Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Santa Fe Recipes

Santa Fe is known for its architecture and food, which are both heavily influenced by its Anglo, Spanish and Native American tri-cultural heritage.

The New Mexican desert is dotted with pinkish-beige adobes, which are made by pouring a mixture of mud in between wooden frames. "Recipes" for adobe "mud" differ between Pueblo tribes, and are passed down from mother to daughter. Nearly all of the buildings in Santa Fe are adobes, and recently there has been a push to interview women elders of Pueblo tribes in order to record and preserve this uniquely "green" building method.

In addition to architectural recipes, New Mexico's distinctive culture is reflected in its cuisine, which may be some of the best food this country has to offer. Below are a few of our most memorable epicurean moments...

Breakfast: Luminaria

The locally grown green chile is an absolute staple of New Mexican cuisine (even for breakfast) and has more of a flavor-packed punch than a tabasco-like heat. I love NM green chile, and was anxious for Diana to try some as soon as possible. So, for our first breakfast in Santa Fe, we ate at our hotel's restaurant, Luminaria, which turned out to be wonderful. Diana and I both had eggs scrambled with green chile, tomatoes and avocado, with a side of hash browns, homemade warm tortillas, and fresh pear / ginger juice. It was the perfect start to a delicious trip.

Lunch: Tomasita's

In addition to the green chile, I could not leave Santa Fe without introducing Diana to my beloved sopaipillas, which are puffy, deep fried squares of dough, made in the same tradition as Navajo fry bread. Locals and tourists alike agree - the place for these tasty-pillow-treats is Tomasita's. While people have strong opinions on how to best enjoy their sopaipillas (savory or sweet), I subscribe to the local three-step process:

Step One: break off a large piece of the sopaipilla and smother it in honey-butter.

Step Two: squirt a little local honey over the honey-butter (and no, it's not too much honey).

Step Three: dredge your sticky, golden, buttery bread through a mixture of spicy chile - preferably "Christmas style" (1/2 green and 1/2 red chile).

Diana and I perfected this ritual with a main course of Huevos Rancheros, (corn tortillas layered in chile, beans and cheese with two fried eggs on top) - another Tomasita's classic.

Afternoon Snack: Mangiamo Pronto!

Santa Fe is at 7,000 feet, and the altitude does get to you. One afternoon I took a short nap as Diana tooled around. When I woke up, I got a text from her: "I'm at the gelato place across the street" - leave it to Diana to hunt down an Italian pit-stop in NM. This little cafe turned out to be a winner- with good coffee, creamy salted caramel gelato, and high quality prosciutto wrapped melon.

We had two outstanding dinners: chicken enchiladas at The Shed and pork tomalles at The Pink Adobe. At both places, we were giddy with the explosion of flavors - and thanked the food gods for leading us to the promise land.

If you look closely at the picture above, you will see some posole on the left hand side of my dinner plate. Posole is a little like a dry popcorn soup, and is made with lime, hominy, pork, chiles, garlic & spices. There is an expression in NM: "rice is nice but posole is holy" - and an argument can be made that you aren't really eating a traditional New Mexican meal unless posole is a part of it. It's sort of bland on its own, but takes on the heat and flavor of whatever it compliments, which makes it a perfect side to any chile-smothered dish.

They say "if you can't stand the heat, stay out of New Mexico: Here chile is king"; I say - long live his majesty's reign.

Some Santa Fe Food Links:

Hatch Chile Festival: Sept 3-4

Santa Fe School of Cooking
Gil's Thrilling (and Filling) Blog

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Getting to Santa Fe

When I moved from San Francisco to NJ three years ago, I left behind one of the closest friends I've ever had - Diana. Since we are both teachers, we decided to plan a little summer get away this year for some girl time. We chose to explore Santa Fe, New Mexico because it was somewhat "in the middle" of the two of us, and Diana had never been.

While I have been to Santa Fe at least 6 or 7 times before, I've never navigated it without a car - so I had no idea how to get us from the Albuquerque airport to downtown Santa Fe.

