January 24, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Trips to the US

With a picture like that to the left, it’s fair to say that New Mexican food tastes better than it looks. And don’t be fooled, that mess of a plate will set your mouth on fire too. After last week’s overview on my get-to-know-you session with the “Land of Enchantment”, now it’s time to talk food.

Red and green chile sauce
Expect most all New Mexican dishes to come with a serving of red or green chile sauce for dipping or dousing. We’re not talking about that canned stuff that you like to put cheddar cheese on, but instead salsas made of the hot chiles themselves. However, this is no harmless condiment; the sauce tastes borderline-torture hot, unless you’re a local and extra-used to having your mouth feel like it’s on fire (even you California Mexican-food buffs will likely find yourselves scrambling for a glass of something to wash away the pain). And these aren’t just any chiles, but rather indigenous varieties that locals proudly consider uniquely superior. New Mexicans like to down their picante poison by putting it on or mixed with just about anything. No dish is safe, and neither is your mouth. (The above hideous-looking dish is mixed with various chile sauces.)

New Mexican cuisine isn’t all spice and heat – it also has a softer and sweeter side. To combat the battle-zone of hotness that is your mouth, nosh on the ubiquitous sopapillas. Forget Mexican tortillas, this fried and puffy flatbread typically comes with a bottle of honey to elevate you to new levels of food euphoria. You’ll be happy to forgo the basket of bread when served this side reminiscent of funnel cake or beignets. In related news, since my trip to NM, I’ve become convinced that honey is a logical condiment for just about anything. That, and peanut butter (duh).

I’ve got a soft spot in my heart, or perhaps my stomach, for empanadas, which are Northwestern Spain’s pie-like pastry stuffed with savory concoctions made of meat, tuna or cod. Then New Mexico comes along with their sweet version, complete with “heat up and serve me”-worthy fillings made of peach, blueberry, or, holy-get-in-my-mouth-awesomeness like sweet potato. Sprinkled with sugar, the eat-on-the-go pastries will almost make you forget the fire still radiating from your mouth.

And finally, no trip to 100-year-old New Mexico would be complete without a pig-out fest on the state cookie (yeah, they have an official cookie!). Inhaling a biscochito, you might be reminded of a light shortbread cookie, with a hint of fennel, and dusting of sugar. To my now uber-Spanish palette, it seemed more like a thin version of Spain’s mantecados. Whatever they resemble, the final verdict is in: I want more and I want it often.

As I shared in last week’s post, there’s a lot more to New Mexico than the food. But just the temptation of these few treats seems reason enough to start training your mouth for a chile marathon, and your stomach for a biscochito fiesta.

*Please visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page to see more pictures from my trip to New Mexico.

January 11, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Trips to the US

“I expected more meth heads,” I told Laura as my trip to New Mexico came to a close. Perhaps I’d watched a touch too much Breaking Bad. After all, you know something’s wrong when you’re slightly disillusioned by the lack of druggies, crack houses and drug cartel violence.

Yep, I went to New Mexico while home for the holidays. When my best high-school friend, Laura, offered to fly me out there to visit her, I couldn’t resist. To prep for my journey, I overdosed on Breaking Bad episodes in hopes of acquainting myself with the region a bit. I got all sorts of amped to see the quirky city of Albuquerque and its, um, eclectic citizens. But, not surprisingly, while the TV show weaves in very real problems faced by New Mexico, there are of course other things that make the state noteworthy. Let’s discuss!

Nature-y goodness

Fans of wide open spaces will find just what they’re looking for in New Mexico – that is, a whole lot of nothing, punctuated by bushes, trees and even some peculiar rock formations.

Laura and I set off to Tent Rock to see some of New Mexico’s nothing, and it was something alright. We trekked between phallic rock formations in alleys carpeted with icy snow. Weaving through the slot canyons bordered by ribbons of rock, and up slippery mountainsides, we nearly tumbled to almost certain death more times than I care to remember. But despite the dicey hike, the journey was spectacular. My only suggestion: save it for less snowy months. And Laura says, during summer, avoid the afternoon, or risk getting swept away in flash floods. Basically, it’s a miracle we made it out alive.

If the Southwest were a company, their brand colors would be terracotta orange, turquoise and light purple, with secondary colors chile-pepper red and canary yellow (my ex-colleagues in branding will appreciate the nerdiness that just happened in that sentence). Shops, restaurants and even some houses all blanket themselves in the signature colors, making for a dazzling site distinct to the region.

I got pretty geeked-out on color (and mailboxes, but that’s another story) during our visit to Madrid. Yep, you read that right, but you probably didn’t say it right. Pronounced Mádrid (emphasis on the “a” as opposed to the “i”, as in the Spanish capital), the little city of just a couple hundred people attracts a hippy and artsy set. During a quick walk down the town’s main drag on Route 14, we got our fill of sculptures, wind chimes and fountains, mostly made from recycled materials. I hear that by night the city brightens with Christmas lights, ensuring a colorful visit no matter the time of day.

Awesome churches

I’ve done my fair share of church spectating. Stained-glass windows, Gothic stonework, Virgin Mary statues, repeat. They’re nice and often pretty breath-taking, but not necessarily awesome. New Mexico changed that for me. Its Catholic complexes marry Europe’s classic style, the Southwest’s vibrant colors, and the US’s love for a little Christmas decor. Overall, far more impressive than I expected them to be, and certainly the most intriguing churches I’ve come across in the US.

The grub
More important than anything else uniquely New Mexican is, of course, the food. But grub – in my world, anyway – is far too precious a subject matter to be squeezed into a blog post like a side of fries. Expect my usual rant on food in next week’s update.

It’s a shame that I didn’t get my fill of crazies in New Mexico – good thing San Francisco never disappoints. And now I’m back in Madrid (Ma-DRID, that is) where I’m dodging pickpockets and street-corner kleenex sellers. I guess I’ve got no shortage of “eclectic” in my life.