Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oh, honey

About 60 miles south of Albuquerque on I-25 is Lemitar, NM, a Phillips 66 station on the west edge of a tiny village that I guess I’ve driven past dozens of times without really noticing until the other day. What caught my eye was the bright yellow van parked in front of a small cluttered farm a bit north of the actual town. In bold black lettering the van proclaims that HONEY is available. Driving another mile or two to the Lemitar exit I leave the interstate at the Phillips 66, turning north on the frontage road (ok, if you’re driving on an interstate and can't determine your direction of travel, please step out of the gene pool at the earliest opportunity, thank you). The frontage road is only 60 yards from the interstate while being at least that many years in the past. While the interstate cuts straight through even the slightest rise with nary but the most sweeping curve, the frontage road lays on the very nap of the land, a series of what would, on a dirt bike trail be whoopdidoos, and sharp turns, an inviting playground for a middle-aged kid in a fast car; the speed limit on the frontage road is 30 mph but believe me, it’s much more fun at 60.
The farm consists of an unfinished two storey house with an impressive iron gate, and is surrounded by old trucks and mobile homes and overrun with half-feral chickens. Enter the gate, do not make eye contact with the little rooster with the giant ego, and ring the door buzzer. Before long you will be ushered into the Bee Chama store by Glen, the guy who holds down the fort while the rest of what appears to be an apiest commune traverses the state (and country) with their truck loads of bees, doing commercial pollinating as well as just parking and letting their bees sample native flowers in remote areas. The results are outstanding, with varietal honeys such as desert wildflower, mesquite and mountain wildflower. Their commercial work in the almond groves of California allows Bee Chama to trade with other beekeepers for varieties such as wild blackberry and meadow foam, as well as new stock to keep their bees genetically diverse and resistant to parasites and (so far) colony collapse disorder. The meadow foam is the sweetest honey I’ve ever tasted, with hints of vanilla lending it the unmistakable flavor of a marshmallow.
One thing has to be said about the Bee Chama crew, they do not fit your likely preconception of what a beekeeper looks like, a soft-spoken, slow-moving old man with kind eyes. This bunch looks more like a professional mountain bike racing team, all tats, facial hair and a passionate excitement for what they do.
After tasting several varieties with Glen, who snatches up any spilled drop with his finger, I settle on a quart of the desert wildflower for fifteen bucks. It is a strongly flavored dark honey that Glen tells me reminds older customers of the honey they used to get wild. Which reminds me, all of the Bee Chama honeys are wild, unpasteurized and unfiltered, the proof is in opening the lids with specks of honey comb, pollen and possibly a bee’s leg (it’s protein, shaddup) apparent.
Bee Chama honey is available at Albuquerque area farmers’ markets or online at

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Return of the Lunch

Ok, four weeks after the fact, here is the final part of my Albuquerque lunch trilogy. My Return of the Jedi, to be followed in twenty years by a really shitty "prequel" about my breakfast in Durango back in '98 when I was annoyed by a little smart-ass kid, a large bug and an Ebonics-spouting swamp dweller.
Pulling out of the parking lot, I immediately take a wrong turn and spend the next few minutes taking a very un-scenic tour of some of the back streets around the Old Town area. Later research revealed that these streets were designed in the late 1700s by a blind Spaniard riding a drunk mule. Upon discovering Central Ave., I stuck a little American flag in it and turned right.
In between downtown and Old Town, or Down Town and oldtown, there is a little place called the Dog House, that serves the best danged ol' chili dawg I've ever had. Not at all hungry, but unable to avoid stopping at a place that looks like a Tastee Freez painted yellow and converted to hot dogs, I pull into the lot and spend the next few minutes standing in front of what appears to be a window for ordering before I try to walk through the door to the kitchen and finally find the right door and enter the restaurant (the right door is the one to the left).
Inside there are a handful of tables and a short counter (yes!) where I sit and order a 6" chili dog with mustard, cheese and onion, and a lemonade for under four bucks. The dogs are split and a cooked to a nicely caramelized crispness on a flattop, the buns are toasted, and the whole thing is then covered in a spicy stew of what tastes like our own New Mexico red chile mixed with thin canned chili, yellow mustard and nacho cheese…in short, it's flippin' delicious.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The boy lay on his side, his head twisted back and up, looking with dead eyes toward the ceiling. The sawed off .410 laid next to him.
The boy looked surprised.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Movin' stuff around

The following four posts are old ones from the SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED page. Thinking of purging that one, so I moved 'em over here for safekeeping.

