Disappearing Into Todos Santos

October 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Press

Best of Todos Santos

View of Punto Lobo

Source: March 17, 2002 - Los Angeles Times Article about Todos Santos, Baja California Sur

IMHO, this is one of the most thorough and well written pieces on Todos Santos, written by none other than Joe Cummings, the author of the lonely planet.

MEXICO – Disappearing Into Todos Santos

They may seem invisible at first, but this artsy town at the bottom of Baja is where some expats are living the good life.

By JOE CUMMINGS, Special To The Los Angeles Times

I first heard about Todos Santos more than a decade ago from my friend Rebecca. She had a gypsy soul and made her living peddling words to glossy travel magazines, a perfect mating of vocation and avocation. She once spent nine months driving the coastlines of Mexico in a beat-up Toyota Celica, a trip that yielded hundreds of pages of inspired writing about the “hidden” places she discovered. Rebecca mentioned Todos Santos to me only in passing as a place she might flee to when she was ready to write her novel. Her affection for Mexico, especially Baja, was obvious, but I wasn’t immediately tempted to copy her dash across the border.

Instead I remained enthralled with my first love, Southeast Asia, and my part-time home in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Hence, when a California publisher called in 1991 to ask whether I’d be interested in writing a Baja guidebook, I demurred. I suggested Rebecca, of course, but as it turned out, she was too busy. This time around, though, she made sure I got her message, bombarding my wine-addled brain one evening with glowing tales of deserted moonlighted beaches, halibut tacos and burro trips to prehistoric painted caves. I took the job, and not long after I found myself hurtling down the 1,000-mile-long peninsula south of San Diego for the first time.

Tijuana and Ensenada alternately depressed and disappointed me. The Pacific coast below these towns showed promise, but I knew I wasn’t in the “real Baja” until I took on the no-nonsense middle reaches of Mexico 1, the famous Carretera Transpeninsular (Transpeninsular Highway). Once past the hilly fishing-and-farming town of El Rosario, the classic Baja scenery kicked in, splashing a montage of cactus greens, arroyo reds and rocky grays across the windshield. I passed relatively few cars and saw almost no signs of animate life along the highway, a state of affairs that began to produce an eerie mental solitude. The sensation bordered on a fear of the unknown I know many Americans instinctively feel the first time they drive in Mexico.

About 400 miles from the U.S. border, something changed. It sounds like a travel cliche, but by the time the last rays of sunlight flickered over the tops of the Sierra de la Giganta near Loreto, my unease had faded, and I knew I’d entered a special space. Noting each loncher’a (Mexican diner), Pemex gas station and Spanish mission ruins along the way, I fell into a soft rhythm bordering on meditation.

By the time I’d crossed the Tropic of Cancer and come face to face with the wood-shuttered, pastel-colored houses ringing the quiet Bay of La Paz, I began to understand the attachment, if not the fanaticism, many Californians have for Baja. I felt peacefully far from the United States yet similarly distant from Mexico, as if I’d discovered a parallel universe that was neither one nor the other. People spoke Spanish but often knew English, and swirled the two languages together to produce words like yonque, for “junk.”

Near La Paz I made an excursion to Puerto Balandra, a large, clean, shallow bay hemmed in on three sides by steep desert cliffs, where I encountered a Mexican family of five and an American. When one lone countryman encounters another on a near-deserted beach in Mexico, a conversation is almost unavoidable. I don’t remember who spoke first, but I passed a pleasant half-hour taking in the warmth and experience of a man named John O’Neil, an artist who had spent the better part of two decades living in La Paz. He knew the best, and cheapest, places to eat and stay in Baja California Sur’s state capital, often cited as the most Mexican city in Baja because of its tighter cultural connection with the Mexican mainland (in part because ferries transport people back and forth across the Gulf of California daily).

When I told O’Neil my next stop was Todos Santos, his face lit up. It was a look I’d seen on Rebecca’s face when she’d talked of the town. O’Neil said it was one of his favorite places to paint, that the light–the angle or the quality? I can’t remember now–made him see in a different way. One or two expatriate artists lived in Todos Santos full time, he said, having bought historic buildings for a pittance. Then he said something I’ve since repeated to others who have asked about Todos Santos: It’s a world of the invisible, a place some people disappear to yet others don’t see. That two-lane highway takes visitors in at one end of town and spits them out at the other without revealing too much.

The flat, barren plains of la paz along the first third of the one-hour drive on Mexico 1 between La Paz and Todos Santos suggested a monotony that I decided might easily be mistaken for invisibility. After I made the turnoff onto Mexico 19, traffic thinned to a trickle, and the flats gave way to rolling hills and deep vados, or stream beds, that are dry most of the year. In the distance to my left, I could make out the dark, undulating outline of the Sierra de la Laguna, Baja’s most solitary mountain range. As Mexico 19 swooped southwest, the highway came closer to the sierra, and the desert along the highway erupted into a thick green curtain of mesquite, paloverde and tall columns of cardon and pitahaya cactus. This heavy foliage–technically not desert but rather “thorn forest,” as I later found out–flourishes on the abundant runoff from the mountains. Incongruous-looking ball moss, nourished by moist Pacific trade winds buffeting the Baja peninsula’s narrowest section, hangs from tall cacti here.

The curves in the road intensified as I approached Todos Santos. Off to my right I caught a glimpse of a roofless adobe ranch house and adjacent windmill, a landmark that has since become my favorite “welcome home” signal.

Shortly afterward my rental car descended a final hill, and I caught a first glance of thousands of fan palms filling a mile-wide arroyo to one side of the highway, cliffs and hills on the other. And in the distance, behind this desert oasis, an iridescent Pacific. O’Neil was right. No sooner had I entered the town than it seemed to fade away through my rear windshield, like a mirage. Was that really Todos Santos? My instant recall played back only dust and faded storefronts.

If I hadn’t had a writing assignment, I would have kept on driving, straight south to finisterra, “land’s end,” the much-photographed spot where the Sierra de la Laguna tumbles into the sea and Cabo San Lucas serves up coastal Mexico on a platter to planeloads of pasty-faced tourists. I knew how to deal with “gringolandia,” as expatriate North Americans like to call tourist resorts in Mexico. A ghost town was another matter. Once I’d parked the car and began moving around the tiny town on foot, however, I quickly found another Todos Santos.

The buildings along Avenida Juarez and Avenida Colegio Militar, the two parallel asphalt thoroughfares in town, had been plain boxes of modern cinder-block construction. Yet one block off Juarez, along cobbled streets near the simple town plaza, I came upon an Andalusian-inspired neighborhood of brick and adobe. One- and two-story affairs, they were built of hand-made Mexican brick laid in double or sometimes triple courses, or layers, and topped by flat parapet roofs, surrounding hidden courtyards. Tall windows and doors bounded by pilasters and molded lintels evoked the classic provincial Spanish style, reminding me of colonial neighborhoods I’d seen in Sonora or Sinaloa on the mainland.

