagine sitting down for a heart-to-heart conversation with people who made it happen.

Organic Farmers Market, San Miguel de Allende
Saturday Organic Farmers Market in San Miguel de Allende

Ever since American Stirling Dickinson arrived here in San Miguel de Allende in 1937, the Mexican town has been a magnet for artists and U.S. expatriates:

Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende
Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende

“In 1937, after several months spent traveling through Mexico, a gangly, 27-year-old Chicago native named Stirling Dickinson, who had been somewhat at loose ends since graduating from Princeton, got off a train in San Miguel de Allende, an arid, down-on-its-luck mountain town 166 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Taken from the ramshackle train station by a horse-drawn cart, he was dropped off at the town’s leafy main square, El Jardín. It was dawn, and the trees were erupting with the songs of a thousand birds. At the eastern side of the square stood the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, an outsize, pink-sandstone church with neo-Gothic spires, quite unlike Mexico’s traditional domed ecclesiastical buildings. The first rays of the sun glowed over mountain ridges to the east. “There was just enough light for me to see the parish church sticking out of the mist,” Dickinson would later recall. “I thought, My God, what a sight! What a place! I said to myself at that moment, I’m going to stay here.”

Click on the title to read the entire Smithsonian article by Jonathan Kandell : Under the Spell of San Miguel de Allende.

p.s. To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

San Miguel de Allende: Zumba in the Park

Zumba class in San Miguel de Allende
Groovin' zumba class in Parque Juarez, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

It’s Saturday morning in San Miguel de Allende and time for Zumba! Dress in comfortable clothes, put on your sneakers and head to Parque Benito Juarez for the 8:30am class, where the music will draw you in, like the Pied Piper. Zumba is a Latin dance inspired fitness program created in the 1990s by Columbian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez. Zumba’s choreography incorporates hip-hop, soca, samba, salsa, merengue, mambo, martial arts, and some Bollywood and belly dance moves. It’s aerobic and lots of fun.

The story is that in 1986, Perez forgot his tape of aerobics music for a class he was teaching. He took the tapes available in his car—consisting of traditional Latin salsa and merengue music—and improvised a class using this non-traditional aerobics music.

Click on the start arrow for a taste of Zumba from Parque Juarez…

In 2001, Beto brought his new dance-fitness style to Miami, Florida, and met entrepreneurs Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion. All three hailed from Colombia and shared the vision to bring this dynamic dance-fitness class to the masses. The three Albertos formed an alliance and created a business, calling it Zumba Fitness. Their Zumba Fitness Total Body Transformation System DVD Set has a record 900 reviews on Amazon.com (over 600 are 5 star). Doing a live class is the great, but if that is not possible or you want to practice at home, the DVDs get rave reviews.

My hometown Zumba teachers, Alyson & Mary Jo, are the inspiration for this post. If you live on or visit Orcas Island they also have groovin’ Zumba classes twice a week at the Odd Fellows Hall (Monday morning at 10:30am and again on Wednesday morning at 9:30am).

To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

Art Exhibits 2012

Manet in Black, Fine Arts Museum

This print, Les Courses (‘The Races’), shows Manet’s drawing at its most vigorous. The viewpoint is dramatic. We find ourselves in the middle of the racetrack with the horses galloping straight towards us. The railing slopes away at an unnerving angle as the lower right-hand corner dissolves into furious scribbling.

“Manet in Black” is on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston beginning in February 2012. Edouard Manet’s friend, the poet Charles Baudelaire, described black as the color of the nineteenth century. Manet was a master in the use of black, asserting his bold and subtle imprint on a range of subjects. This exhibition celebrates Manet’s brilliant achievements as a graphic artist. Known as the painter of modern life and the father of Impressionism, Manet was also an exceptionally gifted printmaker and draftsman, among the most daring and innovative of the nineteenth century.

Drawn primarily from the MFA’s collection and featuring a selection of some 50 prints and drawings by Manet and related artists—including Rembrandt and Degas—the exhibition spans a variety of subjects, techniques, and styles from throughout Manet’s career.