History of Phyllo

I would like to correct a statement I made in a previous blog, in which I claimed that phyllo dough was the Devil's own creation.
Well, I was mistaken. Come to find out, phyllo dough was created by Kudurrus, a minor demon assigned to the area of Mesopotamia in the 8th century BC. Kudurrus, later, provided the inspiration for Daedalus's use of wax to secure the feathers in Icarus's wings. He also, much later, convinced Dieter Schilling, a food scientist with Nestle, that his invention, Hot Pockets, was a good idea.
Kudurrus also filled in for the lesser three Horsemen of the Apocalypse to maintain staffing during vacations and illnesses.
Reference the phyllo dough; it is thought that Kudurrus created the dough to drive cooks to acts of violence and mayhem. And in that regard, it has been a success.
By the 4th century BC, the art of making phyllo had been lost to all the world except for a handful of Greek grandmothers. This, and the Persian king's lust for baklava, led to the Persian invasion in Greece and the Spartan's heroic stand at Thermopylae. It was later discovered that the king had actually only misplaced his recipe.
The Phyllo Riots of 33 AD, in Jerusalem, led to the rounding up and subsequent crucifixions of hundreds of people.
Jean-Claude Le Jeune, a celebrated French chef of the 18th century, killed several members of his employers household, and then jumped from a parapet, impaling himself on a fishmonger, after working with phyllo dough.
Ho Chi Mihn, a pastry chef before leading his people in kicking the Japanese, French, then the Americans, out of Vietnam, pioneered the use of phyllo dough as shrapnel in improvised explosives.
So you see, if not actually created by Satan himself, phyllo is definately an instrument of the Devil's to work evil in our world.

The Cook's Tale, Part IV

And lo, the gates did open wide and within I saw a land of great desolation and ruin. I passed a lake of fire, filled with the souls of the lost, many of them wearing very surprised looks and name tags and waving pamphlets above the burning waters. I passed monsters, great and small, inflicting horrible tortures upon the hapless sinners, yet I was unmolested. Eventually, I came to a great throne, and he who sat upon it was Satan. He held aloft his right index finger, indicating that I should wait, as he finished some task on his BlackBerry. When he spoke it was as if storms, fire, and war were unleashed, yet his words were clear, "Hey, how's it goin'?"
"Oh, you know, work."
"Uh, well, you'll be wanting to get started, I guess. I'll show you to the kitchen."

From The Cook's Tale, Lost on the Way to Canterbury, The Missing Tales of Chaucer.
Feldham, Larry. University of London (Arkansas) Press, 1954

Good advice from a guy who lived 4500 years ago

What you seek, you shall never find.
For when the Gods made man,
They kept immortality for themselves.
Fill you belly.
Day and night make merry.
Let Days be full of joy.
Love the child that holds your hand.
Let your wife delight in your embrace.
For these alone are the concerns of man.
-The Epic of Gilgamesh

