Reading Room

Hanging out at the library. Here and there.
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There is a world of difference between the outdoor reading room at the library in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and the reading room in the Carnegie library (with the original fireplace and shelving) in Baraboo, Wisconsin. But no matter where you are, a library is a valuable treasure and a great place to hang out.

Sit a little, relax a little, read a little or a lot and ENJOY!

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25 Bottles of Mezcal on the Wall

25 bottles of mezcal on the wall, 25 bottles of mezcal

take one down, pass it around,

24 bottles of mezcal on the wall

Forgive me for adapting that old drinking song to the occasion. I walked into a grill to get some dinner and found this lovely collection of one of Mexico’s traditional spirits.

Mezcal, a relative of  its smoother cousin,Tequila, is distilled from the heart of the maguey plant (a form of agave). In a process that has remained relatively unchanged for centuries, the heart of the plant is cooked in an earthen mound over hot rocks, for about three days. This gives the mezcal its distinctive smoky flavor.

The roasted agave hearts are then crushed and fermented in large vats with water. When fermented, the liquid is distilled in clay or copper pots, and sometimes mixed with fruits and spices, such as apple or cinnamon, or other ingredients as family recipes dictate. Then it is distilled again to raise the alcohol content.

It can be consumed raw at this point, or allowed to age anywhere from 3 months to 4 years, the alcohol content growing yet the liquor becoming smoother with age. The raw liquor is called white due to its color, and reminiscent of “white lightening” in the hills of Appalachia, this aguardiente (literally fiery water) reportedly burns all the way down. And due to its high alcohol content is highly intoxicating.

Mezcal is so much a part of the culture that there is a saying which says something to the effect of “Para todo mal, mezcal; y para todo bien, también., which means “For everything bad, mezcal; and for everything good, the same.”

For the love of chocolate – gluten-free, low carb brownies

I may not be able to sip hot chocolate at the chocolateria in San Miguel de Allende today but I can satisfy my chocolate cravings with this fabulous low-carb, gluten free brownie recipe courtesy of Bob and Kathy in Cuernavaca. Careful, they are addictive!

img_6330-qprLow Carb Brownies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 1/2 cups cocoa
  • 5-6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 c flax meal
  • 1/2 cup stevia or 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 – 1 cup chopped nuts
  • In a small bowl, mix meals, sugar, nuts, and set aside
  • Melt butter in a sauce pan
  • Add cocoa and stir until smooth, Turn off heat.
  • Add eggs to cocoa mixture, one at a time and stir
  • Add dry ingredients and stir until mixed

Spread evenly in a greased 9×13″ pan; Bake  for 20-25 minutes (Do not over bake)

For the love of chocolate

Mente Chocolate signA short walk from the Jardin in San Miguel de Allende, is a chocolate lovers paradise.  Mente Cacao (mente means mind or intellect not mint), is run by Eduardo and Andreas, connoisseurs of fine cacao.  Notice I did not say cocoa, for what they have to offer is much more sublime that your average cocoa or chocolate bar.

Eduardo’s family grows the cacao, harvests the beans at the peak of perfection, and grinds them by hand extracting all the wonderful healthy properties of the bean.

They mix three different formulas, sweet,  semi-sweet, and dark (80%) and serve up the finest hot chocolate  that you will find anywhere. With a little cream and raw cocoa nibs on top — it’s pure decadence!!!

img_6330-qprIf hot chocolate is not your cup of “tea” try a blackberry pastry drizzled in hot chocolate, handmade gourmet chocolates with ingredients like citrus peel, dried fruit, nuts, or even chili; if you have never tried chocolate with chili – it is a taste sensation. To keep your chocolate addiction at bay, take home some bars of the sweet chocolate goodness.

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Next time you are in downtown San Miguel de Allende, stop by the chocolateria, on Zacateros near Umaran and savor a little deliciousness.

Be sure to tell them Blue Bear sent you.

