Sunday, July 31, 2011

Where to Buy Groceries in Mexico?

This weekend makes it officially 4 weeks in Mexico. We’ve learned a thing or two, adapting to the local environment. For one, where to find all our essential groceries without going to Walmart, Costco, those ubiquitous evil empires, they are all over Mexico…but we’ve been avoiding those for now.

For dog food, our go-to place is Oxxo. Imagine a convenient store attached to a gas station, except there’s no gas station and the place carries some elemental groceries (cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, eggs), the cheapest beer in town and believe it or not...Pedigree kibble. We’ve found Oxxos everywhere we’ve traveled so it’s a sure bet for us and for our doggies.

Get your dog food here

For the staples (bread, milk, coffee, butter, olive oil, tuna), we head for the local chains like Farmacia Guadalajara. Like the name suggests, it is a pharmacy but with an identity crisis. As you enter, you smell the freshly baked pastries, cookies and bolillos (mexican baguettes). Wait, there’s an actual oven in the middle of the store? Every now and then, a pharmacist comes running to pull out a lovely tray of golden apple turnovers from the hot oven. Along the aisles…cleaning supplies, canned chilis, toilet paper, shaving cream, fresh cheeses, deli meats…and did I mention it's  a full functioning pharmacy? In any case, Farmacia Guadalajara, you've got me hooked...the place for meds and breads.

For fruits and veggies, we explore the local markets with the rainbow colors of verduras and fruitas. Yes, so fresh that you can actually see the army of ants carrying away the sweet ripened pinas (pineapples). My favorite and memorable encounters are the local tiendas or shops (usually run by the mama or papa). In Sayulita, the fresh basil sitting in the coffee can next to the cash register was planted by the owner’s wife. In San Miguel del Allende, at one tiny store, I asked grandpa, the owner if he had aguacates or avocadoes. He yells to the next room, no apparent door separates the living space inside his miniature tienda. Grandma’s on the bed, both feet up. ”Where did you put the avocadoes and how much do they cost again?” He disappears for a momentito and comes back with a bag that dwelled in a mysterious nook or cranny...fireplace, behind the laundry or under the bed? It just goes to show you, it never hurts to ask.

The produce is divine. Cream and milk that smells like heaven. Eggs with yolks as intense as a spanish sunset. Sugary mangoes, lustful guavas, forest green avocados, bright purple onions, tasty tomatoes…godly gifts, that just want to make you run immediately to a kitchen never to leave until you’ve fully experienced their poetic magic.

Mexico has been good to us and our money belts. Eating where locals eat, avoiding the turistas (wherever we can...its hard to avoid ourselves), shopping where the locals shop and cooking are helping us save some serious queso. And for that, I’m very grateful and very full.

By Mai Brehaut

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ode to Sayulita

Sayulita, oh Sayulita
mexican rivier-ah
you need to go there-ah.

On the streets-ah,
you hear the shrimp trucks-ah
and the gasoline-ah
and the ice cream-ah...

But all day long ah...are the cocks-ah!!
Oh, my ears they stilla ring-ah!

Sayulita, I will miss yah
your sweet-ah mang-oes
cute dengue mos-qui-toes
why bookstore, iz always close?

Sayulita, oh Sayulita
mexican rivier-ah
the best taqueri-ah...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Friday, July 22, 2011

From Raisins to Bread

After 5 days, the yeast was finally ready to use. I thanked my lucky raisins and separated them from the bath they’d been soaking in; they had done a good job fermenting bottled water into a golden, bubbling yeast colony.

I found these little raisins in a bodega in San Carlos, MX. Much smaller and not as sweet as their cousins from California; their tangy taste translates to currants or sultanas.

To make the masa madre, the mother dough or starter, I added 4-5 generous tablespoons of harina de trigo (in the states, this would be called “white bleached flour”), to the 1.5 cup of yeast liquid.

Using an empty Padre Kino, wine vase (a local version of Gallo wine), I shook the mixture to form the masa madre.

I let the mixture rest for several hours to rise. 11 am and 4 pm (grow yeastie, grow!)

