Road trip

Well I had the opportunity to take a quick road trip, so of course I grabbed it. I tend to be very tense driving and after hours on the road it is hard to unclench my hands from the steering wheel. So I am always glad to tag along when someone else is doing the driving. And where would I go? To New Mexico, my favorite and most frequent place to visit.

It’s 149 miles to the New Mexico border. Once one drives over Raton Pass (elevation 7834 feet) one has a splendid view of the open plains. Unlike many photos that I take where I have to hide the fact that there are scads of people just out of view, there really are no people to be seen. This is part of the empty quarter of the state. This view shows part of Capulin National Park, one of the first landmarks one sees as one enters the state from the north.

There it is, my most photographed landmark of northern NM. I confess that I do get excited every time I see it. Whenever I am there, I am on vacation, so I associate the area with rest and relaxation. If I actually lived there I am sure that I would get tired of all the driving one has to do for shopping, doctors, etc. It really is just a wide spot in the road.

And if one crossed the road, one would be at the original site of the village. The large mesa is Jarosa Mesa (no idea where the name comes from), and the smaller one is Santa Clara Mesa (named after a saint for some reason).

This is the view from M’s uncle’s place. All that stuff lying about is over at the neighbor’s, I think he does a little bit of construction work (or at least he used to). M’s uncle also has plenty of the flotsam of life floating about his yard. It is funny that with all this open space their homes are so close together. Once again it wasn’t hard to crop any people out of the picture, there are under 400 souls in the entire village. I shall miss stopping by if the village gets any smaller, but I will always love the view.

Church suppers

I could count on one hand (and have fingers left over) the number times we went out to eat at a restaurant when I was a child. But the one place where we did go was to church suppers. And so I retain a fondness for this sort of event. Unlike chef-driven restaurants, the food has a certain humble and sincere appeal. Driven by both a fund-raising need, and the desire to please and share, I am happy to be part of the experience.

Pteri went with me to this event, a full fledged church festival, complete with booze, booths of items for sale and dancing. It was a celebration of one’s (not mine though) Greek heritage, so on the menu this day was delicious gyros prepared by members of the congregation and a local restaurant.

This was a fund-raiser for a church school prepared by a parent’s group. This day they were serving my favorite, carne adovada (pork marinated in red chile, then slow cooked and shredded) tacos with refried beans and rice. It doesn’t really look that lovely, but it was quite tasty. They hadn’t counted on the demand for beer however, as it was a rather hot day, and they ran out. 🙁

KODAK Digital Still Camera

This was a different sort of church dinner, prepared by some men from the sister Spanish language church of this congregation. The guys had dug a pit, lined it with rocks, lit a fire to heat up the rocks, then buried the food on the hot rocks to cook it. They had made tamales, potatoes, chicken and pork. This was what they thought of as a perfect church supper back home. As the parent church did not condone alcohol, the men surreptitiously passed a bottle around.

This church food came from an Orthodox church out on the prairie, 7 miles from a small town (which is really far from anywhere). The area was settled by Czech farmers, and although most of them have moved away, lots of old-timers come back for a chance to eat this food. Kielbasa, haluska (some sort of noodle, onion and bacon dish), pierogi (potato and cheese dumplings), cabbage rolls, and borscht (plus some things I don’t know the name of) were on the menu.

And this was what was served at the most recent church supper I attended, with food cooked up by a local family-run restaurant and served by a parent’s group. This restaurant has been in business since 1959, which makes it quite an ancient establishment in this town. And served in a plastic cup was an excellent vintage wine.

It is interesting that all of these meals were based on immigrant/ethnic foodstuffs. All of these varied churches are looking to make a little money (sometimes very little), and provide a place for the community to break bread together. What could be a better excuse to get together?

Still More Windows

I love that people use stickers to personalize their cars. One can go completely insane and personalize one’s car with chrome plating, a custom paint job, an upgraded motor, but all of this runs to serious money. Or one can somehow acquire a little sticker that lets people know what one finds interesting. It’s a little bit of one’s personality on display. Of course I see lots of them as I am driving along, but it is hard to get the traffic to stop so that I might take a picture. So these are various stickers that I noticed as I strolled along in parking lots.

Friends are important, even if they are part of the evil empire.

Nobody here in this car but the chickens. (How do they reach the foot pedals)?

