Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Tree Tradition in Tres Marias

I have never been a big fan of the Christmas tree. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas and decorating my house fully for the season, but the tree has never been high on my list. I don't like the fake trees and I feel bad about buying a real tree that has been trucked in from who-knows-where. My husband convinced me that there were local trees that you cut yourself that support some worthy rural areas that are trying to create sustainable businesses that are good for the environment. I also have two young boys and would like to create a tradition with them of going to get the tree and decorating it.

In Mexico, the cutting of a tree is serious business. All trees are federally protected. If you do not have an official permit to cut a tree you can be pulled over for violating federal law. In Morelos, my husband found one of only two state-designated Christmas tree farms. This one was located close to Tres Marias in the mountains.

We gave a call to Fidelina Vasquez the propietor of the farm and met her in the intersection of the old highway to Mexico City that crossects the road to Huitzilac. She joined us in our car to guide us to where the trees are. She brought her handsaw, twine, machete and a very charming disposition. We had a wonderful conversation about her farm and the type of trees that she grows. She struck me as a very hard working and entrepreneurial person. The boys were very excited as we travailed the dirt road up in the mountains. She explained to us that the variety that she has is a native one called ayacahuite and is very renewable variety. Fidelina had been taking classes on how to care for the trees, grow them, and how to re-grow them not only from seedlings but also from the stump that is left after it is cut.

We selected our tree and wrapped it in twine. Fidelina told us that it takes about 5-8 years for the tree to be Christmas tree size from a sapling. However, the stump will usually grow two "new" trees which cuts the growth time by 2-3 years.

After bunding up the tree, my husband pulled the tree to the car and we loaded up the family. We took Fidelina back to her home and she gave us a special factura or receipt saying that this was an authorized tree cut.

The drive back from the tree field was very picturesque with the drying stacks of hay.

Here is our finished product at home at La Villa Bonita. It is a very charming tree. Not your usual Christmas tree. For those of you in southern Mexico City, Cuernavaca or Tepoztlan it is an easy drive to pick out your Christmas tree next year and you will be supporting the local economy as well as a very hard-working and entrepreneurial woman. Fidelina Vazquez Tel: 01(739)393-0267.

Where am I?

Many of you may be wondering where I am! I am still here! I have been traveling very much over the past 5 months on projects with my sponsors, television appearances, and in furtherance of my own telelvision series in the US. All in all, it has been a crazy year but we are all looking forward to a great 2010. I can tell you I am very happy to be home and looking forward as well to receiving guests at La Villa Bonita in January and February. Time to get back to what I do best -- teach my traditional Mexican family dishes to my guests and open windows into the richness of Mexican culture.

We had a great response to our sale for Christmas and New Year sale but it was restricted because of very high airfare over the holidays. We did notice, however, a great drop in airfare for January and February from hubs in the US and Canada. Since we are finally home and want you to join us, we extended our $875 USD off per room sale to January and February dates. It is almost like getting your airfare for free! Escape the cold at LVB this winter!

Peace, Love, and Good Food

Ana Garcia

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bringing the Family Together Over the Kitchen Table: Tips on Getting Kids to Appreciate Good Food

One of the things I am proudest of in my short 5 years of "parentdom" is getting my kids at a very early age to appreciate a wide variety of food. I was very proud of my 5 and 1-year-old on a recent family trip to Maine to visit our good friends, Cookie and Tony. As a family, we love eating the best local food or specialty dishes we can find. Of course, in Maine you must have lobster, blueberries, wonderful summer vegetables, and mussels. My kids ate everything with a passion along with harvesting their own mussels and devouring them for dinner.

I am not a child psychologist, expert or anything of the sort but I have made a few observations along the way that may be helpful. This blog entry is an introduction into what we will explore in upcoming blogs in more detail.

1. Its Up to You. Parents give signals to their kids all the time. Little facial gestures or unintended messages that you probably don't even notice. Studies have shown that even small babies have incredible facial-recognition ability. Trust me, they are watching you! If you are picky eater as a parent, your kids will be too. If you express disdain about eating a particular food, they will copy you -- especially young children. As a parent, you need to take the lead. If you expose your children to a wide variety of foods at an early age and express your enjoyment in eating something good, your children will pick up on it.

2. Start Young. Don't limit your child's palate at an early age. Expose them to fresh food. I see a lot of young eaters become picky when they first start on solid foods. I know it is convenient to purchase the supermarket baby food. After a long day of work, it is totally understandable. I have used them myself especially when traveling, but creating your own baby food ,even out of the simplest things, will start them out early on the right path. There is an early window of opportunity to get your kids to have an adventurous palate. In my experience, that age is between 1-3 years old. It is harder to change bad habits once they reach the age of saying "no" randomly and expressing their independence.

