We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Hatch Green Chiles and a New Mexico Road Trip

My Traveling Tales by Michelle
Hatch green chile season begins in August and is over by the end of September.
   About this time last year Linda and I devised a spur of the moment plan take a road trip from Tucson to Santa Fe to visit the Indian Market that is held annually in mid-August. Over the years my sisters and I had talked in broad terms about how much fun it would be to attend the Indian Market, but our conversations did not transcend into actually making a plan. Cancer has a way of expediting a decision making process. We both agreed that there was no time like the present, while Linda was feeling well enough, for us to both mark a mutual item off our bucket lists.
   In July of last year Linda was feeling much better than she had felt earlier in the year after enduring six intense rounds of chemotherapy and ten radiation treatments to combat breast cancer that had metastasized to her lungs and bones. The chemotherapy seemed to bring Linda to the brink of death before she rebounded gradually. After nearly five months of feeling horrible and being mostly confined to a wheelchair, Linda had graduated to a walker and was getting around on her own two feet (much to everyone's elation). She was even smiling again (hallelujah).
   The dates of the market fit quite nicely in between Linda's routinely scheduled bi-weekly doctor's visits. And to everyone's satisfaction there had been no recent changes to her medications and she was tolerating quite well the myriad of pills she took daily. The future looked brighter than it had in a long time.
Yours truly on the left wearing my new Heishi necklace and 
Linda on the right holding a Godfather cocktail.
   To proceed with caution we needed to factor in to the sightseeing equation that Linda could not walk long distances and that she might very well tucker out midday, which would necessitate a nap to recover her energy for evening activities. We also suspected that finding parking every day during the market hours would likely be awful and we needed control over that variable. With these contingencies in mind, it made sense for us to stay in the heart of Santa Fe near the action of the market, even though the cost of lodging would increase exponentially. Linda was surprised and pleased to find one available room at the historic La Fonda Hotel, which is conveniently located on the plaza near all the events we planned to attend.
   As with all great road trips, one thing leads to another. It didn't take long for us to figure out how to extend a quick weekend getaway in to what looked more like a mini vacation, or as we like to say, "Sistercation". If we were going to go all the way to Santa Fe, we agreed that we might as well tack on a couple of additional days and travel further north to Taos. If we were going to go to Taos, then Linda wanted to visit Chimayó to make a pilgrimage to the sanctuary. Linda worked the internet like a champ to put together a complete itinerary for sightseeing and dining. She scoured websites, read restaurant reviews and secured reservations for lodging and meals.

Linda and I enjoyed the performance of this fancy dancer champion.
I employed a couple of photo apps to create a painterly effect.
  The week before our trip, Linda's oncologist ordered a MRI of Linda's brain because Linda's tumor score had been increasing but comparative CT scans of the mid section of her body didn't reveal any significant changes. The day before we were to leave for Santa Fe, the oncologist called to give Linda bad news. Much to our dismay, the brain MRI revealed that there was indeed a tumor. If there is good news at such a time, it was that the tumor was small and treatable with radiation. Chemotherapy wasn't an option because it has trouble crossing the blood-brain barrier.
   The oncologist asked Linda if she had experienced any recent headaches or dizziness. Linda confirmed that she was asymptomatic. As a precautionary measure the oncologist prescribed a steroid that we needed to pick-up at the pharmacy in the morning on our way out of town. Linda was directed to take the medication, if needed, to counteract headaches or vertigo, should those symptoms suddenly occur. Linda and I mulled over whether we should cancel the trip. We mutually decided to override our concerns and to move forward with our plans. With the oncologist's blessing we were cleared to travel with the caveat that we needed to stop every 60 to 90 minutes so that Linda could stretch her legs and walk around a bit to get her blood moving.
Our favorite event that we attended was the Indian Market Haute Couture Fashion Show.
  The discovery of the brain tumor was a critical turning point for Linda. We knew that once we returned from the road trip that Linda would be meeting with a radiation oncologist to discuss treatment options. The unknown loomed large as Linda and I headed east the next day on I-10. We agreed that we would do our best not to let the news dampen our excitement for the trip or our enjoyment of our time together in New Mexico. We would be as carefree as possible and would not focus on the gravity of her situation.
   We understood from Linda's diagnosis at UCSF in Feburary that her stage IV breast cancer was treatable but not curable. We also understood that metastasis to the brain is fatal. Doctors will attempt to pacify a patient with statements that invariably start with, "Every patient is different and we do not know how each individual will react to a treatment." The doctor decides upon a course of action and if the treatment doesn't work then the next step is to try something different to see if it works. A treatment plan is just an ongoing experiment punctuated with many questions and few answers.
   What we knew for sure is that cancer spreads quickly in the blood-rich environment of the brain. If there was one brain tumor then there were likely multiple brain tumors that were at this point too tiny to see on the scan.
   We decided to move forward like everyone does by putting one foot in front of the other or, in this particular case, by shifting the car into drive while watching the miles speed by through the windshield of Linda's black Honda Civic Coupe (that she nicknamed Little Blackie after the protagonist's horse in the novel True Grit.)

