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.
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.
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.
“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.
I looked up from my cart and saw, horrifyingly, that it was one of the baristas from my favorite grocery store in the city, Foragers Market. By my reaction, one might have implied that I was caught strolling out of our neighborhood porn shop with a black plastic bag in my hand. My jaw dropped, face flushed.
It’s not that she isn’t lovely. She is. We chat in the mornings, we comment on each other’s hair. “It looks lighter! I like it!”
In any other situation, I would have been delighted to see her. But not here. Not at the mass market grocery store that’s right beside Foragers Market.
At home, I disparage this retailer and take every opportunity to avoid it. I hate the fluorescent lighting, the clinical smell, the cheese fridge…so close to the household products aisle that your $10 wedge of Gruyere tastes faintly of Clorox.
Never mind the bloated out-of-season vegetables, straight from GMO farmland. “They don’t care about the food Rodney! Please don’t shop there!”
And here I was. Busted. With a big old pile of industrial corn.
This was very off-brand. Gene Simmons in a three-piece-suit off-brand.
I love Foragers Market. But when it comes to large volume foods with expensive ingredients, I’ve been known to wimp out. Under the veil of daybreak, I’ll slink next door and toss vats of ricotta and conventional veggies into my cart.
It’s a momentary breakdown that happens every few months. I might as well confess my sins before another person spies me in Aisle 3, hunting for tomato paste.
My strong preference is to pay up for quality ingredients, but sometimes, particularly when I’m testing a new recipe for the kids, I can’t bear the rejection of a pricey meal. Small-batch ricotta made by hand on an organic dairy farm upstate; the season’s most tender baby zucchini, now in the early stages of harvest. “It’ll all be cooked within an inch of its death!” the voice rings in my head.
I squeaked out my justification: “I didn’t want to make a $30 lasagna for the kids. In case they don’t like it. Please….don’t tell anyone that you saw me here.”
My friendly barista told me that my secret was safe with her. “I do it too” she said as she nodded at her container of broccoli salad.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If I had a food philosophy, it could be summarized by the following: fast, fresh, local, anti-convenience.
I tacked the last part because fast, fresh and local food is available from many of our neighborhood restaurants; you can have it hand-delivered within minutes. But the anti-convenience gene makes me want to make it from scratch.
I make just about everything from scratch. Why bother with Organic Avenue’s ginger beet juice when I can make it at home with way more effort and virtually the same cost?
This might perplex people, but those who like to make things by hand will sympathize. I’m talking to you pasta-makers, bread-bakers, and ice cream-churners. We take the labor-intensive route, but in the end, I always think that food tastes better when it’s made at home.
When we moved to our apartment in Chelsea, eating out wasn’t a choice. Our kitchen renovation took months, leaving us to either starve or find sustenance in the neighborhood. Which, when you’re living in New York City, isn’t the worst problem to have.
Momoya, a Japanese restaurant on 7th Avenue, quickly became a favorite. To the point where I had to institute house rules about switching who got to choose location.
To this day, left to his own devices, Rodney will order every delivery meal from Rocking Horse (chicken burrito, hold the watercress), and make every date night reservation at Momoya.
There, we get the same thing: tuna tarte, spicy tuna rolls, tuna, tuna, tuna, maybe a little bit of salmon to keep the peace.
The odd thing about our love affair with tuna is that we rarely eat it at home.
Foragers Market is just a few blocks from home making it our go-to destination for groceries. The downside is that although Foragers carries the best roast chickens in the city, its smaller footprint (compared to Whole Foods just a few blocks over) means that they don’t carry certain items, including fresh seafood.
But, here’s the great news. I recently came across a new service called Our Harvest which delivers greenmarket produce (the kind of stuff that you’d normally find exclusively at farmers’ markets), fresh meats, fish and artisan – right to your door.