Now wait a minute, I really don’t think the Beatles are members of this family. For one thing, I am fairly certain that the Beatles would be driving a much, much nicer car.

This person has a rather negative attitude about showing one’s family connections. But at the same time, they obviously have a love of stickers. Hmmm, what a conundrum.

Okay, now this person is more on my wavelength. And at this point you are probably wondering what sort of sticker have I put on my car? None. So I remain an enigma.

Still More Shadows

I’m sure that management of the local art museum would be appalled that I often like the shadows cast by art better that some of the art they display. It’s just that the shadows are ephemeral (and sometimes more interesting). In truth most things in life are ephemeral, we just don’t realize it at the time.

I thought this piece was fabulous, as it has not just one, but two of my obsessions: shadows and reflections. I didn’t read the label, so I have no idea why this piece was displayed. So the theme of the room was art by Red Indians (also known as Native Americans, Indigenous Peoples, etc), so it was probably made by an Indian artist.

I considered saving this picture for the series that I have called “What a knob”, but I decided that I really like the shadow version better. And what is so special about this knob? Well, it came from the mansion of the city founder. I suppose that at some point they found a more interesting knob, so this one was consigned to the trash heap, until now.

I love this shadow cast by a Chihuly glass sculpture. It always makes me think of the worms that they put in the bottom of bottles of tequila. But this bit of shadow put me in mind of a pterodactyl (so you know where this post is going next).

Yes, here is a shadow cast by an actual pterodactyl. The painting is supposed to show the ghost of an early miner, hoping to make his fortune in gold or silver (doesn’t look like he was successful). And of course I think the painting is much improved with the addition of the shadow of a pterodactyl, courtesy of the fabulous museum lighting.

Sports

It was time for the annual ice hockey game between the local expensive private college and the expensive private college from the nearby big city. One of my friends is an alumni, so we always go (I’m not an alum from either school, so I root for them both, secretly). We got there early this time rather than arriving at the last minute, so we wandered about the stadium, checking out the offerings.

It is pretty much de rigeur to have giant foam fingers proclaiming that one’s team is number one. This team is actually ranked #3 by whoever ranks these sorts of things, so get with it giant foam fingers.

And what sort of a sporting event would this be if they didn’t sell nachos?

Also available are the other great food groups, hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels, colas and beer (the most important item of the lot).

There are also the rather mis-named cheerleaders. They didn’t actually lead any of the cheers as they were located halfway up in the stands near the band, instead of in front of the crowd. And if what was being chanted was the school cheer, they should probably learn some more polite terms for addressing the opposition.

This time I remembered to get a shot of the action. One could also watch this on a giant television screen instead, as it was being broadcast on the local sports channel.

The school had just recently split from the previous beer company that sponsored advertised was somehow involved with the school, so if one had bazillions of dollars to donate, one could become the new name of the stadium. Just imagine ‘your name here’. 😉

Books

I love to read, and books are my Kryptonite. I do try not to accumulate them, but this is a fairly hopeless task. Of course my local library is a great resource, there is no way I could afford or store all the books I borrow from there. But there is one slight problem, the folks at the library insist on taking time off for Christmas and New Years. And what if I was stuck in the house and didn’t have anything new to read? Well I went down to the library and stocked up in anticipation of the holidays (and the snow and cold). It would be a disaster to have time on my hands and no books.

The wonderful thing about the library is that they stock a wide variety of titles, in all sorts of genres, fiction and non-fiction. So I can always find something to carry off and peruse, even if I don’t intend to read the entire book.

And here is what I carried off: a sort-of biography, graphic novels, classic and modern British mysteries, a cookbook, craft book and essays. I have varied tastes, what can I say?

And then there are my books.

These are the books I got in England, I bought the two end books, the middle book was a gift.

And these books were all Christmas presents (from me, to me). I had pre-ordered the bird book is from an artist that I know from the internet. The other two books were recently recommended by a member of my women’s art group. I saw them and thought ‘I must have my own copy’ (I do get greedy sometimes). I think that it is lovely and comforting to be surrounded by books, whether it is a temporary thing, like the library books, or a temporarily permanent thing, like the books I own.

Traditions

I suppose that every family has it’s traditions around the food served at this time of year. And of course I have them too, although the older I get, the less important some of them seem. But there are certain foods which are essential, like these.

