¡Oye! A LAtina perspective on food, fashion, familia and art.

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The Illuminating Errand

by Laura E. Alvarez




“I must have some shoes that need repair somewhere!” I call from under a flurry of flying shoes as I rummage through the shoe basket. I don’t really do this, but I definitely have that feeling sometimes when I think I need to go see Alex, the shoe repair man. This outing is a cross between Portal to Oaxaca and Mandado a McCabe’s. A shoe repair definitely counts as an errand or as the higher “mandado”. Alex’ is also a portal. Not to Oaxaca, but to Michoacan.

Oh, Michoacan. My dad’s parents came from Michoacan during the Mexican revolution. Because it was so long ago, I do not have a connection with family in Michoacan. On the other hand, I grew up visiting my mom’s family in the state of Tamaulipas, from which she came in the sixties when she married my dad. On one of these visits to Tamaulipas, my brother and I, probably around age 19-21ish, decided to make a trip to Michoacan because we were curious. We visited no family. We were like any other tourists in the capital of Morelia, an idyllic colonial town of cobblestoned streets and plazitas. It hailed in the middle of summer, we ate Mexican pizza, I learned what cafe con leche was in portales amid hanging ferns, and it ended with me getting sick. But that’s just me on any trip to Mexico. The usual.

All of this lead up is just to say that I lack and have hankered for more of a connection to my father’s side of the family in México. The desire to know more about this part of my heritage has lead to my one time addiction to the telenovela, Morelia and to my interest in hanging out at the shoe repair shop… of course!

You can pass by Alex’ on a hot stretch of properties on sunny, touristy Main Street, just a couple blocks from the beach, and not even notice it. Not even notice it, like a Muggle passing by The Leaky Cauldron in a Harry Potter book. The vintage sign and dark windows beckon one in who tends towards the road less taken. Once inside, the mountains of sewn leather and shoe boxes (Well, it is a bit like Ollivander’s Wand Shop!) threatening to topple, make me feel like I am in a cozy forest of shoes. It reminds me of playing in my dad’s crowded garage as a child where I would find relics from World War Two.

I usually busy my eyes with all the shoes left and never picked up, old paintings, and who knows what as I wait for Alex to find my shoes or take my shoes. I always get the feeling as I wait that this time, truly it will be all business, different from other times. And then, just when I think that’s it, that I will leave with no story, it begins. Oh, it can be so suspenseful, this whole “story or no story”… but, there is always a story.

He segues into it so sneakily. I still get tricked sometimes. Don’t see it coming. One moment he is commenting on the needs of my younger son’s style and footwear, the next it is 1984 and he is being asked to buy his own sons Reeboks, and then suddenly we are in 1962 or who knows when, and he is walking around the plaza in a small Michoacan town in one direction with the boys, the girls going in another direction. A girl, drops her shawl, he picks it up, and okay, now we are in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, for sure.

Some of my favorite stories involve food. Oh, listening to food stories by people who grew up in Mexico… one of my favorite pastimes. Even if it is in English, food stories with real Mexicans are flowery and poetic because most likely, after all these years, the person is translating from Spanish in their head when they talk about the wonderful food their mother made them in Vera Cruz or the Yucatan or wherever they grew up. The translation is always so lovely and edible. On one of these trips to the shoe repair I ended up traveling through a portal straight to a beach in Michoacan where I could practically taste the ceviche. I listened to the story about Alex’ childhood, but it was me who was sandy and hungry, sitting on a rough rock under the palm trees in my 1970’s homemade bathing suit, with ceviche juice running down my front… It’s a portal, after all.

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Early Harvest

By Laura E. Alvarez





Clothes Story, here! It’s an early harvest for Fall style. People. If you are not back to school this Fall, then you still need to dress for the harvest. The harvest? Yes, you don’t just get a fresh start if you are starting classes again. You get a fresh start with the harvest. It’s harvest time all over the world this Fall. You planted those little precious seeds last spring, you watered them all summer and watched them grow beautifully. Soon, it’s going to be time to harvest those projects.  Just remember to have a nice bon fire later on where you clear your space of all the old remnants that are left from your process of creation. Yes, you get to do that, too! So many reasons for feasting.

So feast your eyes on this harvest-ready ensemble. Sun drenched scene in late summer: dry leaves on the ground, bright sky, faded wood, chaparral by the sea.

