Cranberry Redemption

cranberry-stuff
     I have a confession to make. I’ve never been a fan of cranberry stuff at Thanksgiving – not sauce, relish, whatever. It seemed like some sort of Holy obligation — I had to eat some because of the sacred tradition.  My mom always opened a can and dumped it on a plate like some sort of  gelatinous cylinder…festive, flavorful, and to me, kind of industrial looking. It would be passed around the table like communion and folks would take a spoonful and deposit it on the side of their plate but not let it touch any of the other food…it was something apart.
     Now there are many ways to prepare cranberries and my mom experimented with different recipes but she had her hands full with everything else. We knew that it was best to stay out of the kitchen. I recall one year when there were flames roaring out of the oven and my mom and my aunt were franticly throwing stuff in the oven to put out the turkey. Another year the turkey lurched out of the oven and bounced across the floor. She picked it up and crammed it back in the oven and the look on her face said…”I dare you to say anything…it will be the last thing you ever say.”  So the little plate with the cranberry cylinder was fine.
     The cranberry plant has an odd life. It is sort of a vine-like shrub   that lives in a sandy, wet bog in rather cold climates — a very acidic environment. The common North American version (Vaccinium Macrocarpon) is somewhat different from the European variety but I have no idea what that difference is. We have several varieties or species of cranberries that have some differences in growing requirements or berry color but Vaccinium Macrocarpon is the one that seems to be widely cultivated. The Indians loved cranberries and probably introduced them to the hungry Pilgrims. I suspect you have seen the commercials with the two guys standing hip deep in a pond extolling the wonders of cranberries. The berries float so the farmers flood the bogs with enough water to float the berries above the submerged plants and then harvest the floating berries. The bogs are then drained after the harvest and the plants get ready for next Thanksgiving.
     As I said, I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving cranberry stuff. I generally like the flavor of cranberry juice and I like dried cranberries. There are lots of cranberry relish recipes all over the internet. The recipes seem almost like a desperate attempt to make something out of cranberries. Some have nuts, some have a mixture of other fruit, some have lemon peel, some attempt to replicate the same stuff that comes out of the can. None of the pictures look like anything I would want to eat much of. A chopped up cranberry mixed with other things that I can’t identify is not very inviting. My mom’s experiments with real cranberries didn’t seem to be an improvement over the convenience of opening a can while the smoke poured out of the oven.
     My days of big Thanksgiving dinners are behind me. I live 1,000 miles from most of my relatives so it is just me and my daughter  — who lives a short distance away —  conjuring up some sort of plan for the holiday. Neither one of us want a great deal of leftovers so we keep it small. This year we decided to forego cooking all together and made reservations at a local restaurant for the whole parade of traditional Thanksgiving  delicacies…including cranberry relish. Even in this situation, the cranberry concoction was served up in it’s own little Holy sepulcher …not part of the main attraction.  It was of the chopped or minced variety…not the semi-transparent gelatinous form. I pondered it for a minute or so. My plate was full of turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing (all drenched with turkey gravy) and green beans and candied sweet potatoes plus a basket of warm bread. That little dish of red stuff peered back at me…”Try me” it said, almost winking.  This seemed like too public a place to partake of the cranberry sacrament. Well…nobody was looking…I made a run for it and discreetly took a sample….and behold(!), I saw that it was good!  I tried some more…I was not deceived. It was quite good…very good.  It was clearly some sort of marriage of cranberry and orange marmalade.  Maybe I’ve been deprived all these years but I never considered those two flavors working well together. We enjoyed our dinner. My daughter also enjoyed the cranberries which I considered a good sign….it wasn’t just me. Perhaps the spell has been broken — we have reached cranberry redemption!  Shout Hallelujah!!!
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Globalquerque

