“Chayote – More Than Just a Squash” / Mexico News Daily
First things first: It’s not really a squash. Chayote (pronounced chai-OH-tay) is actually a fruit – but a member of the squash family. Whatever, right? I’d used it like zucchini: steamed with butter, salt & pepper, added to stews, soups and ratatouille (recipe in the article).
I discovered chayote is also great raw, in fruit and other salads, with a subtle sweet taste and texture like an apple or jicama. You’ll find a fruit salad recipe in the column too. Enjoy!
Mezcal: Tequila’s Exciting, Unpredictable Cousin / Mexico News Daily
People wonder why mezcal (and better tequilas) are so expensive. The reasons are actually very basic: The plant itself takes a minimum of four years to mature (most take a decade) and be ready to be made into mezcal. The older the plant, the more complex the flavors and aromas will be; distillers like to say that “mezcal tastes like time.” And many small growers produce only a limited number of liters per year, like certain wines.
Mezcal labels are detailed, and at the very least should carry the variety or varieties of agave used, the state or region where it was grown and the name of the mezcalero who made it. The best will come from Oaxaca, known as the home of mezcal.
My Tropical Table column in Mexico News Daily has more info and also recipes for some delicious, easy mezcal cocktails.
Ensalada Nochebuena: A Traditional Mexican Christmas Salad / Mexico News Daily
Ensalada Navideña or Ensalada Nochebuena is a traditional Mexican Christmas salad made with seasonal fruits. While there are some standard ingredients – orange or mandarin sections, jicama, beets, lettuce, apples, pomegranates, peanuts — each region of the country has a different recipe depending on what’s available. Pineapple, pecans, guavas, fresh coconut – pretty much anything goes! The result is a vibrant, colorful and delicious salad.
I included some recipes for salad dressings to this column too, because it’s the time of year when greens are coming into season. Enjoy!
“Stevia: A Natural Sweetener You Can Make Yourself” / Mexico News Daily
If you buy stevia powder, it will be white because of the extraction process, and about 300 times sweeter than sugar. Homemade stevia powder – from dried and ground leaves – will be a lovely green color, slightly less sweet and not as bitter as the store-bought. Stevia plants are easy to grow, and the powder is incredibly simple to make.
Many people like stevia as a substitute for sugar, and it can be a godsend for diabetics. It’s 200 times sweeter than natural sugar and will be a white powder when you buy it commercially made. A word of caution: Food manufacturers know the average consumer is too busy to read labels, and studies show that the color of the packet is the most important factor in sweetener selection. An example are the little green and white packets of “Svetia,” which contain only 2.5% crystallized stevia in a base of 97% other sugars.
This column contains recipes for making stevia powder and syrup, and a basic conversion chart for using it as a sugar substitute. There’s also a link to a video that shows you how.
“Oh, Behave!” / Mexico News Daily
The restaurant experience has changed drastically in the last few years, on both sides of the table. And I have to say I side with owners and workers as to who should have the last say in most matters of restaurant etiquette. (Hint: It’s not you.) I mean, except for something really unusual and egregious, they know what they’re doing – which is why they’re in the business they’re in. And no matter how wrong or obnoxious the customer is, they’re forced by circumstance to listen politely, nod in understanding, make nice noises and often compensate for non-existent “errors.”
Having been basically a part-time professional eater (otherwise known as a food writer) for three decades, I’ve sat for innumerable hours in restaurants of every type and have observed customer behavior carefully, often against my will. This story is a list of tips for you, the diner, on how to behave in a variety of restaurant situations you might find yourself in.
Here’s the thing: if you really want to be a member of your adopted community in Mexico (or anywhere else for that matter) trust me when I say the etiquette tips in this article are an important part of that integration.
I’m not saying restaurants don’t make mistakes – of course they do! Everyone working there is only human, after all, just like the rest of us. And in a busy kitchen or packed dining room during the breakfast, lunch or dinner rush it’s really easy for something to go wrong. (Those of you who’ve worked in or owned restaurants know what I’m talking about.) This article is just pointing out what your part is – and isn’t – in some of the most common restaurant situations.
“Jamaica Flowers: Not Just for Agua Fresca” / Mexico News Daily
Most of you have probably had agua fresca de jamaica – the refreshing, ruby-red iced beverage that’s served everywhere in Mexico. Chances are a good many of you make it at home, too, as it’s easy, inexpensive and a welcome drink on a hot day. What you may not know is that the soaked flowers can also be used as a delicious and beautiful taco filling.
The flowers have a subtle tart taste that absorbs other flavors and spices. And the texture – once they’ve been sauteed – is not soft and squishy as you might have imagined. When I was testing recipes I even used the filling to make a sandwich, since I didn’t have any tortillas.
This week’s column also explains what exactly this plant is. (No, it’s not the same as the ornamental hibiscus flowers!) Read the full story here.
