Thursday, June 30, 2011

Time in Taos, Day 3

Catch up here! Time in Taos, Day 1 and Time in Taos, Day 2
Our final morning in Taos began with another plate of assorted mini muffins and scones, as well as a plate with kielbasa sausage, two cheese blintzes drizzled with passionfruit sauce and chocolate sauce, and fruit arranged along the rim. Orange juice, coffee, and a bowl of granola with honey made the meal more than complete.
We checked out of our room after breakfast, but not before walking around the Adobe & Pines Inn a bit longer to say hello to the goats and chickens. In the reception area, I held a tiny baby chick in my hand before putting him back into the warm, lit cupboard I'd taken him from. I'm a city girl at heart, but being around so many sweet farm animals made me fantasize—just for a moment—about raising some of these creatures myself.
We left the Adobe & Pines Inn with reluctance, but fortunately lunch at Ranchos Plaza Grill was still ahead. ES and I stuck to what we loved at our first meal there and split a plate of the Carne Adovada, smothered in a red chili made from crushed red chile pods and served with rice and beans. The pieces of marinated and grilled pork were just as smoky and delicious as when we'd eaten it in burrito form.
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We also asked for two side orders of green chili, wanting to enjoy New Mexico's version to the fullest. The one at Ranchos Plaza Grill was smooth and buttery and swimming with little pork bits; it was strong with green chile flavor, and tasted more like a sauce than anything else. We did notice that in New Mexico red and green chili seemed to be more often served as an accompaniment rather than a main event; anyone know if this is actually true? Does anyone in this area just offer a big ol' bowl of the stuff with tortillas on the side?
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Before getting on the highway we made one last stop, at a truck on the side of the road peddling roasted piñon. Having seen similar trucks lining Alameda Ave in Denver, I'd been curious about just what the nuts were and what they tasted like, so I dashed out of the car and purchased a bag.

Back in the passenger seat, I tried them. The woman had assured me that the shells could be eaten, but when I had more than a few in my mouth the shells proved to be sharp and gritty, an unpleasant sensation akin to swallowing rough shrimp shells. Still, they weren't cheap—the bag had cost a good ten dollars—and I was determined to enjoy them somehow. I ended up shelling a bunch of them one by one, though the shells weren't easy to get off and the whole process slow going. ES even went so far as to stockpile the nutmeat so as to savor an actual mouthful. With enough patience, it was possible to get a real hit of piñon flavor as the nuts dissolved in tiny bursts of fragrant oil on the tongue.
And then, finally, we were off. ES had planned this trip to celebrate the completion of my thesis, and though the semester still wasn't over at this point, it was a welcome and much-needed weekend away from home. Even now—a few months later, as I write this—I remember the road stretching out into the horizon, leading us farther and farther south, away from the work and the grading and the lesson plans—just a few days of sun, sleep, sightseeing, and gloriously little else.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Time in Taos, Day 2