Diana and I decided to jump right into the local flavor of things, and take the train instead of an airport shuttle. Even though we had to wait 2 hrs at the airport (since the train runs so infrequently), we didn't have any problems chatting away the time. On our short (free) bus ride from the airport to the train, our driver gave us a great tip: we should go straight up-stairs and sit on the right side of the train for the best scenery.

While we miscalculated where the "right" side was, the train turned out to be a fantastic, relaxing way to see some beautiful southwest landscapes. Plus - it's dirt cheap: $3 for students and $7 for adults.

Next stop: Santa Fe adventure!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Allusions in Paris

Allusion: a reference in a literary work or film to a famous person, place, or thing in history, or another artistic work.

Yesterday, I lunched on popcorn and snow caps as Gary and I took in Woodie Allen's new movie, "Midnight in Paris" - which was simply fantastic.

I didn't really know anything about the film before going, except that it was about Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood movie script writer who goes to Paris to try to write something "serious", and in the process finds a portal in time back to 1920s Paris.

There were only 7 of us in the theater, so when the protagonist Gil first enters this "alternate 1920s Parisian universe" and meets "Zelda" - my gasp was clearly audible. My mind began racing - "no way, can't be" and then... Scott (as in Fitzgerald) introduced himself to a wide-eyed Gil.

Neither Gil nor I could believe our luck - not only was this a trip back to 1920s Paris - but a ticket into one of the most incredible literary and artistic group of friends history has ever known: Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, TS Eliot - somehow Gil had found my beloved "lost generation" literary heroes.

As the movie progressed, the allusions kept coming (Picasso, Matisse, Baker, Porter etc) to my delight, and I just melted into the romance of the era, good acting, breathtaking cinematography, and Allen's witty dialogue. I felt like Ceceila in "The Purple Rose of Cairo" - like somehow I had jumped into the film and was tagging along with Gil - throwing a knowing, nudging elbow here and there at inside jokes concerning these literary and artistic legends' lives.

After the film, I tried to find a list of allusions in the movie and came across several scathing reviews criticizing Allen's 1920s cameos. I was surprised by the negative reviews - claiming that the allusions were only added so pseudo intellectuals could loudly acknowledge obscure historical references with a grunt or vigorous head nod. Ridiculous. That's like claiming the creators of The Simpsons and Family Guy only put literary and artistic allusions into their shows so parents can look down their noses at their small children and dogs, and "humph" in triumph at their own intellectual superiority.

I am a high school English teacher - allusions and other literary devices are the bread and butter of my trade.

I tell my students that they need a baseline knowledge of historically and artistically important works, people and events because these "allusions" weave a fabric of common experience that present-day authors and creators draw upon to provide a richer experience for the reader or audience. In a way - allusions are a short cut to deeper understanding... If I say, "I really, really, really, really, really, love my boyfriend" - that only conveys a vague explanation of my emotions... but if I say, "I love my boyfriend as much as Juliet loved Romeo" suddenly, the depth of my relationship is more clearly conveyed.

Allusions are important, and intellectually satisfying - as demonstrated beautifully by Allen's film. Through Gil's charming relationships with literary and artistic giants of the past, he reveals a simple but important truth: sometimes the enchantment of nostalgia can prevent us from seeing the beauty of the present.

You better believe that I'm showing a clip from this film after I teach "The Great Gatsby" - and I can guarantee the smiles and "ohhhs" of understanding from my students will not be mere feigned intellectual prowess, but honest reflections of the wonderment they will feel when they realize that they are finally in on the inside jokes.

Summer Treats

Last night I got two treats - Gary and I got to hang out with two of our favorite people in the world: Chris and Christine AND we got ice cream filled crepes from Cake, Bake and Roll on Long Branch's "boardwalk" - Pier Village.

Christine and I both got the coffee-chocolate-chunk ice cream with our crepes, and although the flavors were absolutely delicious, the ice cream melted too quickly because it was actually stuffed inside of the crepe rather than resting on top of it. Next time, I'll just have to be more "hands-on" in the assembly process.

