I am not a morning person. In New York City, where I’ve lived for almost two decades, breakfast was a Chemex of coffee and a subway ride. But when COVID-19 hit the U.S., I chose to stay in Mazatlán, Mexico, where I was researching recipes for my upcoming cookbook on regional Mexican food. I’d been through crises in New York before—9/11, Hurricane Sandy, stop-and-frisk—and didn’t have the strength for another.
But then the virus spread to Mexico, and so did the lockdown. The beach closed and I found myself utterly alone in a rented apartment. My mornings slowed. Forced to focus on self-care, I created a new ritual worth getting out of bed for—early. At about 6 a.m., the birds nesting in the avocado trees outside would start singing. The salty ocean breeze and a grinder full of freshly roasted coffee beans from Veracruz became my motivation to move from the bed to the terrace. There, I’d sip my coconut-spiced cold brew, wondering when I’d have to reluctantly put on clothes for a Zoom meeting. Some days, I’d go 24 hours without speaking a single word, so I started belting show tunes. I’ve sung them all at this point.
I didn’t expect to grow so close to my Airbnb host, Aleyda Rojo. But she became my guardian angel in a city where I knew no one. Every morning—wearing a mask, standing a safe six feet away—she’d bring me coconuts and mangoes that I’d fold into tropical fruit parfaits. Her generosity and kindness were almost impossible to comprehend for this hardened New Yorker, but her presence, even from a distance, reminded me I wasn’t alone.
Aleyda’s gifts became my breakfasts—a meal that took on new meaning in the long, stretched-out days. Food was the way we’d check in with each other, and I took my time turning her ingredients into lavish dishes inspired by my surroundings, dishes I’d be excited about sharing with her. She’d drop off a basket of freshly caught local shrimp on a table in our courtyard, I’d replace it later that afternoon with a platter of crunchy shrimp gorditas bathed in a rich salsa guajillo. When she’d leave a bowl of fresh chorizo, I’d fry it up and pack it into creamy enfrijoladas sprinkled with queso fresco, saving half the batch for Aleyda and her family.
These recipes are inspired by those gifts and those meals. All of them are made with love and gratitude to my Mazatlán angel, Aleyda.