December 28, 2014


This is an adaptation of a holiday letter I sent to family and friends. I have been wanting to blog more but it is one of things that is falling by the wayside in my return to a full-time job in the last couple months. 

2014 was full of happy days and new adjustments. 

In February, I had the great fortune to spend my birthday with friends and family on the coast in Sayulita and Vallarta. Afterward, we drove up the coast to give a reading to the "Writers Who Love Mexico" group in Xaltemba. We stayed in Guayabitos, where there is a lovely wide, shallow beach that is great for kids. 

In May, we were invited to another book talk by the Patzcuaro and Morelia book clubs. We were hosted at the lovely Casa Encantada over Mothers' Day. The local expats there were incredibly supportive to our family and the immigration issue in general. They lamented how terrible the negative narco press has really impacted tourism and business. It's a shame because in my opinion Michoacan is one of the loveliest states in the Republic.

In June, I finished up a four-month temp job as Training Advisor at Peace Corps Mexico, and my parents came to visit. We went up to visit volunteers in the Reserva de la Biosfera de Sierra Gorda and then came back and threw Margo a 40th birthday party. Soon after, we traveled to the University of Guanajuato to give a talk to an American-Mexican law student exchange program hosted by law professor Beth Caldwell.

This spring, we foster-homed a wheaten Scotch Terrier for a few months from April to June. I had taken her from a friend in the hopes that we could adapt to a dog in our lives, and it really was great for her to have more space to roam. However, Margo is not particularly fond of dogs, and didn't have sufficient resources to care for her properly (we lack fencing, and she roamed...and future vet bills would have been a problem). I eventually realized the best option would be to rehome her. Lucky for the pup, a coworker and his wife adopted her permanently, and it's a much better living situation for her. Everyone turned out happy!

Soon after we got an aquarium, which is definitely less time-consuming than a dog, but is still a mix of disappointment & delight :) I may have a green thumb but aquaculture seems to be a whole new learning experience for me.  To renew my faith in my ability to foster living things, planted a few garden boxes and held a late summer/early fall home gardening workshop series. This summer I also started a new regular exercise and physical therapy routine...which has been a nice little bit of time and care for me.

This fall we began to edit a translation of Amor and Exile with the hopes of completing an edition in Spanish. It's been an incredible way to improve my written Spanish, and we are working with an incredible team of volunteer editors (Mexican nationals) who are as committed to the vision of truth-telling on the issue of undocumented immigration as Nathaniel and I have been. Look for it in 2015. 

In November I returned to work full-time at Peace Corps as Interim Environmental Education Program/Training Specialist. I went on my first official volunteer site visit to Puebla and Oaxaca only a few weeks after starting. I hope to earn the permanent position in the near future...I feel like Peace Corps Mexico is a place where I can grow and contribute in a way that I had long wanted but had been unable  to achieve in exile. I am so very grateful for the incredible team of coworkers and the opportunity to provide training and support to volunteers who dedicate their lives to service in far flung rincones of this country! 

In the meantime I am now charged with maintaining a balance between work, home, and aspirations for the future. My daughter amazes and challenges me daily, and Margo impresses me with his reserves of commitment, devotion, and cariño for this family. Like any nuclear unit, we struggle to maintain connections with our extended family, but I feel very grateful for consistently supportive parents and for the blessings we´ve received from our wider community of friends and networks. Onward to 2015! There will be much to experience and discover. Felices Fiestas desde de la Tierra de la Flores de Nochebuena!

Elimination Diet Wrap-Up

I neglected to do a timely overview of the results of my elimination diet experience when I finished it, mainly because life got in the way. But overall I loved doing it because it gave my diet a much-needed injection of clean living with vegetables and protein sources. I only ended up losing a few pounds as a side effect, but I'll take it! :-)

About the results. I was expecting a gluten sensitivity. But I could not detect one. My naturopath thinks that if I still have thyroid antibodies, I might try to go gluten-free again for a while. But that's going to require time and testing. I'm up to the challenge though!

I am not surprised that I have a little sensitivity to chili peppers. I think we all probably do to some extent. It's kind of like a necessary evil living in Mexico. It's one that will have to be consumed in moderation though.