Jeans by Levi’s (wabi sabi by me). T shirt by Giant Robot. Jeans by Levi’s (Wabi Sabi alterations by me). Belt by Patagonia. Shoes by Doc Marten, part of the Pendleton Collection.


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The Update

by Laura E. Alvarez



Remember Give Yourself a Present? This is way-over-the-top Give Yourself a Present. This is double saturated, spilling over, crack the sides from rich abundance Give Yourself a Present. It’s called…

The Update.

Yes, The Update is what is invented when you are off the grid. It is what happens when you are above the ocean fog, surrounded by an organic farm, oak trees, lounging in a dream of a house, far, far above and away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. It is a happening. It is an action. A situation. But you don’t have to travel miles and miles to enjoy The Update. I traveled miles and miles to bring it back to you. Now you can initiate an Update session of your own in your very own condo or picnic blanket or wherever you are dining.

I hope you can see from the above photo documentation that the instructions are very simple. First, create an elegant edible concoction of your own choosing. Something with a bit of flourish. Now, along the way, as you enjoy your delectable treat, your in-home chef (that might be you) must “update” the dish at least two different times (at least two) so that the whole visual experience… or journey, shall we say, is completely and utterly intoxicating. It’s taking things to the next level, and now that I have finally watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I finally understand the distance to which humans will go with the symphony that is dining. So much love in it. So much. And to leave you with another mind blower, because of Jiro, I discovered the world of photographing food at Noma, known as the “best restaurant in the world.” I’m just catching up. I haven’t tried it, but when you see what the food looks like, you might wonder, “But what if they Updated it?!”


Thanks to home chef and primo (cousin), Ben Korman for the Update, one of his many genius weekend inventions.

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Hiromi Paper

by Laura E. Alvarez


Where am I? Hogwarts? Japan? No, I have entered yet another portal in Santa Monica. A little jem of a place bursting, yes, bursting with papers. My three favorite kinds of shops to get lost in are the following:

1) Book stores.

2) Art supply stores.

3) Stationary shops.

What do these three stores all have in common?




Hiromi Paper has been going since 1988 on the west side of Los Angeles. Their reach is international. You can find them at paper conferences all over the world. You can find the papers they have collected in art books, prints, installations… and more – all over the world. They actually know the people who make these papers. Washi. The “wa” means Japanese. The “shi” means paper. Hiromi Paper. You can order their products online. Yes! I follow their facebook page. They also have a lovely blog here. It’s a whole world of Washi.


This represents my Martha Stewart obsession for organization that accompanied my first pregnancy. Good times. I’m not like that anymore, but this little shelf of stationary cubbies does make my heart sing a little.


It’s a slice of cedar tree. That you can write on. I’m not making this up.20140721-234924-85764866.jpg

A sheet of blood oranges to make a grocery list on. See what I mean? It’s another world.20140721-234924-85764100.jpg

Pop, pop, pop. There’s a little secret notebook. And pencil.20140721-234923-85763351.jpg

Okay, now. Here’s the story. My boy decided he would make a book. So he chose the above paper in the middle for the cover. Handmade in Nepal. You can’t go wrong. He loved this photo so much that it is his home screen on his ipad mini.20140721-234930-85770320.jpg

Next, he chose the above paper for the pages of his book. It’s pretty thick, kinda green, Chu Tsharsho, naturally dyed from Bhutan.              20140721-234927-85767955.jpg

Joanna and Yuki are part of the Hiromi Paper team. They are super nice, knowledgeable and helpful. They told my boy he could try drawing on a sample of the Chu Tsharsho, naturally dyed from Bhutan. 20140721-234927-85767198.jpg

The drawing on the sample worked out.20140721-234928-85768798.jpg

It’s all wrapped up so pretty. Stay tuned for Hiromi Paper, Part Two where you see how the book gets made!

Also, check out photos here from when I actually got to teach a printmaking workshop at Hiromi Paper. That was SO fun.


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Portal to Oaxaca

by Laura E. Alvarez


The first time I entered a Santa Monica, California portal to the state of Oaxaca, Mexico was around 1992 when we came upon artist, Fernando Cervantes’ and his wife, Alicia’s gallery and folk art store, Artesanias Oaxaqueñas in it’s original location just off Ocean Park boulevard. It was about ten years before we became friends with Fernando. I remembered how the sweet shop full of textiles and jewelry and more transported me instantly to Mexico. I bought a black and white hand woven Oaxacan blouse and a black clay necklace to go with it. Lovely.

