Tag Archives: albuquerque

Tasty Teas and Treats at Hadley’s Tea, Albuquerque

Hadley's Tea, Corrales, New Mexico. The best chair.
This is the magical chair. And I call dibs!

See this chair here? It has magical powers.
When you sit in it, it envelopes you in happiness and comfort and makes you forget about all the troubles of your day. This magical chair is located in a nook of Hadley’s Tea, located at 7600 Jefferson NE, #9 in Albuquerque. Hadley’s Tea is a place to relax, enjoy some nice lunch and browse through the large selection of teas and pastries.

Now before you go and think I’m cheating on St James again, let it be known that while Hadley’s Tea serves teas, they also serve coffee. They also don’t have a formal tea service. The place is more like your favorite coffee shop. And that my friends is how I justify my tea habit.

My friend is a tea expert. Seriously, she can talk to you for hours about the different types of loose leaf teas and their histories. She is a mad tea genius. She and I often meet up at Hadley’s to relax and enjoy a cup of tea. Not too long ago, we met up and I enjoyed a tasty turkey and cheese croissant sandwich with a side of spicy tomato soup. The tomato soup had a nice kick to it; I believe it was spiced with green chile.

Hadley's Tea in Albuquerque, NM
Cafe style lunch fare at Hadley’s Tea.

My friend enjoyed the gourmet chicken salad, which was also delicious. Hadley’s serves a variety of hot and cold teas, as well as coffee. On this occasion, I partook of a large Earl Grey tea. My decision was based partially on the fact that I enjoy Earl Grey and also because it drives my friend nuts that I drink Earl Grey as her tastes are more refined. I spent most of my lunch setting my tea next to hers and asking her if her tea was embarrassed to be seen with mine. That’s what I call lunch and a show.

In addition to lunch food and pastries, Hadley’s offers tea and tea accessories for purchase. Black, green, oolong and wellness teas are all available for sale, as well as decaf selections. It’s also a great place to purchase tea accessories, including tea pots, cozies, mugs and more.

Tea for sale at Hadley's Tea, Albuquerque
Part of the tea selection at Hadley’s Tea.

Hadley’s is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Perhaps I will see you there. But if I do, I have dibs on the magical chair.

 

 

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The Brew | Coffee & Tea

 The Brew is a cool, comfortable, coffeehouse in downtown Albuquerque that serves amazing locally roasted single source coffee and tea with an artistic flair by some very friendly staff. Located at 311 Gold Ave. SW, the tiny shop features Villa Myriam coffee. This Arabica bean coffee is grown in the hills of Piendamo, Columbia and then hand-roasted in Albuquerque. It is sold and served at numerous locations in Albuquerque, including Whole Foods and The Range. Even better, the Brew partners with Joliesse Chocolates (check out our review here) to serve handmade local syrups, including a red chile syrup.

The menu offers espresso, brewed coffee (drip, café au lait and red eye) and specialty drinks, including a Red Chile Mocha and a Crazy Monkey, which is banana, caramel and mocha. In addition to coffee, the Brew also offers an assortment of hot and cold brewed teas and tea lattes. Two particularly tasty concoctions are the Roobios latte, made of South African Roobios and pure cane sugar, and the Dirty Chai latte, made with chai and espresso. The friendly staff serves the lattes with such beauty that it’s almost hard to drink the lattes, but you push through it.

The Brew Roobios Latte Albuquerque
Gorgeous Roobios Latte at The Brew

The coffeehouse itself includes bright colored walls, funky art pieces and comfortable seating. Guests can use free Wi-Fi while working at a number of tables, or can relax and spend talking with friends and family in one of the comfortable, bright armchairs or couches.

The Brew Albuquerque seating area
The Brew – cozy seating area

The Brew is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

Biscochitos

Bizcochitos, Biscochos, whatever you call them and however you spell them, they are a New Mexico staple around Christmas time.

Here’s my current recipe. It makes 4-5 dozen, depending how big you cut em and how good you are at rerolling the scraps etc.