3. No Kids Menu. None of my children eat off the kids menu, but not because I say so. Chicken fingers, hot dogs, pizza or other dummied-down dishes for your kids are convenient pretexts for placating picky eaters but just plain bland. My husband and I have traveled with our 5-year-old since he was very young. When we would go out to a restaurant, Robb and I would order for ourselves and Matias would eat from both of our dishes on his own plate. Now at age 5, he refuses eat off the kid's menu and actually cried when one of our friends ordered from it on his behalf. Kids enjoy good food too!

4. Cook with Them. Kids love to cook and they will appreciate the effort of preparing food if they have participated in making it themselves. My eldest loves to claim that he is "a good cooker." Giving kids the opportunity to cook with you is an easy way to get them motivated to eat well and appreciate the effort. Finding small tasks and developing knife skills will give them the ability to actually help. The Montessori system in school helps a lot! This is my eldest helping Tony put the lobsters in the pot.

5. Show Them The Source. This is one of the most important elements. Kids need to understand that food doesn't naturally come in shrink-wrapped plastic. Showing children where vegetables and fruit actually come from with the local grower is a great way to introduce them to the concept. It is fun for kids to pick their own produce in the summer or better yet when you have a little garden in your back yard. When we were in Maine, we went to the Lobster pound to see how they are harvested. As well, we waded into the mud to gather our own mussels. Both kids loved getting muddy, trying to find the right-sized mussels. It gave them context to what they were eating and a great story to tell.

6. Appreciate Where You Are. We try to go on a family vacation every summer and eating locally is one of our favorite things. Getting the best of where you are is important, not only to appreciate the joys of traveling, but to expanding your child's palate. Don't just plan what tourist sites you are going to see, talk about what you are going to eat long before you get to your destination. My son was talking about the mussels, one of his favorites, long before we arrived in Maine. He enjoyed his meal even more after he harvest, cleaned and helped prepare them.

Coming up! The recipe that we enjoyed in Maine -- Lobster Enchiladas with Pipian (Mole Verde). It was so GOOOOOD! Picture below.

As always . . . Peace, Love and Good Food.

Chef Ana

Friday, July 24, 2009

Kids and Cooking, Kids for Free at La Villa Bonita

Coming Very Soon! My favorite topic: Kids and Cooking. This series of blog entries is very close to my heart. I firmly believe that if kids are introduced to the kitchen early, it can actually bring the family closer together and give them a great appreciation not only for food but where it comes from. No more chicken fingers, hot dogs or horrible children's menu. They won't want it!

To intoduce this new series to our blog, La Villa Bonita is offering an incredible opportunity. August has been declared a Family Month at La Villa Bonita. KIDS JOIN US FOR FREE FOR SELECT AUGUST DATES! Click for more information. Lets have fun as a family this August!

More to come!

Peace, Love, and Good Food,

Chef Ana

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mexico Meets Colombia: Guajillo Chicken Stew

Okay, todays recipe may make no sense unless I give a little context. I am close to signing an agreement with a major cookware manufacturer in the US market. We met with them last week and saw their current products which have primarily focused on the carribean hispanic market in the US. The gave me a sample of their products to take home and use in relation to the type of cooking that I do. One of these pots is called a caldero.

The caldero is a traditional Colombian pot close to a dutch oven that is great for rice dishes and stews. A sancocho, which is one of the national dishes of Colombia, can be made in this type of dish. It is made of thick cast aluminium but it is very light. This dish in Mexico we would call a budinera and use for something totally different -- a budin or custard in English.

So, I took on of the big calderos and decided to create a new recipe for our family lunch - Guajillo Chicken Stew. I have to admit it turned out great. I love stews even in the summer. It is great comfort food as I grew up with lots of rustic stews that we would have for a simple lunch. So, LETS PLAY WITH OUR FOOD!

Click for the recipe in PDF (Adobe) format. Ana's Guajillo Chicken Stew.

Peace, love and good food,

Chef Ana

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July from La Villa Bonita

My son said that I could get a temporary "green card" to celebrate the 4th of July if I made a cake with him for a party we are attending. We made a vanilla chiffon cake with a layer of lemon curd plucked from our trees, raspberries and blueberries for the stars and stripes and a whipping cream icing.

More coming up soon on kids and cooking!

Peace, love and good food!

