In honor of my first year in Mexico, I thought it might be fun to reflect back on some of my favorite food memories over the past 11 months. Also: I wanted to thank you for reading and commenting over the past year. You've really made this year special, and I'm sending you each a virtual abrazo. (Although not a beso, because of swine flu concerns.) Please have a happy New Year, and felicidades! My visual Mexican food journey starts below.... Lesley's Favorite Mexican Food Memories of 2009 1. Lusting after sweet bread This is probably the main reason that my formerly comfortable jeans are now in my "tight jeans" pile. But whatever. It's been worth it. 2. Drinking mescal It's not technically food, but I've really enjoyed getting to know mescal, a smoky spirit made from the agave plant. The drink is served neat, and is almost always accompanied by orange slices dusted in chili powder. The mescal below is the first one I ever tried, from El Andar in the Centro. 3. A heavy dose of "Vitamina T" Vitamina T is the Spanish phrase for all the casual comfort foods Mexico City has to offer: tacos, tortas, tostadas, tlacoyos. I'm going to throw flautas in there, too, even though they don't start with an "f." Tacos El Caminero on Rio Lerma Tacos de Nana at Mercado Lázaro Cardenas in Del Valle Seafood tacos in Campeche Tacos de bistec, from a street vendor on Rio Sena in Col. Cuauhtémoc Seafood tostadas from La Ostionera in the Mercado Medellín, in Col. Roma Lamb flautas, covered in crema and shredded lettuce, at Mercado San Juan de Belem 4. Mamey My first Mexican produce obsession, with its sunset-colored flesh and lightly sweet flavor. Is it a melon? If so, why does it have the texture of a cooked tuber? Whole-wheat mamey muffins (recipe) Mamey frozen yogurt (recipe) Mamey ice cream 5. The Mexican-American recipe exchange This year, my friend Jesica and I organized a recipe exchange based on the idea that she wanted to learn how to cook American desserts, and I wanted to learn Mexican food with a vegetarian bent. (Jesica's husband is vegetarian and she's always whipping up interesting meat-free dishes.) We started with an apple brown betty with homemade cinnamon ice cream, and then moved to pasta al ajillo and hibiscus-flower quesadillas. Eventually we made goat-cheese stuffed ancho chiles with mango sauce.... And Korean fried chicken, which might have been my favorite recipe exchange item of the year. 6. Hibiscus Flowers Hibiscus flowers, known as flores de jamaica in Spanish, opened my eyes to how complex and versatile Mexican cooking could be. Here is this small, dried purple flower, and not only can you boil it to make tea, but you can saute it in butter and olive oil, and eat it as a savory dish. I tried the flowers in quesadillas and just about died, because the texture was so odd (how can a flower actually taste hearty?). From that point on, I wanted to toss hibiscus flowers in everything: salads. Pasta. Quinoa. A few months ago, I spent six hours making three dozen whole-wheat empanadas, with a hibiscus flower filling. 7. Nicuatole A corn pudding that looks unassuming, but is so beautiful in its simplicity -- it has this clean, pure taste of corn, milk and a hint of vanilla. If you're at Azul y Oro, it is the dessert to order. I made nicuatole with Maseca a few months ago, but next year I'm making my own nixtamal and trying it again. I plan to buy a corn grinder fairly soon. Gonna go ahead and call 2010 (for me anyway) as The Year of the Nixtamal. 8. Beans, cooked in a clay pot. I raved about it recently here, so I'll spare you further gushing. Suffice to say, I'm now a big fan of cooking in clay pots. 9. Tamales I ate them at Christmastime when I was growing up, but I'd never made my own batch by myself. This year, I went and bought my own tamale steamer pot, and my own harina de maiz and lard. But I started doubting myself as soon as I was elbow-deep in masa. How much masa was I supposed to put on the husk? What happens if my fillings spill out? They turned out fine. And I was glad I made them, because a few days later I hosted seven women at my house for a tamalada. Those tamales turned out much better than my first batch. And I got to make them with my favorite women in DF. I'm definitely hosting a tamale-party again next year. 10. Romeritos Romeritos are wild, hearty greens that are sold in big leafy piles in the markets. I bought some just because they looked cool, but I recently realized the traditional way to eat them is with fried shrimp cakes, smothered in a pool of mole. You can't even taste the romeritos in this dish. You just see them stuck in the mole, like fossils in a tar pit. This is a picture of romeritos con tortitas de camaron, from El Bajio in Azcapotzalco: Since I like to taste them, and feel their little bean-sprout-like stems crunch beneath my teeth, I sautee them in a bit of oil and onion, and toss them with 1 tablespoon of mole sauce. Over that, a sprinkle of quinoa. One day I'll make this dish and post the recipe. Thanks again for looking and Feliz Año Nuevo!