Anise seed
Anise seed — the more the merrier
  • 6 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 pound lard (lard is a MUST, do not substitute)
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 4-6 Tbsp Anise seed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup liquid, dealer’s choice: whiskey, brandy, sweet wine, orange juice, apple juice. For my batch, I used 1/4 cup whiskey and 1/4 cup orange juice.
  • 1/2 cup sugar + 2 Tbsp cinnamon (for dusting after cooked)

Directions:

  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.
  2. Cream lard with sugar and anise seed on medium.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat eggs until light and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs to creamed sugar/lard mixture and mix until combined.
  5. Add liquid of choice.
  6. Slowly add flour about 1/2 cup at a time and mix until a stiff dough has formed. You might not need all of the flour.
  7. Remove dough, wrap, and refrigerate overnight (or a few hours).
  8. Preheat oven to 350 deg.
  9. Let dough stand 15-20 minutes or until soft enough to roll.
  10. Roll out dough to approx. 1/8 inch (they will be thick). Cut with cookie cutter and place on cookie sheet.
  11. Bake 10-12 minutes or until bottom turns a golden brown.
  12. Mix cinnamon and sugar in a bowl.
  13. As cookies come out of the oven (and after cooling about 5 minutes), drop top-down in cinnamon/sugar mixture then set aside to cool further.

 

Biscochitos
Biscochitos for Christmas!

 

The Owl Café, Albuquerque

The Owl Café

I like to think I’m a laid back, authentic person. For the most part, I’m not judgmental (unless you’re a Kardashian, and then bring it) and I don’t particularly care about status. But there is one thing that I’m a snob about. And that is my chile. And by chile, I mean chile, not chili. I know this is a New Mexico thing, and if you look at dictionaries or websites, they say that you can use chile and chili interchangeably. But not in New Mexico, I say (rather snobbishly). You can always tell a native by whether or not they know the difference between the two. Green or red chile is stuff from heaven (made from our state-grown chile peppers, either red or green depending on when you pick em). Chili is that brown Hormel-like substance served in other states.

So imagine how trepidatious I felt when I found myself at the Owl Café in Albuquerque looking at their menu and seeing the Owl Burger “with green chili.” As a child, I had been to the Owl Café in San Antonio, NM many times to enjoy the Owl Burger. In fact, I believe it serves one of the best green chile (I just can’t call it chili) cheeseburgers in the state.

The original Owl Café was established in the 1930s in San Antonio, NM, and in 1986, the Albuquerque location was opened. The Albuquerque Owl Café has a 1950s diner theme in honor of nearby Route 66. There’s a jukebox in the restaurant, a pie case filled with desserts, and plenty of barstools and tables to enjoy a step back in time.

The Owl Café, Eubank Blvd Albuquerque. It's an OWL, people!
The Owl Café, Eubank Blvd Albuquerque. It’s an OWL, people!

So had I been wrong about the burger? Had somehow the expansion to Albuquerque changed what the burger had become? Had the Owl Café forgotten its roots and started to make burgers that weren’t as good? Or worse, were smothered in some weird green Hormel-like chili with an I?

During lunch with some friends, I decided to momentarily put my snobbishness aside and order the green chile (won’t do it) cheeseburger. The cheeseburger runs about $5, and you can order regular fries, sweet potato fries or onion rings for an additional $2.

Instead of the staple chips and salsa as an appetizer, the Owl Café offers small bowls of beans and green chile. The green chile had a bite to it, and the beans were nicely flavored, so I began to become hopeful about the Owl burger.

Beans & Green Chile is the new Chips & Salsa at the Owl Café. If you know what that means, you might be from New Mexico.
Beans & Green Chile is the new Chips & Salsa at the Owl Café. If you know what that means, you might be from New Mexico.

And then the burger came out. The patty was hand-made and large. It was topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and lots of green chile. A nice sized portion of sweet potatoes covered the rest of the plate. This looked promising. Then I took a bite. The burger was juicy, the condiments fresh, and the green chile was hot.

Owl Café Green Chile Cheeseburger and Sweet Potato Fries.
Owl Café Green Chile Cheeseburger and Sweet Potato Fries.

It was delicious and just as good as I remembered from my childhood.

