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by Karen Fayeth

48 Hours of Prague Thoughts

I have found myself in the city of Prague in the country of Czech Republic for only forty-eight hours. Well, a little less than forty-eight, but let’s not quibble.

In forty-eight hours I have learned that the current leadership of the country wants their country to be referred to as Czechia, for reasons I don’t fully understand.

“The Terminological Committee of the Czech Office for Surveying, Mapping and Cadaster officially codified Czechia in 1993 in its publication “Names of States and their Territorial Parts”. Therefore, Czechia is the grammatically correct short name of the Czech Republic…” – from Go-Czechia.com

I have learned that occasionally I can understand a word or two in Czech, but then the diacritic marks give me doubt.

And I have interacted with Czech citizens, mostly the driver of my airport shuttle, hotel staff, and employees of the mall next door to the hotel. The clerks at the grocery store in the mall are probably the most Czech of the Czechs I have encountered. They have little to no English and can’t care that I have no Czech. I admire this.

One habit I have cultivated in my bit of international traveling is that I like to go to grocery stores when I visit other countries. I like to see what everyday people buy and how everyday people procure their comestibles. Also because grocery store clerks are the most representative of the people of the country because they have no enthusiasm for making it easy on tourists. They are just being genuine.

In less than forty-eight hours I have come to appreciate and even feel a deep fondness for the people of Prague. Come with me on this tangent: Over the course of my life I have been fortunate enough to be friends with many Russian people. People from Russia have a very distinct cultural identity. Most Russian people I know can find a way to be unhappy even in the most incredibly happy of times. Not a sadness, but a deep disappointment tinged with world weariness. There is almost an enjoyment in unhappiness.

Obviously, owing to the long history of Czechia (see, I can learn), Russian culture has had a deep impact on the people who live here. I find some of that same slight sadness, irritation and fatigue with life in the people of Prague. At least the people older than say…thirty-five. It’s almost kind of endearing.

Here’s my best example. I went to the grocery to get some water, some chips and some cookies to stock in my hotel room for snack time. I had just a few items and I approached the register, feeling nervous.

I had learned two days ago that if I want a bag, I have to take one (paper or plastic) from the front of the register, and I have to let the clerk know I am buying the bag, and then I have to bag my own groceries. It’s very common in Europe to bag your own groceries. I was proud to have learned the whole bag situation (a nice Czech lady helped me) and was ready to check out. (Czech out? Okay, bad pun.)

My sweet little American self stepped forward when it was my turn, and I held up the bag and pointed and nodded. The clerk sighed and began mumbling in Czech. Then the mumbling took on a ferocity. She riffled through some papers on her table and spoke more loudly, but not to me.

She shouted across the aisle to the clerk at the next checkout station. A conversation ensued. As near as I can decipher, she needed the code for the paper bag I had chosen. The other woman offered a suggestion that didn’t work. My checker kept trying until after several attempts, she sorted it out.

She then began to scan the rest of my items, mumbling and gesturing in Czech. Not speaking to me, but clearly unhappy. Occasionally she’d shove at the papers that had let her down.

In my mind, I translated from a language I do not understand, but I think I understood the moment.

“This person wants a paper bag and they tell me I have to charge for it and if I’m supposed to charge you’d think they would at least give me the code on these damn papers,” shoves papers, “but no, I have to guess and this goofy looking American is standing here, don’t think I don’t know you are an American. Just because you haven’t said a word doesn’t mean I can’t smell it on you from a mile away. And of course the American wants a paper bag. Plastic bag, I know the code for that, but no she wants a paper bag and I don’t know the code and I don’t have the code here,” shoves papers, “I have to scan all her stuff and I don’t even care, I just am trying to make a living here and I have to charge for paper bags and what is the meaning of life anyway, but to be miserable, forced to charge for a paper bag and never really knowing the correct code.”

Or, you know, I could be reading into things…just a teeny bit.

We concluded our transaction and I smiled and said “thank you.” She looked at me like I was a developmentally latent child, and I walked away, a few Czech Crowns lighter, a bag of chips water and cookies in hand, and a story that felt like it needed to be told.

Tomorrow brings the most intense day of meetings, the whole reason my employer sent me to Prague. Once that is concluded, I can hardly wait to finally explore more of this beautiful city and learn more about the people and places of Czechia. I can’t wait!




