Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. An old-fashioned apple pie, with the New Mexican addition of freshly roasted Hatch Green Chile and some cheddar cheese.
THE MATH : Apple Pie + Cheddar = Delicious.
Cheddar + Green Chile = Magical.
Apple Pie + Green Chile + Cheddar = Magically Delicious.
By “old-fashioned” I mean I gleaned the starter apple pie recipe from the pages of a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook circa 1968.
Because I live in the modern age and I’m kinda lazy, I always use Pillsbury Pie Crusts (the kind that come rolled, 2 to a box). They are good and easy and I don’t think I could do it any better.
TO MAKE THIS PIE:
Create the apple pie filling in accordance with the BH&G recipe listed above.
Grate some Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, and chop up some Hatch Green Chile (which ideally has been roasted out on the grill like an hour earlier, but frozen or canned will do just fine).
To add the cheese and green chile, first unroll the bottom pie crust and form it to the bottom of the pie dish. Then sprinkle some grated cheddar on it.
Next, stir about 2/3 cup of grated cheese and 1 cup of chopped green chile into the apple pie mixture. (Save back a little cheese to sprinkle on top later.) Pour filling mix into pie crust.
Add a few pats of butter on top for extra yumminess. Unroll second pie crust on top, seal the edges together, and pinch a fancy design in if you are so inclined and able. My mom did mine. Don’t judge me. Cut some vents into the top. I did mine in a Zia symbol, just for funzies.
Bake at 400 deg for 50 minutes or until done. About halfway through, cover the edges with foil to prevent burning. When golden brown and bubbly, remove the pie from the oven and sprinkle a little cheddar cheese on top.
Let it rest for about 10 minutes, then serve it up!
THIS PIE IS WONDERFUL. And I guess because it has green chile and cheese in it, we didn’t feel at all guilty about having it for lunch.
I’d suggest some mild vanilla ice cream to serve alongside.
The third time is a charm, or at least that’s the hope for Lizard Tail, one of Albuquerque’s newest brewery arrivals. I recently stumbled into the former residence of both Bad Ass and Farside Brewing to be check out the new home of Lizard Tail. Though they weren’t scheduled to officially open until Friday, August 22, I took a chance with their soft opening earlier in the week and gave their wares a proper sampling.
It is about time that the Heights got a brewer; it has been needing one for a while. It is just a bit odd that all three that I’m aware of have taken up the exact same residence in a little strip mall at the corner of Montgomery & Eubank (which also happens to host the offices of everyone’s favorite crooked lawyer friend Saul, from “Breaking Bad.”) With a bit of luck, and some proper patronage, hopefully they’ll be around for a while.
The first thing I noticed once I walked in the door was — gone are the days of looking into the nano-brew kitchen when the place was Bad Ass and Farside. A wall has been erected, and a lizard has been painted. A whole lizard, not just the tail. Further inspection proved that they pretty much gutted the old place, adding and fine-tuning where appropriate.
The master brewers / prioritizers Dan and Ken seem to be heading into the direction of malt forward beers. A trend that is at times counter to the New Mexican love of hops and bitters. But this is something I’m not the least bit sad about. I like my beers with a good malty introduction, so it is just fine by me if they want to keep their two barrel system pumping out sweet low-hop beers. Expect beers to max out around 70 IBUs with most things circling around 30 to 40 IBUs.
As per typical, I ordered a flight of beers… two, actually. Each flight has 4 beers, and there were 7 on tap, with an 8th one showing up mid-way through flight number two.
It would be at this point where most beer bloggers would show you a picture of the flights of crisp clean, mouthwatering beers. But I’m not here to pander to an audience, nor am I your typical beer blogger. Also, I forgot to take a picture.
So instead, let’s go through a beer journey in our imagination. Close your eyes and you can visualize the beer as I describe it. Oh wait, don’t do that. I don’t want to judge you, but I’m pretty sure you can’t read with your eyes shut. So let’s just assume that the reverse is true, and 1000 words equals a picture.
The following were a part of the beer roster when I visited.
Berliner Weisse 4.5 ABV 8 IBU (coming soon)
German Blond Ale 5.5 ABV 20 IBU
This light hay colored beer was more bitter than I expected. It seemed to my non-expert palate that it was quite a bit more than the reported 20 IBUs. Slightly astringent, but otherwise clear and crisp. This would be a good beer for warm day and session sipping.