It's a cute place; I especially liked the little bistro touches like the European lazy-susan ice cream wheel. According to the weather index, yesterday "felt like" 115 degrees, so the fact that the cool Ocean breeze made it bearable enough to eat outside made the crepes (and evening) that much sweeter.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Colonoscopy Results

Even though this was my 5th bowel prep in 15 months, all did not go exactly as planned.

I had major vomiting and fever issues, and lost 5.6 lbs between 4 pm Mon afternoon and 5:30 am Tues morning. In fact, I actually started blacking out right before my iv went in, which - thankfully - has never happened before.

The great news is that they got me stabilized, and my colonoscopy came back free from any further growths! We are really happy with the end results (no pun intended), and I'm relieved that I don't need another one until next year.

On a side note - Gary and I love my RWJ colorectal oncological surgeon who does my yearly tests (Dr. Maloney-Patel). She just recently had a baby girl, so we got her a little newborn outfit as a small token of our gratitude for her amazing ongoing care and support. (I must have looked a bit odd in the ambulatory surgery waiting room - wearing a cancer survivor shirt and two hospital id bracelettes, with a baby present on my lap...)

It turns out that I was Dr. Maloney-Patel's first patient back from maternity leave, and that her baby girl - Nina - shares my birthday (May 14th). Somehow the "cuteness" of this news overshadowed the miserableness of the prep, and I couldn't help but flash a big, toothy smile at the anesthesiologist, right before he put me under.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, July 18, 2011

Virtual Stamp Collection: Featuring Zebras

Prologue: I wrote this on Monday - while doing my bowel prep... and going on an internet stamp hunt turned out to be a great diversion.

For the past 2.5 hours, I've been drinking 8 ounces of my blue-colored, mucus-flavored bowel-prep concoction every 10 minutes, as directed.

In between gagging down this terrible elixir, I decided to write a letter to my sister to take my mind off of things; not an email or facebook message - a real, honest to goodness, pen-to-paper, letter.

After I was finished, I thought about how perfect it would be if I had a zebra stamp to stick on it. (Carcinoid ribbon color is zebra striped). There is something so romantic about stamps - especially ones that have a faded, foreign postmark, smothering them, as they cling to the right hand corner of a yellowed, hand addressed envelope.

Then I thought - well, hey... there have to be countries that feature zebras on their postage... and how cool would it be to start a stamp collection? While I probably write more letters than most, I too am guilty of indulging in the immediacy of virtual messaging on a daily basis - so I found it sweetly ironic (and immediately gratifying) to create a virtual collection of zebra postage stamps from around the world.

From time to time, I'm going to add to my virtual collection, and maybe someday I'll affix my own foreign stamp to a postcard telling of some adventure I'm having - a miniature zebra winking from behind a smudged ink-ring - symbolic evidence of my triumphant return from the land of cancer.

Congo (1993)

Rwanda (1984)

Rwanda (1967)

Cuba (1970)

Guinea (1975)

USSR (1968)

This is a collage of stamps that I created through a program called Smilebox, which includes stamps from the following countries:

left column: Kenya (1966); United Nations (1984), Rwanda (1984); center column: Angola (1953), Portugese colony of Mozambique Companhia (1937), Belgian Congo (1942); right column: Vietnam (1982), Dependency of Ajman, Manama (1969), Zimbabwe (1980), Republic of Guinea Bissau (1988), Arab Democratic Republic of Western Sahara (1996), Nigeria (2001)

If you happen upon any zebra stamps out there in your travels - please send me a picture :)

Stamp Entry 7/23: Submitted by My Friend Jean in NJ

Famous Still Lifes

Paul Cezanne
Still Life with Apples
Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 21 5/8 (1890)

Marlena Johnston
Still Life with Miralax and Ben & Jerry's
Photo on iphone, 2.1 MB (2011)

The night before a bowel prep, I give myself a free pass to eat whatever I want - so last night, I had sushi and a 1/2 pint of Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream... today, I am on a clear liquid diet, and around 4 pm will start consuming 255 grams of Miralax, 4 Dulcolax pills, and 64 ounces of Gatorade in preparation for my colonoscopy tomorrow.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Yankees Milestones: Jeter and Grandpa