Mexico’s National Institute of History and Anthropology recently declared this area of Todos Santos a national monument, enforcing restoration guidelines to preserve the lingering air of antiquity. But when I first arrived in 1991 the only inhabitants who seemed interested in the stately buildings were relatively new arrivals such as Ezio and Paula Colombo. Ezio, a burly, mustachioed Italian artist, and Paula, a lithe ex-New York model, had bought a cavernous 150-year-old adobe casona (mansion) just off the plaza and turned it into a restaurant. His flair for matching Mediterranean cooking with fresh seafood, locally grown produce and herbs from their garden, along with Paula’s tasteful interior design, gradually drew the attention of discerning palates in the surrounding cape region, from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas. Word spread internationally, and by the mid-1990s their Cafe Santa Fe had become a social pilgrimage point for anyone touching down in Todos Santos, particularly among the steadily increasing number of celebrity visitors.

But on my first visit the town was more bleak than chic. In the newer eastern half of Todos Santos I came upon a more typical architectural trend: small cottages of adobe brick or mud plastered over woven palo de arco (trumpetbush), often roofed with palm fronds. The plain cement walls of newer homes linked the historically grand to the recently humble. A survey of local market shelves turned up a few wrinkled tomatoes, moldy stalks of green onion and stale rolls. No wonder the Cafe Santa Fe was so popular with out-of-town visitors, I thought.

I took a room at the simple, two-story Hotel California on Avenida Juarez. I’d heard nothing of the legend that said the hotel inspired The Eagles’ 1976 album of the same name, but it wasn’t long before another guest, an American backpacking his way to Guatemala, filled me in. When I asked the Mexican manager about the story, he solemnly nodded his corroboration, and I filed the intriguing local myth away for later examination.

Todos Santos (not to be confused with the surfers’ island off the coast of Ensenada) scribbled itself onto several pages in my notebook as I explored more of the area than necessary for my Baja assignment. The history fascinated me. Attracted by the two substantial pozas (natural springs) fed by underground rivers that originated in the Sierra de la Laguna, Jesuit padres had established a farm community and chapel called Todos Santos (“All Saints”) here in 1724 to supply the mission community at La Paz with fruits, vegetables, wine and sugar cane. By 1731, Todos Santos was producing 200 burro-loads of panocha–raw brown sugar–annually, along with figs, pomegranates, citrus and grapes.

Two years later, Father Sigismundo Taraval founded Misi-n Santa Rosa de las Palmas at the upper end of the arroyo a bit more than a mile inland from the Pacific. By the mid-1700s, Todos Santos had outgrown La Paz. The town, renamed Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Todos Santos in 1749, remained an important mission settlement until secularization in 1840. Anglo whalers visiting Todos Santos in 1849 praised the town as “an oasis” with “friendly and intelligent people.” In the post-mission era, Todos Santos thrived as Baja’s sugar cane capital, supporting eight sugar mills by the late 1800s.

Sugar prices dropped precipitously after World War II, and all but one mill closed when the most abundant freshwater spring dried up in 1950. The remaining mill closed in 1965, though smaller household operations continued into the early 1970s. The town faded into near obscurity. Around 1981 the spring mysteriously came back to life, and the arroyo once again began producing a large variety and quantity of fruits and vegetables.

Tourists began arriving when the road between San Pedro and Cabo San Lucas was paved in the mid-1980s. The road also brought an influx of artists, starting with Charles Stewart. Stewart had run his own gallery in Taos, N.M., since 1949, but as the city became too “boutique-ized” for him and his wife, Mary Lou, they sought a new place to live and paint. They moved into an old French-built terrace home in the middle of Todos Santos in 1986, and for several years Charles was the only resident artist in town.

By the time I arrived in Todos Santos, Stewart’s abandonment of Taos had begun attracting the notice of various other artists. A sufficient quantity of them now work here either full or part time. I last counted a half-dozen art galleries in town, most of them showcasing the work of the owner and no one else.

But the most successful art house, the Galer’a de Todos Santos, specializes in the work of several Baja-resident artists, along with world-class works by artists hailing from New York and Mexico City. Operated by Michael and Pat Cope, refugees of Los Angeles’ speedy art-and-fashion scene, the gallery occupies a corner of the historic Todos Santos Inn. Michael’s own brightly painted oils of local todosante-os are heavily favored by monied collectors in nearby Cabo San Lucas, where art as decor is much in demand.

Not content with maintaining the most winning art stewardship in town, the Copes frequently host large, self-catered dinner parties for the socially mobile. To receive an invitation to the Cope house, a simple palm-frond-roofed adobe perched atop a desert ridge undistinguished save for a sweeping ocean view, is to earn a chair at Todos Santos’ unmovable feast.

Along with the creators and purveyors of the more traditional fine arts came representatives of what is America’s most globally favored modern art: the movies. Film editor Eva Gardos, whose “An American Rhapsody” marked her directorial debut in 2001, chipped in with a few screenwriter friends to purchase one of the old sugar-mill offices. An imposing two-story brick edifice displaying rows of Gothic windows, the oft-shuttered house has been dubbed Casa Dracula by local children who believe it to be haunted.

After finishing up my book research in Cabo, I explored Todos Santos more thoroughly. I was smitten by the long beaches nearby, deserted but for the occasional fisherman castings handlines into the surf. There wasn’t a single oceanfront hotel or condo to be found, an amazing condition given the town’s proximity to two international airports. With my peripatetic lifestyle, those airports added further enticement to the fantasy already forming in my head. After long discussions about giving up California residence, my wife, Lynne, and I decided to sell our Walnut Creek home and put down roots in Baja.

About the same time we purchased a piece of land located five minutes by foot from the beach, special-effects makeup artist Pat Gerhardt and her hairdresser-to-the-stars husband Dennis Glass bought a chunk of acreage a stone’s throw away. At first part-time residents, Pat and Dennis eventually built a couple of guest cottages in back of their home and became among the first expatriate residents in Todos Santos to develop a small vacation rental business. During the past eight years they’ve been spending considerably more time in Todos Santos managing Las Bougainvillas, and less time doing films.

I’ve noticed a similar pattern among local expats–perhaps 300 of them living here full or part time–several of whom have made this town of 3,500 an escape hatch from high-stress film and media jobs in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Robert Fleming, retired from the San Francisco Examiner, where he was foreign editor, had originally moved to Mulege, a town on the Gulf of California. A few years later, he and his wife, Barbara, found Todos Santos more to their tastes, and they commissioned an architect-designed house next door to the patch of land that eventually became my own home.