Bringing forth fresh perspectives on Manet’s art by established scholars, Therese Dolan’s new book – Perspectives on Manet – places this compelling and elusive artist’s painted oeuvre within a broader cultural context, and links his artistic preoccupations with literary and musical currents. Dolan’s collection investigates the range of Manet’s art in the context of his time and considers how his vision has shaped later interpretations. Specific essays explore the relationship between Manet and Whistler; Emile Zola’s attitude toward the artist; Manet’s engagement with moral and ethical questions in his paintings; and the heritage of Charles Baudelaire and Clement Greenberg in critical responses to Manet. Therese Dolan is Professor of Art History and Women’s Studies at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, USA.

Inspired by last years list of promising exhibits, here are some suggestions for 2012:

Support the arts! Visit a museum in your area or in a city you will visit this year… it is enriching, educational and inspiring. As Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”

San Miguel de Allende: La Primera Semana

View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica
View of San Miguel de Allende from the Jardin Botanica on our Sunday walk.

San Miguel is a feast for the senses… the smell of corn tortillas toasting, our first night view of La Parroquia in the Jardin, church bells ringing the hour… Enjoy a sampling of our first week in this spirited and colorful colonial town.

Callejon Pueblito in San Miguel de Allende
Heading to Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito after our Sunday walk.

Where is San Miguel de Allende? The city is located in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in mountainous central Mexico, and is 170 miles from Mexico City. Historically, the town is important as being the birthplace of Ignacio Allende, whose surname was added to the town’s name in 1826, as well as the first municipality declared independent of Spanish rule by the emerging insurgent army during the Mexican War of Independence.

Casa Calderoni B & B in San Miguel de Allende
Lovely Bed & Breakfast across the street from Cafe Buen Dia

Our good friend and yoga mate, Polly, is the proud owner of a casa and casita in San Miguel. The casa is for rent by the month. We are the first renters and I have only praise for this lovely, comfortable two bedroom house. Located on Barranca just several blocks from the Jardin Principal, we are enjoying the central location and walk everywhere. For information on renting the casa, just email Polly (pollyp@centurytel.net).

Guest Casa on Barranca in San Miguel de Allende
Our charming rental home/casa for the month of January is on Barranca.
Guest casa patio in San Miguel de Allende
And has a sunny spacious patio that looks out into a courtyard.

San Miguel is known for its picturesque streets with narrow cobblestone lanes, that rise and fall over the hilly terrain, and occasionally defy colonial attempts to make an orderly grid.

A colorful alleyway off Barranca.
A colorful narrow alleyway winds its way up from Barranca.
Cultural Institute in San Miguel de Allende
Looking up at the Cultural Institute in San Miguel de Allende

The houses have solid walls against the sidewalks, painted in various colors, many with bougainvillea vines falling down the outside and the occasional iron-grated window.

Home in San Miguel de Allende
Large old home in San Miguel de Allende.

The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved historic center, filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries and has been declared a World Heritage Site.

Downtown street scene in San Miguel de Allende
The vibrant downtown in San Miguel de Allende.
Festival decorations in San Miguel de Allende
Holiday decorations adorn most streets in the downtown area during the holidays.

The Biblioteca Pública or Public Library serves as the educational and cultural heart of San Miguel, providing bicultural resources for both the Mexican and foreign population. This library was established by Helen Wale, a Canadian, who wanted to reach out to local children and started the first children’s library in her home. It is the largest privately funded, publicly accessible library in Mexico with the second largest English language book collection. More than a library, one can relax and dine at Café Santa Ana; read Atencion San Miguel, the library’s weekly bilingual newspaper which covers local news, issues and events (published every Friday); and enjoy Teatro Santa Ana’s presentations of lectures, concerts, plays and films.

Mural in the public library, San Miguel de Allende
Mural in the Biblioteca Pública or Public Library.

To the far south of the historic center is Parque Juárez or Juarez Park. This park was established at the beginning of the 20th century on the banks of a river in French style with fountains, decorative pools, wrought iron benches, old bridges and footpaths.

Sculpture in Juarez Park, San Miguel de Allende.
One of several wood sculptures in Juarez Park, San Miguel de Allende.
Public laundry in San Miguel de Allende
On the east side of the park, the stone tubs of the outdoor public laundry are still in use.

This week while walking around the city, Jay and I came upon a lost puppy on a quiet path. After inquiring around the immediate area for an owner, I carried her back to our rental casa. I had read about The S.P.A. (Sociedad Protectora de Animales) in Atencion the day before. I cannot say enough about this organization which exists for the well being of abandoned and homeless dogs and cats in San Miguel and environs. The next day I delivered the puppy to Lynn who had arranged for a foster parent for the puppy until the shelter had room in their new puppy area. After meeting one of the veterinarians who pronounced the puppy very healthy, and speaking with the foster mom, I am very confident this little one will be fine… still it was a tearful goodbye.

