New Mexico: The end

April 29, 2018 • 11:00 am

I’m now back in Chicago, have checked the duck pond (Frank was there, but no Honey 🙁 ), and will put up the last batch of photos from my trip to Florida and New Mexico.

As I noted yesterday, two Great Horned Owls nest in the local Home Depot. Consult that post for full photo documentation, but here’s the male again.

We were looking for rust remover for Bill’s collection of old tools, but Home Depot didn’t have the right kind, so we repaired to a local ranching store, which sold hay, western clothes (I bought a Wrangler western-style shirt) and gun safes: heavy places to lock your guns. Some Americans have a lot of guns. For only $1000, this safe claims to store up to 64 guns. God bless America!

I’ve posted a lot of pictures of the tuxedo cat Boris, but have neglected the lovely but shy tortoiseshell cat Janet. Well, here she is:

Janet II:

We started measuring the “pawness” of both cats, but don’t yet have enough data. Here’s Avis observing Janet using her right paw to extract a treat from a cardboard toilet roll:

Besides my shirt, here are a few other items I brought back from New Mexico: authentic salsa (#2 in last year’s state salsa-tasting contest), powdered green chile to add to stews and other stuff, and piñon-nut coffee, flavored with the essence of the pine nut (I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s supposed to be good):

Boris has a real liking for my feet and shoes, even though they aren’t odiferous (at least I’ve never been told that!). He liked to sleep with his head on my flip flops:

And he would lick them, as shown by the wet spot below.

On Friday we celebrated my last day in Las Cruces—and an academic promotion for Avis—by having two New-Mex meals. The first was at a purely local spot, not often patronized by Anglos, called Enrique’s. 

A late breakfast: a chile relleno (my favorite of all Mexican foods, I’ve decided) and a chicken enchilada, along with rice, beans, and chips served with perhaps the best homemade salsa I had on this trip.

Bill practices archery (he doesn’t hunt!). Here he is shooting at a target in his backyard, and I believe I got a shot of the arrow in flight (it’s the yellow dot to the upper left of the target). I tried it myself from about half the distance, and managed to hit the yellow target, but wasn’t even close to a bulls’s eye.

There’s no sight on the bow, and it’s hard. On the other hand, this bow (which I believe had a 50 pound pull), sent that arrow off fast, so I can imagine how ancient longbows, with over 120 pounds of pull, could easily do serious damage to a human body.

As you can see, Bill was quite good, putting all four arrows right next to where he was aiming:

Our celebratory dinner was at a famous place about 20 miles south of Las Cruces, Chope’s Bar and Cafe in La Mesa. It’s renowned for its chiles rellenos. Here I am worshiping a large green chile:

My dinner: a big plate of chile relleno (lightly breaded, with a great vegetable flavor), an enchilada, a taco, and a tamale. This was the first meal (besides the blue corn pancakes in Santa Fe) that I couldn’t finish:

We then repaired to Bill and Avis’s “local,” the High Desert Brewing Company, for a few craft brewskis. Across the street is a pedestrian-crossing sign that some wag altered by putting a beer glass in the crosser’s hand:

The nachos at the place are famous and huge: we watched some firemen come in to bring a bunch back to the firehouse. Here is the “medium” portion:

Finally, yesterday it was time to leave. As Avis and Bill drove me the hour to the El Paso airport, they pointed out salient features. Here is caliche, the layer of calcium carbonate under the ground that plays hob with gardeners in desert areas.

And here’s the border between New Mexico and Mexico, with the town on the other side being Juarez. That line running across the picture and up the hill is in fact a border wall, which Trump wants to extend the whole length of the border. You can see the abrupt demarcation between the U.S. and Mexico:

For our last treats, we went to a well known bakery that also specializes in tamales, Gussie’s in El Paso. Tamales are hard to make at home, so most people buy them premade.

