New Mexican Food

Red, Green, or Christmas?

Poinsettas- a plant indigenous to Mexico, but used as decoration all over New Mexico at Christmas time.

Poinsettas- a plant indigenous to Mexico, but used as decoration all over New Mexico at Christmas time.

The smell of pinon wood burning in kiva fireplaces fills the air, and luminarias line the streets in old parts of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. During this time of year my mouth waters for enchiladas, posole, and biscochitos, the delicious New Mexican specialties that mean the holidays are here. 

Old Town Albuquerque

Old Town Albuquerque

Many of us are sentimental about our holiday traditions, and I am no exception. However, it took living in another place, where I didn't have access to much spicy food, in order for me to fall in love with red and green chile. Year round in many restaurants in New Mexico, even non-New Mexican restaurants, the first question after ordering is, "Red, Green, or Christmas?" This refers to the chile that can add extra life and spice to all food, not just New Mexican dishes: stews, sandwiches, pizza, breakfast, and pasta, to name my favorites. New Mexican Chile is created from chile peppers grown only in New Mexico. Roasted green chile can be used in just about anything  (like all the foods I mentioned above), but commonly it is used to make a spicy sauce. Red Chile is the ripened and dried version of the green pepper, that is usually more mellow and smoky. It is also the main ingredient in its own sauce. Hence why the question in all New Mexican restaurants, "Red, Green, or Christmas (both)?" The colors of the chile dress every plate for Christmas!

The bags lining the top of the building are luminarias. (Albuquerque locals call them luminarias - "lights" in Spanish; Santa Fe locals call them farolitos - "lanterns" in Spanish). They are filled with some sand and a votive candle. When Chinese lanterns came to Santa Fe in the mid-18th century, locals liked how they looked, but they didn't hold up in the harsh winter weather, so they created luminaries as a sturdier option. Their night-time glow is a beautiful sight, but unfortunately doesn't photograph well. (We won't even discuss the fake electric ones!)

The bags lining the top of the building are luminarias. (Albuquerque locals call them luminarias - "lights" in Spanish; Santa Fe locals call them farolitos - "lanterns" in Spanish). They are filled with some sand and a votive candle. When Chinese lanterns came to Santa Fe in the mid-18th century, locals liked how they looked, but they didn't hold up in the harsh winter weather, so they created luminaries as a sturdier option. Their night-time glow is a beautiful sight, but unfortunately doesn't photograph well. (We won't even discuss the fake electric ones!)

Christmas tree with hot air balloon and chile Christmas lights.

Christmas tree with hot air balloon and chile Christmas lights.

 When visiting New Mexico during the holidays make sure to walk around Old Town in Albuquerque at dusk, when the luminarias are glowing and carolers are singing in the gazebo at the center of the plaza. Pick up some biscochitos and Mexican wedding cookies from the Golden Panaderia, a bakery that offers my favorite biscochitos in town (you get a free one just for walking in!). Drop by the Christmas Shop, with all the pottery ornaments and hot air balloon Christmas lights. Pick up some tea at the New Mexico Tea Company for a nice warm pick-me up to make on Christmas Day (my favorites are Sandia Spice, Lady Londonderry, and the Plum Oolong). On Christmas Eve join people from across New Mexico as they walk down farolito-lined Canyon Road in Santa Fe, enjoying mulled cider and fabulous art-filled galleries(farolitowalk.com).

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Iced Biscochito Recipe

The sugar and cinnamon dusted biscochitos on the right are from Golden Panaderia Bakery and the iced ones are made from the recipe that I love (below).

The sugar and cinnamon dusted biscochitos on the right are from Golden Panaderia Bakery and the iced ones are made from the recipe that I love (below).

I love to make biscochitos with a twist. Biscochitos are a lard-based sugar cookie flavored with anise and cinnamon, traditionally topped with a dusting of sugar and cinnamon. My  version is a marriage of biscochitos and iced Christmas cookies. I make two batches, one with less anise for family members who don't like it so much. I personally love what the anise adds to the iced sugar cookie, and so will put a little extra in my second batch. Take heed: working with the rather stiff dough broke two of my electric hand mixers. This recipe needs the strength of a standing mixer.

Cookie Ingredients: 

 2 & 1/3 cups of lard

1 & 1/2 cups of sugar

2 tsp. anise seed

2 eggs beaten

3tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

6 cups flour

1/2 cup Amaretto

Cream lard, sugar, and anise in a large mixing bowl. Then add the eggs and beat well. In a separate mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture and amaretto to the creamed mixture and beat or stir until a stiff dough has formed. Knead dough and roll to 1/4" thickness. Cut dough into desired shapes. Bake on a cookie sheet in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until cookies are slightly brown. 