Last week, Gary and I witnessed a Yankees' milestone when Derek Jeter earned his 3,000th career hit. The hit itself could have been straight out of a Hollywood movie script: full count, Yankees trailing by one at home, Jeter at bat -- all eyes and cameras on him when... he hits a BOMB that blasts out of left field - soaring Jeter into history. What made it even sweeter was that hit 3,000 was the first home run Jeter had at Yankee Stadium in about a year, he went 5 for 5, and had the game winning RBI in the 8th inning. Jeter is only the 28th major leaguer in the history of the game to get 3,000 hits - and the only Yankee. Even if you don't like the Yankees, you have to admit that Jeter joined the exclusive 3,000-hit club in style.

Earlier this season, there was another milestone at Yankee Stadium - I got to take my grandfather to a Yankees game for his 88th birthday. It was even more special because I was able to also share the day with Gary and my two cousins - all three of whom are HUGE Yankees fans.

Grandpa at his First Yankees Game at the New Stadium

My grandfather grew up as an Italian immigrant in Brooklyn - rooting for the Yankees for as long as he can remember. He only got to see one home game at the old stadium as a young man, and has pretty much watched every Yankees game on TV since. During my grandfather's second Yankees home game - he was in awe of not only the new stadium, but also of the entire "food culture" that has since developed around the game. As people got up and down for sushi, cheese steaks, garlic fries, beef nachos etc... he stared in wonderment:

"Are these people here to watch the game or eat?" he asked.
"Both" I said, while sipping a gourmet latte.

My grandfather went the traditional route and had a hot dog, which he said was the best hot dog he ever tasted. We too had the perfect game - with late scores from all of his Yankee favorites, and a win for the home team. It was a great day at the ballpark.

A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz. - Humphrey Bogart

I love baseball, and I follow two teams: the NY Yankees and the SF Giants. This will never change. Both of these teams represent the majority of my life, split between NJ & San Francisco; they are my "home teams", and I have spent hundreds of hours with friends and family on opposite coasts cheering for them both.

My sister once asked me why I love baseball so much. I guess because it's a simple game and a complex one:

- every at-bat starts as a one-on-one match up - until the batter wins, and then it turns into a 9-player team game;
- any team can come back at any time;
- fans can wear a part of the professional uniform (baseball hats) every day of the year;
- if a team is ahead, they still have to play their hearts out, and can't just "keep possession" of the ball to win;
- it's played on grass fields, under the starry nights of summer;
- the nit-picking-stats are mind-boggling - like an ultimate never ending Trivial Pursuit game;
- the clock does not determine who wins, skill does;
- and there is always a chance of catching a ball at a game, just like a real major-league star.

Bruce Catton said that big league ball was "the greatest conversation piece ever invented in America". Maybe that's the best reason for loving baseball; when I see young kids at games talking with their dads about a hit-and-run play, it reminds me of sitting on the couch as a little girl with my grandpa - feeling like a grown up because he and I would yell the same things at the TV when the guys in pinstripes did something wrong - or something extraordinary... both of which usually happened in every game.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

NJ Does It Better...

We made sure that my sister Meredith got two Jersey specialties before she headed back to California: pizza and Bent Spoon ice cream... I miss her already!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Best-Laid Plans ...

mom, grandma, grandpa, and uncle Frank

My mother and sister flew out from California for my grandmother's open heart surgery last week... The trip did not go exactly as planned:

Horses and Planes

My mom is a polio survivor and has significant weakness in both legs requiring leg braces; she is also a paraequestrian rider, and fell off her horse the day before she was scheduled to fly to NY. It turns out she pulled a groin muscle and fractured her pelvis in the fall. She, of course, was told not to fly; which she ignored.

The next morning the car service my mom had hired to take her and my sister to the San Diego airport (1 hour away) broke down, so my sister threw everything in her own car and drove as fast as she could. She pulled up to the curb, unloaded the bags and pulled out my mom's spare wheelchair - only to find that in the confusion they had forgotten the footrests - and my mother couldn't use the chair without them. After my sister got another wheelchair (with footrests) from the airline, she sped off to long-term parking... which was under construction - so she had to go to the overflow lot, which was even further.

