March 06, 2015

Beef and Stout Stew… and hellos from Mexico

I made this a couple of weeks ago, on a very snowy day, right before I made my get-away.

It's a simple meal that hits the spot on a cold winter's day: grass-fed beef stewed in a whole bottle of dark beer with mushrooms and carrots, served over mashed potatoes.

I don't usually do this whole running away from winter thing. But one morning a few weeks ago, I woke up to the umpteenth snow blizzard raging outside and thought to myself, you know, I don't have any kids, I can carry my job with me anywhere I go, and I could work on this blasted master's thesis from somewhere sunny because there is nothing tying me down anywhere in this exact moment of my life.

Plus, I was due for a visit to my old stomping grounds, because this winter marks exactly 30 years since my parents took me to Mexico as a kid. We spent 5 glorious winter months living in a tent on the beach in a tiny town (well, tiny at the time) on the Pacific coast called Puerto Escondido, a place which holds some of my best childhood memories. I didn't go to school that year, I had a pet baby parrot who followed me everywhere, and I basically romped around on the beach all day, practically naked, playing with the local kids, jumping in the waves and picking up Spanish as I went. Yes. Pretty freaking idyllic. (And as someone said knowingly the other day when I told them about it, "Ah, tus padres estan los hippies!" ... yes, well they never liked it when I called them that, but you're kind of asking for it if you're living on a beach in a tent for 5 months...) 

So I bought a plane ticket, shoveled out my car (this photo was actually taken right before the insane mega snowdumps that the east coast got pummeled with right before I left), had to get 3 people to help me push it out of the snow, and a few days later, found myself staring out of the plane window at the big blue ocean and long stretch of beaches as the plane touched down in Huatulco. Free as a bird.

Puerto Escondido has changed so much since thirty years ago that I barely recognized it. It's much bigger than I remember it. I had wanted to feel the magic and see all the spots I remembered from my 7-year old eyes. But on that first day, I just felt sweaty, tired, and very alone. The only things that felt familiar were the smells and the sounds. That moist smell of sun-bathed palm leaves and sticky flowers mingled with the faint whiff of garbage, laundry soap, and burning wood. It's the sweet perfume of my childhood days here and it brought me right back. After a good night's sleep, I woke up in much better spirits, ready to devour my favorite Mexican breakfast, huevos a la mexicana and agua de papaya, with my feet firmly planted in the sand. It would be almost impossible not to feel deliriously happy after a breakfast like this.

What I love about the main beach in Puerto Escondido is that it's a perfect mix of locals, fishermen, and both Mexican and foreign tourists. In the evening the port is filled with fishing boats returning from their day at sea. It's still very much a working port but also a gorgeous swimming beach. Everyone seems at home here.

The main beach, Puerto Escondido

I spent 3 days exploring Puerto Escondido, vaguely asking around if anyone knew my old Mexican playmates, Olivia and Maselica, the sisters who played on the beach with me and sometimes invited me to their house. Not surprisingly, given the size of the place, and how many years have gone by, I didn't have any luck finding them.

Puerto Escondido market

As much as I love Puerto Escondido, I needed a quieter place to settle into my thesis work, so I've headed an hour south along the coast, to a tiny beach town called San Augustinillo, where the rhythm of life is very conducive to completing one's thesis.

The afternoon light hits the main street in San Augustinillo

It's a calm, magical place on the ocean, with the sweetest little café ever (from which I'm writing this), the best shrimp and octopus I've ever eaten, and stunning ocean views from everywhere. I am falling madly in love with this place already.

Having just devoured a plate of fresh-caught shrimp in chipotle sauce
I've settled into a small posada up on the hill, which feels like a secret hideaway from the world. This was the welcoming committee when I arrived (whose eggs are collected each morning).

The ducks of the household

And this is the view from my room. I think I can handle seeing the sun rise over the ocean from this window every morning.

The view from my room up on the hill

There's no wifi connection there, so its a little internet vacation for me…  I don't know how much I'll be able to post here in the next month, but we'll see what happens… either way, I hope to come back to you in the spring, with some new Mexico-inspired recipe ideas. Until then, I leave you with this wintery dish I made before leaving snowlandia. It's full of flavour and a great comfort food. Enjoy!

Click here for the recipe.