Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sparky's -- Hatch, NM

Green chile cheeseburgers are the specialty at Sparky's in the chile capital of the world: Hatch, NM.
This stature of Uncle Sam and many other artifacts herald the popular restaurant. We stopped for lunch.
I had the famous burger with a side of sweet corn and chiles. It was hot but not too hot.

The lines were long for the whole time we were there,
but once we ordered the food came fast.
The decor is a collection of old-time signs and roadside attraction stuff.

All kinds of people were eating there... and very nice live music was playing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Duquesne House, Patagonia, Arizona

Where we drank our coffee this morning...

The garden at Duquesne House Bed & Breakfast,
Patagonia, Arizona.

After breakfast we continued with our outdoor adventures, bird watching around Patagonia. At our first stop, a mountain ranching area where cows were grazing, we searched for Montezuma quails -- we heard them, but never saw them. We also explored a grassland area, a pond in the middle of a golf course, and a nature preserve. To see the bird photos, check Len's Flickr page HERE.

Vermillion Flycatcher

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Arizona Dinners

Ristra decoration at a Mexican restaurant in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
By the time the food arrived I didn't feel like taking a picture --
anyway chicken mole with rice & salad isn't much to look at.
We're having fun watching birds and looking around the incredibly beautiful scenic back roads in southeastern Arizona, but we don't have time to look for any special type of food. A restaurant near out motel is more attractive than one that we'd have to drive far to get to, and we've been eating quite a few picnic lunches with food from a supermarket. This isn't really an adventurous gourmet way to do things.

Last night we ate at the Mexican restaurant next door to our motel -- the food was passable, the waiting time was really annoying. The same thing happened the previous night... not-too-bad classic Italian food, terrible wait, annoying attitude of management. Frankly, we don't know how to learn from this: we did look at online reviews! Just bad luck, we guess.

Tonight we did better at the Wagon Wheel Saloon in Patagonia, Arizona.
I guess that's the eponymous wagon wheel above the bar.
The green chili cheeseburgers came out very promptly.
 I told you we weren't going gourmet! 
When we finished eating the sun had set,
and we walked up the hillside near our Bed & Breakfast, a lovely place.
To give you an idea of what we're doing here: this pond is near the San Pedro River where we took a long walk.
In the late afternoon we watched many birds including this family of Gambel's Quail.
The chicks are a little bit camouflaged but you can see them between their mom & dad.

Dinner for the Birds

This afternoon, we saw this hawk fly off of its telephone pole and catch a mouse (I guess it's a mouse),
and then land on another pole to enjoy its prey.
The hawk, continuing to eat.

Earlier in the afternoon, we spent quite a long time watching hummingbirds
eating sugar water from feeders in Miller Canyon.
We are now in Sierra Vista, Arizona, which is not far north of the Mexican border. It's a very rich environment for birds that like higher altitudes but not the completely arid deserts. Besides northern species, birds from Mexico migrate into several canyons nearby. As a result, the area is very attractive to bird watching. 

We visited two sites in these canyons this afternoon. 
  • Miller Canyon, the location of the Beatty Ranch. The ranch has a few guest cabins, but is most famous for its hummingbird viewing area. The Beatty family maintains around a dozen feeders to attract a large number of birds of many species. Above the feeders are bleachers where birdwatchers can get a good look at these fascinating birds. On the best day ever for hummingbirds, observers identified 14 different species at the feeders. We saw around 6 species today.
  • The Nature Conservancy preserve in Ramsey Canyon. We walked along the trail, which follows a beautiful stream bed. The hawk eating its prey was further down the valley as we were leaving the area.

Monday, April 13, 2015


We're still traveling around the Southwest. The food is enjoyable but not very interesting, so I haven't been writing about it. We had extremely classic Italian food for dinner (I mean meatballs and pasta), and last night we opted for sandwiches from a nearby Whole Foods, which we ate at the convenient picnic tables at our motel.