The big surprise from this diet was that I discovered that I have a sensitivity to eggs and potatoes. Both give me gastrointestinal symptoms, but I'll spare you the details. I even tried challenging them a few times afterwards, but it's really true. No more french fries, mashed potatoes, and omelets. I almost feel like I should be crying as a type this, because these were two totally cherished components of my regular diet (I even raise egg-laying chickens!) and I was NOT expecting to be sensitive to them. But I was also not expecting to feel as indifferent as I do about letting those two foods go. I still have small amounts from time to time as they are often ingredients in commonly-served meals (pancakes, for example...). But gone will be the days of having these as my main course. Oh well!

I was also happy that as a result of having done this, I have more empathy for folks who are gluten-free, and I have something to contribute when people talk to me about food issues they have or if they too are considering trying the diet. The coolest thing perhaps was being able to examine my own self without having to go to a lab for tests.

To that end, here is the wrap-up of several go-to recipes I made while I was on the total elimination diet, as well as a few from when I started to challenge. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I hope to keep coming back and adding to it as time permits. Happy Food Trails!

During the total elimination phase
During initial Challenge Phase (these recipes are not all 100% elimination diet, because they include one or more challenged ingredients):

August 23, 2014

Elimination Diet: Final Two Weeks

I didn't post about my experience with the elimination diet, partly because I was busy, and partly because I was just wanting to hurry up and get it over with. I wasn't seeing a lot of difference—I lost no weight at all—and I continued having my typical aches, pains, & hayfever.

I was also getting impatient to start challenging the multitude of foods I'd been missing for weeks (wheat, dairy, eggs, sugar, corn, nightshades, alcohol, citrus, preservatives, etc.). I was holding up pretty well, considering what a major change it was to avoid all the above foods. The fact that each one of those foods takes 3 days each to challenge one by one (1 day to consume and 2 days to observe any effects—suspending again if no effects are noted) meant I was looking at at least another month of almost elimination diet. Of course, if you don't note any effects from the re-introduced food after the 3 day challenge, you're okay to incorporate it back into your diet.

The bland factor of this diet—no lime, chile, or sugar—meant occasional taste frustration for this chica, and so although I used a wide variety of spices, I also found myself upping the salt intake more than normal—not a healthy habit. So needless to say, I started getting antsy to get on with things, toward ending this elimination phase, and start challenging. Going to parties where pizza, beer, & dessert was served or having the endless explanatory conversations with friends and colleagues was getting a bit old as well.

On the other hand, there were a few noteworthy benefits of this diet. For example, I definitely upped  my intake of fruits and vegetables to a degree beyond what I had been hoping for originally. I also noticed myself chewing slower (to maximize whatever enjoyment experience I was having with bland-ish food).

I started challenging a few days ago—which is to say, I ended the elimination phase a few days early. The first food I challenged was the one I'd been craving the most—sugars. Interestingly, I didn't go straight to the white sugar (I gave up most white sugar & white flour a year ago), but for the taste thing—maple syrup. Then some honey in a salad dressing. No negative effects that I could observe. I did have a bit of a sad spell that same afternoon but since I've been under stress lately, I didn't attribute it to the sugar, though I wouldn't rule out a sugar low as a possible factor. I began to challenge corn today with none other than corn tortillas. So far so good.

I also am grateful to be increasing my repertoire of delicious protein-rich and vegan recipes. I never ended up learning how to butcher a lamb. But not overdoing it on the animal fat and protein, and replacing them with plant-based alternatives is never a bad thing.

Here are a few more recipes I've enjoyed in the last 2 weeks (adapted in some cases to adhere to the diet):

During initial Challenge Phase (these recipes are not all 100% elimination diet, because they include one or more challenged ingredients):

I will be doing a separate post for more of the recipes during my challenge phase, and will do a recipes wrap-up for the full two months at the end of this all :-)

Spinach-Walnut Pesto

This is a totally vegan, elimination diet-friendly recipe that is a spin-off of the traditional pesto recipe. I already experiment with alternative pesto recipes in my cookbook The Bajio's Bounty by adding cilantro in with the basil. But this pesto recipe goes even further and only has 8 simple ingredients:

3-4 cups fresh baby spinach
1/2 c. olive oil
1/3 c. walnuts
1 clove raw garlic
1/8- 1/4 c. water
1/2 tsp. vinegar, or 1/2 squeezed lime
black pepper to taste
salt to taste (1/8-1/4 tsp)

It's very easy to make with a blender. You simply place the walnuts, garlic, and olive oil in the blender and blend on medium power until smooth. Then you add 2 of the cups of spinach and 1/8 a cup of water and continue to blend until smooth. How much more spinach, water, salt and pepper depends on your tastebuds and how much of a workhorse your blender is. Once the pesto is blending smooth, you simply open the lid and keep adding a few spinach leaves at a time until it gets too thick to blend well, at that point you can add a bit more water if you still have more spinach to blend. Store in a tightly-closed container and consume within 1 week or freeze.

