An Invitation to an Amazing Oaxacan Adventure

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Snow and Sun

 I am happy to say that the March Art Retreat is just about full with nine people signed up. Just a few weeks ago we only had four and then it just happened really fast.  I think it had something to do with the snow. It snowed and suddenly Oaxaca became just that much more beautiful.  I used the deep powdery snow to try an old Scandinavian trick and cleaned my Zapotec rug in the snow (photo above).  Worked like a charm. So yes it's snowy and I am dreaming of Oaxaca and sending a big welcome to everyone joining us for the retreat.  Two months from today!Nos Vemos!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

My Top 10 Favorite Food Experiences in Oaxaca

I thought Turkey day in America, a day devoted to food would be an excellent time to do a post on eating out in Oaxaca.  People always ask me about where to eat and so here it is in condensed form, my top 10 list. It's by no means exhaustive and I guarantee I have left out some gems because I can't eat everywhere. And these are mostly bona fide restaurants not street stalls. I would describe myself as someone who likes good food but I don't consider myself a particularly adventurous eater.  Also, I've covered high and low budget since variety is the spice of life. My focus is less on fine dining and more on everyday places. Please note you'll have to look up address and times open as these are constantly changing. I welcome comments of your favorite places to eat. And the best tip anyone ever gave me was to ask the locals where they like to eat. Buen  Provecho!

1) At  La Pez, my newly discovered favorite hole in the wall, there are three (OK maybe five) things on this menu which is  devoted to fish plus a great condiment bar. The fish tacos are the simplest of  fresh fish, perfectly cooked for something less than $3.  Plus I had this unbelievably thirst quenching basil, lime, cucumber drink.  I think they're using finely ground lime zest to give it such sublime flavor. Find it east of Santa Domingo on Pino Suarez.

2)  La Jicara is Oaxaca's leftist,feminist, revolutionary bookstore.  You know the kind.  Every left leaning town has one.  Luckily for us, La Jicara (referring to the ubiquitous gourd bowls made from the calabash tree and seen everywhere in Oaxaca), also has a coffeehouse and a tiny restaurant. I had a mashed/whipped sweet potato dish there that I've never been able to stop thinking about it was that delicious.  Their comida coridas (lunch special) can be a bargain.

3) Itanoni is a restaurant with a mission and that is to save and serve heritage corn varieties.  Another hole in the wall with plastic chairs and tables up in Colonia Reforma. You can watch women with their hospital masks on grind, press, and cook tortillas over open flames.  Alice Waters said she had the best tortilla of her life here.  And, aside from being offered a place at the table in someone's village home, this is probably one of the few places you can taste a true freshly ground corn homemade tortilla. Delicious. Plus try the green drink made from hierba santa.

                                                               (Nieves flavors)

4) The  Las Nieves stands just outside the walls of  La Basilica de la Soledad, serve up some mighty fine flavors of homemade iced sherberts.  Originally started by Oaxaquenos from the north who brought snow wrapped in palm leaves to town, you'll find about nine or ten stalls serving well known flavors like chocolate and strawberry but then they veer off into chile and tamarind and a fruit or two you've never even heard of. Plus, don't worry, the tuna isn't a fish ice cream (yuck), it's a lovely raspberry colored sherbert made from cactus fruits. There's dozens of flavors and they're happy to offer samples. A great way to relax and soak up some Oaxaqueno street flavor. The music school is close by so sometimes you'll be lucky enough to catch a serenade or two.

5) La Popular - no list would be complete without mention of a local coffeshop/hangout/bar and La Popular seems to be the hipster coffeeshop of the hour. Plus lots more than coffee including craft beers, house mezcal, and a decent menu.  And what's not to love when the restaurant's logo could be mistaken for street art?

                                                         (Street art or store logo?)

6) Caldo de Piedra (Stone Soup in Spanish) is about 20 minutes out of town in the town of El Tule and worth the drive for this only in Oaxaca experience. A family run operation, the Chinanteco owners serve this traditional fish broth soup cooked by placing hot rocks into a gourd bowl. It's a little bit like cooking as theatre, watching the grandmother cook the tortillas and her tattoo covered grandson maneuver the hot rocks and the flames while another one lines up the gourd bowls. I would imagine it's filled with tourists but whenever I have been there it seems to always be locals.  Pro tip -  it's a strictly BYOB operation.

                                                              (Caldo de Piedra)

7)  La Hacienda Marta  is probably the most gimmicky place on my list but it's almost exclusively geared towards Mexicans.  Near El Mogote, on the road to Etla, Hacienda Marta is Oaxaca's biggest buffet.  It's the King's Table of Oaxaca which is to say the food may not be super memorable but the sheer quantity makes a huge impression - from gelatin deserts to pig's feet stew it's a real overview of Mexicana cooking.  Plus a Oaxaca style amusement park for kids with some ancient airplane to climb adds to the vaguely surreal feeling.  Come for Sunday brunch and see why food and family go together in Mexico.