I wolfed the burger down in no time flat. Then I was overcome by a wave of shame. Here I was judging the Owl Café for their use of an I instead of an E, and they delivered a wonderful burger. Luckily, the sweet potato fries helped me push through that shame.

What’s the lesson in all of this? I don’t know, really. I mean, I still don’t like people to use the word chili when talking about green or red or when they’re offering to throw it on my cheeseburger. But the Owl Café still serves a fantastic, mouthwatering, Owl Burger with green chile. So I guess the lesson is…well, just go try the cheeseburger.

The Albuquerque location of the Owl Café is at 800 Eubank Blvd. You can’t miss it. The building is shaped like an owl. Their hours are 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. Monday – Friday, and 7 a.m. –  11 p.m. on the weekends.

Figments Tea Shoppe & Gallery

Please don’t tell St. James that I’ve cheated on them. I love my tearoom. But look, I just can’t afford it every day. So when the opportunity came up to try another place that was a more reasonable option for every day tea cavorting, I took it. I went to Figments Tea Shoppe and Gallery and enjoyed tea and desserts.

I’m not going to lie. It was good. And I’m going to go back.

Figments Tea Shoppe is located at 8510 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Suite A7 and is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The place sells loose leaf tea by the ounce  and tea products, as well as unique gifts. The Tea Shoppe also features a fragrance blending bar. Customers can get a personalized lotion, soap or massage oil made from a variety of fragrances.

Oh, but I’m sure you want to get to the details of my dalliance. Fine, I’ll share. Figments offers daily tea time specials. No reservations are required. For $8 I enjoyed a scone, dessert and tea. For my first time, I chose The Great Pumpkin selection (there are two selections every two weeks). I mean come on, it was too tempting, tea and a Charlie Brown reference??? This particular pairing included Linus’ Great Pumpkin Bread, Charlie’s Yogurt, Granola and Honey and Snoopy’s Caramel Delight. For each selection, Figments suggests a tea pairing. Teas come in a three or six pot serving or one specialty tea. I chose the Roobios peppermint bark latte for my tea of choice. I mean I was already cheating, might as well go decadent.

The Great Pumpkin selection at Figments
The Great Pumpkin selection at Figments
The Mad Hatter Selection at Figments
The Mad Hatter Selection at Figments
Peppermint Bark Latte at Figments Tea Shoppe & Gallery
Peppermint Bark Latte at Figments Tea Shoppe & Gallery

The portions were the perfect size for an afternoon bite, not too filling or even too sweet. The latte was huge and wonderful. Even more enjoyable was the ambience. Figments has a seating room towards the back of the store that is decorated like the Mad Hatter tea party from Alice in Wonderland. A decorative tree grows from a wall and blossoms glass flowers and glass tea cups. Hats hang from another tea branch, and the glass table and wicker chairs are decorated with bright flowers. It’s a great place to relax.

A little Koi Pond
A little Koi Pond

The staff is friendly and helpful. The owner explained that beginning soon, Figments will also feature a small bar with flavored vinaigrettes and olive oils. While Figments changes its tea menu every two weeks, after December this will change as well. The two selections will be available for a month, allowing more time for customers to enjoy their favorite sweet treats and tea. And yes, I’ll be back. But shhhh, it’ll be our secret okay?

So You Want a Little Breaking Bad with Your Donut?

Rebel Donut

2435 Wyoming Blvd NE
Albuquerque, NM 87112
rebeldonut.com

Rebel Donut, according to their website, is Albuquerque’s “premier artisan donut and pastry shop.” Being a recent arrival to the Albuquerque area, I had heard a lot of office chatter around the water cooler about how great this little donut shop was, and how we “had to try it!” So not long ago, with the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in full swing, Team EatingNewMexico took an early morning foray to the Abq East Side to grab some artisan donuts and coffee, and to see if we could spot any hot-air balloons floating over town.

We arrived at Rebel Donut around 7:30 AM on Sunday morning. Their normal business hours are 7:00 AM-4:00 PM on weekends, and according to their Facebook page, they had opened an hour early to accommodate early-risers attending the Balloon Festival. When we arrived, the shop was not busy and we were able to go straight to the counter and start the very challenging task of selecting which donuts we wanted. Actually, it was more of a challenge to decide which ones we WEREN’T going to buy!

