The saga of the phantom cooking lessons

One of the activities I had planned to do a lot of while in Mexico was to take cooking classes and learn more about different traditions of Mexican gastronomy. Although I didn’t travel as far and wide as I had hoped, I did get around quite a bit. Most of my stay was based in the Yucatan peninsula, including the states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and a couple of days in Campeche. I spent two months in Merida with numerous day trips,  a week in Mexico City, including side trips to Taxco, Guanajuato, Delores Hidalgo, San Miguel de Allende, and Queretaro, and a week in the city of Oaxaca, which I loved. For my last two weeks I jouneyed down the glorious Caribbean coast between Cancun and Tulum. Soon after my arrival I started contacting cooking schools. In Merida, I hoped to take classes at Remixto culinary salon and Los Dos cooking school, two distinguished establishments. Unfortunately, classes at both were on hold for several months. Construction on the new home and teaching kitchen of Remixto was not yet finished. Los Dos suspended classes when the chef had to turn his full attention to health issues. I also requested a class at the beautiful boutique hotel Rosas & Xocolate (pronounced ro-sass ee sho-co-lah-tay), but I wasn’t able to pull together a minimum number of people. Fortunately, however, my quest was not entirely fruitless. Both chefs Brent Marsh and David Sterling graciously offered to meet with me. I wrote in an earlier post about the delightful evening at dinner with Brent and his partner Stan. While I wasn’t able to...

Catching up

Well, March and April turned out to be very busy for me.  I spent March traveling around Mexico, from Merida, to Mexico City, with side trips to Taxco, Guanajuato, Delores Hidalgo, San Miguel de Allende, and Queretaro, then on to Oaxaca, Cancun and down the Caribbean coast to Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, and Tulum, then back to Cancun for the flight home in early April. After returning to NH, I had to get my car registered and back on the road, settle into my next place to live, dig things out of storage, help my daughter with car and school issues, and take care of a myriad of other details that awaited my return.  Whew.  So…. somehow I had no time to blog. After moving yet again, I’m now aiming to establish a routine that includes regular blogging. My posts about my experiences in Mexico most likely will be more topical than chronological. I welcome your comments, questions, and stories — about Mexico, cooking, dining, wellness vacations, travel in general, or anything else of...

Cacao Museum of Yucatan

I visited this new museum – el EcoMuseo del Cacao – with two friends one Sunday afternoon.  Approximately two hours south of Merida, the museum is located in an area of Yucatan among a number of recovered Mayan ruins.  After many stops along the way, for sightseeing, shopping, and eating, we arrived near closing time.  Unfortunately we didn’t get the entire experience or see the plantation.  But we did visit each of the casitas (little Mayan-style houses) and learn about the fascinating history, cultivation, processing, and uses of Mayan cacao.  We saw a demonstration of the way it was prepared traditionally.  Best of all, we got to taste the rich, foamy, unsweetened drink, to which we could add sugar and a variety of spices, if desired.  We also got to sample two of the delectable confections produced by the affiliated chocolate factory in Merida. This is a beautiful new facility and well worth a visit.  According to the web site, it sits at the entrance to a 100-hectare plantation (247 acres) of organic creollo cacao.  Creollo cacao is known for its complex, fruity flavor.  The plantation is the first in Yucatan to grow cacao, which is typically grown in other parts of Mexico and Latin America that have a more abundant water supply.  The main building is built of stone with a thatched roof, natural wood furnishings, an outdoor cafe, and a playground for the kids.  Even the rest rooms are gorgeous. The grounds are immaculate and beautifully arranged.  Manicured paths curve through attractive plantings of a wide variety of native vegetation.  The trees and shrubs are labeled with signs explaining the...

Dinner with the chefs

Last week my friend Kathleen White and I had the pleasure of dining with a couple of talented and genial Merida chefs, Remixto owner Brent Marsh, and his partner, architect and sous chef Stan Khang.  Brent and Stan are the brains, hands, and hearts of Remixto, a “culinary salon” that aims to educate people visiting and residing in Merida about the delights of Yucatecan and Mexican foods.  Kathleen is the owner and innkeeper of El Ave Blanca, a cozy B&B where I stayed my first month in Merida. Kathleen had previously participated in one of Chef Brent’s cooking classes, which is documented here.  I had hoped to take a cooking class while here, but classes are on hold while the chefs oversee the renovation of their new home and teaching kitchen.  So they invited us over to see the house and have dinner — a most pleasant surprise!  Their home is an impressive and modern remake-in-progress of a large Spanish colonial home in the historic center of the city.    My utter lack of architecture and design vocabulary and style prevents me from adequately describing this handsome space.  (I’m wishing I had snapped a couple of photos.)  On the first floor, you enter what will be a roofless courtyard, pass through the media room, then emerge half-outdoors into a long living/dining room, which is open to a tropical garden where you would expect the long wall to be.  The absence of a wall creates the ambiance of a comfortable and casual patio.  The kitchen beyond, which has a beautiful center work counter made of resurfaced railroad ties, also has a large wall opening to a patio,...

My trip to Campeche

My big adventure last week was taking the bus to the city of Campeche on the Gulf of Mexico.  It’s the capital of the state of the same name.  The trip took almost three hours because of highway construction most of the way, but the first-class bus was comfortable. I had only two short days there but was able to see a lot of the historic center. The city was founded by the Spaniards in 1540 after finally conquering the Maya, who had resisted for 20 years.  For the next 200 years the city was repeatedly plundered by European pirates.  After a particularly brutal attack that essentially wiped out the city, the Spanish built a stone wall that completely surrounded it and ended the attacks. Large sections of the wall, two of the four gates, and seven of the eight “balluartes,” or bastions, still stand. Inside the wall is the historic, cultural, and commercial center.  The wall-to-wall adjacent buildings are painted in bright or pastel colors with decorative contrasting trim. It’s quite a captivating sight.  The buildings house shops, restaurants, offices, libraries, academic institutions, banks, bars, museums, and hotels.  Streets and sidewalks are narrow, driving and parking are a challenge, but everyone seems to take the squeeze in stride and good humor.  Outside the gate are, on the east side, a bustling market, and on the west side, a malecon, or seaside promenade, for pedestrians and cyclists that goes on for miles. I walked quite a bit, including along the top of one of the walls, saw some of the historic buildings, and did some shopping at the market.  The city...

Festivals and arts in Merida

I’m astounded by the number, variety, and quality of cultural events going on in this city. In January every year, the city celebrates its founding with a Festival de la Ciudad that lasts the entire month. This year’s 470th birthday celebration included more than 200 events, with 3 to 6 of them every day, most of which are free. Over 1,000 local and visiting artists participated. The quality of the performances and exhibits has been excellent. The Yucatan Symphony Orchestra began its season last week as part of the festival. I went to the second performance today with some friends, one of whom is a music teacher. We all agreed it was outstanding. The cost? Less than $8.00 USD. February brings Carnival, which is officially one week but actually lasts for a good part of the month if pre-carnival activities are included. Carnival reportedly is a family-oriented affair that is more-or-less orderly during the events but can get rowdy after the parades are over. Check out this article for an amusing take on what the festivities are like here. Easter Week celebrations are in April, then things quiet down a bit during the heat of the summer. Merida had a music festival last summer, but I don’t know if it’s an annual event. May through August are oppressively hot here, I’ve heard. Daily showers cool things off, but mosquitos love the heat and rain. I won’t be here to enjoy that season. September brings independence day celebrations, followed by the Autumn festival in October and November. Holiday festivities in December conclude the year. Then everything starts again. In addition...