Late August

Late August is one of my favorite times of year, especially in Santa Fe. Fall starts early here. Temperatures drop and storms are longer-lasting. Yet in the early evening, the sun can be as strong as during the height of summer and a yellow heat burns over the landscape just before it sets.

I like that “august” can be an adjective. Described in the 1932 Webster’s dictionary (which rests in the archives’ reading room) as: “of a quality inspiring admiration and reverence; having an aspect of solemn dignity or grandeur; sublime; majestic.” I aspire to be august, though my nature is often more silly and fickle than majestic.

Travis is back in the casita with me and the dogs. It feels good to have him home and to once again figure out a routine together. It can be disorienting having your partner away so often and for lengths at a time. I always feel like we have a lot to talk about when he returns, but I don’t know where to begin and then I feel sort of … bashful. What I end up doing is being quiet and letting the days and nights and adjustments happen gently. This reminds me of a line by Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet and mystic I’ve been remembering lately:

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.” (from The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, p. 51)

For a “Welcome Home” meal to ease us both back into cooking again, we decided on a simple favorite: Chicken with Lemon and Olives. Prep and clean-up are easy with this one dish meal and we both love the brineyness of roasted olives, lemons and white wine.

Chicken with Lemon and Olives

Ingredients

  • 4 – 6 chicken thighs, bone-in, trimmed of some of the fat and skin
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 3 – 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 lemons, preferably Meyer, sliced or cut in wedges
  • 1 cup olives, mix of kalamata and green
  • ½ cup broth
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Preparation

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Season well with salt, pepper and fennel.
3. Add olive oil to cast iron skillet and heat to high, but not smoking. Brown chicken on each side and remove.
4. De-glaze pan if needed with splash of wine. Lower heat to medium-high and sauté onions just until translucent.
5. Add garlic and continue to sauté for about a minute. Do not burn garlic.
6. Whisk in mustard, wine and broth to skillet, bring to a simmer. Let reduce slightly. Taste sauce and adjust seasonings as needed.
7. Add chicken back into pan, along with olives, lemon wedges and rosemary.
8. Cover with tin foil and bake for about one hour in oven, removing foil towards the end.

 

The biggest thing/ Mexico Part I

It’s been over ten years since I last traveled outside the United States. Ten years spent mostly working and studying and definitely not vacationing. So when Travis left for a two-month travel fellowship to research in Mexico City, I knew it was the perfect time to change this! I just returned from 6 days in Mexico and it was completely soul reviving, in many ways. I’m going to make this a multiple part post because we just did so much in those few days that deserves describing.

Trav studies the Nahuatl-speaking Indians who journeyed with the Spanish up through northern Mexico and New Mexico circa 1540 – 1680 AD. He loves learning about archaeology and anthropology –  the rise and fall of ancient societies, spearheads, skull morphology, evolution, rituals, games, gods – all of it. More than once, when we’ve been driving through some rough western landscape, he’s said: “Imagine what life was like out there for the Paleo-Indians!” I can honestly say, I had never thought of it before! I think the curiosity was probably instilled in him by his father, a Spanish professor with a proclivity for Mexican art and jewelry, and perhaps even by his grandfather, whose wood-paneled study is filled with natural curiosities and rare books on rare subjects of all kinds. Most of the research Travis is doing in Mexico involves poring through documentary archives, but he’s also visited a few archaeological sites to become familiar with the places and material culture of the people he studies.

The morning after I arrived in Mexico City, we donned our Indiana Jones-ish hats (okay, mine is just a cowboy hat) and we took a subway train, then a bus, then another bus to Xochicalco – ‘place of the house of flowers’ – in Morelos state.  An archaeological site which was “once a mountaintop fortress, [Xochicalco] controlled trade routes and was culturally linked to Teotihuacan and the Maya areas, flourishing between 650 – 900 AD” (Travis’s words). He’d been to the site previously and though it is not as famous as the nearby Teotihuacan, he felt Xochicalco was a more magical place, with its almost tropical mountain-valley location (and lack of tourists).

It was hot and humid when we spilled out at the entry to the site, located on a steep and meandering road. Since we missed the guided tour, Trav explained some of the history to me and we read our little tourist guidebook while walking along ancient ball fields, pyramids, foundations of living spaces and areas of worship (and sacrifice!). The most prominent pyramid, called simply “Structure A” on the map, stood in the main plaza and promised a spectacular view of not only the archaeological areas, but the surrounding river valley. As I mentioned, it was very hot and humid and the climb involved a lot of steps. But we were in the mood for adventure! I was so happy to not be in my office back in Santa Fe, I could’ve climbed 5 pyramids! I felt like Mesa must feel every time I get out the leash – Adventure! New things! The world! The person I love the most!