The selection was very good. Since there were three of us, we decided on a conservative half-dozen box. Rebel Donut varies their selection daily, so you won’t know what’s available until you walk into the store.

But one of the regulars is the Blue Sky donut, a.k.a. the BREAKING BAD donut, named after the blue sugary crystalized sprinkles on top that closely resemble Walter White’s nefarious creation in the television series. As a “BrBa” fan, the Blue Sky donut was at the top of my list — so much so, we got two.

BrBa Aaron Paul Donuts
Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul admires a box of Blue Sky.

Others that made the cut were the Fruity Rebel, Biscochito, a Red Chile Chocolate Cream, and a Boston Cream.

Rebel Donut - 6-pack
Blue Sky x 2, Fruity Rebel, Biscochito, Red Chile Chocolate Cream, and Boston Cream.

 

The Blue Sky donut was a light cake donut with blue frosting and blue “crystal” candy on top. While it was delicious, we couldn’t quite pinpoint a flavor in it, other than sugar flavor. Maybe cotton candy? Not sure. The Fruity Rebel was a basic cake donut covered with Fruity Pebbles (the 8-year-old liked it). The biscochito had the perfect biscochito flavor — cinnamon, sugar, and the subtle licorice flavor of anise. A true New Mexico tradition, in donut form (genius!). The Red Chile Chocolate Cream was a raised donut with chocolate glaze, and a dollop of red chile pastry cream in the middle. The Boston Cream was your typical BC donut. Tasty!

Other donuts available that day were French Toast, Maple Bacon Bar, Green Chile Glazed, and some more savory selections, such as Jalapeno & Cheese, and Apple Chicken Sausage kolaches.

Rebel Donut display case
So many choices. Get them all!

The donuts were fresh and delicious, and while there are probably “fresh and delicious” donuts all over Albuquerque, the variety and artistry of these confections are what make Rebel Donuts special and are such a big reason for their success.

Something you likely won’t find at Rebel Donut are your typical “donut shop” items, like glazed twists, apple fritters, and bear claws. (Though there was a plain glazed the day we were there.) So if traditional and cheap is what you’re after, you might want to try somewhere that doesn’t have “rebel” in the title.

For coffee lovers, Rebel Donut also has an espresso menu and delicious brewed coffees, including (my favorite), New Mexico Piñon Coffee!

The only negative on the day we visited was the SUN. In the early morning, the sun blasts through the shop’s huge windows, and there was literally NO shaded seating to be found inside. It was hot and bright and really uncomfortable, so we chose to eat in the car while driving around looking for balloons. At the very least, they could pull some shades or something.

Overall though, we were very happy with our Rebel Donut experience, and I highly recommend a trip to Rebel Donut the next time your sweet tooth gets the better of you!

 

St. James Tearoom: A Sweet Respite from a Hectic World

Life can be crazy these days.

Between work and a somewhat hectic social life, I’m bombarded by all kinds of extraneous noise. I mean how many snarky tweets, Facebook postings of cute animals and Google alerts on Channing Tatum can a girl wade through before just needing to run away for a while? Luckily, I have a special place I can go to escape the fast pace and noise of today’s world. A place that offers me some time to relax and unwind. Oh yeah, and drink some lovely teas and eat some amazing, wonderful food.

The St. James Tearoom, a quiet place for afternoon tea service in northwest Albuquerque.
The St. James Tearoom, a quiet place for afternoon tea service in northwest Albuquerque.

This magical place is the St. James Tearoom, located on the corner of Edith and Osuna in Albuquerque. What is a tearoom, you ask? You actually may not be asking, as you might be more refined than I am. Because the first time I heard of the St. James Tearoom, I assumed it was a place where caffeine junkies hung out, hopping themselves up on the latest teas and discussing—well, I honestly don’t know. But in actuality, a tearoom is a place where you get to experience a traditional afternoon tea service, a two hour respite from the world where you relax while enjoying a variety of loose leaf teas and a full meal.