I visited Oaxaca as a child… kind of. I only have a foggy memory of arriving, sick in a dark hotel room, watching everyone leave me behind as I called out weakly, “Bring me back some Oaxacan cheese… please.” I was obsessed with that cheese. I must have thought the cheese would heal me somehow. My family and my uncle’s family were traveling from Acapulco east across Mexico and north up to my mother’s home state of Tamaulipas. Oh, the memories.

Back to Santa Monica as home to Oaxacan portals… Santa Monica is where 94 percent of Oaxaqueños migrate to from the central valley of Oaxaca. Isn’t that amazing? Santa Monica is SO Oaxaqueño. We have so much to be grateful for. The diversity in mole alone… at our fingertips! And look at this:

Unlike many other Mesoamerican Indians groups, the Zapotecs have no legend of migration and their legends claim that their ancestors emerged from the earth or from caves, or that they turned from trees or jaguars into people. Upon death, they believe, they would return to their former status. (John P. Schmal in OAXACA: A LAND OF DIVERSITY)

You thought Santa Monica was just film industry executives in mini craftsman mansions, bamboo yoga floors and breezy easy living… but in fact it is home to cloud people! It’s not every indigenous group that is born from its hometown. This is something special, and when you visit Artesanias Oaxaqueñas, you will experience some of the powerful yet dreamy qualities of this unique culture through it’s current art making practices.

When Fernando’s shop was right on Ocean Park Boulevard, we used to hang at Café Bolivar, an excellent place for coffee, arepas and art shows run by José Carvajal. I was looking for artists for a group show I wanted to curate at Bolivar, and José recommended Fernando for the show, who makes fantastic visual poems with materials both found and traditional like papier mached and painted palm fronds turned masks. From here a great and treasured friendship was born. We would continue to visit Fernando’s shop, not just for gifts, clothing, books, and pieces for our home, but also for the portal.

Yes, the portal. Places like Oaxaca and places like the tropical wonderland of the Huasteca where my mother was from aren’t easy to physically get to, so it’s nice to have these spots where you can almost feel like you are really there. May it be because of food, music, art or storytelling these spots cause everything else to fall away.

In Artesanias Oaxaqueñas the dense forest of wooden fantastical creatures, ceramic trees of life, and tin, beautifully worked mirrors surround you with the very heart and soul of a not-so-faraway land. Fernando’s ever-present artistic energy as he carves and paints makes the shop even more of a portal. I listen to his stories about the Oaxacan artists that he supports by carrying their works –  stories about life size sculptures of people in the fields that represent those that are absent back home. If I walk out the back door of the shop, it feels as if I will emerge into one of those fields, surrounded by copal trees, feeling the soft breeze with hints of ripe blue corn, grasshopper tacos, and squash blossoms cooking in an outdoor kitchen. And then I’ll just be another Oaxacan dreamer, as I close my eyes and imagine a Santa Monica beach full of palm fronds on which I can make my next mask.

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Mandado a McCabe’s

by Laura E. Alvarez


As a kid my parents called them “mandados”. Essentially, the word translates as errands. Every word has connotations. I imagine a paige in a castle running errands. I see someone going to pick up dry cleaning and super glue. “Errand” originates in the Old English word, ærende, meaning “message, mission.” Yet it doesn’t matter who does the errand. It could be anyone. On the other hand, “mandados”… Is it just me, or does it carry more importance? “Mandar” means to command. It’s almost like what the “mandados” are comes from some higher source. It’s like God commanded you to go to the bank to deposit checks or God told you to go send that package to Mexico. My parents always said “mandados” with this seriousness. You don’t mess with “mandados”. You go respectfully, helping to put all positive energy into this command from God. The whole family would go. My dad would drive, my mom would have important documents and packages in hand, and my brother and I would go along when we were too little to stay home.

Once there, we would observe everything. There were people and there were things and there were things to mess with sometimes. There were things and scenes that might end up in drawings later… or a drawing right there if I remembered to bring a sketchbook.

