Tuesday, February 27, 2007

English Adjectives

I always imagine English must be a very difficult language to learn. I was thinking about the modifier "dim and cool." That conjures up lovely images for me--refreshing relief on a hot day, an elegant Victorian drawing room in London in the spring....

Now contrast that with "dark and cold". Almost the same words--but a totally different meaning! This time it's frightening, dangerous....

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Whole Foods and Wild Oats

So Whole Foods and Wild Oats are merging.....This has created controversy in Santa Fe where Wild Oats customers are not pleased. In today's New Mexican, they were described as "stunned and dismayed". One shopper denigrated Whole Foods as the "Wal-Mart of natural groceries"; another described them as part of the "big box thing taking over this town". Still another did not want to shop at Whole Foods because it's where "the disposable-income people shop, look good, and flirt."

When I lived in Cambridge I shopped at Whole Foods pretty regularly. It had lots of great products, and you could get things there (like fresh-squeezed tangerine juice or out-of-season raspberries) that just weren't available anyplace else. But I have to say I liked it better when it was Bread and Circus, and local.

Here in Santa Fe, I've become a Trader Joe's fan, where the prices are much better.

But none of these places can hold a candle to Idylwilde Farms in Acton, Massachusetts, where I shopped for years, and would still shop today--except it's a bit of a drive from New Mexico. Even when I lived in Cambridge (25 miles from Acton), I used to shop there every 8 weeks or so--it was like an addiction! Those of us who shopped there on weekends used to say it was like going to church--that we worshipped at Idylwilde on Sunday mornings. They ground their own coffee beans and juiced their own oranges and baked their own baguettes on site--what delicious smells! Fresh flowers from their own greenhouses, perfect produce, an incredible choice of cheeses, imported foods, and their own farm-grown food in season--it's hard to do it justice on paper.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Talking Urinal Cakes

February 10th's New Mexican brought a story about a new device designed to curb drinking and driving. The state has ordered 500 high-tech deodorizing cakes for placement in urinals in bars and restaurants in Santa Fe and other New Mexico cities and towns. When an approaching male sets off the motion detector, the cake speaks to the customer in a friendly female voice: "Hey there, big guy. Having a few drinks? Listen up. Think that you've had a few too many? It's time to call a cab or ask a sober friend for a ride home. . . "

Drunk driving is a huge problem in New Mexico, and for all I know this may be a fabulous deterrent. However, I would have wanted to study the impact on a man who'd had a few too many drinks approaching a urinal and having it speak to him. And what about a restroom with several such cakes installed, providing this message in sort of an echo-chambery not-quite-unison: "Hey there, hey there, big guy, big guy...."

The product is called Wizmark. (I'm not even going there.) The manufacturer, Healthquest Technologies, also has a female-oriented product which flashes a message on a screen affixed to the stall door. It's quiet and private, matching women's bathroom habits I guess.

It boggles.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

High Altitude Cooking

Did you know that water boils at 198 degrees (instead of 212) in Santa Fe? While high altitude baking gets a lot of attention, there are a lot of other side effects of cooking at 7,000 feet (and it packs a double whammy because the air is so dry here as well). The lower boiling temperature means coffee isn't as hot when you make it as it is at lower altitudes, so it cools off faster. The dryness means you need a little extra moisture in some foods. And while oven-baked foods may need higher oven temperatures and may take longer to cook, microwave food cooks faster, due to the faster evaporation of liquids at high altitude.

New knowledge courtesy of John Vollertsen (known locally as Chef Johnny Vee)--a chef, food writer for the local paper and the Santa Fean magazine, director of the Las Cosas Cooking School, and food celebrity about town. He did an enthusiastic, entertaining, and gossipy presentation (think Shirley MacLaine stories) at the Santa Fe Newcomers' Club on Tuesday--great fun!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Katherine of Aragon

I have just finished reading The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory, a novel about Katherine of Aragon. It's a riveting read, but the most profound effect it has on me was to make me aware of my vast ignorance about Katherine and her story. I've clearly spent too much time reading The Wall Street Journal and detective fiction in the past few years, and not enough time studying history!

Like most of you (I imagine), I knew Katherine was Henry the 8th's first wife, and was divorced by him, causing Henry to break with the Pope. But I guess that's about it....If pressed, I could probably have told you she was from Spain (it's the Aragon part, duh....)

