When the lovely Catherine and I slipped out of steamy Illinois for a driving trip to New Mexico June 30, the last item I tossed into her car was a rain parka.
The reason was simple: Wherever we travel, we bring rain. This trip’s first day, a fast scoot to Oklahoma City, brought downpour after downpour.
“This makes 16 straight days of rain,” moaned the hotel clerk that evening.
“If you’ve got some trick to make it stop, the room’s free.”
Jet black clouds rolled eastward down Interstate 44 the next morning, so we paid the $79 tab and lit westward for sun, friends and Albuquerque.
Heat. By midday, the Texas plains baked in crackling heat that we towed with us to Albuquerque, the city’s first 100-degree day in years. After a long visit with friends Monday, and despite cloudless, ocean-blue skies 50 miles in every direction on Tuesday morning, I replaced the car’s worn wiper blades.
“Uh,” noted the guy who insisted on installing ’em, “you know it doesn’t rain here in the summer, right?”
Oh, it will, my friend. It will. While he worried about my sanity, I worried about his food.
I don’t do hot – salsa, chile (it’s chile, not chili, in the Land of Enchantment) and the like.
The lovely Catherine, however, does, so I knew we’d be roasting our insides as well as our outsides while in New Mexico. And, true to course, Catherine, impressively, jumped headlong into the salsa bowl while I stuck just a toe in it.
Menus. Even more impressive were the menus of the dozen or so restaurants we surveyed while walking around the city’s touristy Old Town in search of supper one night.
Every menu touted its locally-raised, organically-raised or locally-raised organic food. And it wasn’t just the black bowtie places bragging about their perfection.
Even the humblest corner joint proudly advertised its food’s origin.
New Mexicans have discovered what should be apparent to all us fork-holders: If Ronald MacDonald can make a fuss over his chain-delivered consistency, they can make a fuss over the nationally-known quality of Niman Ranch meat, Maytag blue cheese and other fresh, organically-grown ingredients.
Santa Fe food. This was especially so in Santa Fe, one of the nation’s most inviting, food-friendly state capitals. You couldn’t swing a breakfast burrito there and not hit someone dying to tell you where they had just enjoyed the best meal of their lives.
None lied; every morsel of every meal in Santa Fe – from the Fourth of July’s $6 “Pancakes on the Plaza” to one evening’s big-splurge-of-the-trip, $140 dinner – was equally delicious and detailed.
And, at least to my untrained eye but well-trained belly, the more fresh, high quality ingredients listed on the menu, the longer the line waiting to get in.
Lunch the following day in Taos was no different. While we purposely museum- and gallery-hopped until 2 p.m. to hit an out-of-the-way Mexican place after the midday crowd had thinned, the crowd was still thickening when we finally were seated at 2:30 p.m.
Superb. The meal, again, was superb. My three, enormous, “hand ground” blue corn tortillas, laden with “only the freshest local ingredients,” were to die, or kill, for – if I was willing to die, or kill, for $7.95.
The short drive from Santa Fe to Taos was as stunning as both cities’ food because a rare and powerful thunderstorm lashed most of New Mexico the day before to flood the mountains in clean, bright light.
Two days later, with rain in the forecast for most of New Mexico, our work was done, so we headed downhill to meat-and-potatoes Illinois.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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