Category Archives: Mexico

The Monarchs of Mexico

I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man? (Zhuangzi)

As I sit here watching my little girl on our baby monitor all cocooned up in her sleep sack, I’m reminiscing about our trip to Mexico City this past December. Since we traveled there to celebrate our anniversary, Matt and I surprised each other with special experiences in or around the city. I took him on a walking street food tour. He booked the excursion of a lifetime: visiting one of the winter stomping grounds for the migrating Monarch butterflies. The food tour was awesome, but I think Matt won this round.

Our tour was privately booked with Mexcity Tours, so we were picked up early in the morning from our hotel. Our original driver, Leo (the company owner), threw his back out, so he sent one of his other guides instead. Our guide, Luis, was a sweet and funny guy and we immediately knew we’d enjoy spending the day with him.

He drove us out of the city, beating most of the morning rush hour traffic, and up to Toluca. Toluca is the state capital of the State of Mexico (the state in which Mexico City is located). It’s also the highest city in Mexico and has one of the fastest-growing populations in the country.

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Toluca’s nickname is “La Bella” (the beautiful) and it has some gorgeous 19th century colonial architecture downtown. We didn’t have long to explore, but we were able to take a stroll through the Cosmovitral Botanical Garden.

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Gorgeous stained glass windows cover the ceiling and wrap around the building, lending a surreal feeling to the football field-sized greenhouse. Though just one long room, the more than 500 plant species growing there are arranged in delightful little gardens that showcase many of the native plants in Mexico.

After a leisurely stroll through the gardens, we hopped back in the car and continued on our journey up to the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary. Unfortunately our guide got a bit lost on the way, so we ended up taking a little detour through the Pueblo Magico of Valle de Bravo. Tucked away in lush, green mountains, this picturesque little town looks is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It perches above Lake Avándaro and would have been a lovely place to enjoy for a day or two if we weren’t on a mission to see the butterflies.

Eventually we got back on track and arrived at the sanctuary. Pulling up, we were greeted by a green pasture climbing up a hill to the edges of a thick forest. A barn with horses that are available to help you make the climb up the mountain sits at the foot of the hill. A little further up was a cluster of food stands selling traditional food. The smell of the cook fires dancing in the air was mouthwatering (and it didn’t help that we were extremely hungry by this point).

We opted to fuel up with a quick bite before beginning the hike up to see the butterflies on foot.

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Nopal and cheese quesadilla

Since we had baby girl with us, riding horseback was not an option. So, she hitched a ride in her carrier on mommy’s chest and pretty much slept the whole way up.

The butterflies nest in trees at the top of the mountain, so the approximately 4km hike is pretty much straight up. You should definitely be in decent shape if you decide to make the trip on foot. We were pretty much drenched in sweat by the time we reached the top, but the climb was worth it.

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The face of a man lugging a camera bag and diaper bag up the side of a mountain.

The butterflies nesting here have traveled nearly 2000 miles from the Eastern U.S. and Southern Canada. They arrive in November and stay through March. How they actually make it to Mexico is a mystery because those that leave the country in the spring are at least three generations removed from the ones that will come back in the fall.

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The yellowish-gold clusters on the trees are all butterflies!

The butterfly area was quiet and peaceful. We were instructed to talk only in hushed tones and to be as quiet as possible. Though a bit early in the season and later in the day, there were still a lot of butterflies floating through the air. The sound of their wings flapping was like a soft whisper of wind. We stood quietly in awe watching the majestic insects flutter around. Even baby girl woke up and was able to see some of the butterflies that landed on leaves near us.

Though they certainly don’t do justice to the experience, I’m going to let some of my pictures do the talking for a moment.

The experience of so much peace and beauty in the middle of the forest felt akin to taking a hot soak in a tub or drinking a great glass of wine; a moment of pure Zen in a crazy world. If you ever get a chance to visit one of the Monarch sanctuaries in Mexico, don’t pass it up.

Quick travel note: If you do go, be sure to tip your guide and food servers generously. There are about 75 guides that work at the sanctuary and they are paid about 100 pesos (or about 5 USD) per round-trip. If they are lucky, they will get in two round-trips in a day—so they work hard for the tips.

We tipped both our guide and the woman who served our food. The woman who served our food couldn’t believe we had given her a tip and told us she wished we could come every day. She and the others working at the food stands operate as a co-op, so they split any money that comes in each day. On the day we were there, it was us and one other couple, so you know they weren’t making much that day.

I don’t know what had us counting our blessings more that day; seeing one of the great wonders of nature or knowing we made the day of a hardworking woman at the sanctuary.