I thought I would put in just a few of my pictures from today's visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is a combined natural history museum and zoo, entirely devoted to local species of birds, animals, reptiles, plants, and whatever else there is. We saw, among others: a coati, wild pigs called javelinas, a tortoise, and a collection of local hummingbirds in a hummingbird house. The museum has recreated small outdoor areas representing the ecosystems of the desert, mountains, stream beds, and so on. The large outdoor museum/zoo attracts many wild visitors, as well as the captives.

The most exciting wild bird I saw today was this roadrunner... 
The roadrunner was desperately trying to get INTO the cage where a captive female lived. He kept calling to her -- "meep meep!" and going right up to the glass wall that kept them apart. Tragic love!
We have also seen a couple of coyotes -- one was crossing the road as we drove
away from the museum. Neither the real coyote nor the real roadrunner looks
all that much like their cartoon selves. We also saw a bunny (not Bugs).
To get back to the topic of food: here's a Gila Woodpecker sipping nectar from an agave blossom.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

New Mexico Food

The best food so far: Cafe Pasqual's in Santa Fe, today's lunch:
I had the Smoked Trout Hash which is decorated with cilantro. I ate every bite. Description from menu:
"Golden Gruy√®re Potato Cake with Two Poached Eggs, a Scatter of Smoked Trout and Tomatillo Salsa" 
Dessert: Rhubarb/Blackberry Pie. Absolutely wonderful place!
Also good: Church Street Cafe in Albuquerque Old Town, dinner a couple of days ago:

Posole with green salsa.
Chips, of course -- Church Street serves in a pretty traditional Mexican-style place.
Ok -- the shrimp tacos at St.Clair Bistro and Winery, selected because it's next to our motel:

Shrimp tacos and wine
My main dish at St.Clair Bistro last night wasn't a good choice: the mahi-mahi was overcooked and tough; moreover, the sweet salsa flavors fought with the green beans and mashed potatoes. But the tacos were pretty.

For our non-eating activities like nature walks and museums: go to  these posts on my travel blog.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Route 66

Old Route 66 near Shamrock, TX
We ate lunch at McDonald's in Shamrock, Texas, today. The road past McD's and the Conoco station next to the freeway, Interstate 44, is the old Route 66, and from the McD parking lot you can see the old tower of a historic Conoco station and just the top of a sign for a cafe, also in the sort of Art Deco design that's considered iconic Route 66 style.

Well, I'm glad we have a modern road that could take us from Tulsa to Albuquerque in one day. I bet it was at least two very long dusty and tiring days when the two-lane 66 was the only choice. Not that our day wasn't tiring, but we covered a lot of ground when that was what we wanted to do. Now we have time to explore some birdwatching sites and other natural areas around Albuquerque, look at some historical places, and so on. We had a choice!

Also, I admit that I'm glad to know, when I go to McDonalds, that I'll get the same hamburger and Diet Coke I had the last time I ate there. I know there's a lot of nostalgia for the good old cafes and their supposedly wonderful cooking, but I suspect that more often than not, it wasn't really very good. Not to mention whether it was really clean, whether the food was really fresh.... That's what I remember from childhood trips, anyway. A mom and pop diner could be good, but wasn't usually better than today's McDonald's!

We also stopped at the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas, that's on the list of historic Route 66 locales. Lots of tourists stop there if they are making a Route 66 pilgrimage, not usually when simply trying to get from one point to another (like Tulsa to Albuquerque, which we were trying to do). We only had a coke and a nice conversation with the owner, but the pies looked very delicious. The owner mentioned that fast freeway travel destroyed America's small towns. I wonder. Maybe it was creative destruction!

The Midpoint Cafe, Adrian, Texas. The owner has a major collection of Route 66
memorabilia, including vintage formica tables and matching chairs.
For more of today's trip see "America the Beautiful" at my travel blog.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Passover Photos

My sister Elaine preparing the potatoes before the Seder.
Traditional sweet wine and some of the Passover symbols on the plate.
Larry holds up the matzoh: "This is the bread of affliction"
Gefilte fish: a traditional appetizer.
Elaine's friend Jenny, and Len.
Matzoh-ball soup: another tradition.
Last night we enjoyed a Seder, the traditional Passover meal, with my sister Elaine and brother-in-law Larry. I didn't take photos of every possible group of people or every course, but above are a few of typical parts of the ceremony and the food. Especially, I missed a photo of their friend David (he was sitting next to me).