The Google translate app (using the camera, a very cool feature) tells me that this grocery bag says (roughly) “With 25 years, from us you take away freshness and quality.” You can see how the last word really could be the word “quality.” But beware of thinking you know something now, because you certainly do not. Your Czech is of no kvalitu.





Photo ©2016 Karen Fayeth, taken with an iPhone, the Camera+ app, amusement and jet lag. Subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.




Oh Cool, My Fortune Is….Wait, What?

With Thai Basil Tofu, potstickers and spicy eggplant simmering in my tum, I excitedly reached for my fortune cookie, ready to crack it open and read my fate.

I have a mild obsession with fortune cookies and the wise and occasionally silly words inside. I have several of the small slips of paper tucked into my wallet. A few are taped to my work monitor. Some just drift around in my writing workspace like tumbleweeds of clever words intended to poke and prod at my mind.

So it was on this day, celebrating the birth of the kind and patient woman who gave birth to The Good Man, that I cracked open a fortune cookie and found…

Well, this:



“A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works.”

Okay, okay, now wait just a second here. This is not fortune. This is propaganda.

Believe you me I’ve never, not once, rejoiced in a parking ticket. And living where I do, parking tickets are something that find their way into my life more often than I appreciate.

One short Google search later I discovered this happens to be a quote attributed to a man named Bill Vaughan.

Fine, okay. Who in the hell is this Bill Vaughan?

According to Wikipedia, he’s an American columnist who wrote a syndicated column for the Kansas City Star from 1946 to 1977.

******

We break here for the requisite Roger Miller sing along.

Watch it here

I drive a big old Cadillac with wire wheels, got rhinestones on the spokes
I got credit down at the grocery store
And my barber tells me jokes
I’m the number one attraction every supermarket parkin’ lot
I’m the king of Kansas City, no thanks, Omaha, thanks a lot

Kansas City star, that’s what I are
Yodel-deedle ay-hee, you oughta see my car

Aaaaand we’re back.

******

So I read the rest of the Wikipedia page trying to understand if this Vaughan guy is a communist or what. Because that quote, ooh damn. That runs a bit into a political spectrum that I’m not sure I run toward.

Turns out Mr. Bill Vaughan was sort of a quippy guy. Here’s some others attributed to him:

“A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.”

“Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.”

“The groundhog is like most prophets; it delivers its prediction then disappears.”

“If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.”

Ok, I might be warming up to this guy. Still not sure what he’s doing in my fortune cookie, though.

Maybe the business of fortune cookies has gone from slight puns and fake Confucius quotes to smart, scholarly, and thoughtful fortunes.

To that I say: Harumph

I may be a bit a traditionalist when it comes to the fortune cookie. I guess I’ll just have to keep going to the kind of restaurants where they can be found in order to do additional (delicious) research.

While we’re on the topic, here’s one of my all time favorite fortune cookies. I got it almost a decade ago but it still rings true:



Birds are entangled by their feet and men by their tongues



Now that one is a thinker! And a little more fortune cookie-eque. With all due respect to Mr. Bill Vaughan.





Both cookie fortune photos ©2016 Karen Fayeth. Taken with an iPhone6, questionable light, questionable photographer and a song in my heart. Subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.





I’ll Be Homesick For Christmas

I’m a little late in getting this posted, but the sentiment is all the same. This list is an annual tradition here at Oh Fair New Mexico.

As I post this, I’m thinking about making a batch of biscochitos. Only, I couldn’t find lard at the grocery yesterday. What the hell kind of place do I live that doesn’t sell lard? Just gotta shake my head.

Anyhow, biscochitos or not, I wish happy holidays to you and yours.

Without further ado:



Top ten things I miss about Christmas in New Mexico (in no particular order):

Originally published December 11, 2007


1) An annual shopping trip to Old Town in Albuquerque. This was a longtime mom and me tradition. Every year I’d get to pick out my own ornament that would eventually be mine when I became an adult. I have every one of those ornaments stored in a Thom McAnn shoebox and they go on my tree every year. They are a glitter and glass history of my life. I remember buying each of them and it gives me a beautiful sense of continuity to have them on my tree.


2) Luminarias. I always was the one to make them for the family. Someone would drive me to an empty lot and I’d dig out two buckets worth of good New Mexico dirt, then I’d go home and fold down the tops on brown lunch bags. Each would get a candle inside and then at night I’d light them. It was my holiday job and I loved every folded bag and every bulk buy candle (and every small emergency when a bag caught on fire in the wind). I miss real luminarias.


