Sunday, May 30, 2010

San Miguel De Allende - A doorway to the unexpected

San miguel De Allende begins with a wall.
Or at least our first photos of this town begin with a wall (thanks to Evan and his fascination with it). It's intricately cemented together with large flat rocks encircled in smaller stones. 
Upon arrival at our penultimate stop in Mexico, we were forced to park the van quite a ways outside of the central square because availability was scarce - a problem we haven't had to deal with too often in this country. We walked down the road using the red church in the distance as our landmark.
On our walk towards the town center, we were intrigued to find an organic cafe with vegetarian food and gelato. However, our mission to reach that church deterred us from researching this restaurant any further.
If there was one characteristic specific to this town that really made it stand out from the rest of the places we've visited on this trip (aside from the numerous organic cafes and markets that you will soon hear about) it would be the incredible wooden doors.
Another thing to note about San Miguel were the narrow sidewalks. It's hard to discern the sidewalk from the cobblestone streets (there is a slight color variation) in this photo, but it's really only wide enough for one person. If there are two people walking in opposite directions, one of them has to step off into the street to let the other pedestrian get passed. 
Nearing the square.
And we made it.
When we approached the central square there was some sort of ceremony in the works.
We soon realized it was a funeral when we saw an enlarged photo of an old woman followed by a casket - it was a cultural melding of old world tradition with new world catholic influence.
The funeral took place in this church.
Our walk around the square landed us in a most unlikely (and quite frankly, undesirable) place.
It was a circumstance of convenience - we were hot, sweaty, tired of walking, and Evan was in dire need of an "email check". The air-conditioned Starbucks sounded really nice at the time.
A few hours later, I walked the long haul back to the van to make some dinner:
Tomato-Pepper Stuffed Cabbage Wraps
I began this Bitchen Van Kitchen sesh by checking my garbanzo sprouts. They have sprouted so fast! This was just a day or two after I soaked them. The nut milk bag has proven a better option down here in Mexico - no mold! They were ready for fixin'.
Unfortunately, I didn't take a play-by-play photo montage to help jog my memory of the ingredients included in this recipe, so I'll just have to do my best to remember back several weeks (Unbeknownst to some of you, I am seven weeks behind in my blog updates). 

I rinsed the 'banzo sprouts (chickpea sprouts) and laid them out on the cutting board for a visual.
1/2 cup of 'banzo sprouts
2-4 roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 a red onion, chopped
1 small beet, sliced and chopped 
2 carrots, sliced and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
4 dried chilies or fresh peppers of your choice, soaked in lemon juice and water (I used chile negros - black chilies - because they have a nice smokey flavor)
1/4 cup of cilantro and/or parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons of chili powder

I remember now that this recipe took place during my week of "no overt fats" (overt fats being things like avocados, coconut, oil, nuts and seeds). This recipe contains no overts, but you can always add tahini or other nut-seed butters of your choice to the paté, which will fill out the taste and texture a little more.

This recipe surprised me in the end and I'll tell you why. I had just gotten back from the store where I purchased a giant, 1-lb bag of chili powder. I figure I'd use it up eventually as I do consider myself a legitimate spice girl. I added a good 2 tablespoons of chili powder to this recipe and when I did the initial taste test, I was astonished at how flavorful it was. 

Was it because I hadn't been eating any salt or overt fats for the past four days and my sense of taste was honed and heightened? Was I able to pick out the subtle nuances of one tomato from the next - from pepper to pepper? I had come a long way in four days, I thought...

No, it was just the fact that the bag of chili powder I bought was a salt and chili mixture. I called on Evan to confirm this - there was definitely salt mixed in with the chili. I ended up tossing the entire bag because I am trying to cut back on my salt intake. Sad.
So some of you may be asking yourself "What's the big deal about salt? Doesn't everyone need a little sodium in their diet?" The answer is Yes. Yes it is essential for your body to have sodium in your system, but there is enough natural sodium in fruits and vegetables - especially tomatoes, celery, sea palm, and seaweeds that the addition of sodium in the form of table salt or even sea salt is unnecessary and highly acidic to the body. 

"But what about iodine? Don't you need iodine from iodized salt?"

Yes, you need iodine in your system because it helps your thyroid function properly which takes part in regulating your hormones, but you don't need to get your iodine from iodized table salt. Iodine is plentiful in sea vegetables like sea palm, dulse, kelp, and other forms of seaweeds.

