Tag Archives: Albuquerque

THE TRAIN FROM HELL (OR IS IT TO?)

Our older daughter and her family just moved into a “new” house, so we decided to spend some time with them to help unpack. We have driven the Interstate many times, and it has become very boring. We have also flown to LAX many times, and that also has its own stressors. That inspired us to think about riding the Amtrak from our home station in Lamy, New Mexico to Union Station in Los Angeles. The trip was supposed to start at 2 PM, catching the Southwest Chief that had originated in Chicago at 8 AM and arriving in Los Angeles at around 8 AM the next morning. At least that was what was supposed to happen.

The day before our trip we received an e-mail announcement that the train would be 24 minutes (very specific) late because of delayed connections from the East Coast in Chicago. That seemed innocent enough.

The day of our travel, just as we were about to go out the door to go to the train station, we received another e-mail stating that the train would now be 4 hours late. OK. We hung around home a little while longer and then our neighbor took us for the drive to Lamy. When we arrived, we learned that the train would be even more delayed. The report was that it had been through some very heavy wind and rain storms. The engine struck a fallen tree lying across the tracks, so the engine had to be inspected and a second engine was added just in case. That seemed like cautious good judgment.

Finally, the train pulled into the station at 8 PM, a full six hours late, and we abandoned our plans to enjoy the scenery of New Mexico as the darkness enveloped us even before we got to Albuquerque. Still, we thought we might be able to enjoy the scenery on the other end the next morning. (Barstow??)

We had the car attendant make up our births and we went to sleep, expecting to awaken somewhere in California. That was not to be. The train came to a dead stop in Gallup and didn’t move for two hours. It seems that a drunk had driven his car around the flashing guard gates and smashed his car into the ill-fated engine. He survived without injury, but the engine again was subjected to a careful evaluation. As well, only emergency power was available while they checked the engine. That meant that the toilets did not work and there was no water for 2 hours with a train full of people.  Enough said.

Finally, the train started up again and made it to Winslow, Arizona, a highway distance of only about an hour and a half. Then it ground to a halt. By this time, the engineer and the conductor had used up their travel time so that a new crew had to be brought in from someplace else in order to complete the trip. After another 2 hours or so, the new crew arrived, and the train resumed its travel. By now we were over 12 hours late, but we were assured that the crew “would make up time across the desert.” Nothing like that happened, and the dining car and lounge car staffs were beginning to worry about running out of food as additional provisions had not been arranged.

Which might have been not all bad. It is a pleasure to watch the scenery while you have a meal served with silverware and a cloth napkin, but the flimsy plastic “china and glassware” flew off the table when I tried to puncture one of the slippery whole cherry tomatoes in the salad. In fairness, the staff was very accommodating and just as frustrated as the passengers at being 12 hours late, but their solicitousness didn’t make up for the food.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find a worthwhile food image to make or a dish that I wanted to try to replicate when I got home. On the other hand, my daughter outdid herself with cooking in her new kitchen – barbecue and all the trimmings, panzanella, chocolate velvet ice cream, and cherry-peach crumble. On top of that, she took us to a local seafood restaurant where we feasted on cioppino, raw oysters, and linguine with steamed fresh clams and clam broth.

As to the train, we arrived over 12 hours late, but there turned out to be some very special parts of the trip. We got to see some beautiful scenery around Flagstaff, Arizona, and we met some very nice fellow travelers at the dining table as well as outstanding staff members in the station attendant in Lamy, our railcar attendant, and the wait staff in the dining car. In fact, we would even be willing to chance another trip to Los Angeles.  Surely, there can only be one train from (to?) Hell.

