Thursday, March 27, 2008

Comfort Food, New Mexico-Style

Last month, my husband Gabe and I went to New Mexico. We are from New Mexico; we grew up in Santa Fe, and try to get home to visit our families whenever we can. Packing for Santa Fe is always a dilemma. (Well, to be honest, packing for me is always a dilemma because I hate packing. I have always hated packing. I have written artic les on how to be a smart packer and yet, still I hate packing. There’s probably a deeper meaning there that I should investigate. Is it that I’m hesitant to compartmentalize my life into a pre-set structure? Do I fear the wrinkles that persist in cropping up in my plans? And what if I forget my pajamas? ) But packing for Santa Fe presents a special kind of packing dilemma because of what must always be brought back. Namely food.
The land I grew up in is home to too many tasty things to count, things like green chile, thick tortillas, posole, powdered red chile, tamales. Things I can’t get easily in New York. Things that make cold winter nights (and starry summer nights and rainy Sunday afternoons) that much more palatable. And so, whenever a trip is made to New Mexico, room must be saved in one’s suitcase to bring back much needed supplies.
Once, when I was flying back to New York from a Santa Fe trip, I left my two frozen pints of green chile on my connecting flight. I didn’t realize it until I had already boarded my second flight. A normal person would probably have surrendered to the inevitable, sat back, and started the crossword. I couldn’t give up so easily. Where there is chile, there is hope and so, I flagged down one of the harried flight attendants to ask if they could call over to the first flight and see if a rescue mission was possible. Bless them for actually calling, but it was too late. The cleaning crew had come through and my chile was gone. Still, I felt better for trying. Such is my dedication to the overall mission. I continue to hope that whoever found my pints appreciated them for what they were. I can’t linger too long over what probably happened when they did not.
Back to the packing: it’s easier to bring food back in the summer. In the summer, one tends to pack items such as sundresses, flip flops, tank tops. Ten carefully organized tank tops take up about as much room as one winter sweater. Meaning that in the summer you can take all the wardrobe that you want and still have plenty of room for tortillas (sounds a bit like a short story title: “Plenty of Room for Tortillas.” It would probably star a short order cook and a world-weary waitress). Winter is a totally different ball game. In winter, one wants boots and thick cozy sweaters and tall socks and ski pants. Ski pants do not allow enough room for tortillas. And so one must learn to be economical. Or if one is me, one simply delegates. One calls one’s husband into the room where an unreasonable amount of sweaters are stacked on the bed and asks him to choose three. Or maybe four because one really loves the light blue cable knit. This is the only way. We must make sacrifices for what we truly care about. And when all else fails, bring an extra tote.
This trip I ended up getting especially ambitious. I wanted to bring back two packages of tortillas (promised bounty for my good friend—also from New Mexico—and her husband who were babysitting our car), two pouches of frozen chopped green chile (good in soups, burgers, scrambled eggs, or to make sauce out of which I had never done, but wanted to try), a half-gallon of frozen green chile sauce from one of my favorite Santa Fe restaurants (good on burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, or even on its own with beans and cheese mixed in and a warmed tortilla on the side), and a large Ziploc bag of powdered red chile (to make into red chile sauce). Thank heavens for the extra tote.
There is somewhat of an art to packing all these goodies, especially now that security procedures in airports don’t allow liquids or anything that might be construed as liquid-like. Green chile sauce sometimes appears liquid-like. Hence all the freezing—airport officials tend to look more kindly on frozen blocks. So when I purchase my goods, into the freezer they go and then the night before our flight back to NYC, my mom helps me wrap up my frozen pints and pouches in newspaper. My mom and I are really good at this. Over the years, we’ve honed our skills: pouches wrapped like little presents, pints with lids taped on with packing tape, then rolled in newspaper and middles secured again with rounds of packing tape. We talk as we wrap. It’s a little like going for pedicures.
For those of you who are reading this and thinking that my devotion to New Mexican food is too much, that I am—in a word—obsessed, that perhaps I should turn my efforts to something more worthwhile like world peace, I have two stories to tell you. One: We have two good friends here in Brooklyn who are originally from France. There was an evening a couple of years ago when we had heard about a restaurant in Dumbo that supposedly imported green chile from New Mexico. It was a Saturday night. My husband and I were determined to go. There was at least a two-hour wait. We tried to rationalize to our friends why this really wasn’t so bad. This past December, we invited these same friends to come to Santa Fe with us for Christmas. After a week of enchiladas and burritos and huevos rancheros, my friend M said to me, “You know, that night when you were so interested in that restaurant that served green chile? I really thought you two were a little crazy. I really couldn’t understand why you wanted to go there so badly. I understand now.”
Two: On our way back after this most recent trip a month ago, Gabe and I were going through security in the Albuquerque airport. The tortillas and chopped chile pouches were safely nestled into my suitcase and on their way to the belly of the plane. My extra tote packed to the brim with the Ziploc bag of red, my frozen half-gallon of green, and yes, my ski pants went through the x-ray machine. Something in the bag looked suspicious. The official pulled my bag off the belt and asked me to accompany him. Sometimes this happens. It’s always the risk of carrying chile onto the plane. The officials will unwrap it. They’ll look at it dubiously. They’ll call over their supervisor to confer. Sometimes they’ll take it away. So, as a result, I always have an anxious eye on their faces as my bag goes through the x-ray machine and my heart is always pounding. This time, the official unzipped my bag and of course, zeroed in instantly on the chile. He pulled it out of the tote. “It’s chile,” I said chirpily, trying to convince him with my tone of voice that all was well, that I was clearly a good person, that my half-gallon shouldn’t be confiscated. “It’s frozen. I grew up here, but I live in New York now and you know how it is. I just can’t go long without my chile!” “Oh. Chile,” the official nodded sagely. He tucked my half-gallon back into the tote, he zipped it up. “Here you are, ma’am,” he said, handing the tote to me. “I would do exactly the same thing.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have endeavored to bring back as much frozen venison from indiana as i possibly could...without the added weight surcharge they pile on these days. you go girl!