Wednesday, August 14, 2019

New Mexico—wildflowers and hot food

I was unprepared for the gorgeous wildflowers in the mountains. Our friends’ cabin sits in a meadow that is literally a sea of flowers, mostly daisies but some black-eyed Susan and an occasional Queen Anne’s lace. It’s impossible to capture the glory of the wide sweep of grass and flowers on a cell phone camera, but a close-up gives you some idea.

In Holy Ghost Canyon, we saw a delicate pink flower that does not grow anywhere else in the world. Botanists have tried unsuccessfully to cultivate it, but the soil in the canyon must have just the right conditions for it.

Lower down, roads are often lined with feathery silver-green chamisa, so lovely to look at. Subie tells me however that many people are allergic to it, and I remember suggesting it for table flowers for my oldest daughter’s wedding—she was married at Bishops Lodge in Santa Fe. I thought the native plant touch would be nice, but the florist said that once cut, chamisa stinks.

Roads are also lined with larger willow bushes, and this year, because of heavier than usual rains, everything was green. So much for New Mexico as an arid state—at least not in this part.

While I loved the flowers, I had, as usual, a problem with food. I do not, cannot eat spicy food—neither my tongue nor my gut tolerate it. And hot pepper spice is everywhere in New Mexico. I have had some of the best meals of my life in Santa Fe but always in restaurants that offered alternatives. I remember a wonderful lobster dish at the Pink Adobe, for instance, or a trout hash at Pasquales. This trip, we had lunch the first day at Casa de Herreras in Pecos where the waitress steered me away from Frito Pie—it’s ubiquitous in New Mexico—and toward the chalupa cups, which I loved. Heavy with guacamole and no chili unless I wanted it, which I didn’t—so good. Chili in New Mexico is not chili in Texas—it’s a thin sauce, either red or green. On the theory that green peppers are milder than red, I always thought I should choose green. But even it is too hot.

With Jacob at Frankie's
With Jacob at Frankie's
In Santa Fe, at lunch one day, I almost reduced the waiter to tears. Having not seen much on the menu that appealed I decided on cheese enchiladas with chili. My Tex-Mex orientation was dominating, because I was envisioning a rolled enchilada stuffed with cheese and topped with chili con carne. Not so. I asked if the chili was hot, and the waiter said he’d bring both green and red. Did I want beans or posole? Refried. They only had charro. What kind of tortilla did I want? No tortilla. “Not under the cheese?” he asked incredulously—well I was thinking of the side tortilla that accompanies everything and not the enchilada. We finally sorted it out, with the waiter shaking his head, and I got a flat enchilada—tortilla and cheese, with two flavors of chili that were both too hot. And I know the waiter thought he’d met a dumb blonde gringo from Texas.

Another day we went to Frankie’s, a popular restaurant in Pecos—only brunch was being served. I was afraid to try most of the selections—huevos rancheros, migas, a casserole with chili and beef or chicken—if the chili had been mild, that would have been good. But it  wasn’t. I ended up with the basic breakfast—eggs over easy, sausage (despite my trepidation, it was really good), and seasoned potatoes, which were also delicious. The honey toast was sort of pitiful—ordinary toast with a slight drizzle of honey in the middle of each slice. I would have loved a traditional sopapilla, one of the small ones that you can cut a corner off and pour honey in. Clearly, Frankie’s was not catering to the mild palate.

But it was an interesting place, especially with a formal table set for the missing soldier. The décor was pure New Mexico and charming.

In Las Vegas, I had a terrific chef salad. And the menu in the old hotel where we had drinks had some wonderful things—oysters Rockefeller, liver pate, crab cocktail—I was sorry we had a big lunch and weren’t hungry. It struck me that the menu was simulating the dishes that railroad travelers in the twenties would have ordered. Similarly, the bar at La Fonda, Santa Fe’s classic old hotel, had several appealing choices.

Clearly, I can eat happily in New Mexico. I just have to pick and choose. I’m working on my bucket list for a return trip. And meantime I’m about to fix Frito pie, the Texas way.
Some pictures I can't resist adding. Our host, Phil, has a service dog, Porter, and Jacob and Porter had a grand times together. Here they are playing and in  sweet moment. 

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