Rekindling an old flame

Eleven years ago this month I moved to this area. This is, by far, the longest I have ever lived anywhere. I moved here because, like so many others, I came here on vacation and fell in love.
Within months I had a job and had moved, since then I've had the best times of my life, and the worst. Recently it's seemed like the bad times have out weighed the good, and I've often thought of leaving, getting a fresh start somewhere new. There's something so seductive about that clean slate.
But my kids have grown up here, and I've grown here. The best job I've ever had, working with the best friends I've ever had, is here. It is just gorgeous here, but I still take it for granted, as we all do after a while. Usually all it takes is the shortest hike, or mountain bike ride, or sometimes just the drive into town, to remind me why I came, why I stayed.
But I still wonder. How would things be had I left? Had I never come? As in any long-term relationship I find myself taking her for granted, something I know to be deadly. I find myself not looking around on the way to work, not noticing the way she's draped in fog, not appreciating the sunrise my schedule requires me to witness almost every day, not making the time to walk the dog. Then she does something to make me appreciate her again, and suddenly I don't want to be anywhere else.
Saturday I finally made it to the farmer's market in Capitan, after a full summer of good intentions. Capitan (for those who don't know) is about 20 miles north of Ruidoso, and just one hell of a pretty drive. On the way another favorite old flame pulled out in front of me and immediately the old "what if" record started skipping in my head(second guessing my own life is, if not one of my favorite passtimes, the one that I'm best at). She soon turned off and I finshed the the trip singing along to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack (shut up, you're gay).
By the time I got to Capitan, I was a melancholic. Then, to make things worse, it appeared that there was no farmer's market. I had been told it was impossible to miss, but somehow I didn't immediately see it. Had it closed early for the season? Then I found it, the market is tucked into a small vacant lot across from the Smokey Bear Memorial.
As I got out of my car I heard a curious combination of accoustic Johnny Cash and electronic drum machine. They came from a man at the front entrance who, with the right combination of lighting and blood alcohol level, could have passed for the Man himself. I stopped, listened, and realized that he was damned good. He smiled at me, I felt welcomed, and I found that I was smiling back.
Entering the market, I was immediately enchanted, there was not a bar scanner in sight, and not a person seemed sorry to be present. A short time later I not only had bought locally produced bread, spinach, green beans, tomatoes, blackberries, Swiss chard, and (holy shit!) raw milk feta and cheddar cheeses, but had met some really interesting people. Producers of food who were proud of their products and happy to talk about them; even willing to give directions to their farms so that I could see where my food had come from.
On the way into work that morning I realized that my old flame had done it again. Just when I was starting to drift she had dazzled me with nothing more than a new summer dress and a smile. I rolled the windows down, cranked up Ewan and Nichole, and daydreamed about the meal I would soon be sharing with my friends.

Hell's Grannies

A couple of weeks ago I get this call from this guy who represents a tour company that specializes in bus tours of the region for folks from the British Isles. Now, these tours have been coming through the area for a couple of years now and the folks are generally of retirement age and quite nice. The bus drops them off in midtown and they go about as they wish for a while before re-boarding and going wherever they go. One group of Welsh farmers was an absolute blast.
This group was different. I don't know much about these tours, whether all the groups are from similar areas or backgrounds, but this bunch just plain sucked. As is the usual procedure, someone from the company called a day ahead to give us a heads up that they would be by, but this time they wanted to just order sandwiches to go.
"Ok," I answered, and gave him our menu choices.
"Ah, the cold cut, what's on that?"
I told him.
"Hmmmm, let me see and I'll call you back.
When he did a short time later he told me that the cold cut sandwich would be fine, but that as they were English, they didn't want the sandwiches with all the "stuff" we Americans were used to. So, I agreed, after a short but sharp burst of foreboding, to make six cheese sandwiches, three ham sandwiches, and thirty-seven ham and cheese sandwiches. I even gave them a cut rate since I'd be leaving off all the "American" stuff.
The next day, as Danny and I are making sandwiches in between regular orders the phone rings and it is our English friend again, seemed like now the group wanted to stop off to eat their food at the café and would we be able to handle a large group. Since it wasn't too busy and our lunch rush was pretty much over I agreed. Again, a voice in my head told me to say no, but the thought of selling all those drinks and my waitress getting a decent bunch of tips swayed me.
To shorten a story that is already too long, they were the most miserable bunch of geriatrics I have ever seen, they mobbed the register as my one waitress and a prep cook tried valiantly to handle their orders for about three dozen hot chocolates and café lattes, and one charming lady pressed the remains of her sandwich into the counter in front of me and snarled, "Dreadful!"
I was taken aback; I thought she must have been joking.
"Dreadful?" I asked. I was actually still smiling.
"Awful," she replied.
At that point I wanted to say, "I know what dreadful means, you bitch, what the hell's wrong with the sandwich?" Or just reach out and poke her in the forehead with my index finger and screech, "Horrible!"
But I didn't, I just stood there stunned as she limped out, probably to terrorize the poor old Mexican lady who sales turquoise next door, and watched as the rest of the group muttered and mumbled their way through their meal. The only two who seemed to be enjoying themselves were a younger guy who ordered a slice of pizza and ate it, smiling, outside, away from everyone else, and a lady of about 45 who was flirting with the bus driver.
Oh, and the big tip payoff for Holly? Not one fucking cent.
Really made me appreciate Texans for once.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lunch, part deux

