Travel Magazine

We Came; We Ate; We Bought a Cooler

By Marney @marmiscellany
We came; we ate; we bought a cooler

Breakast burrito at the Frontier, Albuquerque

All it takes are two expat New Mexicans (newmexpats) in a room for the conversation to instantly turn to food. The Land of Enchantment natives huddle in a corner, hoping beyond hope that someone has finally found the Holy Grail—a local restaurant that has authentic New Mexican food.

When you’re in New Mexico your craving for enchiladas smothered in red sauce or a green chile breakfast burrito can be conquered with a dash to the store for a missing ingredient or a visit your favorite restaurant, but when you spend most of the year outside the state, you have to improvise.

The dismal lack of New Mexican restaurants where I currently live has led me and Mr. Miscellany, both of us New Mexico born and bred, into the kitchen, where we have learned to make some of the food on our own. In the winter, large pots of posole feed us for days at a time. If we’re having people over, he’ll often invite our guests to help prepare sopaipillas, and there is nothing like the look of pure joy on a person’s face the first time a sopaipilla with honey is lifted to the lips. For dessert, I’ll  often make bizcochitos, an anise shortbread cookie that is virtually unknown outside New Mexico.

We came; we ate; we bought a cooler

Sopapillas at Tomasita’s, Santa Fe

“But, of course you can get that kind of food here!” people will say when we complain that we can’t find the things we want to eat locally. “You can find tamales and chile in Oregon!” That is both true and not true.  Yes, you can find them, but they don’t taste the same, and the differences among New Mexican, Mexican, and Tex-Mex are often lost on the unitiated.

What any New Mexican who lives outside the state will tell you is that when you crave the food, you’re often not craving say, just a tamale. What you actually want is a whole meal of tamales or enchiladas with red chile from Chimayo, beans, rice, and posole that turns into a glorious mixed-up mess on your plate that you wipe clean with a freshly made flour tortilla or sopaipilla. Outside New Mexico, the only place to get that is in your own kitchen.  The question then becomes how to get the ingredients that will make your mouth-watering New Mexican feast, well, New Mexican.

We came; we ate; we bought a cooler

Huevos rancheros at The Range, Albuquerque

Enter the cooler. I got the idea to travel with a cooler from my youngest sister, who spent several years in Boston.  A few years ago, when coming to New Mexico for the annual family holiday, she said she was going to bring some chowder from Boston. It would be frozen, and she would bring it in a cooler.  Initially, I didn’t see the beauty of the idea.

“You’re going to carry a cooler of soup we can probably make all the way from Boston? That’s crazy.” I said. “If you want chowder, why don’t we just make it?”

“It won’t taste the same,” she said. “You can’t get chowder like this in New Mexico.”  She had a point. New Mexico is, after all, completely landlocked.

Then, something clicked.  Why shouldn’t Mr. Miscellany and I do the same, but with chile? So, that year we bought a small Styrofoam cooler and returned to Oregon with some frozen green chile. Over the years, our purchases—and the size of our cooler—have grown.  We haul back a precious cargo, not only of frozen green chile, but also red chile sauce, tamales, and coffee roasted at high altitudes.

We came; we ate; we bought a cooler

My grandmother donated her trusty Coleman cooler to the cause

Now, when we travel to New Mexico, we won’t leave home without our cooler.  On those trips, it’s our most important piece of luggage. It’s the one we would most hate to lose, and it’s the only one we don’t complain about having to pay an extra baggage fee for. Our motto is: Have cooler, will travel.

We came; we ate; we bought a cooler

A bunch of delicious bizcochitos

COOKIE TRIVIA: The bizcochito is the official state cookie of New Mexico. Other than New Mexico, only one other state has an official cookie. That would be Massachusetts with the chocolate chip cookie.

Bizcochito recipe (from Simply Simpatico, published by the Junior Leauge of Albuquerque)

1 cup lard or shortening (lard is traditional, but I always go with shortening)

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

3 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon anise seed (I like the anise, so I usually double the amount)

3 tablespoons wine (I always use something red, like a nice pinot noir. I have experimented with several wines and found that the red ones that are not too heavy work best). If you don’t have any wine, not to worry, just substitute water.

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350. Cream shortening and sugar, add egg and beat until fluffy. Sift (although I rarely sift, but you can if you want) flour, baking powder and salt and add to creamed mixture. Stir in wine and anise seed. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick and use cookie cutters in your favorite shape. Combine the 1/4 c. sugar with the 1 tablespoon cinnamon and sprinkle on top of each cooking. Bake for 15 minutes or until light brown.

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