 

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CINCO DE MAYO, MARGARITAS, AND ZACATECAS

There is a common misunderstanding that Cinco de Mayo is the Mexican equivalent of the American Fourth of July. Actually Mexican Independence Day is September 16th (Dieceséis de Septiembre) and it is a really big national holiday in Mexico. On the other hand, Cinco de Mayo memorializes the victory of a seriously outmanned Mexican army fighting an invading French force in the city of Puebla. The event is celebrated in Puebla, but the holiday really got its start among Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles and other Western and Southwestern cities around the time of the American Civil War (1860-1865) The purpose of the celebration was to demonstrate native pride among the Mexican immigrants. Over time the day has come to be celebrated in much of the United States, and now has seen retrograde movement into Mexico where it is increasingly celebrated.

My own view is that the day has become popular because it provides an excuse to celebrate spring, drink your share of Coronas and/or margaritas, and eat lots of tacos and chips and salsa. That seems reason enough, and I plan to celebrate Cinco de Mayo this year.

Even though Mexican beer (Tecate, Corona, Bohemia, Dos XX, Negra Modelo) is probably the most popular alcoholic beverage for the holiday, there are undoubtedly many pitchers of margaritas drunk before the day is over. These days, many bartenders use bottled margarita mix and cheap tequila. This is a recipe for a not-very-tasty drink that can be used simply to get a buzz (and a headache). A well-made, delicious margarita should be made with fresh lime juice, good quality tequila (preferably “white” or clear, not brown, with the label, “100% agave) and your choice of orange liqueur. Commonly Triple Sec is used, but it is a little harsh for my taste. Cointreau and Grand Marnier are preferable, but my new favorite is Citronge, made by the Mexican distiller of Patrón tequila. You will also need ice to dilute the other ingredients a bit and bring out the flavors. Use coarse salt if you like a salty rim. Just don’t ask me about frozen margaritas – I don’t much like them.

Zacatecas is one of the great colonial cities of Mexico. Shortly after the Spanish conquest, an enormous lode of silver was discovered, and Zacatecas mines provided much of the silver wealth of the Spanish Empire. The city is nested in a beautiful mountain valley with the Sierras nearby. In its heyday, the city was filled with ornate churches decorated with silver, gold, and other precious materials. The churches have been long ago  stripped of their riches, but the beautiful buildings remain. Many shops are filled with gorgeous silver jewelry and household goods. There are charming restaurants and cafés along with comfortable hotels. One of the most comfortable lodgings is fashioned from an abandoned bull ring with modern rooms surrounding the still-existing bull ring. You can almost see the toreadors and hear the crowds.

There is now a namesake of this fascinating city.  Restaurateur Mark Giffen, a James Beard Foundation winning chef best known for his elegant Santa Fe restaurant, The Compound, has created Zacatecas Tacos + Tequila in the Nob Hill district of Albuquerque. It is a casual space that is popular with students from nearby University of New Mexico along with older patrons. There are lots of choices of tequila, as the name suggests, and you can tailor your own margarita with your favorite tequila and orange liqueur. The food consists of creative twists on old standbys – something you would expect from a chef with Giffen’s credentials and reputation.

The queso fundido is beautifully presented and flavorful. House-made chorizo serves as the base of the dish. It is tasty and not too spicy. The cheese is melted , lightly browned, and appropriately oozy. The dish reminds me of the first time I ever had the dish in a sidewalk café in Tlaquepaque, Mexico over thirty years ago.

The fish tacos are well presented with perfectly grilled fish and well-seasoned cole slaw. The best part is the fresh house-made corn tortillas.

The chicken molé is unlike any version of the dish I have ever had. Topped with a nest of fresh spinach, the tender chicken breast is smothered in molé and surrounded with grilled calabacitas.

All in all, ours was a good dining experience and worth another visit.

RECIPE

Favorite Margarita

Ingredients

  • juice of 1 large lime
  • 2 ounces 100% agave tequila
  • 1 ounce orange liqueur
  • 2 ice cubes

Method

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake.
  2. Strain into a 6 ounce bar glass filled with ice cubes. (optional, moisten the rim beforehand and dip in coarse salt.)

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