Honey Pale Ale 6.3 ABV 35 IBU
Darker and more golden than its German Blond cousin, the Pale Ale was about where you would expect it to be on the bitter range. It had some earthy undertones as well, though I’m not sure if any hints of honey really snuck their way in. It also seemed a bit thin, in my opinion.
Belgian Abbey 6.6 ABV 25 IBU
A lovely example of a Belgian style Abbey. It was a bit hazy, as well it should have been, and golden brown in color. This beer had an aged woody flavor that complemented the almost grapefruit-like undertones. Absolutely worth drinking again… and again.
IPA 6.8 ABV 70 IBU
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I have few merits judging IPAs. I’ll drink one from time to time, but I don’t know what I’m doing. This is one of those that I may drink from time to time, but the bitter was a bit strong for me.
Amber 5.7 ABV 40 IBU
Mmmmm. As in Mmmmmalty. Mellow, malty, and smooth. That about sums it up. I’ll have another one of these magical darker Ambers, please.
Oatmeal Brown 4.2 ABV 25 IBU
I like Oatmeal, I like browns, I even like sour beers. This, however, was not right. Though notes of coffee and chocolate were present, I fear that this batch was just off. The flavor led me to believe there was a Brettanomyces infection going on. For a beer in which it is intended, it could be a wonderful thing. This one was not. I could not even finish the sample glass. I hope to come back again and see it improved.
Indian Black Ale 6.6 ABV 70 IBU
Black IPAs seem to be a thing now. I’m ok with this. This malty dark bittered black ale was actually rather lovely. It was nice and creamy with a well-balanced hop signature.
Rye Stout 5.5 ABV 35IBU
Saving the best for last. This dark almost nutty beer was my pint after flight choice. To my knowledge I’ve not had a Rye Stout before. As a lover of all beers dark, this was a prime example of something new that made Lizard Tail well worth the trip.
Outside of beer, Lizard Tail also offers up some appetizers and sandwiches. I only had the beer, so I’m afraid I can’t comment, but it seemed to be pretty typical fare for such an establishment.
I’ll be honest. I wasn’t overly impressed with Lizard Tail’s beer. That’s not to say that most of the beers weren’t good. Most were rather lovely, there just wasn’t anything that stood out in any major way, except for maybe the Rye Stout, but that may have simply been the novelty. Given Albuquerque’s brewery diversity, that’s something that really needs to happen.
I will say that Lizard Tail seems to have some great potential, a good location, and friendly staff. I will definitely be back, if for nothing else, for a pint of their Rye Stout and to give their seasonal beers a shot.
If you recall, I proclaimed my love for the piñon previously, in my recipe for Banana Piñon Muffins. So it may come as no surprise that my second recipe on this blog has piñons in it. The next one probably won’t, but really I can make no promises.
This recipe started out with a simple idea:
It’s summer! Let’s make ice cream!
I love making ice cream. I have a nifty little countertop no-ice-required ice cream maker, so it’s pretty easy.
Plus, it’s fun to try out new things! I knew immediately that I didn’t want to just make vanilla or chocolate ice cream. I LOVE those two flavors, but you can get them at any grocery store, and I’m probably not going to do any better than, say, Haagen Dazs, who has their recipes pretty dialed in. I wanted to do something unique. Something with a hint of FALL and a hint of NEW MEXICO.
Caramel + Apple + Piñon = ALL THE THINGS
2 1/3 c heavy cream, plus 1/4 – 1/2 c for melting caramels
2 1/3 c whole milk
3 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 c sugar
1/3 c piñons, roasted (see “A Note About Piñons” below)
1/2 c applesauce (I used homemade — see “A Note About Applesauce” below)
Caramels — about 15 little squares
A NOTE ABOUT CARAMEL:
I knew that I didn’t want to make my own caramel. I am a NOVICE in the kitchen, and I was on a deadline (wanted this ice cream for dinner that night), so if I messed up the caramel, it would throw me off schedule. So I grabbed the cheapest bag I could find of the little wrapped caramels and got my daughter to work unwrapping them. I think she only ate about 6 or 7. They worked just fine, but I admit homemade caramel would have been tastier.
This is a traditional custard-based ice cream, so it requires a little planning and working ahead (4+ hours minimum), because you have to make the custard base then let it cool in the fridge before putting in the ice cream maker.