Chef Ana

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Best Ceviche Ever (with Recipe)

Last week we decided to take a break and visit some friends in Puerto Escondido. It is very easy trip from Mexico City with a short one hour flight. On the other hand, it is a 13-15 hour drive in car. With a one and four-year-old, that option was quickly discarded. We have been to Puerto before so this time instead of just enjoying the immediate surroundings we fished, surfed, dined, and enjoyed the town a little more.

My 4-year-old went with my husband and our hosts on an early morning fishing trip which netted great results: a 90 lb. Sailfish and two Mahi-Mahi or Dorados as they are called here in Mexico. Upon the return to shore, the local fish mongers prepared the fish right on the beach. I had the Sailfish prepared like thick salmon steaks and the Mahi-Mahi filleted. Immediately upon their arrival at the house, I decided to make a very simple ceviche with some of the Mahi-Mahi. I chose a simple ceviche because when you have fresh fish like this you want to taste it as much as possible and enjoy the great texture. This ceviche was one of the best I have ever had and the right-out-of-the-sea freshness made all the difference. Wow!

I took the Mahi-Mahi fillets and cut them into 1/2 inch cubes. This is important for a couple of reasons - first the fish needs to physically stand up to the lime. If you cut the fish too thin, the fish will disintegrate into a mushy mess. This is especially true with fish that is not very fresh. Second, you want to enjoy the full flavor of a fresh fish. Keeping it in cubes maintains the flavor in every bite as the lime doesn't totally penetrate the fish. It is very popular in restaurants these days to have exotic ceviches with lots of extra or non-traditional ingredients which overtake the subtle flavor of fresh fish (it may also be a sign that you are not having fresh fish). When you have fresh fish, keep it simple. Don't over complicate the delicate flavor. Everything else should take a back seat.

Okay, here comes my personal pet peeve -- throw away those funny plastic lime concentrate bottles. I know they are there . . . in the back of your refrigerator. . . mocking me. Only use fresh-squeezed citrus as noted in the recipe. In fact, I don't know when lime concentrate is ever needed in recipes. For this recipe, it is important for the acid in the lime to work as it should in "cooking" the fish. Concentrate just doesn't do the job very well. Additionally, I prefer the smaller or mid-sized limes. We don't have those big thick rind limes that you find in the States. I am sure they will work fine if you can't find the smaller ones.

Is your mouth watering yet? Anyone up for a Mexican Coastal Cooking Week in Puerto Escondido? Red Snapper a la Veracruzana, local Rock Lobster in Pipian, Grilled Chile Encrusted Shrimp? Let me know and we will make it happen!

Here is the link to the PDF file for the complete recipe. Enjoy!

As always . . . Peace, Love, and Good Food!
Chef Ana

Monday, May 18, 2009

Biggest Discount Ever at La Villa Bonita this Summer

Have you wanted to come to La Villa Bonita but couldn't quite find it in your budget? Your ship has come in. Now is your time. Pack your bags. Join us this summer! An offer like this will not be repeated.

Respected travel experts like Peter Greenberg are telling travelers that now is the time to travel to Mexico as hotels have a lot of space and are offering big discounts. As well, the timid and uninformed traveler will stay at home making you an even more desired and honored guest! You will be appreciated! La Villa Bonita is no exception.

Summer is a great time to join us at La Villa Bonita. Why? Because it is one of the most temperate seasons of the year. Crazy isn't it? Everyone thinks Mexico has to be hot during the summer. April and the beginning of May are our hottest months of the year in this part of central Mexico. Then cooling rains begin at night in mid-May to make the temperature very enjoyable. The rains start at about 10 at night making for wonderful sleeping weather and the sun comes out during the day keeping it cool but not humid. As the summer progresses, the gardens and mountains become vibrant green with numerous waterfalls emanating from springs in the surrounding mountains.

Ten years ago when we started the culinary vacation packages, we based them on my Iowan mother-in-law's desire to travel and actually learn about a culture instead of vegetating on the beach at some big box hotel. As many of you know, I married an Iowan and I appreciate the well-educated and well-traveled "gentleman farmers" (wink, wink). Phyllis is an incredible person! If you would like to meet her as well as other guests join us from June 21-28. It will be a very special week and we will have some fun "extras."

As well, we have plenty of room for other dates this summer in June, July and August. If you cannot join us for the big sale this summer, you can still get a great discount but you need to make your reservation for post-August dates by May 28, 2009. You will receive a 20% discount but you have to act fast (click on the picture for full details). As usual, the informed person always gets the best deal!