I’ve read that you need to let the starter ferment for another 2 days to really develop the taste...but my impetuous insides clamored for me to make bread already, so I skipped this step. By early evening, I had already prepared the dough, salivating at the thought of smearing butter on a hot slice (it had been 3 weeks since any bread had entered these lips!). 

flour, water, salt, fresh yeast

I allowed the dough to rest for another 12 hours….(some time during the night a kitchen fairie, seeing that there was a much better container for the dough to grow in, transferred it into a pyrex baking pan).

Inside an oiled boil. Night night...don't let the geckos bite!

The next day, I was thrilled to find how beautifully the dough had grown! (hey wait???!…where did this pyrex pan come from?) I folded the dough and let it rest 1 more hour before baking.

Inside Mollie’s apartment, I preheated the tiny kitchen oven to 230 C or ~ 450 F; placing the cast iron skillet (sweet pantry excavation!) to get it nice and hot. After 30 mins, I carefully transferred the dough using a floured towel, to the inferno HOT skillet. Plop! Let bake 30-40 mins.

During that time, I did what ever I could do to distract myself….getting myself the hell away from the kitchen… listening to music, watching a man on the river, being breakfasted by mosquitoes, discovering little strange things on the couch...what is this?, rubbing Biela’s tummy, doing anything, anything!...from opening the oven and interfering with the baking process.

After 15 minutes, you start to smell, that heavenly bread smell emanating from the modern kiln, luring like sirens to carnal sailors….Come to me!…..

After 27 minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore. I took the bread out and let it rest for one last time (10-15 mins is ideal…in reality 7.2353 mins). 

Note to self: next time, please wait  40 mins for a darker crust. 

Finalemente....Come to mama!

Love at first slice or two or three... 

Hmmmmmm…..!??!!! The taste of the bread has a hint of tanginess, not flat and bland like bread from packaged yeast. It's airy and wonderful with butter and honey (or dunking into soup)...Buen provecho chicos!

with butter and honey 

Click to view all photos taken from raisins to bread.

Recipe for the yeast starter
Raisins* (2 small handfuls or 1 large handful…I have small hands)
Water (enough to cover or 1-2 cups)
Container with lid (salsa container, jam, wine jug)

Allow 5-7 days for fermentation.

*You can use anything organic. I’ve used dried apples, persimmons from my mom’s garden…have fun experimenting and let me know how it goes.

-Place it anywhere outside. Refrigeration is not necessary.
-Each day shake the contents and open the lid for a couple of minutes. -Encouragement is good! Quietly tell your raisins to grow into beautiful golden yeast).
-After day 3, the raisins will start to rise to the top and bubble.
-Around day 5-7, you will hear intense bubbling. It will smell sour not as strong as vinegar, but definitely fermented like beer.
-To make the starter, add flour to make a paste. Depending on how much yeast liquid you’ve rendered. 3-4 tablespoons or less or more. I recommend waiting 2 more days for the starter or sponge to proof. You can use it immediately, but trust me, it's better to wait. You will get a better flavor and a better bread dough after you've waited another 2 days.

-If you wait too long, the yeast can implode, so make sure you use it immediately and feed it flour. It is possible for yeast to die (it’s happened to me so don’t worry. Repeat, start again).
-If there are no bubbles, start again or add more raisins.
-If you're in a higher altitude or colder climate (as I was, when I was baking from Guatemala or Bariloche, Argentina, when I made a yeast batch), it may take longer 8+ days for the raisins to ferment. 

Recipe for the bread dough
*From Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan St Bakery, NYC
3 cups flour
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup fresh yeast starter/sponge or 1/4 tsp dried yeast
Good pinch of salt
Oil (for coating)

Mix all of dry ingredients in a bowl. Add water and yeast starter and mix by hand or a wooden spoon until you have a ball. No need to over mix. Cover the bowl with a towel and let it rest for 12 hours. Remove the dough from the bowl and fold once or twice. Shape into a ball. Place the dough on a generously floured towel. Cover the dough with another towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size. Cut a slit on top of the dough. Preheat oven to 500°F for 20 mins. (You can either use a heavy le creuset pot with lid or a cast iron or a thick backing sheet. Which ever method. I prefer the simple thick baking sheet). Place a thick baking sheet in the oven to heat. When the pan is hot. Flip the dough onto the pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes before slicing. Over with a towel to store.

