Food glorious food!

Moving to a new country provides the chance to try lots of new food and cooking ideas. To me San Miguel de Allende is the Mexican equivalent of the Dordogne. It’s THE place for foodies who like well made, fresh and local produce. The area is surrounded by farms growing incredible fruit and vegetables…and we even have a good friends who has an organic beef herd.

The range of produce is vast. Everything from locally produced cheeses (and yes we can get very good goats cheese, camenbert and cheddars which are nearly all made in the area) to artisan breads and wild rice etc.

Last week we were at a party and ended up in a full blown conversation about cheese with our friend Timo…honestly we were salvating over the stuff. The simple pleasure of going to the organic market on Saturday morning to get goats cheese camenbert and a loaf of bread for lunch that day. That’s just what we did yesterday.

The organic market is held on Saturday mornings just next to the Institudo de Allende. It’s a marvel of a place. Small local organic producers come here each week and the range of produce is phenomenal. Yesterday I picked up two massive bags of organic vegetables – rainbow chart, coriander, mint, salad, nopales, corn, basil and more for just 80 pesos (that’s just under £2 in UK money). What’s more, in speaking with the producers it’s clear that they have a real love for their work and that love is reflected in the quality of their food. We also went a little overboard on cheese!

The market is also a bit of a meeting place – we always run into lots of friends and love to sit and visit over a cup of coffee, breakfast…and an orange doughnut (they’re amazing!).

There is another market on Tuesdays that is even bigger and although not all the produce is organic it’s just as much fun to explore.

San Miguel de Allende really is a foodie paradise. You will never get bored here with a different restaurant or taco stand to explore every night as well as the simple pleasure of cooking at home using great ingredients. I still haven’t mastered high altitude baking just yet though.

We discovered a new restaurant on Friday evening when we joined Joseph and Eduardo for dinner with a couple of their friends visiting from Dallas. Agua Miel is located on Pipila in Colonia San Antonio. The food is absolutely beautiful – all freshly made by Gaby. We shared a range of starters including Corn cakes stuffed with corn truffles and Crab cakes with remoulade. Matt and I shared a main course of Sauteed Shrimp, Calamari & Octopus, served with cilantro rice…sounds simple but it was so well cooked and presented! What made it special was that the staff here were so warm and welcoming…as they are in pretty much every place we’ve eaten here in town. We’ll be checking Agua Miel out again soon.

In the meantime, it’s about time I did one or two more local cooking classes!

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Three months in the sun!

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Sometimes I can’t quite believe we’ve been here three months already. In a way it seems like we arrived just last week!

Last week I was having my haircut by the fabulous Emily….seriously the woman does wonders with a pair of scissors and the conversation was great too. We were discussing how different life is here compared to where we came from.

The thing I’ve noticed since we’ve been here is just that….I take notice and appreciate life so much more. The very act of slowing down makes this possible. For example, because of the cobbly narrow streets, people tend to drive much slower here and stop for each other.

I love to sit and watch the hummingbirds come and feed from one of our feeders and it’s as if the world goes into slow motion when they do. I hear much more in the way of birdsong. We have beautiful birdsong in the UK but perhaps I just listen more here in Mexico. Or just the wind blowing through the trees in the valley below us.

Mexicans are very respectful and it’s normal to say hello to everyone you pass in the street. Just that simple act makes you feel welcome and embraced by the community.

Speaking of community, I’ve heard numerous stories about how this community has rallied around those in need. It seems that there is more of a sense of community here than we’ve felt in a long time. It’s ironic that my job title is Chief of Community at WorldBlu and yet it’s taken a move here for me to really really feel part of a thriving community.

I still marvel at how life here affords many the opportunity to reinvent themselves and imagine life anew. Only yesterday we were talking with a friend who is moving here from the UK after a very stressful job and life in London. Now she’s starting to imagine how to reinvent herself and think about taking life in a different direction.

Matt is continuing to work on reinventing himself and is trying all sorts of different things. I continue to be so very proud of him for stepping out a cosy comfort zone and coming along for the ride. It isn’t always easy but both of us can’t imagine returning to our old life in the UK at this point.