The first time I ever went to the St. James Tearoom, I was leery. I’m not dainty, refined or even the least bit graceful. So the idea of sitting still for two hours in a room where I was expected to be quiet and drink tea from a dainty china cup while sitting on dainty furniture rather terrified me. I actually brought extra money with me knowing that the chances of me breaking a cup or piece of furniture was going to be quite high. While I might not be graceful, I am always prepared.

I’m glad to report that in the five years that I’ve gone to the St. James Tearoom, I have never broken anything.

The dainty teacup, ready for service.
The dainty teacup, ready for service.

For those of you who have never been to a tearoom and have stuck through the previous paragraph, I will reward your patience by describing the wonders and logistics of the St. James Tearoom. As each tea setting is broken into two-hour intervals, you must make reservations ahead of time. Reservations can be made by calling, or via their online reservation service. Seating times are available at 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and at those times plus 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

As this is a formal tea, I recommend dressing up. Not in a full-length ball gown or anything, but at least in either your Sunday best, or minus the scruffy jeans and shorts. Although the staff at the St. James Tearoom is so gracious and mannered they won’t judge you. (I totally would, but they won’t). To add more fun to your adventure, you may also want to wear a decorative hat to tea (think Kentucky Derby-type hat). If you do not own such a hat, you can find a selection of loaner hats in the Tearoom’s gift shop.

Fancy hats for the borrowing at St. James Tearoom, just for funzies.
Fancy hats for the borrowing at St. James Tearoom, just for funzies.

Once you arrive at St. James Tearoom, you can wander through their gift shop or peruse their wide variety of loose leaf teas and tea accessories. A bell will sound to alert you that it’s time to be seated for your tea.

The gift shop sells a variety of loose teas with fun & unique names and flavors.
The St. James Tearoom gift shop sells a variety of loose teas with fun & unique names and flavors, such as this one: Van Gogh, Smiling.

Depending on the size of your party, you will either be seated in one of the cozy nooks or the library area. Each of these areas are decorated to represent a different estate of a famous person from the Victorian era. For example, there is a room decorated to look like the home of Florence Nightingale (my favorite nook) and another to represent the farmhouse of Beatrix Potter. Each area is blocked off by a curtain to allow you privacy, and to let you enjoy some peace and quiet. So turn off your cell phone and use your inside voice. That said, my inside voice is quite loud and I’ve never been shushed, so you’ll be fine.

Library seating at the St. James Tearoom.
Library seating at the St. James Tearoom.
Interesting décor fits the Victorian theme.
Interesting décor fits the Victorian theme.

After being seated, a server (dressed in darling Victorian garb) will introduce you to the month’s menu. Each month, the St. James Tearoom features a theme. For instance, this October’s theme is “Phantom of the Opera” and next months’ theme is “A Narnian Teatime.” I only mention November’s theme because I love C.S. Lewis and am geeky-excited about the theme. Essentially, the foods will be named or inspired for the theme, such as Mr. Tummins Fig and Goat Cheese Sandwich (see how I got Narnia in there twice?).

Your server will begin by serving you one of three teas for your setting. Usually, your tea adventure begins with a traditional black tea, followed by a spiced black tea, or a green tea, finished by a flowered or fruit tea. Each tea is served in a pot and you are provided cream and sugar. Your server will tell you which tea goes best with cream and sugar. Once you’re done with a particular tea, you set the lid of your tea pot up to indicate you’re ready for your next tea.

A hot cup o tea at the St. James Tearoom. Excellent.
A hot cup o tea at the St. James Tearoom. Excellent.
All the creams and sugars you could need for your teas.
All the creams and sugars you could need for your teas.

During Christmas, the St. James Tearoom features my absolute favorite tea—sparkling sugar plum. The tea actually sparkles!!

The Sparkling Sugar Plum tea has little glittering bits of something that sparkle in your cup!
The Sparkling Sugar Plum tea has little glittering bits of something that sparkle in your cup!

Ah, now let’s talk about your afternoon tea food. After you’ve been given your first tea, your server will deliver heaven on a three-tiered tray.