“Expat 101” / Mexico News Daily
Over the years, I’ve done quite a bit of freelance writing for a variety of expat publications, and have also written articles for M!, the English magazine I published in Mazatlan for 10 years. This topic has of course been a popular and oft-revisited one.
Most of us like to imagine that our expat lives in Mexico will look like the photo above-endless sunsets enjoyed on a beautiful beach-and that can of course be part of our new lifestyle. But there are other more pragmatic things to consider, and that’s what this article is about.
As I was writing this, I was surprised to see that some of my advice had changed. The article discusses things that folks preparing to expatriate, or even those already living in Mexico full- or part-time, would find useful. And for those thinking about making the move, these tips should help make you feel more secure and grounded about what lays ahead.
Some things discussed in the article include how to decide where in Mexico to live – and what kind of housing or neighborhood you ‘ll feel most comfortable in; exploring health care options; preparing your personal documents, phone plan and banking; learning the language; the importance of keeping some sentimental items; and deciding what kind of expat community you want or need.
“Always Keep a Bowl of Fresh Limes On Hand” / Mexico News Daily
The small, sweet bright green limes so plentiful in Mexico – and used in everything – are actually Persian limes, a cross between a regular lemon and a key lime. This week’s recipes demonstrate their versatility, starting with Honey-Glazed Shrimp. (You could also use chicken instead.)
Fresh Lime Cake, frosted or not, makes a lovely dessert and Citrus Cooler, is a twist (pun intended!) on lemonade (limonada).
You can easily make all three recipes, maybe adding some Basmati rice, for a pretty fabulous meal! Provecho!
“Shopping in a Mexican Market” / Mexico News Daily
This is a longer Feature story with all kinds of tips and info about shopping in Mexican mercados: what you’ll find, how the stands are arranged (yes, there is sort of a plan), a little vocabulary and even a warning or two. (Ack! The meat section!)
There’s even a short video of Chava, my favorite butcher at the little Mercado Juan Carrasco in Mazatlan making ground chicken without a grinder. Unfortunately, I can’t upload videos, so you’ll have to watch it here on the Mexico News Daily site.
“The Tropical Table: Eggs” / Mexico News Daily
It’s one of the first things you notice when shopping in Mexico: Eggs aren’t refrigerated. Are they OK to eat? And why do they do that? Check out my story here to find out.
The column includes a basic recipe for fritatta and another for one of my favorite breakfasts, Huevos Ahogados (Drowned Eggs), a traditional Mexican dish that’s really easy to make.
“The Tropical Table: Papaya” / Mexico News Daily
Here’s the second in the series – now running once a week – of my new food/recipe column. This one’s about papaya, an oft-misunderstood fruit.
Until I moved to Mexico, I didn’t really know that there are many varieties of papaya, all with slightly different flavors and textures. And if I’d experienced papaya in anything, it was perhaps in a fruit salad or maybe, MAYBE in a salsa at a restaurant somewhere.
This column has two recipes: one for salsa, and the other for one of my favorite full-meal salads, with beans, rice, papaya, onion, cilantro, etc. And you’ll learn a little bit about how to pick the best papaya, which is the secret to finding one that you’ll enjoy. I know many people think they don’t like papaya, but maybe you’ll give this delicious fruit another chance after you read this column!
“The Tropical Table: Coconut” / Mexico News Daily
My newest project is writing a twice-monthly cooking column for Mexico News Daily. It’s called The Tropical Table, and features info and recipes using local ingredients. The first column is about fresh coconut.
Did you know coconuts have seasons too? The meat will be softer and sweeter at certain times of the year. Recipes for Tropical Oatmeal and a fabulous Green Curry are included with the article.
Are there recipes you’re looking for or questions you have about local (Mexican) ingredients? Do feel free to send me any questions, requests or favorite recipes of your own! And remember, The Tropical Table will run twice a month in the “Life” section of Mexico News Daily.
“Life in Mexico Seems Normal Until You Consider How Little It Costs” / Mexico News Daily
This is my first story for Mexico News Daily, about the actual costs of living in Mexico. It’s proven to be a very popular read – understandably so, because we all want to be able to live comfortably and not be financially stressed! Click on the link above to read the full article.
“Mazatlan: The Pearl of the Pacific” / International Living
I’ve been writing for International Living for a few years now. IL is a huge company, based in Ireland, with multiple sites and print publications, as well as books, audio materials, and conferences held around the world about becoming an expat. Different departments focus on different retirement destinations: Mexico, Italy, Spain and Portugal, Panama and Costa Rica, etc.
Recently they asked me to write a landing page about Mazatlan, with general and specific info about the city I’ve lived in for more than a decade. It was fun to share what I know in the spirit of helping others decide if Mazatlan is where they would like to live too. Here are a few pix of Mazatlan to whet your appetite for a visit! (Click on the link to read the full story.)