3) The Bugg House, which, sadly, is no more. My sister lived over on Prospect and we’d go for a walk in the dark on Christmas Eve to take a look at the outstanding display of holiday spirit. On the way to Christmas shop at Winrock Mall, I’d take a detour to the Bugg house to take a look. No one does lights like the Buggs did.


4) Neighbors bringing over a plate of freshly made tamales as a Christmas gift. When there are three generations of Hispanic women in a kitchen with some masa and shredded pork, magic happens. Yum! I also miss that people would bring tamales to work in a battered Igloo cooler and sell them to coworkers. I was always good for a dozen or more.


5) A ristra makes a good Christmas gift. I’ve given. I’ve received. I love ’em. They’d become a moldy mess here, and that makes me sad, cuz I’d love to have one.


6) Biscochitos. My love for these is well documented.


7) Sixty-five degrees and warm on Christmas Day. Growin’ up, I think one year there was actually snow on the ground for the 25th, but it was melted by the end of the day. Oh Fair New Mexico, how I love your weather.


8) Christmas Eve midnight Mass in Spanish with the overpowering scent of frankincense filling up the overly warm church. Pure torture for a small child, but oh how I’d belt out the carols. And when we came home after, we could pick one present and open it. Gah! The torture of choosing just one!


9) A New Mexico piñon, gappy, scrawny Christmas tree that cost $15 at the Flea Market and was cut from the top of a larger tree just that morning. Look, to my mind, it ain’t a tree unless you are using a few low hanging ornaments to fill the obvious empty spots. These overly fluffy trees just ain’t my bag. If you aren’t turning the bad spot toward the wall, you paid too much for your tree.


10) Green chile stew for Christmas Eve dinner and posole for New Year’s, both served with homemade tortillas. My mouth waters. It’s weep worthy. I can taste the nice soft potatoes in the stew, the broth flavored just right. And posole to bring you luck with red chile flakes and soft hunks of pork. Yeah……


*sigh* Now I’m homesick.

Which is not to say I don’t have happy holidays where I live now…but sometimes I feel melancholy. In a way, that’s what the holidays are for, right? To remember.



Finally, in order to just really drive a homesick knife into my heart, I give you this, the beauty of Old Town Albuquerque:








Image via Delta Skymag



Running My Own Traditions Here

I think it’s time to re-run what has to be THE most popular post ever in the six years of this blog.

It originated in a fit of the holiday blues and a massive case of homesickness back in December 2007.

It’s all still true. Every word on this list applies in 2013. Pretty much all of the links were broken, so they have now been updated. I also gave 2007 me a light edit. Who was I with the two spaces after every period?!

Special thanks to @NewMexiKen on Twitter for recently tweeting out a link the 2007 post. You rock!

————


Top ten things I miss about Christmas in New Mexico


1) Annual shopping trip to Old Town. A mom and me tradition. Every year I’d get to pick out an ornament that was mine. I now have all those ornaments in a Thom McAnn shoebox that, yes, Sunday night I opened and hung them all on my tree. They are like a history of my life. I remember buying most of them and it gives me a good sense of continuity to have them on my tree.

2) Luminarias. I was the one who made them at my house. My mom would drive me to an empty lot to dig up two buckets worth of dirt and I’d fold bags, place candles and light them. It was my job and I loved every second of it, every folded bag, every candle that caught the bag on fire. So beautiful.

3) The Bugg House, which, sadly, is no more. My sister lived over on Prospect and we’d go for a Christmas Eve walk in the evening to take a look at the outstanding display of holiday spirit. When I would go to Winrock Mall to shop, I’d always swing by the Bugg house to take a look. I miss it so much.

4) Neighbors bringing a plate of fresh made tamales as your Christmas gift. When you get three generations of Hispanic women in a kitchen with some masa and some shredded pork (and lard, gotta have lard), magic happens. Yum! I also miss that people would come to work with tamales in a cooler and sell them to coworkers. I was always good for a half dozen or more.

5) A ristra makes a good Christmas gift. I’ve given. I’ve received. I love ’em. They’d become a moldy mess here in the Bay Area, and that makes me sad.

6) Biscochitos. My love for these is well documented. (2013 edit: I made a huge batch on Sunday and shared them with coworkers today. Now they are cookie zombies asking me if I have more. 505 represent!)

7) Sixty-five degrees and warm on Christmas Day. I think one year there was actually snow on the ground for the 25th, but it was melted by the end of the day. Oh Fair New Mexico, how I love your weather.