Some people think learning to experience things completely – be it listening, touching, sensing, looking – is half of being any kind of artist. I remember going for walks with my brother and mom all the time and talking about the gardens. Touching plants, smelling flowers, stealing a strawberry or a cutting to plant later. In the fabric store we touched everything, talked about the colors, textures, weights. “Going for a drive”, my dad would point out trees, rain clouds coming, or what used to be where when he was a kid. Always looking, touching, listening. “Did you hear the waves last night?” The ocean was a mile away but in the middle of the night when all was quiet you could hear them sometimes.

We had a “mandado a” McCabe’s Guitar Shop the other day. There was a broken ukulele string in our midst and a higher source was clearing saying that not another day could go by without that ukulele being played. I mean, we had recently discussed with friends at a kind of ukulele-ish bbq that the playing of these instruments might be part of mankind’s fight against whatever evil is obviously forcing us to do bad things to our planet. Obviously.

A mandado to McCabe’s was a real gem as far as mandados go, and as far as full sensory experiences go. It was a high point of our day. The younger son’s friend was all over the old cash register as soon as we walked in. It felt like we had walked into a workshop, a club, an arts center, a school, and a store. There seemed to be teenage boys everywhere with guitar faces (You know, that face they make when they are playing guitar and you are trying to talk to them?) Were there ukuleles, you ask? There was a ukulele hallway of happiness where the young men in our party descended and stayed for the entirety of the visit. The woman who helped us made us feel like we were the first people to ever walk in and ask for a ukulele string. She generously replaced it herself on the guitar altar, behind which the guitar masters sat full of purpose. The masters clearly knew who they were. They were grounded in fretboards, and necks, and bridges. I tried to play it cool, but it was all too exciting. This was a super mandado. I look forward to the next time we are mandado to go there.


I Heart Ice Bat

by Laura E. Alvarez






Okay, this is the perfect kid show as per my post about taking your kids/teenagers to an art show. It doesn’t hurt that it is surrounded by incredible food, toys, and awesome t shirts.  Where is this paradise? Sawtelle Blvd. in West Los Angeles, of course. Sawtelle, land of Japanese markets, Beard Papa, Vietnamese food, sushi shops disguised as Game Stops, and a place that can lift my spirits anytime. The art show is at GR2, as in Giant Robot 2 which is part gift shop, part art gallery.  If you are not already familiar with the brilliance of Giant Robot’s magazine and stores, you just have to go check it out for yourself… or you can prep by checking out their website here.

But let’s get to the show! Uglycon 2014 is a tribute to Ugly Dolls which were created by David Horvath and Sunmin Kim. These adorable dolls redefine the word “ugly” with their wit and unique personalities. When I say wit, I mean the cards that accompany them are so funny in the way they describe each doll’s personality that they add a whole other layer to your enjoyment of them. For example, this description accompanies a doll named, “Wage”…

Wage is a hard worker, just like you! He works at the local Super
Mart and wears his apron to serve his customers best. Does Super
Mart know that Wage works there? Nope.But Wage doesn’t mind.He
likes to put things in bags, especially snacks.

Also hilarious and deep is the book, Ugly Guide to the Uglyverse. There are others, but this one is in our library.

UglyCon 2014 celebrates the ten years that Ugly Doll’s Ice Bats have graced our planet by asking artists to represent Ice Bat in different mediums. The results range from comedic to dreamy to adorable. This is a must-see show for anyone who likes monster-y dolls, and visiting that special place where pop culture meets fine art. It’s a place I like to visit whenever I get the chance. But go soon, soon, soon. This show ends July 9th!!

And… oh yeah, my boys loved it. We went home and brought out our Ice Bats to full display, as we had just learned it was their birthday.


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Make it Up Monday

by Laura E. Alvarez20140615-214626.jpg20140615-214641.jpg20140615-214656.jpg20140615-214721.jpg20140615-214734.jpg

Starting at the top:

1. Homemade left over pinto beans that were cooked in Oaxacan pot. Thank you, Artesanias Oaxaquenias.

2.  Left over sauteed squash and carrots (Abundant Harvest Organics rules) mixed with a little left over ground taco beef (seasoned with chili powder and salt).

