Casa de Colores School of Traditional Mexican Cooking

A Unique Culinary Adventure in Cabo

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La Cumbia del Mole

I am re-posting this entry because I have a recent run on classes making mole!  DO check out this amazing video that accompanies Lila Downs singing La Cumbia del Mole.


This entry is inspired by a recent visit from Manuel, a friend born in the Lower Mixtec region of Oaxaca who brought abundant blessings in the form of music and traditional Mexican foods.  In his home town a very few women still make a corn masa journey bread which dates back hundreds of years, called “totopos” although they are nothing like the corn chips we all know and love for snacking.  These totopos were carried by mule drivers on long trips along with dried meats and a dried salsa which could all be reconstituted with water, lightweight and hearty fare for the trail.  Manuel somehow got hold of some totopos, and brought them along to share.  I hope someday to get to the Lower Mixtec to find out just how they are made, before this wonderful ancient culinary tradition dies out.

He also brought along a couple of liters of real vanilla, labeled with the name of the Vargas family who produces it in Papantla, Veracruz where vanilla orchids are grown, based in Carrousel 22 of the Papantla market.  I compared it with the junk they sell here, which smells like an industrial cleaning product next to the real thing, which smells just like the flowers from which it is made.  In Tlaxcala it went for $20 pesos per 3/4 liter.

I would like to share a very special song by the amazing Lila Downs, born in 1968 in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca not far from Manuel’s home town, the daughter of a Mixtec cabaret singer and an American cinematographer and art professor from Minnesota.  She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, having grown up between Oaxaca and the USA, and she performs her own compositions which fuse with native Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya and Nahuatl musical culture.  If you are unfamiliar with her music, much of it appears on YouTube.  I highly recommend you search for and listen to the version of La Cumbia del Mole called “La Cumbia del Mole Video Mix” on YouTube, which presents Lila’s hypnotic lyrics with a cumbia beat — cumbia being a Columbian Caribbean rhythm originating from African slave courtship dances… along with stunning images of Oaxaca, mole ingredients and preparation.  YUMMY!

With love and many thanks to Manuel, here is my translation of her lyrics.  I hope you visit Lila Downs at YouTube and sing along.  ¡Buen provecho!

La Cumbia del Mole, Lila Downs

It is said that in Oaxaca they drink mezcal with coffee

They say that herbs cure bad faith

I love the mole that Soledad is going to grind up for me

My dear Soledad is going to cook up a wonderful mole

From the heavens of Monte Alban, at night I dream of you

It’s made of ground peanuts, the bread is ground as well,

Dried almonds are ground with chile and also salt

That chocolate is ground with cinnamon

Pepper and cloves, moving the mole grinder

They say that in Oaxaca chocolate is made with water

They say in the festival of the little bulls it must burn

For the one who orders the passion of Soledad…



Hola, all!

The answer to this burning question is a resounding YES!  I am amazed at the response to the August culinary tour I designed to allow us to continue to take in Cabo’s traditional Mexican  food scene without losing our cool…  and now I’m hearing from truly intrepid travelers who venture to Cabo at the height of hurricane season–hey, if you’re crazy enough, count me in! 

 Here’s the deal:

I am offering a special culinary tour, Breakfast and Marketing in Mexico, to take in Cabo’s burgeoning traditional Mexican food inlets and outlets.  This four hour experience, 9am to 1pm, will take you off the beaten path and into the heart of Mexico.  

We fortify ourselves for our shopping expedition with a discussion of Mexican foods over breakfast Mexican-stye at a popular cafe where everything is made fresh daily in a spotless kitchen.  Then we walk through air-conditioned markets reviewing basic ingredients including breads, meats, cheeses, chiles, fruits, vegetables and herbs. 
We wind up our day with an antojito and a cold drink at a true artesanal tortillera, where masa is made the way it has been for a thousand years (increasingly rare even on the mainland of Mexico), watching women making classic corn masa antojitos like quesadillas de comal, sopes and gorditas with freshly made mouth-watering fillings, served up with hand made salsas and fresh nopal (cactus paddle) salad!   You can use what you’ve learned to prepare foods you sample during our day together and other traditional dishes using recipes you take home from our tour to share with friends and family. 
 Interested?  Let’s do it!  I’m all fired up!
Have a great summer wherever you are… and stay cool!
Muchos saludos,


Next time you’re driving down Baja, try to hit Ensenada on a Sunday and stop in at Marcelo Castro’s recent addition to Baja’s quiet gourmet food and drink revolution.  Take the short drive 40 miles east of Ensenada on federal highway 3 to Ojos Negros to see what it’s all about.