                                                           (Hacienda Santa Marta)

8) La Biznaga is my favorite place for a casual but hip lunch or dinner with a refreshing, urban kind of feel.  The open courtyard is filled with locals and tourists. Names of pulques  mezcals, and wines from Chile, and a music playlist dominate the chalkboard on one side of the room.  The menu feels a little familiar.  The blue cheese soup is rich and delicious. The service is good. My fall back, go to place.


9) Switching gears to more formal fine dining, I can't say enough good things about La Catedral just a block or two north of the Zocalo.  This is where a local might go for a business lunch or their spouse's birthday.  Sophisticated, understated, and very, very tasty, the menu focuses on traditional Oaxacan ingredients with a contemporary cooking twist.  They always start with a delightful amuse bouche and take it from there.  Plus cloth napkins and live guitar melodies complete the ambiance. Sunday brunch starts at two and is well worth the price and the people watching is always excellent.

                                                                  (La Catedral)

10) And finally El Criollo, technically should not be on the list as I've never eaten there but it  seems worth mentioning as it's the latest brainchild of Mexican chef Enrique Olvera, considered one of the finest chefs in all of  Mexico. You can eat at his Mexico City restaurant Pujol for four times the price or find his recently opened El Criollo ( in this case meaning heirloom or native) west of Soledad and past the Soriana grocery store.  It's on a large,  minimally restored piece of property where a state of the art kitchen cohabits with an open air/wood burning comal. Can't wait to try their five course tasting menu which, I believe is the entire sum of their menu which means  that everyone eats the same thing. Can not wait. 

 (El Criollo at night)

11)  I get to add an extra favorite because it would be wrong to leave such a singular restaurant as La Teca off the list.  Way off the beaten track, up in Reforma, it's a place where the lines between the owners home and her restaurant seem blurred. Are we in her living room full of family photos and lined with artwork traded for food?  Or is this where we sit?  Actually I choose dining out in the plant filled patio/garden.  And I recommend the tasting menu.  Oh big yummy. They serve up all traditional dishes from the Tehunatepec region and one is more delicious than the next. Over and over people say it's the best meal they had in Oaxaca.  Plus the chef is a woman, :)

 (The proprietress of La Teca)

So that's it for this years top 10 (well actually 11).  Remember I left off many of the better known places like Casa Oaxaca, Los Danzantes, Origen, Pitanoni, & La Olla in favor of places you might have a harder time hearing about. And still there's no street food stalls,market fondas or mezcal bars on the list either. So much food, so little time.
(All photos from Google images)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Oaxaca Historic Organ Tour

I completely forgot to tell you about the tour I took in Oaxaca last February.  It was fun to be participant instead of the organizer.  It was a tour of historic organs of Oaxaca (who knew?) and for me it was a chance to see something like 16 churches in 7 days.  That's my idea of a good time.

 Some of the places we went were barely even on the map and definitely not in any guide books. Oaxaca has seventy something historic organs scattered throughout the state. Of these only eight or nine have been restored to playable condition.   The IOHIO (the sponsors of the tour) has worked to document these remarkable treasures, help communities conserve their organs, restore some organs, organize concerts and educate young Oaxaqueno musicians to play.

  At times there were as many as 80 of us in four 20  person vans cruising the backroads of Oaxaca, climbing staircases and peering into side rooms. Musicians, art restorers, organ makers, Mexican students studying organ, snowbirds, and church geeks (that would be me) made up this multicultural bunch.

 We were greeted by locals everywhere we went, got up close and personal with organs, heard some great music, and ate some good food - one of those memorable meals will always be the sheep barbacoa we enjoyed in Tiltepec.

                  Click here if you'd like to see a total recap of the 2016 Historic Organ Festival and find out more about this most dedicated and amazing organization
And click here if you'd like to see a small album of photos from the tiniest church we went to.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Geeking Out in Bookstores in Oaxaca

I'm always  on the hunt for copies of Arte de Mexico when I'm in Oaxaca.  You'll usually find a rack in museum stores and bookstores. They are large magazine format with lots of pictures and essays from various intellectuals and artists and a few full page ads at the beginning and the end.  Plus, joy of joys, there are  English translations in the back. Each edition is devoted to a particular art form found in Mexico, from corn husk dolls to revolutionary art. You never know what you'll find.  I was pretty excited when I was in the shop at Mt. Alban and came across this edition from 2001 focusing on ex votos, those folkiest of folk paintings thanking God for all varieties of miracles.  On the March 2017 Art Immersion tour we're going to visit the church in Huayapan which has a great collection of ex votos just to tempt those ex votos fans amongst us, you know who you are. Come with us and make art and drink in all that Oaxaca has to offer this coming March. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Flowers from Oaxaca



                           Water Lily

From my recent trip in Fall 2016.  Tropical flowers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Making Art in Oaxaca

 Here's a link to a charming tutorial Rogene made teaching you how to sculpt a flower with paper clay.  A little taste of some things we'll be doing in Oaxaca coming up in March 2017.