I had two: a chicken and chile (left) and a pork tamale with red chile (right). They were by far the best tamales I’ve ever had, and Avis and Bill agreed that they were superb. (If you don’t know tamales, they are filling wrapped in a cornmeal dough and then steamed in cornhusks.)

Internal view of unwrapped chicken tamale:

The bakery bit is a typical Mexican bakery, similar to those in Chicago. I love them because the procedure is to get a metal tray and tongs and pick out your own assortment of pastries. Of course this leads to one always buying too many, but they freeze well:

I liked the watermelon-decorated cookies:

And so, with this cellphone tower decorated like a palm tree (do birds nest here?), I bid farewell to New Mexico (and Texas). It was a great trip, and many thanks to Bill and Avis for their generous hospitality!


50 thoughts on “New Mexico: The end

  1. Seems like your trip to NM was amazing! Your photos really make me want to visit. What was the best thing you did there (besides being with friends)?

    1. Hard to say: food and scenery and tourist attractions. For example, the petroglyphs at Three Rivers and the Georgia O’Keeffee Museum at Santa Fe were fantastic, and I hear Carlsbad Caverns are nice, too. But food has to be one of the major attractions.

  2. I’m sure Bill already knows this, but for rust removal on stuff like tools, molasses is what you want. Agricultural grade, from feed stores is recommended. No idea what the chemical reaction is, but strange as it sounds, it works.

    1. 10% aqueous solution. Apparently fermentation and production of organic acids is involved, so there’s probably some chelation chemistry going on, but other than that a quick look didn’t turn up any chemical equations. However, here are some results.

      1. Yes, there are things that work, and we haven’t a clue how.
        If after cutting onions you wash your fingers on stainless steel under running cold water for half a minute, your hands will not stink of onions. Reason as yet unknown, but it definitely works.

          1. It is claimed that the sulphur can be neutralised by chemically reacting with the chromium in stainless steel. One can buy stainless steel ‘soap bars’ [just a smooth blob of stainless steel] to wash ones hands in water – to supposedly remove the smell of fish, onion & other sulphurous compounds. SEE HERE for an example product on Amazon.

            I have seen claims that some other metals work better than stainless steel & the chromium is a red smelly herring 🙂

            I can’t find any proper controlled experiments to test the efficacy of stainless steel when hand washing in water.

            I’ve never given it a try, because I’ve found that liquid soap [scentless] & warm water removes the smell completely if I take care to scrub thoroughly under the fingernails. Same is true of chilli – very important for cooks to know! 🙂

      1. A few dropa of Worcestershire will also turn a generic light beer into a passable facsimile of a microbrew, as I once discovered at a departmental picnic when there was both Iron City Light and Worcestershire but no decent micros.

  3. An El Paso taxi driver lost his windscreen to a falling Cell Tower palm frond a few years back. You’ve got a disguised antenna surrounded by those huge metal palm leaves & then a second antenna array immediately below, on the same tower that’s fully exposed. Why bother? Psychology apparently.

    It has nothing to do with birds – the idea is to accommodate planning depts which consider bare towers ugly & ‘problematic’ – it has been found that far fewer locals complain about towers & their evil ‘rays’ if you half attempt to make ’em look like natural features. We are just as bewildered & blindsided by the universe as baboons staring at their reflection in the lenses of cameras!

    Why palm trees in El Paso though? I’m thinking T-Mobile has a job lot to keep the Angelenos happy so why not foist the same flora on the Elpasoens [is that the right word?] Nobody notices such disjunctions, right? Everybody driving miles for a pint of milk or an NM-style sarnie has no time to see…

  4. A wonderful ending. I still remember fondly buying tamales from wandering venders on beaches in Mexico. Then back to the tide pools to look for marine life.

