Hunting the famous Green Chile Cheeseburger in New Mexico

As confirmed foodies, my hubby and I enjoy trying local specialties wherever we travel, even within our own continent (within limits; if it’s squiggly or slimy it’s off the table). When we’re between trips, I enjoy reading articles about places to go and things we can look forward to, including food. The other day I ran across this article at foodandwine.com, We Found the Best Fast Food in Every State, and They’re All Local Obsessions. I was curious to read what it had to say about the state of New Mexico, where we spent a couple of great weeks in the fall.

One of New Mexico’s claims to fame is the green chile cheeseburger. It’s not a complicated dish – just a juicy burger with white cheese and a heaping addition of chopped cooked green chilies – but it has one of those great flavour combinations that can quickly become addictive. In the state there’s a Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, complete with mouth-watering photos.

So even though chili peppers and I don’t get along all that well, when we went to New Mexico in the fall we had to try some.

I read a lot of recommendations about the best places to find one. Some weren’t along the path of our planned itinerary, but I made note of a few. For us the thrill isn’t in lining up with throngs at the famous places on lists, though – it’s in just trying the legendary dish in different locations and seeing what you get. And when you stumble across a really great serving that you weren’t expecting, it’s a very happy day.

For example, several years ago, while combining a week of golf along the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama with a couple of days in New Orleans, we had lovely beignets in New Orleans at the market by the waterfront, but a few days later some really superb ones at a breakfast joint across the border in Alabama.

The article mentions Blake’s as the place to go for green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico, and if I’d seen the article before we left home, we probably would have tried it. We saw the signs for Blake’s Lotaburger all over the place as we drove around the central and southern part of the state. One of the recommendations we did spot, and try out, was a place called The Original Realburger in Santa Fe. It’s one of those small, unpretentious places that I suspect tourists rarely visit, but we did have a very delicious green chile cheeseburger there for our first-ever tasting.

Great food wasn’t hard to find in New Mexico, and we did enjoy some higher-end restaurants here and there.  However, on the day we went to the ABQ Bio Park in Albuquerque, we decided to grab a light lunch at their Shark Reef Café, and the Green Chile Slider Stack seemed a good size for me. Not only did it fit the bill portion-wise in a country that oversizes everything, but it was absolutely yummy!

So as much fun as it is to peruse restaurant lists and fantasize trips around them, don’t be afraid to try out places that aren’t on the lists. You may get some wonderful surprises. If you can’t wait until a trip to New Mexico to try a green chile cheeseburger for yourself, here’s a basic recipe that looks comparable to what we ate; feel free to mess with as you choose 🙂

All photos are by me and may not be used without my permission. E. Jurus

New Year’s Eve at a Zoo

Cougars and tigers and spectacled bears, oh my! The Nashville Zoo is small but fun, especially around holidays.

Nashville, Tennessee is a great place to be for the Christmas season; I’ve highlighted some of their special events in a previous post (A year of light). There’s always lots of entertainment and wonderful food to round off your experience. We travelled down there once again on December 27th, for the first time since the COVID pandemic closed borders just a few short weeks after our previous visit. Usually we go in time for Christmas, but the massive winter storm that blanketed much of North America kept us housebound for the big day, watching the snow fly past and hoping our power didn’t go out (it didn’t). By Boxing Day the entire Buffalo area was still closed and digging out, so we went through Windsor/Detroit instead. The roads were clear and dry, but hundreds of other people were doing the same as we were, making up for lost time, so the border crossing from Canada into the US was extremely busy.

Nevertheless, we made it to our cousin’s in good time, and spent New Year’s Eve with him instead. I could live in Tennessee, I think. The weather and landscape looked like late Autumn here in Ontario — lots of dried leaves on the trees and around the sidewalks, and mild temperatures that required just a light jacket. Living in Fall conditions from October to March would make me a very happy camper 😀

We tried several new restaurants during this visit. Two that really stood out were 1) Hogwood BBQ in Franklin — fabulous Colorado Sandwich (“Certified Angus Beef Brisket, fresh jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, Spicy Red Sauce, and house-made cheese sauce on a grilled potato roll”) followed by Nana’s Banana Pudding (very creamy and rich)…

and Edessa Restaurant in Nashville, almost right across from the entrance to the Zoo. It serves very delicious Turkish & Kurdish food, and is hugely popular as a result. We didn’t have to wait long to get seated though, and the staff are extremely helpful and friendly. We all had the Chicken Noodle Soup to warm up after a cooler-than-expected afternoon visit to the Zoo, and I followed with the Iskender Kabob, with shaved pieces of meat (shawarma) in a rich tomato sauce over buttered bread that soaks up the delicious juices, and thick yogurt to go with it all.