Albuquerque is blessed to be the home of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. This seems to be the right place for such an institution as the Hispanic culture is very evident and generally embraced by this town. The native cuisine of Albuquerque and New Mexico, in general, is unique in its blend of Hispanic and American Indian and Anglo elements.  I’ve heard visitors complain that they can’t get real Mexican food here like they can back home at Taco Bell. That’s possibly true but they just need to look around the malls and Wal-Mart stores. The South Valley and the Barelas neighborhoods are ground zero for Hispanic culture but this is an old city, founded in 1706, and it has a long history of Spanish and Mexican rule before it became part of the United States. The Spanish were here before the Pilgrims and the Jametown colonists arrived on the east coast. You need to gain an understanding of Hispanic culture to understand much of Albuquerque and New Mexico.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe National Hispanic Cultural Center, located in the southern part of the city, is an amazing mix of museum, theater, training space, restaurant and outdoor performance space. Each year the center hosts Globalquerque…a celebration of international culture, music and crafts…especially music.  This event coincides with National Hispanic Heritage month.

The festivities last over a weekend and are accompanied by a longer film festival.  We went to the Thursday night movie: The Tasting Menu and then stopped in the restaurant for tapas, wine, gelato and coffee. The movie was in Spanish with English subtitles and had a clever plot.

On Saturday we went back for the global fiesta, a free event that took up most of the day. We saw another movie: The Green Revolution. This film offers a serious indictment of globalization and multinational agri-business in the destruction of local farming economies around the world. It sounds as though Monsanto and ADM are attempting to starve the peasant populations of developing countries into submission solely to make obscene profits. Genetically modified crops are being forced on third world nations  as a condition for economic aid.

The film was a little depressing but it was an eye opener. People in Haiti are reduced to eating sun-baked mud pies made of butter, honey and mud. The NAFTA trade agreement required a change to Mexico’s constitution to outlaw communal ownership of land which then favored corporate ownership. This is now driving farmers off their land and into cities or across borders.

The rest of the day was cheerier. We had some Indian and Thai curry for lunch. There were a number of performances and a vendor area where people sold hand-made crafts. I ended up buying a harp-like musical instrument made in Madagascar…I haven’t mastered it yet.

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The performances included musical groups from Angola and Congo, Indian Hoop Dancers, some Russian folk dancers and a group from Colombia called Cimarron.

Cimarron made a noble attempt to teach people how to dance the local Jaropo dance from the region of the Orinoco Plains. This is a fast moving, foot-stomping dance that you might have seen before in movies or on TV.

My attempt at dancing started off badly and improved only a little. This is quite a workout and could be used as an aerobic exercise…but it is not “low impact”.

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The Indian hoop dancers were very talented and also involved some volunteers from the spectators to join in. The hoops used in the dance represent different things, like the four compass directions (east, west, north, south) and the family unit. They take on that representation as they are incorporated into the dance.

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I enjoyed the day and came away knowing more than when I arrived. I tried to show off my dancing moves at home but it was a disaster.  I’ll go back next year and maybe learn a different dance…maybe easier.

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I Have Loved the Stars Too Fondly to be Fearful of the Night

Pliedes

Moonless starry sky

peeks through a  lace cloud curtain.

Pleiades appears.

This is sort of an early ‘heads up’. Mark your calendars for August 12th. That’s my birthday and also the peak of the Perseids meteor shower. If God ordained that I should be born on the date of the annual Perseids meteor shower then the least I should do is give thanks and stay up to watch the show. I’ve been doing this every year since I was about twelve years old and I’m turning 68, if all goes as planned. That’s fifty-six years of watching falling stars light up the sky.  I have friends around the country and in other countries, actually, who go out to watch the Perseids for my birthday.  It’s sort of a gift that they give themselves for my birthday. I invite you to join in. Just let me know. This should be a great year.

I delight in the night sky.

perseid

(The title comes from the poem “The Old Astronomer” by Sarah Williams, 1837 – 1868)

 

Albuquerque Beer Week

Once a year the city is pretty much taken over by craft beer enthusiasts. We are in the middle of the storm right now. I can’t begin to keep up with the craft breweries and brew-pubs that are opening here each month so I try to follow a few of the postings by local groups and occasionally attend one of the craft beer meet-up group’s get-togethers. I live fifteen miles north of Albuquerque so I’m not inclined to spend too much time in a brewery and then try to get home….it’s an occasional thing.

A large part of the Beer Week experience is the “tap take-over” where an out of town brewery brings their beer and offers it at a local brewpub. Throughout the week we’ve had Ballast Point Brewery, Deshutes, Mother Road, Ska, Lagunitas, New Belgium and about a dozen others in addition to special releases from the many local breweries.