Combine the cream and milk in a medium saucepan. Bring to just a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat.
Meanwhile, combine the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in a medium sized mixing bowl. Use a hand mixer (mid speed) to beat until the mixture is thick, smooth, and creamy (about 2 minutes).
Measure out about a cup of the warm milk mixture and, with the hand mixer on low speed, add the milk mixture in a steady stream to the sugar/egg mixture. (Adding it slowly tempers the cream. If you were to add the eggs straight to the hot milk, your eggs would probably cook — egg drop soup style.) You can add another cup of the milk mixture to the eggs in a slow drizzle, just to be safe.
Pour the entirety of the mixing bowl’s contents back into the saucepan and stir to combine.
Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon — a few minutes. If you cook this too hot or too long, you will end up with LUMPY CUSTARD (which I will name my punk band some day — I called it). If you end up with LUMPY CUSTARD, see “A Note About Lumpy Custard” below.
Transfer the custard mix to a mixing bowl and let it cool on the counter for a few minutes. Stir in the applesauce until combined. This does not have to be thoroughly blended, because some chunky pockets of applesauce in the ice cream will be pretty tasty.
Melt the caramels in a small saucepan with 1/4 – 1/2 cup of heavy cream, stirring constantly. The more cream you add during the melting process, the thinner the caramel sauce will be. I used about 1/3 cup heavy cream. Once melted, stir the caramel sauce into the custard base.
Cover the mixing bowl with cling wrap and put it in the fridge until it is completely cooled (a couple of hours at least).
Remove from fridge and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s directions. I use a Cuisinart counter-top ice cream maker. It took about 30 minutes to freeze this to a soft-serve consistency. When the ice cream is ALMOST frozen to soft-serve consistency, add the piñons then let it go a bit longer.
For a more solid ice cream, you can move the ice cream to a freezable container and leave in the freezer for a couple of hours to harden up.
A NOTE ABOUT PINONS
To roast/toast your piñons: Spread the shelled raw nuts out in an even layer in a dry skillet. Over medium heat, toast the piñons, shaking or stirring them every minute or so to check for color and prevent burning. You want to toast them until they are a nice deep tan color with some darker spots. Once you start to really smell them, they are about done. Remove them from the pan and spread evenly on a plate or paper towel to cool. Add a little salt if desired, then try not to eat them all.
A NOTE ABOUT APPLESAUCE
I bought a bag of “Manager’s Special” apples at the grocery store a while back. They were 99c for about 8 small Golden Delicious apples that were just this side of “iffy.” I was planning to juice them but never got around to it. There they sat, in the fridge, with a few other random old apples, dejected. Until one day I decided that the household needed some applesauce about as much as I needed to clean out the fridge. So I got out the crockpot.
To make chunky applesauce: Chop up all the apples (peels on for laziness). Put them in the crockpot with a little water (I used 1/2 c for about 12 apples). Add some cinnamon, brown sugar, and whatever other applesaucey spices you may have (nutmeg, allspice, etc.) Cook on LOW for 3-5 hours. Check on them now and then so they don’t get too soggy. Once they are cooked down, you can use an immersion blender or potato masher or fork to smash them into applesauce consistency. Add salt, sugar, brown sugar, and/or other spices as needed. This is good hot, cold, plain, as a relish, and of course, added to homemade Caramel Apple Piñon Ice Cream!
A NOTE ABOUT LUMPY CUSTARD
If, after cooking the complete custard base until it coats the back of a spoon (see step 5 above), you end up with LUMPS in the custard, do not worry! I ended up with lumpy custard at this stage, and I was really worried. Had I ruined my ice cream? Did something… curdle? Ick! So I did what anyone would have done. I googled it. The first answer I found was in a cooking forum, and it was, and I QUOTE:
“You gotta strain that shit, son!”
So strain it I did. I pressed the custard mix through a fine sieve and voila! No more lumps. And life made sense again.
This ice cream was flavorful, decadent, rich, creamy, and awesome. The caramel added a buttery richness to the ice cream base, the piñons gave it a little nutty crunch, and the applesauce made the whole thing taste kind of like apple pie a la mode.
Outside of grocery stores all across New Mexico, yellow tape cordoned off propane tanks. Empty one-room buildings near the sides of the road began to teem with life. Trucks pulled off in fields of dirt, and men and women gathered red chile ristras to decorate their truck beds. Cardboard sandwich signs were placed in strategic locations offering sacks and bushels and the prices for fresh or roasted.