A photo-worthy dilapidated truck with Taos mountain rests in the background.
   The driving time between Tucson and Santa Fe is about 7-1/2 hours. Roughly the half way point is Hatch, New Mexico where the famous, multi-varietal Hatch chiles are grown. Hatch chile season runs from the beginning of August through the end of September. Living in the southwest it is easy for us to source the coveted Hatch green chiles at our local farmers markets and in grocery stores.
   Last year we purchased about 20 pounds of fresh, flame roasted Hatch chiles at the Rialto Park farmer's market. Linda and I brought the fragrant chiles home, removed much of the charred skins with our fingers and then froze the prepared chiles.
   Some of the chiles I left whole and froze individually on sheet pans. My plans included making chile rellenos, which are roasted green chiles stuffed with a mild white cheese, dipped in batter and fried until golden. Also, a large portion of chiles were diced by hand with the aid of a chef's knife and then frozen in one and two cup portions. I planned to make dishes such as Green Chile and Cheese Soufflé and Green Chile Stew.
   What I particularly like about New Mexican food are the green and red chile sauces. Where many Mexican food eateries in the southwest seem to skate by using canned red sauce for enchiladas and smothered burritos, New Mexico is fanatical about preparing sauces from scratch. Linda and I happily ate New Mexico cuisine for every meal of the day and on several occasions we ordered our entrees Christmas-style, which means a dish is served doused with both red and green chile sauces.
The garden at the Fechin House, Linda wearing her new Heishi necklace, and Mexican sunflowers.
   The Indian Market is amazing and worth visiting if you are interested in Native American culture and in particular silversmithing and hand-crafted items, including jewelry, shoes, hats, drums and paintings. The market was so vast, with over a thousand booths, that Linda and I did not have the opportunity to visit every artist. We both purchased necklaces made of turquoise Heishi beads. Heishi beads were first made by the Navajo of the Kewa Pueblo (formerly known as the Santo Domingo Pueblo), located about 25 miles southwest of Santa Fe, which seemed like appropriate and special keepsakes to remember our trip.
   The visitors to the market were clearly turquoise aficionados and stacks of bracelets—easily worth thousands upon thousands of dollarscovered the arms of women and men alike. Linda adored the ostentatious fashion statement and proceeded to boldly wear every bracelet she brought with her for the rest of the trip. She continued to do so after we returned to Tucson, too. More is more, and more is betterclearly betterin Santa Fe. People watching is definitely a part of  the spectacle during the Indian Market.
   Beyond visiting and talking directly with the artists there is much to do and see in Santa Fe during the Indian Market. There are dance exhibitions, a film festival, music performances, art exhibitions, and other activities taking place in the parks, galleries, hotels, museums and civic center. Our favorite event, where we just so happened to snag front row seats by arriving early, was the Indian Market Haute Couture Fashion Show. I took about a thousand photos (I kid you not) of the models who strutted their stuff down the runway wearing gorgeous fashion statements created by Native designers.

El Santuario de Chimayó is a Catholic church and pilgrimage site for seekers of  miraculous healing.
   After experiencing the bustle of the Indian Market, Taos definitely felt calm and relaxing to us during our stay at El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spaeven though we packed in a full two days of sightseeing by visiting the the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, the Rio Grande Gorge, the Millicent Rogers Museum, The Harwood Museum of Art to view the art collection of Mable Dodge Luhan, and last but not least, the ancient Taos Pueblo. Instead of being tired by all the activity, Linda was invigorated.
   On a whim as we drove back to the resort after our first day of sightseeing in Taos, we stopped by a grocery store and purchased Scotch Whisky and Disarrano Amaretto to make impromptu cocktails for happy hour back at our well appointed room before enjoying dinner at the hotel's fine dining restaurant.
   The base recipe for a Godfather cocktail is a 50-50 mix of whisky and amaretto poured over ice. No special equipment is required. The ice machine was down the hall and there were two glass tumblers in the room. The ratios of whisky to amaretto can be adjusted according to taste whether one prefers a stiff drink on the drier or sweeter side. We sat on the deck in comfortable wood chairs, sipped our cocktails and enjoyed watching a storm move in that brought a sweet sprinkling of rain and lowered the temperature to the point that we both had to put on a warm sweater and coat.

