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My sister Janet and I met Mimi in the winter of 2017 when she was occupying the room next to ours at the hotel Las Miraposas in Oaxaca, Mexico. Our rooms opened onto a small cement terrace complete with a fountain surrounded by potted flowering plants. In the cool morning air, Janet and I would stop to say hello to Mimi, working on a woodcut at a white wrought iron table. She was always beautifully turned out in an intricately embroidered Mexican blouse worn with simple slacks; her reddish hair perfectly quaffed and her lips carefully rouged. You would not have guessed she was in her upper 80s.
Some mornings, the three of us would join other denizens of Las Mariposas for breakfast on an expansive stone terrace leading to the entranceway. There was always a big lidded earthenware pot of hot coffee from which a woman working the kitchen area would ladle out cups, and she was always kind enough to boil a small pot of water for Janet’s tea. A sweet cake of some sort was on the counter, but Janet and I preferred to have mango yogurt with nutty granola, both bought at a local health food store, or we would wait to see if the tamale woman showed up to ply her stuffed masa delicacies.
We hadn’t met Kathryn, Mimi’s traveling companion, who had left the day before our arrival, but Mimi’s daughter, Anita, was staying at a hotel up the street from us and we became friendly with her, as well. Oddly, the four of us never went out for a meal together, though we would pass each other on the streets of Oaxaca and shared cocktails more than once, sitting on our little terrace at Las Mariposas on breezy evenings.
Upon our return to New York, we kept in touch with Mimi and met her once, in spring, for breakfast at Coppelia, a Latin American luncheonette on West 14th Street in the city, just a block from where she lived. Snug in a booth at Coppelia, over innovative food, sipping Mexican hot chocolate laced with cinnamon, we felt as though we had seen each other only the day before.
Before eating, we went up to Mimi’s apartment. The sun streamed in through the windows, highlighting the extraordinary handicrafts from her travels, particularly to Mexico, and the walls were adorned with her own artwork. Over the years she had dabbled in just about every medium, so there were watercolors, pen-and-ink drawings, wood cuts, prints and etchings. She had printed copies of a woodcut she had been working on at Las Mariposas and which I had admired. It was an intricate rendering of corn cobs complete with silky husks. She made us a gift of one, and we had it framed as soon as we returned home.
A few weeks ago, Mimi invited us to her apartment for lunch along with her daughter, Anita, and Kathryn. Janet and I arrived first and presented Mimi with a bottle of chilled Proseco. The table in the dining room was beautifully and whimsically set. In addition to the bright and colorful dishware, there were diminutive wooden chairs on which sat Mexican dolls. As soon as the others arrived, we toasted each other and Oaxaca—the sites, the cuisine, the culture.
Little by little, Mimi brought out platters of artfully plated food. There was a perfect mound of creamy egg salad with a ramekin of sweet relish; another of tuna fish salad surrounded with a pinwheel of sour pickle wedges; fresh, crunchy coleslaw; chilled cooked asparagus spears; a wooden cutting board topped with brie, camembert, aged gouda and good, crumbly cheddar cheeses; and a large round plate of brioche and challah rolls. Finally, there was an enormous dressed salad of mixed greens, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, scallions, toasted walnuts and dried cranberries. Anita arrived and soon afterwards Kathryn made her entrance.
After the Proseco was gone, we opened bottles of chilled white wine and sat at the table, talking and laughing. I chronicled the meeting of five exuberant and slightly giddy women by photographing us in different groupings, all in front of Mimi’s wood-and-glass cabinet filled with lovely old hard-covered vintage books. Before we left, Mimi showed us her latest woodcuts and asked us to pick one for printing. We are awaiting one of a half-dozen fat bulbs of garlic. And we know we will meet again this winter at Las Mariposas. We are counting the days.
Mixed Green Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette
4 – 5 cups salad greens, such as arugula, red leaf, baby spinach, endive, frisee and radicchio
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/4 - 1/3 cup toasted walnuts
2 scallions, white and light green part, sliced very thinly
4 small, firm cremini mushrooms, sliced thinly
1/4 cup dried cranberries or cherries
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl. Spoon half of the vinaigrette over the greens and toss to coat well. Taste and use more as needed. Serve.
Makes a little more than 1/2 cup
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Spanish sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar (or honey)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon minced shallots
Whisk together mustard, vinegars, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly add olive oil in a fine drizzle, whisking constantly, until mixture is emulsified. Stir in shallots. If possible, let sit about 15 minutes before serving. Whisk again just before using.