San Miguel de Allende

Overview San Miguel de AllendeLa Parroquia, San Miguel de Allende, MexicoVoted “The Most Beautiful City in the World” by Conde Nast Traveler in 2013, San Miguel de Allende is a Spanish colonial town established in the mid-1500s. In the center is the typical town plaza, although here it is called “the Jardin” rather than a zocolo. Grand hacienda style casas ring the Jardin, now filled with restaurants, shops, and a museum dedicated to Ignacio Allende (considered the father of the Mexican revolution) and the history of the city, the founding families, and the revolution itself all facing (more or less) the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, built in the 17th century. The facade was reconstructed in the 1800s by an indigenous brick layer and self-taught architect who drew his inspiration from lithographs of Gothic style churches from Europe. It is really a fanciful creation in multicolored stone that has become the symbol of San Miguel and one of the most photographed churches in Mexico.

Street Scene, San Miguel de Allende, MexicoBeing a Spanish colonial town, the cobblestone streets are laid out in a grid, allowing for some adjustment due to terrain. The houses are hacienda style which means they are walled all around, with  large doors that open onto a courtyard. Though originally these walls would have been plain stucco, today they are painted golden yellow, brick, clay and other warm rustic colors. It is one of Mexico’s “Puebla Magicos” (magic cities) and as such rises to a higher level of beauty, cleanliness, and enjoyment that attracts tourists from all over Mexico and around the world.

La Jardin, San Miguel de Allende, MexicoMany Americans and Canadians either live or winter here so English is widespread. It helps to have some knowledge of Spanish but you can get by without. There is always someone nearby to help you if need be.

There are many hotels here that would rival any hotel room in the States or you can choose, like I did, to go Mexican.

Thanks to some friends of a friend, I ended up in an old hacienda, complete with courtyard and very Mexican accommodations. This was good in that my rooms (it was a 2-story place) were quaint, tiled, and painted in the Mexican style (similar to rosemaling), centrally located, and an easy walk to almost everything. On the other hand, being that Mexican houses are all cement and tile, designed to keep you cool, and  the night I arrived it was 36 degrees (yes that’s right – just above freezing)  it was freezing inside. I had a fireplace to take the chill off the lower room, however the wood was more like kindling and there were no matches. There was a kitchen but the gas was not on, and again no matches. They did see fit to pile a few more blankets outside my door, so with those and moving upstairs to sleep I was fairly comfortable once I figured out how to capture the heat during the day.

Old door, San Miguel de Allende, MexicoWhen you walk the streets of San Miguel, the walls are broken by huge doors, many centuries old, many newer and designed to look that way (it’s the law). Shops selling everything from handmade leather bags from Leon, to pottery from Puebla, to traditional embroidered clothing and more from Oaxaca, fill the individual spaces originally designed for this purpose or spill out into a courtyard lined with shops of many kinds.

The world famous San Miguel  shoes designed by a little old lady and her cobbler husband to provide a stable, cushy, yet elegant way for women to navigate the cobblestone streets is here as well.  Martha still holds court in the shop everyday dressed like something out of Anna Karenina — long coat, old fashioned hat, and these crazy shoes.

Courtyard, San Miguel de Allende, MexicoIf you are fortunate, you might come across an open door to a courtyard of a private residence. Then you get a glimpse of a sunny garden around a central fountain, offset by old-world tile, ancient wooden doors, wrought iron railings and beautiful architectural details. You might also come across the Inquisitor’s House across the street from the torture chamber (in use for this purpose until the late 1800s), a restaurant where you can eat in the kitchen and many rooftop bars and restaurants with fabulous views of the city.

Dancers at Jardin, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

On weekends there is a party atmosphere between the Jardin and Parroquia with giant street puppets, singers, dancers and more. Every corner sports its own unique atmosphere from a mariachi band providing accompaniment for the shoe shine man’s wife’s singing, to the amateur opera singer serenading a  table of friends, to the guy with the guitar and pan flute playing for change.

The atmosphere is very artsy, with two schools teaching painting, drawing, ceramics, fabric weaving, music, and more, and many artesaninas (artisans). The specialty of this town appears to be pewter — a good, non-breakable gift to take home.

San Miguel de Allende is truly a “magic city.”