That’s the delicious beauty of making a life here and we love it!

Something you don’t see in the UK!

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Don’t be misled by these cute looking little fuzzy faces! Last night we had our first encounter with the delights of the Skunk…not the chemical kind…the fuzzy mammal kind.

Skunks may look cute but when they feel threatened they spray quite possibly the nastiest smelling liquid known to man. They’re not native to Europe so I’ve never encountered them before…until last night.

We had the most almighty storm come through town yesterday evening which cleared the air, lowered the temperature and filled the creek below our apartment…and brought out all sorts of critters apparently.

Just as we were dropping off to sleep, I was hit by an almost suffocating smell. Matt thought someone was having a big bonfire nearby but I instinctively knew it must be skunk….yuk! We thought it must have sprayed just under our window outside the apartment below us. I thought we’d never drop off to sleep after experiencing such an overpowering odour.

This morning we discovered that our neighbours five doors down from us had also smelt it so it seems most of the complex were woken up! Eeek…I can still smell it in my mind! I hope this is the first and last time we have to deal with Mexican skunks!

 

On life

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Victoria Wood in Dinneladies

It’s been an introspective couple of days here in Ash Towers (otherwise known as Casa Juanita in these parts). Hearing about the passing of yet another golden light this morning – Victoria Wood – has left me once again reflecting on life and swearing to make the most of the time we have in this experience. Incidentally – she was one of my favourites and together with the likes of Julie Walters she’s right up there on my list of those I’d like to invite to dinner!

“Life’s not fair, is it? Some of us drink champagne in the fast lane, and some of us eat our sandwiches by the loose chippings on the A597.”

– Victoria Wood

Simply put, I’m not one of those people waiting for retirement before getting out there and having an adventure. If the passing of those like Victoria Wood teaches us anything it’s that we don’t know what is around the next corner so make the most of life NOW and don’t wait. It’s about quality not quantity!

I do believe that life is eternal and that while our the vehicle in which we currently inhabit (our body) may fall away at some point, our souls continue on. And the passing of several dear family and friends in recent years has helped me to bring that into sharper focus through a variety of experiences.

Nevertheless, when someone we love and admire passes on, it presents an opportunity to celebrate and marvel at their life as well as think about making the most of our own.

I very much doubt that we would be here in Mexico today had both our mothers not passed in the last few years. Their passing as well as that of my dearest cousin Ciaran (same age as me) caused us to take a good look at our lives and make some changes. It would be very easy to settle for the status quo and continue the hum drum life we had in the UK – going to work Monday to Friday etc. There is no doubt we were comfortable but we were not satisfied and we were growing increasingly bored. For years I had been itching for a new adventure abroad and fortunately I have a career that enables me to have a little bit more freedom at work.

The leap to Mexico was a much bigger deal for Matt – leaving behind his hometown and a stable job. I am in awe of how he’s embracing this new life – trying to find work, learning a new language and being at home 24/7 for the first time in his life. There are days when the frustration of work leads not coming through can get too much or the pressure to pay the bills is weighing on his mind, but he keeps getting back up and trying again.

We’ve left behind so much but gained so much in terms of our quality of life, sense of community and deepening and forging friendships. To me – this IS the quality of life we’ve been seeking for years and this is about living life to the full. Exploring new views together. This IS life!

Mexican Street Food…yum!

Mexican street food is world famous and one of our favourites! Take a stroll into the centre of town in the evening and you’ll find food stands dotted everywhere selling all sorts of delights from fresh fruit dipped in sugared chillis to taquitos and gringas. Mexicans traditionally eat their last meal of the day late in the evening and it’s common to find throngs of people gathered around their favourite taco stand waiting for a plate of the good stuff.

On Saturday we checked out arguably one of the best stands in town on the corner of Insurgentes and Calle Hidalgo near the Biblioteca. We hit the stand with Joseph and Eduardo after attending a party earlier in the evening and arrived at about 11pm to find the stand 4-5 deep in people waiting for their orders. You know a place is popular when there is a big line of people waiting to be served!

