It was spring, 2018. I was at the tail end of writing Maps, Markets and Matzo Ball Soup, the book about Chef Gail Hall’s life, and I was tired.
I was also doing the online dating thing right around then, and I was tired from that, and all it encompassed, too. I needed a serious change of everything.
New Mexico had called to me over the years, but its voice was louder since I read Gail’s notes about her trip to Santa Fe and how it inspired her to start her culinary tour business. I needed to be there. I needed to walk through the farmers’ market and I needed to eat the green chile stew that so impressed her at the Pink Adobe restaurant. I ached for adventure and a change of scenery. New Mexico promised all of that and more.
This morning, on CBC Edmonton A.M., I spoke about that trip and the foods I tasted along the way as I headed away from Arizona to Las Cruces in the southernmost part of New Mexico, then to Albuquerque and finally Santa Fe (with a few detours along the way). If you missed the live segment, you can listen to the audio link here.
My solo road-trips have been the best vacations I’ve ever taken in my life. Those hours wracking up the miles listening to podcasts or music are healing hours. With no other person’s needs or wants to consider, the possibilities and opportunities are yours to consider and explore on a schedule you can change on a whim. Go where you want to go, do what you want to do; eat, sleep and drink at your own pace. It’s a beautiful thing.
On this trip, I ate in the neon glow of dive bars and in hotels that served as sets for 1950s spaghetti western movies. I gorged on guacamole and fresh-made tortilla chips picnic-style beneath the canopy of a pecan tree, and drank buckets of margaritas on the Santa Fe Margarita Trail. I ate sizzling hot fry bread outside a Catholic mission built in the 1700s and consumed my weight in green chiles on the Breakfast Burrito Trail near Las Cruces and the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail north to Albuquerque.
Some days I wandered through towns, stopping in at museums and art galleries, other times I crammed in as much physical stuff as I could handle. One day, I hiked in the morning, took a helicopter ride over lunch hour, and went trail-riding in the afternoon—by 8 pm, I was dead asleep but by 5 a.m., well-rested and ready to chase another sunrise.
I took in a classical music string quartet concert in a 400 year old church and rented my very own adobe at the El-Ray Inn on the original Route 66. The motel sits on 5 park-like acres populated with ponderosa pine that’s filled with songbirds who serve not only as background music during the day, but the morning alarm clock, as well.
I hiked into an abandoned mining camp in the Organ Mountains near Albuquerque and through a slot canyon so narrow in spots, my hips grazed the side of each wall as I put one foot in front of the other to proceed. Young mothers with babies on their backs passed me as I tried to act cool while gasping for air at such high elevation. It’s a one-way 2.5 km hike up to Tent Rock monument at the top, and totally worth the effort.
I met amazing people along the way including a relative of an ex who arrived with a gift of green chile cheese bread in Santa Fe; a Chartered Accountant (and unabashed racist) with long white hair who spoke like George Bluth and dressed like Atticus Finch, and a darling five-year-old at a diner who was there with her grandpa, a man she called Cachetes (for his big cheeks). Her name was Sativa and she recommended I have the macaroni and cheese for breakfast, so I did.
Taking this trip made me step outside of what I knew. It forced me to slow down and yet encouraged me to be curious. It taught me about self-trust and the importance of boundaries. Months later, as I retraced my steps through photos, I experienced a time-delayed realization: dreams are worth chasing; people are not. This Asphalt Therapy was exactly what I needed.
From a food perspective, I had wonderful experiences in the most unsuspecting places. Farmers’ markets were everything I hoped they’d be, full of artisans, gorgeous produce and the aroma of foods cooking over fire. My focus was to eat at independent restaurants where family members worked hard to make traditional food and I wasn’t disappointed.
Gail Hall believed that good food didn’t have to be complicated, and I believe that, too. Good food should have soul—a sense of place, a story. It should capture the essence of the people. I was lucky to experience that everywhere I went in New Mexico.
This state’s tagline is “The Land of Enchantment” and I can’t think of a more fitting description. If you haven’t been, put it on the list of places to explore once we can safely travel again. I think you will fall in love with it as I did.
If you are considering a road trip anywhere in the USA, check out the Wildsam Field Guide series. They have one for Santa Fe as well as one for the Desert Southwest. These Field Guides dig into the historic and literary heart of the location with beautifully written essays, snippets of lore (both modern and folk) and all things notable that the location has to offer, including good food.
New Mexico Food Trails by Carolyn Graham looks to be a great resource, as well.
The recipe for the Pink Adobe green chile stew as adapted by Gail and included in my book, Maps, Markets and Matzo Ball Soup, is below. (Of course, you can always buy the book and get 30 more recipes from her travels around the globe along with an inspiring story of an incredible woman. If you have trouble with the link, just send me a note.)
Green Chili Stew
This Green Chili Stew became a signature Gourmet Goodies item. Gail’s version is slightly altered, and true to her citizenship, she calls it chili stew, not chile stew.
Green Chili Stew
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 lbs boneless pork, cut into 1-inch cubes I like to use a boneless shoulder
- 1/2 cup onions, 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 cup carrots, cut in coins
- 1/2 cup red peppers, 1/2-inch dice
- 1 tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken broth, heated
- 1 cup potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 2 cups green chilies, roasted* and diced roasting is key, do this ahead of time. You can roast the peppers in a cast iron skillet or over a flame, then skin, de-seed and dice them for the recipe.
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
- Heat olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot. Add pork and cook until lightly browned.
- Add onion, carrots, red pepper, garlic and oregano. Stir together with the pork for two minutes on medium-high heat. Reduce heat and stir in the flour.
- Add hot chicken stock, a quarter at a time incorporating it well each time.
- Add the potatoes, roasted green chilies, salt and pepper. Simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours or until meat is tender.
- Adjust seasonings, and serve with flour tortillas or fresh-baked corn bread.
A note on the chiles (the New Mexico way of spelling). For the stew, the roasting of the peppers is key to flavour but you’ll need to use other green chiles as the fresh Hatch chiles are not available here in Alberta. If you want to make a green chile sauce for burritos and other dishes, you can use the canned green chiles like the ones from El Paso which are not roasted, just cooked, diced and canned. The other day, I was thrilled to find dried red chiles from New Mexico at a Co-op grocery store in Leduc. I will make a red sauce from these (also called a Colorado sauce). If you see Hatch green chiles anywhere, buy them. The package should have the Hatch Valley designation on them showing that they were indeed grown in Hatch, New Mexico. The terroir here is the reason these chiles have such a unique and wonderful flavour. All other green chiles grown outside of that region cannot be called Hatch chiles.
Questions? Tips on more New Mexico gems? Leave me a comment. I’d be happy to continue the conversation on one of my favourite destinations. An earlier post about the impact this place had on me can be found here.
This post got a bit long, so if you made it to the end, I really appreciate you hanging in! Thanks for reading.