October 29, 2009

Halloween, día de los muertos and Loved Ones

As a young girl in Albuquerque, New Mexico I have always had vivid memories of Halloween. I love pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns and I remember the excitement of carving a pumpkin with my father. My brother and I would get to pick out our pumpkin in the giant cardboard bins outside of the grocery store. I seem to recall always being drawn to tall, skinny ones, the ones that seemed like they might not have been the first choice because they weren't perfectly symmetrical and round. The color was also really important to me, I wanted to find the pumpkins that had different shades of orange within it. What can I say, I was attracted to oddly-shaped pumpkins and had a tendency to anthropomorphize them (but I mean, come on, once you put a face on something how can you not?) When we got home, mom would lay down yesterday's newspaper down on the big oak table and my brother and I would draw our faces for our pumpkins out on paper and then onto the pumpkin. Dad would pop off the top and we would get to reach our hands inside the pumpkin to pull out it's insides. Then he would carve our faces in it. We'd light a candle inside of them, pop the top back on tilted so if something started burning our new pumpkin friends wouldn't ignite into an orange blaze. My mom and I would then toast the pumpkin seeds in the oven with some salt which is the featured recipe for today's post. As my sisters grew up, I took over the drawing and carving piece, as my dad became much more busy at work, and apparently I was steady-handed enough to wield our one large knife. This hasn't changed much in my older years except now my love draws the face and I carve it out. My only insistence for this one was that it have a happy face, and for some reason I also really feel the need to incorporate a gap tooth in my pumpkins so ta da!   

A and I usually do the carving together every Halloween but this year I was home alone carving our pumpkin because she was at a work event and I am leaving tomorrow for Kansas for my Auntie's funeral. My Aunt Cynthia Perez Falcon passed away at the young age of 51 years old. She leaves behind a daughter, my cousin who just started taking college classes this semester and a son who is a sophomore in high school. This summer while I was doing research with my familia, I collected her oral history. I was struck by how much she balanced reflection on her past with what was in her future plans. At the time a mere two months ago, I never knew just how precious my request for her oral history would be. As I prepare for a trip down to Topeka, Kansas to pay my respects I've been thinking a lot about what I can pull from her own words as a way to honor her memory. I have become the keeper of these stories and I have the responsibility to share these words with her family. I know she would have wanted this from me. Forgive me for trying to work out some of the things I want to say about her here in my bloga. I think it is relevant as I have increasingly moved away from Halloween as the only holiday I celebrate into incorporating spiritual practices from día de los muertos. My Tía will be laid to rest on Saturday the 31st, and even though día de los muertos follows it directly where we honor our antepasados the 31st will forever remind me of my Tia's generosity, grace, love and joy in the world. She was an amazing woman, a friend and confidant, she would come and visit me while I was at college and even though we didn't get to see each other as often as I would have liked, every time we got together it was a comfortable meeting of two women. I will miss those comfortable times, my friend and my Tía, en paz descanses. 

Now back to anthropormorphizing my pumpkin, after I ripped out her guts, I rinsed and dried my pumpkin seeds, this is from that big pumpkin! There is something to be said about the smell of a fresh pumpkin, there's nothing like it and carving one just brought back so many memories for me. 

I separated my seeds into two bowls and had decided that I would use two different flavor profiles for my seeds. As you all know, spicy is my forte so I flavored one half of my seeds with some green chile powder from the Santa Fe Cooking School that the Lone Baker bought me and the other half with cayenne pepper. Yum Yum Yum. 

Dress your seeds with about one half tablespoon of olive oil and salt them to taste and toss them to coat. Then add your other flavoring, of course this is to taste, as the more you use, the spicier it will be. 

Lay out your deliciously coated seeds on a baking sheet as a single layer into a pre-heated oven set to 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Enjoy some warm right out of the oven and to snack on throughout your Halloween or día de los muertos festivities with your loved ones.  

October 15, 2009

New Mexican Green Chile Stew

New Mexican Green Chile Stew (Adapted from Bueno Chile Recipe)

I must preface this entry with an apology to my Minnesota fans, this might be a bit more difficult to recreate, as I am using some green chile that was literally frozen and then overnighted by my mama. I will say that I am going to try to recreate this with some other chiles and see how it goes, maybe with some roasted poblano chiles and some beef broth to add some liquid? Who knows, but to my New Mexican followers, this will seem to be a perfect reminder of the simplicity of ingredients and the deliciousness that is freshly roasted Bueno green chile and beef combining into a spicy stew.