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8 Fabulous Finds at Our Mexican Grocery Store

*The image above is just a small portion of the Mexican salsas section at the grocery store. 

Grocery shopping in different countries is hands down one of my favorite things to do. I find it so telling about a country and its people to see what products are popular. I also love discovering products I’ve never seen before in the stores I’ve shopped at in the U.S. or other countries. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my favorite grocery store finds here in Mexico.

Chicozapote (a.k.a Sapodilla)
This little, round fruit may have a bland outer appearance, but its flesh packs such a sweet punch, you’ll almost feel guilty eating it. This fruit comes from an evergreen tree native to southern Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. It softens up like a juicy peach when ripe, but the texture of the flesh is more reminiscent of a pear. The taste is like sugared pear or caramel. It literally melts in the mouth! I really hope we have access to these wherever we eventually settle down, because it’s a rich dessert in itself without a ton of calories.

Mamey (pronounced ma-may—as in “Ma, may I have another!”)
On first glance, mamey looks like a slightly larger and rougher-skinned version of the chicozapote (or even a mango covered in sandpaper). It, too, is native to Mexico, as well as other parts of Central America. The flesh is a dark salmon color and has a texture somewhere between a ripe cantaloupe and baked sweet potato. It doesn’t taste like melon, however; more like pumpkin and sweet potato casserole. It’s great to eat alone or even blended up in a smoothie or milkshake (the combination of mamey and chocolate chips is pretty amazing).

Jamaica Flowers (Dried hibiscus flowers)
I’m sure you can find these in the states, but they aren’t something I’ve ever looked for (or, I guess, noticed if they were in fact at the stores where I shopped). We’ve been working our way through our Eat Mexico cookbook and one of the recipes in it is for a Jamaica flower iced tea. When brewed, the flowers give off a tart, fruity taste similar to a cranberry. Mix the tea with a little honey or agave nectar and lime and you have an amazingly refreshing drink.

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Crema
Crema is like the Mexican version of crème fraiche. It’s runnier and milder than an American sour cream and can be put in or on everything from tacos and soups to cakes and fresh fruit. It’s perfect for balancing out the heat of a spicy meal or kicking up the creaminess of a roasted poblano soup.

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Poblano Peppers
Speaking of poblano soup, poblano peppers have become a new obsession of Matt’s and mine. They can be a bit spicy and have much more flavor than a simple green pepper. Traditionally they are charred and the skins rubbed off (giving them a hint of smokiness), but we really like the skin and often just slice them up and cook them with onions for our version of rajas.

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Queso Panela
This soft, crumbly cheese reminds me of halloumi. It’s a mild and salty cow’s milk cheese that can be eaten as is, crumbled on tacos or (and this is one of my favorite ways to prepare it) grilled. It gets a little creamier when grilled, but still holds its texture (like halloumi).

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Queso Oaxaca 
I like to refer to this as the Mexican version of string cheese. It has a taste similar to mozzarella and is just as stringy as those pre-packaged snacks. It comes in a ball, often coiled around itself just begging to be unwound and devoured. Oaxaca melts well, making it ideal for treats like quesadillas.

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Nopal
Nopal is one of my new favorite vegetables. In the U.S. it’s more commonly known as prickly pear cactus. Here, you can buy both the paddles (without the prickles) and the fruit. The paddles are often used in tacos, burritos, quesadillas and other savory dishes, while the fruit can be baked up like an apple with raisins, cinnamon and sugar (just don’t eat it raw—it is EXTREMELY sour).

There are other fun and interesting things I find at the grocery store, but those are the foods we’ve grown particularly fond of and buy on a regular basis. Have you been to grocery stores in other countries? Let me know in the comments what your favorite finds were.

Armpit Tacos to Ant Mole: Eating Our Way through Mexico City

Mexico City, like much of the country, is a place of great contrasts: lavish wealth and devastating poverty; clear-day mountain views and thick, obscuring smog; inexpensive and hearty street food and pricey, avant-garde fare.

It was the contrast in food we were after on one of the days we spent in Mexico City in December—December 12 to be exact. Matt’s and my second wedding anniversary.

As a surprise to Matt, I booked us a street food tour with Eat Mexico. We’ve done food tours in several different cities, including Barcelona and San Sebastian, and find them a great way to see the city and learn more about the local culture. After all, food is one of the best windows into a country and its people.

