Autumn in New Mexico

The shift in the outdoor palate is not so subtle now.

In late August you can barely see the changes. But even then, I can usually notice how the green in the leaves of trees is no longer fresh, no longer so vibrant. The green is looking a bit worn, a bit old.

September has nearly passed and the inevitable is now evident. I love the subtleties as well as the obvious change of orange, red and yellow hues in the foliage.

No wonder artists love to come here! No wonder they paint in purples, golds, pinks, and every other color here in New Mexico!

SAGEY LOOKING

The sage colors are sagier, the blossoms dropping.

SUNFLOWER
CACTUS

Gorgeous even without the flowers.

Where I Live

New Mexico resonates with me. I happily dance along its many harmonics as if it is an old familiar place filled with people I’ve known for a very long time.

I’ve lived in New Mexico for three years.

1940NewMexico

I was reading a friend’s blog—she is very funny—about being accused of being a hipster. One comment there inspired my comment which got a couple of replies all of which has nothing to do with anything except I was considering another reply/comment of my own having to do with being understandably confused since I live along the famous-and-we-aren’t-going-to-let-you-forget-it-EVER Route 66.

I was only trying to be clever and had no actual point to make about it so I didn’t post that comment. But I started thinking about Route 66 and living in an area where hundreds of small businesses play on that theme. Neon signs. Malt shops. Classic cars. You name it, if it’s “’50’s” many Albuquerquian business folks love to decorate with it, neon-ize it, or hang it up next to a poster of Elvis. I’m sure Route 66 is dotted all across the country with this kind of thing.

Neon Business Sign

Neon Business Sign

Don’t get me wrong. I happen to like ’50’s nostalgia especially when it comes to kitchens. I might love having a beautifully restored, bright “neon red” Wedgewood with four burners. a griddle, two ovens and storage drawers! (This, my friends, is the mycookinglife connection in this post.)

Oooooh Baby! This is a red Wedgewood.

Oooooh Baby! This is a red Wedgewood.

Here in New Mexico we have quite a dichotomy going. On the one hand we have a fascinating rich and varied culture of Native American tribes, cities twice as old as the country itself, and a tradition brought here by Spanish and Mexican peoples who traveled the Camino Royale—Royal Road—bringing arts, culture, gold, education and livingness. The spirituality in this state, present in so many different forms, is so rich you can scoop it up with your hands and cleanse yourself with it.

In contrast this state is ground zero for all things nuclear. Los Alamos. Atom bombs. White Sands Missle Range. Carved out mountains holding nuclear armament. This is the very invention that can wipe all of us and all our culture, art and spirituality right out.

What do you do with a situation like that? There are many answers apparently. Spirituality, art, culture and living traditions abound over here. They loom very large and make a powerful stand to not only survive, but thrive! I camp out here. I help this survive and expand.

Very soon we can, if “we” can afford it, get outta town—way, way outta town—and get a fresh perspective on things. We’ve got the Spaceport Authority of New Mexico to thank for that. Spaceport America is located in the Jornada del Muerto desert basin in Southern New Mexico. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is not alone at the spaceport. There’s SpaceX, UP Aerospace (Is United Parcel planning uber-fast package delivery I wondered? No, that would be “UPS”) and Armadillo Aerospace. Commercial space travel is the coming thing. That is pretty creative!

Even the Spaceport has a little neon touch. The first flight is scheduled for Christmas Day. I wonder if it's booked?

Even this conceptual image of the Spaceport has a little neon touch. The first flight is scheduled for Christmas Day. I wonder if it’s booked?

We can try to live a normal, standard American life and ignore the rest. But thank goodness the city of Albuquerque is one of the few places I’ve seen where the unique characteristics of the region haven’t been totally overwhelmed into oblivion by a blanket of fast food and retail chains that homogenize an area to look like any other area of the country. There are still a lot of independent businesses here and a lot of local traditions present and visible.

And, we can be Route 66 people and put neon signs up.

You can get your kicks at Route 66 Casino & Hotel

You can get your kicks at Route 66 Casino & Hotel

Welcome to Albuquerque!

Neon doesn’t have to be ’50’s nostagia. It can be aesthetic, modern, even futuristic. Welcome to Albuquerque!

New Mexico is called the "Land of Enchantment." Can you see why? The best kind of neon is natural neon!

New Mexico is called the “Land of Enchantment.” Can you see why? The best kind of neon is natural neon!

Rejuvenation and Dashi

Springtime rejuvenates me. I love the budding trees, the very young, very light shade of green that new leaves have. I look forward to the sweet, sultry smell of the Russian olive trees. And I love putting away the coats and gloves and hats. Here in Central New Mexico, we get to closet them for a good eight or nine months.

Spring is a miraculous season.

Spring is a miraculous season. This photo is dedicated to my blogging friend, Kathy, who lives in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan where she is still experiencing the need for the coats, hats and gloves.

Seems like all living things are awakened in the spring—even my Christmas cactus has decided to bless us with a single bright blossom! This hasn’t happened in three years since I first got the plant as a Christmas present. It was covered in bright red blooms then, but little by little they finished their time and dried up and dropped off. Never to be seen again. Try as I did to encourage another bloom, the Christmas cactus remained a beautiful green with new growth and a lovely vibrancy, but alas, no flowers. Until now!

A Springtime Christmas gift!

A Springtime Christmas gift!

I celebrated with a little springtime rejuvenation of my own.

