Thursday, June 30, 2011

Real Food Nation

If you are anywhere near Santa Fe, Las Vegas, NM or any points in-between you must stop in at Real Food Nation to get a bite to eat. After mostly mediocre dining experiences in LV, Real Food Nation was a welcome find along Interstate 25. The interior is relaxing and the outdoor patio looked welcoming, too. The landscaping is edible and beautiful. Everything we stuffed into our hungry bellies was delicious and obviously made from scratch with love. They always have vegetarian and vegan options as well as a fair amount of gluten-free bakery items. Check out the farm out back, too, or go by in the evening for the Supper Club. You won't be disappointed.

We love you Real Food Nation!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Getting Our Hands Dirty

Sorry about the whiny tone in the last post--it's been hard to have this apartment-style living knowing the garden has been growing.

We had some business to attend to in Albuquerque this morning, so we headed down and I got to spend most of the day with my hands in the dirt. We harvested 5 giant purple-top turnips, 3 bull's blood beets and plenty of mustard greens and spinach that are really on their last legs. Our neighbor who's been minding the place enthusiastically took home most of the harvest. We also have a lot of quelites, or lamb's quarters, popping up around the lot. They'll be good when we get back this weekend.

We have a volunteer melon and two squashes of some kind. They sprouted out of the compost (unsifted, clearly) that I added to the beds. I'm curious what they will become. My money is on a canteloupe and a butternut squash. 

Beyond the volunteers, a few additional surprises greeted us on our little homestead. The first were the size and color of the peaches--they were far larger than I remembered  and their color is a deep red-orange. I guess that's why they are called Garnet peaches. They have really persevered through this hot, windy spring. A few more weeks and they'll be ready, I think.

The vetch was nearly 4 feet tall in places and the winter wheat is near harvest. I see some wheat-berry salads in our future....The vetch, while out of control, has provided great habitat for ladybugs, praying mantis, butterflies and honey bees.  So, while it's beautiful in its own right, the vetch is also providing other garden benefits.

The best surprise of the day, however, came from the apricot tree. Throughout the spring I watched as each young apricot fell from the tree, either due to late season cold temps or the spring winds. Imagine my shock when I spotted a perfectly lovely apricot hanging from the end of one of the topmost branches! It has been there all along, and I never noticed. It felt ripe enough, so down it came and made the swift trip into our bellies. While not the best apricot we've ever had--it was a tad dry and lacking in sweetness--it was delicious because we grew it. Maybe that's too self-congratulatory, especially when I didn't even know of its very existence, but there really is something special about eating fruit from your front yard.

The apples are well on their way, too and I will post some pictures when we're back on the homestead with a camera and its respective cable.

While it was lovely to bask in the garden's glory, it also involved plenty of weed-pulling. Lucky chickens now have plenty of greens. This one-day fix should last me through the week, so I promise not to whine anymore about missing the garden. It's only a few days away.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Miss Our Garden

There, I've said it. We've only been gone ~10 days, but I miss our garden, darn it. And the chickens. And our wee house. And the fruit trees. And the acequia. And the vetch and wheat which grow taller (and wilder) every day. I miss our neighbors, too.

One more week and we'll be home.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Forest Fires and Natural Gas Don't Mix

Just north of Las Vegas, NM a large forest fire, the Track fire, is burning. The last time I checked it was only 5% contained. Forest fires are devastating on many fronts and, most of the time, it seems the devastation is confined to only the area of the fire.

Well, this is certainly not the case. The Wallow fire in Arizona has been sending a smoke plume over large distances, effecting the health of thousands and even forcing some aircraft to change course. The same fire also threatened the electricity grid as far east as Texas. The Track fire has closed the interstate between Raton, NM and Trinidad, CO. It has also wreaked havoc on natural gas lines.

According to this report, the fire burned gaskets on one of the pipeline valves, shooting a  15-foot plume of fire into the air. This has alarmed gas company officials who are planning to shut off the gas to the town of Raton. It is possible that this shut off could impact service here in Las Vegas, about 100 miles away and at all points in-between. I've been thinking about the implications of this for people and businesses who have gas stoves and hot water heaters. Could the quality of care be effected in hospitals and nursing homes? What about the need to maintain a clean environment in restaurants?

If the gas is shut off here, we were told the only thing effected will be the hot water heater. Luckily we can take cold showers and use the coffee pot to make hot water (or the electric stove).

For those who have solar hot water and electricity off the grid, they'll be cooking and cleaning just fine. I wonder if this is a sign of things to come.

Eating Local Away from Home

I just polished off a delicious brunch, made mostly with local food. I may yet lick the plate.

