Monday, July 16, 2007

Fried Okra

I recently read that if you want the real flavor of New Mexico, you should avoid the eastern towns because they are more like Texas than anything else. Actually, all the things I love about New Mexico--the adobe houses, the mix of cultures and languages, the wonderful food and delicious chiles--are here, and so is the Texas influence. Well, I am assuming the influence is Texan, but it also seems very southern to me.

Here is an example in the food department. Wherever else I've gone in New Mexico, the standard restaurant question is "red or green?" referrring to your chile preference. Here in eastern New Mexico you may also be asked "brown or white?" This is about gravy and the "white" is all about the ubiquitous "cream" gravy that is ladled over most anything from eggs to meat to potatoes. Now, I've had sausage gravy and biscuits and that is pretty tasty, though lethal, stuff. But this white concoction is just a tasteless paste-like sauce to me. I don't get it. Maybe homemade is better?

Another new culinary experience: "Sides." You order a main dish and are given a choice of one or two "sides." These may include the familiar mashed or baked potatoes, green beans (but cooked with some kind of smoked meat), fried okra, or black-eyed peas. I ordered fried okra just because I had heard that Yankees couldn't stomach it, and Edith the waitress and Tommy the night manager came over to watch me eat it. Their comment? "Not bad for a Yankee, but you really don't like it, do you?" What can I say? It's still okra, although pleasantly crunchy on the outside, it's still got that slimey okra thing going on inside. On the other hand, my first ever side of black-eyed peas were absolutely delicious. I wonder if anyone reading this knows how to cook them?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

You Know You’re From New Mexico if…

This is one of those things that makes the rounds of the Internet again and again. I would gladly give credit to the author if anyone knows who it is.

You Know You’re From New Mexico if…

1. You can correctly pronounce words like Tesuque, Cerrillos, Acoma, Buena, Ocotillo, Cochiti, Pojoaque,Socorro and Isleta (and you actually know what or where they are!).
2. You have been told by at least one out-of-state vendor that they are going to charge you extra for international shipping.
3. You expect to pay more if your house is made of adobe.
4. You can order your Big Mac with green chile.
5. You buy salsa by the half-gallon.
6. You know what it means when they say it's from Hatch.
7. Your Christmas decorations include "red chiles, a half-ton of sand and 200 paper bags."
8. Most restaurants you go to begin with "El" or "Los."
9. You price shop for tortillas.
10. You have an extra freezer just for green chile.
11. You consider Billy the Kid a state hero. (?)
12. You think six tons of crushed rock makes a beautiful front lawn.
13. You think the biggest perk to running for state legislature is that you could speed legally.
14. You pass on the left because that is the fast-lane.
15. You think Sonic is "America's Favorite Drive-in."
16. Your swamp cooler got knocked off your roof by a dust devil.
17. You either have been or know someone who has been abducted by aliens.
18. You can actually hear the Taos hum.
19. All your out-of-state friends and relatives ask if they can drink the water when they come to visit.
20. When someone says "Las Vegas" you think of a small New Mexico town in the northeastern part of the state.
21. You iron your jeans to "dress up."
22. You don't see anything wrong with drive-up window liquor sales.
23. Your other vehicle is also a pick-up truck.
24. Two of your cousins are in Santa Fe, one in the legislature, the other in the state penitentiary.
25. You know what it means when a waitress asks you whether you want "red or green."
26. You're relieved when the pavement ends because the dirt road has fewer potholes.
27. You see nothing odd when, in the conversations of the people in line around you at the grocery store, every other word of each sentence alternates between Spanish and English.
28. You've seen the bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns and have a t-shirt that says "Bats need friends, too!"
29. You know you are "special" because you're from the Land of Enchantment!
30. You've had forts out in the desert or forest, which is also your back yard, so to speak.
31. You know what the night sky looks like full of stars and not pollution.
32. You've swam in an arroyo or an a child or an ADULT!! LOL!
33. You've cooked an egg on the sidewalk.
34. You know what a horny toad is.
35. You can identify a quail, peacock, coyote, roadrunner, cricket, the sound they make.
36. You actually stop in the road when quail are crossing to wait for the whole "family" to get across.
37. Your Walmart sells snow sleds in the summer for the White Sands...but you can hardly find them in the winter.
38. You've slept outside either on the trampoline, the back of a truck, or just in the yard with friends.
39. When going to the store; you ask everyone in the vehicle if they’re going to “get down” with you.
40. You love the smell of rain in the desert.
41. You've caught tadpoles every summer as a kid.
42. One of your favorite pastimes is rock hunting.
43. Your high school biology teacher taught you how to identify all of the desert plants that you could get high off of, and how to do it.
44. You've been to Mexico just to party.
45. You know that Christmas and weddings would not be the same without biscochitos.
46. You know what bartering is, and how to do it in at least two different languages.
47. You could totally win on Survivor, because you've been doing all that hunting, fishing, and hiking survival technique stuff since you were five out in your own back yard.
48. Your city cousins from out of state come and visit you and don't get it when "going to do something" to you means to go hunting, fishing, hiking and theirs is hanging out at the mall.
49. You spent your four years of high school saying you were leaving this hell hole and never coming back; and when you left, you realized that there's no place like New Mexico, and will probably decide to retire back home.