Just what we needed to fortify us for a return to the Zoo for the night-time event! We were glad we’d toured most of the zoo during daylight, though — it allowed us to orient ourselves when we went back later.

The Nashville Zoo emphasizes naturalistic habitats for its denizens. While nothing can replace the wild for the animals, so many species on our planet are critically endangered that zoos may be the last refuge for them. The section called Gibbon Island is a little slice of woody heaven for the siamangs (below) and gibbons, who were in fine singing form.

The meerkats were adorable, either digging in the dirt or sitting in their characteristic sentry pose.

The red pandas, which aren’t actually pandas, but more closely related to weasels and raccoons, were one of the prettiest creatures there…

as was a magnificent Sumatran tiger.

I think the raucous pink flamingos got the most attention, constantly following each other around their enclosure and picking fights. They weren’t bothered at all by the proximity of the visitors, even though we were able to get close enough to see their very beautiful plumage.

Paths throughout are quite lovely, and although relatively small, the zoo is a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

But at night, the grounds are completely transformed by Zoolumination, running from November 18th, 2022 to February 4, 2023. Over a thousand stunning custom-made silk ‘lanterns’ in a myriad of shapes and vignettes, light up the darkness, illustrating Chinese lore and legend.

There are illuminated signs describing each scene.

The lighted shapes are incredibly detailed and gorgeous. Here’s a close-up look at two of the cranes.

Even the wooded paths between scenes are decorated.

All the scenes are full of colour and life, glowing vividly against the darkness.

Winged tigers look you in the eye…

silken peach blossoms guide you along,

and sea creatures cavort both above and below the water of a small lake.

A massive Chinese dragon…

leads the way to a breathtaking replica of a 9th-10th century Lantern Festival in Chang ‘an, the ancient capital of the Tang Dynasty. According to the description, on Shang Yuan night, people would stroll the city, “admiring the lanterns, eating sweet rice dumplings, guessing lantern riddles, shooting off fireworks…dancing, stilt walking…and enjoying other folk performances”. Walking the path past the brilliantly-lit scenes was like stepping back in time to a glittering festival.

How wonderful it would have been to enjoy the festival live, centuries ago, amid the grace and culture of the Tang Dynasty.

Beyond the festival, our path continued into North Pole Village, where we enjoyed lovely and traditional scenes to wrap up the season.

It was a truly magical way to spend part of New Year’s Eve, especially for families. The paths are almost completely handicapped-accessible, although one rope-and-plank bridge proved to be a bit tricky for someone in a motorized wheelchair. Standard wheelchairs and motorized scooters are available to rent for a low fee on site, and although they can’t be reserved in advance, there were quite a few in stock.

The photos I’ve posted are just a small handful of all the things to see during this time at the zoo. If you’re looking for a great place to spend some of the December holidays in the future, I highly recommend Nashville. Stay at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center if you can — it’s a special holiday destination all on its own. Maybe a resolution to make for 2023 that’s going to be a lot more fun than most New Year resolutions 😉

All photos were taken by me, are posted at a lower resolution and may not be used without my express permission. E. Jurus

Our perceptions of the world around us

Gardens are inherently soothing spaces

Guests to my home, the one hubby and I have carefully decorated together, invariably make one of two comments: a) they find it very relaxing, and b) it reminds them of Indiana Jones’ house in the famous movies. Both of those reactions are exactly what we were going for.

When we bought our house early in our marriage, neither of us had a really strong sense of style. The house is a pretty standard 1960s raised bungalow; what we liked about it was all the large windows and flowing spaces that give it a feeling of airiness. But how to put our mark on it? After months of waffling, I decided to cut photos of rooms that I liked out of decorating magazines, using only my gut response without analysis. When I’d assembled enough of them, I could see that they all had one thing in common: they were all decorated in earthy tones with natural textures.

There were two other influences after that. The first was a visit to the home of friends of a friend. It came about when hubby and I were deciding where to travel to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. My long-standing dream was to visit Egypt, which became possible that year while the political situation there was relatively quiet. Hubby was kind of on-board, but still had some reservations, so a good friend of ours suggested we go and talk to good friends of his, who’d not only been to Egypt but had travelled to many countries and could give us a broad perspective.

