Thursday, January 22, 2009

Santa Fe Diner Food

Equal parts American diner, local hangout, visitors' favorite and culinary melting pot, Santa Fe's Plaza Cafe has operated continuously for 80+ years. We walked through the door and stepped back in time, as we viewed a wall covering of broken plates, red upholstered booths, a chalkboard 'specials' menu and a tin ceiling.

Dionysi Trazatos and Beneranda Saiz married and merged their Greek and Mexican culinary heritages with traditional New Mexican dishes and diner fare, when they purchased the restaurant. Today, son Andy still serves homemade Greek, Mexican, New Mexican and American cuisine.

One morning we chowed down on the Greek Canape - an English muffin with spinach, onion, tomato, a poached egg and feta hollandaise sauce, decadent; vanilla and cinnamon-flavored French toast made from challah bread encrusted with sweet cereal; and Enchiladas Divorciados, a corn tortilla stuffed with screambled eggs, avocado and cactus, and served atop spicy tomatillo and smoky Chipotle salsas.

We also tried Papas Fritas, a spicy deep fried potato topped with egg whites, homemade red chile sauce and cream and an awesome N.M. Chile Relleno - a Monterey Jack-stuffed New Mexico green chile cooked in egg batter and then topped with more green chile and cheese. The only problem with our breakfast feast was that, because we wouldn't return to our hotel anytime soon, we couldn't take 'doggie bags' with us. And we'd have to save a taste of Plaza Cafe's remaining menu for another day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cooking Up Ambience

Candles are a great ingredient for adding ambience, and I started to make my own when a friend said that he hated to throw away 'spent' candles so he began consolidating leftover wax to make new ones.

I agreed with his sentiment and plowed in. I probably won't try tapers - and still buy an occasional candle because I like the scent or size (for instance, I can only get pinon-scented candles in New Mexico) - but most of the candles I burn now are handmade. And the process is surprisingly easy.
Homemade Candles
Materials & equipment

1 cup leftover wax of similar scent and/or color

double boiler (VOE - try a small stainless steel bowl nested in a saucepan)

lead-free wicks with a small metal base, available in multiple sizes at many craft stores

candle 'molds' (VOE - use small containers such as empty food jars/candle holders, or empty/rinsed/small, dried cream cartons; miniature muffin pans work for short votives or shot glasses for tall)


If using a wick longer than 3-4 inches, wrap top of wick securely where two skewers form an 'x' when laid across the top of your container and cut off any excess; this will help stabilize the wick.

Fill saucepan with an inch of water. Place bowl in pan and fill with wax. Melt wax over high heat until it becomes liquid. As liquid emerges, use a spoon to pour a small amount into your container and secure the wick base. You may continue to add wax throughout the liquifying process or wait until completely liquified. If any wick pieces remain in the liquid from your old candles, remove with tongs.

Once you have filled the container, allow the candle to cool/harden, approximately 2-3 hours. Cut off excess wick (your wick should always be trimmed to 1/4-inch before lighting) and enjoy.

VOE - To retrieve spent wax, place your candle container in the freezer for several hours until you can crack the wax with a knife, and then remove it. Save wax until you have enough for your desired candle size.

VOE -To remove candle from muffin pan or shot glass, loosen slightly with sharp knife and then pull out by wick. To remove from dairy carton, peel off carton after candle is totally cool.

Monday, January 19, 2009

San Francisco's Cable Cars

Despite the 40-something temperature, dozens of passengers lined up at the Friedel Klussmann Memorial Turnaround to buy tickets for a ride on San Francisco's famed cable cars. Across the street, empty cars on the Powell-Hyde line awaited customers.

It's been 25 years since the city of San Francisco totally overhauled its cable car system, from track to cars. But the tradition began in 1878 with only a brief interruption from 1982 to 1984, during the overhaul. Today there are three primary routes - the Powell-Hyde, the Powell-Mason and the California Street lines.

I first rode a cable car across the city's brick-paved streets in elementary school, with my family and then when my Girl Scout troop had lunch in Chinatown. Thirty years later, I grabbed an outer bar and hung off the side of another car with a traveling buddy, as another friend took our picture. But I didn't have time to 'ride the rails' during this visit. Something to look forward to, the next time I'm in the city by the bay.