Saturday, May 21, 2016


Tilapia tacos at home.

I remember the first time I had tacos. It was about four years ago in Las Cruces at the Pro's Ranch Mexican grocery store. I was doing some grocery shopping and I was curious of the line of people at the taqueria.

As the mariachi music blared and the cooks behind the counter created their own symphony of spatulas on stainless steel, I went up, uneasy and hesitant because I didn't speak Spanish, and ordered two tacos.

"Two steak tacos, please," I shouted over the counter, careful not to let any spit come out of my mouth and onto the counter.

"Sure," the lady said.

Before that day, I never paid attention to the small tacos covered in pico de gallo, onions, cilantro and accompanied by limes. They didn't usually sell these in restaurants so I didn't have much exposure to them as a restaurant reviewer for the local paper.

"Thank you," I said to the cashier.

I took my two tacos to the toppings bar and covered them in onions, cilantro, pico de gallo and salsa. The little white corn tortillas disappeared under the toppings and I was disappointed; with the size and mess mostly.

I picked one up and it dripped all over. I was more disappointed. I took a bite and juices ran down my chin. I was even more disappointed.

Lightly grilled white corn tortillas. Grilled and smokey meat. Fresh pico de gallo. Spicy, roasted red chile salsa. Cilantro. Lime juice. Some sort of culinary sorcery.

My eyes widened and I stared at my dinner partner, who also never had tacos before that time.


Pro's Ranch.

That bite changed the way I thought about tacos. For more than 20 years, tacos to me were these cheap hard-shelled things that fell apart when you bit them and only came with salty ground beef.

These were fresh, spicy, juicy, and full of a wide range of flavors; a perfect combination of flavors.

After that day I always said, "you could put a dead snake in a taco and it would be delicious."

Since then I've had chicken tacos, fish tacos, pork tacos, duck tacos, pig intestines tacos, Spam tacos, vegetarian tacos. I've had tacos in restaurants and in food trucks, but I especially like tacos from small corner-of-the-grocery store joints like Pro's Ranch.

I like tacos with rice and beans. I like tacos by themselves. I even like them with beer or sitting in the car alone at midnight.

I've had a lot of tacos so, I think I can be snooty about it. I've met some bad tacos and some that didn't even deserve to be called tacos.

Tacos are very popular right now. They're a fad, and that comes with some ridiculousness.

Vampire tacos. Pancake tacos. Hipster tacos.

The original recipe, the holy combination of taco ingredients (meat, pico de gallo, salsa, cilantro and lime) doesn't need to be messed with. But the popularity and novelty status of the taco created some really shitty flavors.

The worse taco I had was on a homemade blue corn tortilla that was so thick and hard, it was like that one weird tortilla chip at the bottom of the bag that's all thick and nasty. It was topped with some kind of meat, I don't remember now because it was so bad, I tried to forget it. It had some kind of cactus salsa that tasted like a sweet jelly with no flavor. There was mango stuff but no limes or cilantro. It was the shittiest thing I ever ate. And it made me angry.

A taco truck near my apartment. They set up on weekend nights.

I strayed from the traditional taco a few times and tried some topped with arugula and micro-greens but they were always disappointing. I had to reset myself at the taqueria.

I definitely have a love for tacos, but I stay away from the novelty stuff. It's not worth it and it's a fad that's going to fade soon, I hope.

This summer I'm going to bring the taco to the Eastern Navajo Nation Fair in Crownpoint, New Mexico. My family and I have always been interested in making food at the fair, so we're going all in this year with tacos. And we're bringing plenty of grilled meats, cilantro and limes.

This was my idea because I want to bring something I love home to the reservation. I want to share these flavors because, like me, they might have not experienced a taco. If there's one thing everyone needs, it's a taste of something different and wonderful; something that could change the way they think about food.

A regular occurrence at my place.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My Birthday in Ireland

Well, I had the best time in Ireland! I was there for my birthday, my sister's spring break and St. Patrick's Day. That's March 12 to 18. We sort of ate our way through the southern part of the country from Shannon, Tralee, Cork, Wexford, Dublin and back to Shannon. 

So, let me tell you about some of the things we ate...  

Bread and butter at the restaurant in Hayfield Manor in Cork city. 

First, the butter and bread. Irish butter is something else. It is very delicious, creamy, savory and buttery. It's different than American butter, I think. We didn't leave any butter on the table during the whole trip.

Open-faced roast Irish beef sandwiches with a horse radish mayo from the Hayfield Manor in Cork city.

The Irish take pride in their beef. It's always labeled on menus as "100% Irish beef." Although this sandwich was very dry and over powered by arugula, I enjoyed it after a full day on the road. 

I think arugula is a fad in Ireland. Everything had arugula on it or in it. I have nothing against arugula. I appreciate it's nice nutty flavor, but not with everything. It can get bitter real fast.

Breakfast set up at Killiane Castle in Wexford.

 During our trip, we stayed in castles and every morning we had breakfast on a beautifully set table. They served a lot of bread, oatmeal and yogurt toppings and all kinds of juice. I loved the endless amounts of butter and great coffee. 

My sister's favorite part about the breakfast in our first castle stay was the huge, warm scone —bigger than your fist—slathered with butter and sweet blackberry and strawberry jam. 