I realize that this does not look especially festive, but I make this every Christmas, and only at Christmas. I don’t put any decorations on it, so it doesn’t look like much,but it is really quite delicious. And here is the recipe I use.

This recipe appeared in the St. Louis Globe Democrat, just a tiny item, not even a featured story. But my mom thought that it sounded tasty, so she made it for Christmas one year and I loved it. The newspaper stopped publication in 1986, so this recipe probably dates from the late 70’s or early 80’s when I was still going back to St. Louis for Christmas. I cut the recipe out of the newspaper, took it home and promptly lost it. So I sent a letter to the food editor, she dug this up from the back issues, sent it to me, and I have been making it ever since.

Krakowska from Piekutowski’s is another important ingredient for a proper Christmas feast. I have been eating this for at least 60 years (although I don’t understand how this is even possible, as I am surely not that old). The owners were friends of my grandparents, and the store is still in the same location as it was then (which puts it in a very bad neighborhood). The Polish Pope himself said that this was the best Krakowska outside of the stuff from Krakow, which is high praise indeed.

Also one must do something to attract luck in the coming year, so at the end of the holiday season, one must eat some black-eyed peas for New Year’s Day. This seems to especially bring luck to farmers of black-eyed peas, but no matter (really, they don’t taste like anything special). But it’s part of the ritual of the season, so I do this every year (maybe this is the year I win the lottery). 😉

Friends

Everyone needs friends. It’s nice to have someone sympathetic to chat with, or just chill with and enjoy their company. Pteri is no exception.

Brontosaurus are always going on about how delicious the vegetarian lifestyle is and how everyone should adopt this.

And this friend couldn’t agree more, yes plants are delicious. (Pteri has heard this all before.)

T-rex likes to go on about the joys of being a carnivore and great places to eat when not whining about the problems of having very short arms (although it means you never have to pick up a check). It’s interesting for a bit, still it is pleasant to be able to hang with one’s fellow dinos, whatever the topic.

But for real enjoyment it is great to hang out with the locals, wear silly hats, and send out a Christmas wish to all the distant friends.

Oh deer

We are currently in the season for outdoor decorations, and one of the more popular choices for decorating is deer.   Technically, I suppose that people are thinking ‘reindeer’, with sort of North Pole connotations.   But it’s easier to go with generic deer as a sign of the season.

If you are wanting to have outdoor lights anyway, why not a lighted deer?

This family of log deer are certainly cute and crafty, as well as being environmentally friendly.

Hey, wait a minute.   That’s not even a deer, it’s just a dog with an antler tied to his head (if you want to be a Grinch about it).

Well now we’re getting completely ridiculous, besides being rather abstract.   Nothing says festive like Rudolph the red-nosed car.   Really?

This is more like it, the real thing (although you can tell from the state of his antlers that I took this picture in the spring).   After spending the summer wherever they disappear off to, the local deer are back in the neighborhood.   And making a festive statement just by being themselves.

Cooking class

I admit that I love anything that has lots of sugar and butter in the recipe (although it does not necessarily love me back).  One of my friends has taken a lot of classes at a local cooking school, and she talked about how much fun this was.  So I decided I might give this a go, especially as the class used my favored ingredients.  And I found out how simple it is to make toffee, particularly if someone else does all the prep work.  😉

They had toasted and chopped 10 1/2 ounces of almonds and separated it into chunky bits and dust.   We put 8 ounces of butter, 8 ounces of sugar, 3 ounces of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a pan and took it over to the induction stove top.

Here it is boiling merrily away.   Then we put in a candy thermometer, gave it a stir from time to time, and 25 minutes later it looked like this.

It is boiling hot at this point, so we carefully tipped in the large bits of almond (saving the fine particles for topping), and spread it out on a half sheet pan.   Then we sprinkled 7 ounces of chocolate chips over the top.   As it was boiling hot, the chips quickly melted and we slathered them over the top and added a fine almond dust over everything.

It doesn’t really look very appetizing at this point, in fact it looks rather like a large cow pie (although it smells much better).

Now it looks delicious!   As there were several groups of people in the class, we made different flavors of toffee and got to take home some of each.   So I have white chocolate raisin toffee, dark chocolate coconut toffee, dark chocolate and milk chocolate toffees.  Now all I have to do is package this up for friends and avoid eating all of this myself.