Been & Going

[Desert Droppings] My Four Thankfuls – Skeletons, Chile, CNN, and You

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Let’s see…according to the Bosses of Been and Going Thanksgiving posts are encouraged to be “angry and political.” Well, so much for my cheery nostalgic look at Thanksgivings past, when huge golden-brown turkeys were cooked by someone other than me; when cranberry sauce with high fructose corn syrup was a staple; and gluten- free stuffing wasn’t even a glimmer in Whole Foods’ eye (and Whole Foods wasn’t even a glimmer in a super market world ruled by A&P markets.)Desert- 113014-tgiving
I guess it’s good-bye to Norman Rockwell and say hello to the new normal November where Bill Cosby is an alleged sleaze; Darren walked; Ferguson burned; and according to Yahoo News,  the polluted Great Lakes are turning to jelly; HIV is out of control in the US; a nor’easter is headed to, where else, the Northeast; and Angelina Jolie is considering a political career  (Lara Croft for Congress?).  Kind of a thankless scene, but definitely a nod to ” angry and political.”

C’mon. Whatever happened to over the river and through the mall and all that? Let’s look on the bright side. “Desert Droppings” is, after all, a product of Albuquerque, where snow’s not likely; my cage-free, antibiotic – free, turkey hind quarter is roasting; and my fridge is bursting with a soon- to- be – prepared cornucopia of organic produce thanks to family generosity and Skarsgard Farms.
Looking back, when I first encountered ABQ, I found several things puzzling. Why did all these houses appear to be made of beige Play-Do awaiting a final layer of bricks or siding?
What natural disaster had turned front lawns into expanses of gravel, rocks, and prickly weeds? And why did gift shops have all sorts of skeleton trinkets that were cute rather than creepy?
I was quickly enlightened about Adobe architecture ( no bricks or siding ever!), xeriscaping (those rocks and spiky plants were Desert-113014-nmmagazinemeticulously placed and paid for ), and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a joyful, early November celebration of Mexican origin which honors the Dear Departed. Parades, colorful altars adorned with items reflecting the personality of the deceased, and a rich array of traditional foods happily commemorate Day of the Dead. Imagine feasting on round loaves of sweet pan de muerto, sugar skull candies, and skull shaped cookies!
Make Thankful #1 – ABQ’s unique, fun, multi- cultural milieu which includes this light-hearted, gone but not forgotten, tribute to the Grim Reaper.
And no, Day of the Dead is not a sneaky lead- in to a burst of The Walking Dead fan talk…
Yes! It is! As TWD Season #5 has taught us DON’T TRUST ANYBODY! “Cooks,” clergy, cops, care providers, scientists, they allDesert-113014-beth LIE! TWD mid- season finale coming up. Get Carol and Beth outta there! Fight Walkers! Fear Humans! Runnnnnnnn!

We now return you to Thanksgiving DD- style already in progress.

From sweet to spicy – ( Yes, I’m writing this on an empty stomach!)  On the East Coast, I was never a particular fan of hot peppers, but they’re such a NM staple, I decided to try timid tastes at first, just a tongue tip of mild Desert Gardens brand Roasted Garlic and Olive salsa (  then a cracker full. Now, I eat it for breakfast along with O’Hara’s Holy Habanero  jelly and avocado sandwiches  (  and picante sauce on rice cakes. This summer, we raised a bumper crop of green chile peppers ( which redden when left on the vine). I dried a few just for fun and saved a bagful in the vegetable cooler to be added to winter salads, Desert-113014-chilissoups, and spreads.
Not a big thing really, chile peppers, but sometimes it’s the cheerful small stuff that really counts. Trust me!
NM chile peppers – Thankful #2

Coming after down home (or down casa) skull cake and chiles, the next “Thankful” thing defies a segue. It’s CNN and its 24 hour news cycle. What?! No, really. For several weeks, Dish cable company and Ted Turner were feuding over the billions in fees that Dish owed Ted that Dish felt were detrimental to its bottom line and to its customers whom Dish prefers to gouge all on its own. Our CNN channel said, “Removed by Ted Turner,” like he had personally blocked CNN’s satellite beams or whatever from each individual Dish customer’s rooftop. Dish substituted MSNBC for CNN- bad idea! Every time I checked for a glimpse of breaking news, there was a program on prison life with a smirking tattooed hulk in neon orange, describing in nauseating detail why he or she was totally justified in eviscerating his/her ex.
The worst part was that without CNN, I didn’t know what looming threats to national and international well being I had to worry about. Were Ebola carriers lurking in ABQ malls?
Was ISIS plotting a south west caliphate?  Had Congress imploded?  The pre-digested news dollops from Yahoo hardly sufficed. I need Fareed Zakaria, Wolfe Blitzer, Candy Crowley, Don Lemon, et al to tell me what’s wrong or right with the world, because if an impending disaster isn’t being covered by CNN, it isn’t worth the worry. Luckily, given the short attention span of the 24 hour news Desert-113014-turneraudience, bad stuff just fades away after we’ve heard it a few times and CNN finds new crises to again briefly capture our interest. Turner and Dish made up and CNN returned just in time for the Cosby revelations and fiery drama in Ferguson, both of which are now old news and will soon give way to fresh headlines designed to keep viewers engaged and advertisers satisfied.
So – Thankful #3 – The return of CNN and informed anxiety.