Now, in addition to incomparable seafood, fantastic organic produce, olive oil and wines all made possible by sea breezes which create a very special micro climate perfect for all these culinary treasures, Marcelo Castro has installed America’s first stone cave for aging artesanal cheeses the way it’s been done for generations in Europe.

It makes sense.  Marcelo is a fourth generation artesanal cheese producer, following in the footsteps of his Swiss-Italian grandfather who brought the family tradition to Baja, making cheeses for American and Mexican cowboys in the valley historically known as Valle de San Rafael.  The family business expanded to include the Ensenada-Tecate-Tijuana triangle, then the entire country of Mexico.

Marcelo’s ambitious project allows him to turn out 400 kilos of exquisite artesanal cheeses daily, and the stone cave has a capacity for 10,000 pieces at the perfect humidity and light exposure for European quality cheeses.

Artesanal doesn’t just encompass cheese production, either.  Marcelo’s grows and feeds their own livestock, milks the cows and takes it from there!  And yes, you can drop in on Sundays for a tour that allows you to see just how it’s being done, and to sample the fare, including the Valley’s famous wines.  Google Cava de Marcelo for more information. 

It’s an exciting time for foodies in Baja!  Come for lunch…



High praise indeed!

Why I give Donna Somerlott and Casa de Colores the highest recommendation…By Barbara Levinson

The special new man in my life and I both enjoy cooking and experiencing diverse cultures. He has owned a condo in Cabo since the 1980’s and I’ve driven a fair amount through regions in   Mexico . Still both of us marveled at our adventures in traditional Mexican Cooking with Donna, at her home Casa de Colores.   Donna is a beautiful person, her home is an artful assemblage of Mexican folk-art/ nature/and craftsmanship, her professional Mexican culinary “classroom” is a place for connecting while cooking and  the actual classes far exceeded our expectations (which were high to begin with).

Having found Donna on-line, via emails we discussed menus, options, costs and logistics. Donna offered a smorgasbord of whatever we wanted; group or individual classes, set or eclectic menus, market tours etc. What was consistent is that the recipes consisted of authentic regional Mexican dishes and the cost for these experiential classes was far less than a meal at a  quality restaurant..

We opted for the market tour, the basic traditional Mexican cooking group class and a private class with an eclectic self-selected menu (enchiladas, a signature fried fish with garlic chips sauce and tortilla soup). Every dish was filled with colors and flavors of Mexico .

Not only were the recipes  that we prepared delicious; as in most classes, it’s about relationships. Donna, an ex-pat from Arizona has fun with her students and meets their every need, transportation if needed,  aprons for men and women, tequila, a couch for a quick snooze or for those academically inclined- a certificate of completion to display with other degrees.

This was a formidable experience that we both highly recommend to all who visit this region; couples, families, single men or women etc. Other than being with each other- this was the highlight of our trip. Even if cooking is not one of your passions, the experience will broaden your conception of regional Mexican cuisine; you’ll have fun and probably enjoy the best meals of your trip.


UNQUESTIONABLY… Mexican food is growing ever more popular in the world of good eating, and the pressure is on for quality authentic ingredients.  One of the most essential is queso… Mexican cheeses which are rapidly moving beyond Latin enclaves into mainstream markets. 

There are at least a dozen different Mexican cheeses which are now being produced in the West, about half of them widely distributed — the rest you have to search out locally or over the Internet.  Some are known by more than one name, and most are made from cow’s milk.  Most are white or cream colored with a mild, fresh taste, though a few are sharp and intense, perfect for garnishing spicy Mexican dishes.

The way they behave in cooking divides them into three categories:  Fresh, mild cheeses that hold their shape when heated; good melting cheeses; and aged, sharp, crumbly ones. 

Fresh and melting-type cheeses should be used quickly, as they tend to spoil.  Once the package is open, eat or use within a few days — the melting types may hold up to a week.  If the taste and smell is sour or the cheese is discolored, toss it.