Admitting this kind of ignorance publicly is a risky undertaking, but in case you haven't read the book and don't plan on it, here are some cool historical facts (verified elsewhere than the novel by me, since I wanted to be sure!):

1. Katherine was the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand (of Castile and Aragon respectively).

2. Katherine's mother Isabella famously funded Christopher Columbus' exploration of the New World--but that's all I knew about her. My opinion of her has been formed largely by paintings such as this one

in which Columbus is petitioning the court and Isabella lounges in her throne swaddled in satin and lace. It turns out she was a powerful co-regent with Ferdinand--marrying him at 18 without the permission of her family, and putting a place a pre-nup that allowed her to maintain and consolidate her power. Their joint motto was: "Tanto monta, monta tanto, Isabel como Fernando" ("They amount to the same, Isabella and Ferdinand.")

3. Isabella and Ferdinand unfortunately also started the Inquisition in Spain--Torquemada was Isabella's confessor.

4. Katherine met Henry the 8th when he was 10 years old! She was betrothed to Henry's older brother Arthur shortly after her birth and traveled to England for the marriage at the age of 16. She and Arthur (who was a couple of months younger than she) were only married a few months before he died, and she eventually married Henry when he was 17 and she was 23. I have this vision of Henry as the fat, dissolute-looking monarch he was in the paintings done towards the end of his life, but apparently he was a tall, slim, and handsome young prince.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

New Mexico State Quarter

Yesterday an article ran in the Santa Fe New Mexican about the final designs being considered for the New Mexico state quarter. New Mexico is one of the last five states to be commemorated, and our quarter is scheduled for release in 2008 (along with Alaska, Hawaii, and other laggards).

The current finalists for the design all show an outline of the state and a Zia Sun Symbol. Some include the tagline "Land of Enchantment" and some don't.

Rejected designs include strings of chilis, hot air balloons, UFOs, and a mushroom cloud. Click here to read the full text of the article. Current reader feedback indicates that by and large they think the proposed designs are boring.

Click here to read more about the Zia symbol, and its sacred meaning in the Zia Pueblo culture. The symbol is heavily used in New Mexico--on the state flag and license plate for example--and monetary compensation is currently being made to the Zia Pueblo for the use of the symbol.

Reading about the proposed New Mexico quarter prompted me to go and look at all the other state designs, and here are some of the things I noticed:

• Both North Carolina and Ohio feature the Wright Brothers

• Both Alabama and Mississippi include the magnolia

• Illinois has the busiest quarter--with Abe Lincoln, a farm scene, the Chicago skyline, the state outline, and 21 stars

• If the New Mexico Zia design goes through, it would be the only quarter (at least according to my observations) which features anything to do with Native America (if you don't count bison).

In your opinion, how well does your state quarter reflect what you think and feel about your state? (If you're not sure what your state quarter looks like, click here to see the images on the US Mint site.)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Official State Neckwear of New Mexico

Photo courtesy of southwestaffinity.com

You'll be pleased to hear that one of the bills being voted on in the New Mexico state legislature this session is HB 115, which proposes to make the bolo the official state tie or neckwear of New Mexico. The House passed the bill unanimously on January 31st, and the Senate Rules Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on February 2 on an identical bill (SB 19).

New Mexico named the bolo its official state neckwear in a non-binding memorial in 1987. If the bills become law this session, the bolo will be listed in the same section of state law that includes the official state bird, animal, reptile, butterfly, cookie, and song(s).

Interestingly enough, the "coat and tie" expectations in the New Mexico legislature allow Senators to wear the bolo to work, but not members of the House.

I look forward to other states stepping up to the plate here to claim the bow tie, the cravat, the Hermes scarf, the four-in-hand, or the double strand of pearls as their official state neckwear. Any takers?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The 1st of February

I know it's the third of February, but it was still spitting snow on the first (not good picture-taking weather).

We had two small additional snowstorms this week for a total of about 5-6 inches. So that brings our 06-07 winter to somewhere between 50-55 inches of snow. This is about twice the average annual snowfall! Considering that Santa Fe has had below average snowfall for years (let's not quibble about what that does to the "average"), this has been an amazing winter.

The photo above shows a view down the street from my driveway.

The photo to the left shows the front yard. This is on the shady side of the house so there's still a lot of snow there--across the street the front yard snow is pretty much gone. And trees are still bare; I do expect to have buds to show you by March 1st!

The sharp-eyed among you will notice that the pile of snow in the last photo is in nearly the same location as the leaf oval (topic of a previous post).