The Land of Enchantment
By Chef K. Marie Paulk
This is a little different from my normal tale, and I am not turning into a travel writer. I wanted to share some thoughts from a recent trip, which is pertinent to FOOD. Each of you, I am sure, has a favorite getaway destination; a place you might call your … personal land of enchantment? My husband and I just took a 10-day trip to one of my favorite places: Santa Fe, New Mexico. Something about New Mexico has held a special place close to my heart. To me it feels magical, the big purple sky, the landscapes … no matter how many times I visit I never seem to tire of this town of about 70,000. Another good reason I love to visit is because it is definitely a foodie town. The best part of our days there was planning on where and what we would eat for dinner. There is always something new to try, but I never tire of the green enchiladas or green chili stew. In New Mexico, chile and chili are two very different foods. Chile refers to hot peppers, while chili refers to a hearty dish made with protein, peppers or chile powder. The third spelling is used by the British – chilli. The word chile/chili evolved from the Aztec word chil, which translates to “pepper.” The Spanish added the “e,” and we can thank Conquistador Don Juan de Onate for bringing the green pepper to Hatch, New Mexico. There is no better smell in the world to me than chiles roasting on a crisp fall day. Hatch is in southern New Mexico and should not be missed if you are in the area around Labor Day when they hold their annual Chile Festival. The red chile is grown north of Santa Fe in a tiny village of Chimayo. There is a huge difference in the makeup of the New Mexico red chile powder to the regular chile powder you find in the spice section of where you shop. If you are lucky enough to visit a market that carries New Mexico red chile that is the one you should choose.
While on the trip I wandered into the Santa Fe Museum. I am not going to provide a history lesson, but I did learn several interesting facts about the Harvey Girls and Georgia O’Keeffe. I know you might be wondering where I’m I going with this—I did not know anything the about the Harvey girls, but my curiosity was piqued when I saw a t-shirt that read, “Harvey Head.” Fred Harvey, who was in the hospitality business in 1880s, has a following, similar to the Dead Heads of the music group the Grateful Dead. His motto was “3,000 Miles of Hospitality.” He built the Montezuma Hotel outside Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1882. What he is really known for is building an empire that revolutionized the way people travel across the country. I’ve read that he thought his biggest challenge would be procuring high quality fresh foods in the middle of nowhere or dealing with outlaws. He was wrong; his problem was in finding good help. He started looking for waitresses back east, and with the help of his wife (who met with each new hire to make sure they could live up to the strict etiquette standards), he brought to life the “Harvey Girl.” There was even a movie made called the Harvey Girls starring Judy Garland, based on a novel of the same name. The women became such popular cultural icons that many of them married their customers. In an effort to keep them, Harvey paid them a good salary of $17.50 a month and required them to sign an employment contract that would cause them to forfeit a portion of their salary if they quit within a year. At the peak, the Fred Harvey Company operated 30 dining cars on the Santa Fe Railway. The standards were high, the food fresh and portions generous. A 50-cent breakfast included fruit, steak, eggs, hash browns and a stack of six pancakes. The most famous breakfast was the Fred Harvey French Toast, created for the railway in 1918 and also known as Pain Perdu, a French term for “lost bread.” I don’t know why I find this so interesting, but I think it must have been pretty glamourous and fun to be traveling by rail and eating wonderful food while enjoying the sights.
Another interesting tidbit I discovered was about the painter Georgia O’Keeffe. I love her work. Santa Fe has an entire museum devoted to her, which I have visited several times and strongly recommend. Miss O’Keeffe was quite a foodie herself and she was way ahead of the times. In 1940, when she settled in Abiquiu (about 80 miles out of Santa Fe), she created a sustainable residence. All but her proteins she grew organically and made everything herself. She also developed quite a following. Her home stands today as a National Historic Landmark. If you want to visit, make reservations as it is often sold out. Her kitchen and studio are the focal points of the home (like most). She is a true inspiration to me. Her painting, Jimson Weed, sold for $44.4 million in 2014. Reading and learning about all of her accomplishments both inspires me and makes me hungry for green chili enchiladas.