Found puppy of San Miguel de Allende
We found and fell in love with a sweet puppy - "Pacolita" (photo courtesy of Elisabeth Mention)

Jay is my gifted and patient photographer. He uses the Nikon Coolpix 8400 8MP Digital Camera with a 3.5x Wide Angle Optical Zoom Lens. There are many old and beautiful churches in San Miguel and the shot below really shows off the wide angle lens ability of the Nikon Coolpix 8400.

Church in San Miguel de Allende
Beautiful St. Paul's Church hosts regular concerts in San Miguel de Allende.

The world is a great book, of which they who never stir from home read only one page. – Saint Augustine

p.s. To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

New Years Eve in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

La Parroquia – Church of Saint Michael the Arcangel, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel

Arriving at the Jardin Principal a little before midnight, we excitedly weave our way through the crowd that is high energy and festive. Mexican families and an eclectic mix of foreign visitors fill the square and we all dance or move to the vibrant pulse of the salsa band. We peak into the grand, La Parroquia, decorated for the holidays with lights and greens, where a midnight mass is proceeding with standing room only. The doors of the church are open and sounds of the band mingle with the reading by the priest. A festive soup of sounds.

La Parroquia at night in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
The doors of the stunning La Parroquia are open during mass on New Years Eve.
Sparklers in San Miguel's Jardin Principal
Children are part of the festivities in San Miguel's Jardin Principal.
New Years Eve in Jardin Principal, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Crowds fill Jardin Principal on New Years Eve in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Merriment is in the air as the plaza continues to fill with folks of all ages and nationalities ready to welcome in 2012, most whirling a two foot long sparkler in the air. At the stroke of midnight the fireworks begin, we gape at the fabulous display, and marvel that we are here.

To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

Travel Journaling ~ the best journal

Sketch of poinsettias in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Journal entry with sketch of poinsettias in our courtyard, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

This trip to San Miguel de Allende I brought along several books since we are staying in one place for the duration. One of them, Lavinia Spalding’s Writing Away: a creative guide to awakening the journal-writing traveler is the inspiration for this post.

Writing Away coverIn Chapter One – Let the Wild Writing Begin – she explores the topic of finding the perfect travel journal in delightful detail. Mindful of the beating your journal will take while you are on the road, she suggests a journal that is sturdy. And in the spirit of giving the author/artist complete creative freedom she strongly recommends an unlined journal“An absence of lines leaves room for imagination to take over. Also, a blank page is a better canvas for illustrations – and so what if you can barely draw a circle? You could at least throw your inner artist a bone”.

Spaulding also believes that the best journal lies flat and that the pages of the blank book  be blank – no quotes, tips, or adornments on the pages. And finally, pay attention to the paper, you want it thick enough so that the ink won’t bleed through.

Interestingly, I have come to similar conclusions or preferences. Since I enjoy working with watercolor at times my current favorite journal (pictured above in the photo) has heavyweight drawing paper that works with wet or dry media. Made by Bee Paper Company this sketchbook/journal has 60 sheets of 93 lb archival quality natural white drawing paper. The double wire binding creates a flat surface, the cover is water-resistant and the heavy weight chipboard back is perfect for field work. This sketch book comes in many sizes – I am enjoying the 9 x 9 inch square book on this trip.

best women's travel writing 2011Another book I brought along to read and keep the travel bug fueled is one that Lavinia Spalding edited: The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011: True Stories from Around the World. No matter how many cities, countries, or continents you’ve visited the 31 stories in this year’s collection will make you feel like you have just begun. Hear tales about falling in love while riding a camel through the Syrian Desert, skiing a first descent of over 5,000 feet in Northern India, discovering the joy of getting naked in South Korea, or leaving it all behind to slop pigs on a farm in Ecuador.

Fiestas de Santa Fe: The Burning of Zozobra

Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each year on the weekend after Labor Day, The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe stages the burning of Will Shuster’s Zozobra, kicking off the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe. Zozobra centers around the ritual burning in effigy of Old Man Gloom, or Zozobra, to dispel the hardships and travails of the past year.