Their house was wonderful, full of artifacts from their travels. Walking inside it immediately made one want to pack bags and set off on an adventure; we loved it so much that we decided to bring the same feeling to our own home. After that visit, we did book a tour of Egypt and had a sensational time.

But it was Indy’s house in the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, that put the final touches on the feel of our home. We buy a piece of artwork in every place that we visit – a brass hookah in a market in Cairo, a heavy bell from a small antique shop in Bangkok, a carved mask in Bali, a hand-woven basket in Botswana – and although these pieces don’t have the archeological weight of Indy’s collection, when visitors to our home make those comments, we feel we’ve achieved what we set out to.

I bring this up because just this morning I read an article about how we use more than just five senses when we react to different environments. In 5 senses? In fact, architects say there are 7 ways we perceive our environments, we learn that architects design buildings that appeal to more than just sight, sound, smell, taste and feel. They also take into account our unconscious response to a place’s environment – its setting (wide open, as in a desert landscape, or tucked away inside, say, a forest) and ambience. Small spaces with lower ceilings tend to feel cozy, for example, while cavernous spaces can be overwhelming.

On a personal level, I find very noisy, busy spaces really tiring. Here’s an example from several years ago that struck me on the spot. Hubby and I were Christmas shopping at our large local mall, which was full of people bumping into each and a lot of general hubbub. We stuck it out to get the last of our gifts, but on the way home we decided to stop at a Harvey’s joint and pick up some hamburgers. There was hardly anyone in there (probably all at the mall!), so it was nice and quiet, and the interior was quite cozy on a cold December night, with lower ceilings and a few holiday decorations, and I noticed how quickly I relaxed inside – so much so that it felt like the perfect soft wrap-up to a hard, crazy day.

I use the words ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ deliberately. Have you ever noticed how very soft clothing, like a cozy sweater or hoodie, can instantly relax you, as compared to something stiff or scratchy? My home is decorated with furniture and colours that make me feel the same as putting on a soft sweater. It seems to resonate with our guests as well.

On our travels, hubby and I have encountered all kinds of ‘spaces’, some that are awe-inspiring, some that are soothing, and everything in between.

View from our over-water bungalow at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort

We had the great fortune to be able to stay in an over-water bungalow in Tahiti several years ago. Air Tahiti Nui was offering a fantastic promotion, with flights to Tahiti and New Zealand as well as three free nights accommodation in Tahiti, and for a fairly low price I was able to upgrade us to a hotel with those bungalows you see in exotic photos. It was a remarkable experience. The sound of water gently lapping against the pylons supporting the bungalow was so soothing, we’d shut off the air and open the windows at night, and just drift off into the best sleeps we’ve ever had.

Classic pub decor in London, England

British pubs are the epitome of coziness, with lots of wood, homey decor, and often fireplaces that burn warmly during chilly weather. The food is always comforting, the beer and tea always hit the spot, and the ambience is always welcoming when you need to rest your weary feet after several hours of touring.

A small section of Victoria Falls from the Zambian side

For a sense of awe, it’s hard to beat Victoria Falls, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, during high water season. Since we live within easy drive of Niagara Falls, to be honest I was wondering how much we’d be impressed with Vic Falls, but it’s famous and we went to see it. You can hear Mosi-oa-Tunya, the ‘Smoke that Thunders’ in the local language, well before you can see it, but as we walked along the stone-paved pathway to the Falls and got our first sight of them, my jaw quite literally fell open, just like you read about. We were there in April, right after the rainy season, when every second millions of gallons of the Zambezi River cascade 330 feet down into a snaking chasm, sending a thick mist over 1,000 feet into the air and making so much noise you can’t hear each other speak.

The intricate spiritual spaces of Pueblo Bonito, New Mexico

Recently, we were awed by several places in New Mexico – the Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns, the striated rock walls in the wide open desert landscape, the massive and spiritual ruins of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Culture National Park, and the enormous radio telescopes of the Very Large Array (you may have seen those in the movie Contact, with Jodie Foster).

Being in nature tends to be very soothing and refreshing. There are numerous theories why, but as I’ve mentioned in other posts, whenever I need to decompress I go for a walk in one of our local gardens or wooded areas, and I’m certainly not alone in doing that.

