Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chillin' with the Chiles in Santa Fe: Part 1

While grieving the death of my old friend Howard, an opportunity arose for me to meet my anthropologist aunt in Santa Fe and stay in a house she had for the week. Seemed like the perfect chance for some wide open space to regain my bearings, ditch my blog for my private journal and eat some homegrown New Mexican food. “You’ve been wanting to go back there for a while,” I told myself. “No obsessing over every pixel-packed pronouncement on Trip Advisor. Just go! Even though you won’t be alone, you’ll find some alone time.”

The last time I was there was with Howard 20 years ago, and a little roadrunner told me I would feel his spirit all around me. Howard was so talented, he used to bang out pieces of Southwestern furniture like he was sneezing. He also made jewelry, was a photographer and architect, but in later years, he mostly painted landscapes. Sure enough, on day one, I felt his spirit all around me. By day four, it had turned into a constant heartache. “Grieving is good,” I told myself. “You’ll write it all down and have fodder for your novel about Howard.” Yet somehow my thoughts were not being journaled, no good meals had graced my stomach lining, and that alone time had devolved into energy-zapping compromises.

Usually at a time of distress, I lose my appetite. But this time, I was counting on food to pull me out of the abyss. I ended up reading all about the Santa Fe restaurant scene, cramming online menus as if Griddled Buttermilk Corn Cakes with Chipotle Prawns and Peppery Elk Tenderloin were going to be on my SATs (turns out me not obsessing is about as likely as Tiger Woods not screwing a porn star). I knew the difference between the Coyote Café’s dinner offerings and their cheaper cantina menu. Pasquale’s was going to be hard to get into, but their Smoked Trout Hash sounded like it might be worth the wait. Unfortunately there were major crowds in town for the annual Indian market, and my aunt was on an odd, non-negotiable schedule which did not include any dinners out, so I couldn't get my restaurant mojo working. I was so close, yet so far away to posole, green chile stew, blue corn enchiladas, the freshest chile rellenos on the planet, and a slew of farm-to-table offerings.

Why can’t I eat a nice meal in a restaurant alone? Not only do I feel self-conscious, there's no one to share the culinary conversation with. Who would be graced with my blow-by-blow account of each bite in real time? I can go to a coffee house or some quick cafe type of place, but when it comes to a real sit-down restaurant, I just can't do it. I conquered this quirk somewhat on my trip to Turkey, but I wasn't able to this time. All the good places to go were the ones I wasn't going to.

On my way to the folk art museum, I stopped at the Tuesday Santa Fe farmer's market by the railroad tracks to quickly check it out. I had heard Saturday is the day to go, but I couldn't resist getting a sneak preview. There were mountains of fresh chilies, a rainbow of unusual eggplants, squashes and heirloom tomatoes. There were charming bouquets and ornamental wreaths made out of sage, dried flowers and chiles. Artisan soaps, spices, garlic oil, jams and breads abounded. I talked to the farmers, tasted their peaches and took their photos. Suddenly I breathed new air. I had been to museums, galleries, shops, monuments, and the Indian market, but it wasn't till then that I felt my mojo working. I couldn't wait till Saturday.

Rather than eat alone somewhere, I opted to grab a quick bite while I was at the museum. What sounded like a lovely lunch of orzo salad with edamame and curried lentils turned into the two most dreadfully seasoned dishes ever. What was that sour taste in both of them? How could such nice ingredients be so horribly bastardized? I gazed around me. Everyone else's food looked really good. It just happened that mine was inedible. I would have sent it back, but I fell short in the cahones department. I slunk back into my funk. Why couldn't I catch a culinary break? Then I realized when half of Pakistan was under water, I had a lot of chutzpah (aha, I do have cahones!) to be feeling sorry for my epicurean-starved self.

Besides, we were headed for Taos the next day, and my fingers and toes were all crossed for edible nirvana. We’d be stopping in the town of Chimayó on the way—a village on the high road that's renowned for growing the best red chiles in the world. We had lunch reservations at the Rancho de Chimayó. Posole, green chile stew, blue corn enchiladas and the freshest chile rellenos on the planet: here I come. I was going to have a killer meal if it killed me.

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  1. I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I'm with you, I don't like to eat out alone...unless I have a good book with me. ;) I'm hoping you got to have your killer meal!

  2. I hope you had a great visit in SF and that you found a fantastic bowl of green pazole. FYI, I have a great recipe for pazole on my site. I can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    Love the top ristras picture - gorgeous colors.

  3. Your photographs are just wonderful with such brilliant colors. I'm hoping to hear that you had some soul satisfying food on this journey.

  4. What a bummer! Not only did you have to deal with the loss of your wonderful friend, but you could not even enjoy some decent food! Oh well, at least you told us about it and got some great pics out of the experience.

  5. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend - it almost sounds as if the food was grieving with you. I am going to guess that you had a fabulous meal in Chimayo!!

  6. I love Sante Fe. I was only there once, but what a gorgeous place...

    There was a little restaurant on a dirt road outside of town that was just outstanding..