Oh Fair New Mexico At The County Fair

Look! Look! Look!!

My biscochitos (the New Mexico State cookie) won a blue ribbon at the county fair!

Yeah, baby!!

The recipe I use is from the PNM sponsored Cocinas de New Mexico cookbook. It’s the cookbook my mom used for years and now I have my own copy. Order yours here.

Upon seeing my blue ribbon, The Good Man, a city boy through and through said, “hunh….as a kid back in Brooklyn, I never could have imagined I’d be married to girl who won a blue ribbon at the county fair.” Then I reminded him that I was also in a sorority.

He actually had to wander off by himself for a bit to ponder the meaning of his life.

Going Four for Four

Today, after I get home from work and grab a little snack, I will reach into my special cabinet and remove the 1970’s era KitchenAid mixer waiting there. The mixer will go on the counter next to my battle worn Cocinas de New Mexico cookbook.

It’s time to make biscochitos.

This is my fourth and final entry for my local county fair, which starts this weekend. I decided to enter my biscochitos in the “culinary arts” event under the “ethnic desserts – cookie” category.

I first learned how to make the New Mexico State Cookie on the very same avocado green mixer that I will use tonight. It’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember, churning out bread, tortillas, grinding meat and makes endless batches of cookies. My mom oversaw my first forays into baking, helping make sure I got the measurements right and followed the recipe to the letter.

Baking biscochitos is like a meditation. Mix the dough, an extra pinch of anise seed for luck, roll out the heavy dough on the counter, cut out circles and bake to golden perfection.

This process, these cookies and that green mixer are all a part of my DNA.

I have no idea what sort of competition my cookies will go up against, but I know this: win or lose, The Good Man and I will have a fresh batch of homemade bicochitos to get us through the day.

A little bit of New Mexico in the middle of a very busy work week. That’s a winner!

Note to El Viejo: I will make them both with and without cinnamon sugar on top and then decide which I think the judges would prefer. I tend to think I should go gringo style and turn in the sugared tops to try to curry the favor of the judges.

Craft Catatonia

Hoo boy….I am beat down to a nub. I have been arts and crafting my ass off in preparation for the upcoming local county fair.

While the term “county fair” may imply something small and hick-ish, my local fair is anything but. It’s a huge event

Back in February, I visited with my godkids in Las Cruces, and they were all fired up about their own county fair coming up in September.

My niños are all about 4H and have decided to raise pigs this year to show at the fair. Their excitement was contagious, so I came back to Northern California fired up and ready to participate in my own fair.

In fact, I was so excited that when the guidebook arrived, I decided to sign up for four events. Four. Which means I’m either stupid or sadistic. I, uh, have a full time job.

Since the fair kicks off June 11, my four entries are due, oh, NOW.

The events I’m doing are: short story, photography, visual art, and baking.

Yes. I said baking.

The short story had to be turned in over a month ago so the judges had plenty of time to read and evaluate the stories. Last week I got the smoking hot news that my story won my genre category, which was Western.

Whoo hoo! The fair hasn’t even started and I’m liking this already!

The story will be published in an anthology of stories put out by the Fair and sold to benefit charity.

Pretty damn excited, I can tell you that!

The photography entry has gone fairly well, too. I knew which photo I wanted to use and it was a matter of getting a good print made (harder than it sounds) and then cutting the mat and framing the piece. I got that done mid-last week. Boom!

The visual art piece is a Dia de los Muertos inspired craft. Oh, how this work has vexed me. I had a *very* ambitious idea and have spent the last couple months constructing tons and tons of tiny details and figures and touches. The work, just finished this morning, doesn’t include all of the aspects I’d hoped to accomplish, but I have to say, I’m very proud. This project really pushed the bounds of my abilities as both crafter and storyteller.

Yesterday evening I slumped back in my chair, catatonic. I had nothing left. I had glue and paint all over my hands, sweat on my brow and an ache in my lower back that defies superlatives.

But yet I was still compelled to keep going and finish this piece on deadline, for no other reason than the pure satisfaction of having completed something so very boundary testing.

I did it. I DID it. I’ll be damned…I actually did it. Whoa.

Today I’ll turn in the framed photo and the art work and then I’ll do a little “I made it by the deadline” dance.

Then I’ll collapse.

But wait, there’s more! The deadline for the fourth event comes up next week. I entered the “ethnic desserts” category and I’ll be whipping up a batch of Biscochitos.

New Mexico! Representin’!

And then I will eat my fill of anise seed treats, slip into a sugar coma, and sleep for a very long time…or at least until The Muse taps me on the psyche again.

The Taste of Home

I could write about the obvious today, the topic every news source is chattering about, but I’ve made a conscious decision not to. I’m going to go with the blog topic I’d already decided for today.


