Snowshoeing!

My latest winter obsession is snowshoeing. We are just a twenty minute drive from a beautiful trail called Aspen Vista. All we need to do is park on the roadside, strap on our snowshoes and hit the trail. We trek and trek, up hills and around bends, all the while surrounded by breathtaking views. Even though it is just 35 degrees on the mountain, we sweat like crazy. Michael didn’t even wear a coat yesterday. It’s a great workout.

Do you like our new snow outfits? Michael went with the bright orange pants and I opted for neon green. So we can find each other in the snow, ya know.

Still on our to do list is cross country skiing and downhill skiing at the Santa Fe ski basin. More snow is in the forecast this week.

Daytrippers

This weekend, Michael and I took my mom and Gill on a daytrip to beautiful Taos, about 70 miles northeast of Santa Fe. Taos is known for it’s skiing, but as the season was just beginning, we opted to do some exploring. Also, not sure my mom has been on skis since the 1960s. Now ice skates are a very different story.

Our first stop was Taos Pueblo, where the Tiwa people have lived for about 1,000 years. Their adobe homes look almost identical to when the Spanish first arrived on the scene in the 1500s - aside from the pick-up trucks parked out front. The pueblo is still the home of 300 Tiwa people and is open to visitors for tours. Our tour guide, Kevin, told us that about 90% of the residents practice Catholicism, but that 100% practice their traditional ancient religion. He indicated that there was no conflict there and no one in the crowd pressed him on that one. It does seem to work very well for them. Their church (seen in a picture by pueblo resident Bruce Gomez) was constructed in the 1850s after the original church was destroyed by the US Army during the war with Mexico. The site of the former church is now a sacred burial ground. Inside, at the altar are many statues of the Virgin Mary dressed in white (for the winter season, Kevin said) and there are no crucifixes to be seen. My kinda church.

Outside, we saw the big outdoor ovens (hornos) that the Tiwa use to cook bread, cakes, and cookies. We sampled one of the cookies, which I must confess was more like a crumbly stale pretzel, but I’m sure some tastier things come out of there. At least I hope so for the Tiwas sake.

The doors on the Adobe homes are a relatively recent addition (see pic from Scott Fields). The village was constructed with defense in mind. While the Tiwa are settlers, there were many nomadic tribes they had to watch out for. They used to enter there homes by climbing a ladder to the top storey, then they’d pull the ladder inside at night. Many of the bottom floor rooms are now gift shops selling arts and crafts made by residents. I couldn’t resist leaving without a prayer stick.

Our next stop was a vertigo-inducing walk over the Rio Grande Gorge bridge. 650 feet above the river, it is the 5th highest bridge in the US (thanks wikipedia). My mom happily proclaimed it to be a very suitable spot for a suicide. “That’s what I’d do,” she said.

Our final stop was Doc Martin’s restaurant, which is housed in the former home and office of the resident gynecologist (Doc used to accept farm animals or grains in exchange for his services). After a Bloody Mary and some huevos rancheros, we were back on the road.

Proof of Turkey!

I successfully cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner for our visiting family this past Thursday. I brined my turkey overnight in cider and spices including star anise, cinnamon, and cardamom, following an Anita Lo recipe. I also made Ina Garten’s make-ahead gravy that has both cognac and white wine in it. It was so incredibly rich I skipped the optional addition of heavy cream.

On Thanksgiving Day I made creamed pearl onions — thank you Diane Bitter for the recipe! This white sauce is so damn good. It is basically a roux with cream, white pepper, and cloves and I ate it with a spoon. For some green, I added some brussel sprouts to our menu. But since I used a recipe from the Breslin, it also involved bacon and caramelized onions. Bettie Anne (my mother-in-law) brought her stuffing (excuse me, dressing — that is what they call it in the South) recipe from Arkansas which is baked with cornbread and biscuits. Yum! Throw in the obligatory (as far as Michael is concerned) mashed potatoes and homemade cranberry sauce and we were all set.