Saltier cheeses contain less moisture and keep longer under refrigeration.  The same rules apply — if it smells or looks off, out it goes.

Look for Panela, a very fresh, mild cheese made from curds drained in a basket — the cheese will bear the attractive pattern.  It has a squeaky texture similar to fresh Italian buffalo mozzarella.  It softens but doesn’t melt and is great in sandwiches, salads and soups.  Try pan-frying slices in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, or grill it.

Queso fresco (also known as ranchero) is another fresh cheese with a slightly salty taste and somewhat crumbly texture.  Substitute farmer’s or ricotta cheese.  Softens when heated, but holds its shape.  Traditional topping or filling for tacos, tostadas, chiles rellenos, enchiladas, quesadillas, beans, etc.

Chihuahua (get Menonita if you can) melts beautifully like jack or cheddar.  Shred or slice into quesadillas, enchiladas or anywhere a melting cheese works.  Can become stringy if overheated.

Oaxaca is a string cheese wound into balls of varying sizes, or sold in strands which may be pulled apart like a typical string cheese.  Great in quesadillas, nachos etc.

Manchego is another common melter — use like Chihuahua.

Cotija (or añejo, aged cheese) is crumbly, salty and a bit pungent.  Depending on how it’s made, it can be soft like feta, or firm and more complex, like parmesan.  It can be used like feta or parmesan, and is the traditional garnish on tacos, enchiladas etc.

There are many more, but I hope this will get you working with whatever Mexican cheeses are available to you, and on the hunt to find more!

¡Buen provecho!



I find surprisingly little written about the vibrant, colorful pre-Hispanic market in Tlaxcala, capital city of Mexico’s tiniest state also named Tlaxcala.  During my recent trip I dropped by the Governor’s Palace to feast my eyes upon beautiful murals depicting the market as it was in the heyday of the Nahua people who founded it in the 13th century, long before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.

Tlaxcala’s market still operates in the same spot, selling many of the same foods and goods that were sold hundreds of years ago, possibly by ancestors of today’s vendors.  This creates nothing short of a magical market environment which increases exponentially with the addition of a huge weekend market set up under tarps, including the spirited sale of live animals. 

As I shop, I enjoy looking at the faces of the vendors and customers as much as the colorful and endless array of goodies.

The cuisine of Tlaxcala is similar to neighboring Hidalgo, Puebla and the Federal District of Mexico City.  You will find barbacoa, mixiote, tamales and quesadillas de comal made with a wide variety of fresh local ingredients including edible insects considered to be great delicacies like escamoles (ant eggs) and maguey larvae. 

Mixiotes are the outer membrane of young of maguey cactus leaves, removed in sheets to wrap little bundles of marinated meats and chiles to be steamed as you would a tamale like these beautiful pre-Hispanic Tamales de Pescado, fish tamales made with local freshwater fish stuffed with more teeny tiny fish.

There is a beautiful variety of mushrooms, both cultivated and harvested from the wild, squash flowers, cactus fruits and nopales, multicolored ears of corn and of course, the bitter herb epazote.  The selection of dried chiles reflects Tlaxcala’s love of moles, simple ones for everyday and more elaborate moles like those of Puebla for special occasions.

Though I saw few tourists in Tlaxcala, I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a truly Mexican experience off the beaten path. 

¡Buen provecho!


Crazy for Cruisers in Cabo!


I have been cooking a lot lately with people coming to Cabo from all over the known universe on cruises.

 Many people want to find alternative activities that allow them to see the real Mexico.  Small, personalized cooking classes are perfect  – I love to share moments of discovery as we take a little cook’s tour to buy fresh ingredients on the way to class, and to visit my unsung heroes, the cooks of Mexico who nourish a nation, hard at work.

 I fulfill my mission to share Mexican culture through traditional foods when I take cooks off the beaten path, introducing them to flavors and culinary experiences they would otherwise miss.  I know from letters I receive when people return home that they continue to use new flavors and techniques they learned during their Cabo stopover to create their own Mexican specialties – the ultimate souvenir! 

People comment that our time together is the highlight of their cruise, and these enthusiastic visitors also create extra special memories for me — and in many cases lasting friendships based on good company, good food and good times!  What could be better?

 ¡Buen viaje y buen provecho!