If Mexico remembers me at all, she must think I’m a pretty huge dork. Not that a sovereign nation has a ton of time to sit around forming judgmental opinions about occasional tourists who ride across the border into Tijuana looking terrified in the passenger seat of a rented red Mustang convertible. But when someone is trying head-explosion hard to look super-cool and casual and not the least bit terrified at all, even a NAFTA member might take notice.
I wasn’t being kidnapped or anything, in case you were wondering. I wasn’t even smuggling any fruit. It’s true I didn’t have a passport with me, but it would be several years before anyone would think to ask for such a thing from an American.
I was tagging along on a detour from a San Diego business trip in search of a hole-in-the wall taco dinner. I had a big presentation to make the following day, and I didn’t much care for the topic. The boss was driving a little too fast. And the border patrol, with their machine guns, looked too young to trust with a Blink decision, even to my 23-year-old eye. That was the full extent of any cause for alarm.
I think I drank a single beer at dinner to try to relax a little, but of course I only succeeded in feeling potentially unfit to re-enter the U.S. on the basis of substance abuse. I was not the most convincing adventure traveler back then. But I would’ve been offended if you’d noticed.
I share these non-informational travel tips from the late 1990′s for one reason only. I want to let you know that when I insist, with a certain, borderline-alarming enthusiasm, that you try these Spicy Skillet-Tossed Pepitas as a bar snack at your next party, my judgment is not being clouded by any overly romantic notions about Mexico. It is not because I long for the four fight-or-flight hours I spent there, or because I ever wish to think of those hours again. It is purely because these little buggers are so addictive that they may leave you with a substance abuse problem. At the very least, they’ll throttle you like a 12-year-old border agent with a machine gun probably wouldn’t actually do for no reason at all.
So. Try these!
Spicy Skillet-Tossed Pepitas
-serves 8 as a munchie-
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups pepitas
1/4 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
A big pinch ground cayenne pepper, to taste
In a 10-inch skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the pepitas and toss to coat with the oil. Sprinkle on the paprika, salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Cook, tossing frequently, until many of the pepitas have turned light brown and made a popping sound. Pour into a small bowl and serve as a bar snack.