Experiment with adding basil, cilantro, or other fresh herbs to this recipe, it can only enhance the flavor. Enjoy with pasta, french bread, or as a garnish over dishes.

Crunchy Cumin-Celery-Chicken Tacos with Tahini Dressing

I have been on the elimination diet so I've been getting creative with vegetables, and that influenced this twist on the classic "tacos dorados" of Central Mexico. For others on the elimination diet, this recipe can be consumed once corn is "challenged."

Taco Filling
4 small scallions, chopped (white part)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 stalk celery, minced
1.5 cups cooked chicken breast, chopped
2 tbsp. chicken broth or water
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
black pepper to taste
salt to taste

Taco filling
Cooking oil or olive oil (regular, not virgen or extra virgen)
10 corn tortillas (6" diameter)

1 tbsp natural tahini
dash of powdered ginger
dash of garlic powder
1 tbsp. preferred vinegar or lime juice
salt to taste
1 tbsp. natural yogurt (optional)

Thinly sliced lettuce and/or baby spinach

Saute the scallions and celery in the olive oil until transparent. Add the chicken, spices, broth or water, and stir until heated through. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare dressing and greens for topping in separate bowls, set aside.

Warm the tortillas just until flexible (flip once) on a hot griddle, keep warm in a stack inside a folded towel. Heat a cast iron or stainless steel large frying pan and add oil to about 1/4" deep, medium-high heat. Place a heaping tablespoon-full of filing inside a tortilla and fold in half. Make about 4-5 (as many as will fit side by side in the frying pan. When the oil is hot, place (carefully!) the folded tortillas in the pan, they should bubble and hiss slightly. When the bottom is light golden-brown (check with tongs), flip over gently, careful not to drop filling into the pan. When both sides are golden, place on a wire draining rack. Continue to fill and cook tacos in this way until all are done.

To assemble a finished taco, open a tortilla and place a small amount of garnish inside, and drizzle with dressing. Serve 2-3 per serving while hot.

August 10, 2014

Elimination Diet: Days 4-7

I DID IT! I made it one week on the elimination diet.

I wasn't sure I was going to make it...especially around Days 4 or 5. I was having a hard time, mainly because I was feeling a little bored with the options and craving sweets. So I tried mixing up meals and ingredients again (reaching further back into the fridge, looking up new recipes). I also took spirulina which helped with the sweets craving.

I can definitely say that I feel a difference. At first it felt "edgy," then it felt "clean," and now I feel like I've just plain had more vegetables in the last week than I've had in the last month. I think that's a good thing... :-) I will be curious to see if any weight was lost in the 1st week. To be clear, this is *not* a weight-loss diet, but my doctor said almost everyone who's on it does.

For the 1-2 weeks to come, I am ready to move on to new horizons, like getting some local meat, i.e. lamb. My brother-in-law has sheep, and lamb, a meat I really like, is on my "ok" list. But as for how to get it to my plate... well that will take some investigating. I think it's a bit more than what's involved with butchering and skinning a rabbit, or taking the feathers and gizzard out of a chicken. We shall see if my quest will be fulfilled.

But in the meantime... new highlights from the last few days:

Stay tuned...

August 6, 2014

Day 2-3 of the Elimination Diet

Today, the third day on the elimination diet prescribed by my naturopathic doctor, was the first day I started craving some things. Mainly sugary things. But also cereal in the morning. The crunch was what I missed actually.

The other thing I'm noticing is cooking copious amounts of vegetables and whole foods is quite time-consuming. I'm lucky I'm not working mornings right now... hopefully by the end of this I'll have learned more tricks for making it more convenient, larger batches and freezing maybe.

But I have been having fun delving back into more whole foods in general. I'm actually surprised at how many options I have that aren't "off limits."

Breakfasts have centered a lot on amaranth, fruit, almond milk, and nuts.

