Saturday, May 17, 2008

My Mini-Mexican Health Food Vacation

One of the things that's hardest for me about choosing what I choosing what I eat. I love food, of all kinds, and to narrow it down to just the few I need to get through the day, can be tough. A few years ago I started doing something fun that helps me with that task.

I had moved into a new condo, and after moving 14 years worth of old "stuff" from my former apartment, decided to methodically clean and organize. I started with my old Sunset magazines, which I kept because they each had a recipe I wanted to try some day but never got around to. I tore out the recipe pages, and created a monthly file for each one. So when May came, I pulled out my May file and flipped through my pages of ideas.

I found this great recipe for beet salad, which called for a Mexican cheese called "queso fresco." Living in Phoenix, I assumed it would be easy to find queso fresco. Was I ever wrong. After unsuccessfully visiting 5 stores in my neighborhood, I consulted with the Cheese Goddess (that's actually her title on her name tag) at the store on the corner. She immediately suggested a store in the Hispanic section of town, but warned me, "You'll feel like you're walking right into Mexico--even all the overhead announcements are in Spanish!"

Which, of course, meant this was a must-do outing for Saturday.

Am I ever glad I ventured! If Mexico City has high-end grocery stores, this is what I envision them to be like. There was a huge seafood section, a fresh juice bar with all kind of tropical fruits, and a gorgeous produce section where I saw at least 18 kinds of chiles, two kinds of coconut, exotic vegetables I'd only read about, and exotic fruits I'd never even heard of.

What was really interesting was how, in stepping out of my comfort zone, things I probably walked right past in my neighborhood store, popped out at me as ideas for things to eat. There were also some interesting alternatives to favorite foods I'd never seen in my neighborhood store. One example I brought home, was canned tuna with vegetables mixed right in.

Psychologically, I think my mini-Mexican vacation reminded me that eating healthier is not always boring or about deprivation. A lot of the foods I saw in this store are foods I readily eat when I'm on vacation, (like shrimp), but never think to choose when I'm back at home.

If you're someone who tends to shop in the same store, with a standard efficient route that allows you to get the regular foods in a minimum of time, consider opening up your world--as well as your eyes--by stepping into a new store. A cultural experience like mine is fun if you have the time and interest, but you can even challenge yourself by stopping by your favorite store in a different location.

Oh! Before I forget, here's the beet salad recipe I mentioned, from the May 2006 Sunset Magazine.

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