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Welcome to part 2 of the food tour of Southwestern New Mexico.

Last time I recounted our harrowing road trip through the Gila Forest on a thimbleful of gas.

We made it, clawed our way over the finish line. Which, I imagine is how Silver City’s bike race contestants felt the day before.

Silver City hosts The Tour of the Gila bike race every year – where the world’s toughest athletes come to compete before they head to their next big event: the Tour de France.

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Having made it through the forest with a conventional gas tank, I can hardly imagine the muscle and fortitude that it takes to climb those mountains on human energy alone. Riders are a different breed and we were lucky to see a few trucks packing up their bike gear on the day that we arrived. If you’re planning a trip to Silver City, make sure to put the race on your agenda.

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Silver City is a town with its roots firmly planted in the 1960s. Many people who came to Silver City were looking to get off the grid but still have some culture at arm’s length. There are museums, cafes, boutiques carrying New Mexico’s famous silver and turquoise, and most surprising for a town of this size – consistently great food. 

Our first meal of our visit was at local hangout Diane’s. Strung with lights and framed with cheery vintage curtains, Diane’s is as comfortable as a worn leather couch. We arrived after 1PM, greeted by an all-day breakfast menu full of bacon, eggs and Hatch chiles.

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“Where are you folks coming from?” our waiter Kevin asked.

With a half ton of photography gear in tow, it was clear that we weren’t locals.

We answered Santa Fe and then asked where exactly we were in New Mexico. More explicitly, in which direction had we just traveled?

That’s like driving from New York City to northern Maine, hauling your road-weary bodies over to the local luncheonette, ordering a Bloody Mary and then asking whether you’d just driven north or south.

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4 days and 600 miles through New Mexico in a cherry red VW Beetle. From Santa Fe, the highest state capital in the United States, to the untouched wilderness of the Gila National Forest…all the way down to Silver City, first stop on the Continental Divide trail. A night in Truth or Consequences with a dip in the natural hot springs, an afternoon at Ladder Ranch and at long last, a return trip to Albuquerque for a well-earned Cinco de Mayo party. I brought my Mum along for the ride; a pre-Mother’s day trip that we’ll never forget. Today, and in two more upcoming posts, I’ll share our stories from the road.

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We were invited to visit New Mexico as part of a food tour that brought me together with some of my peers in the food blogging world. I asked my Mum if she’d like to join and she answered a resounding “yes!” before we knew the itinerary; before we learned, for instance, that we’d be trekking through mountains and valleys and desert and rain in a car that could fit inside of our family’s SUV.

Living in New York City means that I’m not much of a driver, and when I do drive to our lake house, it’s an hour door-to-door; nothing like the open road in New Mexico where mirages form and tumbleweeds blow.

This trip – never mind the meals we’d tackle, booze we’d guzzle, hills we’d hike, and art we’d view – would be a navigational feat in and of itself.

But we had the right ingredients: enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.

We drove long hours, passing a changing landscape, each view more beautiful than the last. We met restauranteurs, chefs, winemakers, distillers, tour guides, biochemists, and hoteliers. We learned their stories and marveled at the deeply-rooted history that so defines this region.

Two kinds of people live in New Mexico – those who are born there, and those who visit and never leave.

The state is filled with transplants – people who came in search of solitude, beauty, inspiration, and the great outdoors. Others came by accident but never looked back.

“Don’t ask me how I ended up here”, we often heard.

“It’s a long story.”

There were tales of ex-lovers, work assignments, destiny and fate.

“I feel more at home here than I did in Florida…Arizona…Texas…Ohio.”

It’s easy to understand – after just four days, I felt a similar pull. The food was surprisingly sophisticated – from the nuanced molé that we ate at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, to the bubbling dry ice-encased custard at our hotel, The Sierra Grande, in Truth or Consequences. The locals were salt of the earth – generous with their time, eager to answer questions, passionate about their state. 

There are too many images to include in one post, so over the course of the next few weeks I’ll share more images from our adventure.

We started out at the Albuquerque International airport after picking up our Beetle. My Mum’s confidence in my driving skills dropped sharply after I fumbled with the keys, lost them for several minutes, and needed help unlocking the trunk. All of this happened before I’d placed the key in the ignition. We kept talk to a minimum, both of us sensing that this would be a very. long. trip.

It didn’t help that just off to the south was a fast-approaching wall of rain; mountains and indigo clouds illuminated by the occasional bolt of lightning.

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My mind churned. Both of ours did, guiltily. Our families were safe in their routines; and here we were getting ready to tackle this stormy terrain in something other than a 4-wheel drive off-roading machine.