It’s Chile Season in New Mexico.
From now until the end of the season, we won’t be checking in with our families and friends to ask how work is going. We won’t be at backyard barbecues discussing Billy’s first days of school, or how Aunt Sarah’s hip is doing. Instead, we’ll be asking each other for roasting sightings.
“Do you know when they’re roasting Hatch chile over on Wyoming and Montgomery?” or “Someone said they’ve started roasting at Smith’s… is that true?”
We’ll discuss the year’s weather conditions. “It was a dry summer, this chile batch might be extra hot, don’t you think?” We’ll take polls amongst each other to ensure we got the right amount. “Did you get a bushel [22 lb.] or a sack [35 lb.] this year?” And toward the end of the season, we’ll fret about others. “Did you get your chile put up yet?”
This week, I’ll talk to my sister and my mother and ask if they want to share a sack. We’ll decide if we want to go with Big Jim (mild) or Sandia (hot). I’ll go to Sichler’s in Albuquerque at San Mateo & Lomas and pay extra to have my chile roasted. If the peaches are ripe and the workers are generous, they’ll slice up a peach for me to eat while I wait. As I inhale the smell wafting off the roasters, I’ll nod a hello to the other people waiting around for their chile.
We’ll be our own little tribe, knowing that anywhere around the state, in small towns and large, from Las Cruces to Aztec, at any moment, the same mouth-watering smell is being shared across the open spaces with other New Mexicans who know the secrets of this season.
This season always takes me back to my past. The smell of roasting chile reminds me of times gone by when my mother and grandmothers and aunts would sit on the porch, peeling chile with gloved hands as my cousins and I played in the yard. The matriarchs shared recipes and family gossip, wiping their brows with wet washcloths to make sure they didn’t get the chile’s burning juices on their skin or in their eyes. They laughed as they recalled past batches, when they forgot to use the washcloths and, oh how the chile burned. They would call us kids over to grab more plastic bags or to take the filled bags to the freezer. My cousins and I would dare each other to eat the chile. Every child of the state made their bones on that first too-hot bite of freshly roasted green.
This time is about the future too. Because after the chile season comes the burning of Zozobra, where a 50-foot-tall paper and muslin puppet moans and groans as he goes up in flames, kicking off the Fiestas de Santa Fe. As “Old Man Gloom” burns, all our troubles of the year are burned away.
Soon after, the smells of roasting chile and our burning past troubles are replaced by those of funnel cakes and corn dogs and the sounds of the carnival rides and cheers from the nightly rodeo crowds at the New Mexico State Fair.
From there, the air grows chillier and the cottonwood leaves on the Rio Grande turn from green to a cacophony of auburn colors. Hundreds of balloons fill the morning sky and seem to compete with the sun in their majestic beauty during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Once the balloons have landed and been packed away, snow soon begins to dust our desert lands. Then softly glowing luminarias decorate plazas and homes across the state. And on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, families pull out their reserves of green chile from the freezer and come together to make their holiday meals. Pots of green chile stew boil on the stove and green chile chicken enchiladas bubble in the oven. Posole and tamales are served around the dinner table, and if the children finish their plates, they will be rewarded with biscochitos.
And it all starts with that first late summer sighting of green and red.
A friend of mine from New York once asked me why New Mexicans were so crazy about chile and the chile season. It’s not just about the chile, I answered. It is so much more than just the harvesting of the year’s batch across the state. Chile season is where the past, present, and future collide, and community and family are interchangeable.
New Mexico produces more chile than any other state in the U.S.
The majority of chile harvested in the state is from the southern region, from Lordsburg to Artesia. The most famous is Hatch, which holds its own annual Hatch Valley Chile Festival around Labor Day each year.
It’s illegal to advertise chile as being grown in New Mexico if it’s not. A new state program has taken this idea even further to help consumers identify New Mexico grown chile and chile products. To find out if your chile and chile products are New Mexico certified, check out GetNMChile.com.
All New Mexican chile grown today comes from cultivars created at New Mexico State University in the late 1800s. In 1913, Dr. Fabian Garcia introduced the New Mexican pod type.