8) Christmas Eve midnight Mass in Spanish with the overpowering scent of frankincense filling up the overly warm church. Pure torture for a small child, but oh how I’d belt out the carols. And then when we came home after church, we could pick one present and open it. The rest had to wait for Christmas morning. Gah! The torture of picking just one!

9) New Mexico piñon, gappy, scrawny Christmas trees that cost $15 at the Flea Market and were cut from the top of a larger tree just that morning. Look, to my mind, it ain’t a tree unless you are using low hanging ornaments to fill the obvious gaps. These fluffy overly full trees just ain’t my bag. If you ain’t turning the ‘bad spot’ to the wall, you paid too much for your tree.

10) Green chile stew for Christmas Eve dinner and posole for New Year’s. My mouth waters. It’s weep worthy. I can taste the nice soft potatoes in the stew, the chicken broth flavored just right. So amazing. And posole to bring you luck with red chile and hunks of pork. Yum!

Which is not to say I don’t have happy holidays where I live now, but sometimes I feel melancholy.

Oh Fair New Mexico, how I love and miss you so.







Image via The Vintique Object Blog.




An Oh Fair New Mexico Tradition

In what has now become an annual tradition in my almost six years of this little ol’ blog, it’s time to bring out something that was first published back in 2007.

It’s as true today as it was back then.

Without further ado:



Top ten things I miss about Christmas in New Mexico (in no particular order):

Originally published December 11, 2007


1) An annual shopping trip to Old Town in Albuquerque. This was a longtime mom and me tradition. Every year I’d get to pick out my own ornament that would eventually be mine when I became an adult. I have every one of those ornaments stored in a Thom McAnn shoebox and they go on my tree every year. They are a glitter and glass history of my life. I remember buying each of them and it gives me a beautiful sense of continuity to have them on my tree.


2) Luminarias. I always was the one to make them for the family. Someone would drive me to an empty lot and I’d dig out two buckets worth of good New Mexico dirt, then I’d go home and fold down the tops on brown lunch bags. Each would get a candle inside and then at night I’d light them. It was my holiday job and I loved every folded bag and every bulk buy candle (and every small emergency when a bag caught on fire in the wind). I miss real luminarias.


3) The Bugg House, which, sadly, is no more. My sister lived over on Prospect and we’d go for a walk in the dark on Christmas Eve to take a look at the outstanding display of holiday spirit. On the way to Christmas shop at Winrock Mall, I’d take a detour to the Bugg house to take a look. No one does lights like the Buggs did.


4) Neighbors bringing over a plate of freshly made tamales as a Christmas gift. When there are three generations of Hispanic women in a kitchen with some masa and shredded pork, magic happens. Yum! I also miss that people would bring tamales to work in a battered Igloo cooler and sell them to coworkers. I was always good for a dozen or more.


5) A ristra makes a good Christmas gift. I’ve given. I’ve received. I love ’em. They’d become a moldy mess here, and that makes me sad, cuz I’d love to have one.


6) Biscochitos. My love for these is well documented.


7) Sixty-five degrees and warm on Christmas Day. Growin’ up, I think one year there was actually snow on the ground for the 25th, but it was melted by the end of the day. Oh Fair New Mexico, how I love your weather.


8) Christmas Eve midnight Mass in Spanish with the overpowering scent of frankincense filling up the overly warm church. Pure torture for a small child, but oh how I’d belt out the carols. And when we came home after, we could pick one present and open it. Gah! The torture of choosing just one!


9) A New Mexico piñon, gappy, scrawny Christmas tree that cost $15 at the Flea Market and was cut from the top of a larger tree just that morning. Look, to my mind, it ain’t a tree unless you are using a few low hanging ornaments to fill the obvious empty spots. These overly fluffy trees just ain’t my bag. If you aren’t turning the bad spot toward the wall, you paid too much for your tree.


10) Green chile stew for Christmas Eve dinner and posole for New Year’s, both served with homemade tortillas. My mouth waters. It’s weep worthy. I can taste the nice soft potatoes in the stew, the broth flavored just right. And posole to bring you luck with red chile flakes and soft hunks of pork. Yeah……


*sigh* Now I’m homesick.

Which is not to say I don’t have happy holidays where I live now…but sometimes I feel melancholy. And in a weird way, that’s what the holidays are for, right?



Finally, in order to just really drive a homesick knife into my heart, I give you this, the beauty of Old Town Albuquerque:








Image via New Mexico Magazine



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