Las Vegas,NM, where we're living for the next 10 days or so, is in the throes of a drought. Water restrictions have impacted the whole community and it is a topic of conversation with almost everyone I've met. Most people lament their brown lawn and dying flowers. Business people wish they could water the ornamentals to keep their storefronts looking nice. At the farmer's market a week ago, the egg vendor thought the pickings might be slim from produce farmers due to the water restrictions, and the fact that there just isn't water to irrigate. That could explain why he and one other farmer were the only two vendors that day.

I feel profoundly lucky that we have the acequia in Albuquerque to keep us irrigated and our garden and guerrilla  orchard thriving. That luxury does not exist here.

Despite the water issues, you can always rely on local plants to get by, especially what some might label "weeds." Since they are native, they are able to withstand the conditions of their geography and weather unfavorable conditions. Some people might loathe such weeds, but I think of them as delicious! At Saturday's market I purchased a large bunch of lamb's quarters, called quelites here. Lamb's quarters are a member of the goosefoot family and exist pretty much everywhere around the world. The goosefoot family even includes quinoa.

Without a toaster, I fried up some whole wheat bread from Sage Bakehouse in Santa Fe and topped it with quelites sauteed with garlic, onion, and shiitakes. On top of that I put two over medium eggs from some local hens. The eggs are ungraded and so beautiful in the carton: white, shades of brown and blue-green; different sizes all. A touch of salt and pepper gave it a little zing and boy, was it delicious!

I was still able to have a tasty meal with local ingredients even though things are not looking good water-wise. I think the quelites really made the dish and I plan to look for more at this afternoon's market. We might need to get used to eating the weeds, or at least change our thinking about them. If the water situation worsens, they may be one of the few greens we can cultivate/forage with which to fill our bellies.

For other weeds you can eat, you can go here or here

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Where Have We Gone?

Just a brief update.

Lane's organization asked him to work in Las Vegas, NM the next few weeks so that's where we are at the moment. We've shifted lodging from a hotel, where I couldn't cook, to a studio apartment. I made red curry tofu with brown rice and lamb's quarters last night--so divine after a few days of only eating out!

While Lane is off visiting patients, I'm at "home" studying and prepping for next school year. Such the exciting life we lead.  Our fabulous neighbors are helping out at the lean-to, irrigating and minding the chickens. We are so grateful!

Las Vegas is an interesting community of about 20,000 residents. It is home to my current university, Highlands, as well as New Mexico's only remaining Carnegie Library. According to the Chamber of Commerce, Highlands employs the same number of people as the Wal-Mart (300). Hmmm.

The history of Las Vegas includes being a trading spot along the Santa Fe Trail. This built up the railroad industry at the turn of the century which is why you can find quite a bit of Victorian architecture around downtown. From my experience this is rather unusual in New Mexico, where adobe revival is the predominant architecture. 

Las Vegas has a natural food store which I think I've been to at least twice a day and two farmer's markets a week. We've tried many of the local restaurants and so far our two favorites are Beans and Sweets for the made-from-scratch soup and chocolate chip cookies and the El Fidel restaurant for from-scratch cooking and baking using locally-sourced ingredients when possible. The pasta dishes we had were incredible (and vegetarian!) and the ice cream and sorbets are made in-house.

The film scene is alive here with a drive-in theater open Friday and Saturday, a one-screen theater downtown, movies twice a week in the summer at Highlands' campus and  movies in the park at the Carnegie Library. Not bad for a town of 20,000.

As we have opportunities to explore the area I will post any excitement or adventure that pops up but for now, I have to hit the books!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Colorado, Ho!

Our summer started with a bang. Our friend Diane came in from San Fransisco and within hours of her arrival, we headed the Subaru north to Colorado for a camping/mountain biking adventure. When we take trips like this one, we have a general idea of where we'd like to go, but it's very flexible. We can do this because we camp on BLM and National Forest land. Reservations are not required and we can set up camp wherever there is space. Our first night we found a spot off of Hwy 160 in the National Forest. The sun rise slowly illuminated a rock outcropping across from our site and the birds flitted around singing their morning song. From there we went towards Cortez, CO where there are 100s of miles of mountain biking in the area.

After a very mediocre breakfast at Mr. Happy's (yes, that was the name of the restaurant) and nixing riding at the Canyon of the Ancients due to overcrowding, the three of us rode some sweet single track just outside of Dolores. Here are some pics from that ride:

We saw a coyote just after snapping this pic!