Call this the equivalent of a kebab van in the UK but actually so much fresher! In fact it felt surprisingly familiar as groups of seemingly half baked revellers turned up on their way back home.

Eduardo ordered plates of tacos and gringas for each of us along with some bottles of orange and apple sodas. Families were sitting at the bar rapidly noshing on their food. Eventually ours arrived – small plates of greasy meat, melty cheese and salsa finished off with a touch of fresh coriander and freshly squeezed lime…yummy. The perfect end to the evening!

Express Yourself

Today I’m rocking Charles Wright’s ‘Express Yourself’ as I reflect back on a fun night out last night. Our Saturday night shenanigans this week involved a journey into self expression! We were invited to an art opening for a friend of Joseph’s. His work is highly erotic in nature and harks back to the dreams he had as a 30 something man in NYC 35 years ago. Actually his work was really quite magical. The exhibition was at a new venue in town that is seeking support for it to become a safe place for people to express themselves without judgement and is being promoted by young LGBT youth here in SMA. The group gave an impassioned talk about what it’s like being a young and gay in Mexico and how grateful they are to live in a community with a large number of expats who are helping to change the attitude to LGBT men and women and embrace diversity – even if there are still challenges here in this town and ares where people just don’t go. There is still much education and community development to be done to ensure that no one is marginalised.

This is one of the reasons we love living here in SMA – diversity and reinvention! Many people who come to live here reinvent themselves and discover a part of themselves they had not felt able to explore in their previous lives. And most of all, people feel able to express themselves so freely here!

We’ve heard friends say that it takes 9-12 months to really settle in here and that’s true for us. As part of this, we’re exploring how best we can contribute our talents to the wider community here. Last night, in the midst of such a diverse and open crowd, I started to wonder whether this is where I can help support people to face their fears and embrace their identity…perhaps harking back to my old Street Arts days. Watch this space.

One of the folks I enjoyed getting to know last night was a stunning trans woman from Mexico City who supports a group of young trans people who need a safe place to live and explore their identity without being attacked. While many parts of Mexico are accepting of diversity, there is also somewhat of a double standard and last night I learned how police in some cities do nothing to come to the aid of trans people when they’ve been attacked – sometimes even provoking the attacks themselves. So safe homes like Lipstick are really important. f

As a form of self expression where they feel safe to explore their femininity, the group practice a form of dance called Voguing which originated in NYC in the 1970’s. We were treated to a dance off last night. Voguing is SO expressive and uses every part of the body – it’s actually really emotional to watch as you realise the performers aren’t always able to express themselves, so when they’re in a place like the one we shared, suddenly they feel to ramp it up and fully express themselves without fear! I sat back and watched…this gal can’t dance in 6 inch heels like the performers! Fabulous!

Every new experience we enjoy here, opens up new vistas for us….long may it continue.

Just another evening in San Miguel de Allende

One of the many things I like about our lives here is that we can just stroll down to the town centre in the evening to visit with friends, have dinner and just meander through the streets taking in the sights, smells and sounds of this beautiful place. Back in the UK, we lived away from the centre of town…and it was a pretty quiet and subdued place anyway – so we didn’t get out much….and I was getting cabin fever!

Last night was another example of a perfect relaxed evening in San Miguel. Matt went to his first meet up for geeks while I met up with some friends (and met a couple of new ones) at one of our favourite rooftop bars…perfect for watching the sunset over a cool drink. The conversation flowed, lots of laughter and after a few hours we all went our separate ways and meandered home again.

En route we stopped in the Jardin. Much of Mexican community life revolves around these gorgeous little squares or gardens dotted around downs. ‘The Jardin’ – as it’s known here – is the main one in town and probably a little touristy. It’s right outside the main church and a point of focus for many. At the weekends the jardin benches will be groaning with people just stopping to people watch or listen to music. Food carts selling juices, fruit and tacos are dotted around the square ready to provide much needed refreshment to passers by. Last night the sound of a mariachi band serenading a couple greeted us as we walked through the Jardin. I couldn’t help but stop and listen for a few minutes. Off in the distance a group of young teenagers were practicing street dancing in the bandstand in the middle of the jardin. It was as if time stopped for us for a moment while we took it all in. I adore mariachi music and the passion and energy they bring to their performance. Again – just so evocative of this beautiful place in which we live. It’s just so alive here! We’re just so grateful to be here!