Todos Santos’ artists, writers and Hollywood exiles are quirky and engaging. Yet I was just as drawn to a cast of other expats in town. Holding fast among them are a handful of building contractors who have left behind the permit-and-lawsuit-ridden world of California construction. Each boasts his own style, his own repertoire of materials and techniques and his own rapport with local artisans. When Lynne and I decided to take the plunge and build a house across the arroyo from town, our first and perhaps most crucial task was choosing a local contractor.

We chose Bruce Kramer, who grew up in San Diego in the beach house of his father, a city lifeguard and longtime Baja-naut. The envy of all his friends, Bruce had first crack at the San Diego surf every day of the year and was an avid surfer by the time he was 15. When he got fed up working days as a mason and surfing the crowded beaches of San Diego on weekends, he began packing his board south of the border.

In Todos Santos he found what he’d only dreamed about–surf breaks in practically every seasonal swell, with plenty of room to carve. He also found the love of a Mexican woman and, while still in his 20s, became part of her extended local family. Just as he’d enjoyed the inside surf track in San Diego as a boy, Kramer got to know the local construction scene at its most basic level–from the alba-iles, the local skilled workers. Kramer quickly learned to speak fluent Spanish–not just the standard Mexican tongue but the local patois–and formed his own building company.

I initially contracted Kramer to build a simple two-room cottage roofed in palm leaves, not wanting to get in too deep until we could see what he could do. When he finished that project on time and under budget–a feat we’d never seen in San Francisco–my wife and I invited him to build a garage, a patio and finally a 2,000-square-foot house of our own design. The latter came with a three-story whale-watching tower we penciled into the plan so that in winter we could see the spouting gray whales over the tall palms between us and the beach.

As with the earlier building projects, he earned our continued admiration by completing the house on time and under budget. (This isn’t typical. Friends using other contractors around town complain about extended budgets and schedules, constant worker turnover and the seemingly endless red tape involved in getting building permits and hooking up to sewer, water and electricity. Most high-standard construction projects go for between $50 to $80 per square foot, depending on complexity.)

While he was building the second house, I was frankly puzzling over our good fortune. “What’s the secret,” I asked the 30-something Kramer one day over a cold Pac’fico, “of getting through the Mexican bureaucracy?”

“Family,” he answered. “My family and the official’s family. After talking familia, we deal with the problem. If you talk only about the problem, then that’s all you have–a problem. You can’t force it. You deal out of humor and respect. If they know you’re losing patience, they’ll make you wait longer.” He smiled, as if the game pleased him as much as completing a fine work of masonry.

Take Kramer’s story, turn it inside out, and you have Cuco Mayr-n. Born in La Paz, Mayr-n worked his way north to the United States to further his studies and earn dollars when he was just out of high school. There he crashed head-first into the American hippie movement, which among other things taught him to value the traditional Bajacaliforniano ways. Mayr-n eventually returned to Baja and began a new life on a thorn-forested hillside south of Todos Santos, within five minutes’ walk of a long, deserted beach. Turning his back on the North American urban dream, he set about learning everything he could about the cape region’s little-known interior. At 200-year-old ranchos scattered thinly among the mountains, he found fifth- and sixth-generation Bajacalifornianos who grow avocadoes, papayas and mangos using Spanish-built acequias (small irrigation canals) and who raise cattle and goats to produce cheese and machaca (shredded dried beef). This ranch culture encompasses an earlier Spanish lifestyle that has all but disappeared elsewhere in Mexico. From his fellow mountaineers he learned to make rustic furniture, hand-crafted sandals and shoes and simple dung-fired ceramics. Today Mayr-n divides his time between producing ranch crafts for local markets, introducing visitors to sierra life via mountain tours and hosting local ceramics workshops.

With its government-protected architecture and its artists, Todos Santos can easily pass itself off as an extension of the old Baja California. This is what attracted many of us to what is little more than a farming and fishing community. The town seems protected from the kind of mass tourism seen in Cabo San Lucas or Canc·n by the fortunate fact that the nearest beach is two miles away and the surf there is too strong for swimming most of the year. There are about a dozen places to stay, but all of them are small (with fewer than 15 rooms). It’s the perfect anti-resort town–so far.

But there is another side to Todos Santos that tugs against our intended dream state, a huckster quality that persistently markets the town to real estate developers and tour bus operators. The real estate agencies–at last count there were at least four operating full time–make easy targets for such criticism. While most local real estate people share a vision of slow growth and cultural preservation, there are also those who seek large profits through such practices as building illegal access roads to the beach. One local developer went so far as to build a road right through the federally protected dunes to the north of Todos Santos.

The tour buses from Cabo San Lucas sell another Todos Santos, one based on its two star attractions: the “artists colony” and the Hotel California. One wonders how many package tourists leave town disappointed because they didn’t see any artists at work. The artists, for their part, receive nothing from the bus invasion. Most visitors who have paid $10 for their day tour of Todos Santos have no intention of plunking down $6,000 for an oil painting by such talents as New York’s Derek Buckner. So they make do with lining up in front of the Hotel California with their point-and-shoot cameras.

Here, their Mexican tour leaders faithfully intone, the Eagles once took up residence to write songs for their No. 1 hit album, “Hotel California.” The fact that the hotel has been boarded up for nearly four years means there’s no one inside who can refute the myth. But a myth it remains, as drummer Don Henley sternly reminded me when I faxed him in 1997. According to Henley, no Eagle has ever visited the Hotel California.

I’m back with my first love, Southeast Asia, sitting in a hotel room in smoggy, sweltering Bangkok as I write this. In my mind I imagine myself standing on the topmost floor of our whale-watching tower in Todos Santos. A slightly saline Pacific breeze, mango-perfumed by the hundreds of fruit trees dotting the landscape between our house and the beach, brushes past me.
_ _ _

GUIDEBOOK: Kicking Back in Todos Santos

Telephone numbers and prices: The country code for Mexico is 52. The area code for Todos Santos is 612. All prices are approximate and computed at 9.1 pesos to the dollar. Room rates for accommodations in Todos Santos are usually quoted in dollars. Restaurant menus are priced in pesos, but dollars are usually accepted.

Getting there: The most convenient way to get to Todos Santos is to fly to La Paz, which is about an hour’s drive. AeroCalifornia, Mexicana and Aeromexico airlines have direct flights (involving one stop but no plane change) from Los Angeles International Airport.