Your lunch, on a 3-tiered tray!
Your lunch, on a 3-tiered tray!

Now, don’t be alarmed by how small everything looks. The first time I saw the amount of food provided, I leaned over to my niece and told her we would go for a cheeseburger afterwards. Trust me, you will leave full and satisfied. The bottom tray of the tier will feature savories, such as (from this month’s menu), carrot soufflé, salmon en croute and more. The second tier will have the St. James traditional scones and lemon curd and the month’s featured scones with cream. The top tier will have desserts, fabulous, wonderful, sugar coma (worth it) inducing desserts. I cannot say enough about the food. This is melt in your mouth, savor every bite, sell your mother or your soul for another bite, wonderful food.*

Another bell will ring letting you know that your tea time is officially over. Feel free to cry that your respite from the real world has come to an end. Your server will offer you a hot towel to let you wipe away your tears. Okay, the towel is really to wipe your hands, but you know, they’re not going to judge you. Even I won’t judge you as there has been many a time that I’ve cried and wailed. You know, in my inside voice.

I will say that this wonderful, magic experience does not come cheap. Seating prices for adults is $33 and for children 4-10 is $24. During the Christmas season, prices are $36 for adults and $26 for children. But I’ll pay anything for those sugar plum sparkles. But while the tea experience is pricey, it is completely worth it. The St. James Tearoom also caters to individual dietary needs. They offer decaffeinated tea, as well as a gluten free and vegetarian menu.

*I realize this post sounds rather blasphemous. I in no way really mean that the food is literally like heaven, as in actuality it’s not served by Channing Tatum or Ryan Gosling. And in no way should you really sell your soul for food. Hold out for a car at least.

New Mexico’s “Musical Highway” Plays America the Beautiful

A small stretch of road along old Route 66 / Hwy 333 near Tijeras, NM has been enabled with a musical ability. If you drive over a special rumble strip at exactly 45 miles per hour (no, not 40, not 50), you will be serenaded with a slightly asphalty rendition of the last few bars of America the Beautiful.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Albuquerque, at the Tramway/Central intersection, either hop on I-40 then exit to Rte 66 at Carnuel, or just get on Rte 66 right there at Tramway/Central and take it the whole way. Either way, after Rte 66 passes under I-40 (east of Carnuel), get ready and start looking for the blue signs. There is a sign reading “Musical Highway” that prepares you, then a sign reading “Reduce Speed to 45 mph” to get you in the proper speed zone. Arrows painted on the rumble strips show you where to actually place your tires. Note: The musical section is on the eastbound lane only.

If you watch the video above, you’ll see a second, shorter rumble strip after the first one. The first time I drove the Musical Highway, that second rumble strip played the Nationwide jingle. I kid you not. It was terrible and I felt somehow violated. But the second time I drove it (in the video above), the second rumble strip had been…. de-activated. THANK GOODNESS.

Rumor has it that the Musical Highway was created here as part of a Discovery Channel experiment in crowd control for a show to air soon, with the added benefit of getting drivers to slow to the speed limit, at least for a little while. In my experience (ahem), drivers just speed back up when the music stops. But at least we are being safe for a little while.

UPDATE: We indeed saw the episode of Crowd Control that featured the NM Musical Highway. Pretty cool, and I was happy to see that the jingle was included for the episode only. Plus, Crowd Control has become one of our favorite shows.

Corn Dogs and Meh at the New Mexico State Fair

So we went to the State Fair and for like three weeks leading up to the fair we were like CORN DOGS FUNNEL CAKES DEEP FRIED THINGS ON STICKS — MAKE IT HAPPEN, FAIR. And then we got to the fair and yes, there were many yummy smells coming from many food booths all over the place. Promising!

It was about 85 degrees, I think. Which might not sound too hot, but out on the asphalt and NO SHADE of the fairgrounds, it quickly became a blistering stuffed animal & carnie infested hellscape.

You know what sounds good in that environment? A/C and a nap. A cold beverage. Ice cream, snow cones.  You know what doesn’t sound good in that environment? Hot, deep-fried foods.