On Passover, I love the preparation and the enjoyment of being with friends and family, but I think about our grandmothers and great-grandmothers and all the work they did to prepare for the festival, especially during the early years when Jews were new immigrants to the US. Though I love the modern celebration, like last night's, I can't forget the way things were in the past and the problems the Jews of the world still face. For a longer description of my thoughts, see this post: Passover: Hardships of the Past.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Passover, 2015

The Passover celebration -- from the Barcelona Haggadah, ~1340 in the British Library.
Many illustrated Haggadahs survive from past centuries, and there are
many varied modern editions in use, reflecting Jewish diversity today and in the past.
Tonight, April 3, is the first night of Passover. We plan to be at my sister's house for our own version of the Seder, the traditional Passover meal.

A simple summary: the Seder commemorates the Exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt. Using a book called the Haggadah, those present read this story and celebrate that Jews in the post-Egyptian world are free, not slaves, because Moses -- with the help of his sister Miriam and brother Aaron -- led them out of Egypt. We remember that Moses then received the Torah; that is, the first 5 books of the Bible. The religious tradition is that all Jews from all ages stood with the Jewish ex-slaves and witnessed Moses's return from Mount Sinai.

Although this may sound ponderous, the celebration of Passover is actually a lot of fun. Special parts of the ceremony are designed to amuse children, who go on a hunt for a hidden piece of matzah and get prizes. There are traditional songs for the musically inclined. People cook together and get together with friends or family. (OK that can be a mixed blessing for some families -- I'm glad my family is quite close).

Passover also might mean a number of serious things even to a not-religious Jewish family like mine -- besides simply preserving traditions that were present in one's childhood. Here are some Passover ideals that I find important:
  • Most important is freedom. "Go down Moses" is a spiritual based on the Exodus story from the time of Black slavery in America. It's been adopted into the Seder because it's about the same yearning for freedom.
  • Besides the memories of the Jews fleeing Egypt to attain freedom, many Haggadahs add passages about other struggles. We remember the Jews in the Concentration Camps, we remember other people who even today live in fear and poverty, and in many cases by the end of the Seder we feel some sort of new commitment to a better world. Though the feeling may be only fleeting, it's powerful. This year, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I hope at many Seders the participants will commemorate the victims of this injustice.
  • Also, on Passover some people think about the role of charity. Historically, communities took responsibility for providing food and matzah for their poorest members. Sometimes almost everyone was poor.
Then there's food! The Seder is above all a ritual meal:
  • The Seder plate has several compulsory items. The most important food here is matzah, the "unleavened bread" symbolizing the bread that didn't have time to rise as the newly-free slaves fled from Egypt. During the ceremony we taste sweet and bitter herbs (usually parsley and horseradish), symbolizing their good and bad experiences. We dip herbs in salt water symbolizing their tears. Also, we eat an egg representing spring, the season of the holiday and charoses, a paste of apples, nuts, honey, and wine, reminding us of the mortar the slaves used by to build the pyramids. A roasted bone on the Seder plate recalls the Pascal Lamb in the Exodus story.
  • Many other traditional foods are on the menu after the ritual readings from the Haggadah. Usually women and sometimes men get together to cook many dishes from family recipes or from one of many Jewish cookbooks -- or now from hundreds of websites with Passover food ideas. These recipes generally comply with a complex practice of avoiding anything that could be "leavened."
  • Nostalgia for old-fashioned Passover sweets, such as dried-fruit compote, fruit-jelly candy, and sticky coconut macaroons also plays a role in this enjoyment. Very sweet Passover wine also appeals to some of us (though not, I admit, to me).
Elijah the Prophet, from a 16th century Haggadah. The traditional belief is that Elijah will herald the coming of the Messiah.
To welcome Elijah (should he be around) a cup of wine is left on the Seder table -- "Elijah's cup" -- and near the end of the
ritual, someone opens the door, inviting him in, all hoping that his arrival is immanent.