Finally- a traditional Thankful #4 for family and friends who have grinned and grimaced at a whole year’s worth of DD posts. It’s been a challenge and a grand adventure to seek out and share the strange, the silly, and, at times, the serious sides of life in the desert and beyond.
With luck and a huge effort at time management, there’s lots more to come.
Happy Thanksgiving!


[Desert Droppings] Witches, Walkers, and Who’s For Dinner?

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Trick or Treat! Smell my feet! Give me something good to eat! Boo!  It’s the Halloween edition of Desert Droppings. Witches, Zombies, and What’s cookin’? Open your Spider-man pillowcase wide and catch these goodies!

The ABQ Journal had a recent front page article about two ABQ women who discovered that they were very distantly related to Desert-110214-witchrelativesAnne Pudeator, who was accused of witchcraft and hanged during the 1692 Salem witch trials.
SALEM!  Glorious flashback!  During a stint as an American History teacher in Upstate NY, my favorite unit of study was the Salem Witch Trials. I visited Salem, MA several times to gather material and immerse myself in the aura of past misdeeds that still haunts this picturesque whaling town, with its historic merchants’ homes, charming colonial gardens, and ardent embrace of tourism.
Halloween, of course, is a prime opportunity for Salem to entice visitors eager for a glimpse of the possibly paranormal, despite historical evidence that the famed Witch Trials  were a mean mix of religious fanaticism, envy, greed, and vengeance (sort of the way I view the volatile Middle East ).
Still, when walking, as I did, at midnight, past the Witches’ Burial Ground, the Witch House, the Witch Museum, the Witch Shoppe, and the statue of one of Salem’s founders with billowing cape and tall hat silhouetted in the moonlight, it is authentically eerie!
Salem is like a New England – style Roswell – a tourist destination famous for being the site of a bizarre historical event, with IST-IS2176RM-00000028-001convincing documentation, a lingering air of mystery…and loads of souvenir shops!

Wouldn’t it be cool to have a witch in your family tree? My bubbe used to call Aunt Mindy a witch, but I don’t think she meant the pointy hat, spell – casting kind. Truthfully, though, I’ve never been a fan of What if, instead of find a spooky forebear, I discovered that great- uncle Max, back in the Old Country, owed his prosperous neighbors the Katzowitz family 50 kopeks for the chicken he stole one night while drunk on schnapps (Uncle Max, not the chicken ). With accrued interest, the late Max and we, his hapless descendants, would now owe those shvitzers, the Katzowitzes, $2,534,465.42!  No, this is one family tree that’s better left unclimbed, before today’s Cranston (née Katzowitz) clan can say “Better Call Saul! ”

While our family may not have a meticulously compiled volume of genealogical data like the lady with the allegedly bewitched ancestor, we do have some unique traditions. Now, if you’re picturing such esteemed family practices as Sunday dinner at Granny’s or a Yuletide wassail fest at the country house, you’re barking up the wrong family tree! Our family traditions are more along the lines of wearing ridiculous hats (even when it’s not Halloween), talking to imaginary animals, and starting every phone conversation with Grandma ‘s favorite question, “Are you warm enough?”
Well, at least, none of our family members that we know of, was strung up for “choking, pinching…casting a spell” or “flying like a bird” like Salem’s Anne Pudeator.

And none of our kinfolk has ever eaten anyone! Which brings us to Season 5 of The Walking Dead. Those of you who aren’t among the millions of viewers who have made TWD more popular than Sunday Night Football, may now be excused to sort through your Halloween Candy, take costumed selfies (I just saw one of a guy dressed as a ” social media app”),or string toilet paper on your neighbor’s bushes. We’re going to chew the fat, and re-hash TWD’s shocking, gory, irrational savagery- and that’s just the humans! Desert-110214-termiusbbqSo far Season 5 has given us food for thought, story lines you can really sink your teeth into, and a new ka-Bob recipe.
Yes, Terminus turned out to be a rather unpalatable experience and we’ve shamelessly shuddered through every tasty morsel of it. As yet, we haven’t learned in detail why Terminus turned from  sanctuary to slaughterhouse, but there are hints that some malevolent intruders are to blame.  According to the Terminians, “We let them in. They took over. Catastrophe ensued.”
(Sort of the way I view the outcome of the midterm elections).
And the Walkers- they’re still chomping and lurching about – a minor threat compared to the increasingly heartless humans.
TWD is even spreading its dubious message beyond the flat screen. While mall shopping for a birthday gift for a teenage friend, I was startled to come face to face with Rick, TWD’s hero (or rather his life- size cardboard facsimile). Hot Topic, a pop culture shop for the under 21 set, had the two – dimensional Rick as part of a display for pricey TWD memorabilia. I was tempted to buy dog tags depicting  my TWD favorites, a Glenn doll, and a t-shirt that read, “If Darryl dies, we riot!” But, maturity (ie Wait ’till the pre- Christmas sales) prevailed.