Hope you all had a very happy holiday. xo

The Must-Make Margarita

Michael and I were strolling through Target the other day and before we went to checkout I did my customary search for items he’d put in the cart without my noticing. As usual, he’d thrown in a box of Q-tips (we have about a half dozen already), a hairbrush (to add to his collection), and a surprise - Mr. and Mrs. T’s Margarita Mix. I had to draw the line somewhere.

I’ve never made a great margarita. Decent maybe. They always seem to come out too sour or too sweet or too strong (the preferred way a margarita can go wrong). We love the extensive cocktail list at Coyote Cafe, especially their margaritas. One, the Señorita, is topped with a fluffy lime meringue cloud. It’s kind of like a regular margarita with a key lime pie floater.

So when I spotted a used copy of the Coyote Cafe cookbook, I snatched it up. I’ve made their traditional margarita twice now and it is the perfect blend of tangy and sweet. I quadrupled the recipe for guests last night and served them along with a savory guac. Yum! And many thanks to Michael who ran to the store at the last minute after I accidentally spilled an entire shaker of fresh-squeezed lime juice.

For one cocktail:
1 1/2 tablespoon superfine sugar
3 tablespoons fresh Mexican lime juice
1 1/2 ounces Herradura gold tequila (I use the silver)
1 teaspoon triple sec

Half fill a shaker glass with ice. Shake all ingredients together. Strain into chilled martini glass (salted rim optional). Garnish with a wedge of lime.

Spies Among Us

Did you know that many of the most important intelligence meetings have happened right here in Santa Fe? Our little town plays a very big role in the history of espionage. Michael and I went to a lecture the other night by a former clandestine CIA officer who is now the head of Counter-Intelligence at the Department of Energy. There are a lot of those types here. I took some scribbled notes that I’ve since deciphered. So here is the quickie history of espionage in Santa Fe.

The planning of the assassination of Leon Trotsky: A local pharmacy right on Santa Fe’s famous plaza served as the planning venue and safe house for the plotters of Leon Trotsky’s assassination. Joseph Stalin and the head of the KGB wanted the assassination to take place in a manner that could not be traced back to the KGB. Like there were plenty of other organizations that would send a ten person team with 1,000 rounds to assassinate one guy. But anyway, Trotsky was living in Mexico City at the time so they chose a NOC (non-official cover) officer named Josef Grigulevich. Grigulevich was Lithuanian, but was raised in Argentina.  He chose Santa Fe as his base of operations in the U.S., and as the place we would later escape to after the assassination. So he looked up a Lithuanian family that ran a drug store called Zook’s and he stayed with them. In May of 1940, Grigulevich and a ten person team stormed Trotsky’s compound in Mexico City and, as I said, pumped 1,000 rounds into the room where Trotsky and his wife were sleeping. Every single bullet missed. Grigulevich went on to have a long and successful career with the KGB, even serving as the ambassador of Costa Rica (under another alias) to both Italy and Yugoslavia. Trotsky was assassinated in August of 1940 by Ramon Mercader who struck him in the head with an ice pick. Mercader served 20 years in prison and was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union by the KGB upon his return in 1960. Zook’s is now a Haagen Dazs store.

Klaus Fuchs and the Secrets of the Manhattan Project: The single greatest intelligence meeting in the history of the world happened on a street corner in Santa Fe in June 1945. Klaus Fuchs, a German scientist working at Los Alamos, met KGB officer Harry Gold and handed over all of the secrets of the atomic bomb. For free. Gold had traveled from New York City. During World War Two, Santa Fe and Los Alamos had the highest number of counter intelligence officers per capita in the world. Gold knew that he would instantly be under surveillance if he came to town alone (single man = secret agent) so he brought his mother along. Thanks to that meeting, Stalin was aware of when the Trinity Test of the nuclear bomb was happening and he knew that would bring an abrupt end to the war with Japan. So Stalin made the strategic decision to rush as many of his troops as possible to Asia to occupy Northern China. Had that meeting not occurred, the state of North Korea may not exist today.