So we clambered up the stone escalones and I stepped to the edge, looking out over everything. The breeze that was mild below was graciously much stronger up top. I turned around to make some remark to Travis and – he was down on one knee! I was so incredibly surprised, as if I’d turned around and seen him doing a handstand or playing piano. Then he was saying all these nice things about me (I wished I had listened better!), and all I could say was “Of course! Of course!” and pull him to me and hug and kiss and laugh out of pure giddiness and nerves. I didn’t even cry at the time – I was so caught off guard and incredibly excited and energized from it all.  

So that was the BIGGEST THING of the trip. It made the rest of the trip that much more celebratory and romantic. I don’t have the right words (yet) to describe quite how I feel – except incredibly in love and humbled by it.

Still on a love-high from the proposal, we continued to explore the park until closing time and then took another bus to a small complex of “eco” cabanas in Tetlamatzin, a nearby village. The cabanas are well-built, of some sort of clay or stone, with real thatched roofs, Mexican tiled bathrooms, and traditional wood furniture. The beds were placed strategically out of the way of the holes in the roof.  🙂  Our spot was very private, with a view of the leafy Morelos valley.

The woman who manages the cabanas also runs a tiny restaurant where you can get chales (some sort of chicharrones/ pork skin) or bean quesadillas, whole fried mojarres (fish), and gigantic micheladas.  A michelada is a beer-based cocktail, whose ingredients vary depending upon region. In Morelos, a michelada is this: your choice of a 40 oz beer, some strange Worcheshire-ish sauces (Jugo de Maggi, Salsa Inglesia), Clamato, lemon or lime juice, and a big sticky swath of what is called chamoy around the cup’s rim. Chamoy is a sweet and tangy fermented fruit syrup, which we both fell in love with. I’m aware this description sounds pretty gross, but as a non-beer drinker and cocktail enthusiast, I can tell you – it was so good! Very tangy and light and super fun to drink. This description from Bon Appetit puts it well: “… it sounded lowbrow and disgusting, but instead it was a minor miracle: tart, slightly sweet and salty with umami flavor from the Maggi and funk from the Clamato.” ( Recipe here ) 

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There is no optical illusion here – the cup was actually bigger than his head.

After a night’s rest in the cabana, we took a quick bus ride to Cuentepec, a very small, traditional Nahuatl-speaking village where there was – inexplicably – an “Xtremo” sports park offering a handful of different activities. After some confusion in locating the place (there was no signage and some very rapidly spoken-in-Spanish directions), we walked into a compound of buildings where a small, middle-aged lady in traditional dress and apron read us the slew of options from rappelling, to horseback riding, to lengthy hikes. We chose one of the shorter zipline trips, which crossed a 260 foot high cascada (waterfall). Before signing the liability forms, we asked: “Nadie ha muerto?” only half-joking. They answered quickly, “No, no!”  … I was not especially assured by the answer, but signed anyway. (Sorry mom!)

Our young guide, Calisto, led us to the waterfall on a short hike through muddy agricultural fields, dewy trees, and horse tracks. I was pretty exhausted by the time we crested the canyon ridge and saw the waterfall – it was huge! We did three ziplines across the river canyon. It was really magnificent and over in a flash. The gymnast in me is always excited by flying through the air.

After some more tromping, and a few more buses, we were back in Mexico City by evening – dirty, sweaty and very happy.

Next post I will describe our experiences in the city, which primarily included lots of walking and seeing and eating and drinking.

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Windy bus ride back to the city

Pasta with chickpeas and greens

I have so many half-prepared recipe posts in my Google Drive and have been derelict in getting them up here. My main issue is I do not have great images to accompany the recipes and that just isn’t fun for blogging. Food photography is hard, especially in the winter months when I’m usually cooking as night falls and the natural light is waning. Casseroles just don’t look too hot under the dim, fluorescent light of my kitchen.

But the spring rain is here in Santa Fe! And our evenings are becoming what I like to call “margarita evenings” again, when the light lasts long enough for you to linger, margarita in hand, out on the portal. Which reminds me, I really need some outdoor seating this year. My overturned clay pots and mildewed chairs need to be updated.

Travis left last Friday for the humid, coastal landscape of California. He presented at a conference on Saturday and is spending a few days researching at the Bancroft Library, at UC Berkeley.

Two major things happened after Trav left:

1. Lupe returned to his gremlin self – demanding things of me in his high-pitched yelp. “Open the door!” “Open the door again!” “Move this gate!” “Feed me!” “There’s leaves blowing out there!” Travis has somehow managed to “train” Lupe – something I have failed at for the entire 7 years he’s lived with me. But the training appears to be entirely fickle and have nothing to do with me. Or everything to do with me. It really bewildered me how quickly he returned to his tyrant ways once Trav was out the door. Seriously dude? I saved you from the streets! He is such a difficult dog. Mesa on the other hand, is an angel. (And has been very happy to be able to snuggle me all day without interference.)