We hope to see you this summer.

Peace, Love, and Good Food
Chef Ana

Monday, May 11, 2009

Chef Ana's Top Ten Reasons to Love Tepoztlan

  1. Tepoztecos do not support chain restaurants. Local producers and restaurants rule!
  3. Tepoztecos are subsistence farmers who live comfortably and are very happy people. Stubborn, but happy. It is amazing what you can do with corn, chiles, beans, tomatoes and squash.
  4. No rat race. Whether for better or worse, Tepoztecos work until they have "enough," . . . then they go home and plan their next party. The social nature of your profession is almost more important than earning money. When I wanted to buy all of the masa for an event from the masa lady, she told me "If you buy everything, what the hell am I going to do for the rest of the day?"
  5. Local traffic police remind me of a strange Mexican version of Andy Griffith's Mayberry (yes, I have seen this show, there is one officer that actually looks like Barney Fife. My Photoshop abilities officially suck).
  6. Excessive amount of fireworks for every festive event (not to be confused with bullets, only Barney has them in town and he drops them a lot)
  7. Did I mention we have a lot of parties here? No one can stop a Tepozteco party, quinceañera, birthday, birth and death of historical figures, beginning and end of wars, every saint, every chapel, every day, party, party, party! Nothing stopped here over the past few weeks, not even for a moment.
  8. In two seconds, you know everyone -- La Casa Azul cheese house, Don Sergio the strawberry man, Doña Toña the butcher, the flower ladies from Tetela del Volcan, your favorite quesadilla stand, the tortilla and masa mill, the traffic cop, the mayor. They will know you long before you know them.
  9. Absolutely courteous traffic. Did you read this one, Chilangos? Read and repeat, please. You are expected to let the other party go through on the narrow cobblestone streets. It is not only appreciated but you will receive the universal dictator's wave in return.
  10. Don't Screw with Tradition -- not only are you are expected to yield to any procession, celebration, or party going on, you are expected to participate. Party on, Wayne! Party on.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Filming Day Two -- Now we are COOKING!

Okay, now we are COOKING! My guests are here, we are having a great time and we are knocking it OUT OF THE BOX! Went to the market today with guests and crew to purchase ingredients for pollo pibil with banana leaves. We also went to the molina or mill for the masa we are going to use for our tortillas from corn grown right here in Tepoztlan. Will offer the recipe soon for those who want to try it. Hope you enjoy the behind-the-scenes pictures.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Filming Starts for Series Trailer!

I am quickly posting some pictures today of the filming. So far we have filmed picking out ingredients in the Tepoztlan market, interviews with Robb and me, and we are just starting to film a cooking sequence at LVB. Trying to get a lot done before the guests arrive later this afternoon. Then I am cooking a gourmet meal for 9 on the terrace this evening! Whew. Hope you enjoy the pics. Will post more as the week goes along. Follow me on twitter at

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Television Series -- Next Steps

I have received a lot of questions about the television series this week. Last week, I signed an agreement with a division of Warner Bros. called the Wolper Organization for the development of my television series. Here is the link to the press release:

Basically what we are doing is developing the show concept, filming the trailer, and then the Wolper Organization through Warner Bros. Television will negotiate a home on major networks or cable. The first question that I am asked is whether this will be on the WB channel because it is being produced by Warner Bros. and the answer is most likely no. The WB and Warner Bros. Television are two separate divisions. Warner Bros. Television produces series for many of the major networks such as NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, Food Network, Discovery, Travel Channel among many others. I am sure you have seen the Warner Bros. logo at the end of shows such as Heroes on NBC for example. That means that Warner Bros. produced the series and sold it to NBC. The job of the Wolper Organization is to find the right home for the series . . .but we are getting way ahead of ourselves!

First, we are going to shoot a trailer towards the end of this week and the beginning of next week on location at La Villa Bonita ( with 3 of our actual guests (God bless them!) and myself. In attendance as well will be Mark Wolper, the head of the Wolper Organization, our PR agent Karen Sperling, and a journalist and author, Karen Leland, who writes for the Huffington Post as well as major newspapers in the U.S. Quite the crowd! Need to get back to work! Lots to do! Follow me on twitter during the filming @chefana.

It is going to be fun!!

Peace, Love, and Good Filming
Chef Ana

Monday, March 23, 2009

Safety in Tepoztlan and La Villa Bonita

I am frustrated today. Many of our guests over the past month have been seeing very sensational reports about violence along the border. They call us up and ask how things are going, making it sound like we are under siege. I say that things are here as they have been for decades -- lots of corn, fireworks, and nice 80 degree weather.