When you ask people “what is your comfort food” you’ll find that the answers are surprisingly simple. What give us comfort is usually food we recall from childhood. Mom’s biscuits, maybe. Mashed potatoes like gramma made. A rhubarb pie.

These aren’t high falootin’ foods. There is peace in starchy simplicity.

Over the weekend, I cooked up some of my own brand of comfort food by making a pot of pinto beans. This isn’t so unusual, really. I like to keep a pot of beans in the house for tasty quick eats. For me, beans are a staple food. But it’s more than that.

When I pour the bag of beans onto the counter and start sorting through them, I’m repeating an ancient process. It’s a part of me. It’s a part of my family. It’s burned into the DNA of New Mexico. It’s so right, so peace filled, and so intuitive to me, it doesn’t require much thinking.

I go to the happy place while I separate handfuls of beans, spread them out on the counter, look ’em over, throw the rocks and chunks of mud off to one side, sweep them into the pot, and repeat.

When done, I fill the pot with water and let beans soak. It’s the soaking that makes them magic. That pot sits on my counter smiling, humming to itself while the beans slowly begin to engorge with water and emerge as something quite perfect.

Then after plenty of soak time, I dump that water, rinse the waterlogged beans, fill the pot with water again (about an inch above the bean line) add a nice bit of fatty salted pork then put them on the stove to cook.

Burble, burble, the house fills with a wonderful aroma. That cooking pot is a sensory experience. I can hear the beans slowly simmering. I can smell the fatback cooking down. I peer in every now and again to see how we’re doing, give a sample bean a taste and feel the steam on my face.

And when they are done cooking, I feel satisfied. I made something good. Something tasty. Nutritious. Satisfying.

I made something like home.

Just by eating a simple bowl of warm steaming beans, I’m myself again.

Image by Karen Fayeth using the Camera+ app on an iPhone4

How Did I Get Here?

This is not my beautiful spice cabinet:

Ok, well, it’s my spice cabinet now. See, I prefer a generally chaotic method of organizing spices. Roughly, the flavors I use a lot are toward the front. The spices I use less frequently are toward the back.

I always know, without having to think, where each spice is located. I open the door, reach in, grab what I need, shake enough into the pan on the stove, then put it back.

Top shelf, randomly speaking, is for baking stuff like vanilla and almond extract. Lower shelf front holds the salt, cumin, garlic, etc. The everyday stuff. The nutmeg is tucked over in the back right corner. Dill is in the middle right. Cocoa powder is top shelf, to the left.

See what I’m saying? Bing, bang, boom, I know where everything is.

That was all well and good until I married The Man Who Checks Expiration Dates. Or, perhaps more aptly named: Food Safety Man.

My darling one is quite diligent about checking the “use by” dates on all food in the house. When he moved in with me, he was horrified to go through my cabinets. He would bring a can or container of something to me and say, “do you realize that this expired in 1996? That means you brought it from New Mexico when it was already expired!” When he said that to me, the year was 2007. Heh.

Yeah. Well. Ok. I *might* be guilty of a teeny bit of hanging on to stuff too long. My beloved sister has had many talks with me over the course of my adult life about “just let it go.” Blame being raised by parents who remember the Great Depression, I suppose. I’d like to consider myself to be…frugal. Really, if I’m to be honest, I’m just too freaking lazy.

And so, when my sweetest went through my cabinets and threw out, oh, about 60% of what was in there…I was mildly annoyed, but I got over it. I’ve become better accustomed to his weekly (if not more frequent) going through and rearranging the fridge, throwing things out and front facing all the remaining contents. So much for my grab and go approach there, too.

And now this…my spice rack. The spices that are the heart and soul of my cooking! He did this yesterday while he was making something for dinner, so I guess I can’t really complain that loudly. But still…I heard him rustling around in there and had to sit, take several deep breaths, rake a Zen garden, chant a mantra, and play a sitar.

I gotta say, it looks pretty good now. I can’t find anything, but I’ll learn. And just as soon as I have the new organization system down, he’ll organize it again.

The spice rack was pretty tough to take, but there was something worse. I almost packed my bags when he organized….(I can hardly even say it)….my toolbox. This was a violation most egregious. My toolbox! And let me just tell you this…I have more and better tools than he does! Now that we’re married, a comingling of the tools has occurred and I may never be the same again.

Oh the horrors of community property!

Marriage is weird. Maybe this is why people usually get hitched so young. It’s easier to manage when they haven’t gotten all old and set in their ways.

Really, all this organizing and changing up my routine is probably good for me.

Just don’t tell The Good Man I said so.

I realized, belatedly, that this might just be the perfect follow up to the previous post about variety being the spice of life. Unintentional, I assure you. One of those happy coincidence type of a deals.