2. Nothing. I did so much nothing this weekend and it was fabulous. I didn’t shower, I moved the television to the bedroom, and drank tea called “Breakfast in Paris” with milk and sugar. I piled a stack of paperbacks on the nightstand and alternated between reading, walking with Mesa, and watching Fixer Upper on HGTV. I texted Katie about furniture refinishing and Pinterest. I cleaned out the vacuum schnozzle thing. I took a nap.

And then I started to miss Travis. We Facetimed while he walked down a Berkeley street and I saw the familiar gray skies of northern California. I spent a semester in Sonoma, California as an undergraduate and can still remember the prehistoric swampy smell of the air. I’m not anywhere close to a California girl, but I did love imagining scenes from Steinbeck novels taking place on the green hills and craggy coasts.

By Sunday night I was feeling pretty slovenly, so I took a hot shower and prepared this healthy meal. It’s sort of an upgraded pasta salad – more vegetables, no mayo, chickpeas for protein. I also used gluten-free brown rice pasta. If you haven’t tried rice pasta in a while, it’s really improved. Just be careful not to overcook it and you probably won’t discern any difference in taste.

Pasta with chickpeas and greens

Ingredients:

  • 10 oz. pasta (I used brown rice fusilli)
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced very thin (if you have a mandolin, this a great time to use it!)
  • 2 scallions, sliced diagonally
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, rough chopped
  • 3/4 cup chickpeas, drained
  • 1/3  cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 cups delicate greens (ex. arugula, baby kale), chopped chiffonade-style
  • 4 oz light feta, chopped or crumbled
  • 3 – 4 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs rice wine vinegar
  • Juice and zest of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried mint
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Cook pasta and drain. Do not overcook! Drizzle with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking. Let cool.
  2. Place zucchini, scallions, olives, chickpeas, parsley, and greens in large bowl.
  3. Assemble dressing: In small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and zest, basil, mint and dill. Add a pinch (or more) each of salt and black pepper.
  4. Once pasta is cooled, combine with zucchini mixture.
  5. Add feta and prepared dressing and stir gently to combine.
  6. Serve warm or chilled.

Braised beef with garlic

For the last few months of living alone, I’ve done minimal cooking and minimal red meat-eating. Cuts of meat aren’t easily adapted to a one-person meal and I try to stick to lean meats in general.

However, I stayed in for New Year’s this year and without any plans whatsoever, I decided New Year’s Day might be a good time to cook something rich, something special – but not elaborate. I have too much to do (more on this later!) in preparation for Travis arriving to sit around and dilly-dally with complicated recipes.

This recipe is slightly adapted from one I found on epicurious.com (Oven-Braised Beef with Tomato Sauce and Garlic). I cut down on the tomato ingredients, added red wine, Worcestershire sauce, and herbs for flavor, and adapted the whole thing for the crock pot, since I don’t have a large enough oven-safe pot. I also used a smaller cut of meat, but I think the ingredients would work just fine with up to a 3.5 lb chuck roast.

Braised Beef with Garlic 

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 – 2 lb beef chuck roast
  • 1 small – medium head garlic
  • 1/2 c. beef broth
  • 1/2 c. crushed tomatoes and juice
  • 1/2. dry red wine (I used Pinot Noir)
  • 1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbs. tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme (fresh would also be excellent)
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary (see above)
  • bay leaf
  • salt and pepper
  • red pepper flakes, optional, but recommended
  1. Separate garlic cloves and remove thinnest outer peel only. Place in crock pot.
  2. Rub beef with salt, pepper and red pepper, if using.
  3. Heat olive oil in heavy-bottomed pan, such as cast iron, until very hot, but not smoking.
  4. Sear beef on both sides, about 3 -4 minutes each. Remove and place in crock pot.
  5. Pour wine into cast iron pan to deglaze, scraping any stuck on bits with a wooden spoon, and continue simmering to reduce liquid by about half.
  6. Add beef broth, crushed tomatoes and juice, Worcestershire, tomato paste, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf to a bowl and whisk to blend.
  7. Pour broth mixture over beef in crock pot. Add reduced wine sauce from pan, too.
  8. Cook on low in crock pot about 8 hours, or until meat is very tender and able to be shredded with forks.
  9. Serve beef and gravy over s/mashed potatoes, egg noodles, or whatever you like!

Christmas in Connecticut, IRL

This year, for the first time, I traveled by airplane during Christmas. When I booked my ticket weeks ago, I remember thinking “Hmm, I wonder how crazy it will be?” But by the time I bought all my presents, crammed them and a week’s worth of stuff into a suitcase, tidied up at work and home for being away (forgot to water the plants), dropped the pups at boarding and flung myself into the car and down the highway towards Albuquerque at 3:30 in the morning, I was not really thinking at all. And oh, was it crazy! Long lines in Albuquerque made me literally the last one to board the plane, after sprinting in heels (bad choice) to the gate. I’ve cut it close before, but I totally won that contest this time.