The Eat Mexico tour didn’t disappoint. I have to give a shout out to them for great customer service. Since we were traveling with our five-month-old, I needed to find a tour that was baby and stroller friendly. Christine at Eat Mexico contacted me personally to help me make my decision and sent several follow ups to make sure we were all set before it started. I opted to purchase the Eat Mexico cookbook (by Lesley Tellez. Check out my Instagram feed for the recipes we’ve already tried) cookbook and we absolutely love it! Christine had it delivered to our hotel so we could pick it up on arrival.

The morning of our tour, we met our guide Ubish Yaren, near the iconic Angel of Independence. Ubish is a chef and expert on Mexico City. As luck would have it, we were the only ones who booked the street food experience that day, so we got a personalized tour.

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We started at a tamale stand near the U.S. embassy, but it had been a busy morning, so the tamales were unfortunately already sold out. Though a bit disappointing, we forged on and made our way to the Mercado Cuauhtémoc, where we tried fresh-pressed tortillas and chicharrón (pork skins), as well as admired the beautiful piñatas and the yellow, marigold-fed chicken.


Our next stop were stalls serving fresh juice and tlacoyos and quesadillas (which are totally different from the quesadillas typically served in the U.S.). We tried our tlacoyo (a thicker tortilla stuffed with beans and other toppings) with nopal and cheese. Our quesadilla we had filled with cheese and chicken. We washed those down with smoothie-like juices.


Next up were tacos de canasta (or “sweaty tacos”). These pre-made tacos are kept warm in large baskets where they pretty much steam themselves until they are served. They were soft, savory and delicious!

It was a good thing we ate a really light breakfast, because we continued our journey to a stall selling pork carnitas. Here you can pick your own cuts of pig (everything from the belly and intestines to ear and snout) and the vendor chops it up on a rounded, wooden block and plops it into a double-layered tortilla. From there you can top it with a variety of salsas, onions, limes and pickled jalapenos and carrots. We tried several cuts, including belly, shoulder and ear. The ear was not for the faint of stomach; the cartilage was crunchy and a few pieces had bits of pig hair sticking out. Still, the carnitas were quite delicious.


Next up, we cleansed our palates with chopped fruit sprinkled with chili and lime. In Mexico, chili is a topping for nearly everything. Though we aren’t used to adding chili to fruit, the contrast of the spicy and sweet was surprisingly pleasant.

Though we probably should have been getting pretty full at this point, we were still hanging in there. As food tour veterans, we know the secret to lasting is a pair of comfortable shoes and starting with an empty stomach.

Our tour continued at a burrito stand where we shared a large tortilla stuffed with squash blossom flowers and cheese and (here’s the best part) sealed with grilled cheese. I don’t think I can ever eat a burrito again without it being sealed with cheese. I seriously don’t know how this hasn’t caught on in the U.S. yet (though I suppose it’s a little like the “new” raclette craze in the States).

Admittedly, the burrito was pretty close to topping us off, but we still had a few stops to go. We followed the burrito up with coffee and churros, then made our way to a stand selling shrimp and avocado tostadas. I only managed a couple bites of the tostada, though it was pretty good.

Finally, we wrapped up the tour at a store selling traditional, Mexican sweets. The candies in Mexico are pretty different from what we were used to eating in the U.S. and Europe. Many of these were made with sugared fruit and even vegetable pastes (such as sweet potato). We picked out two candies and decided to save them for later because we had finally hit our food limit.

After saying farewell to Ubish, we took a long stroll back to our hotel hoping to digest our food before a special anniversary dinner at Limosneros. This highly rated restaurant serves creative twists on traditional Mexican dishes in a hip and romantic atmosphere.

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Dim lighting bouncing off of stone walls set the scene for our anniversary dinner. We opted for a tasting menu and wine paring, though there were plenty of dishes offered à la carte.

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Our first course was an ant egg tortilla stuffed with mushrooms and swimming in an ant mole. This is the first time I’ve knowingly eaten insects, so was surprised how much I enjoyed the tortilla, mole and even the crispy bits of ant garnishing the plate.

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The tortilla was followed by an incredible shrimp pozole. Squash blossom flowers floated in a delightfully savory shrimp broth.

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Next, we enjoyed steamed sea bass with a green bean mole. The fish was light and tender and was perfectly complemented by the small green salad on the side.

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Cuts of wagyu beef with a potato terrine and amaranth “pico de gallo” were served next. Matt’s beef was a little overcooked, but mine was perfect.

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Our fourth course was a lamb T-bone crusted in pasilla chili and paired with prickly pear salad and guacamole.

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Finally, we ended our meal with pears and apples and, because I was really craving chocolate, we ordered a second dessert—a chocolate financier complemented with cardamom and cocoa ice cream.