When the parking shuttle picked her up, my sister told the driver that her flight was leaving in 30 min and she had left her wheelchair-bound mother on the curb... he quickly replied "don't worry, I know a short cut" and went flying down a dirt road. He dropped her off, pointed in a general direction and said "just run through that field... the airport is on the other side."

Dutifully, she got out and ran across the field and into the airport "on the other side" just in time to see my mother in an elevator - like a movie - with the doors closing... later they found each other - and somehow managed to successfully negotiate two planes across the country.

Med Student Diagnosis

I rented a wheelchair and picked them up at the Westchester airport, swung by my grandmother's house to pick her up, and the four of us headed over to my grandfather's nursing home / rehab facility, and met up with my uncle. (We told my grandparents that my mother was in a wheelchair because her leg braces broke - we didn't want to scare or upset them.)

While visiting my grandfather, my sister - who just finished her first year of medical school - was able to recognize the signs of C-Diff (a serious intestinal infection), which was being ignored. After her initial assessment was confirmed - we still had to make a big fuss to get him the medicine he needed. Thank goodness for med school!

Hairdryers and Fire Alarms

So then it was back to grandma's house for some sleep before her big surgery day.

We all turned in at a decent hour, only to be woken up at 3am by an alarm. At first we thought it was a fire alarm in the hallway - which my sister unscrewed... it wasn't that. Then we found another fire alarm a few inches away, which we couldn't seem to disconnect. As we were trying with all our might to get the second alarm down from the ceiling (and figure out why my grandparents' house has two fire alarms within 5 inches of each other), my grandmother - without explanation or hesitation - plugged in a hairdryer and started blow-drying the hallway. We finally got fire alarm #2 disconnected - but the beep - beep - beep - beep didn't stop; neither did my grandmother, despite our pleas.

Serendipitously, we looked at where my grandmother plugged in the hairdryer and saw a carbon dioxide alarm - which was going off... not in a way that was alerting us to deadly danger - just to a dead battery.

Once we got the alarm switched off, my grandmother slowly lowered her hairdryer, like a gunslinger from the Old West who had just killed the bad guy in the black cowboy hat... at which point my sister and I began hysterically laughing at the absurdity of the last 48-hours.


I'm happy to report that things have settled down: mom is healing, grandma has two new heart valves, and grandpa is about to be released from rehab. There were many more ridiculous moments over the past week, but luckily our family is blessed with both strong genes and a healthy sense of humor.

Idiom Side Note

The common expression "the best laid-plans of mice and men often go astray" comes from Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men, which took its title from Robert Burns's poem "To a Mouse. On turning her up in her nest with the plough".

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July

My sister took this pic going over the George Washington Bridge today ...

My mom, sister and I spent the morning visiting my grandmother in the cardiac ICU at NY Presbyterian Hospital, and the afternoon visiting my grandfather at his nursing home / rehab facility in NJ.

I am happy to report that they were both in great spirits and up to their old antics; in fact, they were joking around so much that my props were superfluous... But hey, when else can you wear flags on your head?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, July 2, 2011

This is Grandma

Guest Blog Post: Meredith aka Sistah

The day before her open heart surgery, grandma was doing her usual routine - trying to feed us with a flurry of randomness from her refrigerator. It truly is something to behold for those who have not personally witnessed this phenomenon. Her surgery went great and she is recovering at New York Presbyterian right now, so in no time I'm sure she will be back at her old shenanigans.

Lunch Table Inventory:

mac & cheese, Raisin Bran, Rice Krispy cereal, almond cookies, oatmeal cookies, pecans, chopped chicken, cherries, plumbs, sliced strawberries, bananas, fruitcake, blueberries, left-over wanton soup, Chinese vegetables, cantaloupe, apple pie, peaches, and homemade peppers stuffed with rice, tomatoes and cheese.