Car rentals are available in La Paz for about $35 per day for a compact. (A taxi ride would cost about $200.) Another option is to fly to Los Cabos; Alaska, American, AeroCalifornia and Mexicana have nonstops flights from LAX, and America West has connecting service. Todos Santos is about 90 minutes by car from the international airport at Los Cabos (near San Jose del Cabo). From Tijuana, it takes about 24 hours to drive to Todos Santos. It’s best to plan on taking at least three days for the 800-mile-plus trip along Mexico 1 and Mexico 19. Driving at night isn’t recommended.

Where to stay: Todos Santos Inn, Calle Legaspi 33, telephone and fax 145-0040, www.mexonline.com/todossantosinn.htm, occupies a well-restored, 1880-vintage brick compound that previously served as a school, cantina and movie house. Large rooms with high adobe and palm-beam ceilings and private bath are simply but elegantly decorated with Mexican furniture, Saltillo tiles, Oriental rugs, mosquito nets and ceiling fans. Larger suites offer sitting areas, private patios and air-conditioning. Rates: $85, suites $125.

Off the road leading to Playa la Cachora is Las Puertas, telephone and fax 145-0373, www.mexonline.com/laspuertas.htm, features two guesthouses (one- and two-bedroom) and an ocean-view suite, all with thick adobe walls, palapa roofs, Baja-style furniture, and surrounded by mango and other fruit trees. The beach is a five-minute walk. Rates: $75 to $150.

Closer to the beach on the same road is Las Bougainvillas, telephone and fax 145-0106, www.mexonline.com/bougainvillas.htm, e-mail [email protected], rents two semi-luxurious guesthouses with kitchenettes and private patios inside a large walled compound. One of the cottages encloses a sleeping loft overlooking a sitting room and kitchenette and affords a beach view, while the second casita features a round floor plan with a high roof. Guests have use of a good-size swimming pool and barbecue grill. Rate: $135.

The new Swiss-owned Posada La Poza, 145-0400, fax 145-0475, www.lapoza.com, is perched at the edge of a freshwater lagoon near Playa la Cachora, but only the restaurant and four suites are open; a pool and three more suites are under construction. Rates: $120 to $440. Las Casitas, Calle Rangel between Obreg-n and Hidalgo, telephone and fax 145-0255, www.mexonline.com/las casitas.htm, e-mail WendyFaith@pocket mail.com, offers a cluster of four charming, renovated adobe cottages plus a newer casita built of desert woods, all amid lush landscaping. Some rooms have private baths, others shared facilities. Rates: $45 to $65. Room rates include a full breakfast for one person or continental breakfasts for two. Where to eat: The Cafe Santa Fe, No. 4 on Calle Centenario off Calle Marquez de Le-n facing the plaza, 145-0340, offers a mostly Italian menu emphasizing fresh, local ingredients: wood-fired pizza, lobster ravioli, pasta primavera, seafood, octopus salad; $26, dinner for two, food only. Open Tuesdays through Sundays noon to 9 p.m. The restaurant closes each September and October during the town fiesta.

The Posada La Poza’s elegant El Gusto!, 145-0400, specializes in Mexican and European gourmet cuisine with a Swiss touch, plus vegetarian dishes. Indoor and outdoor seating, with views of the lagoon and ocean. The bar terrace and whale-watching deck are good spots for a sunset cocktail. On Sundays, a large brunch is served; Entrees, $11 to $20.

Nestled in an alley on Avenida Juarez between Topete and Hidalgo, the popular Fonda El Zaguan specializes in fish tacos, vegetarian tacos, seafood soups, and daily specials such as smoked marlin. Open Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Rustic Karla’s Loncher’a on Calle Colegio Militar serves inexpensive, delicious Mexican breakfasts and lunches. Open Mondays through Saturdays 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

What to see: Playa la Cachora is a broad swath of sand backed by verbena-trimmed dunes, a good spot for strolling and sunset-watching. If you walk south along Playa la Cachora, you’ll come to Las Pocitas, also known as La Poza de Lobos. Along the back edge of the beach is a freshwater lagoon, La Poza, and toward the south end a rocky ridge heads inland. La Cachora and Las Pocitas beaches are often marred by undertow and heavy shore break, dangerous for swimming, except during the summer, when there are occasional long periods of relative calm.

When to go: Todos Santos is typically 10 to 20 degrees cooler than Cabo San Lucas or La Paz in the summer and is warmer in winter, meaning temperatures are in the 80s during the day and 60s to 70s at night all year. The rainy season is July through September.

For more information: The locally produced El Calendario de Todos Santos, issued monthly, is an excellent source of current events and articles on regional culture. It’s distributed free at many establishments in town. A useful Web site full of up-to-date information can be found at www.CalyCanto.com, www.todossantos-baja.com, or www.mexonline.com/todossantos.htm. Also the Mexican Government Tourism Office, Mexican Consulate, 2401 W. 6th St., 5th Floor, Los Angeles, 90057; (213) 351-2069, fax (213) 351-2074, www.visitmexico.com.
___

Joe Cummings has written more than 35 guidebooks. His most recent book is “Buddhist Stupas in Asia: The Shape of Perfection” (Lonely Planet).

March 17, 2002 – Los Angeles Times Article about Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico

http://www.latimes.com/travel/destinations/mexico/la-031702todos,1,1543277.story?page=1&coll=la-travel-mexico

This link is no longer working. Visit Los Angeles Times

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Best Todos Santos and Baja Blogs

October 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

Given the quality and depth of the creativity in Todos Santos, its no surprise that many others have been able to capture its nature beauty much better than me. Everyone sees the town through a different lens anyhow. Here’s some great blog posts I stumbled onto over the years covering journeys in and around Todos Santos and Baja. For those who have never visited, they may give you some flavor. For those who know the area well, perhaps you can see your stomping ground in a new light. Please email with others here.

Baja's Endless Beaches are a Compelling Draw

Baja's Endless Beaches are a Compelling Draw

1. Baja’s Wild Side
By Susan Hack – Conde Nast Traveler, June 2005
A traveler explains her journey across Baja, California and parts of Mexico, including Todos Santos. Resorts, whales, mountains, canyons, deserts biomes and the food available here are the main attraction in this very details article.