Lunches and main dishes are centering a lot on some sort of veggie and/or legume dish with a rice-based side.

Fruit and nuts (in some form) for snacks are common, and I've only had one salad since I started this—I'm not confined to lettuce.

Highlights from the last couple days:

-Banana "sorbet" (frozen mashed overripe banana mixed with almond butter, recommended by my mom)
-Fava bean soup (From the Healthy Cook by Rodale Press)
-Wild/Brown Rice Pilaf with Mushrooms (also from the HC)
-Sweet Potato Home Fries (seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, roasted at 250 C for 30 min)

I made this up myself, it will *definitely* be repeated after the diet is over. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, I was craving comfort food & I got it, in a healthy version. :-)

August 4, 2014

Day 1 | The Elimination Diet

I'm following the elimination diet for 21 days and this is Day 1.
Today I started out with plenty of the following, in various combinations.

  • amaranth
  • strawberries
  • almonds 
  • almond milk 
  • mango with papaya & cashews
  • cauliflower and garbanzo with ginger, mustard seed, onion, garlic, and coconut milk over rice
  • Rice cakes with avocado and sardine
  • Apple-walnut-chicken salad on a bed of lettuce, with olive oil, salt & pepper
  • Rice cake with almond butter and mashed banana
So far so cravings that I am noticing except maybe a little for the sugar & I am sprinkling extra salt. Must be careful there. My daughter ate almost everything I had too except the cauliflower and the breakfast. The meals have been good-tasting and satisfying. So far a squeeze of lime has been the only thing I've really missed. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

21 Days to a New View of Food | The Elimination/Anti-Inflammatory Diet

From my Facebook wall this past weekend:

"I'm finally taking my naturopathic doctor's advice and going on the full elimination diet for 3 weeks to see if I have any food sensitivities. I got the allergy prick test panel >10 yrs ago and no food allergies other than soy showed up, but I did register mega allergies to pollen and a mild soy allergy. 10 years later, I still have the hayfever, and I also have IBS and reason to suspect that Hashimoto's might be causing my thyroid dysfunction. So I figured it's about time to take a closer look."

So, for the next 21 days, this is the list I'll be following:


Gluten (wheat, barley spelt, rye)
Sugar (sugar/sweetener of any kind)
Dairy (cow sheep goat)
Beef, pork, chicken with skin, eggs (duck ok), shellfish
Peanuts, peanut oil, peanut butter
Canola oil, cottonseed, hydrogenated oils
Juices (veggie or fruit) and oranges & grapefruit
Corn & corn products
Soy & soy products (soy sauce, tofu, tempe, edamame)
Alcohol, coffee, and black teas
Nightshade veggies (eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes)
Processed foods and food additives (flavorings, colorings, what you can’t pronounce)
Allergens or irritants


Organic Vegetables- all colors and lots of them (fresh or frozen)
Organic Fruits (fresh or frozen, NOT dried)
Rice, Quinoa, buckwheat, Gluten free oats
Meat hormone free, grass fed, wild: skinless chicken, Lean lamb
Nuts and seeds (especially walnuts and fresh ground flaxseeds)
Fish: salmon (wild Pacific or Alaskan- Not Atlantic), halibut, sardines
Fats: olive oil, flax oil, walnut oil, avocados, coconut
Herbs and spices (especially tumeric, ginger, cumin, garlic
Tea (herbal)

Also from my FB wall: "I love natural foods but am on a tight budget, get stuck in ruts, and I have 2 other people in the house to feed... so I'm looking for the easiest, cheapest, yummiest recipes with ingredients from the 'what I can eat list.' "

I'm really interested to see what will happen or what I will find out about myself as a result of going on this diet. I'm guessing it will be at least a little hard to eat many of the foods I normally eat, and maybe a little harder when I'm at parties or when my husband and daughter are eating something I'm "off of." But it will probably be good to have to mix up my food routines and eat more of food I don't eat as often. Later on, when I introduce foods back in, I might discover some foods I'm sensitive too.

I will be trying to post daily with any new recipes I am creating or trying. Wish me luck and post recipes if you know of any good ones... they need to adhere to the list I'm working with, at least for the first 21 days. In the meantime, I look forward to a new view of the food I eat.

May 24, 2014

Una nueva cara de las despedidas en mi vida | A new side to the goodbyes in my life

It's unusual to have 4 despedidas in a span of less than a month.