And that was your health lesson for the day.
I chopped up all the ingredients and placed them in the food processor. 
For the wrap - slice the head of cabbage in half and remove the core. Then carefully peel a layer of cabbage from the cabbage head. Fill the cabbage leaf with a hefty scoop of paté and any other ingredients that sound appealing. I added some onion.
Roll up and enjoy!
The next day I did some more exploring of San Miguel. 
I discovered more organics - awesome.
Another church - awesome.
Outdoor book sale - awesome.
My kind of book: Vitamins & Minerals
This was a sweet coat hanger I found in an art store near the square. I wanted to get it for my Dad's office, but I didn't have 1000 pesos to spare. 
I have to admit by the time we reached San Miguel, both Evan and I were itching to get back to the states. We had been in Mexico for almost 6 weeks and were looking forward to once again being able to communicate in our native language. Not only that, but the idea of not having to pay to use a toilet was uplifting along with having such amenities as a toilet seat, decent water pressure, soap in the soap dispenser, etc. So by the time we got to San Miguel we were already in the mind set of getting the hell out as soon as possible. Our exit was thwarted, however, by an unexpected run-in with a friend of Evan's from college. The Starbucks that we were so reluctant to enter was the also the meeting place for this coincidental crossing of paths. 

The scene went something like this:
Evan was sitting in Starbucks working on a translation project. He looked up and saw a gal standing in line at the counter and thought to himself "Hmm, she looks like Marka from Portland". He doubted the likelihood of this woman actually being Marka and not a Marka-doppleganger so he looked back down at his computer screen and continued on his project. A minute later, Marka walks up to his table and says "Did you go to Reed?" (As in Reed College in Portland, Oregon). To which he replied "No, but I can see why you would think that". Evan went to Lewis and Clark College also located in Portland, Oregon, but he lived with a group of Reedies near their school - hence the mixup. Apparently, Marka and Evan attended the same parties and social events and shared several mutual friends. 

Marka is an artist who has been living in San Miguel since January. See her art here:

She invited us over to the house she was staying in - a close friend of hers from the states has a house in San Miguel and was letting her crash at their place. I can't even begin to describe the "wow" factor that came with touring this estate. I was completely overwhelmed. The photos will speak for themselves, but don't even compare to being there in the moment.

It begins with a door similar to the door photos I posted above.
The door opens to an outdoor walkway - a "front yard" in some respect.
Which leads to this "hallway"
Which leads to this hallway
Which leads to another room which leads to the kitchen
 which leads to a dining area
Then we went outside to the back of the estate
The hot tub.
Guest rooms galore.
More of the backyard.
More guest rooms.
Adjacent to the pool.
Upstairs patio.
Jacaranda trees everywhere.
More bedrooms.
Catching up near the pool.
The iPad.
The sunset.
I really just got sick of taking photos so I stopped, but the house went on forever and ever. So many rooms, too many to count. It was absolutely amazing. 

Marka told us about an organic farm 10 miles outside of town and a couple of organic markets in the area. Here we were discussing the prospect of staying another couple of days to visit this organic market, Via Organica, and the organic farm that supplies it.
We were invited to stay for dinner.
I had stopped at the market earlier in the day... the chefs sliced up some pineapple and mango for me. 
and I ate some of the salad as well.
The food for everyone else included sautéed veggies and cooked fish.

Funny story - Evan got food poisoning for the second time since being in Mexico. He was up all night puking. It was strange, though, because nobody else out of the seven other diners had any symptoms whatsoever. We started making a joke about Evan eating meat from the street vendors on a daily basis and not getting sick once, but the two times he chose to eat vegetables - he couldn't keep it down. The one other time he got sick was from fresh juice at a juice stand in Puerto Vallarta.

Also, in case you were wondering, after dinner I went to the van to make myself a real feast - that little bit of fruit and salad did not fill me up.  

