Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fat Elmo

The start of 2010 finds us on vacation in Alamogordo, New Mexico. (“Fat Elmo” to us b/c when I began searching for accommodations near White Sands National Monument my wife Leslie heard me say “Elmogordo” not “Alamogordo.”  Gordo = “Fat” in Spanish.)

The eponymous white sands

We thought we’d just be here a day or two to visit White Sands, but now we’re discovering lots of other interesting sites nearby. There’s a petroglyph park, a huge lava flow, the Space Museum (not sure about visiting that one since it might be a big puff for the war industry), high mountains and Luxe resorts.

But two social facts about this small city are equally compelling: It seems to have a very cross-cultural history, and the people (so far) are totally friendly.

Plus there’s the food – but more on that below.

We’re used to exploring desert towns further north, where the population is pure vanilla and the attitude, standoffish. Here in Alamogordo we immediately noticed that wasn’t the case. There’s plenty of Spanish spoken and lots of black and brown faces. In the grocery store yesterday we were entranced by huge photos on the walls that suggest a long-lived African American community, possibly linked to the lumber industry. And of course this is New Mexico, a state with deeper Spanish than English roots.

Finding an historical museum is now on the list of planned activities. As is continued dining. The Mexican food we had so far was excellent and inexpensive. And as all celiacs know, choosing a GF Mexican meal is usually easier and a lot more rewarding (there’s more choices) than many other cuisines.

(I’m hoping to find canned huitlocoche in the supermarket here. This is corn ear smut fungus, black and ugly but oh so good.)

But the real food bonus of Fat Elmo is a true and actual Frozen Custard stand. This dessert is like ice cream but with a depth to the flavor that comes from eggs in the recipe. We had several frozen custard stands in Youngstown Ohio when I was a boy. Alas, the product has almost completely disappeared. Which is too bad – there’s an authentic creaminess to Frozen Custard you’ll not find in most ice cream.

However, the initial reason we came here is to visit White Sands National Monument, which we did yesterday and will continue today. This is a beautiful and unearthly place, a park in the truest sense of the word. Yesterday the stark white dunes’ slip (steep) faces were iced from melted snow and cold nights, and had become a magnet for kids with “flying saucer” sleds. Someone loaned me one for a ride and it was reminiscent of the more daring and stupid things I’d done as a child – like carving a snow slot on a steep tree-covered hillside, slopping it with water, then letting this set overnight for a sled run in the morning. Oh and why bother to check and see if the pond below has thick ice?

Although one sand/ice saucer ride was enough to bang my tailbone into Ibuprofen Alert Level Orange, none of the sledding kids seemed afflicted. All across White Sands the windless quiet afternoon echoed with shrieks and laughter and happy howls. We couldn’t have imagined a better day. And then a guy showed up with a camel in his horse trailer and proceeded to take “Matilda” for a stroll across the dunes. Kids came streaming from everywhere. It was Biblical.

Of course I took photographs. Part of my intent was to extend a long-standing series, “Snow in New Jersey” into other directions. The image below seeks that ground. I don’t think I made it really happen, but it was a worthy attempt.

By clicking Here you can link to the snow in NJ series and see for yourself.

But enough for now. The sun is up and bright and breakfast awaits. More to follow.

 Today's Tip

Fingers are good! Despite having several favorite kitchen tools I continue to get my hands in the dough. Pinching shortening into flour gives such better product than chopping with a food processor. And don't believe what you read about GF bread dough needing 2 or 3 minutes of fast machine stirring. Barely kneading and folding with your fingers works amazingly.

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