2. Practical Creativity
By Chris Willis – Personal Blog
In my last post on our journey in the life of Cuco’s sandals, my daughter, Johna, and I were on the road to Todos Santos. We had misread the map (which incidentally did not tellus it was not to scale) and what we had naively expected to 

3. Tequila Sunrise
By Meri in Todos Santos (personal blog)
It’s an amazing little restaurant right across the street from. The Hotel California. We’d been tipped off by a shopkeeper that it was “the” place to eat but I have to say that when I saw the sign on the wall 

4. Iralandia
Ira Nevius (personal blog)
One of the most content rich sites on the “real” Baja lifestyle.

5. CalyCanto
Yours Truly
General Information about in and around Todos Santos, BCS. Sorry, how can I not?

6. Travels with Terry
Terry Richard
Todos Santos: a Baja Oases (Nov 2007)
Todos Santos: an artists’ colony surrounded by desert but only a couple of miles from the Pacific. Weaving his way through a thorn forest of jumping chollas, cardon cactus and elephant trees, Sergio Jauregui paused when he reached a cliff-top view of the Pacific Ocean.

7. Todos Santos
Timothy Ford (June 2007)
Near the end of the trail lies Todos Santos. Halfway between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz, on the Pacific side of Mexico’s Baja California, it seems like another dusty village. But the air is unlike any other place I’ve been, light and clear like the high desert …

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Todos Santos Top 10 Artist Colony

October 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Press

Coastal Living Online

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Artists have long been drawn to this bohemian (and beautiful) town on the Monterey Peninsula. Home to more than 100 galleries and the Pacific Repertory Theatre, this is a place where culture thrives. Start at the Carmel Art Association, the second-oldest art cooperative in the country, celebrating its 81st anniversary this year. It displays works from more than 120 local artists. For the lively arts, check the schedule for the historic Golden Bough Playhouse, which hosts more than 175 performances annually; carmelcalifornia.com.

Rockport, Texas
A quiet town in southeast Texas might seem an unlikely haven for the arts, but creative types have been coming here for years. The scene revolves around the Rockport Center for the Arts, located along Aransas Bay in the Heritage District. Visit the historic Bruhl-O’Connor home and its sculpture garden for workshops, exhibits, and lectures; 361/729-5519 orrockportartcenter.com.

Wynwood Arts District, Miami, Florida
This warehouse district-turned-artistic-hot spot bustles with lofts, galleries, museums, and studios. Goldman Properties is reshaping the 20-block neighborhood into an arts-oriented pedestrian community. Wynwood Arts District hosts alternative fairs during Art Basel and gallery walks the second Saturday of each month. Explore the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) at Goldman Warehouse (404 NW 26th Street) and the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse (591 NW 27th Street); artcircuits.com.

Monhegan Island, Maine
No cars, paved roads, or streetlights mar the scenery on Monhegan Island. Perhaps that’s why it has attracted artists for more than a century―there’s beauty to capture at every turn. Plan to devote a day to visiting, because the island is accessible only by boat. (Ferries run from Port Clyde, Boothbay Harbor, and New Harbor.) A few galleries welcome visitors to browse through studios; monheganwelcome.com.

Grand Marais Art Colony, Grand Marais, Minnesota
You’ll find Minnesota’s oldest artists colony in a renovated church on Lake Superior’s North Shore. Since its beginning in 1947, Grand Marais Art Colony has worked to educate artists of all skill levels. The nonprofit group offers classes in glasswork, book art, ceramics, printmaking, painting, and mixed media. Each summer, it sponsors the Grand Marais Arts Festival so you can take a masterpiece home; 800/385-9585 or grandmaraisartcolony.org.

Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada
On the ferry ride over to this art haven between Vancouver and Victoria, be sure to pick up a studio brochure. (It’s also available online at saltspringstudiotour.com.) The island has more than 30 galleries and studios. Many welcome guests year-round, but call first in the off-season. From Easter weekend through October, don’t miss the popular Saturday Market, a perfect place to find island-made art and nibbles, and to enjoy the waterfront setting;saltspringisland.org.

Towles Court, Sarasota, Florida
Once a thriving residential neighborhood, Towles Court had deteriorated into an area of cramped apartments and blighted homes by the 1980s. Its future remained uncertain until a plan developed more than a decade ago began to attract artists to the area. Now it thrives again. Some galleries welcome the public regularly, but all open their doors to visitors year-round on the third Friday of each month for the Gallery Walk; towlescourt.com.

Laguna Beach, California
Every summer a trio of festivals―Art-A-Fair, Sawdust Art Festival, and Festival of Arts―draws crowds to celebrate the artistic heritage of this Southern California community. One popular event, Pageant of the Masters, re-creates famous works with real people. Don’t miss the Laguna Art Museum, which participates in a gallery walk the first Thursday evening of every month. For fine art, head to Gallery Row; for live action, visit The Laguna Playhouse; 800/877-1115 or lagunabeachinfo.com.

Provincetown, Massachusetts
This town on the tip of Cape Cod has long celebrated its rich artistic heritage. The Fine Arts Work Center aids budding artists through its residence program, workshops, and lectures. The Provincetown Art Association and Museum holds a large permanent collection, and offers summer classes as well as fall and winter workshops. Just south of Provincetown, the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill hosts spring classes in painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and poetry; provincetowntourismoffice.org.

Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico
With its picture-perfect setting between the Sierra de la Laguna mountains and the Pacific, it’s no wonder artists seek out this small town. An hour north of Cabo San Lucas, it has 15 galleries, including the Charles Stewart Gallery (owned by the founder of this art colony) and Galería de Todos Santos. Visitors find works by local and expatriate painters and other craftsmen. The city celebrates its culture with an art festival each February; todossantos.cc.

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Fish Tacos Are Just Part of Mexican Food Tale

October 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Press

Special to The Bee

PUBLISHED WEDNESDAY, MAY. 13, 2009

Mouth Watering

Mouth Watering

As well as surf, sand and sun, another thing you can count on when you spend much of winter at the southern reaches of the Baja peninsula is an endless supply of fish tacos.

Casting for yellowtail, dorado, sierra and other varieties that provide the meat of a fish taco, after all, long has been the principal lure of Los Cabos, the sunny fishing settlements of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Baja California Sur, where the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean mesh.

I couldn’t wait. On the drive from Sacramento, I began to eat fish tacos south of Coalinga and continued through San Diego, Ensenada, San Quintin, Guerrero Negro and other coastal cities recognized for their seafood.

No question, fish tacos constitute a quick and convenient meal, customarily consisting of a few pieces of battered and fried fish tucked inside a corn tortilla. The dressings generally include shredded cabbage and a mayonnaise-based sauce. Assorted optional additions are wedges of lime, slices of cucumber, pico de gallo and a wide range of hot sauces.

“There may be no experience on Earth that quite matches the pleasure of an afternoon spent wandering around the Ensenada fish market, sluicing fish tacos down with oceans of slush-cold Tecate beer and watching locals haggle over yellowtail tuna and horse mackerel,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold.

I now suspect, however, that Gold was smitten more with the scene, the sunshine and the cerveza than the fish tacos.