The Fiestas celebration began in 1712 to celebrate an expedition by Don Diego de Vargas, who reconquered the territory of New Mexico. Zozobra became part of the Fiestas in 1926, and the Kiwanis club began sponsoring the burning in 1963 as its major fundraiser.

Local artist William Howard Shuster, Jr. – “Will” (1893-1969) conceived and created Zozobra in 1924 as the focus of a private fiesta at his home for artists and writers in the community. His inspiration for Zozobra came from the Holy Week celebrations of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico; an effigy of Judas, filled with firecrackers, was led around the village on a donkey and later burned. Shuster and E. Dana Johnson, a newspaper editor and friend of Shuster’s came up with the name Zozobra, which was defined as “anguish, anxiety, gloom” or in Spanish for “the gloomy one.”

Zozobra is a hideous but harmless fifty-foot bogeyman marionette. He is a toothless, empty-headed facade. He has no guts and doesn’t have a leg to stand on. He is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He never wins. He moans and groans, rolls his eyes and twists his head. His mouth gapes and chomps. His arms flail about in frustration. Every year we do him in. We string him up and burn him down in ablaze of fireworks. At last, he is gone, taking with him all our troubles for another whole year. Santa Fe celebrates another victory. Viva la Fiesta! – A.W. Denninger

The burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico
The burning of Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico

We know this crisp September evening in Santa Fe is going to be special as we look across at Old Man Gloom, Zozobra, in the large park where thousands of people are gathered and chanting “burn him, burn him”. The lights, music, fireworks, and sense of frenzied expectation make the experience unforgettable. When the moment finally arrives and Zozobra burns into smoldering ash, it is incredible. The idea is that people’s gloomy thoughts disappear – certainly in this dramatic moment that is true.

The oldest capital in the United States, Santa Fe is home to both ancient and modern cultures, Spanish churches, vibrant festivals, and adobe houses. Santa Fe Icons: 50 Symbols of the City Different is an entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes, and little known facts about fifty of the classic symbols that represent Santa Fe. From the Plaza to posole to Zozobra learn about the things that give Santa Fe its character.

Mexico City International Airport Dining and Lodging

Good news, if your travels require an overnight stay at the Mexico City International Airport, you can be very comfortable. The Hilton Hotel located in Terminal One at the airport has complimentary high speed internet service, comfortable rooms, and an attractive bar and restaurant. During our recent stay the hotel staff was very helpful and told us about several restaurants in Terminal One that had received good reviews. We felt like exploring a little versus staying in the confines of the Hilton.

Mexico City Airport Hilton and dining options
Mexico City Airport Terminal One with the Hilton, Casa Avila, and Bistro Mosaico.

In Terminal One there is a food court with lots of options for quick dining and a few actually looked fairly healthy. Sit down restaurants included a steak house, a mexican cantina, a bistro and a spanish restaurant. Casa Avila was our choice. Out of the fray on a second floor balcony the menu had a nice array of spanish entrees and some good sounding salads. As soon as we walked in we were taken care of in the best sense. An English language menu was presented and care was taken to help me chose an entree that would be gluten-free.

We started by sharing the Mediterranean Salad, a nice balance of flavors with the greens – salty olives & Serrano ham with the sweeter tastes of figs, tomatoes, and apples slices that all came together with a herb vinaigrette. Favorites on the menu include shrimp wrapped in bacon with black rice, paella, and oxtail stew. Some of the dishes are an assimilation of Spanish and Mexican cuisine: seasoned pork tacos, red snapper with clams, squid, and pimento, beef in a green pepper sauce. I chose the Shrimp with Black Rice served on an asparagus cream sauce and Jay decided on the Paella filled with pork, spanish sausage, chicken, mussels, clams and a prawn. A half bottle of a very nice Chilean Merlot recommended by the server made for a lovely meal. Very full we resisted the tempting tray of desserts that was presented.

The next morning we rose early to get a little breakfast before our 3.5 hour shuttle bus ride to San Miguel de Allende on (Bajio Go Shuttle). Bistro Mosaic caught our eye as the menu had a nice selection of egg dishes. Jay was very happy with the Huevos Veracruz he ordered and I went with a simple Spinach Omelette which was fine. My side order of thick-cut bacon was not cooked crispy as I prefer but Jay loved it.

