Monday, January 20, 2014

Green Chile Cheeseburger #1: El Farolito

My new idea began with dessert. A green chile cheeseburger for dessert, to be precise. My dining partner ordered cherry pie, and when the waitress looked at me, and registered my request, yeah, a green chile cheeseburger, uh huh, with everything, she said I like your style.

And so it begins.

I had planned to write about the fantastic green chile cornbread I made last week, my first week in New Mexico with my ideal new job.  I was going to describe the heirloom cornmeal I used, and the farmers I met at the market who grew it. I hoped to evoke the smoky flavor and satisfyingly chewy texture of the dried corn kernels, or chicos, that I rehydrated for the dish, and the ever-present, and unique to New Mexico, sometimes spicy, sometimes milder, green chiles that accorded this dish most-decadent-cornbread-in-life status. I would include the recipe, as I have habitually done on my blog, and discuss the beauties and challenges (altitude baking, among them), of a new life in New Mexico after 23 years in New York City. 

 And then I lost my job. And in two short weeks, things changed.

Now what?

Move back to New York, and take my old jobs back? Try to reinvent myself and make a go of it here? Choose the familiarity of the comfortable, or the excitement of a frightening new challenge?

Now what?

No, really. Now, WHAT?

Well, perhaps a visit to Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch, and a hike to Chimney Rock is in order, where, excepting the north face of the hike’s ridge, the Cerro Pedernal, made so recognizable by O’Keeffe’s paintings, is visible at every turn. A place where the air is clear, if thin, and the unmarred blue sky provides a frame to the green and the yellow, the cuprous and sulphuric,  striations of the earth. Where, even at a distance, a bald eagle, wintering in New Mexico, can be recognized soaring above these gorgeous mountains, catching the easy thermal lifts, looking for fish in nearby Abiquiu Lake. 

 And then, a meal, and a map. At El Farolito, an El Rito, New Mexican dive.  

 The meal: succulent pork tamale and cheese enchilada plate with Christmas, half green, and half red chile. Coupled with honey-soaked sopaipillas, the ability to choose this sparkly Christmas everyday may be one reason to move to here.

 The map: a New Mexican tourism board map of the most popular green chile cheeseburgers in the state. That a state tourism board publishes a map with a guide to the cities’ famous spicy chile dishes could qualify as second best reason to relocate. Up there with the green chile cashews at the local Whole Foods. And red chile red wine. Yeah, you heard me.

The idea: By traveling the state, I may find my own best New Mexican green chile cheeseburger, and in the process, an answer to my dilemma. I could say that I plan an expedition to eat my way through New Mexico’s green chile cheeseburgers, and in so doing, I hope to discover my new home state, the people who live here, a purpose for staying, and a way back to my intended new life.

On the drive back to my new and temporary home in Santa Fe, and as the sun was setting behind the Pedernal, I stopped to take a photograph. There’s a thing that happens here in my awe of the desert’s beauty: my eyes take in such detail of these gorgeous mountains, the contrast with the openness of the sky, the subtle shadows the clouds cast against the earth, how, at dusk, one mountain range is in silhouette, while those to the left (or right) remain in full relief. And the photographs I take, hoping to capture this magic, always show a simple bumpy black line, and a mundane sky. Could be anywhere. Could be nothing.

Food journey as metaphor for life's journey, blah blah, it sure is overwrought as hell, but I’m gonna try it anyway.

I’ve never had a green chile cheeseburger for dessert before, but damn was it good, and I swear that I saw that imposing Pedernal with my own alive eyes, and that eagle, too, so in this uncharacteristic case, I am allowing idealism reign.

This sky and these mountains and this dry sage-scrub desert deserve a second look. And I deserve to give myself the chance to see.

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