Once upon a time (back in 2004) in a utopian bubble known as college, two native Nebraskans decided to seek a bit of adventure before they entered into their senior year. Both students at Northwestern University (though not friends before they went to college – Nebraska roots bond everybody), they stumbled upon a study abroad program in Mexico City that looked to be just the thrill that they were looking for.
“Mexico City!?” Some people would ask. “Why on earth would you pick Mexico City!?”
“Because…it’s…different.” Jamie would say.
When I tell people that I studied abroad in Mexico City, they always look at me a little strangely. After all, it seems the only time we hear about Mexico is in reference to all of the crime and government corruption. However, when I think of Mexico, I think of a country full of welcoming people, breath-taking scenery, and, of course, delicious food.
I spent 3 months in Mexico during the summer of 2004, and though I didn’t know what was pulling me the country when I chose the program, I knew when I left that it was the place I was meant to be…
My friend, Molly, and I spent the summer going to a school at a local university, living with an adorable elderly couple and seeing the country by bus (we learned a little bit too, but let’s be honest, is that really the goal of any study abroad program?). We traveled from Acapulco to Cuernavaca, Taxco and everything in between. It was liberating and scary all at the same time. We were actually required to be with a “buddy” at all times in Mexico City, due to the high crime rate.
In the beginning, we had a difficult time adjusting to this new reality – a world where we needed to be more aware and would never feel completely safe walking around. However, as the days went by, we became familiar with our surroundings and began to embrace the colorful culture. I could probably spend a series of posts talking about our adventures from that summer, but I don’t have the time and neither do you. I think the memory that sticks out the most was my 21st birthday, which happened about halfway through our journey.
My Mexican 21st Birthday: Hooters and Food Poisoning
We kicked off the celebration with a Shrek Donkey cake and a program dinner at Hooters (there were a lot of men in the program, and somehow, they convinced me to choose this venue for my birthday dinner…clearly I’m a pushover).
The next day, we left for Acapulco with a few friends. I couldn’t wait to get there, because I was finally going to ride a horse on the beach – one of the top items on my Mexico bucket list! I talked about it nonstop for days leading up to the trip. As we boarded the bus, I began to feel a bit light-headed and noticed a very “unsettling” feeling in my stomach. Throughout the bus ride, the stomach pain got worse and worse, the nausea set in…and then I knew my worse nightmare had come true: I had food poisoning (I blame it on the Hooters chicken wings, for the record.)
A few hours later, I emerged from the bus, my face white as a ghost. Molly wasn’t quite sure what to make of this, but she did know that her travel buddy had a bit of a record for being dramatic. At first, she assumed it was a minor bout of food poisoning, so she encouraged me to get my bags and line up for the bus to the hotel…
And then I fainted. Yep, I have no recollection of the incident. All I know is that I woke up with an ankle the size of a baseball. Not only did I faint, I fell on my ankle and sprained it very badly.
So, that’s how I celebrated my 21st birthday. Everyone tried to make the weekend fun for me, despite the fact that I had to limp to the bathroom every few minutes and couldn’t really consume alcohol for the big two-one. I thought my dreams of horseback riding on the beach were gone, but on the final day, my ankle felt strong enough to help me get into the saddle (though I needed assistance). It was quite the triumphant, dramatic experience, and we of course, captured it on film.
Looking back on that birthday, I can’t help but smile. Sure, it wasn’t quite as funny at the time, but now it reminds me of how we were able to turn every obstacle from that summer abroad into memories that will last a lifetime.
An Obsession with Mexican Food
Believe it or not, I didn’t actually like Mexican food before I studied abroad. While I enjoyed margaritas and chips and salsa, if given the choice, I would have picked many cuisines above Mexican. But, after a summer full of authentic, flavorful Mexican food, I developed a full-on obsession with tacos, tamales, enchiladas, guacamole and margaritas. In fact, I celebrate nearly every birthday at a Mexican restaurant.
When I finally started cooking post-college, I realized that some of my favorite Mexican dishes were very easy to recreate. The measurements weren’t quite as exact, and as long as some important flavors were there (i.e. cilantro), my Mexican dishes usually tasted pretty good!
This year, for Cinco de Mayo, I decided to do something a little different and recreated my favorite Mexican breakfast, heuvos rancheros. The basic recipe is fried eggs, fried tortillas and tomato/onion sauce. So, how does one healthify this? Check out the recipe!
Healthified Heuvos Rancheros with Creamy Guacamole
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Ingredients: (Serves 4)
- 8 corn tortillas
- 4 eggs
- 4 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 3 tomatoes diced
- 1 white onion chopped
- 1 can diced green chiles
- 1/4 cup red enchilada sauce
- 3 ripe avocados
- 1 lime
- 1/4 cup nonfat greek yogurt
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil
- Olive oil spray
- Use potato masher to mash avocados; add in lime juice, 1 tbsp of cilantro, yogurt and oil. Mix until it reaches the desired creamy consistency, cover and set aside.
- Coat pan with olive oil spray and turn on heat. Add onions and cook for for a couple of minutes. Next, add the tomatoes, green chiles, chili powder and cilantro. Cook on medium heat for a few minutes and turn heat to low. Mix every few minutes.
- Spray tortillas with olive oil spray. In a separate, non-stick pan, cook tortillas on medium heat until each side is browned slightly (about two minutes on each side). Wrap tortillas in foil and place in 350 degree heated oven to keep warm.
- In the same pan, cook up your eggs. For sunny-side up eggs, I cook over low heat and simply cover the egg with a bowl until it is ready.
- Serve one egg over two tortillas, topping with generous portions of sauce and guacamole. Grate a bit of Mexican white cheese over the top for a kick!
The recipe involves a bit of multi-tasking, but if I can handle it, you can too – trust me.
I served the heuvos rancheros with fresh squeezed lime juice (6 limes, 1/2 cup sugar, 4 cups water).
Not surprisingly, the dish was a huge hit with the BF (and not all of them are, my friends). I healthified by decreasing the frying, butter and oil. However, you’re left with the same great taste. In addition, there’s actually a lot of nutritional value in this little breakfast: healthy fats and fiber from the avocado, protein from the egg (yes, it’s ok to eat a yolk every now and then), vitamins from the tomatoes and carbs from the corn tortillas.
It’s the perfect breakfast to eat before a long hike (which we did) or a day full of activity!
Hope you enjoyed the flashback post! Back to the grind…
What’s your favorite Mexican recipe? Feel free to share a link.
Where did you study abroad? Any funny memories?