3.  Aforementioned items on top of melting colby jack cheese on top of corn tortillas on hot iron comal.

4.  Another corn tortilla on top of concoction. Notice butter on tortilla.  Yum.

5.  Cut up pretty on Japanese plates.

What are these?  Confession. Inspired by evil, weird quesadilla-type things I used to buy in high school at that Taco Bell across the street from the beach after running five miles.  But these are better.  Of course.  Point is, after years of thinking I couldn’t cook, an amazing friend from the U.K. living with us for a while – you know, the type of person who can just open your pantry and make some AMAZING vegetarian (I know this isn’t vegetarian, but that detail makes him even more impressive) feast -, then years of cooking anything but meat because it was too scary, and then following some recipes for a few years, then really paying attention to watching people cook, then maybe tasting some ingredients by themselves, and lastly but most importantly, watching Ratatouille many times, I am able to fully embrace being an artist in the kitchen and making crazy things that actually taste and look pretty good like this.  And that was a long sentence.


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Coffee Cookie

By Laura E. Alvarez




What came over me?  Spontaneous peanut butter cookie making?  I’m trying to be that person.  I might not be my mom who ALWAYS had homemade cookies in the cookie jar, but I can randomly blow everyone’s minds with a surprise baking spree.  Last night I made waffles at 8:30 pm FOR NO REASON.   Straight to teenage boys’ hearts. Cups from Tortoise. Spoons from Tokyo Shop. Plates from La Paloma Market.


Cazbah Cafe beautifulness.  Just exquisite.  The same people work there from 14 years ago.  That’s saying something.  I want ALL the clothes they sell there. That place was made for me.


Shout out to home chef, Cynthia Agustin for the above feast that was so over the top I’m still in a warm bath of gratefulness.  “Do you want vanilla ice cream on your hot, homemade peach pie.”  I’m fainting from happiness.

This makes our life rich. A friend that was moving to New Zealand was remarking that his family’s new life would mean more time for “coffee cookie”, and that this was a standard by which one could evaluate one’s quality of life. “Coffee Cookie” was something we invented when the boys were just babies.  We wanted to carry on with our bohemian artist lifestyle after the kids were born.  So we took them to art shows, they hung out for music recordings and painting sessions, and they did “coffee cookie”.  Just throw the word “cookie” in there and a four year old is happy to accompany you to a cappuccino, sketch, and conversation outing.

In Japan you have tea ceremonies, in México you have “la merienda”, and in England they used to ask us if our kettle was broke if we didn’t offer tea in the first five minutes.  It’s all about slowing down, by ourselves or with others.  Yes, give yourself a present, here we come again.  Just be.  Well, don’t just be.  Be and drink your tea or pretty coffee.  And you know, don’t just be and drink your tea or pretty coffee and nibble on your spirulina churro.  Take a picture before you eat it all. Post it or tweet it or instagram it, show it off some other way or just save it on your phone so later you can look at it and think, “Oh yeah, that was so nice.  Let’s do it again… RIGHT NOW.”


Cafe Dulce blog bomb… AGAIN.  Love you, Cafe Dulce.  Sorry to not dedicate a whole blog post to you… yet.


Love you, Ikea… for your cheap little frother that makes my life so fancy at home – even with almond milk!



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All of Us

By Laura E. Alvarez


All of us.  All of us have struggles and revelations, and we have things to share with each other.  In the same day I listened to Holocaust survivors tell their stories, I guided and watched inner city youth make art about the stories and ask the survivors questions.  In the same day I traveled back to “not the inner city” and attended a mom’s council – as a mom.  Mothers of middle school kids got together to talk about issues they’ve struggled with over the past year with their children.  I think I can be respectful of “what is said in the council stays in the council” when I share my revelations of that day.  Let’s make this short and sweet.  In all cases throughout the day I was  stunned by how brave everyone was, how brave they were to share their stories, their questions, their creative expression about something so serious, so precious to them.  At the end of the day, I realized once again that we are all the same person.  Regardless of age, what kind of car we drive, where we grew up, when we open our hearts, something magic happens in the room.  Just like the youth in that classroom downtown that asked the elders for hugs at the end of their story-telling, more than one mom at the other end of the freeway said they wanted to “hug everyone in the room” after hearing all their stories.  See?  A heart-flower opening leading to another heart-flower opening.  I also realized once again that everyone has something to teach each other. Even an inner city youth to a mom in not in the inner city.  He has something to show her, even.  It’s true!  All of us.