Upon rising the next morning, Evan's tummy was feeling a bit unsettled, but we decided to go to the organic farm, anyway. 
Rancho La Trinidad
Upon arrival at Rancho La Trinidad, we met the owner of the farm. He was walking around and saw our Oregon license plate. I believe he asked us where we were from and that he, himself, had lived in Oregon for a period of time. We asked him about his farm, how long it had been in operation, where he sources it to, what standards they use to claim their farm is, in fact, "organic". I don't remember anything other than his name might have been Bob or maybe Rob and they use the Oregon Tilth standards for organic labeling. They source to a few local markets and restaurants in the area and they have a small produce stand set up on site where you can buy vegetables. They don't have much in the way of fruit, but they have an amazing array of greens and veggies (including kale!) - mainly greens, peas, carrots, broccoli, artichoke, etc.
Artichokes, peas, string beans, nopales (cactus)
Rainbow carrots
Kale! I was so excited to see this.
Bok choy.
Lemon Verbena
Here are some photos from the farm:
Artichoke plants
Garlic? Onions?
Red Chard
Onions? Garlic?
Mustard greens?
Fennel getting harvested.
Corn field
And other random stuff...
We picked out a few things from their produce stand and made our way to one of San Miguel De Allende's organic markets - Via Organica
We learned about Via Organica and Rancho La Trinidad from our friend, Marka, after we had mentioned to her how difficult it was to find organic produce in Mexico. Via Organica is both a cafe and a market. You can dine in or takeout and they have a juice and smoothie bar as well.
Here are some of the items you will find at Via Organica:
Cactus Flour (I've never seen nor heard of this)
Herbal tinctures. 
A health & beauty section
Dried goods and condiments.
Vanilla bean.
Tahini! The first and last jar of tahini I ever saw in Mexico. 
"Producto Organico de Oaxaca"
Raw crackers?! In Mexico? I never thought I'd see the day...
Sprouted wheat salad
Ayurvedic soup
Ayurvedic Subji
Via Organica Juice & Smoothie Bar
Via Organica produce section
Via Organica Cafe (w/ wifi)
I ordered a green smoothie, of course.
Then we went to the other organic market in San Miguel De Allende - Natura.
Mushrooms - not sure what kind
Prepared salads
Fava bean patties (yum!)
'Buch! Another first and last in Mexico.
Natura Cafe
I was inspired by some of the prepared soups I saw at both Via Organica and Natura cafe so on our way out of town, I hunkered down in the back to bring that soup to fruition. I was craving a savory carrot-based soup. I used whatever produce I had in the van plus a few things I picked up at the organic markets and Rancho La Trinidad farm earlier that day. I can't say this was the best soup creation I've ever come up with, but I'll show you what I did just in case you feel like tweaking it to perfection.
Raw Chunky Pineapple-Vegetable Soup
1 carrot (I know, I wanted a carrot-based soup, but I only had one carrot)
1 stick of celery
1 zucchini (I think)
1 beet
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup parsley and/or cilantro, tightly packed
lemon verbena (as much as you want)
3 small tomatoes
2 dried peppers, soaked in lemon juice 
1-2 cups of mushrooms (your choice), sliced
1/2 a pineapple
salt and spices of your choosing - I had cumin, paprika, and cayenne on hand

Sounds a bit like a disaster, eh? It's not that bad. 

Step 1: Soak dried chilies in lemon/lime juice
Step 2:  Chop carrots, zuc, and celery and add to food processor
Step 3: Chop your beet
Step 4: Process and add garlic.
Step 5: Add Parsley and/or cilantro
Step 6: Add the lemon verbena
Step 7: Chop tomatoes - add some to processor and save the rest for the soup
Step 8: Add soaked chilies to processor

Step 9: Chop up mushrooms and add to chili soak water.
Step 10: Add some of the tomatoes and spices to the mushrooms marinating in soak water.
Step 11: Chop up 1/2 a pineapple - add some to the processor
Step 12: Drain the soak water from the marinating veggies and mushrooms
Step 13: Add soak water to processor and blend
Step 14: Slice up some more mushrooms
Step 15: Add some of the processed mixture to the marinated vegetable chunks and pineapple cubes. Add more spices and salt if you'd like.
This was an interesting dish, but I devoured it immediately. I liked the sweetness of the pineapple in this recipe, but I wish I had added more lemon verbena. I also would have liked some fresh or dried rosemary had it been available - maybe some thyme to give it a stronger savory flavor. Some nut/seed butters or oil could be added to this soup as well. I was still in a low-fat conscious phase so I omitted the overts in this soup.

We gassed up at this gas station soon after we left San Miguel. This boy came over asking for gifts so we gave him my pair of sunglasses. 
We spent the night in San Luis Potosi and left early the next morning for the border. Check back for my next post on the feared border crossing!