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“Oh hey!”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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Officially, the first day of spring is March 20. I don’t know about you, but a spring that involves snow in the air, wind chills and below freezing temps is no spring to me.

Spring means blossoms. The kind that look like Malcolm Gladwell tree wigs.

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Earthly blooms, bursting with color and pollen.

Long walks outside with shoes that don’t cover my ankles.

The absence of hot chocolate.

Skirts with no tights.

These things rightfully don’t happen in March. Unless there’s a freak warm weather system that gets Chad Myers’ underpants in a twist.

But April. We expect more of you.

Prolonged warm spells, not just pockets of heat.

I’m not offended by a pocket though. The weekend, for instance. Sandwich it between workweeks and the weekend is thrilling. Exhilarating. Titillating? All of those at once.

Imagine this: if every day were a weekend day, where would be the joy in approaching a weekend? Which may be a sensation even better than the weekend itself.

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“Mom, can we get a bird?”

My mind lapsed to our family doctor’s favorite expression when you were sick and paid her a visit. “Bottom of the birdcage” was her way of describing the ick that would accumulate at the base of your throat. You’d nod your head. Your cold had birdcage written all over it.

“Mom, can we get a bird?” Sam asked again. “A tiny bird. One that sings.”

I couldn’t think about the song, the colors, how happy it would make my little man to have his very own bird. All I could think about was the bottom of the birdcage and who would have to clean it.

“I’ll make you a promise buddy. You keep asking and working on your good behavior and maybe for your birthday we can get one.”

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I’m more than happy to play my adults-only trump card, I’ve earned it. You need to play the losing end of enough childhood poker games to play that card yourself. “Sure thing” the adult says. But without the benefit of perspective, little Lord Fauntleroy with his batting eyelashes is unaware that he’s bound to stop asking by the time his birthday rolls around 9 months later.

“What’s that thing ya got there?”

I pointed to the pipe cleaner that he clasped between both hands, Cheerios lined up like little soldiers along its length.

Apparently they’d spent the afternoon building bird feeders in class. In celebration of Earth Day. April 22nd. Jackson’s birthday. I’d been so distracted lavishing my dog with attention on his special day (long walk, brand new rawhide) that I’d forgotten all about it.

What a shame, I usually make some kind of effort to celebrate.

I remember my first Earth Day celebration: climbing all 144 flights of the CN Tower’s stairs in Toronto, which at that point was still the world’s tallest building.

Last year we celebrated with a special Earth Day collaboration with TOMS; we participated in One Day Without Shoes. We walked around the New York City with bare feet. Maybe it wasn’t really around the city. But we did it for a few blocks, from our apartment to the site of the One Day Without Shoes bash.

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