Making the Most of Taos, New Mexico

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New Mexico is a magical place; that’s why it’s known as the Land of Enchantment. (Although my friend who grew up there refers to it as the Land of Entrapment.) Even the airport hints at the character of the state: colorful and arty souvenirs, a meditation room, and– these days– lots of Breaking Bad t-shirts.

In October, I attended the Growing Food and Justice Initiative Gathering in Taos.
I haven’t written much about work on this blog, but this conference was so tied to a sense of place, I’d be remiss not to mention it. And I’m considering renaming the blog to reflect my food justice work. But I digress.

GFJI brings together food justice activists who are concerned with racial justice and spiritual reflection. It was hosted at the fierce, indigenous and Hispanic-led Taos County Economic Development Corp, which has a massive incubator kitchen, a mobile matanza (slaughterhouse), greenhouses, and teaching gardens. I attended a workshop on the acequias movement. A practice of cooperative water management passed down from Spanish colonialists, it has been effective for centuries in a desert setting. Water usage is determined by time and allotments instead of volume and price. But corporations are buying out shares– often for use elsewhere– seeing water as a commodity rather than a public good. There is a local struggle between traditional, sustainable practices and “modern,” extractive usage. We also heard from notable farmer and climate change activist Winona LaDuke, who spoke of our collective addiction to energy (and like addicts, we do unspeakable things to maintain the habit). She shared a haunting story of South Dakota after a recent blizzard, riding in on horseback amongst tens of thousands of dead cattle. And she devastatingly referred to South Dakota and Appalachia as “national sacrifice zones” for energy production.

There was also replenishing dancing and singing with the Taos Pueblo folks. And there were other workshops from people around the country, not as relevant to this blog.

Food

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The first morning, I had breakfast at the counter at Michael’s Kitchen Cafe and Bakery. It’s one of those local spots with regulars and chatty staff. I wanted my green chile fix. Grown along the Rio Grande in the Hatch Valley, these chiles are rich in vitamin C and have a distinctive, earthy flavor and heat that is unique to their growing region. I had the breakfast enchilada, with scrambled eggs, smothered in a meaty green chile, with a side of beans. There was also a sopaipilla (fry bread) served with cinnamon butter. One evening, a few of us had decent margaritas at Adobe Bar, a cozy venue with live music and a local favorite. Both were walking distance from El Pueblo Lodge, a sweet, dog-friendly hotel in the center of town.

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The kitchen staff at TCEDC also served delicious food. One evening, there were chicharrones prepared outdoors over a propane stove. There was a wok-like disk for cooking, apparently welded from a retired piece of a tractor, an example of ingenuity common in the area. Another evening we had a feast of locally produced and donated meats (bison, pork, beef, lamb) with sweet, roasted root vegetables. The last day, we sampled some of the items that graduates of the incubator kitchen class developed for commercial production: sticky buns dotted with green chile, chocolate chip quinoa cookies, a butternut squash soup– all delicious.

cedar wood carvings of santos at Barela's Traditional Fine Art

cedar wood carvings of santos at Barela’s Traditional Fine Art

Outside

I took a detour on the way back to Albuquerque and stopped at Carson National Forest. After an intense weekend, all I wanted was to walk around and hear the rustle of the wind in the leaves. Up in the mountains, there was already snow on the ground. There were pine trees all around and the leaves on the aspens were bright yellow.

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Albuquerque

I stopped at La Montanita Coop in Albuquerque to pick up a few foods that are trickier to find on the east coast: green chile, blue posole, blue popcorn, Mexican oregano. The prepared foods were quite good too: I had a tasty and reasonably portioned breakfast burrito that morning and brought a citrusy kale salad and green chile and cheese tamale to the airport. In the meantime, food will continue to bring me back to this place.

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Making the Most of Tucson, Arizona

US/Mexico border in Nogales, AZ

US/Mexico border in Nogales, AZ

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The first time I saw the sky in the southwest, I was stunned. Buildings and trees hug the earth, and the light is clear and bright, so the sky is broader and bigger. The earth is tan or red in places, and the cacti, mesquite trees, and scrub brush only add to the otherworldly look of the place. Tucson is a small, affordable, and manageable city in the Sonoran desert, whose population increases in September because of the arrival of students (about 50,000 young people) and soon after, the snow birds from the east coast (about 20,000 seniors). Roughly half of the people in this progressive and arty town are Chicano, so it also has a good Mexican vibe.