Mother Road’s Sour Beer (Flagstaff, AZ)
Ska Brewing – Modus Hoperandi (Durango, CO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Battle of the Beer Geeks” is a brewing competition where five groups brew a special beer back about six weeks ago and then face off in an afternoon contest.  The beers tend to be a little bit unusual. This year there was a Saison, a Breakfast Stout, a Ginger-spiced Ale, an Oak Aged Farmhouse Bret, and a Sage and Lemon Pale Ale. My group brewed the Farmhouse Bret. As it turned out, I’m not sure I could have more than a pint of any of the five but my choice was the Sage and Lemon Ale. It had an IBU of 19 and ABV of 9 but it tasted bigger — with a definite sage and herbal flavor.  Each participant had to sample all five beers and then vote and they got a pint of their favorite. At the end of the day the Sage and Lemon Pale Ale ran away with the vote. Out beer was a distant second.

the competition beers
The winner — Sage-Lemon Pale Ale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are about five or six events every day and I have no intention of attending more than a handful. Today there was an interesting event at Marble Brewing’s westside brewpub. the brewery teamed up with Whole Foods and had a pairing of five of Marble’s beers with five distinctive styles of cheese. I like beer and I like cheese — so this was up my alley.

IMG_0254 The selections and pairings were interesting….I’m not sure who did the pairing selections. A smoky Rauchbier was paired with Jasper Hills Landaff Holstein – a nice cheese from Vermont. A Maibock was paired with Uniekaas Truffle Gouda…a Dutch cheese with Italian black truffles. A Double White (wheat beer with some spice) was paired with Wensleydale cheese with Cranberries — from the UK (eat your heart out Wallace and Gromit – their favorite cheese). A Brett IPA was paired with Igor Gorgonzola — from Italy. An Oatmeal Stout was paired with Piave Vecchio — a hard and dry cheese from Italy. There were some Spanish almonds, Sicilian olives and some sweet Peruvian peppers along with some water crackers on the tray to help with the tastings.

IMG_0256I can only speak for myself but the Brett and the Gorgonzola should not be allowed in the same room together. I liked the cheese but the beer was not anything I would want. It was drinkable paired with the sweet peppers but only barely. I liked all of the cheeses and most were new to me. The Rauchbier and Vermont cheese was my favorite pairing. The Stout paired with the hard and flaky Italian cheese was my second choice. The Gorgonzola was a strong cheese and needed a beefy beer so it went better with the Rauchbier and the Stout than the Brett. Third and fourth place was really a tie in my selection. I was puzzled about the Maibock because it didn’t resemble what I thought the style should be. The Maibock went okay with the Truffle Gouda but the cheese really overpowered the beer. The Double White was an unusual beer (sweet wheat with spices) for me and the pairing with the creamy English cheese with cranberries was an improvement but it was an okay pairing. I was drinking a Wildflower Wheat on the side and some of the milder cheese went well with that.

As an added treat, Le Chat Lunatique performed as the beer/cheese pairings were winding down. I wasn’t familiar with the band but they were outstanding. I’ll be looking for them in the future. (http://www.lechatlunatique.com/)

Le Chat Lunatique
Doing a bang-up version of Caravan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beer Week continues for another few days. if I go to any other events I might post an update.

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Wednesday Roam — Christmas Greetings, etc.

Well, here we are — it’s Christmas Eve. The War on Christmas seems to be winding down — and since it never existed in the first place I guess that also is a false perception.  I’ve not heard that much out of the weak-kneed Bible Thumpers this year about how poor little Christmas was being attacked from all sides. Oh ye of little faith. My Christmas is as strong and robust as ever.

There are a number of religious holidays and observances this time of year. There is nothing wrong with wishing someone Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. Christmas doesn’t suffer a black eye because you wish the best for people of other faiths (or people of no faiths).  I sent out a number of “Seasons Greetings” cards along with my Christmas cards. Happy Solstice.

So for my many Christian friends, I wish you a joyous Christmas and hope that The Dawn of Redeeming Grace enlightens your life in the year ahead.