By the time I got to Los Cabos, I not only had my fill of fish tacos, I was convinced they’re the most boring item of the Mexican diet.

Just when, where and by whom the fish taco was hatched is a matter of debate in culinary circles, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the inventor was an enterprising street vendor responding to touring gringos who prefer their food readily identifiable, convenient, pale, bland, fried and cheap, requisites met quite neatly by the standard fish taco.

Sure, over the ensuing months, we again ate fish tacos, especially at two landmark Baja taquerias celebrated for their fish, shrimp and scallop tacos: Taqueria Rossy and Cabo Mama Surf Tacos. Both were within walking distance of our casa in San Jose del Cabo.

But our diet branched out as we explored other aspects of Mexican cuisine, both ancient and modern.

“Don’t eat the street food,” warned an ex-pat American schoolteacher I ran into on a morning walk soon after we arrived. It was advice not difficult to heed when it came to neon-colored clouds of cotton candy, but easy to forget when the choice was succulent and spicy tacos al pastor – slices of marinated pork stacked on a spit, fired by a gas-fueled flame and quickly cut into thin strips that fly deftly into a palmed tortilla, often topped with a chunk of pineapple flicked from atop the cone of meat.

Mexican cuisine as frequently interpreted in California is pedestrian and heavy – tacos of oily ground beef, tamales with more masa than filling, burritos big enough to double as pontoons on a fishing boat. Granted, some California chefs appreciate that cooking in Mexico is largely regional, and frequently fresher, lighter and more varied than versions we see routinely in the United States.

But after three months in San Jose del Cabo, I wouldn’t try to codify a “Baja cuisine.” As Mexican regions go, Baja California Sur is too young, modern, diverse and dynamic for any one cluster of dishes to represent the state, or for even a defined style of cooking to have evolved.

Yet I sensed four currents of Mexican cooking coursing through Baja California Sur:

• Simply prepared seafood inspired by proximity to the Sea of Cortez, with its varied bounty of fish and its expansive white beaches, where local families have camped on weekends and holidays for generations. On the beach, the catch may be grilled quickly, then tossed onto a tortilla with a homemade salsa and a dash or two of hot sauce. In one of the region’s artfully ambitious restaurants, the seafood is apt to be prepared and presented with more precision, such as parrotfish steamed in banana leaves, topped with a pesto of cilantro and cashews, and accompanied with a ratatouille of prickly pear.

• Despite the area’s emphasis on seafood, more beef is prepared in gutsy and rustic hacienda ways than you might expect along a warm coastline. Baja, however, continues to celebrate its ranching culture, which remains alive despite the sparse forage of the desert and the encroachment of condominiums.

(Much of the state, incidentally, still is open range, something to keep in mind as you drive along the coast, your eyes diverted by multimillion-dollar “villas” rising above the beaches.)

• No matter how casual or how grand, few restaurants of Los Cabos are without at least a dish or two from other regions of Mexico, recognition that much of the area’s population, whether permanent or seasonal, consists of people who have arrived in cars with license plates saying Nuevo León, Michoacán, Jalisco, Sinaloa, Sonora or some other mainland state.

• By the same token, the 18-mile stretch of Highway 1 between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas is dotted with tony seaside resorts whose clientele is in large part international, thereby helping account for the Italian, Japanese, Chinese, French and Thai restaurants in and about the two cities.

If Mexican food frequently is knocked as “unhealthy” it isn’t for its content so much as its vivid flavors, which invite overindulgence. Many of the staples of the Mexican diet are marvelously wholesome – avocados, tomatillos, tomatoes, beans, corn – and their preparation often retains their nutrients without adding too much distracting impact from butter, sugar, salt and the like.

The two supermarkets we frequented had terrific produce sections, their bins sagging with pineapples, papayas, cantaloupes and other vitamin-dense fruits. A subsection of one produce department included more than 20 fresh herbs, some familiar (minty yerba buena, earthy epazote) and some new to me (ruda, said to be favored by the Aztecs as a cure for intestinal ailments).

For every downtown cart selling ice cream, another would be dispensing fresh-sliced watermelon and mango. The most popular breakfast destination along the blue-collar street Valerio González Canseco was a café specializing in take-away jugos and licuados, its entrance crowded with sacks of oranges.

And just try to find some traditional “manteca de cerdo,” or lard rendered from pork. When I asked its whereabouts at one of the supermarkets I was shown to an aisle lined with jars of “manteca vegetal comestible,” or vegetable shortening. There wasn’t a tablespoon of lard to be found in the place.

But as I began to prepare beans that called specifically for lard, I remembered a nearby open-air café where the specialty is carnitas, chunks of pork fried in large caldrons of oil alongside the sidewalk out front. The place does a huge business, and I got to speculating that it must have some lard it would be willing to give up.

Sure enough, the cooks at El Michoacano saw me coming, and had a kilo of old- fashioned pork fat in my hands before I completely got out my request in my halting Spanish. The plastic container was dented, its top torn, and it had to be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator because there was almost as much lard on the outside as inside. Like oak with wine, a little lard goes a long way, and that kilo was far more than I needed during our three-month sojourn.

No, there’s much more to Baja cookery than fish tacos. As we neared the end of our stay, I returned to the most historic and alluring place to shop for food in San Jose del Cabo, the Alberto A. Alvarado Aramburo Mercado Municipal, the old-time communal market in the middle of the city.

In addition to produce stands and Tortilleria Erika, it includes Marlene Cremeria y Polleria for chicharron, chorizo, chicken and cheese, Carniceria Dos Arbolitos for carne de puerco, New York rib-eye, machaca and other cuts, Sinaloa Fish Market for cabrilla, chica, huachinango, camaron, atun and other seafood, and a food court with 10 small stalls, most of which are named for and overseen by women – Marbella, Sonia, Ely.

I walked up and down the central corridor, scanning the menu boards while debating with myself about what to order for one last late breakfast in San Jose del Cabo. Should it be caldo de camaron, bisteck con nopales, rojo pozole or blanco pozole, chilies rellenos, menudo?

Fish tacos weren’t among the options, but chilaquiles was, and at a table in front of the stall Luncheria ZuLema that’s what I ordered, with a verde sauce, two fried eggs and a tall tumbler of freshly made orange juice.

It was the perfect send-off. The accompanying salsas were blistering hot, the chopped cilantro fresh, the white onion sweet, the eggs precise, and the chilaquiles – basically triangles of leftover tortillas simmered in a zesty tomatillo sauce – had the elusively correct texture, slightly chewy and hauntingly toasty.

Now there’s a dish of challenge and invention, just the item to keep me fueled and interested on the drive back to Sacramento.