Luckily, because we were operating on our baby’s schedule, our dinner was early enough that we had time to digest all of that food before going to bed. Admittedly, we ended our day sharing glasses of champagne on the bathroom floor after Baby Girl was tucked in for the night. We reminisced about another incredible year of marriage and the wonderful day we had experiencing the variety and contrast of food in Mexico City. Provecho!

Farewell to 2016: A Year Well-Traveled

2017 came to Monterrey with a bang. Well lots of bangs, actually. Since about December 12 (the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and arguably the beginning of holiday celebrations in Mexico), the sound of fireworks has filled the air all day long. Yep, even in the blazing sun, the telltale bang and corresponding puff of smoke has served as a reminder that it’s CHRISTMAS!!!

It’s not surprising, then, that the grand finale of this nearly month long display, so to speak, was New Year’s Eve. All day and through the night, the sound of explosions reverberated off the mountains surrounding Monterrey. At midnight, we were able to enjoy a free show looking out our windows because every direction in which we looked, we could see blasts of color fill the skies. This continued well into the wee-hours of the morning as each time zone celebrated the ringing in of the New Year.

So here we are in a fresh new year with lots of unknowns. How many times will we move? What countries will we live in? What new languages will we learn? When will Baby Girl learn to nap?

Before looking forward, however, I thought I’d take a look back at 2016. The other night, Matt and I scrolled through our pictures and were amazed at just how much we’ve experienced. So here’s a little glimpse into our past year.

The Moves
We started the year living in Toulouse, France before getting a last-minute directive to move to Frankfurt, Germany. We lived there for about two and a half months before moving back to France. We stayed there until the last day of August when we packed up and moved to Monterrey, Mexico. Whew!

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Frankfurt, Germany
The Life Changes
When we rang in 2016, I was about 13 weeks pregnant. Fast forward to July 4th and we became parents of the most amazing baby girl. Life is certainly different, but we’re enjoying every moment (yes, even those 3 a.m. moments when we’re trying to get a wide-awake little girl back to sleep—at least we are sneaking in some extra snuggles). We can’t wait to witness all the things Baby Girl is going to learn this year—and all the things she is going to teach us as well.

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New parents and a baby girl in Marseilles, France.
Six months later!!

The Heartbreaks
2016 certainly sent us on a roller coaster of emotions. We experienced the incredible high of welcoming our baby girl into the world as well as the heartbreak of losing my dad to cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and wonder what kind of grandpa he would have been to our little girl. I try to take comfort in knowing that we’ve got an extra lobbyist in Heaven keeping things organized and making sure God is watching out for us.

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Pat Biggs-1950-2016
The Travels
We were so lucky to be able to visit so many incredible places over the past year. From two of the smallest countries in the world (Luxembourg and Lichtenstein) to the largest waterfall in Europe, the Rhine Falls. We also went to Zurich (Switzerland) Cologne (Germany), Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta (Mexico) and a number of places in France, including Paris, Bordeaux, Cannes, Saint-Tropez, Marseilles, Provence and the Loire Valley.

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Overlooking the port in Cannes, France
The Experiences
From staying in a chateau in the Loire Valley and tasting wine in Bordeaux to eating Fondue in Switzerland and ant mole in Mexico City (story to come), we’ve been blessed to have so many cool experiences over the past year. Hiking down into the caverns of the Gouffre de Padirac and winding our way along the city walls in Luxembourg are two highlights early in the year. The end of the year is marked by a visit to the Monarch butterfly sanctuary north of Mexico City (stay tuned for pics and tales from that adventure!) and working our way from food stand to food stand in Mexico City.

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Gouffre de Padirac
2016 was full of its ups and downs, joys and challenges, but we were blessed to see and experience so much. We’re excited to see what the New Year will bring. Happy 2017 everyone! Wishing you all much joy, love and health in the New Year.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…in Mexico City

The last few years we’ve been fortunate enough to see how several other countries celebrate Christmas. Our international holiday tour began in the Dominican Republic on our honeymoon in 2014 and continued last year in France, Austria and Germany. This year we are enjoying festivities in Mexico! 

Yesterday we arrived in the city after a quick and smooth flight. 

We dropped our luggage at the Hilton Reforma where we are staying and immediately headed out for a bite at Cantina Corona per our bellhop’s recommendation.


Then we headed out on the Touribus to see a bit of the city. Here are a couple photos from the tour.


Today we head out to see the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Aztec pyramids. So stay tuned for more Mexico City fun!