 

 

Happy Birthday Mum

It would have been Mum’s birthday today. The fifth year without her physical presence here…and yet I do still feel her presence all the time.

If ever there was a free spirit – it was/is my Mum….she lived life to the full. Without a doubt I know she would have loved this new adventure that we’re on in Mexico and fully supported us….and probably moved in too for a while. As we were beginning to think about moving, I was constantly asking myself…what would Mum do. And of course the message came back…Fuck everything, pack your bags and get on with it!!! Her zest for life, for adventures off the beaten track, for curiosity and going with the flow was legendary. I hope that we’ve all picked up some of those qualities from her.

In all honesty I miss her every day but over the years I’ve seen signs of her presence everywhere – and I do believe that there is life after death…that Love conquers death as my good friend Kathleen McGowan has learnt too. Mum loved being out in nature and that’s where I find her presence the most. Plants such as the lavender on our roof top remind me of her so much as well as the hummingbirds that flit from one flower to the next. Or whenever we turn a new corner here in San Miguel and find another thing of beauty I’m always thinking ‘Oh Mum would have loved this!’

IMG_7632This morning as I turned around in the bathroom I saw a flash of the tattoo I had done a couple of years ago in her memory…it represents a Field of Stars which was the name of her book written after walking the Camino de Compestella in 2005 (and I’m determined to republish the book this year!). It’s on my shoulder blade – I forget about it half the time. But this morning it reminded me of her and how she’s out there wandering in her Field of Stars along life’s grand camino.

For a year or so after she passed, I would spend a significant amount of each day either in tears or downright angry that she had moved on and left us to deal with the aftermath. Eventually I realised I had a choice – I could either continue to wallow in pity and grief and let it take me down or take the high road and celebrate all Mum taught us. Fortunately I chose the latter. Now, even on my worst days – I find myself marvelling at the good she left us with. Thanks to her example, I learnt to stand on my own two feet and to fight my corner. To stand up to abuse and live without fear. She would have been the first to say – so life threw a whole load of crap at you and the dreams you once had have changed…but just get on with it – do something new and don’t look back. Grab every new experience and such the marrow out of it!

Those of you who knew her, will remember how Mum had a habit of getting herself into…and out of…some of the most ridiculous situations. I still don’t know how she managed to drive 20 miles from Portsmouth to Stedham through every red light at speed and still get let off by the policeman she grovelled to! Then there was the time she spent 6 weeks hiking in Ladakh in the Himalayas and nearly fell down a ravine…several times (thank goodness we weren’t there at the time!). I’m sure her many friends have similar stories. 

Most of all I am incredibly grateful for the lessons she taught us – to embrace every new experience, to fight for what you believe, don’t put up with bullies, to give back and support those in need, be fearless, and most of all – love unconditionally….AND to laugh. 

Happy Birthday Mummy! We’ll be raising a glass or two to you today. Love you so much xxxx

 

 

Jacaranda season

_DSC3608It’s Jacaranda season here in San Miguel when the entire town is floating on a cloud of purple flowers. I love to sit on our roof – or a bar roof – in the early evening and watch the colours fade at the end of the day. But today as we were driving down the hill to the grocery store, I just had to stop at a local look out and take this photo of the town in bloom.

According to an Amazon legend, a beautiful bird named Mitu landed atop a Jacaranda tree bringing with him a lovely woman. The woman, who was actually a priestess of the moon, descended from the tree and lived among the villagers, sharing with them her knowledge and ethics. Having fulfilled her mission, she returned back to the tree adorned in Jacaranda blooms and ascended to the heavens where she united with her soul mate, the son of the sun.

 

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