  5. I live in South Carolina and most of the guys I work with have 25-50 guns and many have more than that. It’s a right of passage. We have one new guy who is building an ‘awesome looking assault rifle just because they look so cool.’ Another guy routinely buys two guns when they go on sale. One for him and one for his two year old boy. Everything else aside, the fact that I don’t own a gun marks me as someone to be very suspicious of. No one cares that I am generally fine with gun ownership. One time, and this tells you how dopey I can be, I told one guy that I’m fine with guns. I just think they should be registered with the police and you have to check them out to use them. I kid you not – he has never spoken to me since.

    1. I just watched a Youtube video of a firearm store owner who keeps a jar of ammunition. The ammunition is taken from firearms people swear are empty. The same people with ’empty’ firearms often point their guns at the store employees and customers, displaying poor muzzle safety.

      The store owner says don’t do this because he doesn’t want liberals to have any excuses to make more laws that would impinge on his freedom. As if liberals are the only people who want reasonable firearm regulations.

  6. New Mexico is really a very interesting state. A fine place to get away for the city folks and nothing but wide open spaces. PCC was very close to the White Sands another area unique to New Mexico. Once you get past Albuquerque, the only large city, the numbers really go down. Los Cruces, believe it or not is the second largest city in the state and less than 100,000 population. The contrast between Arizona and New Mexico is population.

  7. Some of the longbows found on the wreck of the Mary Rose had draw weights of at least 150 lbs or so, maybe as much as 185 lbs. More than three times the bow you saw! It is no wonder that skeletons of late mediæval English archers are easily identified by the extra bone growth to support these forces, even though the force comes from the muscles of the back rather than the arms.

  8. I have flown over the US – Mexico border, on one side green pastures and plenty, on the Mexican side an immediate nothing, desert. Except where enterprising US farmers had pinched bits of the country next door.
    As for the English war bow, there are demonstrations of its frightening power on YouTube.

  9. Interesting that tamales are wrapped in corn husks. I didn’t know that. I like how Janet’s fur matches the vanilla caramel color of the sheets. Never been that far west. Maybe someday.

    1. New Mex ain’t Mex Mex. In Mexico tamales are wrapped in many other things. Hoja santa leaves, Chaya leaves, Chard leaves, plantain/banana leaves, aluminum foil, …

  10. What a pleasure to read about your sojourn in New Mexico — I hope it’s inspired some readers to foll0w your steps.

    I’ve been fortunate to be in north-central NM several times over the past few years — tagging along to one of Flo’s conferences in Santa Fe and/or visiting Flo’s cousin who lives in a yurt in the pinon country to the northeast of Taox.

    For those who are considering travelling as I do, flying into Albuquerque and taking a car at the airport and driving to SF and Taos, I’d like to add the following, easily accessed marvels: Petroglyph National Monument, on the west side of the Rio Grande near Albuquerque airport. I’ve been to both the Piedras Marcada [known for, among others, a parrot glyph] and Rinconadaa Canyon trails. Hundreds of glyphs along each of these trails, including some mission era and cowboy era additions.
    2) bandolier NM — cliff dwellings and pueblos, some ‘restored’ a bit in the 1930s — short trails there give a good idea of what life must have been a millennium ago. If you’re really fit, hike out to see the stone ‘lions’.
    3) Puye cliffs — Access by guided from Espanola.
    3) Sandia Crest — I’m interested in alpine plants, and it’s a treat to drive to the 10,500 top of this massive fault block dominating the skyline above Albuqueque, and walk a mile or two down the trail to Albq. Stunning rock plants, many endemic, and almost entirely distinct from the classic rocky Montain alpines to be seen at these elevations only 50 miles to the north [my other favorite trail from the SF ski area toward Baldy Peak. The latter with, I think, the tamest pikas in the American West..

  11. Jerry, are you sure that that chicken tamale whose picture you posted contained cornmeal? The dough looked much more like rice than like steamed nixtamal. Making tamales with plain cornmeal is barbaric, is very rarely done in Mexico. Sharpen up your kitchen Spanish and buy a copy of Repertorio de Tamales, #15 in Conaculta’s Cocina Indigena y Popular series.