We ventured south to Nogales, Arizona as part of the conference. The border fence cuts Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) in half. We learned about water issues and militarization in the border region. Starting salary for a border patrol guard is $50,000, so it definitely seems like a way out for people who would otherwise be stuck in retail or food service jobs.

We stayed an extra day after a conference to do some sightseeing, and a local activist and friend suggested Pasqua Yaqui pride. The tribe fought long and hard against conquest and became known as fierce warriors. Shockingly, the Pasqua Yaqui were only legally recognized by the US government about thirty years ago, so the attendant advantages of tribal recognition (land, financial resources, access), are relatively recent. Pride day included lots of traditional dancing and music, food, vendors, resource tables, and a souped up car show on the reservation. It was a lovely celebration of solidarity, tradition, fun, and a sobering reminder of our nation’s history.

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There is no shortage of delicous Sonoran food in Tucson. One evening, we went to La Indita, a casual, family run place which serves indigenous Tohono O’Odham and traditional Mexican food. The homestyle guacamole, the Tohono O’Odham style beef with red chile, and calabacitas were delicious. The flan was very sweet and perfectly creamy, not curdled and overbaked like so many places do. Another evening, Cafe Poca Cosa, with its rotating selection of Mexican dishes in an upscale setting, truly dazzled. We shared the plato poca cosa after noting the portion sizes at an adjacent table. On that night, the sampler included a rich chicken mole, a layered creamy broccoli dish, and a spicy beef dish. There were rich beans and pillowy corn tortillas on the side.

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Another evening, we had a margarita at a local favorite on Congress. And, in true city as small town fashion, we ran into our host at Cafe Passe, a good coffee shop with a huge outdoor patio in the back, on the popular 4th Avenue. Around the block is a mural to a young Mexican American who was gunned down by border patrol.

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And of course, I loaded up on southwestern staples at Native Seed/SEARCH. This store sells seeds and food products. It’s a bit on the pricy side, so some locals balk at the idea of shopping here, but living on the east coast, I can’t easily access many of these items. I stocked up on prickly pear cactus candy, mormon tea (for allergies), blue posole, bolita beans (hands down makes the best refried beans), corn snacks, and Ga’ivsa, cracked roasted Pima corn. Chiltepins were sold out, likely due to an article in the current issue of Edible Baja Arizona. All the more reason to return soon.

Berlin: Travel Apps and Tips

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I finally succumbed and got an iPhone just days before my vacation. I knew it would make some things, like navigation and checking email, easier. Even though I was fairly familiar with the phone, there were some kinks and things I learned along the way.

Data
First, turn your phone to airplane mode and shut off any data so you don’t get charged exhorbitant international rates.

Outlets
One thing I didn’t consider with a new phone was the European current for electricity (different outlet). Thankfully, I was able to borrow an extra adaptor that my friend had, but they are also cheap to buy online. If you plan to stay for a while, there are even power strips with universal outlets available.

Navigation
Many people swear by Google maps. While they are generally accurate for street directions, I find that I have more luck on public transportation using Hopstop. And I don’t always feel like letting Google monetize every bit of my personal data. In Berlin, Google maps doesn’t currently include buses or trams, only the U- and S-Bahn, so public transportation directions are fairly useless. My tech savvy friend recommended the FahrInfo app, which gives a list of alternate routes to your destination with approximate travel duration and arrive times. It also has maps of the U- and S- Bahn. I highly recommend it for travel within Berlin.

That said, Google maps are indispensable when you don’t have Internet access (navigation continues to work). Simply open a local map when you do have a connection, and continue to use it when you don’t. Their “greedy” algorithm works very well for street directions (walking, biking, driving).

Text or Chat
To communicate in country, my friend recommended What’s App or Viber. Unfortunately, since I didn’t download the apps before arriving, I couldn’t activate the service (via text message). (I receive way too many texts daily to opt to turn on that service.) Another friend recommends Zello, which is popular with her family in Mexico, who prefer the push to talk feature. All of these options are worth trying. We wound up using Facebook chat and it worked just fine.

Wifi Hub
There isn’t a lot of free wifi available in Berlin, but you can generally get access to a network at a cafe or a restaurant (when they remember the password). It gets challenging when you are out and about all day, at museums or just wandering around, trying to coordinate plans or in need of consistent access. My friend works at a startup called deMifi, which rents these nifty little portable wifi hotspots that are smaller than your phone at very reasonable rates. I also highly recommend!