Catch up here! Time in Taos, Day 1
When ES and I awoke the next morning, we wandered down to the sunny, open patio room of our B&B for breakfast and were greeted with glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice, hot coffee, and a plate of assorted mini muffins and scones.
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Jars of wildflower honey, collected from beehives on the premises, graced each table.
While on the side there were cold cereals and milk for the taking, the main attraction of breakfast was this entree of huevos rancheros with bacon. As you can see, pieces of fruit were beautifully arranged all around the edges of the plate, creating a cheerful presentation that set the tone for the rest of the day.
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And what a day it was! We went to the Rio Grande Gorge, a breathtaking sight behind the rails of the bridge we stood on. Vendors in the parking lot just before the bridge sold handmade goods as well as local honeys and jams, and I ended up getting some beads and a necklace with a teeny, stone pendant on copper chain (you all know I love jewelry).
We also went to check out Earthship headquarters. "Earthship" refers to a completely sustainable, self-contained home built entirely from recycled and re-purposed materials—for instance, glass bottles embedded into walls provide both light and structural support; electricity and water come solely from sun, rain, snow, and wind; food comes from vegetables and fruit grown on the premises. I'll admit it's a bit kooky, and the buildings do look like a somewhat odder version of something Gaudi might have built, but I admired the devotion to sustainability that Earthship homes demonstrate.
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Later, in the tiny little town of Arroyo Seco, we shared a cup of ice cream at the ice cream shop Taos Cow. Ours was half blueberry flavor and half Cherry Ristra: dried cherries, piñon nuts, and chocolate chunks in a rich vanilla base.
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The word ristra came up again when we visited Taos Pueblo, a living Native American reservation. Turns out ristra refers to the huge bundles of red chili peppers hanging from the awnings and doorways of the homes we saw all over New Mexico, placed there for both functional and decorative purposes. At the reservation we didn't eat anything with chilis, but we did share a freshly made frybread drizzled with honey, as well as a piece of prune pie.
With all that snacking, it took ES and I a while before we felt hungry, but after going back to our B&B, lying around in the two-person hammock, raking the giant zen garden, and strolling the on-premises labyrinth, it was dinner time. We headed over to La Cueva Cafe, a small, relatively new Mexican restaurant that used to be called Rellenos Cafe. We started off with an order of the Ceviche Mexicano, consisting of lime-marinated fish chunks mixed with pico de gallo, topped with avocado, and paired with chipotle mayonnaise. I'm more familiar with the Peruvian style of ceviche, but I was delighted with the flavor and extra creaminess that the avocado and dipping sauce added to the dish. 'Twas a large bowl of deliciousness, and cheap, too!
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Our entrees were less notable, though not bad. I went with the Plato Combinado, consisting of one chile relleno, one enchilada, and one taco all smothered in green chili, while ES went with a two-taco plate.
Once our meal was done, we wandered over to the Adobe Bar at Doc Martin's Restaurant. A live band was playing in the main area, and we managed to snag a small table by the window, close enough to hear the music but far enough so that we could still chat. With eminently sippable margaritas in front of us—classic for ES, pomegranate for me—hanging out in the bar was the perfect wrap-up to a long and busy day in Taos.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Time in Taos, Day 1

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We'd miscalculated. Armed with Spam musubi for an on-the-road breakfast on our way down to New Mexico for the weekend, ES and I had planned our pass-through of Pueblo, Colorado to coincide with lunchtime, a plan entirely based around both an episode of Food Wars and this article on Serious Eats about the city's local specialty, the Slopper: a whole hamburger or cheeseburger smothered in green chili. But having misjudged the driving time, ES and I found ourselves in Pueblo at ten in the morning, far too early to actually eat lunch.

How else to pass an hour? We went to the Pueblo Zoo, where we watched some really cute otters diving in and out of the water. We also saw sad ostriches, sad lions, sad monkeys, and sad llamas (but no sad panda). Oh, the things we do for a meal.
The clock ticked past eleven and it was finally a respectable time for lunch. At Sunset Inn, one of two places in town famous for their Slopper, the menu offered two versions—one with beans (red chili) and one with pork (green chili)—and the waitress couldn't tell us which one was better. So we ordered both, along with a side of onion rings.
Unfortunately, through some kind of miscommunication we ended up with two green chili Sloppers instead of one of each. And in this case, two green chili Sloppers = two dishes of disappointment. The bun was tough and the beef patty dry and tasteless; the green chili was okay, but still did nothing to elevate the crappy burger sitting in the middle of it. The whole thing was kind of cold, too. After several bites, I concluded that this particular venture was a bust. Maybe Sunset Inn's competitor, Gray's Coors Tavern, should have been our destination instead.
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Little else to do, then, but speed our way out of Pueblo, leaving our fallen Slopper dreams behind. And in a mere three hours, we reached the Adobe & Pines Inn, our very lovely bed and breakfast in Taos, New Mexico. Just look at our room! A fireplace, a private patio on the roof, an oversized jetted tub, and the most charming decor you could ask for.
We were also greeted by a bottle of chilled champagne and a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries, part of the package we'd booked our reservation with.
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Given how comfortable and cozy the room was, we ended up lazing around in there until it was time for dinner. Ignoring the book of menus laid out for guests in the reception area, we headed instead to Ranchos Plaza Grill based on MSJ's recommendation, a restaurant less than a half-mile away from Adobe & Pines.
Based solely on the restaurant's excellent salsa and guacamole, the meal would have already sent our sad memories of lunch into oblivion. But bring in an enormous carne adovada burrito stuffed with pieces of smoky, marinated grilled beef and ladled with a buttery green chili, and the wretched Slopper didn't stand a chance. ES was thrilled with his dish, and even suggested that we come back to Ranchos Plaza Grill another time before leaving.
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I wasn't inclined to argue, since my mixed plate of enchiladas and chili rellenos in red chili was proving to be equally delicious. Sopapillas, which had arrived hot along with our entrees, were good even eaten at the close of the meal, especially once we doused each bite with honey.
Bellies satisfied, we left the restaurant and walked next door to the San Francis de Asis Mission Church, a beautiful and humble adobe structure immortalized many times by various artists and photographers. The church is still in use by the community, and we happened to arrive around the beginning of one of the services; I took advantage of the opening and closing doors to step inside to take a peek. If I were ever one to worship, this just might be the kind of setting I would want to be in.
As night fell, we went back to our room and built up a fire in the fireplace, using the wax-and-sawdust fire starters and wood thoughtfully stashed right in the corner. It took a little while to get things really blazing, but once it was going we were rewarded with the warmth, sweet smell, and crackles of a cozy fire, just the thing to eventually lull our tired bodies into sleep.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Homemade Spam Musubi