There are several types of green chiles, other than New Mexican. The Anaheim or California is a mild version of the New Mexican green chile (tastes more like a bell pepper). The Poblano green chile comes from Pueblo, Mexico and is known for its dark green color and mild flavor. The Poblano is wider than the Anaheim and New Mexican green chile. The Chilaca and Pasilla chiles are similar to the Poblano in color, but are much skinnier. And there are the Serrano and Jalapeno chiles, which are smaller and generally spicier than these others. Of course, there are hundreds of other varieties of chile across the state and around the world. These are just a sampling.
“So there’s no trail?” I ask, scratching at my legs. The waist-high grass is blowing in a sporadic breeze, making me itch. I swat at a tiny winged insect buzzing around my right ear. Then another, or maybe the same one. They’re tenacious, these bugs. I look up at our goal: Sandia Peak, 10,400 feet seemingly straight up from where I stand at the bottom of a ski slope. The thick green grass between us and our goal feels teeming with snakes. I look down. I can’t see my feet.
Too bad the ski lifts aren’t working. I could just take one of those up.
“Well, there’s a trail, somewhere,” Roadrunner admits. “But last time I just charged straight up the grassy part. The ski slope part.”
Of course you did.
“I’d rather take a trail,” I say, scanning the vicinity for some kind of marked or even unmarked bike or game trail. Somewhere where I can see my own feet and any snakes I might be about to step on. I also knew that any trail would switchback along the face of the mountain, giving me a better shot of completion than the near-90-degree (in my mind) straight-up “charge” that Roadrunner has planned.
“Ok, let’s find it.” Roadrunner sets off. Upward. Straight up the slope. In a “charging” fashion, some might say.
I follow, only hoping that he is scattering any wildlife (i.e., snakes) outward from his footsteps, rather than downward (i.e., toward me). We push on and up, through the waist-high grass, stopping now and then for me to catch my breath or just catch up. Finally, we happen upon a narrow dirt trail carved into the tall grass. About 18 inches wide, this must be the bike trail.
The bike trail cuts straight across the slope, so we can’t tell which way is headed up and which way is headed down. We randomly pick a direction, based mainly on which direction gets us to the shade quicker. Luckily, we pick the right direction and our trail starts switchbacking (switchingback?) upward, in the comfort and coolness and snakelessness of the dense pine shade.
Now and then we come back across one grassy ski slope or another and decide to plow upward across it to save some time (picture this as a shortcut between switchbacks), and all the while in the waist-high grass I’m wondering how many snakes I’m stepping on or near or over.
This goes on for a while. At some point we stop for a snack in the shade. Clementines, cashews, water.
Eventually, we come upon an area in a slope where the grass turns to rock and beyond that we can just see the shape of the mountaintop buildings emerging over the next ridge.
I make my way a few yards up the rocky area and have to stop and rest. I can’t seem to catch my breath so I stop and wait, leaning heavily on my trekking poles*. Gasping, you might say. Roadrunner comes back to make sure I’m not actually dying. “If I don’t make it,” I gasp, “feel free to eat me.”
I’ve read (and seen) ALIVE. I know how these things go.
He cheers me on, because he’s a good person. I climb another few yards, then stop to rest and catch my breath. Then one foot in front of the other. Try not to slip on the loose rocks because heaven knows if I slip, I’m slipping all the way to the bottom. This goes on for about another hour (or 10 minutes), until I finally, mercifully, exhaustifully crest the final outcropping and see the restaurant and outlook area we have been aiming at for the past 8 hours (or 2 hours).
Yay! Time to sit down, rest my lungs and legs, and have the one special treat I packed for this exact moment.
A 7 oz can of Dr. Pepper.
When I’m tired or sleepy or cranky, Dr. Pepper is my sweet elixir of life.
We sit (and I huff and puff and whine and probably swear a little bit) and drink our tiny Dr. Peppers. Just as I am starting to appreciate my accomplishment and feel pretty OK about myself, a co-ed group of young CrossFitters bounds up the steps and to the vista rail, looking out at the view, all smiles.
(I’m sure you can imagine them so I won’t describe them, but I will point out they bounded up the HARD SIDE of the hike, the front side, the La Luz trail side. Like it was nothing. And I’m pretty sure they weren’t breathing hard OR EVEN SWEATING.)
I try to keep my hatred for them inside.
