food

Frida Kahlo Sushi Roll: Only in New Mexico

Advertisement for Frida (Kahlo) sushi roll inside Japanese restaurant.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Advertisement for Frida (Kahlo) sushi roll inside Japanese restaurant with Mexican sushi chef. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

I love living in Las Cruces, NM.  As a transplant from Los Angeles, CA, delicious incongruities catch my eye, such as a sushi roll named after internationally renowned Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo.

I asked my waiter what ingredients had the Mexican sushi chef included to make this Japanese treat relate to Frida?  He explained, “Spicy hamachi (yellow tail) on the inside, plain hamachi on the outside, with jalapeños, sriracha sauce and cilantro.”  Hot, hot, hot!

Those ingredients seem appropriate in describing the famous artist whose memorable unibrow, stormy marriage/divorce/ remarriage to famed muralist Diego Rivera, and colorful lifestyle became the subject of a 2002 American film, “Frida,” starring Salma Hayek.

Other surprising food combos pertinent to Southern New Mexico have captured my eye and my palate.  One of my favorites is green chile frozen custard.  The local frozen custard stand cooks the chiles with sugar to the consistency of marmalade resulting in a sweet yet piquant sauce that tops the frozen custard.  Addicting!

Green chile beer doesn’t do much for me, but I love the flavor of pecan beer.  And what about chile pecan brittle?  Fantastic.

Hatch green chile burgers sold at Sparky’s are legendary and a must visit when entertaining out-of-state visitors.  Now that this establishment has been named the third best hamburger stand in the country, regular trips there have become mandatory.

At my local wild bird supply shop, they sell chile bird seed.  “Doesn’t the heat negatively affect the birds,” I asked?  “Not at all,” the owner assured me.  She also told me that a benefit occurs after the birds eat the seeds.  What passes through them keeps away the squirrels.

In California, I frequently ate enchiladas, but eating them New Mexico style is a wonderment.  New Mexico writer and cultural vortex, Denise Chávez, introduced me to the local tradition.  At first, enchiladas with a fried egg on top seemed strange until the yolk ran out, mingled with the cheese-filled red-sauced tortillas creating a yummy combination of flavors.  Nowadays, that’s the only way I eat them.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist whose physician, to her dismay, has recently warned, “Lay off the chiles!”

customs/rituals, folklore, good luck/bad luck, holidays

God Is Back in My Patio, so All’s Right with the World

Mask of God.  Photo by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Mask of God. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

I always thought the giant mask was the North Wind. Artist, Chris Hardman, appointed me its guardian more than three decades ago when he moved from Venice, CA, to the Bay area.

Many years later, Chris shocked me when he asked, “How’s God doing?”

“God?”

“Yes, that large mask,” he confirmed

Still incredulous I asked, “God is in my living room?”

That I had a representation of God living in my Los Angeles house overwhelmed me. I reflected on how I had assumed it was the North Wind.The mask’s puckered mouth was the major clue. I had discounted the naked female figures in its eyes, mustache, hair and beard that might have led me toward the theme of creation.

Chris Hardman’s God lived in my Los Angeles home for more than three decades, but the interior of my new Las Cruces interior could not accommodate its size and scale.I then had him hung in my patio yet worried about the impact of weather on it. Trying to allay my concerns, the contractor assured, “After all, it’s not the Mona Lisa.”

His words stung. To me, the mask of God was priceless, the equivalent of a personal Mona Lisa.

Recently, artist Layle Kinney, visited my home and noted that the wind and rain had taken a toll on this magnificent artifact. Coincidentally, she dealt with the paper maché medium and offered to repair him. It took four people to remove, wrap, carry and gently secure him to the back of her pick-up truck.

For weeks, my patio wall felt naked and off-putting, so I was thrilled when I received a call that “God” was ready for delivery.

On a chilly December Las Cruces afternoon, the artist and her family carefully returned my mask and rehung it. Aha! Everything now felt right again. And that is one of the many reasons why, on the brink of the New Year, 2015, I feel gratified.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist steeped in global beliefs and practices. Having the mask of God back in her possession is one of her idiosyncratic traditions.

cats, death, loss, pets

The Princess Has Left the Building

 

Princess Tuga.  Crown photo shopped by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Princess Tuga. Crown by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

She was dainty yet elegant. When she took possession of my Las Cruces home, she proudly padded around with tail raised high. But like all royals, she had a flaw – a poor braking system. She’d leap toward a destination yet often miss her mark looking clumsy as she struggled to regain her balance. “You’re just like me,” I’d comment, trying to make her seem like she was truly kin.

Up to now, her life had been traumatic. She had spent her first year and a half in an unstable relationship with an owner who had substance abuse issues. Then when her owner died and lay in their home for four days before discovery, the poor princess was equally untended until authorities marked off the house with yellow tape, tossed the cat into a county animal facility as they carried her owner’s body to the morgue.

Fortunately, a compassionate neighbor adopted the frightened feline from the shelter despite the maximum number of cats she already owned. That’s when she contacted me.

I had recently euthanized my beloved first cat, Tom. Before he became sickly and old, he had been a good companion but very independent. When he jumped onto my bed at night and I petted him too much, he would move to the corner of the bed, and if I persisted in talking lovingly to him, he would leave the room. The princess was different and I treasured her contrasting personality.