I'm dreaming about flowers and hands and hearts in Mexico. 

It's Official 2017 Art Tour to Oaxaca is Happening

We are delighted to welcome you to our 

Mid-March 2017 Oaxacan Art Immersion Tour 

and hoping you'll join us!

10 Days and 9 nights making art in an inspiring setting with a like minded group of art loving women!  (men welcome too, although it always is women who sign up)

What makes this tour special:  A small group (max 10), a focus on art and art making in one of the culturally richest areas of Mexico, an opportunity to study closely with Rogene and learn her paper clay technique, chances to have private visits with sculptors, painters, and printmakers in their home studios, 3 spectacular meals at some of Oaxaca's best restaurants, plus an unusual, inspiring, soulful, and art-filled home away from home to make art, enjoy Oaxacan cooking, socialize, have fun, and rejuvenate. The itinerary is as follows and subject to change based upon changing circumstances, whims, and opportunities that might arise.

Friday March 17th - We'll gather at the Casa in the evening for a light meal and have a chance to get acquainted with each other and our lovely lodgings.

Saturday March 18th - Art making all morning. Typically we'll have studio time from 9:30 to 1:30.  Today we dive into learning the basics of paper clay.  Late lunch and siesta at the Casa.  Early evening we'll head into town for a spin around the zocalo and a fabulous welcome fiesta in one of Oaxaca's best restaurants.

Sunday March 19th - Art making in the morning, where we'll continue to refine our paper clay techniques and make small folk art milagros. Leisurely lunch at the Casa.  Afternoon visits to local galleries, artists, and printmakers, or stay in the studio and continue working on your art pieces.

Monday March 20th - The morning art practice takes us into creating our own personal saint/guardian angel/goddess using paper clay and other mixed media techniques.  Afternoon visits to some of our favorite galleries and artisan stores.

Tuesday March 21st -  We'll finish up working on our Santos today followed by a nourishing lunch at the Casa.  Afternoon time at the world class textile museum and one or two other Oaxaca favorites. Dinner in town to celebrate the first day of Spring!

Wednesday March 22nd - Today we'll switch it up and take the morning off from art making to visit the local town of Huyapan.  We'll start by visiting their church which has a wonderful collection of ex votos (paintings people have made to thank god for a miracle) and find inspiration to create our own personal altars. Then, if luck is on our side, we'll visit two artists who have made their homes in Oaxaca.  American Jean Foss, who uses magical realism to paint whimsical versions of Mexican life and Hungarian expat, Susana Wald, who is a dedicated surrealist painter. We'll return to the Casa for lunch and a late afternoon evening of art making and begin planning ideas for our altars.

Thursday March 23rd - More altar making, using paper clay, painting, and collage. Free time in the afternoon to continue working or stroll into town for shopping, people watching, plus church and gallery hopping. Dinner tonight is a tasting menu created by one of Mexico's most famous chefs who just so happened to recently open a restaurant down the street from our b and b.

Friday March 24 - Folk art day takes us on the southern route to visit alebrije makers (carvers and painters of mythical animals), backstrap loom weavers, and potters. Plus a chance to enjoy one of the best chile rellenos of your life.  Evening in the Casa finds us having a show and tell of our work from the past week.

Saturday March 25th - packing up the studio and getting ready to go, plus a free day to enjoy at your leisure.  We can arrange a trip to Mt Alban, massage, cooking class or whatever suits your fancy. We have a final farewell outdoor fiesta on the grounds at the Casa.

Sunday March 26th - We'll arrange transportation to the airport and send you off on your next journey.

To find out more about Rogene and her special brand of artwork and teaching click here. 
To find out more about past trips to Oaxaca, art making and otherwise, click here.

This tour runs March 17 to 26th 
 Cost is $2,195 
Includes lodging in a shared room, all meals, transportation to and from the airport, plus in 
and around Oaxaca, all art instruction, most materials, tour admission fees and guide fees.
Cost does not include airfare, alcohol, discretionary shopping (which there will be loads of temptation), side trips and optional tipping for hotel staff. 
Optional single supplement is an additional $395