BUT WE WERE ON A MISSION. A mission to eat and love some fried fair foods (preferably on sticks).  So we stood in various lines and picked up a foot-long corn dog, some drinks, and a funnel cake.

Then we sat down in the shadeless noonday sun in the midst of the carnival crowds of sweating, dragging, weary people and we ate our hot, fried foods, dripping sweat into our mustard.

CORN DOG
Foot-long hand-dipped corn dog, NM State Fair

So the corn dog was $6 and the bottle of water was $3. We also got a cold bottle of Pepsi, also $3. (Which is more expensive than the drinks at Disneyland, which I hadn’t thought possible.)  The funnel cake my daughter picked out (with whipped cream and Hershey syrup) was NINE FREAKING DOLLARS.

Everything was fine. Good, even. But was it exciting or special? Not really.

Something else we had, which was a finalist or something in the “Unique Foods” competition, were the deep fried green chile cheese curds. Which really, sounds like the quintessential NM State Fair food, does it not? And they are served with ranch for dipping, naturally, like every other savory deep fried thing.

And they were fine. Good, even. The problem I had with them was the lack of green chile. There was a slight green chile flavor, but at the NM State Fair, where we are celebrating things New Mexico, if something says “green chile” I want BAM! GREEN CHILE!

So, yeah.

State Fair Cheese Curds
Deep Fried Green Chile Cheese Curds, NM State Fair

Maybe my expectations were too high. I had been watching Carnival Eats for weeks leading up this day, just to prepare myself. But I found the foods to be uninspired and just OK. Oh and way too expensive.

Overall, we had a fine time at the fair. We rode some rides and played some games, ate some foods, and felt somehow violated in ways we couldn’t pinpoint by a few carnies, so it was a typical fair experience.

But I’m just now getting over the sticker shock of the prices for everything ($5 apiece for rides/games was the norm).

My favorite part of the fair was not the food or midway at all — it was the buildings of prize-winning art, textiles, and giant vegetables. Mostly because they were interesting to look at, but also partly because they were air conditioned and didn’t cost another $15 each time we walked through a door.

Making French Truffles at Joliesse Chocolates

Joliesse Chocolates
6855 4th St NW | Los Ranchos de Albuquerque

I’ll openly admit at least two of my most major addictions — chocolate and Groupon. This little adventure fed into both of those particular indulgences, and I assure you I would have satisfied each of those cravings again had they not been related.

I got to play chocolatier for day: just as much cheer as being a mouseketeer but without the ears and with messier hands. Joliesse Chocolates is a quaint little coffee and chocolate shop tucked away in an unassuming shopping center off of 4th street in northwest Albuquerque. It’s a charming little place that offers single source coffee drinks named after various Broadway musicals and — most importantly — chocolate wares and chocolate classes. Now don’t get me wrong, I would have happily had a mug of Wicked, their dark chocolate and chile espresso latte, but I was there for another reason. I was there to make chocolate truffles… lots of them.

In the class I learned the how and why of chocolate tempering, how to make a butter ganache, and finally got to get down and dirty by hand forming and decorating some of my own truffles.

For this outing, I dragged along my friend Shannon, who didn’t require any arm twisting. This always seems to be the case when chocolate is involved. Odd. We attended a Tuesday night class, though Sunday nights are also an option for truffle making. The classes are limited to 16 folks, but we were lucky enough to get plenty of attention, as we were in a class of only four. However, it is possible that the supervision was simply present as I really shouldn’t be trusted around that quantity of chocolate.

Class started with a bit of a chocolate history lesson and five different distinct and definitive samplings of chocolates, taking us each though a palleted journey, starting at white and moving darker and darker, then finishing off with the typical food service chocolate chips. One of these things was not like the other. All of the first samples were composed of only cocoa butter, cocoa (except for the white chocolate), sugar, and lecithin. The food service option, however, also had an artificial paraffin-like wax added expressly to replace the expensive cocoa butter present in “real” chocolate. Yummy, wax. Think of that the next time you bite the ears off a cheap chocolate bunny. They were trying to prove a point about quality, and I think they succeeded.

