Thursday, September 29, 2011

San Miguel - Part 10

Both Nonie and I love to paint ceramics.  David and Jessica, of Galeria Quinta Irma, invited us to come and enjoy a little interlude, painting our own piece of their pottery with them.

Nonie opted for a couple of tiles.  She used Mexican designs from the Dover publication Design Motifs of Ancient Mexico by Jorge Enciso.  We have both been fascinated with this little book that is chock-full of wonderful, graphic designs from all over Mexico.

I did a fish platter.  I have this "thing" about painting fish on ceramics and have been doing so for quite some time now.  I will admit that the design that emerged for this piece is utterly different from my usual weird-o fish (as one of my daughter's once described my work).  I wan't at all sure about this process, using the glaze that David prepared with cobalt and water.  They paint onto ware that they throw, that is then glazed with a white glaze in the majolica style.  The color is applied over a milky white glaze and bakes in when the piece is fired.  So, with this technique, with a heavier application of the cobalt, which is one of only six colors that are "allowed" with the traditional Talavera ware,  you get a darker blue.  You start light and work towards your dark values.

Here are the colors we were using.  Nonie's tiles are vibrant with many colors, mine just various shades of cobalt.

Here are some of the pieces that were painted yesterday and fired over night.  Nola's two tiles are on the bottom left, David's two mermaid tiles (with which he gifted Nonie!) are on the right.  The fish platter is mine and the colorful cat pitchers to the right are Jessica's wonderful, whimsical pieces.

Not a great result, but I am happy with my first attempt at this traditional way of painting ceramics.  It was a real pleasure to sit there in companionable silence with the three of them, working away for a little while.   David and Jessica are so generous with both their knowledge and their art, and have shown us every kindness imaginable.  I am truly honored to have met them.

This is a memory of San Miguel I will treasure!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

San Miguel - Part 9 Cooking Class

Nonie and I took a cooking class today from Sazon Cooking School, which is affiliated with Casa de Sierra Nevada Hotel, here in San Miguel.  The Casa de Sierra Nevada is an Orient Express property, so you know it's quite the thing.  I can say that their cooking school is quite the thing, too!

Our experience started with a visit to the local market.  We bought some carnitas....

....and our chef, Emanuel Cervantes, showed us many ingredients that we needed to buy to take back to the very well-equiped kitchen.

We got some flors de calabaza, squash blossoms, for our quesadillas.

And since this is the season for pomegranates, we sampled a cup of the seeds.  I love pomegranates.

We shared an ear of roasted corn with chili and lime juice.  Both Nonie and I think lime juice on roasted corn is delicious and we plan to eat our corn that way from now on.

We stopped at a tortilla factory to buy masa so we could make our own tortillas and sopecitos "baskets."

Now, this may not look like much of a photograph, but it is very important to me.  I was gawking when I should have been walking and managed to sort of fall/stumble/collapse to one knee on the way back to the cooking school from the market.  I was fine, no problem, but my camera took quite a hit on the sidewalk.  GULP!  The above photo shows that all was well and Nikon does build a very sturdy product.  (Thank you, Nikon, for saving me once again!)

Here we have a plate of corn smut(huitlacoche), ready to be cooked.  

The Chef had several pans going at any one time and we had fun watching him keep all things properly stirred.  Nonie said he was rather like a Chinese acrobat who could keep may plates spinning on sticks at one time.  The pan in the foreground is full of cactus paddles, nopales.

The Chef  preparing the squash blossoms.

Nonie making tortillas.  Hers were pronounced "perfect."  She always has been a show off.....

Here we have a mochajete (a basalt stone bowl used for grinding spices, making salsas and guacamole) full of the local salsa, Salsa Ranchero.  It's spicy and delicious, and surprisingly easy to make.  I am going to have to invest in my own mochajete when I return home.  (Frankly I would love to have one from here but I hesitate to pay the price of shipping home something so heavy.)

The huitlacoche quesadilla heating through....

....and the Chef putting the little sopecitos baskets on to heat up.

Here's the guacamole I made (with a lot of direction!).

The chorizo is cooked and ready to be added to the sopecitos.