But! It was completely worth it to see Travis and meet his family in New York and Connecticut. Before I left, when I told people I was meeting the boyfriend’s family for the first time, each and every person gave me the same pained, pitying grimace. It’s the stuff of holiday trauma-comedies, really. But I can happily and genuinely tell you: it was so fun! I’m sure I avoided a lot of the usual holiday stress because I was a “guest” and not hosting. Also, in T’s family, I’m not the oldest sibling or cousin, but more towards the younger side – which was a very nice spot to be in, for a change!

Highlights for me were:

  • talking about cooking, murder mysteries, and interior design with T’s mom
  • looking through Travis’s baby pictures
  • hearing stories of all the boys (7 boy cousins in total) romping through the New England wilderness
  • seeing Rocky-the-usually-aloof-Beagle ecstatic about the 3 squeaker snake toy I brought him
  • dancing with the little kids on Christmas Eve
  • meeting T’s 99 year-old grandpa
  • riding along on windy roads (with Dramamine doing its thing) through rolling farmland, rivers, and swamps
  • grabbing a burger with my mom
  • seeing a picture of my friend’s new baby, Emmett, born December 23

– and in general, doing a lot of eating, drinking, and laughing. Oh, and opening my new turntable on Christmas morning! A tremendous gift from Travis. I cannot wait to hear my Dolly Parton and Loretta albums again.

From top, left to right: Julia (Travis’s cousin’s daughter) and I (also featured in the dancing video); Trav as a toddler in front of his dad’s corvette; Me and Trav at Ommegang Brewery in New York; interior of T’s Grandpa’s study; little Emmett!; me and the girls requesting Taylor Swift; tree on family land where Trav and his cousin carved their initials in 1995.

Frank Ortiz Dog Park

These photos were taken at the Frank Ortiz Dog Park in town, a few weeks ago. It’s one of our favorite spots. I spent an hour or so trying to figure out who “Frank Ortiz” was/ is, by researching old newspaper articles – to no avail. Whoever he is, the dog park in his name is a wonderland. It consists of about 135 acres of unfenced, hilly, sun-soaked New Mexico land. Dropping into the sandy arroyos is a great workout, but Mesa and I love to walk the high trails, which give great vistas of the city.

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Mesa under the bright fall sun.

 

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Veggie Egg Drop Soup

I celebrated my 32nd birthday this past weekend – and partied accordingly 🙂 I figure one night a year you’re overdue for drinking and dancing, no excuses. A new friend lent me this spectacular violet wig, which I paired with an entirely black outfit, black eyebrows and red lips – a makeup combination I could never wear in my redhead life.

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However, I am 32! Staying out takes a lot out of me and my body definitely feels it. When I’m looking to rejuvenate and “detox” I turn to these Asian-inspired clear broth soups. I love my soups very gingery and very spicy, with a lot of broth, some veggies and protein. This is by no means a traditional recipe. In fact, I followed absolutely no recipe and I am sure if I had, it would have been even more amazing. But I also like my Monday night recipes SIMPLE. No straining, no cooking ingredients separately and “setting aside.” This is a one-pot meal. And I think it is delicious!

Ingredients
2 chicken breasts
1 small-medium onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced diagonally
3-4 cups broth (vegetable or chicken will do, homemade is best, of course)
1-2 cups water
1 tbs soy sauce
1 head baby bok choy, thinly sliced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 jalapeno, sliced (optional)
Lots of red pepper (optional)
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Scallions, for garnish
Sesame oil, to taste

1. Saute onion for 3 – 4 minutes over medium high heat, until slightly soft.

2. Add jalapeno (if using), garlic, ginger, celery and black pepper. Saute about 2 minutes. NOTE: Be careful not to overcook the vegetables. You want them to retain their crunch and bright green color.

3. Add broth, water, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil.

4. Add chicken breast and reduce to a high simmer, to cook chicken through. Cook about 10-12 minutes.

5. Remove chicken breast, shred and return to pot. Be sure chicken is cooked all the way through.

6. Once chicken is cooked, reduce heat to low simmer and slowly pour beaten eggs into center of pot. Let the eggs firm up before stirring. (This part is really fun!)

7. Add bok choy and red pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. You may stir gently, but be aware of the eggs. Simmer about 2 minutes until bok choy is soft, but still crispy.

8. All done! Serve with sliced scallions and sesame oil.

This makes a pretty big pot. I usually freeze a quart or so. If you need a little more heft to your meal, jasmine rice would be a great side.

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