After about 10 minutes sitting there, having a snack and recuperating, we get up to go look at the view, which is, some would think, why we came all the way up here in the first place. A few yards away is the top of the Tram station, and people pour forth from the little metal deathboxes -AHEM- I mean tram cars, with a regularity. For those unaware, the Sandia Peak Tram is an aerial tramway that covers almost 3 miles of rugged terrain and valleys, from the base near Albuquerque to the top of Sandia Peak (10,400 ft.). A trip on the tram takes about 15 minutes, and ends with much less huffing and puffing than the way we did it. But if you have issues with heights or claustrophobia, you might want to hike up.
Everyone getting off the tram wants to eat at the restaurant atop the mountain, High Finance, but it’s not open yet. So people are milling about, killing time. (For restaurant info click HERE. For Tram info click HERE.)
Roadrunner leads me away from the restaurant, down a rocky slope that looks a lot like the rocky slope I just trudged UP, and then parallel to the crest, toward a secret vista point. We step around a few small boulders and toward the edge.
We sit on a boulder and take in the view.
We can see all of Albuquerque, laid out in its neat criss-cross lattice of streets at right angles, and beyond to the volcanos of the West Mesa on the horizon. Far below us, in the tops of some trees that begin even farther below, a hawk and a raven soar and flap and survey.
And the sky opens up and goes forever.
This is why we’re up here.
We need to get home so after about 10 minutes of rest, we head downward. Down is like up, but much faster and easier on the lungs. What it’s harder on are the quads and knees and toes. We charge down some of the grassy slopes, and take the switchbacks now and then to give our feet and knees a break. We make it down to where we started in about 45 minutes.
OVERALL I’d give this hike a bunch of stars on any kind of star system. It was really pretty (woods and grassy slopes in one hike) and the trail was fairly well marked in most places. Next time, I would probably start at a trail head and just stay on the trail and plan to take longer, rather than charging up the slopes to save time. I’d take away a star or two because I didn’t see any wildlife other than a squirrel, which is kind of a bummer.
*Author’s note: I completed this hike, from approximately 6,700 ft. – 10,600 ft. about 2 weeks after I moved to New Mexico from California (at sea level). I can say with certainty that I had not fully acclimatized to the altitude yet at this point. I don’t really recommend attempting this hike if you have just moved to the area after living at sea level. Get acclimatized then try it. Otherwise you will be sucking wind. Just saying.
It was a dark and stormy night. Just before midnight, glared the dash clock in the ‘64 station wagon. This highway I had already seen twice today: going south, then back north, and now south again. The earlier two trips were in bright friendly sunlight. Now I was driving south in the darkest of darks. Behind me two miles was Corona, and ahead of me just 44 miles was Carrizozo. Then on to Alamogordo, my final destination where I would rid the car of my guest and guests: the one in the front seat, asleep for the past hour and to stay same until we reach his driveway, and the rowdies caged in back who were about to awake.
I was a first year rookie with NM Game and Fish and in assignment to Jack, a seasoned wildlife information officer who also hosted the weekly Game and Fish PBS television show in Albuquerque. As we prepped for this week’s show, he said, “Tomorrow drive to Alamogordo and pick up our guest and his props, drive him up for the show, then drive him back to his home tomorrow night. It will be an easy and fun day and you will be entertained during your drive,” Jack, the Prankster, said.
I learned some things in my first 16 years in New Mexico when we never lived closer than 15 miles to a town.
Don’t waste water, ice is a heavenly gift, take a flashlight to the outhouse, never go barefoot outside, always shake your shoes in the morning to empty of critters, and many other helpful tidbits to well serve during a full life.
And the most important: You will — from time to time and without a doubt — hear a rattlesnake rattle. The rattle is the signal that it is near. You must first determine its location. Then your options are: (1) remain perfectly still, or (2) leap high and far in the opposite direction, and (3) scream because you cannot contain a good scream. In my youth I practiced all three many times. To this day the sound of rattles rattle me. And did that night south of Corona.
Early that day when I gathered the guest for the night TV show, he brought his props all right: two boxes of rattlesnakes that he promised were boxed tightly with secure lids. He placed the boxes in the back of the very long ’64 wagon. The trip to Albuquerque was pleasant. Not a sound from the back. Occasionally I breathed. I could see the boxes in the rearview mirror. Lids were secured. We did the TV show and the guest allowed the snakes to crawl around on stage. All of us bystanders were watchful and ready to run.