On an interesting side note, Gold was later arrested and gave up the name of another KGB recruit he’d met with in New Mexico, David Greenglass. Greenglass, like Gold, cooperated (it was either that or be executed) and gave up the name of his sister and her husband who recruited him to the KGB ­– Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

Edward Lee Howard and the End of the Cold War: In September 1985, Edward Lee Howard, a disgruntled former CIA officer (and Santa Fe resident, of course!), jumped from the car his wife was driving and eluded an entire surveillance team of his former colleagues and escaped to the Soviet Union (he even sat next to Lee Marvin on the plane to New York!).

Howard, angry that he’d been kicked out of the agency after it was revealed he’d lied about past drug use, had gotten revenge on his former employer by sharing secrets with the Soviets. For six years, the US had been listening in on a communications cable that linked the USSR’s defense laboratories to the Soviet’s Pentagon – um, that’s a pretty abundant target. And Howard told the Soviets! When Mikhail Gorbachev was informed of the bad news, he knew he had to engage in some sort of negotiation with the US.

Valerie Plame and Life After the CIA: Just thought I’d also include a shoutout to former CIA officer and current Santa Fe resident Valerie Plame. Keeping the tradition alive.

Today our new French friends took us on a hike at Tsankawi, the home of the Ancestral Tewa Pueblo people in the 1400s. Tsankawi means “village between two canyons at the clump of sharp, round cacti.” So I’m told. It is about a 30 minute drive outside of town toward Los Alamos. It was a cold morning, but the sun was strong, as usual. From the car, we walked down a narrow path that runs up the mesa.

The mesa is covered in volcanic ash, thanks to a volcano that erupted here about a million years ago. The resulting volcanic rock, known as tuff, created a flat mesa sandwiched between the walls of the canyon. Tuff is fairly soft, as rock goes, so the Tewa built small caves (cavates) in which they lived. Throughout the hike, it is possible to walk (sometimes one needs to stoop) in and out of the cavates. At times during the hike, one needs to climb up or down a ladder, as the Tewa did to navigate the steep walls. Other times, one walks through narrow trenches dug deep into the rock.

The rock face is dotted with petroglyphs, many at the entrances to the cavates, presumably identifying the tribe or family that lived there. There are small holes in the ceilings of the cavates. The holes served two purposes. Some were to ventilate the caves, for in the winter they would burn fires there and many are still black from soot inside. Others were even smaller and were used to stand up wooden poles from which the Tewa would hang animal hides to keep the caves warm.

From the top of the mesa, you can see the Jemez mountains to the west and the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east. It’s quite a sight.

We woke up this morning to an uncharacteristically gray sky. The trees were bending in the wind, their leaves which were yellow just last week are now burnt orange and falling fast. Just as my Keurig coffee started to fill my mug, the television and lights went off. We’d lost power. And me without my coffee.

So I pulled on my Uggs and we drove to the nearest coffee shop for breakfast only to find dark windows and an empty parking lot. They had also lost power. As we drove on, most of the area traffic lights were out. Trust me, you do not want to share the roads with New Mexican drivers even in the best of weather. We finally found a corner that still had electricty and settled into breakfast at Clafouti’s. What a treat. They served us up a delectable omelette and mini-quiche which I washed down with a strong piping hot latte. Being French-owned and operated, they do not serve fat-free milk. As we ate, big fat wet snowflakes began to fall and it looked like we were in for quite a storm. But Santa Fe weather tends to change before you finish your coffee and by the time we left the skies were blue. Which gave us no excuse to cancel our errands for the day — an exciting trip to the recycling plant and Target (again).

Who’s afraid of the big bad Wolf?

I am. My latest domestic mission is to conquer my fear of our aging six-burner gas stove. It really is a lovely old thing, isn’t it? It looks like it belongs in the tiny back kitchen of a Parisian bistro or that Julia Child herself would’ve considered it worthy of her copper pots.

