Monday, August 23, 2010

Who knew bears liked tamales?

A couple of weeks ago found me heading for a family event in Santa Fe. I always enjoy this trip because we pass through some of the most pleasant country in the West – southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Depending on the weather we either head straight south over Pass Creek Pass then down through San Luis and Taos or west and then south through the San Luis Valley, Antonito, and Ojo Caliente. Either route has its benefits but if we find ourselves in Antonito, Colorado we always stop at the Tamale Connection. It’s actually a little restaurant tucked in the back of a gas station but they have the best tamales. We usually pickup a dozen or two from the cook at the restaurant and take them home for the freezer. There is nothing better on a cold night than a plate of tamales and a good stout brew.

No matter how often we head south, I always find something new to appreciate. This part of the West is so unique because of the Hispanic culture and the history that comes with it. As the residents easily move back and forth across the border, I often wonder if the area should be its own U.S. state. Southern Colorado really has nothing in common with the northern part of the state and I suspect it is the same for New Mexico.

One of the cultural aspects I find so interesting is the Hispanic land use pattern which is hundreds of years old and based on Roman and Middle Eastern concepts. Land was divided into commons, to be used by all the people, and smaller suertes that were under individual ownership. The commons gave the residents a large area for grazing and firewood collection and protected the watershed of the suertes. Each suertes was generally an elongated piece of land that would include river bottom land, pasture, and an irrigated area for crops. This land use design was based on the needs of the community and is so different than our Anglo land use which cares little for the common good. If you are interested in reading more about the Hispanic land use culture, I highly recommend Ancient Agriculture by Juan Estevan Arellano, a 5th generation farmer from northern New Mexico. The book is actually the first ever English translation of a traditional farming technique manual originally published in 1513!

You are probably wondering what happened to the tamales. In preparation for this season’s beef, we have been eating our way through the last of the food in the freezer. Somehow a package of tamales had escaped earlier detection so we finished those off and I put the corn husks in the compost pile. The next morning I noticed that the deer fence around the back yard was flattened and there were piles of bear scat around the compost. The corn husks were no where to be seen. We repaired the fence, cleaned up the bear piles and figured all was well. Next morning was a repeat of the previous one so this time, in addition to a fence repair, we also added an electric wire on the outside at about bear nose height. The tamale munching bruin has not been back. I am generally very careful about having anything that resembles food and might attract a bear anywhere where one could find it. But who knew bears liked tamales?

From Fleur Creek Farm

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mom's Birthday

Last weekend was my mom’s 90th birthday. At 90 she is more active, engaged and alert than many much younger people I encounter these days. She lives in Santa Fe with my sister so we started the birthday weekend by meeting up in Taos for lunch and an afternoon trying to find something to do there. Then we headed to Santa Fe to prepare her birthday dinner celebration. She was up until 10 enjoying food, wine and the company.

The next morning we headed out early to the Farmer’s Market and she made the rounds talking, it seemed, with everyone. We enjoyed lunch at her favorite cafĂ©, La Casa Sena, then spent the afternoon hitting various stops we needed to make to restock our home pantry. We dined at home on an assortment of tasty treats before heading to the season finale of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. She was up until 11 that night.

Through it all I kept thinking there is no way this woman is 90; 75 maybe, but not 90. She has been through a lot in her life. She was born in the Middle East and lost her mother when she was very young. She was raised by a couple who were complete strangers. She fell in love with a married man, had a child out of wedlock (me) when that was not an acceptable thing to do, eventually married him and since he was in the Army, followed him around the world.

She’s always been artistic and in her 60s started focusing on developing that talent. She has produced some beautiful watercolor paintings that are found in personal and corporate collections throughout the U.S. including on our walls. They are some of my most treasured pieces.

My mom is a pretty amazing person. I don’t know what her secret is but I hope she shares it with me one day.

From Fleur Creek Farm