When I sat in my recliner at night watching television, she would stretch out above my head on top of the chair. Then after a while, she would make little sounds, seemingly to request a move down into my lap where she would snuggle. I was in the proverbial seventh heaven, and she seemed equally appreciative.

I told her that she would be my furry companion until I exited this plane. My daughter, Andrea, had already agreed to take her after my death. We even joked about it when Andrea visited and regularly asked, “Where’s my kitty?”

But the joke was on me, when, less than a month ago my sweet princess stopped eating.   I took her to the vet, and an x-ray showed a cloud covering her left lung. Further tests and surgery revealed that she had a diaphragmatic hernia. Her stomach and liver had pushed into her upper cavity and her left lung was necrotic.

She survived the surgery and seemed to be recovering but still refused to eat on her own. For over a week I drove her daily to the animal clinic where they force-fed and hydrated her – but to no avail. She failed to thrive. Finally, I couldn’t stand to see her continued suffering and called the euthanasia vet, who concurred that nothing more could be done to improve her condition. When the doc administered the sedative and lethal dosage, my princess, Tortuga, had her eyes focused on me. I kissed her head and told her how much I loved her. Then she was gone.

Farewell, darling Tortuga. Your life was too brief, yet you will remain forever in my heart.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who, after an acceptable time of mourning, will adopt another cat. Let’s hope that this third time will be the charm.

customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore, Nature

Red or Green?

In any setting other than New Mexico the choice of red or green might refer to traffic lights or Christmas, but here in New Mexico, that question is immediately understood.  It refers to preference for either green or red chile sauce on Mexican food.

Ristra from the new crop of Hatch chiles.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013
Ristra from the new crop of Hatch chiles. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013

Chiles are a big part of New Mexico culture and a major cash crop.  Each year on the Labor Day weekend, in the  town of Hatch that boasts of prime chile fields, the Hatch Chile Festival occurs.  They feature chile-eating contests, parades presided over by Miss Hatch Chile Festival queen and her court of local high school beauties, as well as chile crafts, especially ristras, strings of chiles to hang on gates and doors.

Equally important are the 25-lb. bags of chiles fresh from the new harvest piled high at supermarkets at this end-of-summer/beginning-of-fall season.  After customers purchase their bags they go outside and stand in line to have them roasted.  Their pungency hangs in the air.

Chiles can be found in surprising places: green chile cheeseburgers, green chile waffles, green chile cheesecake, green chile wine, birdseed with chiles.  When I asked if chiles bothered the birds, I learned that chiles don’t affect them at all.  The benefit is that they keep away the squirrels

My favorite chile additive is found in green chile sundaes.  They take green chiles and cook them with sugar to the consistency of marmalade resulting in a sweet and piquant sauce to put on top of frozen custard.  Addicting!

A Peruvian visitor to Las Cruces bragged that he was used to spicy food and scarfed down the local chile sauce — not true, as he quickly discovered.  In contrast, visitors from India complained that the Las Cruces Mexican food was too bland.  In one restaurant, they requested fresh sautéed garlic to give extra zing to what they felt was missing from our local food.

When I dine at Mexican restaurants and the wait person asks, “Red or green?” I always request clarification.  “Which is the hottest?”

Generally, they explain, “Red.”

My choice?  “I’ll take green.”

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who lives in Las Cruces but has not yet graduated to eating red chile sauce.

customs/rituals, folklore, good luck/bad luck

Lynn Welling Tuned My House

Sounds and their benefit to the human psyche fascinate Lynn Welling, an academically trained musician.  Thus, when she offered to tune my new home here in Las Cruces, I was excited, even though I had no idea what she was talking about.

Tuning one wall of the house.  © Norine Dresser, 2013.
Tuning one wall of the house. © Norine Dresser, 2013.

First, she played a CD that produced a single tone; then she struck tuning forks to begin their vibrating and placed them against a wall; next she waited until the wall’s tone matched the sound emanating from the CD.  Amazingly, this occurred each time.  She did this for each wall of the house and by the time she finished, literally and metaphorically, the house was in tune with itself.

Tuning the house is a kind of a purification rite that reminded me of what various Native American tribes do when they smudge a house.  They ignite a bundle of sage, blow out the flames and then move the ensuing smoke in and out of all the rooms.

Smudging generally occurs before a person moves into a home.  I even know of someone who had her house smudged after a divorce.  The ex-wife, who planned to remain in the home, wanted to remove all traces of her ex-husband.

This reminds me about the birth of my first granddaughter.  Before her Persian father left home to pick up my daughter and their baby from the hospital, he took a strainer and placed some leaves of the rue shrub in it.  Next, he ignited the greenery and when lit, blew out the flames.  He than moved the smoking strainer in and out of each room and door.

I watched in amazement because I had never witnessed anything like this before.  When I asked him why he did it, he explained, “To keep away the evil eye.”

As a new grandmother that shocked me, but as an experienced folklorist, I thought, “How could it hurt?”

Rituals are powerful methods for achieving peace of mind.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who lives in a well-tuned house.