Updated: Oct 13, 2021
Our friends Sara and Sheila arrived in San Miguel the same week we did. In addition to taking five hours of Spanish a day, they signed up for a homestay, living with a Mexican family who speak no English. It is total immerson. Sara and I were in the same class at Academia Hispaño Americana for a month, and really became friends. Even though I stopped going to school after five weeks and got a tutor instead, Sara and Sheila and I have stayed in touch and see each other every week, practicing Spanish.
Sometimes they come to our house, but lately I’ve been going to theirs. Their Mexican host, Candida, who owns the house where they live, cooks three meals a day for them. They have raved about her cooking and about the gracious woman that she is. Next week, sadly, Sara and Sheila will be going on to another three month stay in Peru, and then several months in the Philippines.They are veryconcerned about what Candid and her husband will do for income after they leave. Having students in their home is their only source of income, but because of the pandemic, there are few students who have signed up for homestay this year. My friends suggested to Candida that she give cooking lessons for a fee. I thought it sounded like fun and said I’d like to be first in line. She has worked in restaurants for 30 years, in addition to cooking most of her life for her husband, five children and grandchildren. She is 75 years old and can make anything. “But I am not a professional chef,” she protested “I’m not a teacher. I am just a home cook.” I told Sara to assure Candida that I would rather learn from her than from a restaurant chef. Sara and Sheila must have talked me up, because the next week I was invited to her house for a lesson. “It’s just a simple, typical meal,” she said apologiclly when I arrived in her kitchen. Maybe it was simple, but everything she made was delicious, from the crema, a creamed soup made with chayote, a vegetable like a watery sweet squash, to an incredible salad of arugula, apple, dried fruits, avacado and poppy seed dressing, down to the pan fried tilapia topped with guacamole for the “plato principal,” the main dish. When I asked how much I owed for the class, she said “Not this time, it was an experiment.” After the meal, Sheila, Sara and I walked to a beautiful spacious studio about 10 minutes away for a lesson in tai chi, my first ever. I came home elated from an afternoon of firsts. Cooking in a Mexican home, and exercise to work off all that I’d eaten.
The next week Candida invited me to come to her house to make pesole, a traditional Mexican dish that takes hours to prepare. My friends told her that she should charge $25.00 US per person, which is really nothing when some chefs in San Miguel charge upwards of $100.00 for a lesson and meal. Jack joined me for this one. We spent the afternoon in the kitchen, snacking on guacamole on homemade chips, and jicama slices sprinkled with tajin seasoning as the pesole cooked on the stove. When the meal was ready, with wine and condidments for the pesole on the table, the six of us sat down together to eat, drink and talk. Jack speaks not a word of Spanish, and Candida’s husband doesn’t speak English. But Jack sure knows how to appreciate a good meal and a gracious, smiling pair of hosts. That communication can be understood in any language. When we got ready to leave and I tried to hand Candida the money for our lesson, she shook her head no. “You are my friend,” she said. “Yes,” I countered, “but friendship is one thing and business is quite another.” I pressed the $50.00 into her hand. Jack went home, and Sara, Sheila, Candida and I walked on to tai chi. It was dark when we finished class and Candida called a cab for me and spoke with the driver. Without my knowing it, she had paid for my ride home.