The architecture article even mentions our perceptions of time as being a factor. Driving across wide-open spaces tends to feel longer because our destination always seems to be so far away, or while flying across an ocean I’d add, while crossing denser spaces feels shorter, presumably because we have frames of reference that indicate movement. That may also be why rooms crowded with stuff feel smaller and less relaxing than rooms with less clutter.

It’s a fascinating perspective on how and why different people and cultures live, now and far back in time, the way that they do. I remember visiting a church in Austria that was so crusted with gold inside that it felt anti-spiritual, more about the excess of money thrown at it than the religious experience. Hubby and I drive past the mammoth, ostentatious homes built along the Niagara River that are clearly more about showing off than living comfortably. Next time you go out and about, notice your reactions; they may guide you in making your home a sanctuary from the chaos of our modern times.

All photos are by me and none may be used without my permission. E. Jurus

Working hard, so a little sharing

The month of November has almost drawn to a close, and those of us trying to produce 50,000 words of a new novel for National Novel Writing Month re writing frantically by now. This year I’m working on Book 3, the final chapter of my Chaos Roads urban fantasy/sci-fi trilogy. Even though I’m still setting up Book 1, Through the Monster-glass, for Kindle publication (soon, check back for more info!), the last part of the story is taking wonderful shape and I want to finish the month with it well along its way. For this week’s blog, then, I’m sending any interested readers over to my Author Blog, where you can read about a movie-inspired visit to Carlsbad Caverns, where some of the underground scenes in 1959’s classic A Journey to the Centre of the Earth was filmed. My hubby and I spent some time in New Mexico recently, and the Caverns were one of the highlights! I hope you enjoy reading about them, and I’ll catch up with you in two weeks. In future posts I’ll also share more of the wonders of a state that everyone, to a person, asked why we were going to visit. Oh, so many great reasons!

Cheers, Erica

3 great reasons to love Autumn

Fall colours in the Niagara Gorge October 2022

Colours, cooler temperatures and lots of leaves to crunch underfoot — these are some of my favourite things about autumn. I don’t do well in the hot and humid summers we typically get, although this year’s wasn’t bad at all, to my great relief. When the thermometer’s hitting 32 degrees Celsius or 90 Fahrenheit, and the humidity’s also that high, summer can be like walking around in a steam bath. A lot of people become ill in those summers, and I’m invariably hiding inside to avoid throbbing migraines brought on by the blazing sunshine and heat. I start to relax when Autumn sets in.

There’s something so cozy about our Autumns, snuggling into a toasty sweater or hoodie and strolling along hiking trails or through farm markets. As soon as pumpkins show up, I’m bringing home four or five in different colours to decorate our front porch, and I start cooking hearty stews and baking cakes to have with a cup of hot tea.

Southern Ontario has been blessed with glorious fall colours this year. That isn’t always the case; what’s needed are

  • cold snaps (without frost, according to experts) to tell the trees that winter’s coming and it’s time to stop producing the green chlorophyll pigment which produces energy from sunlight and settle into their dormant winter state, and
  • enough rainfall to nourish the trees so that they keep their leaves long enough for the other pigments to shine once the chlorophyll disappears.

Normally we southerners have to go farther north in our province to see such vivid colours, and in many years the leaves are all on the ground by Halloween, which is fun to walk around in but a little depressing. We’re not guaranteed such splendour, and when I was out taking these photos, a lot of other people were out making the most of the beauty as well.

This October, Mother Nature had her entire palette out.

Moving into November, the trees were about half-bare, creating a fabulous carpet of crisp fallen leaves to walk around on. It’s a simple pleasure, but a profound one, and the first few leaves on the ground every year are a harbinger of autumn pleasures.

Once the leaves start to fall, we get to appreciate the sculptural art of the plants themselves. The mottled bark of some trees…

…the colours and shapes of giant leaves as they pack up for the winter…

…ripened berries offering food for birds and animals that winter here…

…the mellower autumn sun highlighting the shapes of plants getting ready for sleep…

So for those of you who don’t have the magic of Autumn on your doorstep, I hope these images will give you a little virtual taste of it.

All photos are by me and all rights are reserved. A selection of my best photos are available for purchase in a number of formats on my site at Fine Art America.