ALL of you from New Mexico or at least those who live there and just LOVE it (except when the wind blows over 40 mph) and can relate to this, share it!!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Fort Sumner

We drove out to Fort Sumner yesterday to visit the purported site (there seems to be some controversy about the location) of Billy the Kid's grave.

We saw the Bosque Redondo Memorial, site of a terrible chapter in American history. You can read the tragic story at

The town of Fort Sumner was delightful. This is clearly a community that has worked together to make a wonderful downtown area. I loved the murals that were painted on the sides of many of the buildings. I couldn't find out anything about them or the artist on the Internet, so I sent an email to the Chamber of Commerce and got this response: "They were painted by a local artist, Karen Steele. Several years ago the chamber decided to do something about empty bldgs etc. and Karen volunteered to paint the murals, the chamber provided the paint." For contact information about the artist, email the Chamber at

The Zia Theater mural was my favorite. Here are two shots of it.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Plains Close-Up

I always thought of the plains as being flat and wondered why anyone would want to live there. Now that I do live here on the high plains of New Mexico, I am kind of ashamed to have known so little. We spent some time yesterday at the 3700 acre Ned Houk Park a few miles north of Clovis, and have just begun to find out a few things about this prairie country. It's not flat--the country has a hilly roll to it that conceals all sorts of surprises. It smells wonderful, fresh and fragrant. And, of course, the more you look, the more you see. We came upon small watering holes and larger lakes; we saw a whole village of very healthy looking prairie dogs; we visited with a small herd of buffalo; and heard all sorts of unfamiliar birds.

This looks like a little owl (click on the photo for a bigger view). At first I thought that he was a prairie dog predator, because while he sat on this fence post the curious little prairie dogs stayed well underground. However, after a little research, I now believe that he might be a burrowing owl. These little owls apparently utilize the prairie dog burrows for nesting. What do you think?

Here is part of the herd of buffalo that we saw near the old Ned Houk Homestead. The baby saw me taking pictures and got up and started inching toward me, but the bull in charge soon moved all of his family well away from potential danger.

Although its quality is not so good, this was the best picture that I was able to get of a prairie dog. They were all over the field, running from hole to hole. Some of the little ones appeared to be playing, chasing each other and wrestling.

Tall Cotton

I had the funniest conversation with a woman named Mary Kate today. She was one of three salesladies at what I call The Cowboy Store, which has all kinds of boots (yep, he's wearing his new ones right now) and cowboy style furniture. Mary Kate asked where we were from and when I told her New Hampshire, she laughed and hugged me and said, "Why bless your heart, I knew you were a Yankee!" I said "Shush, don't let people know that's what we are," and she said "Honey, they'll know, they'll know!" I never got hugged so much by a furniture saleslady (and that was after we'd completed the sale). She told me about a school in the nearby town of Melrose where "they have a little Yankee boy, and the children just love him to bits!" She asked where we were moving into, and when I told her the area, she said "Ooh, you'll be livin' in tall cotton!" which I took to mean that it was a nice neighborhood.

That's just how friendly people are here. We had long conversations today with two bankers, our real estate lady, those furniture ladies, the fellow who changed our oil (told us all about his new dog), and Darren, the waiter at supper, who shook our hands and welcomed us to town and advised us as to which streets to drive on. He doesn't like the one with all the stoplights, which I liked a lot, having come from a town with only one. Whenever we mention anything about the shopping here, everyone looks apologetic and advises making the hour and a half drive to Lubbock for "big shopping." What they don't get is that we are thrilled with the availability of all kinds of stores and restaurants and services--all of which we had to drive 10-15 miles to get to through the growing traffic of southern New Hampshire.

Aux Arcs and Beyond

In our fast road trip across the country, Arkansas and Oklahoma were the big surprises. I loved the rolling green hilly land, the little towns, and the friendly people. I found out that the beautiful Ozarks were so named because that is how the local people pronounced Aux Arcs, which is what early French explorers called the top-most arc of the Arkansas River. We stopped in the town of Russellville, which is a town that I had once researched on the Internet as a possible retirement spot. It is everything that my research had shown it to be, beautiful land and nice houses and access to necessary services, with one big exception. On the way west out of town is a great big nuclear power plant. How could the Internet have let me down so?

Our trip was a quick one--the kind you make when you're on the way to a new job and not really the way to see the country. When I talk about friendly people, I'm talking about nice waitresses and a general impression gained about our fellow diners, because on these dashing trips of ours we only stop for food, gas, and to sleep. We traveled 2000 miles through 14 states in four days; used 11 tanks of gas; and saw license plates from every state but Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, Alaska, and Hawaii. We traveled in three time zones, saw the World's Largest Cross, and lots of kudzu. We saw signs for parks named Hungry Mother, Frozen Head, and Toad Suck; we passed by Pickles Gap Village and Dollywood; and we drove by exits for Little Skin Bayou and Mount Magazine.

Now, after all that rushing, we're here in Clovis, New Mexico, holed up in the Seedy Motel for close to two weeks until we can get into our new house. Here in our tiny room with our two dogs, three cats, and our many houseplants. Smiling, smiling, smiling, about that fantastic hot and dry New Mexican weather and that great big empty blue sky and the good smell of chiles.*

~Clair Z.
*This word is spelled "chilis" in Texas, where they don't know any better.
Ozark Merchants: Origin of the word Ozark.