Sunday, December 19, 2010

Red and green: Thanks for the Christmas memories

I'd like to offer a brief note expressing thanks to all the generous readers who funded my Kickstarter project, "Chalice." We made the goal with room to spare! You folks were lifesavers. Of course, Kickstarter takes out a percentage, as does Amazon payments. So even with the "overage," the artist receives less than you might think -- but still enough, one hopes, to remake a couple of lives.

I have some great writing lined up for the New Deal website. Alas, we may have to wait on that until after the big move. Right now, it's hard to predict where we'll spend Christmas.

If Kickstarter releases the money soon, I would love to spend Christmas night in "Apple Turkey" New Mexico. Those of you have had the privilege will understand why: The luminarios decorating homes in Old Town Albuquerque are astonishing. They make electric light displays seem gaudy and foolish. Which, in fact, they are: That's their charm. Luminarias (which those Santa Fe swankpots call faralitos) have a different charm -- hand-crafted, antique, organic, alive and glowing. Because their creation is labor intensive (I've set up a few luminarias myself, and somehow managed to do the job without incinerating the neighborhood), they appear only on Christmas Eve and (maybe) Christmas Night -- unlike electric displays, which appear right after Thanksgiving and stick around until Twelfth Night.

You're not allowed to drive through Old Town on Christmas Eve, so everyone does the walking tour. Most years, the cold bites right through your thickest winter coat -- yet you can't turn back, because the sight of all those flickering candles propels you forward.

As you might have guessed, I used to do Christmases in Apple Turkey. Another life, another family.

New Mexican food is like Mexican food, but better. Expect an esophagus-melting inferno -- but don't complain about the heat, or everyone will think you're a wussy. Fortunately, you can quench the fire in an instant with a bite of honey-soaked sopapilla. In New Meixico, sopapillas are puffy "air pocket" breads served as a side dish; you bite off a corner and pour in the honey, which the finer establishments serve up in little plastic bear bottles. Discerning palettes need only a few bites to determine where the chile peppers were grown. The best come from the small village of Hatch (population 1,673), although some know-it-alls stump for other chiles from even smaller villages.

When you order food in a New Mexican restaurant, you'll be asked "red or green?" That refers to the chile sauce. Both options are good, so just pick one with confidence and you'll be taken for a local. Do not ask for sour cream; that's like asking a French chef for catsup. The iconic dish of NM is stacked blue-corn enchiladas with an egg on top, although visitors will also want to try stuffed sopapillas, posole, or green chile cheeseburgers. You can't get these things outside of NM -- at least, not done right.

In some lunch places, your meal will be interrupted by Navajos selling jewelry. You'll want to support them, but there's only so much you can do.

We won't be able to try much in the way of local cuisines when we do the "Ma and Pa Joad in reverse" trip. The budget will dictate fast food and home-made sandwiches. But we may allow ourselves at least one visit to a "sit down" joint. It would be terrific to hear a waitress say "Red or green?" -- and perhaps even to see the trail of luminarias as they light Mary and Joseph's way to Bethlehem.

Thanks and thanks again. At this stage, there's little more I'd ask out of life than another chance to sample some really good blue corn enchiladas. Green, please.
When asked "red or green?" you can also say "Christmas!" which means "both". :)
Merry Christmas!
If you do spend Christmas in Duke City, take a side-trip to the tiny village of Madrid to see the lights.

I spent a few summers as a teen in Penasco, New Mexico (up outside of Taos) and around Ghost Ranch. Your description of the food made me think of the entire experience and made me quit nostalgic. I would go there with a Presbyterian youth group to our sister church where we would stucco, paint, and do really miserable hard labor out in the sun. We'd get a few good days in Sante Fe or other places and eat. Sopapillos were my personal addiction. We also got the run of Ghost Ranch where we could swim. Also, I'd grab a horse and run it as hard as I could to the middle of nowhere where I used to watch this frail old lady in white oddly wrapped clothing paint the landscape there. I'd just sit and watch. It took me about almost two summers to figure out who Georgia O'Keefe was. Silly young me at 16.
I don't know your car situation, but have you considered those, drive a car across the country offers?

I've never done it, and its been years since I looked into it, but basically someone drives someone elses car across country.

I don't know the financial details. I assume the car owner pay for gas, and maybe for a couple of nights of lodging expenses, in exchange the person trying to get across country has access to a car to do so.
Joseph, if you and yours do make it here for (or around) Chrismas I'll spring for lunch or din-din at La Placita in Old Town--unless of course you'd prefer another establishment?

(I'd invite you for dinner chez LandO except I'm a victim of Riverdaughter's C.H.A.O.S. syndrome and haven't allowed anyone inside the casa in several years.)
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