Berlin This Time: Food

hibiscus salad

hibiscus salad

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vegetarian spreads

vegetarian spreads

donor kebab

donor kebab

German food conjures images of hearty but bland foods like meat and potatoes, so I was pleasantly surprised by the food this time. Vietnamese immigrants began to arrive in the 50s, and earlier waves from the Middle East provided even more culinary options, including many vegetarian options. At Siam in Kreutzberg—a cleaned up East Berlin neighborhood often compared to Park Slope in Brooklyn―I had one of the most delightful and surprising meals in recent memory. A hibiscus and seaweed salad packed a combination of flavors and textures: sliced Asian pear in a sweet, floral, vibrant red hibiscus marinade, salty and chewy hijiki seaweed, crisp cucumber and romaine lettuce, hints of chile, served with a giant crisp rice cracker. This was followed by a solid vegetarian pho. Another day, my mind was blown by Sudanese falafel at Sahara Sudanesische Spezialitaten in messy, hip, and gentrifying Fraudlenshein. Sure, I’ve had the Arab or Israeli versions, with pickled veggies and tahini. But the Sudanese version had falafel, peanut sauce, and haloumi in a pita for just a few Euros. Wow. I was delighted that the friendly African dudes working the counter were rocking out to cumbia.

Since I was in Berlin, I also had the requisite and ubiquitous currywurst, donor kebab, and spatzle. I am still puzzled why currywurst is so popular (besides the price point). It’s a sliced hot dog with ketchup, sprinkled with curry powder, served with or without fries (chips). Donor kebab entered the menu through Turkish immigrants and is now a mainstay. Generous amounts of sliced, seasoned lamb (like a gyro), veggies, mayonaisse-based sauces, served in pressed, warm bread. It’s a salty, creamy, meaty mess of a sandwich with a perfect combination of amazing flavors. Spatzle is a pasta, made from potato, and sauteed so the outside gets slightly browned. I had a good one made with spinach and a cream sauce.

Besides beer, the beverage of choice is Club Mate. Apparently made from an old recipe that was recently rediscovered, it is Argentinian yerba mate tea with a slight fermentation, making a tannic, sparkling, slightly sweet caffeinated drink. Bars serve it with vodka.

There are bio (organic) markets all over. Yogurt comes in clear glass or plastic, which somehow makes it seem tastier. My vegan host introduced me to vegetarian pates and spreads made from ingredients like beets and horseradish or shitake mushrooms. They are quite good, available in cans that I brought home for easy meal options.

Berlin This Time: Nightlife

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Greeted by a sign behind the bar that read, congratulations you just left the hetereonormative sektor, I immediately felt at home. In NYC, most queer parties are monthly events, venues tend to be gaystream. Berlin manages to support several radical and activist queer spots, some of which are cooperatively run. Messy and fun, Silver Future plays riot grrl and indie music, sells zines about topics like girls with mustaches, and serves cocktails in a relaxed, mixed gender atmosphere. The bartender was charming and chatty, adding to the neighborhood feel. No photos allowed inside the space.

We also headed to Süd Block, which creates space for housing rights and social justice activism in a large outdoor patio setting. Tai chi and other workshops are offered during the day and events or parties are in the evenings. See schedule on their website.

And later, Geist im Glas, a cozy, regular bar known for their infused liquors and cocktails. This place, like so many others in Berlin, is thick with smoke, but chill and fun.

K-fetisch and Suzie Fu were closed that evening, and Roses Bar, with it’s pink faux fur walls and early morning rowdiness, seemed like too much of a commitment. I also didn’t have a chance to hit Core Tex for punk shows, but all the more reason to go back.

Berlin This Time: Impressions, Art, and Objects

exhibit on a remaining section of the Berlin Wall, image of a boy and his dog in Belfast

exhibit on a section of the Berlin Wall, image of a boy and his dog in Belfast

The last time I was in Berlin, it was early fall. Everything felt gray and drab, chilly. I had just gone through a bad breakup and spent most of my time going to memorials to victims of the Holocaust, the Jewish Museum, the Berlin War Memorial, and so on. History loomed everywhere, shadowy and spooky. I was impressed by the very public attempt to apologize and heal from injustice perpetrated against others (a lesson we could learn from in the US, I imagine).

This time, I deliberately kept things a bit lighter, and had a very different experience of the city. It’s amazing how much your interior world affects your impression of a physical place. One of my favorite things about Berlin is zipping around on a bike: it’s flat and sprawling, with abundant protected bike lanes, and hoards of other bike commuters. My friend lent me a rickety cruiser and I set off on a self-guided Socialist East Berlin bike tour that I read about online. There were also public exhibits explaining the architecture along the way. At some point, I arrived at the massive concrete campus of the former secret police, now the Stasi Museum and archive. Much of the exhibit was in German, but there are fantastic objects on view, ranging from everyday objects and games to indoctrinate people to Socialist principles and all sorts of cameras hidden in everything from ties to boomboxes to birdhouses. There are photographs of the burgeoning punk scene and other political dissenters as well as an entire office from the time, with pristine mid century modern furniture worthy of envy.