Pescado a la Veracruzana

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

Serves 4

While most closely identified with the Mexican coastal city of Veracruz, this classic seafood entree can be prepared wherever meaty fish fillets can be found. We generally used cabrilla, sometimes called flag cabrilla, a member of the grouper family caught in the Sea of Cortez off San José del Cabo. Serve with a fruity albarino, pinot grigio, chenin blanc or sauvignon blanc. This recipe is adapted from “Authentic Mexican” by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless (Morrow, $30 384 pages).

Note: Prep time does not include the 1-hour marinate time for the fish.

INGREDIENTS

For the fish:

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless meaty fish fillets like red snapper or halibut, preferably in 4 pieces, each 1/2-inch thick

Freshly squeezed lime juice and a little salt

For the sauce:

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably part olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 pounds (4 medium-large) ripe tomatoes, roasted or boiled, peeled and cored, or three 15-ounce cans good-quality tomatoes, lightly drained

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

20 meaty green olives (preferably manzanillo), pitted and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons large Spanish capers

2 medium pickled chilies (jalapeños), stemmed, seeded and sliced into strips

1 tablespoon pickling juices from the chilies

1 1/2 teaspoons mixed dried herbs, such as marjoram and thyme

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus a few springs for garnish

3 bay leaves

1-inch cinnamon stick

2 cloves

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, very coarsely ground

1 cup light-flavored fish broth, bottled clam juice or water

Salt, if necessary

INSTRUCTIONS

Rinse the fillets, lay them in a noncorrosive dish and sprinkle them with lime juice and salt. Cover and refrigerate about 1 hour.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, 7 or 8 minutes.

While the onion is cooking, cut the peeled fresh tomatoes in half crosswise and squeeze out the seeds into a strainer set over a small bowl. Cut the tomatoes into 1-inch pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Collect all the juices on the cutting board and add to the tomatoes, along with those strained from the seeds. Canned tomatoes need only be lightly drained, then cut into 1-inch pieces, collecting the juices as you go.

Add the garlic to the lightly browned onion and stir for a minute or so, then add the tomatoes and their juice. Simmer for 5 minutes to reduce some of the liquid.

Divide the olives and capers between two small bowls, and set one aside to use as garnish. To the other bowl, add the jalapeño strips, pickling juice, mixed herbs and chopped parsley. If you don’t wish to have the whole bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves or cracked pepper in the finished sauce, wrap them in cheesecloth and tie with a string; otherwise, add them directly to the bowl containing the herbs.

After the tomato mixture has simmered and reduced, add the olive/caper mixture which contains the jalapeño strips, pickling juice, herbs and spices (either loose or in cheesecloth). Add the fish broth (or clam juice or water). Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary and remove bay leaves and cinnamon stick (if added loose) or cheesecloth-wrapped spices.

Fifteen minutes before serving, remove the fillets from the refrigerator and rinse them again. Either poach them in the sauce on top of the stove or bake in the sauce, as follows:

Stove-top method: Nestle the fish fillets in the sauce so they are well covered. Set the lid on the pan and place over a medium heat. After 4 minutes, turn the fillets over, re-cover and cook 2 or 3 minutes longer, until a fillet will flake under firm pressure.

Baking method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place fillets in a single layer in a lightly greased baking dish. Spoon the sauce over them, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the fish just flakes when pressed firmly with a fork at the thickest part.

Serve the poached or baked fillets on warm dinner plates with lots of the sauce, garnished with a sprinkling of the reserved capers and olives and a sprig of parsley.

Per serving: 412 cal.; 40 g pro.; 20 g carb.; 18 g fat (2 sat., 6 monounsat., 10 polyunsat.); 54 mg chol.; 1,218 mg sod.; 4 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 41 percent calories from fat.

Fish tacos

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 30 to 45 minutes

Serves 6 to 8 (about 24 tacos)

Fine fish tacos are found at stands all about Baja California, customarily selling for less than $2 in U.S. currency. When you fish the Sea of Cortez, however, you have to do something with the seafood you don’t release.

While we were in San Jose del Cabo, a brightly polka- dotted, sleek, meaty and rich member of the mackerel family, the sierra, were running strong. We released nearly all of them, but kept a couple for tacos, their oily flavor more than compensated by the spiciness and sweetness of this batter, adapted from Deborah M. Schneider’s “Baja: Cooking on the Edge” (Rodale, 274 pages, $27.95). She says double-frying the fish is essential, but we found a single frying to be satisfactory.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon dried whole Mexican oregano, rubbed to a powder

Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 ounces (1 bottle) cold beer, plus more to thin the batter if necessary

2 pounds firm, meaty fish

Freshly squeezed lime juice

Vegetable oil, for deep frying

24 tortillas, preferably corn

INSTRUCTIONS

To make the batter, whisk together the flour, baking powder, garlic, cayenne, mustard, oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper until well blended. Stir in the beer until there are no lumps. (Batter may be made several hours ahead and refrigerated.)

Trim the fish of all blood lines and skin. Cut into pieces the size and shape of your index finger. Sprinkle with a few drops of lime juice and a little salt. (If not using immediately, wrap and refrigerate.)

Pour oil into a deep, wide pan to a depth of 2 inches and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Use a deep-fry thermometer or test the heat by dropping a little of the batter into the oil. It should bounce to the surface almost immediately and be surrounded by little bubbles.

Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Check the thickness of the batter by dipping in one piece of the fish. The batter should be the consistency of medium-thick pancake batter, coating the fish easily but dripping very little. Add a little beer if the batter seems too thick.

Add the fish to the batter. Using tongs or chopsticks, swish each piece to make sure it is thoroughly coated, then lift it out of the batter, let it drip once, and lay the fish gently into the hot oil. Cook a few pieces at a time until they float and the batter is set but still very light in color. Pieces that stick to the bottom may need to be nudged with a spatula to release them.

Remove the fish to a rack to drain; reserve the frying oil. (The fish can be prepared ahead to this point, cooled on a rack, and refrigerated uncovered. Cool the oil and reserve.)

When you are ready to serve, reheat the oil to 350 to 360 degrees and refry the fish a few pieces at a time until crisp and golden brown.

To serve, hold a tortilla in your hand and add a few pieces of fish and the traditional accompaniments: shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, chopped white onion, cilantro, lime juice, mayonnaise-based sauce (mix together 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 to 2 teaspoons white vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons milk or water). Corn tortillas customarily are preferred for fish tacos.

Per serving based on 8 servings without accompaniments: 480 cal.; 31 g pro.; 60 g carb.; 11 g fat (2 sat., 3 monounsat., 6 polyunsat.); 36 mg chol.; 343 mg sod.; 5 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 22 percent calories from fat.