Icing:

About 1/2 a bag of powdered sugar

3 tablespoons of corn syrup (more if you want to create a glaze instead of frosting)

1/4 tsp. almond extract

Mix ingredients until you have a smooth icing texture; divide into small bowls and add coloring for decorating cookies. Then decorate!!!

 

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? Let me know!

 

 

 

Best of Santa Fe, New Mexico, from a local's perspective

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Walking 200 year-old streets and dipping into art galleries, traveling to other realities in psychedelic museums, listening to the best operatic voices in the country as thunderstorms loom behind the amphitheater, roaming through groves of aspens: The oldest state capitol in the United States is a VERY interesting place indeed.  

Santa Fe is the oldest capitol in the United States because it was proclaimed the capitol of the Provence all the way back in 1610. So it is old and it has seen a lot of history!  Walking through downtown Santa Fe you pass along streets and buildings that are several hundred years old. Santa Fe has something to offer year round. Tourist presence seems to be heaviest in summer because of the fabulous music and art scenes, but the other seasons have special traditions that should not be missed either. 

The Santa Fe Plaza

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The Plaza is the heart of Old Santa Fe. This is where you will find the oldest buildings, from the famously beautiful St. Francis Basilica to some of the renowned hotels on the plaza, such as La Fonda. (As a side note, my favorite hotel to stay at in Santa Fe is Las Palomas.) The picturesque Plaza is wonderful to stroll around, morning and afternoon alike, and offers numerous tempting art galleries and shops. Be sure to stop by the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, grab a breakfast crepe at my favorite French bakery in La Fonda, and rest under the old trees in the middle of the plaza, simply absorbing the historic vibes as the St. Francis church bells toll in the background.

Canyon Road

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Canyon Road is an old street close to the plaza lined with marvelous art galleries. In the summer on Friday evenings, strolling Canyon Road and going into galleries for wine and art openings is an absolute favorite activity of locals and tourists alike.  On Christmas Eve, Canyon Road is lined with luminarias, the super-traditional New Mexican version of Christmas lights. People come from near and far to visit the area, drink mulled wine or hot chocolate, and listen to great music. My favorite thing is to get a decadent treat at Kakawa, a chocolate cafe near the entrance to Canyon Road, and then meander along the street. 

Eat New Mexican Food

There are so many fabulous New Mexican-food restaurants in this city. Some of my favorites include Tia Sofia's, Atrisco's, Tomasita's, La Choza, The Shed, and El Parisol.

Meow Wolf

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This may be the hardest place to explain in Santa Fe. It is one of those places you just have to experience for yourself. But hey, I'll give it a shot: It's an arts collective that creates a unique journey and experience through an alternate reality fun house. For me, I kept feeling like I had fallen into one of the stranger Ghibli films. 

Ten Thousand Waves

Hidden among the mountains above Santa Fe is a peaceful retreat. This Japanese bathhouse is absolutely gorgeous, merging the simplicity of Japanese style and aesthetics with the wild nature New Mexico. I highly recommend renting a private pool for an hour with friends, but the communal pool is lovely too. I like it so much that I chose this place for my bachelorette-party spa night. 

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Walk Among the Aspens

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There is a plethora of lovely hikes in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Santa Fe. My favorite in spring, summer and fall is to walk among the aspens in one of the groves that blanket these mountains. It is both eerie and beautiful to be surrounded by these white-trunked trees, to hear their leaves rustle like wind chimes. In winter, hit the slopes for some fabulous skiing.

Hiking:

Into the Sangre de Cristos a webbing of trails intersect offering views of stunning vistas, the southernmost peaks of the rockies, and the nice creeks and lakes that gurgle at astonishing altitudes. 

If you are looking for a gorgeous, but very challenging Sangre de Cristos day hike, I recommend Nambe Lake.

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Special Mention: Santa Fe Opera

I made this a special mention because it is mostly a summer activity. The Santa Fe Opera season is summer only, but they do offer various forms of musical performances in other seasons, so it is best to check their website before you come to New Mexico. This architectural marvel creates a unique opera experience. The open-walled amphitheater lets summer thunderstorms add epic notes to the sounds of the opera. During some shows they open up the back of the stage and use the New Mexico mountains and sunset as the backdrop for a scene. It is absolutely magical. Locals and tourists alike bring cheese and wine for tailgating in the parking lot before shows.