Notice the grill area on the left. If we keep those four pilot lights on all winter it will warm the entire kitchen. This thing really is a powerhouse. The pilot lights on the burners tend to get blown out if we leave them on — with all the work crews coming in and out of our kitchen — so I use a match to light the burners. Now that I’ve cooked half a dozen meals here, I no longer cringe in fear every time I need to boil water. Lit match in one hand, I turn the knob until I hear the ssss of the gas then I bring the head of the match to the burner and, whoosh, the blue flames appear and I’m ready to cook. Easy peasy.

But the oven is yet another hurdle. The other evening I turned the red sticky knob (this beast needs a good cleaning) to preheat the oven only to hear the hiss of the gas. No whoosh. The pilot light was off. Relighting it is far dicier than lighting the burners. For one, the pilot light is only accessible by removing a vent near the floor (which exposed a dusty mess of supply lines and springs, see photo). To light it, one must press down that red button (see photo) while at the same time poke and hold a lit match through a small hole to the pilot light. This balancing act must be performed for thirty seconds, after which the light is supposed to remain, well, lit, according to the rusty instruction panel on the back of the vent.

So I got down on the cold bricks and did this. Four times. It didn’t remain lit. And I’d already stuffed my chicken with lemon and garlic and surrounded it with carrots, onions, and brussel sprouts. I kept trying. I started to worry that I’d repeated the process too many times thus inundating the kitchen with gas. Maybe Michael would come home from work to find me passed out on the kitchen floor next to a stuffed raw chicken.

Or worse, maybe I’d singe off my eyebrows and eyelashes like I did once while lighting the gas oven in my childhood home. I remember feeling the hot air whip against my face and then I blinked and hundreds of tiny hairs sprinkled down onto my cheeks. Though at least I did manage to light the oven that time.

Eventually, we were able to roast our bird in the smaller oven, but the pilot light in the larger oven is still out. So now we are seeking out a repairman who is familiar with ancient Wolf stoves to come out and visit us. Before Thanksgiving.

Shishitos!

I just love these little Japanese frying peppers. They’re grown locally here in New Mexico and are usually available until late fall. Yesterday, Michael and I bought a bag of them and fried them up for lunch. They are delicious and nutritious — high in vitamins A and C. They are harvested when green, though turn red when fully ripe.

Just toss them into a hot skillet with olive oil or sesame oil. Stand back as they sizzle, hiss and pop their way to blistered perfection. Some recipes suggest poking a hole in them beforehand to avoid the popping, but really, where’s the fun in that? Sprinkle with sea salt and enjoy.

Be careful, one out of every 10-15 will pack some heat. hah hah water!

I’m sure you will all be shocked to hear that there may be some delay in the taking of the after photos due to ongoing painting and floor sealing.

In the meantime, allow me to show you the other work-in-progress that is the living room. Our house was built in 1922 by the artist Fremont Ellis, the youngest of Los Cinco Pintores, a modern art society founded in Santa Fe by five friends in the early 1920s. I’ve been scavenging the local book stores for books on Ellis. The only one I’ve found does contain some old photos of the house, but strangely they all appear to be taken from the window of a car, as if the author was either unwelcome or just too lazy to get out and take a decent shot. The photographer managed to get their side view mirror in all three shots.

Ellis built this house, which also served as his studio, and lived here until his death in 1985. This all sounds very romantic doesn’t it?

Well, upon further Googling, I learned that the five starving artists each built their own home (by hand!) here along Camino del Monte Sol, despite the fact that only one of them had any carpentry skills. And that was not Fremont Ellis.

Will Shuster later recalled that he and Fremont Ellis were out building one day when Shuster noticed that Ellis’ wall was leaning precariously. Shuster ran to warn Ellis, only to turn around to see his own wall crumble into a pile of adobe bricks. In time, the five completed and occupied their homes, though some Santa Feans started referring to the friends as “five little nuts in five mud huts.” (canyonroadarts.com)

This is not the sort of background material one wants to read more of after moving into said hut.

After Ellis’ death, an additional living room and master bedroom area were added to the house. As you can see when we discovered the old window that is now between the dining room and living room. That wall needed to be rebuilt and plastered as it was full of twigs, dirt, and just about any other filler that the previous builders could get their hands on. This weekend, there is an entire crew plastering away. After photos to come…