The motherly Mexican-American ladies behind the stoves at HG’s local hangout, El Parasol (on highway 285 in Pojoaque, north of Santa Fe), are cooking up the perfect antidote for chilly weather–arroz con pollo. Their version of the dish is a bowl of robust chicken soup enhanced with red chili. The bowl is crowded with chunks or tender, white meat chicken and plenty of toothsome rice. HG adds further punch to the dish with slices of fiery roast green chili and tops it all with chopped raw onion and Mexican oregano. Unlike most food at the restaurant, this dish isn’t accompanied by tortillas but by saltine crackers, apt companions.
Yes, the moment arrived: BSK could not dine last night (because of some annual medical check ups), so, HG ate alone. What to prepare? With the weather a bit chilly and HG feeling a touch lazy, it wass time to go to the pantry for an eccentric, marvelous treat — Olneyville N.Y. System Hot Wieners. These wieners are a Rhode Island regional treat only served at two Rhody locations–one in Providence and one in Cranston (other similar brands are, of course, served throughout Rhode Island). They are wieners covered in a spicy meat sauce and topped with chopped raw onions, celery salt and mustard. Thoughtful daughter Lesley R. sent HG a package of Olneyville’s spice mix alongside the frozen dogs. HG followed the directions on the package: Melt 1/2 cup shortening (HG used canola oil). Brown 1/2 finely chopped onion. Stir in two tablespoons spice mix. Crumble one pound of chopped beef into mixture. Simmer, covered, for one hour. Stir occasionally and mash with potato masher for a finer consistency. Yes, the recipe worked and HG downed four doggies with great pleasure. In Rhody, the natives wash down N.Y. Systems with milk mixed with coffee syrup (Lesley R. included a can of this syrup in her gift to HG) but HG chose to accompany dinner with some good Pilsener beer. Coffee milk will have to wait for another HG solo dinner.
Ompa Lomps. Yes, that’s what cute little HG called lamb chops when he was a wee, wee lad. Okay. No more cloying baby talk. HG loved lamb chops back then and still loves them. Best lamb chops in the world were served at the Coach House, Leon Lianides’s legendary restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village. (The space is now occupied by Mario Batali’s Babbo). The Coach House chops were about two inches thick and incredibly juicy and succulent. Lianides said the secret of his great chops and racks of lamb was to cut away all of the fat. That’s what BSK does when pan broiling delicious little chops from Trader Joe’s. TJ’s chops are from the Atkins Ranch in faraway New Zealand. The logistics of getting them from that distant land to HG’s knife and fork boggles the mind. Last night, BSK broiled last of the season heirloom tomatoes. Grilled tiny Japanese eggplants. Boiled fingerling potatoes. HG mixed Greek yogurt with lots of crushed garlic, some olive oil and a dash of Spanish smoked paprika. (Love to dip potatoes in that mix). All splendid accompaniments to the pink chops. And, where there is lamb there is fruit forward California cabernet sauvignon. Happy dining indeed.
Simple and foolproof. That’s the Macchinetta, the stove top utensil in which HG/BSK brew strong, Italian home-style coffee. That coffee is essential for the HG/BSK breakfast of cafe au lait, Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. No, the Macchinetta doesn’t make espresso (though it does use finely ground dark or “espresso” roast coffee beans). Just strong coffee. Espresso can only be made by a skilled barista using an elaborate machine. HG only drinks espresso after lunch-with-wine at a restaurant. Necessary to ward off alcohol induced drowsiness. When in Italy, HG marvels at the stylish Italians who pop into an espresso bar, dump a lot of sugar into a tiny cup and down the espresso with one gulp. They seem to do this three or four times a day (or more). These quick bursts of caffeine/sugar energy might explain Italy’s political volatility. (Doesn’t explain Berlusconi, however).
HG grew up in a racist United States that denigrated Mexicans and African-Americans. (It was a country that wasn’t too enthusiastic about Jews either). In cartoons and cheap souvenir knick knacks, Mexicans were usually depicted leaning up against a cactus while sleeping under a giant sombrero. Super lazy, was the implication. (This mirrored the racist Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, Stepin Fetchit, watermelon eating “pickaninny” images that characterized the African-American population). For most of HG’s New York life there were few Mexicans in the city. There was one Mexican restaurant, the mediocre Xochitll, and no taquerias. When HG/BSK moved to Colorado they encountered hundreds of Mexican-Americans and illegal Mexican immigrants (plus scores of authentically Mexican and Tex-Mex eateries). Hardest working people HG/BSK ever observed. Gardening, auto repair, landscaping, painting, masonry were among the many skills of this population (not to mention lawyering, doctoring, teaching, etc.). And, wow, did they work hard. No pause for a sombrero snooze. One of the toughest manual jobs is roofing. Both roof construction and repair is work done under a blazing sun and/or sharp winds. Precarious footing. This was a virtual monopoly of recently arrived Mexicans. Of course, restaurants of all types were dependent on Mexicans. Outside of the chef, virtually the entire staff of most Colorado kitchens were Mexican (Restaurateur Daughter Victoria and her husband, chef Marc M., own three New York restaurants and couldn’t compete in that brutal arena without their talented Mexican crews). Now that HG/BSK live in New Mexico, they are immersed in a Hispanic and Mexican-American world. There are Hispanics that have lived in New Mexico for countless generations (including the descendants of Jews who fled Mexico during the Spanish Inquisition). The Governor of New Mexico is a Latina (HG doesn’t like her). The previous Governor was a Latino (liked by HG). HG/BSK’s Congressman is a Latino. There are more recently arrived Mexican-Americans. All seem to share a remarkable work ethic and unfailing courtesy. As far from that snoozing caricature as can be imagined.