That is, until a rental attendant pointed out that Santa Fe is due north. We sped out of Albuquerque and one hour later, pulled up to our hotel on a hill: The Lodge at Santa Fe.

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After a brief tour of the hotel, we hopped in a cab and headed to Santa Fe’s historic center: a cluster of blocks brimming with artwork, turquoise jewelry, and green chile everything.

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If you were to think about large-scale efforts – mapping the human genome, searching for monster prime numbers, developing the TESLA, you would be wise to add planning a family Caribbean vacation to your list.

There’s the organizing, packing, passport-checking, last-minute snack shopping, the rounding up of coloring books, crayons, headphones, medication, sunscreen and whatever sand-caked plastic shovels that can be found from the last vacation.

Rodney imposed house rules against me asking him to exfoliate my back and apply sunless tanner the night before a trip, so now I leave that job to the professionals. Which of course never gets done. Time, who? what?

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This year I got my act together and scheduled an appointment that I promised I wouldn’t break. I stuck to my guns, shed my clothes in front of a woman whose name sounded like Mary but wasn’t, and stepped into the booth. After a few passes of her spray gun, she declared that I looked “owa-some” and I skipped back home, a burnished shade of bronze.

My kids weren’t impressed. Over the sobs of one child, another demanded to know what happened to my “other skin”. The third was found later, hiding in a closet. This pre-tan effort, I imagine, won’t happen again.

It was the least I could do to get ready for what promised to be the trip of a lifetime.

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When traveling with kids, Rodney and I have always leaned towards big hotels with big pools, big restaurants, and a bigger set of amenities. The kind of place where a kid can race around and find plenty of entertainment.

This year though, we booked our trip through Inspirato. After looking through their list of properties, we found a house that seemed like it would be a great fit for our family: our own pool, an empty beach, ocean-facing bedrooms, and the icing on our Tortuga rum cake….a well-stocked kitchen.

I’m not sure how many times the word “idyllic” was dropped into the conversation during our stay, but I’m pretty certain that were in three-digit territory.

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Like a sitting duck, I knew that I’d have to cash in my chips after hosting Thanksgiving for 10+ years straight.

Is it really fair to expect that your relatives will drop everything to fly during the busiest travel weekend of the year?

Though, in all honesty, it was decadent to spend almost no time in the kitchen over Thanksgiving weekend. Yes, I made sure that our bird was glossy and brown; I prepped an appetizer; but other than a few menial activities, I didn’t set foot near a chopping block except to mix myself a cocktail. Perhaps we should indulge in this “hosted not hosting” thing more often…

Traveling to LA with three kids isn’t easy, but the Shake Shack at JFK airport was a welcome sight. On principle, Rodney and I got ourselves burgers, fries and beers at 9:30AM. Because that’s what you do when you see a Shake Shack. When you win the lottery, you turn your ticket in, no exceptions.

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The flight was relatively easy, and my kids, despite all of my nervousness, had nary a fatigue-induced meltdown, leaving me with 6 hours to watch 3 full-length movies. Did it matter that I kept having to pour apple juice over ice to my Disney-watching companions? Nope.

At last, we arrived! We had family rendez-vous at the Venice Pier, and so began our Thanksgiving weekend.

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I have the same affliction as my Mum – whenever a camera emerges, and I’m on the wrong (e.g. lens-facing) side, I freeze like a TV dinner. That’s a 2015 resolution – smile like I mean it. Like someone just told a dirty joke, those always make me laugh.

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We’ve had several sets of plans to go apple picking this Fall, all of which have fallen through. Rodney had to travel on Sunday and left us with no plans and a full day to explore.

We decided to leave for a last-minute trip to Warwick, NY for some apple picking, worried that the season would slip by without a visit. And after spending 30 minutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the main thoroughfare that links our lake house in northern New Jersey to the Southernmost part of the Hudson Valley, we pulled the ripcord and made other plans.

We’d passed by a small farm called L&L and rather than sitting in more traffic, we pulled over to see what they had to offer.

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Although the apple orchard wasn’t open for picking, bushels of apples were available for purchase, and off in the distance I spotted a pumpkin patch. After our visit to Heaven Hill, we’d bought our fair share of pumpkins, but the kids were eager to find another, having drawn all over our existing pumpkins with a set of highly-guarded Sharpies. How they get a hold of these markers is a mystery; one of their magical talents seems to be finding Sharpies from hiding places that I’d previously thought undiscoverable.

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We loaded up on fruit…

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And bought a few decorated pumpkins…

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