Finally, a challenge: if we're feminists or just highly aware of women's roles, we have to deal with quite a few favoritisms towards men in the traditional rituals. For the Seder, men were given a pillow to remind each one that he could recline as a free man. Putting Moses's sister Miriam more into the picture is one of the ways we deal with this; also adding an orange to the Seder plate to symbolize that women have a role in Jewish life.

No matter what their religious beliefs, most American Jews (60 to 70%) celebrate this holiday with some version of the ritual meal, or Seder. Actually, the number used to be higher, as much as 90%, but religious practice is declining. Like us, many of these people observe few other Jewish rituals, but consider Passover to be special and meaningful.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

April Fish -- Les Poissons d'Avril

April Fool! That's what you hear all day if your friends, fellow students, or colleagues like to play harmless practical jokes on one another.
French websites about the April Fish include many old postcards. The top
line on this one says "April 1" and the lower line says "Welcome my little messages!"
For a lot more of them see this: "Les Poissons d"Avril."
In France, the joke for April Fool's Day involves a fish. Besides just trying to make a victim believe a fiction or perform a silly act, many people, from carefree school children to plodding office workers, try to stick a sign with a fish on the back of an unsuspecting person. They send the "fish" to do something preposterous while those who are in on the joke enjoy the potential embarrassment. Eventually victims notice the sign on their back or realize that everyone is laughing at them. Like many Americans who are in France on April 1, we were originally quite surprised to find out about this custom.

French candy and bakery shops get into this act by selling chocolates or pastries made to look like fish. Seeing displays of fish-shaped chocolate in the attractive windows of chocolate shops was another surprise for us when we were in France during the last weeks of March.

Here are examples of chocolate fish -- poissons d'Avril -- sold by leading, and expensive, French chocolate makers this year, and advertised on the web:

Historically, April Fish jokes started centuries ago. Several different historical accounts offer different explanations for the custom -- for example, an article titled "Origine du poisson d'avril" presents at least 4 claims. The most believable origin story involves the changeover in 1564 of the New Year to January 1; prior to the reign of Charles IX the change from one year to the next had been APRIL 1 ! Some people, the story goes, insisted on continuing to celebrate the New Year on April 1:
"From force of habit, people at first went on giving little presents on 1st April; then they gave presents designed to cause amusement, and to heighten the joke they started playing practical tricks. One of the most popular was to send a gullible person off to buy fresh fish, assuring him that the law [prohibiting fishing during the spring spawning season in late March-early April] had  been changed... The victim would set off for the fish market, blissfully unaware that he had a paper fish pinned to his back so that everyone could see he had been fooled. Only a very stupid person would expect to buy 'April fish', and the joke ended with merry cries of 'Poisson d'Avril.'" (History of Food by Maguelonene Toussaint-Samat, p. 314)
While the stories about the change to New Year's may be the most plausible explanation, they also raise a lot of questions, according to "The Origin of April Fool's Day."

I suspect that the April Fish custom itself is a kind of joke on us: we'll never know exactly how it came about.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Maira Kalman's Mother's Cookie Press

Illustration by Maira Kalman from New York Times article.
I enjoyed a recent article about an "installation" of Maira Kalman's mother's cookie press. I'm a big fan of her drawings and illustrations of her own stories; above is her picture of herself, her mother (who died in 2004 says the article), and the cookie press in use.

According to the article by Ligaya Mishan (published March 23) --
"The press, which belonged to her mother, Sara Berman ... is a sturdy thing among delicates, with a body like a biscuit tin’s, a fat column of aluminum that is colored muddy gold. The model is no longer produced, but it’s still coveted over today’s plastic versions. Fill it with dough, crank the lever, and the dough squeezes out the other side, through one of 16 metal stencils that make shapes like hearts, buttercups and inchoate mini-Bundt cakes."
As a great lover of the work of Maira Kalman, I wish I could make it to this little installation in a small gallery somewhere in New York, but I'm not planning any trips there now.