Then I rode down to the East Side Gallery, the largest surviving section (1.3 km or 2/3 mile) of the Berlin Wall, now a display of murals of graffiti-like art. Recently, part of this wall was threatened with demolition for– wait for it– luxury condos. It’s a story I hear in every city I’ve visited over the last few years: more and more luxury condos for wealthy foreign investors who don’t necessarily live in the city– or even country– pricing out people who live and work in those cities.

On the other side of the wall was a stunning temporary exhibit, Wall on Wall, photographs of walls in other countries intended to stop immigration, reduce conflict, restrict movement. It felt like you could step into the huge panoramics, taken at borders like those between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, North and South Korea, the US and Mexico. The German photographer, Kai Wiedenhöfer, poignantly said that “walls reflect a failure of politics.” It was sobering to be reminded of the barriers that humans erect at a place celebrating the removal of one.

The next day, I biked to the Pergamon Museum on the city’s Museum Island. The highlights of the museum are truly monumental. You walk into and throughout the enormous Pergamon Altar and the Gate of Babylon as well as an intricately crafted paneled room from Syria, the Aleppo Zimmer. A numbered audio tour is free with admission, so you can learn more about details that intrigue you. I found the exhibits that explained the enormity of the archeological undertaking to be most intriguing. In Iraq, for example, war and looting have largely destroyed the potential for valuable insight, since only a small percentage of work had been completed there.

Hallo Berlin! Stay tuned for more posts on Berlin nightlife and food.

Stasi Museum

Stasi Museum

Socialist latchhook

Socialist latchhook

Wall on Wall exhibit, image of Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona, where I'm headed to next

Wall on Wall exhibit, image of Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona, where I’m headed to next

detail of the Aleppo Zimmer

detail of the Aleppo Zimmer

detail of the Pergamon Altar

detail of the Pergamon Altar

Food in Sarajevo

Our Bosnian AirBnB host explained that the restaurant scene in Sarajevo isn’t well established. Most people grow some of their own food and eat at home. There were plum, pear, apple trees and vegetable gardens attesting to that fact all around. And the spectacular fruit market is cheap and exciting. But, she continued, food is inexpensive, so we should explore. Particularly at breakfast, though, even amongst abundant cafes, it was hard to find one that offered food in addition to coffee. Bosnian coffee is served like Turkish coffee, strong, in a small tin serving pitcher with the grinds at the bottom. One option for breakfast are the pies, made with a phyllo-like dough, and filled with meat, cheese, potato, spinach, or– most tasty– pumpkin (zucchini). These are ubiquitous and cost a few bucks, but my favorite bakery was Forino.

The local beer, Sarajevsko, is organic. There is a spring in the complex housing the brewery and it was the only source of fresh water (besides rainwater or melted snow) during the siege, so it is also thought of with great affection.

The best restaurant we went to is a pescatarian place called Karuzo. Decorated with a timeless nautical theme, things take a bit longer here: the chef and owner also acts as the waiter and dishwasher, with the kitchen downstairs. The food was exquisite, and a macrobiotic salad with seitan and seaweed was fresh and clean, with excellent flavors and textures. Stuffed cabbage with tofu was quite good. We were introduced to good wines from Herzegovina, a growing industry that is just entering the export market. And finally, a chocolate apple pie was delicious. My only disappointment was that a trilingual cookbook by the chef had incomplete recipes, clearly untested, lacking notes on the techniques that bring the food to the next level.

We had good meals at an enormous Austro-Hungarian place next to the brewery and good falafel in the old town at Zaatar. In general, the food here is a bit bland and emphasizes meat. When I returned home, all I wanted to eat was Korean, Thai, and Mexican food. Hopefully, stability in the region will increase options.

The scene at the fruit market

The scene at the fruit market

Stuffed cabbage at Karuzo

Stuffed cabbage at Karuzo

Macrobiotic salad at Karuzo

Macrobiotic salad at Karuzo

Cabbage, onions, and grape leaves stuffed with ground meat and smreka, a fermented juniper berry drink

Cabbage, onions, and grape leaves stuffed with ground meat and a glass of smreka, a fermented juniper berry drink

Bosnia coffee

Bosnian coffee