And in the ABQ Journal, there’s a political cartoon that shows chubby Governor Christie sprawled in front of the tv, munching a Desert-110214-christiebag of chips and talking on the phone to airport security. The caption reads, “New Jersey Governor Chris Christie makes his Ebola quarantine decisions  while watching exciting all new episodes of “The Walking Dead.”
Boo! TWD meets the real world! We’re in for a scary ride! Hold on to your funny hats! Eat treats, not toes! Consider November 4 the new Halloween. According to my pet penguin, there are tricky times ahead. Wear a sweater!

[Desert Droppings] – Spam, Rats, and Pastrami: Food for Thought from the ABQ

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As a finalist in Tesla’s $5 billion battery factory competition, NM is anxiously adjusting her implants, curling her extensions, and Desert-031914-journalstretching her swimsuit just so. “Does this Mesa make my butte look big?” We want that factory soooooo badly (even though NM law prohibits Tesla Motors from selling its cars directly to consumers. Oops!)

Don’t you mind that legal lingo,though, Tesla. A few bucks to the right folks and that law will evaporate quicker than a summer shower on a rocky xeriscaped yard. Just look up there – immense blue sky, lavender mountain sunset, tantalizing whiff of roasting chile. You want it, Tesla. You know you do.

But, so far, no word from Mr. Musk…sigh.

Hey, ABQ and NM, always look on the bright side. We do have a state winner  straight out of Monty Python. An ABQ fourth grader is the 2014 national grand prize  Spam recipe winner in the kid’s division. Her dish, a breakfast concoction called “Nutty Spam Surprise,” combines Spam Classic, eggs, cream,peanut butter, white sandwich bread, and apples for a heart-stopping way to start the day. According to an ABQ Journal “UpFront” article by columnist Leslie Linthicum, this junior chef comes from a whole Spamily. Her kinfolk have garnered “19 Spam contest ribbons” in the past 9 years!  “Nutty Spam Surprise” was inspired by the winner’s grandmother’s
“grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. ”

OK- Time out for transparency! I have never purchased a can of Spam. I have no idea what Spam looks like or how it tastes. As DD fans know, my family reveled in chopped liver, chicken fat, and pickled tongue. Pork products like Spam were not on my grandmother’s menu.

So, in the spirit of online journalistic accuracy, (weird concept, I know) I am now about to open a 12oz. can of Spam Classic.    Desert-031914-spam2Ooooooh! It’s as pink as a piggy’s bottom! The slightly gelatinous block can be easily sliced, cubed, or julienned. The better to mix with mac and cheese as the can suggests, or fried with onions, potatoes, and chile as the young winner’s family does.

Will I fry, bake, or microwave my Spam…or perhaps, toss some cold, bubblegum-hued cubes into a salad?  Sorry, but no. I still don’t eat Spam’s main ingredients, “pork with ham.”
What’s that about anyway, Hormel? I thought ham was a form of pork. It’s like saying,”pasta with Spaghetti-Os,”or  “fish with canned tuna,” or, SEGUE ALERT “rats with gelatin and grape jelly!”

With its 16g of fat, 790 mg of sodium, and 180 calories in a  2oz serving, not to mention its 2year  4 month nitrite-fueled shelf life, Desert Droppings- 031914- ratSpam is the ideal food to keep on hand for the Zombie Apocalypse. And that  brings us to the “rats” featured in this post’s title.
Apparently, live rats make good Zombie snacks – sort of like rodent flavored Beggin’ Strips. Dangle a plump rat by the tail to be slurped up by a voracious Zombie, and you’ve made a rotten friend for life …or un-life….or something.

To avoid revealing this week’s intense episode of The Walking Dead, I’ll say no more.  Except- in the behind the scenes section of The Talking Dead,  we learned that the “rat” was really an “edible prop” made of gelatin and filled with grape jelly. What?!  They’re not real Zom…they’re actors! You knew that, right? Sorry!  Yes, yes, they’re real- every bit as real as …ABQ pastrami.

In the years before I could tell a jalapeño from a habanero, there was pastrami – rich, red, fatty slabs stacked sky high on robust ryeDessert-031914-pastrami slices with sauerkraut- a staple of the Carnegie Deli; sold by the deliciously greasy pound at Zabar’s. Pastrami!
ABQ has no true delis, but when I saw pastrami sandwiches for sale at a local synagogue fundraiser, I brought one home. Between two slices of soft, pre-packaged, straight from the supermarket rye bread, was a clump of cooked meat bits in a dark BBQ sauce. Tasty in a tangy southwestern, meat-bit sandwich kind of way, but one more reminder that ABQ is a long way from Zabar’s…sigh.

Mr. Musk, I hope you like our green chile chicken stew.