When I think of despedidas, I think of the one we had in September 2006 in Half Moon Bay just before we left for Mexico. We had already said goodbye to part of my family in NY, and to my parents, brother, and now sister-in-law who'd come to say goodbye to us in California.

That was the last time Margo has seen my sister-in-law.

Or some other despedidas that invariably began to occur when I started making friends with expats who, after living in Mexico for a year or two, moved back to their homes in any number of countries with relatively better economies in other parts of the world. Those goodbyes stung unexpectedly; I was surprised by a rupture of attachments that I hadn't even realized I'd made. I mended my heart in those moments and then resolved to not "get so close" to the ones "who wouldn't stay."

Time passed, things changed, my social circles stabilized, and I focused my attentions closer to home, became a mother. The focus drew more deeply toward my immediate family. I found steadfast friends close to home. With the arrival of a baby began the ritual of closer touch with family. I began to write. I went through a transformative therapy process. I published a book. Raised thousands of dollars and descended on Congress. Became part of myriad online networks working to give some "home away from home" to those exiled worldwide. Became much, much more comfortable sharing my, once perceived unusual, now clearly commonplace, political situation with acquaintances, strangers.

In the process, I unearthed some of the power that I had been missing since that first major despedida.

Coincidentally, or maybe it is that swell of approaching summer, three friends are departing Mexico within weeks of each other. I regret that I will not see them anymore and that I will not be able to afford to go visit them. It is very likely that our relationships will go the way of Skype calls and Facebook chats, when what I'd much prefer is a face to face glass of wine on a breezy mid-spring afternoon.

But the goodbyes don't feel as threatening anymore. Have I invested less of myself? Perhaps I have cast my net of affections more widely. But I haven't found myself holding back as I once thought I might. As they say, love begets love, and I think this goes for friendships as well.

When I talk to my friends of their feelings upon leaving, it's with a knowing heart of the mixed emotions. I can empathize with their ambivalence about what's waiting on the other side; as well as their steadfast knowledge that despite the fact that the unknown is fast approaching, now is the right time to fly.

I think of the words I shared with the delightful Rin of the Shambala-tradition retreat center Casa Werma in Patzcuaro, where I stayed during my last book talk sponsored by the Patzcuaro and Morelia book clubs.

One of the things we talked about was that the only real place we can find as home is in ourselves, and this is one of the things I have slowly discovered more and more to be true as time goes by. I can hug my friends tight, and not feel jealous of their departure. I can feel fully grateful for the time our paths have crossed. And when I wish them well I know that they will be, and so shall I—no matter how many tears get shed in the meantime.

As for my own fast-approaching despedida from the offices of Peace Corps Mexico in less than 2 weeks, that represents another story. It's a story of an unrequitted quest to find long-term satisfaction, in my profession, in a way that can fulfill my family's needs and my happiness. That is a continuing saga, to be told another time.

P.S. Buen viaje, Mahli, Annie, and Krystal.

January 20, 2014

We're Giving Away Free Copies of Amor and Exile—Jan 23 & 24th—Don't Miss It!

In case you still haven't read my book Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America's Borders, coauthored with Nathaniel Hoffman, now is your chance! We will be giving away free copies of our Kindle version this Thursday and Friday, January 23rd and 24th. Just click here to download your free copy or gift a copy to a friend.

Why should you read Amor and Exile? There are so many reasons.

There are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of U.S. citizens like myself who are separated from their families or forced into exile due to harsh U.S. immigration laws. Those people could be your family members, friends, neighbors, or coworkers—and you might never know it. Amor and Exile explains why families like ours are in this plight.

Immigrants play a huge role in American culture and the economy, but every year it gets harder for people to legally immigrate or adjust status in the U.S. Amor and Exile exposes the draconian immigration policies that have slowly been put in place over the last century, how misguided politicians are attempting to freeze demographics (remember that most of our ancestors once enjoyed relatively lax immigration laws), and how this is negatively affecting America today.

Congress will be debating immigration again in early 2014 and in order to get humane immigration reform passed, we will need informed citizens letting their elected representatives know where they stand. Amor and Exile helps demystify much of the hype behind immigration rhetoric.

And many others...

Let us know what *you* think about Amor and Exile after you've read it, visit our blog at or like our Facebook page at No more excuses—check out Amor and Exile THIS WEEK, and SHARE widely with your friends! Thanks!