My hermanita KRC was in town visiting A and me over her fall break of her freshman year of college at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. My mama had called a few days before to let me know that KRC was missing the (hot air) balloon fiesta that Albuquerque hosts every October and green chile. She said she couldn't do anything about the balloons, but she could do something about the chile, so she overnighted me some fresh roasted green chile that my dad buys and freezes, a container of Bueno green chile to make a beef stew and two packages of Frontier flour tortillas. It was like heaven when it arrived on my doorstep a few days later and I of course had to test the tortillas to make sure they had weathered the journey ok. Once KRC arrived I used the fresh roasted to spice up breakfast burritos (to which my sister said, "this is better than the Frontier's breakfast burritos" and while they were good I am not sure they really surpassed the quality of the Frontier, but I try. The next day I prepared a green chile stew like my dad does by following the instructions on the side of the Bueno canister.

You basically need three key ingredients and the other ones can be added for extra flavor or not. These main ingredients are potatoes, bueno green chile and beef (stew meat). Since I had some smaller red potatoes left over from the week before I decided to use these, and honestly preferred them over the Russet browns. (Sorry if this seems superflous but I get so annoyed when the recipe doesn't tell you what kind of potato to use!) In your pot heat 1 Tablespoon of canola oil.

Then throw in your stew meat to brown for about four minutes. Turn periodically to ensure every side becomes brown. I like my stews a bit heartier so I added about one full pound of beef while the bueno recipe only calls for one half pound.

While your meat is browning chop up your 3 small potatoes into bite size chunks/cubed. While the meat was browning my sister was napping on the couch and A was playing video games online. It was such a nice time with my family, I don't know what it is about soups and stews or a pot of beans but it really just inspires reflection on how lucky we are all to have familia to love us and provide support right at the most important times. My sister's visit couldn't have been better for me in terms of reassessing priorities and remembering that life is about living (as opposed to working so hard in the attempt to live at one day in the far off future). And so, while I browned my meat and cut my potatoes I thanked the heavens for my familia, green chile and chilly fall afternoons.

I then added in my potatoes and browned for four more minutes and stirring occasionally. In between stirs I totally would peek out to the living room and see my wonderful family enjoying their lives in our one weekend where are lives could continue to intertwine. KRC's head was on the arm of the couch as she quietly slept, totally wore out from our night at the MN Rollergirls' Derby the night before, and my A was cute as always, saying things like her usual, "it smells SO good." That really warms my heart. I'm also thankful that I created this blog and now the memory will stay with all of us in the event that we forget these wonderful times.

The smells of beef and potatoes totally lured my kitchen assistant in to check out the action. Here she is looking a bit wonky eyed, but I'm going to say that's because of the cool lighting that I caught as the afternoon sun actually peeked in our window that day! How artistic no?

Poor thing didn't even get anything out of that except maybe some minced garlic that went flying onto the floor (as I minced). I used four cloves of garlic (when the recipe calls for only 2) what can I say, I love garlic. Throw that in and get ready for the main event, the chile simmer.

Now, for those of you who are not from New Mexico and/or have never seen green chile, this is what it looks like when you buy it chopped. Notice this is quite different than say, getting it in those miniature cans. This actually has some heat to it, you can tell it was roasted before put into the container, and it's been marinating in it's own juices. Also, probably because of the processes behind canning or something, this is much more flavorful and full of liquid. When I popped the lid off of this I almost cried. Now, if any of my fans are rich you can have your very own Bueno green chile mailed to you for the cheap price of $27.99 for the actual container (WOAH! seems a bit pricey, but it's actually for six containers) and $50 shipping, (again, WOAH!) I'm not sure how much it cost my mom to overnight this to me, but the take home message is, if you're in NM, stock up and bring home if you can (via car - you might have some issues in security with this).

Pour this deliciousness into your pot, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and give a quick stir. Allow to bring to a boil, then lower to simmer for about 20 minutes and then you're ready to eat the best spicy stew you'll ever taste. In fact, it is this stew that I feel has ruined my taste for any other stews that are not spicy. Bland stews forget about it!

Serve with two warm tortillas that you heated on your stove. Don't even think about microwaving these, please it hurts me when people do that. Take the extra minute to heat your skillet, it will be worth it I promise. Cozy up with your familia and share some laughs about the crazy times you had the day before, most of all be thankful that you know the deliciousness of green chile. This entry is for my mama, who is the best mama in the whole wide world. I love you. And for my hermanitas (KRC and KMC) for being the best hermanitas ever. I'm so glad all of you are in my life.