¿Que es esto?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Morning Communion in Puerto Vallarta

One morning, as I sipped my black coffee, I watched as a man gently walk down the edge of the Rio Cuale. He was shirtless, wearing faded jeans, a bright blue towel rested on one shoulder. He knelt down to the riverbed to wash his hands, then his face, wiping in a circle.

Walking back up the side of the river, he found a comfortable rock to sit and enjoy his breakfast. He unwrapped each corn leaf of the large tamale he carried along, so delicately, exposing his tasty meal. Bringing each bite to his face, he ate. There was no quickness, no rush. Only ease. Only stillness.

From the window, I watched and savored each bite with him, chewing the masa, feeling the grainy texture of the steamed corn meal. Was there a treasured piece of stewed chicken or pork inside? Was it made by a loved one or purchased on the street, I wondered.

Did he see the white crane hunting for her breakfast as he ate? She was there too.

Slowly, the tamale disappeared and I watched the man walk down to the river, kneel again to wash his hands, then face. Gently. Gently.

A communion with the river with each bite of food with a white crane and a stranger who watched and drank her coffee.

A perfect way to start the the day.

You can hear the sounds of the river, its swollen veins from recent storms, rocking and tossing along the rocks. Gushing and bubbling its sounds…greeting you, buenos dias…hello, good morning.


The next morning, I saw another man on the Rio Cuale. His head was shaven. Tank top and swimming trunks. Carefully, he found a rock and sat, lotus position. He faced the window where I watched. But then quickly moved to another rock, his back turned. Again lotus position. Within a couple of minutes, he moved again. What was he seeking? Temporary refuge from mosquitoes? There, that’s the one, the perfect rock. Again, assumed the position. Calm…only…

It wasn’t long before he moved again. Then finally left.

By Mai Brehaut

view of the rio cuale
me and biela

Sunday, July 17, 2011

¿Quieres Sopa de Verduras? / Want Some Veggie Soup?

It’s a Sunday in Puerto Vallarta. This morning, the church bells awakened our sleepy faces around 9 AM.

Arriving in Puerto Vallarta at the Casa del Puente, I was elated to find that our apartment was equipped with a kitchen! For a full account of our arrival at PV, read here and a description of our host, Mollie Muir (the grand niece of some conservationist guy).

Eating 3 weeks on the road, I’ve been seriously craving my own blend of alchemy...the comfort and excitement of creating something from local verduras, hierbas y ingredientes. Nothing makes me feel more at home than the smell of bread baking in the oven or frying onions in a pan.

So, I’ve taken care of both to mitigate any foreseen homesick blues.

First, I’ve been cultivating a secret batch of yeast from Mexican raisins (will be ready for some bread in the next couple days, so more on this coming soon) and today to enjoy our Sunday a la mexicana, I made a big pot of sopa de veduras (which all started with the magic of sautéed cebolla).

sopa verduras y guarniciones (veggie soup with fixings)
ready for some serious soup
We bought all the ingredients from the local Gutierrez Rizo Mercado (scroll halfway down the webpage for the map).

If you were here, I’d love to serve you a bowl. Instead, find the sopa verduas pics. Wishing you a rejuvenating Sunday y buen provecho!

Necesito verduras felizes (You need happy veggies)
...y algunos ingredientes (and some ingredients)
...y un poco de tiempo (and a little time)
para hacer una buena sopa (to make a good soup)
...time for another bowl

Mexican Flash Update

Almost 3 weeks in Mexico and the adventure continues to be enjoyable and enriching; we’ve experienced 3 distinct cities by now (San Carlos, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta), crossed 4 states (Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit and Jalisco)…gradually making our way further south toward the equator. The driving conditions have been pretty good even though I’d never expected to drive through both black and green ancient volcanic valleys, fields of fragrant lavender, torrential down pours made courtesy by Hurricane Calvin and if you can believe it, fog!??!....the thick misty mountain kind.

