Ah, Mexico. Baja California to be exact. I was born and raised not more than an hour away and have many good memories of time spent there. But let’s be honest, I have plenty of not-so-good memories, too – cough Tijuana cough. We didn’t go many times, but I have the fondest memories of hopping in the car with Mom and Dad and heading down south for nothing more than tacos for lunch. The flavorful, smoky way the meat tasted grilled on freshly-cut wood, I’ll never forget. Sitting and laughing with my parents, a country away from our cares, I can’t forget either.
But Baja now is not the Baja of then. Mexico has been plagued by violence, corruption, murder, drugs and human trafficking. It’s been sad to witness and even sadder that neither my friends nor my family nor even I travel south any longer for fear of what could happen. I don’t know what came over me, though. Maybe it was my brand-new passport that had just arrived, maybe it was our thinking that “Hey, if Anthony Bourdain can do it, so can we!” or maybe it was naivete, but we woke up one recent Saturday morning and for the first time in nearly 10 years, we went.
We took the toll road – at about $6 each way, I say it’s a must – and I quickly remembered the Baja I used to know as we curved around enormous mountain hillsides cradling the crashing Pacific Ocean below. Baja is beautiful. The beaches resemble those of their northern counterparts, sure, but I’ve always been able to see something different, something special. The water just looks darker, more peaceful, less interrupted. We kept looking around at the few cars that passed us. A couple of California plates, but not many. It’s clear that tourism continues to struggle.
We went in search of La Guerrerense, the seafood stand Bourdain claimed to be the best food truck in the world. Whoa. We worship at the altar of Bourdain, so where he goes, we follow. We drove through Ensenada, got out, looked around, and then headed to a gas station and asked for directions in broken Spanish.
“La Guerrerense? No se…”
Then, a gas pumper perked up.
“Conozco La Guerrerense! Esta a dos cuadras de aqui – a la derecha.”
So two blocks and to the right we went and there it was. You can’t miss the swarm of people crowding it. We made our way through the herd (locals only) and ordered: one fish, one shrimp, one fish pate and one cod with black olives. Just like in the episode, there must have been two dozen squirt bottles and jars of various salsas and other flavorful additions. I picked a mango concoction and drenched my first tostada, promptly setting my stomach on fire. Whew, sorry guys, obviously new here. Nowhere to sit, we joined the crowd in scarfing while standing. The seafood was fresh – I saw a large, wet net that looked like it had just been hauled in as we were paying – and the flavors were incredible. Mr. Bourdain did not steer us wrong.
After we finished, we walked around, getting stopped just about every step of the way by this street vendor and that one. We made our way to the ocean, took in the view of the dock lined with fishing boats, and poked around an outdoor seafood market, also featured in Bourdain’s episode. The seafood was so fresh it was barely dead, some not even yet. We bought a touristy trinket and asked the little boy to write “Chris y Laura Ensenada 2012” on it. Gringos. We were still hungry, so we decided to make our way back north and stop in Puerto Nuevo on the way.
Oh, Puerto Nuevo. What San Diegan doesn’t know and love Puerto’s cheap lobster and margaritas? We walked down the dirt hill toward the restaurants with ocean views – the memories of eating and drinking with my sister flooded my mind – and picked the one that seemed to have the best deal and an even better view. We ate, we drank, we relaxed and we enjoyed. It was just us on the rooftop for most of our meal, so my boyfriend indulged me in a cancion, which was really quite beautiful.
We showed our gringo side again with this cheesy picture we had to have.
By then it was about 6 and a long, painful border wait lay ahead, so we bid farewell to Mexico and promised we’d be back. We began driving out, but not without being pulled over first (no ticket!), and some three hours later, we were back on American soil. It was a special day replete with quiet beauty, phenomenal food, and a renewed sense of adventure. We knew what could have happened to us, but what good is life without living? And, for the record, we didn’t do anything stupid and remained alert throughout the trip. Good strategy for any vacation, I suppose. I’ll be back, Baja.
“Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double-beatloaf. I hate meatloaf.”
Can’t say I blame him, him being little Randy from everybody’s favorite “A Christmas Story,” that is. I mean, it’s meatloaf, and I know what you’re thinking. You would be wrong, though, because meatloaf is actually quite good. Like meat? Like it shaped into balls? Then why not a loaf? What is it about the harmless loaf that turns small children all over American into little terrors? Why was I such a problem child? When was the last time I ate today and when is that going to happen again? I digress.
I make no secret of my cooking weapon: Food52. I receive lots of compliments on my cooking, but without Food52, it would be nothing. Food52 is, essentially, an online recipe vault with hundreds, maybe thousands, of recipes, from everywhere from Tartine Bakery to Gourmet magazine to a user’s own. But the real kicker is the photos. Vibrant, vivid, perfectly posed food shots everywhere. DAMNIT! It’s so good. Point is, it’s really hard to screw up a recipe when you’ve got it laid out kindergartner-style with photos so you can check your work. And that, is how I’ve turned my boyfriend and the problem child herself into meatloaf devotees.
It’s called Rosemary Turkey Meatloaf and it comes from sporkme on Food52.com. It’s made with ground turkey as the name would imply, so it’s infinitely healthier than traditional versions. Points right away. But what the hell, meatloaf is gross enough and now you have to go and make it healthy??
Fear not, for said ground turkey is amplified with flavorful accoutrements like chopped fresh rosemary, seasoned breadcrumbs, and a mouth-watering glaze of tomato puree, brown sugar and mustard. Here is where you can really make your meatloaf shine with variations like Dijon or spicy mustard, extra brown sugar and so on. As long as you combine everything, get it into a loaf pan, and bake it for about an hour, you truly cannot go wrong.
And then you have leftovers for sandwiches – the lunchtime possibilities are endless – for days to come. Oh Lord, I’ve become my mom with the excitement over leftovers.
Here’s the recipe. Be sure to check the link below for photos to rev your cooking engines.
- 2 pounds ground turkey
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs
- 1 15 oz. can pureed tomatoes *Note: I have a hell of a time finding pureed tomatoes, so I usually choose a 12 oz. can of tomato paste and temper it with a 1/4 cup of water or so. Eyeball that one.
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Mix the turkey, bread crumbs, rosemary, eggs, and season with salt and pepper. Press into a bread loaf pan.
Whisk the remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and put on top of the meat.
Poke a few holes in the turkey with a knife so the sauce will seep in, cover in foil and bake until the internal temperature reaches 160F (I have never used a meat thermometer and my loaf has always been perfectly cooked, so don’t let this stress you out), or about an hour and a half.