Chilaquiles verdes

Prep time: 40 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side dish

Chilaquiles verdes, a popular breakfast dish in Mexico City, can be dressed up for dinner by adding a couple of cups of shredded roasted chicken.

For this dish, the tortilla chips, sauce and crema can be prepared in advance, but simmer the final assembly just before serving to retain the dish’s proper texture.

This version was adapted from “Authentic Mexican” by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless (Morrow, $30, 384 pages).

Note: The prep and cook times include the time to make the salsa verde and the crèma espresa. The prep time also does not include the 16- to 28-hour set and chill time for the crèma espesa

INGREDIENTS:

6 medium-thick corn tortillas, preferably stale and store-bought

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups tomatillo sauce (salsa verde) (recipe follows)

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup boneless, cooked chicken, cut in chunks (optional)

1 large sprig epazote (optional)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup thick crèma espesa (recipe follows), or commercial sour cream thinned with a little milk or cream

2 tablespoons crumbled Mexican queso fresco or queso anejo, or a cheese like feta or mild Parmigiano

1 thinly sliced onion, broken into rings

INSTRUCTIONS

Cut tortillas into fourths. If they are moist, dry them out for a few minutes in a 350-degree oven until quite leathery.

Pour the oil into a medium-sized skillet set over medium-high heat. When hot enough to make the edge of a tortilla sizzle, add half the tortilla pieces. Turn them frequently until they are lightly browned and nearly crisp, then remove and drain on paper towels. Fry and drain the remaining tortilla pieces in the same fashion. Reduce the heat to medium-low and discard any oil that remains.

Return the tortilla pieces to the skillet and add the tomatillo sauce (salsa verde), broth, optional chicken and optional epazote. Stir well to coat the tortillas. Cover the skillet and simmer until the tortillas are soft but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Season with salt.

Scoop the mixture onto a warm serving platter. Drizzle with the crèma espesa, sprinkle with cheese and decorate with onion rings. Serve immediately.

Per serving based on 4 side dish servings without optional ingredients: 319 cal.; 5 g pro.; 26 g carb.; 23 g fat (5 sat., 6 monounsat., 12 polyunsat.); 9 mg chol.; 241 mg sod.; 4 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 63 percent calories from fat.

Salsa verde (tomatillo sauce)

INGREDIENTS

1 pound (11 medium) fresh tomatillos, husked and washed

3 fresh chilies serranos or 2 fresh chilies jalapeños, stemmed

5 or 6 sprigs fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil

1 or 2 cups poultry broth, less for a thicker salsa, more for a thinner

Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon, depending on the saltiness of the broth

INSTRUCTIONS

Boil tomatillos and chilies in salted water to cover until tender, 10 to 15 minutes; drain.

Place the tomatillos and chilies in a blender or food processor, with the cilantro, onion and garlic. If using a blender, stir well. Process until smooth, but still retaining a little texture.

Heat lard or vegetable oil in a medium-large skillet set over medium-high. When hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle sharply, pour tomatillo mixture in all at once and stir constantly for 4 or 5 minutes, until darker and thicker. Add the broth, let return to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer until thick enough to coat a spoon, 10 to 20 minutes. Season with salt.

Crèma espesa

INGREDIENTS

1 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons buttermilk

INSTRUCTIONS

Pour the cream into a small saucepan, set over low heat and stir just until the chill is off; do not heat above 100 degrees (lukewarm). Stir in the buttermilk and pour into a glass jar.

Set the lid on the jar (but don’t tighten it) and place in a warm (80 degrees to 90 degrees) spot. Let the cream culture and set for 12 to 24 hours, until noticeably thicker (perhaps almost set like yogurt or sour cream). Stir gently, screw on the lid and refrigerate at least 4 hours to chill and complete the thickening.

Chayote with tomato and green chili

Prep time: 35 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

Serves 4

Can’t wait for that summer zucchini to arrive? Look around the supermarket for the Mexican vegetable chayote, which isn’t zucchini but is similarly flavored and textured, though it also suggests cucumber and melon, or a hybrid of all three. After seeing mounds of chayote in the markets of San Jose del Cabo, we went looking for a recipe, and found this side dish back home, at the Web site www.simplyrecipes.com (type chayote into the search field) of Sacramentan Elise Bauer.

INGREDIENTS

1 pound chayotes

6 ounces roasted tomatoes (you can use canned fire roasted tomatoes, or roast whole tomatoes on stovetop or under broiler until skin begins to blacken; do not remove skin but process whole)

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped onion

1 large green Anaheim chili pepper (stem and seeds removed and discarded), chopped (wear gloves).

Pinch red chili pepper flakes

1/4 cup water

Salt to taste

1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro

1/4 cup finely grated Monterey Jack cheese

INSTRUCTIONS

The peel of chayotes is tough and inedible even when cooked, so peel them completely. This may take a little doing, as the folds in the chayotes can make it difficult. Cut the chayotes into 1/4-inch-wide, 2-inch-long julienned strips, with or without the core.

Purée the roasted tomatoes and the garlic in a blender, set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and green chilies. Cook on medium heat until just soft, about 3 or 4 minutes.

Add the tomato mixture and red chili flakes, and continue to cook 3 minutes more. Add the chayote, water and salt to taste. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Add the chopped cilantro and cook for 5 minutes more. The chayote should be just tender, moist but not watery.

Sprinkle with grated cheese and serve.

Per serving: 126 cal.; 3 g pro.; 9 g carb.; 9 g fat (2 sat., 6 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 6 mg chol.; 191 mg sod.; 4 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 64 percent calories from fat.

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Welcome to the website for CalyCanto, offering Todos Santos vacation rentals and information about the area. We operate a boutique community, currently consisting of 3 casitas in Todos Santos, each with ocean views, about 2.5 miles from the town center, on the way La Pastura, a world class surf break. We at CalyCanto are passionate about eco-friendly travel that provides us with succulent surfing, pristine beach combing, intimate restaurants, exotic bird watching, super special sunsets, horseback riding on the beach, local tours and activities that support the local community. We believe in causing the least harm (approaching zero) while doing business. Environmentalism, sustainability and a commitment to protecting the natural environment through activism are part of our mission as we work to continually reduce our carbon footprint. We hope you'll follow our adventure here, on Twitter and on Facebook while you enjoy your coffee (or tea) or drink a Pacifico (if you've already made it here). If the tequila gets passed around the table too much, gringos might try and spell CalyCanto like calicanto, calecanto, or cal y canto. However you spell it, you are always welcome at Calycanto Casitas. Thank you for visiting.