After leaving the Asian Noodle Bar I head toward Old Town. This is the tourist trap of Albuquerque, much like our own midtown, but nestled around a square and with better architecture. Driving west on Central I pass a shack of a place called The Dog House, I keep going, but vow to check it out sometime.
Near Old Town I find another dirt lot with the slot-box thingies. I park, walk toward the box, realize that I don't know the number that I parked in, walk back and check, then back to the box. When I get there, two men, who've just stepped out of a giant of an SUV are struggling to put their coins in the slot, they keep sticking and won't fall in.
"Pretty archaic," the one with the sticky coins says.
His companion agrees as I watch, bemused. Use your key to push them in, I think, but instead say, "Well, you don't have to worry about 'em breaking down." They look at me like I farted and return to their struggle.
By the time they finish and I've folded and shoved two bills into the face of the box I realize that I'm probably paying the wrong one. Shit, I think, and walk back to the space, check the number, and walk back and pump three more dollars into the right box. Glad the fart sniffers have moved on and missed that little cluster. I'm thinking that they probably don't even check the boxes all that often, but I sure don't want to come back and have to call an impound lot because I was wrong.
I like Albuquerque's Old Town because it is what it is, it doesn't try to be Santa Fe. With a few pretentious wannabe exceptions, the area around the square is perfectly content to be a giant Stuckey's.
Far above all this is the church of San Felipe de Neri. Originally built in 1706, the first church collapsed in 1792 after heavy rains, and the present church was built the following year; it's walls are adobe and at the ground are five feet thick. Looking up at the two towers that grace the top of the building I think that they may be the most beautiful man-made objects I've ever seen. Brown stucco, with white trim and adornments, and framed by sky that is only this blue in New Mexico, they are stunning.
Walking past the front gate of the church grounds I see a group of Mennonite (I think) women walking toward me in traditional dress with prayer coverings over their hair. One is perhaps in her forties, the other are all in their late teens, they are all tall, strong looking with pretty northern European faces bright red with a sheen of sweat and they are taking furtive, disapproving looks to their right where two young Latina women lounge against the church wall, all legs, makeup and cleavage. Then I realize that they are, in fact, casting their glances past the young women to the Catholic church.
Behind the church one comes to Church Street and the Church Street Café. I had eaten there once before, years ago and, remembering how good the fruit salad was then, simple syrup covered berries topped with plain yogurt, I wanted it again.
But, this time was a disappointment. The service was good, efficient and friendly; the beer (Outlaw Lager) was fine; the back patio, surrounded by adobe walls, shaded and complete with the sounds of a fountain and an excellent classical guitarist, was wonderful. But, the simple, delicious salad of memory was no more. Oh, they offered a fruit salad, and it even appeared to be the same on the menu, but it was merely a bowl of yogurt and a plate of very under-ripe melon slices.
Still, gotta give the Church Street Cafe huge points for atmosphere though, so I would try it again.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


