Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Santa Fe's Portal Program

It's barely 10 a.m. and dozens of people have already reached the portal at Santa Fe's Palace of the Governors. Individual artisans offer everything from sterling and turquoise bracelets to hand-beaded necklaces, one-of-a-kind sand paintings, and hand thrown pottery. Some artisans make their living at the portal, while others supplement a primary income. Customers arrive with cash and checkbooks in hand - no credit cards allowed.

This is the Portal Native American Artisans Program where upwards of 60 artisans display their exquisite wares on the building's front sidewalk, 360 days per year. More than 900 certified program members from 41 pueblos, tribes, chapters and villages scattered throughout New Mexico and parts of Arizona, participate in a longstanding lottery system for the honor of selling here each day.

And, whether you purchase a clay figure whose paint color comes from spinach, a turquoise-encrusted bola tie, or a refrigerator magnet decorated with a sun god made from sand, each item is guaranteed authentic. Every participant in the portal program follows strict artistic guidelines and, most importantly, signs their work.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Making Margaritas at Aldaco's

My travels increasingly include food and beverage classes or lessons and such was the case at Aldaco's Mexican Cuisine, in San Antonio. Margaritas are this restaurant's signature beverage, for which it has already received several awards. And owner, Blanca Aldaco, revels in teaching guests how to create perfect ones.

Before our evening meal, Aldaco gave hands-on instructions to each of half a dozen people about making classic and specialty margaritas. I especially enjoyed shaking the concoction the prescribed 20 times to make sure all ingredients thoroughly merged, although the result was a bit strong for my taste.

Not so with Aldaco's avocado margarita, a fabulous frozen version that pairs the creamy texture of avocado with premium tequila and Triple Sec, tangy, fresh lime juice, and a spicy, chili-lime rim of salt. Soon after sharing one enormous glass with six straws, we asked for separate glasses so we could sip easily while enjoying our food. And I definitely would have ordered another avocado margarita if I wasn't so full.

Rustic Turkey Soup

For me, cool weather and soup are synonymous. When I was growing up, my mom made soup frequently during the winter months, from minestrone to black bean and split pea. My husband, on the other hand, didn't eat homemade soups as a child so when he couldn't get enough of this one I knew I had created a winner. Serve with crackers or thick slices of crusty bread, and a salad, and you've got a hearty meal for only a few bucks.

Rustic Turkey Soup
makes 4-6 servings

1/2 large onion, minced
2 celery stalks, minced
olive oil
1 medium zucchini, diced and lightly sauteed
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 can low-sodium cream of chicken soup
2 cups cooked wild rice (may use canned)
1 pound white and dark turkey meat, cut in bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons dried sage
salt and pepper to taste

Saute zucchini in olive oil, on medium, until lightly browned. Set aside. Saute onion and celery in olive oil and large pan. Maintaining medium-high heat, add stock, soup, rice, turkey, zucchini and seasonings. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for minimum of 25-30 minutes. To thicken, simmer uncovered for some or all of the cooking time.

Beluga Kisses in San Antonio

When belluga whales leave the performance pool at San Antonio's Sea World for their calm open-air tanks, they sometimes kiss visitors. A photograph of my recent kiss on the cheek sits beside my desk.

But this Sea World is about more than mesmerizing performances by and interactions with massive sea creatures - the kiss was only one surprise. Despite the fact that Sea World in Orlando and San Diego lie closer to coastline, the San Antonio facility is actually larger than the other two combined. With 250 developed acres and 200 'cushion' acres nearby, this park also features the only roller coasters located in any Sea World facility.

Another surprise? Water may be Sea World San Antonio's lifeblood, but conservation efforts saved upwards of 20 million gallons during 2007. Animal 'conservation' is also a focus here - the facility houses one of only a few Manatee Rescue operations in the United States, where rescued and rehabilitated creatures thrive as they entertain guests.

Clearly, there's more to this beloved tourist attraction than meets the eye.