This truly is one of the safest places in the world. In all of my travels, there is nothing that compares to the sense of family, honest hard work, and preservation of traditions as in Tepoztlan. Our guests understand this after only a few moments in our little village. Many guests apologize to us at the end of their stay for bringing up the subject (which is totally unnecessary after seeing some of the media coverage with my own eyes!). My issue is how do I express that to my potential guests and other visitors to my country.

First of all, Tepoztlan is far, far away from the U.S. border where almost all of these incidents are based (about a 15 hour drive to be exact). Tepoztlan is a tiny community made up of small scale subsistence farmers of beans, corn and squash. They appreciate tourists but don't change their traditions for anyone, which is one of the reasons we moved here! It is one of the most safe and efficiently self-policed societies I have ever seen. Even though we have our cadre of local police officers that everyone says "hello" to on the street, everyone in this town knows who you are and what your business is whether you like it or not. It truly is like stepping back to a simpler place in time.

Secondly, I am asking former guests to convey their experiences about being at La Villa Bonita and in Tepoztlan in general. If someone has never been here, how can we better express what the environment is like than through the eyes of our guests. Over the next few weeks, I will be forwarding the comments of our guests.

Thirdly, I will be starting a grass-roots movement of former guests, Mexicans, expats, journalists, business owners, and vacationers to express a balanced view of this wonderful country. As soon as we are up and running I will keep everyone informed through Twitter (, through my blog and on my newsletter.

I love my guests and their passion for my culture. I never tire of that expression of satisfaction when a guest makes chiles en nogada for the first time or when they taste that first tortilla they made with their own hands from the corn itself. It makes me very proud that people appreciate our cuisine and our culture but it saddens me to think that because of this media frenzy the perception exists that something has changed at La Villa Bonita or in this wonderful village of Tepoztlan.

As always . . .
Peace, Love, and Good Food,
Chef Ana Garcia

P.S. For a good article about the issues in Mexico take a look at this article written by a former producer of 60 Minutes who lives in Queretaro. He makes a lot of sense out of this situation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Interview on

On Monday of this week, I gave a 45 minute radio interview on Deb Bailey, who is a career and life coach specifically for women entrepreneurs, conducted the interview. I had a great time. Here is the link if you want to hear the interview in its entirety. The subject was "Women Entrepreneurs: The Secrets To Success." It was fun. I hope you enjoy it!

Click to listen:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Grapefruit Curd Experiment

Many people have asked me what I do in my down time when I don't have guests in the culinary packages. One of my hobbies is to do my own canning and investigation of traditional methods of preserving fruits and vegetables. I have done lots of jams, jellies, compotes as well as preserves. So, this week I decided to do something with my funny little grapefruit.

In our citrus orchard on the property we have lots of different varieties. The previous owner was British and enjoyed her citrus. As a result we have many fruit-bearing trees that produce at different times of the year. We have 3 different types of lemons, 2 types of oranges, 5 types of limes, 3 types of grapefruit, and calamondines (I will do a blog soon on my calamondine liquor which is reposing right now!). A lot of these varieties are old, non-commercial varieties that are not prolific in size or quantity but have very distinctive properties that may not exist any more in the supermarket.

I have this strange little grapefruit tree that grows right next to our compost area(good place to grow, right?). It produces very small yellow grapefruit smaller than a baseball. They were so small that I doubted they had any usable juice. I opened them up and they had a enough juice to put it to use in something. I first used them as an "agua fresca" as we call them here which is juice of pretty much any fruit with a bit of sugar and water as a refreshing drink to accompany lunch with Robb and the boys. It was very good and didn't need much sugar. I decided on a whim to make grapefruit curd and see how it would turn out. I have made lemon curd from my orchard lemons before but never grapefruit. It should have a distinctive taste.

For a printer friendly PDF version click here.

For this recipe you will need 1.5 cups of juice, 2 sticks of unsalted butter, 2 cups of sugar, 12 egg yolks and your zest.

Zest All Grapefruit

Squeeze Grapefruit with Help of Small Person in Pajamas

Separate Yolks

Beat Yolks and Add to Saucepan on Low Heat

Add the Sugar and Whisk

Add the Juice and Whisk

Stir on low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the mixture thickens. Do not bring to a boil.


Add Butter Slowly

Add Zest and Stir

Cool and Add to Ball Jars with Help of Small Person in Pajamas

Seal Ball Jar in Hot Water as with any Preserve