    Also, your stuffed peppers probably aren’t breaded. The coating appears to be egg whites, beaten to the soft peaks stage, with yolks folded in. It may contain flour, but this isn’t universal and Mexican (in Mexico, and not to be confused with New Mexican) chefs don’t agree about whether flour is needed. Sometimes the chiles are dredged in flour (more dispute) and then in the beaten egg mixture (in this case, without flour).

    In an earlier comment that I doubt you’ve seen I suggested that you get a copy of Ricardo Munoz Z.’s book Stuffed Chiles of Mexico. Get the book. Read the book.

    1. I had these thoughts also. The chile rellenos I have had have not been breaded but battered. I am certain somewhere they bread them but that would be a completely different animal. And the tamale dough didn’t look grainy enough. However, I put that down to the difficulty of food photography.

      1. Jerry is using some generic terms about some of his New Mex food. Yes: the rellenos have an egg batter, not breading. There are many more variations about rellanos than y’all are not noticing. Yes the batter. Also the type of cheese inside and the chile smothered on top. We tried many rellenos this week. Each one was unique and delicious. The tamales were made with corn masa (not rice). AND- we do not have “peppers” (as PCC readers are saying) but “chile” (as PCC reports). Carry on! Happy eating!

        1. Hi Avis. Can you explain to this poor Brit what you mean by this please? :-

          we do not have “peppers” (as PCC readers are saying) but “chile” (as PCC reports)

          1. Hi Michael, I consider myself an OK translator as I did a 5 year post-doc in Britain. Lets see if I can help. The correct term is chile. This is the tasty fruit of a plant in the genus Capsicum. “Green peppers” are also in this genus, but we have many more domesticated varieties and species. This is a new world radiation, but you know them because they were introduced to India and give that cuisine wonderful flavor. Americans confuse this term with “chili” which is a totally different thing (and usually from Texas). The fabulous rellenos that PCC is talking about is usually a “Big Jim” filled with cheese, coated with egg batter, and fried. Let me know if you want to try some! We have an extra room!

        2. Yes, I suspected this was the case regarding the “breading”. I am curious about your “peppers” vs “chile” comment. What do you mean? Often what’s inside the batter of a relleno is called a “chile pepper”, right? Obviously these are not related to peppercorns. Is that the point?

          1. Hi Paultopping. We just call them chile. These are tasty fruits from the genus that also has “green peppers”- but we distinguish. Black pepper is totally different (different orders!) but tasty in their own right.

        3. Avis, thanks for the reply.

          About the rice, have you looked at the image tagged “Internal view of unwrapped chicken tamale:”? I suppose the things that look like grains of rice could be cracked hominy (nixtamal) but I find it hard to believe that masa harina cooks up like them.

          As for the cheese and sauce toppings, yeah, the Mexicans sometimes do that but by and large they’re muy estadounidense.

  12. You are torturing us, especially with the chiles rellenos! Haven’t had great success finding them in the Toronto area, but have successfully made at home, with slow-simmering red chile sauce.

    1. Yes, they are not that hard to make. I fondly remember going to a chile relleno party at a friend’s house. They have to be made just before eating (some bad restaurants make them ahead of time) so everyone got to see how they were made. We were drinking so the quality of the rellenos diminished as the evening progressed but it wasn’t a problem.

  13. A great ending with my stomach rumbling. I’m sure you can find good chiles rellenos in Chicago, no? I’m sure one of Bayless’ restaurants has a good one.

  14. Not a very safe place to do archery. The margin of error he’s giving himself is pretty small, and there are houses in the background. If one of those arrows sneaks over the wall it’s going to be just as deadly as a bullet.

  15. Jerry, I loved all of your missives from New Mexico. They made me want to move there. (I live in Massachusetts, so the culture shock might be formidable.)

  16. Ahh, yes, Chope’s. I’ve been there a couple of times while my son was living in El Paso.

    And the NM pinon coffee is always available at our Costcos in Colorado – we buy it sometimes.

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