Turquoise Trail

This page is still under construction. Come back in a few weeks, and there will be much more to see. If, for some obscure reason, you'd like to watch me put a page together, a page about a trip I took with my father to New Mexico is currently up, albeit very much still under construction. Don't expect to hear about any of the exotica none of the other tourists talk about, however. I can't afford to travel very often, so when I do, I try to make every moment count, and some attractions become well-known for a very good reason.

What I've tried to do with that page is convey the experience I had of taking the trip, and part of that experience includes the decision to take that trip. For that reason, the first thing that you see as you come in are not the pictures I took, but public domained images typical of those I saw before I took the trip. Do the pineapple and mango salsa recipes up on that entry page (or rather, which will be up on that page, at the time of this writing) seem to be extremely atypical of Northern New Mexican cooking, for reasons which should be obvious to anybody whose stepped foot in that countryside for even a second? (It's a little cold for the growing of tropical fruit). Perhaps so, but this is immaterial: those offbase cliches are part of the impression one gets of Southwestern food from afar, and learning to see past those cliches is part of the reward of travel. I won't lay claim to any great expertise, as these trips aren't long ones, but those few weeks, in each case, were very full ones, which gave me much to think about and work with.

I got home, and started looking for Southwestern cookbooks, with a focus on New Mexican cooking. There were surprisingly, relatively, few of those around, almost all focusing on the cooking of Texas instead, for reasons which elude me. Out of the ones that remained, some seemed genuinely phony, offering dishes which I could easily see to be slight variations on Mediterranean dishes, from cuisines which were far more familiar to me, and which did not seem even slightly reminiscent of the food I had seen. Granted, I'm not a native, and those few short weeks going through Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and points in between along the Turquoise trail might have left me with my own misleading cliches, but certain themes seemed to keep running through what we did see, and we did make a point of getting away from the tourist zones when we'd go to eat. We sampled the local cooking in a wide variety of locations, not only far from where we were staying and where we were sightseeing, but from each other as well, often finding these places by sheer chance as we came across a sign by the roadside. Good little statistician I was, I had taken a random sample.

The most obvious thing that seems wrong when taking a look at the "New Mexican" recipes that I was finding in Chicago was that a lot of these dishes were arriving in thick, creamy sauces bound with flour or roux, even egg yolks in a few cases, as I recall. The last would seem to be ludicrous to me - while the land is not true desert, being dotted with piņon pines and other relatively drought resistant trees, it is also not lush, and the use of egg yolks as a thickener raises the question of what it is that one intends to do with the egg whites. Sugar, I understand, was an expensive luxury in the region until modern times, so dessert does not seem to be a likely option, and unlike the case with that memorable breakfast at Denny's that gave such a colorful reminder of itself, splashed half-digested all over a Tucson parking lot, mercifully little of what we saw was fried. The sopaipillas that arrived at the table with the meal, and the chiles rellenos were deep fried, yes, but the most representative dishes seemed to be relatively soupy stews or baked dishes made with tortillas or corn in some other form. Not that much call for binding for a sauce or for breading. The egg whites would seem to be left going to waste, something unlikely to be casually accepted in a traditionally food-poor region - the mark of special occasion food, not of everyday cookery.

In what was still a relatively dry climate compared to Chicago, if humid by Southern Arizona standards, those soupy dishes seemed right. To reduce the sauces, as we would at home, would be to send a lot of water into the dry air, where it would go to waste. No big deal, perhaps, if one is five blocks away from a reserve of fresh water averaging 500 feet deep, covering an area easily larger than that of Switzerland, so in the Great Lakes region we customarily wouldn't even think of such things, but in a drought prone region, one had really better do so. And what would be the reward for such a lack of thrift? A sauce which would grate against a dry throat, instead of soothing it as did these thinner, more broth like sauces. They won't satisfy one's hunger as thoroughly as will the more thickly sauced dishes many of us are used to, but then on the other hand, in New Mexico one seldom finds oneself dealing with either subzero temperatures or waves of five foot snow drifts to climb along on the way to the grocery store, and so lacking the opportunity to burn off all of those calories, one may find that one's body no longer seems to crave them. Or the illusion of them, as some have settled for.

Is this food of use to us when we're not in the Southwest, as something other than an occasional curiosity? Can one fully appreciate the dish one had in Santa Fe without the thin, dry air and the mild climate? +18 Farenheit was considered to be cold, there; I was actually warned not to go hiking because of that, and a mere 1 1/2" of snow on the ground! One's body is affected by the environment it finds itself in, and that does affect that way one experiences food; like any other artform, cooking can not be seperated from the environment in which it is experienced. The grilled shrimp sprinkled with herbs that seems so pleasantly subtle in Nevada becomes dull and bland in a cold, wet climate. That dish will not transplant well, and so you won't see a recipe for it here. But in the middle of winter, outdoor temperatures drop to -20 or below and when indoor relative humidities drop to a few percent indoors, the memory of that dry, desert air may not seem so far away. While we may not wish to make a whole meal of them, borrowing a few of those soupy, brothy dishes might add something to the pleasure of a meal going down a very scratchy throat. With that thought in mind, I'll be introducing the reader to a few Southwestern dishes and some variations I've done on them, and hope that he finds good use for them in his own kitchen.

(First New Mexico Trip) ... (return to main page)