Show is over, boxes of snakes are placed in the back of the station wagon, and off we go into the dark of the night on the two lane to Alamogordo. All is well until Corona. The guest in the passenger seat goes to sleep. The 46 miles to Carrizozo is a much rougher road at night and the shocks on the wagon have hardened since the trip up earlier in the day.
Now, with each bump in the road, a snake rattles. The more bumps, the more rattles.
I turn on the dome light and can just make out that the lids appear to be on the boxes. “Will the lids hold?” I ask myself. I am now looking at the front floor board to see if I am still alone. Did I see a wiggle? A slither? More bumps; more rattles. I now have one leg and foot under me and the remaining foot has increased our speed to 75 which has increased the number of bumps in a short period and increased the rattles until we are a speeding lights-on missile in the dark of night near out of control rattling and screaming as we pass the turns to Ancho and White Oaks and finally arrive at the old Texaco in Carrizozo where I brake to a sliding stop and abandon the idling vehicle. Leap high and far and scream.
An hour later we finally arrive in Alamogordo and as the guest opens the back to get his boxes he says, “That was sure a nice and quiet trip; glad my little friends did not bother you.”
We were “camping” at a Corona motel about 20 years ago on a winter deer archery hunt. We usually did a tent or popup trailer camp in the winter, but 8 inches of crusted snow and temps in the teens prompted us wise hunt veterans to seek indoor facilities for a few days.
We were well prepared for the hunt, but Bill forgot to bring changes of underwear for the three hunt days. John and I allowed we would not share, nor trade. We walked down to the Mercantile on Main Street in search of underwear and a skillet as our meals would be on a gas stove on the pickup tailgate and a skillet was not among us.
John found a cast iron skillet (which he still fondly uses today over in Alabama) in the store that had a wide selection of items common to a country store. However, the clothing section offered only one package of underwear and in three bright colors: blue, red, black.
Only three guys in their mid-years could enjoy the moment of such a find far from the big city and at the register we were still enjoying the moment. “You want a bag for those?” asked the lady at the counter. “No, we’ll just carry them,” said Bill, as he hoisted his bright colors for all to see including the four hunters who met us at the door and obviously found no humor in three of their fellow hunters boasting of a bag of new shorts. We think they were just jealous we had some new ones.
Back at the turn of this century, I had occasional employment that caused me to drive the stretch of road from Ruidoso north to roads that went to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The drive included hwy 42 from Corona to Willard through Cedarvale. Cedarvale is isolated, no services. A few houses remain as does a large abandoned building that probably was a school in its day.
On trip after trip I always looked at the barn, or garage, that faced east and was on the south side of 42 in downtown Cedarvale. I always looked as there was a boat on a trailer in the barn and the boat appeared to be green and maybe a tri-hull model. It always reminded me of a similar boat we had back in the ‘70’s that I still miss today. It was a bit difficult to closely identify and describe as lumber and other items had fallen or been placed on it. But I always looked for it and enjoyed the sightings each time. And it looked like the barn was beginning to sag a bit?
Not too long ago, we—the family—were traveling down 42, and I was sharing old stories as old sages do, and began building the story of the “boat in the garage” and everyone was anxious to witness. “Here it comes!” I said. “Up here on the right! Just beyond those big trees!”
Just beyond the big trees was a pile of old lumber. The barn had collapsed. The boat was gone. Shucks.
Art will tell you: the dinner bell rings at 7:30 sharp, and if you don’t haul ass to the buffet, consider yourself screwed. You will get the roast beef’s crusty edges and the bottom-of-the-barrel pinto beans, which will be mostly beanwater and a few floaters. Art will tell you: put your phone away because you won’t get any reception out here and no one is going to call you anyway.
Art is head of the Chuckwagon dinner here at the Flying Bull Ranch (but don’t call him Cookie or Hopalong, or you won’t get any butter for your potato). The Flying Bull is one of those fake western towns where you can play horseshoes and learn how to pan for gold. There’s a gunfight nightly where the Sheriff (cheers and applause!) most always wins, and there are troubadours that sing cowboy songs and tell bad jokes. But Art knows what folks really come here for: the food. They show up early and watch him cut out biscuits with the lid from a jelly jar. They wipe their mouths when they get a face full of smoke from the pit barbecue.
Sometimes Art will look up from his biscuitmaking and say: heed my warning. (He tells fortunes while he cooks. This was not a job requirement. From what we can tell, he’s right about half the time.) He’ll say: that job you looked at is coming through. He’ll say: your husband is doing that thing you hoped he wasn’t; a great gift will arrive in the mail. Some folks enjoy this; some don’t. Most don’t pay him any mind. Just another old nut, they figure.