Behold this  full-to-the-brim plate of good eats, as Alton Brown would proclaim, that we had for lunch.  From the top, moving around the plate clockwise, guacamole with tortilla chips and pork skins, sopecitos with refried beans, carnitas or chorizo, lettuce, creme fraiche and lettuce, then two kinds of quesadillas (with the huitlacoche and squash blossoms), the green vegetable is nopales (cactus paddles cooked with garlic, onions and tomatoes) and finally some pollo in the center from the little shop that sells delicious roasted chicken.  It was a meal fit for a Queen.  Surprisingly easy and quick to prepare, this traditional Mexican meal stresses fresh, local ingredients quickly and simply prepared to let the flavors of the ingredients shine through.  You don't need a lot of fancy flourishes when the food is so good to begin with.  Chef Cervantes knows his ingredients and how to showcase them.  

Chef Emanuel Cervantes

Photo by Nola Unger
And here is the Chef's somewhat clumsy assistant....

San Miguel - Part 9

We took a day trip to Mineral de Pozos.  It was a very interesting visit to what used to be a very productive mining area and now is called a ghost town.  There were many mines in the area-----gold, silver, mercury-----and while they have been played out since about 1945, there are still fascinating ruins to view.

Each of the mines had very high and thick walls, for protection from the local Indians or banditos.  After all, these were rich mines with gold and silver, just the sort of attraction someone looking for an easy paycheck would be drawn to.  In their day they must have been very grand and substantial looking.

This mine was the Cico Senores.

There are lovely views everywhere you look and since this is the end of the rainy season, wild flowers abound.

This shaft is veeeeerrrrrrrrryyy deep.  Ef dropped a stone and it took a long time to reach the water in the bottom of the shaft, echoing back up to us with an eerie splash.

We had lunch at Posada de las Minas.  What a charming, pretty place!  They not only have a wonderful restaurant but lovely rooms to rent.  Mineral de Pozos is a very quiet little town, totally sleepy and deserted-looking in the middle of a hot day.  We were told that artists are moving in and beginning to work here as the rents are inexpensive and foreigners, mainly Americans and Canadians, are buying real estate in the area.

Pozos really does look like a movie set when you drive through the streets.....the camera fades to the swinging wooden doors of the only bar and the sudden crack of a single gun shot....

Okay.  Cut!

These are the chimneys of the smelter built by Jesuits in the 1600s.  You can see them from a long way off.  This is the area of the Sta. Brigida mine, which was mostly a mercury mine.

The mine collapsed at some point as this area flooded.  There are shafts that just open up at  your feet, unexpectedly, and it would not be my first choice for an area in which to hike!

This structure pictured above is just part of an elaborate oven for smelting the ore.  Each of those openings was an opening into the throat, or chimney, of the oven.  You could control the blast of air rushing down the chimney by opening or closing those openings, according to the wind on a given day.  At least, that is my (admittedly superficial) understanding of the process.

On our way back Efrain stopped for us to get photos of beautiful San Miguel de Allende, laid out at our feet.  La Parroquia looks like a giant cake to me.  I wonder if it ever snows here?  A dusting of snow on La Parroquia would look just like icing!

Monday, September 26, 2011

San Miguel - Part 8

Every Sunday in San Miguel the Biblioteca Publica sponsors a Home and Garden tour.  All the monies raised are used for education and support of the children (and some adult programs) in the local area here.  That's a great cause and the Biblioteca does great work and had done so for something like 50 years.

This particular Sunday, Tuna Normalista, a local band, was playing and singing for the entertainment of the people waiting to take the tour.  They were GREAT.  Nonie and I just loved 'em.

At one point, these three young men began to do a chicken dance.  I did not understand the lyrics of the song (but it was festive and a real toe-tapper) but I certainly did understand their chicken imitation.  It was fun and they were delightful.

We went to two homes on the tour this week.  The first one was not to my taste, but the second was quite lovely, in my humble opinion.  Both of the homes had wonderful views---the first a territorial view looking out to the mountains, and the second a stunning view over San Miguel.

This stairway in the second home was so graceful and simple.  It just drew you up!

We had not spent any time searching the streets near the second home for more great doorways and door knockers, so we "bagged" a few more for our "collection" on our way to lunch.