I don't know where I first heard about Spam musubi—it was a long time ago—but I do recall the moment I decided to make it myself. ES and I were having lunch in L&L Hawaiian BBQ, and we'd just ordered two musubi, one made with Spam and one made with Portuguese sausage. Both were delicious, of course; both were also about two bucks each, and it struck me that a whole can of Spam doesn't cost much more. "Oh yes," I muttered, doing the math in my head as I ate. "I can totally do this myself."

By all accounts Spam musubi is excellent travel food, and with a weekend trip to Taos, New Mexico coming up (more on that, to come!), I decided that then would be the perfect time to give it a try.
And so, a few weeks later—the night before ES and I took off for Taos—I gathered my ingredients. Actually, all I had to do was buy the Spam, since I already had everything else on hand.
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Following this tutorial from Serious Eats, I cut the block of Spam into eight pieces, placed them in a frying pan, let them fry on each side for a few minutes, and then added a mix of soy sauce and sugar. Soon enough, the pieces of Spam began caramelizing, taking on the added sweet-saltiness of the soy sauce glaze.
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It was here that we hit a bit of a snag. I didn't have a musubi maker, and we didn't have anything that could cleanly (and safely) cut off the bottom of the Spam can. With some experimenting, we figured out we could still pack in the layers of rice, Spam, and furikake, and then simply whack the packed can upside down a few times on a sheet of nori, encouraging the layers to fall back out.

(Note that this only works with real Spam cans; I tried this with a knock-off brand of "luncheon meat," and its can lacked the nonstick properties of Spam's. I had to improvise with that one, in the end lining the can with plastic wrap—leaving an overhang over the sides—so that once I added the layers of rice, etc., I could pull up the plastic "handles" and retrieve the firmly packed layers. It was tedious and a bit messier, but it worked…now you know what to do if you're in a pinch.)
Of course, we had to try one right away, to get the full effect of the still-crisp nori against the warm rice, furikake, and Spam filling. Delicious, and even better than the version from L&L! They were still good the next day, too, when we ate them during our drive down to Taos, though freshly made was definitely best.

(Also, a month later, when my parents flew out for a visit, I made Spam musubi again, for us to take on a picnic. My dad spotted the bag of dried mango I had on the counter and came up with the idea to put a few slices into the musubi. It actually makes a fine combination, as the mango adds a hit of fruity sweetness that works well with the saltiness of the meat. If you try this yourself, the only recommendation I'd make it that you cut the mango pieces smaller—the strips tend to come out in one piece with the first bite.)

Anyway, now it's safe to say that I will rarely, if ever, buy Spam musubi from a shop again, given that it's so easy to make yourself—and so much cheaper. Though if I'm ever actually in Hawaii, I might have to take that back….