Hurricane Calvin (

The journey is nothing short of epic. And I’m so grateful for experiencing the beauty of this land with mi hombre y dos perros favoritos. If anything, it’s making me a badass driver!

First leg was what I like to call “Sleepy in San Carlos.”

View from balcony, San Carlos

We caught up on some serious siestas, I reread the entire Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (since high school, IB english) in 1 day, locals spotted some skinny dipping by Manly and Biela and at dawn pelicans watched on as some martial arts was performed by the boy. We left the desert town by the Sea of Cortez, rejuvenated and excited for some action.

Next stop, Mazatlan where we traded the siesta for some fiesta.

We stayed 6 days in a charming B&B called Casa de Leyendas run by a generous and friendly expat couple named Sharon and Glenn. If you are ever in Mazatlan, stay there! Favorite moments were walking on the Malecon with M&B, free jazz night at Pedro y Lola, enjoying a cold Pacifico underneath a tree lined café on the Plaza Machado, sampling the menu del dia at Paulina’s ($60 pesos = $5.45), chatting it up with the expats at Macaw’s Wednesday night, Yappy Hour (a happy hour with dogs organized by Sharon, the inn keeper at Leyendas to raise money for the local dog shelter) and watching the sensuous salsa dancers at a July 14th block party. Find our Mazatlan photo highlights here.

I’m struck by the warm and genuine energy in Mazatlan. There’s a thriving artist community and a dojo for the boy…all pluses. Definitely a place to revisit and come back for a longer stay.

Yet, the moment awaits, onward we go...

By Mai Brehaut

(Malecon, Mazatlan,

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Crossing Thunder

“Sweetie, when did you see the high winds sign?” I ask Cedric behind the wheel.

“About 30 mins ago. The sign said anywhere within a 50 mile radius.”

“Well, it looks like we’re approaching it.” I point, straight to the horizon, the brown color of dust descending. We’re heading right in it, into the heart of the sandstorm.   

I start to accelerate getting closer to a pack of cars in front of me. Safety in numbers. I can tell by the constant speed of the other cars that we’re among an experienced group because they don’t slow down or accelerate, but maintain speed.

This is going to be a test of fluidity and patience, not just courage.

A brown cloud quickly envelops us and we’re in another world. Inside a snow globe.  Its contents grey and barren shaken by the hands of Mother Nature. Inside a no man’s land. Timeless. A dead calm.

You can feel the surge in the air, in the landscape. Its pulse thick and electrifying; the force of the wind pushes against the SUV. She rocks and thumps on the side. Let me in.

It’s only the beginning. 

By now, a row of cars and trucks have pulled over into a rest stop. Bad bad idea. Imagine spending hours just waiting. Waiting for fear to eat you alive. Don’t stop at the beginning of the storm! Better to take the road and push through it. But I don’t want to judge or argue. I’m grateful that there is less people on the road. More space to maneuver the car. Sometimes it is better to stop.

I maintain 60 miles. Don’t panic.

I’m scared, really, really scared but excited and strangely grateful for this moment. What’s going to happen next? It’s out of my control now. Allow it to unfold. Allow the moment to take me, guide me into the storm.

Another rock by the wind. We’re now completely inside this grey and brown world. A faded green sign. Tonopah.

An abandoned home, it’s walls exposed, roofless. Where are they now?

A gas station, but the lights are off...  

The ancestors, passed through here. I see them cross through the storm with cattle. The test of a warrior. Don’t fight the wind, move slowly. Those who fought it were blown away, broken down by it. Don’t fight it. Accept it. Take your time. Move into it.

Breathe. Relax. Maintain speed.

We pass a bridge. A big rig is parked underneath it. Temporarily sheltered. In this wind, it can topple. Another reminder, a lesson before me. When you don’t want to push ahead and take risks. Stop. Waiting it out is ok. The universe will support what ever choice you make. But it’s ok. For me, I don’t want to stop, I’m ready to push on.