You may be wondering why on earth we carry such huge loads on our backs. Lane and I have had a few close calls and even had to spend the night on the side of a mesa while out in the backcountry. We'd rather be prepared than caught without provisions so our packs hold layers, tools, tubes, tires, water and plenty of food. Many mountain bikers tend to see how fast they can ride the trails. If you choose to ride that way, you don't need to pack too much stuff. We like to take our time, stop to admire the flora and fauna and eat more than some carbohydrate and sugar-rich goo. This extends our ride time significantly. With a great map we really enjoyed the 15 or so miles of riding we put in that day.

Feeling the call of the open road (and the incredible riding) we continued northwest to Fruita. That night we camped on BLM land and experienced the most incredible windstorm. It must have been gusting at least 50mph throughout the night. Diane was in her tent, with grit blowing in through both the fly and tent wall. Lane and I were in the back of the Subaru and the wind was so powerful it rocked the car enough to wake me several times throughout the night. Incredible.

This should have been an omen of what was to come. When we got to Fruita the wind had not let up at all. Dust devils swirled around the trailhead and they sky was beginning to be obscured by blowing dust. Not willing to be deterred, we rode some of the trails at the Kokopelli trail system. This is some of the most lovely single-track riding we've ever done. Some of the trails are right on the rim of the canyon above the Colorado River. The views are stunning and the wild grasses and wildflowers were incredible.

You can't tell here, but it was gusting like mad!

Redrock, juniper and wild grasses made up most of the landscape
One of our favorite trails is called Horsethief Bench. To get there you have to carry your bike down (and then up) a steep, boulder-ridden incline. The last time we did this our bikes were vintage steel, fully rigid and extremely heavy. This time our chromoly steel hardtails  were significantly lighter. I had no problem hauling my bike up and down this part of the trail.

This snake was pretty friendly. Can you identify it for us?

The wind blew all day and the sky became more and more the color of sulfur. It may have saved us from a major sunburn, but it became clear that camping in that wind again was going to be in tolerable. So we said farewell to Fruita and headed back towards Cortez.

The next few days we rode the Phil's World trail system which is absolutely mind-blowingly incredible. Although the lot was packed, we hardly saw anyone on the trails. The climbs were reasonable, the downhills fast and the giant whoopdeedoos on the Rib Cage were epic. All of us were smiling from ear-to-ear on that one.  We also saw a horned lizard, which was a first for me.

It doesn't get much better than this!

This is why our rides last so long. After nights of camping and days of riding hard, this nap was well deserved!

Don't get too close to that cactus, Lane!

Diane taking one for the team. What a trooper!
Part of our time near Cortez we found the village of Mancos. What a pleasant surprise! Mancos has a fantastic bakery, Absolute, that serves the most delicious breakfasts. If you get a chance to go there, have the veggie stack: hashbrowns, eggs any style,  topped with sauteed garlic & veggies like spinach, tomato and red onion with a dusting of parmesan cheese. You won't regret it. Mancos is also home to a few art galleries, the Fahrenheit coffee shop, and Zuma natural food store. The Mancos state park also has yurts you can stay in, which is a nice touch. Sadly they were all reserved while we were there.

While in the area we headed back to the Canyon of the Ancients to ride the Sand Canyon trail. This trail system has a decidedly different feel to it than the adrenaline rush of Phil's World and Fruita. You can feel the history there and the presence of people from long ago. Some ruins still remain and are accessible off of spurs from the trail. About a mile or so out, we saw our last hiker. The day was warm, with very few clouds in the sky and we were fairly exposed in the canyon. At mile 3.2 my bike odometer broke and we were hoping for a 15 mile ride. The trails so far were not marked very clearly and we were relying on the odometer to keep up with our position on the map. Several times during the ride we all remarked about how easy it would be to get turned around out there: the rock formations start to look the same and with the twists and turns in the trails, it's hard to keep track of your bearings. Luckily, the GPS saved us when we got confused with the map and a quirky trail marker. With our brains baking and water starting to run low, there was some confusion at a trail marker and we did some back tracking. The bonus was getting to ride some great slick rock twice and spotting the parking area from up on the trail. That ride really wiped us out, but it was gorgeous and a place of reverence.

All along the trail we had seen some brightly colored collared lizards skittering off the path. One even greeted us when we got back to the car.
After 6 days on the road, we decided to head back to Albuquerque via Pagosa Springs. We hadn't had a shower since leaving New Mexico and our weary muscles needed a soak in the hot mineral bath. Being clean was such a joy and I think I had my best night's sleep that night in the National Forest outside of Cuba,NM. Before Diane left we hiked Embudito Canyon on the west side of Sandia in Albuquerque. This hike was pretty exposed most of the time and we were all exhausted and cooked taking Diane to the airport. Here are some pics from the hike:

A great way to start summer, indeed!