Shiitake Scallion Soup – Makes 6

  • 1 1/2 quarts of spring water
  • 6 inch piece of kombu
  • naturally brewed soy sauce to taste (I recommend Nama Shoyu)
  • 1/2 cup bonita dried fish flakes (optional)
  • 1 package of extra-firm organic tofu
  • 1 bunch of fresh organic scallions
  • 6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms

1. Make the soup stock, also known as dashi-a Japanese-style broth. Put the kombu and spring water in a pot and let it come to a boil. Reduce heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes. The kombu has many minerals and creates a wonderful flavor for this basic soup stock.

2. Remove the kombu* and (optional) add the bonita flakes. Turn off the heat and steep the bonita flakes for a few minutes. They will sink to the bottom. Strain the stock. I used a strainer with an unbleached coffee filter inside to get all solids from the bonita flakes out.

3. Soak the shiitake mushrooms until they are soft. Remove any stem pieces. The stems are not generally used because they remain tough. Slice the mushrooms very thinly and add them to the strained stock and bring to a simmer again. Let it simmer while you prepare the tofu.

4. To prepare the tofu, you can cut it into bite-size squares. Use whatever amount you wish but for me, I’m making this a light, light soup and I don’t want a lot of tofu. I decided to make a single large piece of tofu for each bowl by cutting the tofu into six big chunks and then making partial cuts in each chunk creating a sea anomone effect. Use chopticks or wooden spoon handles to prevent the knife from cutting all the way through. Place the tofu pieces into the broth.

Use the chopsticks to keep the knife from slicing all the way through.

Use the chopsticks to keep the knife from slicing all the way through.

5. Season the (still simmering) soup with soy sauce–just enough to give a light flavor but not enough to be salty or overwhelm the flavor of the broth. The best way to judge this is to taste your broth each step of the way so you know what the flavors are and won’t overdo the shoyu.

6. Wash the scallions and remove the roots.** Make a small verticle slice in the little white bulb of the scallion, then cut on an angle to create 1-inch pieces. I like to use the white part and the lighter green part but not the dark green ends. You aren’t really cooking this; just put it in the hot soup, turn off the heat and it will become a beautiful bright green just like the new spring leaves outside!

Dashi makes a light and flavorful base for your springtime soup bowl.

Dashi makes a light and flavorful base for your springtime soup bowl.

*Save the kombu you used for the broth and add it to another soup or vegetable dish.

** If the scallion roots are nice and fresh, as they often are in the spring and early summer, you can store them in a glass of water in your refrigerator and use them to flavor soups. Just chop them up very fine and add them in!

Southwest Coffee and Chocolate Fest

Chocolate Eating Contest

We were looking for something different to do on Sunday and we wound up at the 2nd Annual Southwest Coffee and Chocolate Fest in Albuquerque.  And when I say “wound up,” that’s exactly what I mean.  Within 45 minutes of arriving I was rapidly nearing my limit of tolerance for caffeine–mainly from the chocolate samples.

We started out visiting the Kakawa Chocolate House Booth.  Kakawa is located in Santa Fe and we’ve visited this establishment before.  They have little special cups and saucers to serve their hot chocolate in.  They call the hot chocolate drink “elixir” and that is a very apt name because it is so thick and so intense you truly should drink it in a quantity similar to a shot of espresso rather than a big mug.  This is high-quality stuff!  No marshmallows needed.  (Well, unless you really want marshmallows.)

A sample of their “1775 Marie Antoinette” blend was heavenly.  Named after the famous French queen, this blend is recreated from her preferred recipe using dark chocolate, steamed almond milk, cinnamon and orange blossoms which was popular in the 18th century French Court of Versailles.  We couldn’t resist purchasing some of this.

Next came the Nestle’s Toll House chocolate eating contest.  I am not a fan of the conglomerate chocolate company or their common and sugary products but the contest was really fun!  About a dozen kids sat down to gorge chocolate products and here’s the winner, still working on her last mouthful while accepting her prize.

There was a baking contest for young bakers, too.  This was run just like something from the Food Network with professional bakers and chefs judging.  The winner had a three layer cupcake with chocolate cake, chocolate mousse and cream topping drizzled with raspberry sauce.

I had no idea there were so many sources of organic and high-quality chocolate and coffee products in my own backyard!  Many of the vendors were from New Mexico and in case you didn’t know, adding chili and other spices to chocolate is very traditional to this region. We met with some wonderful chocolatiers and eco-conscious coffee roasters and importers.  There is even a non-profit corporation called Seventh Generation Institute marketing coffee to fund local projects in the Pecos Mountains such as the New Mexico Pika Monitoring Project.  

A pika is a cute furry little creature related to the rabbit and it lives at elevations above 8,000 feet charming passing hikers.  Regional studies predict the ecosystem of the Southwest mountains could change significantly in the future and the pika population may be at risk.  I agree with the basic concept of conservation and with hiking around and seeing pikas with their flowers in their mouths and hearing them make their cute little “eeek” sounds and if that is something forwarded by buying good-quality coffee, that is okay with me!

North American Pika

We also learned about the Black Mesa Winery near Taos that makes an unbelieveably decadent syrup made with dark chocolate and their very popular Black Beauty dessert wine.  We sampled that and the wine itself which is a dark red flavored with a touch of dark chocolate.

The Southwest Coffee and Chocolate Fest made for a delicious afternoon just right for chocoholics and coffee connoisseurs!  The 3rd Annual will be March 15-17, 2013.

Chocolatier from Choco Canyon Artisan Chocolate

Elixir Boutique Chocolates