To read our posts from the subsequent visit to San Miguel de Allende, click below:

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels's Grand Place during the Christmas season.
Brussels's glorious Grand Place during the Christmas season.

Each year Winter Wonders, Brussel’s Christmas Market, fills the city – from the world-famous Grand-Place of Brussels, around the Bourse, on the Place Sainte-Catherine and on the Marché aux Poissons. Hundreds of wooden huts offering hand-crafted toys, warming mugs of mulled wine, and moules mariniere by the bucket full fill the city centre. There is an outdoor ice rink (and a small rink for toddlers), a huge Ferris wheel and Christmas carols piped through loudspeakers. The Grand Place is home to a huge Christmas tree, and the Town Hall provides the canvas for the stunning Christmas lights show. The festivities begin in late November and continue until January 1.

Jay and I spent the summer of 1976 in Europe and a few weeks in Brussels where his parents were living at the time. The Grand Place is the most exquisite and elaborate square I have ever experienced, especially in the evening when the buildings are lit. All over the world it is known for its decorative and aesthetic wealth. Considered one of the most beautiful places of the world, The Grand-Place of Brussels was registered on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO in 1998.

Victor Horta Museum staircase
Staircase in the Victor Horta Museum

Some of Brussels’ districts were developed during the heyday of Art Nouveau, and many buildings are in this style. Art Nouveau is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art—especially the decorative arts—that were most popular during 1890–1910. The name “Art Nouveau” is French for “new art”. A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants, but also in curved lines. Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment. Victor Horta was a Belgium architect and designer and one of the most important names in Art Nouveau architecture. I remember visiting Victor Horta’s home/museum in Brussels with its incredible staircase.

Our favorite grater came from a very fun old second-hand shop, Les Petits Riens (little nothings), which we visited a few times with Jay’s mom. I just Googled and found a shop by the same name at 101, Rue Américaine! Sure would be fun to return and see if it really is the same one.

And the food… Belgian cuisine is characterised by the combination of French cuisine with the more hearty Flemish fare. Specialities include Brussels waffles (gaufres) and mussels (usually as “moules frites”, served with fries). The city is a stronghold of chocolate and pralines manufacturers with renowned companies like Neuhaus, Leonidas and Godiva. There are friteries throughout the city, and in tourist areas, fresh, hot, waffles are also sold on the street.

Belgian Chocolates, Grand Place, Brussels
Belgian Chocolate Shop in the Grand Place, Brussels

Jay’s parents remained in Brussels for a couple of years and when they visited us in Washington, DC a gift box of Neuhaus chocolates was always in the suitcase for me. Today’s reminiscing is inspired by a terrific article in the New York Times by Amy Thomas – Brussels: The Chocolate Trail… and includes a great list of the city’s chocolatiers.

“You have chocolate for tourists, and chocolate for Belgians,” Ms. Warner said of the national hierarchy in which chocolate produced by manufacturers like Côte d’Or and Guylian are devoured in vast quantities, but mostly by the city’s six million annual visitors. Bruxellois, Ms. Warner said, prefer the artisanal makers. “The big-name big houses are great. But seeing and tasting real handmade chocolate, while buying it from the person who made the chocolate, is something special.”

To prove her point, as we were leaving Wittamer, the century-old chocolatier in the center of the city that seduces both locals and tourists with its heritage recipes, Robbin suggested we go to Alex & Alex, a nearby Champagne and chocolate bar. Though its chocolates, made by Frederic Blondeel, aren’t made on-site, they’re acknowledged in some circles as some of the best in the city.

The bar is tucked away on one of the antiques store- and art gallery-filled streets that shoot off the Grand Sablon, Brussels’ central square. Its dark, cozy interior, along with the glass of Drappier rosé and array of square bonbons before me, was a lovely respite from the trolling chocolate tourists outside. I found the herbaceous notes of Blondeel’s basil ganache too reminiscent of pesto, but the “Alex’Perience” chocolates were another story. The first velvety impression of high-quality chocolate was followed by a flood of sweet, fruity cassis.

Amy Thomas’ new book, Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) , will be released on February 1, 2012.

If you find yourself in Brussels by all means take the train to Bruges. “Much of the enchanting city center is truly reminiscent of a fairy tale, with stone footbridges spanning picturesque canals and cobblestone streets curving past turreted manor houses”… read 36 Hours: Bruges, Belgium for the full story.