The wheel turns on it’s own and the only thing I can do is relax, stay fluid and balanced to keep our course ahead. Keep moving. This wind shifts and moves. From both sides of the car. I feel the surge in my belly now.

Don’t be scared. Move into it. That’s it.

A few drops of water begin to fall. The windshield screeches as it wipes away the  messy tears of the sky. The clouds are cracking open.

There’s a small black bird, it’s body, falling out of the sky, but it manages to move into an upward current. Up it goes before me.

Fuck!!! Tumbleweeds appear out of fucking nowhere???!!! I swerve, avoiding them.

Relax, maintain.

It starts to pour now. Heavily. At any moment, I want to pull over and let Cedric drive. Oh, god, god, take the damn car! I scream inside! But, no, not yet, I can do this.

“I trust you”, he says. The words I need to hear.

There’s a white van. I see its form bullied by the wind - knocking it from both sides. It's slowing down.

Do I accelerate? Pass it now?

The hardest is to pass, at any moment I can put us into danger by blinding us, getting side swiped, a waterfall of water on the windshield.

But my gut stops me. Now’s not the time. Wait.

Sure enough, there’s a clearing. Less rain, and I over take the van. My right foot trembles, then presses firmly on the gas. Here we go.


My palms sweat ice from the anticipation - the fear of this impossible - possible act.

15 minutes feels like an eternity.

Finally, a faint blue patch appears above.


That night in Tucson, we celebrate over fried zucchini fries, tuna salad, margaritas and sangria.

It’s 9:30pm, high 90s out. We walk off our stomachs along a dried up creek, a trail along the Windmill hotel.

Our dogs, Manly and Biela run into the desert, their noses investigating the hidden smells inside the shrubs and underground holes.

The night sky, black as a well...walking into its mouth.

Suddenly, a single vein of light. There’s no sound. A white pulse, brilliant dissolves into blackness.

There’s another spark. Early fire works for our pre-fourth of July night.

Cedric counts between the pauses of light and sound. The storm is close. 13 miles.

Fingers finding the pair they were made for...we walk hand and hand.

I realize now why artists come to the desert. To experience the force of Mother Nature. To be reminded by the force of life inside our very own veins.

Never in my lifetime could I imagine this. Being on this journey. Crossing a desert. Being here at this moment. Veins of light pulses like the blood inside my being. Illuminated. The roar of thunder. Life, unpredictable…surges forth.


By the time we reach San Carlos, Mexico, several days on the other side of the border, we see the same lightning and thunder show, the view from a white balcony over looking the calm Sea of Cortez.  It looks peculiarly different on this side. Serene. Colorful. Pink and red against black.

We’d crossed the desert, travelled through the storm and yet, it still follows.

The sky cracking open again and again before us like our open hearts.

By Mai Brehaut

Friday, July 08, 2011

Time to Go

At 10:00 am, on July 2, 2011, the cleaning maids came an hour early to 501 Corbett Ave in the Twin Peaks neighborhood of San Francisco. They waited on the long wooden staircase in front of the pink cottage while the woman inside frantically put on clothes, tucked away papers, and made the final preparations she needed for a yearlong trip abroad to Central America. The sun was already high in the sky. It was going to be a beautiful sunny day. Her husband was in Richmond putting the last load of their possessions into storage. She was alone with her two dogs. The last calm before the commotion of the journey ahead.

The cleaning women’s early appearance was a gentle nudge from the universe to say, it’s time to go.

I’m putting on my jeans and getting dressed after a bath when they knock. I don’t want my long bath to end. I’m still savoring it. My last bath to Jesus’ last supper…

“Hi, sorry, I’m still here. Can you come back in an hour? Checkout isn’t until 11.” My voice behind the door.

“Ah! Sorry, you’re leaving today?” The knob turns and we all meet eye to eye. My hair is still wet, combed back by fingers.

“Yes. You can come in but I have 2 dogs, if that’s ok.”