Next up in the grueling “why would anyone want to make their own truffles” courses was the mini session on tempering chocolate. For those of you not in the know, or cool enough to have already have taken this class, tempering is the process of heating and cooling chocolate so that it forms crystal bonds, making it good for dipping, coating, and generating that overall smooth composition that will melt perfectly at body temperature. This provides the wonderful silky smooth melt-in-your-mouth texture. (It also gives you the perfect melt-all-over-your-hands-and-smear-it-all-over-your-friend’s-phone consistency when you’re hand crafting chocolate balls, but more on that later.) The tempering itself consisted of taking already melted chocolate and thinly applying it over a room-temperature marble slab for cooling over and over again, then reintroducing said chocolate to the melted batch and repeating. The cooling of the marble slab created type V (remember Roman numerals?) crystals, which then seed the entire molten batch of chocolate into a tub of decadence.

Tempering the Chocolate
Tempering the Chocolate

After tempering chocolate, the next step was to combine 1 part unsalted butter to 1.7 parts of the chocolate by weight and mix until properly incorporated. Once combined, this becomes our ganache. Hence the alternate name of “butter truffles” for French truffles. We were told that this can also be done with cream, or a mix of cream and butter in order to obtain the desired thickness of the end product.

Spooning Chocolate
Preparing the Chocolate for Trufflizing.

It was at this time we had the option of adding various flavors to our truffles. A host of spices, herbs, and liqueurs were presented. I went with chile, ground pepper, anise, and a pinch of cardamom. My cocoa-compatriot, Shannon, went with what I believe was a mixture of ground anise, rosemary, and cinnamon.

I’m taking this opportunity as I write to try one of her truffles for the first time. (It was terrible, Shannon. Don’t bother trying them. Just give them all to me and I’ll get rid of them for you.) Mine, however, were delicious, and I’m not nice enough to share them with anybody.

After a quick trip to the fridge allowing the ganache to rest and become more workable, it was time to turn our concoction into the actual truffles. This basically meant taking a wad of gooey messy chocolate and trying one’s best to roll them into little balls of yumminess. Think chocolate meatballs.

It is possible that this process resulted in chocolate everywhere. This is probably the only time in my life that I’ve had more chocolate on me than in me. It was oddly satisfying, even if there was chocolate under my fingernails, on my elbow, and apparently a bit freshly adorning my confectionery copilot’s phone. I think it was an improvement. Everyone has had a caramel dipped apple, but I doubt there are too many chocolates rolled iPhones. A tasty collectors item had I ever seen one. The mess is part of the experience, I’ve been assured that it wouldn’t have been as much fun had there been gloves and aprons involved.

Chocolate Class - messy hands
In the world of truffle-making, you have to be willing to make a mess.

Once we had our little chocolate noms formed, we were given the opportunity to roll them about in various coatings including crushed nuts, sesame seeds, gram cracker, more chocolate, or the traditional cocoa power. Truffles came by their name as these little cocoa powder dusted lumpy balls of delight that greatly resembled the freshly dug up dirty mushrooms of the same name, or possibly because the French have run out of words, I’m not really sure. It has only been more recently that truffles were dusted in something other than cocoa powder. Celebrating modern times and given that the lesson of the night was making a royal mess, I did what any rational person would do and used a bit of everything to coat my truffles.

 

Chocolate Class Truffles
Chocolate Happiness at Joliesse Chocolates, Albuquerque

Finally we packed our freshly minted truffles into paper wrapping cups and pristinely placed them in a translucent Chinese takeaway box finished with a golden seal. They looked so elegant, it is hard to believe the amount of chaos it took to birth them. But it wasn’t just a mess that was created, there were also chocolate, laughs, stories, and smiles.

The finished product!
Handmade truffles packed nice and neat @ Joliesse Chocolates

Would I go back? Absolutely. For starters I ended up with a batch of delicious truffles made exactly to my specifications. Even though the shop is way out of my way, they have other chocolate classes, a cozy lounge, and even a bacon & vanilla espresso. I’ve already recommend the class to a smattering of friends in hopes that they too will become a chocolatier for a day.

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