Conquering the pestilence of malaria, a modern-day bogey

Wetlands of the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Pestilence, aka Death, is one of the terrifying Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a group of End of Days riders described in Chapter 6, verses 1-8 in the Book of Revelation of the Bible. They each ride on a colored horse and represent some aspect of impending doom.

In the Book, a heavenly being called the Lamb opens seven seals that portend the Second Coming of Christ. Biblical analysts are divided as to whether the passage was meant to be an actual prediction, some sort of moral allegory, or a commentary during the period when the Christian Church was being heavily persecuted by the Roman Empire.

However you look at it, it’s scary stuff that has provided great fodder for fantasy/horror novels, as well as on television in the Sleepy Hollow series.

The rider of the white horse wears a crown, holds a bow, and rides as a conqueror. Opinions on its identity is also divided between Christ and the Antichrist. The red horse is fiery, and its rider holds a large sword and causes War. Riding the black horse, the rider carries a set of scales to measure wheat and barley, and is believed to represent Famine, possibly as a result of War.

The fourth horseman is described as riding a “pale” horse and is given the name Death. He’s closely followed by Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, and has the power to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and also by the wild beasts of the earth (Rev. 6:7-8). Chloros is the actual description for the horse in the Bible, Greek for a yellowish-green but with an ashen cast – it was translated into “pale”, the hue of the very ill and dead.

Many widespread plagues have killed millions of people throughout history, but in modern times we’re much better at conquering them, thankfully, even though they still strike fear into humans. Happily, one of the long-standing diseases plaguing much of Africa, Asia and South America – malaria – now has a new foe in the battle: a vaccine!

My hubby and I have been travelling for decades to countries with a variety of endemic diseases, most of which had prevention through some form of vaccination, either oral or through injection. Malaria, however, wasn’t one of them, and it’s a scary disease that has been killing more than 400,000 people a year, even though insecticides and netting for beds have been widely in use.

Malaria is a parasite, transmitted through a bite from an infected Anopheles mosquito. The parasites travel to a person’s, or animal’s, liver through the bloodstream, where they reproduce and cause all kinds of problems. They manifest primarily as an initial period of intense chills, shivering and fever, followed by sweating, headache, muscle pain, and other increasingly worse conditions. Symptoms usually don’t show up until ten days to two weeks after infection, so it’s one of those sneaky delayed diseases.

Preventative medication works – hubby and I have taken it many times – but it’s always been a cumbersome regimen. Up to now, travellers have had to start taking the medication for one to two weeks before arrival in the country where the disease is present (depending on the drug), all the way through the trip, and for four to eight weeks after returning home, to make sure that all the parasites you might have picked up have been killed in all stages of their life cycle.

Quinine was the first medication created to treat and prevent malaria. It comes from the bark of a tree in Peru called cinchona, and as early as the 1600s was brought back to Spain by Jesuit missionaries. Tropical outposts of the British Empire mixed quinine with soda and sugar to mask the bitterness of the quinine, and then put it into gin cocktails to get soldiers to take it – hence the classic Gin and Tonic. Now you know what gives tonic its somewhat bitter taste – never been a favourite of mine, but I do know some people who like the cocktail.

Malaria, once you’ve gotten it, is never fully cured. Symptoms can recur for years. One of the pharmacies I worked in as a technician years ago had a number of older war veterans as clients who continued to suffer bouts of the disease from time to time.

As a form of pestilence, malaria ranks with the best due to its pervasiveness. At one time it infested every continent except Antarctica – even Canada and the U.S., where it flourished in swampy areas that mosquitoes love to breed in. In my province of Ontario, it spread through early settlers from Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) to Cataraqui (now Kingston). It was so common that it was considered unusual if a newcomer didn’t develop ‘fever and ague’ within a year or two of arriving. In both countries, drainage of large tracts of marshy breeding grounds was the main weapon in eradicating malaria as an endemic disease, but other countries continue to battle it.

You see the scale of the problem, and why the development of a vaccine is such great news, and is being hailed as “world-changing”. It’s the work of scientists at Oxford University, and trials have shown up to 80% protection. In addition, it’s not expensive to produce and can be widely deployed, lessening the number of people who get it and then infect more mosquitoes. It’s expected to prevent 1,7 billion cases and save 10.6 million lives.

So, knocking on wood (literally) as I write this, we’ll hopefully force the fourth Horsemen to remove one piece of pestilence from his roster.

For more information on the fight against the disease, visit the website of Malaria No More.