Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Burned Kitchen

New Mexico July Part 3

In a forgotten high place in the desert is a burned house. It was a wash, and almost everything remains where it fell. Whoever lived there moved on, or perhaps they rebuilt on another side of the property and never went back. Pots sit on the stove with skinny looped bars sticking out, their wood or plastic handles that provided leverage long gone. The sink is filled with the ceiling and the kitchen window.

A potato ricer is evenly rusted; encouraged by the many years of sparse rain falling into the room from the sky. A pantry cabinet has fallen all the way out of the kitchen onto its back below the slab. I am not sure why dishes and enamel cookware also litter the front yard. Were they thrown from below the billowing smoke that could be seen from miles away? Were they picked over later when the damage was complete and dropped dismissively into the dirt? There are shards of thick swirling glass midcentury accent pieces, and glinting triangles of a textured ochre pane maybe from the dining room or the front door. Flowers are still sweetly pink, patterns recognizable even after their residence became their most frightening kiln.

There is a high risk for fire in New Mexico, but I am not aware that houses here burn any more frequently than other places in the country. I have never been in a house fire, and hopefully I never will be. I walked through this record of fire and thought of the situations where I had to make the assessment: what do I have? What do I need?

Of course this could apply all things: to food, love, time, money, space, heath or furniture, but my life isn't always budgeted evenly. The questions mainly come up when I taste there isn't enough salt in what I've made or when looking at my collected dimensional clutter and bare walls, I wonder why I don't have more 2-D decor. I can feel at home almost anywhere and I have enough space to live and sleep and cook, but is it enough? Is it in the right place? Is it the ideal elastic hammock of my independent youth? What do I have and what do I need?

The smell of New Mexico is strong. After it rains, everything in the ground takes a deep breath and makes itself available to the air. The light bakes everything and the fearless plants are determined and fragrant. The environment is adaptable, wild, mysterious and comforting to me, and I breathe it. I try and smell the answers.

The smell of this fire is long gone. When I walk out of the kitchen and look at clouds above me I know I'll always have New Mexico, and it knows I need to go and be under more roofs. It won't tell me where, so I suspect there's more smelling to be done. And besides, the house in New Mexico isn't ready for me yet.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Prize of the Plaza

New Mexico July Part 2

The Original. This is the classic Frito Pie from the Five & Dime (formerly Woolworth's) on the plaza in downtown Santa Fe. Served in the bag, eaten with a spork, it is a hot aromatic nest of Fritos ladled with red chile, pinto beans, ground beef and cheese. I also like the optional diced raw onion on top. (A great-but-different version is served at the Atomic. Compare and contrast by clicking here). For me the ritual is completed by eating the Pie on a bench in the plaza with a Dr. Pepper, scarfing the spicy dripping crunchiness until I am glowing and red chile stains the corners of my mouth like a toddler after SpaghettiOs.

When Woolworth's began closing its stores in 1997, the residents of Santa Fe were so unhappily fired up about it that developers and an owner of the building protected a third of the store and essentially made it into a shrine to the former general store and lunch counter. They sold off a bunch of the old stuff including the lunch counter waitress uniform dresses. I got one and it ended up making a great "Ghost-of-Woolworth's" costume for Halloween. They added more postcards and tchochkas and kept the employees and Frito Pies. They also have good and very hot green chile stew (with beef).

On the plaza itself is a food cart, Roque's Carnitas. Roque is a fast talking character, and of course I love the food more because of him. He sells tamales and chicken or beef carnitas. He grills the meat with onions and green chiles and then puts it in a thick flour tortilla with salsa. His salsa is heavy with large pieces of tomato and is mostly liquid. I have never been able to really eat one with grace. I do manage to pay attention to the earthy, charred ingredients with bright, spicy slurping. They are satisfying because they are simple and good, and they taste like all the other carnitas he has ever made, the developed layers of everything that's been on that grill before.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Home for Chile Flowers

New Mexico July Part 1

Along an arroyo that runs through Santa Fe, New Mexico is chef Katherine Kagel's organic purple amaranth plant. All the plants in her home garden are organic, provided by Seeds of Change, a company that sells and promotes organic seeds and foods. Her restaurant, Cafe Pasqual's serves 98 percent organic food and wine. This afternoon I follow her from garden to kitchen to table, where eight people are fed a beautiful fresh summer dinner.

KK snips bok choy and yellow chard.

And bok choy comes in twins!

Check out this fabuloso recession special: greens from the July garden, garlic, pecans, feta and lemon served forth in a beautiful micaceous platter. Add some grains underneath and some tequila above and weather the stormclouds to come.