Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cook Locally

Cook locally

We took a little time out last week to play tourist in our new home region. We had a local Visitor's guide, and followed one of the day trips in in. Drove over to Mesilla, the Mission era town on the edge of Las Cruces. Once Mesilla and Las Cruces were separated by the Rio Grande and the border between the US and Mexico. Then the river moved. Mesilla retains a lot of colonial Spanish flavor, with an attractive cathedral on the town plaza, and Mission style architecture around it.

Then we drove down to Stahneman's. They have 180,000 thousand acres of Pecan trees. We had just missed the tasting tour. The drive between the orchards is very gracious, especially where the pecan trees have grown to stretch arching branches across the road, in a fashion I usually expect from elms. Stahneman's has a spacious gift shop -- selling pecan gift tins, specialty foods, candy, ice cream, kitchen accessories and cookbooks. We browsed for some time. Naturally the cookbooks took a fair portion of my attention. Only a few days before, I'd said I wanted local recipes so we could start taking more advantage of the local ingredients. I settled on _The Aficionado's Southwestern Cooking_ by Ronald Johnson. It seems to be a classic, and I liked the way he talked about ways to vary the recipes. No photos, friendly attitude, solid food.

So, last night we followed his recipe to make Green Sauce. This may be the most New Mexican of New Mexican foods. We are only 80 miles from Hatch, the Green Chile capitol of the world. And the state question of New Mexico is 'Red or Green?' -- meaning, which color of chile sauce would you like on your dinner? (Of course you want chile sauce on your dinner, what are you thinking?!) When we crossed the border to New Mexico on our second trip here, and discovered that the convenience store offered green chili for the nachos, Doug said, "Ah! I'm home!" So of course Green sauce is where we started our New Mexico style cooking.

We had found frozen green chile purée at Costco in Albuquerque -- I'm sure they've never carried it in Oregon -- so of course we had to quadruple the recipe to match the volume of chiles. Costco, you know. So we had enough to simmer two and a half pounds of cubed and browned pork, plus some to use as salsa and several more packages to freeze. It was labelled 'Hot' and is it ever! The pork chili verde was excellent! Made a very nice dinner with broccoli and refried beans.

Other local specialties are pecans and honey. We've eaten a lot of pecans since arriving. I'll be looking for recipes for them. And there are lots of fruits and vegetables grown locally.

In fact, there's a farmer's market this morning, and I think I'll go.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Counter Change

Counter Change

Right now, my counter is making me very happy.

We have a beautiful kitchen. The previous owners revamped it. The cupboard doors are hunter green, the counters, edges of the cupboards and door pulls are medium oak. They made a lovely backsplash of small green tiles bordered by oak trim, and covered the wall behind the sink in a pattern of stone tiles exactly to my taste. Mostly squares, a few diagonal seams -- just enough variation for interest without so much as to become gaudy.

One particularly gorgeous feature is the piecing of the oak boards in the corner. The boards run from the edge to the backsplash along all straight sections of counters. There is one corner. They meticulously fanned triangular pieces of oak to create an even and gorgeous transition from one facing of the strips to the next.

Now that Doug has repaired the under the cupboard lights, the whole counter glows in home magazine fashion. It really looks like a designer kitchen, photo-worthy, rich.

Using the kitchen instead of looking at it revealed a few problems. The space allowed at the end of one counter, where the water line to hook to an internal icemaker suggested we should put our refrigerator -- is actually too small to place any standard refrigerator, if you want to actually open the doors wide enough to open the drawers. The dishwasher is an inconvenient three steps distant from the sink. And, most ungracious of all -- the gorgeous wooden countertops were not waterproof! In the time between when we first saw the home, and when we took possession after closing, the area around the sink had darkened and waterspotted. Boards had separated from their neighbors and the gap had been filled with wood putty. The whole counter had aged, in a matter of weeks.

It's amazing how awkward it feels to work in a kitchen where you dare not get water on the counter. Every standard kitchen task becomes more complex.

Three days ago, I refinished a section of the counter. Sand, coat with polyacrylic, wait three hours, repeat. To a total of three coats, with a final sanding.

It's not perfect. I preserved some flaws too deep to be sanded out, and one section of the finish has a little pebbling. Yet that counter glows. I can fill a glass on it, without hyperattention to not spilling any. I can wipe it with a wet cloth, no harm done. I'm free.

So I'm now very happy about being able to do with a counter things that before I moved, I took for granted for counters.

That's the way it goes. We're often more appreciative of an improvement, than of the many blessings we're accustomed to.

I don't know how long I'll continue to be happy every time I wipe the newly refinished counter with a wet cloth. Most likely, in time, I'll forget how wonderful that seems to me now. But do I have to? Could I remember?

May you see one of your current blessings with fresh eyes.