Saturday, August 23, 2008

Now Them's Good Eatin'

Being a road worrier requires nourishment along the way. Fortunately, this country is very lucky to have lots of good restaurants to select. While on my last road trip to NM, a couple of places became new favorites.

In Guymon, OK, Naifeh's is a steakhouse run by a Lebanese family. Turns out one member of the family has Wichita connections! Nothing like food to make ties across state boundaries. In Las Vegas, NM, there is the "Spic and Span." Good Mexican food with a little kick to the chile. Forget healthy. We're talking'big portions and eclairs the size of dinner plates. Reinforces my firm belief that gluttony is the best of the seven deadly sins--followed closely by sloth.

For something completely unique, in Santa Fe, there is a chocolate place called "Kakawa" that specializes in historic and even prehistoric chocolate recipes. It is a surprise to many that chocolate began, not as a food, but as a drink. The earliest reciples include a beverage called "Aztec Warrior," a bitter drink (pure chocolate has a very bitter flavor and is not sweet at all) laced with hot chile. I settled for the "atole" with cornmeal as an ingredient, a resulting concoction that tasted a little like malted milk. Check out for more info.

In Ashland, Kansas, there is the Hardesty House, an old hotel that also offers steaks. The smothered steak is a good option here. Another great attraction to this location, by the way, is the building itself. It is one of the few of the old hotels that still has massive clerestory windows in the interior walls, a holdover from the days when buildings did not have lights in every room or air conditioning and clerestories were common features for lighting and ventilation. The Kansas to New Mexico run has other options, too, such as El Charro in Dodge City, the Eklund Hotel in Clayton, and the Brown Hotel and Cafe in Springer.

There are some distinct features that keep cropping up. Mexican food is one. Sadly, my goal of eating at a Mexican restaurant that openly proclaims serving "inauthentic" Mexican food remains unfulfulled. "Authentic" Mexican food is your only option, if you believe the signs and the menus. Beef is another feature. If you like steak, you can see and smell your future supper walking around as you drive by. Out here, chicken IS the vegetarian option. Dessert is important and the fruit pie has an important role in preventing scurvy since fruits and vegetables may be rather rare commodities on the dinner plate.

A lot of foodways on the western high plans still have traces of the 1950s in their preparation: a heavy reliance on pre-prepared things. The idea that there are other lettuces than iceberg and other dressings besides ranch and thousand island has yet to reach this part of the country. Still, if you want a blast from the past, you can't beat the high plains for heritage eating.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A dusty drive down memory lane

Things have been quiet here with the Road Worrier for the past few weeks but recently, some new adventures have cropped up. Last week, after visiting the Flint Hills with my friend and colleague Cheryl Unruh (check out her for that story), I headed back to New Mexico. Today, my dad and I got a chance to visit some land, including an old ranch house, that the family once owned. The ranch was a vacation house where we spent a lot of weekends during my early years. I had not quite realized how much that little ranch had shaped me during my growing up. I sorta knew it then but now really can see how much my appreciation of the NM landscape came from those times out there. This was a place with electricity but no running water. We had to use an outhouse but at night we listened to the local Spanish stations from Las Vegas NM on the radio (no TV reception either). In these years of the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were no cell phones to annoy, no satellite TV with 300 channels and no wii game sticks to distract us. It was quiet and relaxing--the occasional chore notwithstanding.
Going back now decades later, it is amazing how much has changed and how little has changed.

The area was and is very remote. It is a place where, as my dad says, you want to drive on the upper half of the tank (your gas tank over half full) since there aren't a lot of facilities for the motorist out here. The roads are dirt out here. Little twists and turns that I had long forgotten. The earth is a lot more reddish than I remembered. The desert plants have a spicy smell. Some of the old adobes are now in ruins. Even took a picture in one old home of the remains of a chair in a room.
Other families have brought in mobile homes. Prefab to the rescue when maintaining adobe is too much, I guess. I am glad I made it back there.