A panoramic shot of a multi-storied, multi-tenant adobe building located on the Taos Pueblo. 
    On the return drive home, we were still on the road about an hour outside of Tucson, when we watched the sun make a slow descent towards the horizon. The sky burnt pink and orange and puffy gray clouds heavy with rain dotted the luminous sky. Linda, thinking out loud in a low voice, said that she'd like to attend the Indian Market again the following year... if at all possible. Her voice trailed off and I sensed that she was mulling over the possible ramifications of the brain tumor.
   Pushing angst and what-if scenarios aside, we agreed that we'd make plans to return in twelve months and we hoped that our sister Juliette could join us. Juliette is a talented artist who has a deep appreciation for Native American design and craftsmanship and she also has a penchant for intricate bead-work.
   Linda and I wanted something to look forward to, something that we could hope for, to discuss and make plans for, even though the future seemed more unsure and foreboding than ever before during the course of her illness. After Linda passed away at the end of March, I did not cancel the hotel reservation at La Fonda for this year's Indian Market. I held on to some sliver of hope that perhaps Juliette and I might make the trip together.
   As the event looms nearer, I have come to accept that Linda is indeed gone and that this is not the year for Juliette and I to go on a road trip together to New Mexico. With a sigh passing through my lips, I must acknowledge that this particular situation is what it is. Linda's gone and I'm not going to Santa Fe in two weeks. A few minutes ago, with sadness and resignation, I cancelled the reservation. My husband said to me gently, "There's always next year." But that's not always a true statement, is it? There's only now. You must do things while you are able, before it's too late, like taking mini vacations with your loved ones and buying Hatch chiles while they're still in season.

Preparing Hatch Chiles

   We stopped in Hatch on our way back home to snap some photos and wander through the touristy shops. I planned to buy chiles but bought a cookbook instead. It would be easier to purchase freshly roasted Hatch chiles locally in Tucson from my favorite farmer's market vendor, Kris Young of Red's Roasters then to purchase chiles from the proprietress of the shop, who was doing her absolute best to thwart a sale by not being helpful, or kind, or remotely interested in engaging with a potential customer. I reminded myself to not take her rejection personally. After all, who better than my sister and I at that very moment to realize that you never know what someone else might be going through. Be kind because kindness matters.

1 to 2 pounds (or more) fresh Hatch Green Chiles
olive oil

Gas/charcoal grill or oven

Breakfasts on the road: Left, Huevos Rancheros Christmas-style at Taos Diner II, and
Eggs over easy with a Chile Relleno and black beans at La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe.
    If I am roasting the chiles myself I usually choose to fire up the gas grill. It's just as easy to prepare two pounds of chiles as it is one pound. Might as well roast extra and freeze portions for future use throughout the year until chile season rolls around again.
   While the grill is pre-heating, I wash and dry the chiles and then transfer them to a big bowl. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the chiles and toss to evenly coat each chile with a thin film of oil.
   Over medium-high heat, roast the chiles in batches, rotating and turning the chiles every so often until charred on all sides. Transfer the charred chiles directly to a large paper bag and seal by rolling down the top to trap the steam. Alternatively, transfer the chiles to a big bowl and cover the top with a plate or plastic wrap... whatever works to trap the steam emitting from the hot chiles! Continue to add chiles to the container and reseal after each addition until all the chiles are finished roasting.
   Cover one or more sheet pans with waxed paper. Coat the waxed paper with a thin film of oil. When the chiles are cool enough to handle, about 20 to 30 minutes, remove as much as the charred skin as you are able. I personally don't like to rinse the chiles under water, but I do keep a large bowl of water nearby to occasionally rinse my fingers as I work. Transfer the skinned chiles to the cookie sheet. I like to cut a small slit near the stem of the chile to remove and discard the cluster of seeds. The chiles are now ready to use in a recipe.
   Linda adored preparing Hatch Green Chile and Cheese Soufflé every year during Hatch chile season. Her recipe contains directions on how to roast the chiles in the oven. 
   You can also freeze the prepared chiles on the waxed paper lined tray. Leave some space between the chiles so each one freezes individually without sticking to its neighbors. Once frozen, the chiles can be placed together in a freezer safe Ziplock bag.
   You can also take a portion of the chiles, remove the stems and the clusters of seeds and roughly dice. I like to freeze the diced chiles in increments of one or two cups in freezer safe containers.

In accordance with the state's nickname, New Mexico is indeed a land of enchantment.


  1. Michelle, thank you so much for this wonderful article (complete with your exquisite photographs!). I always shed a tear these days when I read your entries. I know you have been through the wringer. Yet, I look at yours and Linda's beautiful smiles in these photographs (and your stunning jewelry, which I covet), and, know without a doubt that you are one of the absolute best sisters on the planet. Here's to living in the Now. And, here's to delicious Hatch Green Chiles and New Mexico. Love all around!

  2. those pictures are beautiful! And what a beautiful memory with Linda!


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