Art makes the chunky applesauce by hand, crushing the cooked apples with an old potato masher. He adds a secret ingredient from a ceramic bowl marked “Secret Ingredient” (we’re pretty sure it’s Allspice), then winks at anyone who might be watching. He hauls the applesauce to the buffet and then marches outside and rings the bell. He’ll tell you: you want to be at the front of the line, that way you can get seconds on the applesauce.
When everyone is fed and settled in to watch the Flying Bull Band, Art sits in a rocking chair out back and he rocks and smokes. He looks toward the west and rubs his jaw. Art tells you he can feel the rain coming even when it’s a day away. He says he can feel it in his teeth, and in the holes where his teeth were once. He walks out to the middle of the fake road, holding his jaw, staring out toward the horizon.
Art will tell you: there’s a big storm coming. And you’ll believe him, even though he’s only ever right about half the time.
We rolled into Ruidoso at what I thought was an optimal time, pulling into the parking lot at Casa Blanca at around 1:30 pm. A little after the lunch rush, but not too close to dinner time. As most New Mexicans know (and as I learned), roughly half the population of Texas descends on Ruidoso this time of year. We had about a 15 minute wait for a table, which, considering the crowd in town and in the waiting area, I thought this was very reasonable. (Author’s note: Okay, not really. I wanted to dig into those green chile strips so bad, I thought 15 minutes sounded like an eternity!)
The hostess and the wait staff were very friendly, considering everyone was hustling and bustling. We were seated at a nice table near a window, with plenty of room for our party of five. Three baskets of warm, crispy tortilla chips arrived immediately after we were seated, along with three bowls of very good salsa.
[Zia’s note: These are the best chips & salsa I’ve had in an eternity.]
After placing our drink orders, we asked for two baskets of their world (probably) famous fried green chile strips.
How do I describe these things?
How would Picasso paint a lovely woman in a hat and fur coat?
How would Neruda describe love?
Well, since I can’t really channel either of those famous Pablos, I will do my best to describe them from a foodie’s perspective. They arrive at your table nice and hot, almost too hot to eat immediately. The batter is light and crisp, sort of flaky. The peppers themselves are cooked to perfection; they’re not soggy or greasy, but firm. If it’s possible (or legal?) to describe a chile pepper as cooked “al dente,” then that’s what I’d go with. So, once these have cooled down a bit (about 10 seconds after they arrive to your table…a slightly burnt tongue is a reasonable price to pay), just pick one up and dredge it through some ranch dressing. The ranch will cool it off a bit. Bite, chew, and enjoy. Repeat ad infinitum or until the basket runs dry.
Confession: the chips and salsa and the chile strips were plenty filling and could easily have been our meal…but that’s not how we roll.
Jalapeno BLT: Reading the menu, this sandwich sounded SO good. Smoked jalapeno bacon on sourdough with lettuce, tomato and a habanero mayonnaise.
However, if I’d read the menu a little closer, I would have noticed that there is also cheddar cheese on this sandwich. I love cheddar cheese, and I love a good BLT, but I’ve never been a fan of cheese ON my BLT. Had I noticed, I simply would have asked the waitress to hold the cheese, so that one is on me. The sandwich itself was VERY salty, mostly due to the jalapeno bacon. The bacon was spicy, and taking a bite of the sandwich would definitely warm up the inside of your mouth, but the salt content was just too high. The combination of salt and heat makes you go through a lot of iced tea, so keep your glass full! (The wait staff was very good at keeping everyone’s glasses full.)
Going around the table, everyone was pleased with their entrees, but I think all of us had gotten so full of chips and salsa and fried green chiles that we had (temporarily) lost our enthusiasm for eating. Zia ordered the Taco Plate, which she reported to be “your typical taco plate.” Similar reports from the rest of the team.
NOTE: Casa Blanca offers a dessert sopapilla, which is ginormous and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. We were too stuffed to go there, but I’d highly recommend ordering like this: Chips & Salsa, Fried Green Chile Strips, Sopapillas. It WILL be plenty of food. You WILL leave happy.
Overall, I like Casa Blanca. I’ve been there twice now and would definitely return . . . as long as they keep frying up those green chiles.