A few days ago I was in Albuquerque after dropping the kiddos off at the airport (off to Germany, again… the lucky turds) and looking for something to eat. I had a vague idea of what I wanted, Thai or Middle Eastern, and was cruising Central looking hot as hell in my bad ass Batmobile when I spotted the Asian Noodle Bar. Oh, hell yeah, I thought, remembering the article I had read months before and then forgotten about the then year-old restaurant being named one of the five best noodle bars in the US by Bon Appetit magazine.
On the one hand, I tend to dislike any "best of" list as there is no way in hell the author checked every one of anything in most cities, let alone most states, to say nothing of the whole friggin' country, but they did check a lot of places, so if something is listed as one of the "best" you can safely bet that it's at least pretty damned good.
That in mind, I sought out one of those dirt parking lots with one of those box-with-numbered-slots-honor-system boxes (oh, redundancy), parked, deposited my money and walked the half-block back to the small store-front restaurant with the unpretentious sign proclaiming it the Asian Noodle Bar. Seen more exciting labels on a pack of ramen, I think as I walk in past the disheartening Coors neon blazing away in the wrought iron protected window. These, and all other thoughts, are quashed as I enter the dining room; no clichés here, just cool, clean-lined modern Asian décor and a large inviting bar with a view of nothing but the kitchen. As I've said before, if there is a counter, sit at it.
The waiter is prompt, friendly and answers my questions with pride and authority, he knows the menu and the history. The chef, Mimy Singvilay, immigrated to the US, settling in Albuquerque, from Laos with her parents when she was about three years old, she's "self-taught" (parens only because I hate that term because it implies that no one else was a factor in the learning of a skill, even if it was a parent, author, mentor; just because the knowledge wasn't handed down from on high by a degreed professor in some institution of higher learning….okay, I'll stop now…), and this is her first restaurant. She's also drop dead gorgeous, I know that doesn't have anything to do with anything, but I have a thing for Asian women in chef's coats…there, I said it, it's a diagnosed condition, look it up.
My waiter makes his suggestions and I pick Japanese miso soup from the forty or so choices that span most Asian cuisines. I settle in with my Kirin Ichiban beer and watch as the cooks work, one of the two commercial woks putting out around 65,000 btus, compared to my stove's 26,000 and your 18,000. Together, they sound like a jet taking off and the heat can be felt from fifteen feet away. A lone TV, to my left, is tuned to what I think is a Singaporean soap opera (I'm pretty iffy on that one) that seems to exist only so that a woman in a blue dress can sign songs complete with bouncing ball graced subtitles. Directly opposite of me, near the cash register, two small children sit, playful, but restrained, that is until the smallest throws his flip-flop at the waiter.
Reading the label of my beer, I'm a little disappointed to find that my Japanese beer is bottled in California by Anheuser-Busch, the brewer of Budweiser. Then I think that A-B is in a struggle to avoid being bought by InBev, a giant Belgian brewer, that is in turn ran by Brazilians. Gotta love globalization. Oh well, it's still a good beer.
Amid these, and other thoughts (mmmm, chef coat), my soup arrives. It comes in a gigantic bowl, a very generous serving of green onions, seaweed, tofu and soba noodles in miso broth. The smell alone is worth the price and the taste is fantastic; clean and fresh. Less than half way in, I put the fork down and pick up my chop sticks and do a pretty good job of making it to my mouth with the slippery noodles in spite of being years out of practice. A few stools down from me a very happy looking Asian guy is slurping away at a bowl of something spicy, pausing every few bites to mop his bright red, beaded forehead.
I finish with some awesome red bean ice cream I then walk back to my car, passing Knockouts Gentleman's Club, a pastel colored building with no view inside. One of the dancers takes a smoke outside the door, chatting with the bouncer who is setting out a sandwich board with drink specials on it. I wonder who exactly her clients are going to be at 3 o'clock on a Monday afternoon

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Seven July

That night he went home from work to find that she had in fact moved out.
"It's just temporary," he told himself as he noted the small things that were missing, her toothbrush, some CDs.
He sat down and read that terrorists had exploded bombs in the subways and buses of London. 52 dead. Then he went to bed and cried, thinking only of his own loss.