Biela’s brown eyes investigates, the little white dog peaks from behind, her bark claiming her space and human.

“Sorry, she’s nice. Shhh, Biela. No.”

“Iz ok. We come back.” The lady says with a cell phone on her ear.

The women walk up the steps and find their place to sit. They look like a mother and daughter crew.  One of them unpeels a perky banana. From their banter and girlish chuckles, their mood is harmonious and merry. I want to tell them that we’ll be leaving to Central America today but I don’t know how. I need the silence to clear out the space and the mind.

The pink cottage or “The Tree House” was our temporary refuge. An open, fully furnished rental we found three days before moving out of our home. We found it by chance as with everything that moves with synchronicity…things appear when they need to. There’s a hidden staircase that leads you down to the house. A staircase in its original condition when it was first laid down, who knows when, in the 20s, 30s? All of this is a deliberate decoy like Alibaba’s cave, shabby from the outside...from the inside, an unexpected million dollar view of the city.

Cottage View

It's been a month, but my heart is still tender for our home on Roosevelt Way; when we were ready to let go, it sold quickly.

Was it hard to let go of the house? Was it emotional?

Yes, all of the above. Though I can tell you, it seemed a lot harder for family and friends to accept it, who wanted us to keep it. And I did. I wanted to hold to it. That home meant a lot more to me than just a house with walls and rooms. It wasn’t anything material. Or about status or validation or approval (although it was all of those things in the beginning). I cried a lot in that space. And I wrote a lot. I slept a lot. And cooked soups and baked bread. Slowly mending my heart and healing old wounds. To me, that home was a space to heal and expand, to dream again, to be truthful, to be connected, to reclaim my life. Not a life for others because of the expectations handed down, the shoulds, but a life for myself.

What happened that led you to the decision? Was there a breakdown? A crisis? We worry about all this change. That you are always seeking change…

I used to live day in and day out, doing the same thing over and over again, the same pattern of thought, the same action, rewind….repeat…because it was Expected. Predictable. Consistent. Structured. Orderly. Safe. I wanted all those things...but not anymore. Not now.

The truth is no one really gives a damn if you’re happy or content or being authentic or not. People don’t care. They’re too busy dealing with their own mess. So who are we doing this for? Pretending to be who we're not? The only person whose opinion really matters is your own. I’ve already put in more than three decades of my life doing what I should be doing. It never made me content. In fact, it left me empty, guilty, resentful, angry, out of touch, in denial, tired. I ended up being moody, jealous, blameful, ungrateful. It’s NOT what I want. It’s time to move on; let’s try something else, a path that is mine to experience and claim. I’m scared as heck but it’s my responsibility. No one to point to but myself.

I get it, you’re taking a year off to find yourself.

I’ve already found myself. I’ve dreamt of living a year abroad. It turns out that this is the year and it’s happening. It’s now or never. Wahoo!

For a Saturday, it’s still early. My brain isn’t fully functioning. Empty stomach, empty brain.

There are medical papers still lying on the coffee table, a passport, a roll of tape nibbled by a dog. Orphaned pens. I haven’t done my pages this morning. I need to wipe down the coach before leaving the place and don’t forget the pillows that Manly licked when we weren’t there to stop him. The dogs are walked. Check. I’m going threw my mental list. I want to just stand and drink in the view of my city by the bay for one last long time. The sky is clear, the Castro theater, the outline of the buildings in the haze of daylight. My city. I’ll miss you. You’re the hardest of all to let go of. This paradise on earth where you can live and be yourself. So many writers and artists, so many new arrivals, the navigators who first saw your beautiful hills and shores, who came to this place to reinvent themselves. Allowed to show their true face.

When allowed to dream, to be, you just are. No crisis. No breakdown. No drama.

I need to let go of you to truly love you. San Francisco. I’ll be back.

By Mai Brehaut

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Owl and the Pussy Cat By Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey,
and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!"
Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing!
Oh! let us be married;
too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the bong-tree grows;
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand on the edge of the sand
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.


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