Friday, March 13, 2009

New Mexico's Original Clay Cookers

The clay cooking pot was shades of brown and black with gold flecks throughout - its design, a cousin of cazuelas from Spain and Romertopf terra cotta clay cookers. Available in Cafe Pasqual's Gallery, Santa Fe, above Cafe Pasqual's, it was crafted by Apache medicine man, Felipe Ortega, who has kept the same price on his piece for 14 years. Several shelves in the tiny gallery held his work, while pots created by a student (and slightly less expensive) lined another wall.

Ortega's breath literally shaped these pots, which sell for $100 per quart. Once fired, the indigenous clay makes each pot microwave, oven, and stove-top safe (although they should not be put in a dishwasher), because of silica that naturally occurs in the clay - a precursor to glass which makes it especially sturdy.

Despite their rugged appearance, Ortega's pots were surprisingly lightweight. Their generations-old design included a ridge near the top that remains cold to the touch, even with hot food sitting inside the 'bowl' of each pot. The indigenous clay also is naturally salty, reducing the need for added salt during food preparation; in fact a pot of beans cooked in one of these pots requires almost no seasoning.

Sometimes, old ways of preparing food are definitely worth a second look.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What's In My Food?

The food we buy and eat isn't always what it seems. Take, for instance this loaf of crusty bread. It looks fresh and tasty as it sits on the cutting board. But carve a slice from the end and you quickly discover there's something more to this loaf:

Who knew we'd find a dozen 'bunnies' in this bread? As my husband and I change our food purchases to reflect his new dietary needs, I become increasingly aware that food isn't always what it seems - especially if there's a nutrition label involved.

Our pre-bottled light ranch salad dressing with less fat has 22% of the daily salt RDA per serving; which means my husband must (a) use considerably less than the stated serving amount (b) choose a different dressing (after checking the salt) (c) make his own. The salt content per serving in a large can of imported tomatoes is less than half the level we found in a can from a local discount store. The imported variety costs 3-4 times more but, when you have to watch your salt intake it may be a financial 'sacrifice' you make.

And, when it comes to salt - or sugar - levels in homemade food, you've got to make some trade-offs. To reduce the salt in my spaghetti sauce I (a) used the imported tomatoes (b) added extra garlic to replace some of the flavor that typically comes from salt. Because sugar is another ingredient my husband must now watch in his diet, I lightly sweetened the sauce with four ground baby carrots and 1/4 cup of wine, instead.

We're only getting started, but I already have a clearer picture of how much sense it makes to create our meals from scratch as often as possible. After all, food appearances can be deceiving.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Red Ladder Outside of Albuquerque

I first saw this pueblo ladder glowing red against a star-strewn night sky far from city lights in September 2007. When I returned to Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa near Albuquerque, during last October's Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, this mesmerizing image re-captured my heart - and my camera lens.

During my first visit, I was with a large group of people, while the second included my husband and a couple we've been friends with for many years. During my second visit I had my year-old,10-megapixel SLR in tow rather than the film SLR I'd used for a couple of decades. This image turned out so clear that, when this photo is enlarged, you can even see the knotholes in the wood.

But there's much more to this tribal-owned property than the red ladder. Located on land owned by the Santa Ana Pueblo, this understated adobe resort is a cooperative venture between the tribe and Hyatt corporation's management. During our Fiesta visit we sipped cocktails while watching golfers round the Twin Warriors course, rode horseback through some of the resort's gorgeous backcountry, and toured the swimming area where three different pools and a whirlpool entice guests throughout much of the year.

Next time, we may tour the resort's magnificent art collection, enjoy pampering at Tamaya Mist Spa, or participate in Tamaya's educational program - in which guests may learn to make adobe, craft a drum, or make traditional bread with a tribal member. No matter how often you stay at this one-of-a-kind resort, you'll never run out of things to do.