We also noticed, that in many of these breakfast buffet lineups, there was an assortment of preserved meats like prosciutto and smoked salmon. It was odd to see salmon in the lineup, but that's how they do and it's delicious. My sister also ordered a breakfast plate that included eggs and salmon. Simple, right? When it came, we were surprised to see the salmon scrambled with the eggs. I didn't get a taste of it, because I was fork-deep in my Full Irish Breakfast, but she enjoyed every morsel of it. 

Many dishes we ate are not pictured because we had to get into them as fast as we could!

The Full Irish Breakfast at the Ballyseede Castle in Tralee,  Co. Kerry.

With our free hotel/castle breakfast, I got the Full Irish Breakfast. Those two sausages were the best I've had in a long time. The pork was finely ground like a meatball and it wasn't overly greasy or spicy like breakfast sausages here. The black and white puddings were my favorite in the Full Irish Breakfast. It was my first time having black pudding and I didn't know what it was until I looked it up afterwards. Blood sausage. I love it. It's definitely a lot more subtle compared to Navajo blood sausage, which is the only other blood sausage I've eaten. Oh, and the bacon was like a nice slice of ham. It wasn't overly salty and bacon-ey like it is here. I hate the bacon here. 

Crisp duck leg on roast potatoes and chorizo at the Cornstore Restaurant in Cork city. 

This was my birthday dinner. I love the taste of duck and I appreciate the presence of different types of birds on the menu in Ireland. The potatoes with the chorizo were tasty, but I didn't really understand the chorizo. It felt a little out of place. Also the pickled purple onions seem to be a fad too. They were everywhere including on top of my duck. Purple pickled onions don't taste like anything besides vinegar. I wish they would go away. Some of us actually like the taste of onions. 

A pint of Roundstone Irish Ale at the Church in Dublin.

You might cringe when I say Guinness is not my favorite drink. I'll order it every now and then, but it's not something I crave. Although I had a couple of pints while in Ireland, it didn't make me like it any more than I do. I enjoyed this ale a lot more than that thick black stuff. 

The Knight's Club at the restaurant in Clontarf Castle in Dublin.

After a long day walking the streets of Dublin, this dinner was so satisfying. My sandwich was really big and topped with a duck egg. The toasted bread cut my mouth, but it was good. My sister's braised beef ribs were one of the best things I had while in Ireland and they totally out shined my sandwich. They were braised in beer and it tasted like Guinness. I loved it! For $16, her plate was loaded with too much than she could handle. They know how to feed knights here. 

Irish beef stew at Dromoland Castle in Co. Clare.

On St. Patrick's Day, we left Dublin and made our way across the country to County Clare and Dromoland Castle. This was the most lavish castle we stayed at during the week and their St. Patrick's Day menu included this beef stew with mashed potatoes. I liked it and I enjoyed the novelty of it, but it wasn't' my favorite. For me, stews are better as leftovers, or with a piece of frybread and green chile. Sorry, that's my Native New Mexican coming out.

An interesting observance: There was no cabbage and corned beef on any menus that we read. I guess that's only in the U.S. during St. Patrick's Day. 

The best thing I ate in Ireland was the fish and chips at Coopers Inn Restaurant in Killinick, which is in a small town by the sea. The hake was lightly breaded and drizzled with some kind of buttery sauce. I combined that with a squeeze of lemon and malt vinegar. Oh, goodness, I was in heaven! And this place was a little pub that we almost missed. We almost didn't eat here because it was small and the barmaid said they weren't serving the whole menu and only the bar menu was available. But I'm glad we stayed. 

Visiting Ireland was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I always dreamed of coming here and seeing where my name came from. I did it, and it was tasty too. If you get a chance to visit, don't forget to eat and try new things. My sister and I went with a frugal mind. We said, "we're going to fill up on the free breakfast and snack the rest of the day on little foods." But we didn't. We love food too much. We had a full breakfast, lunch and dinner the whole week we were here and we don't regret it one bit!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

New Year's Resolution


I didn't have ideas for resolutions for the new year. I can't stick to them, usually, and they end up disappointing me, especially when they involve my weight and diets. 

But after a week into the year, and after a good meal at a new restaurant, it came to me...

I resolve to not eat at chain restaurants and fast food restaurants for a year. 

It's an easy enough goal to achieve because I try to eat at local places as much as I can. 

So I'm going to try this out for an entire year. So far, I've been good about it. I've eaten at a small taco joint (Mexican grocery store) with a new friend. The local Indian buffet with my family. I called in an order for a delicious gyro from the Kasbah for a quick dinner. 

This could be easy. 

...A week later... February...

I already experienced a dilemma. Last Tuesday, I didn't eat dinner. I finished work late (7 p.m.) and I thought I'd pick up a quick lengua torta from the Mexican place next door and I'll head over to theater rehearsal at 7:30 p.m. No. It didn't work out like that. The Mexican place was closed and I drove up and down Central Avenue for 15 minutes wasting time. 

As I drove around, I dismissed restaurants because they didn't seem fast enough, I wasn't in the mood for it or it was closed. In that time, I realized I'm a picky eater sometimes. That frustrated me and I was furious as I bought a bag of peanut M&Ms at a CVS. I had my heart set on that lengua taco and nothing else mattered. I was also furious that I turned down El Taco Tote. I ate there a while back and it was delicious! I love the taco bar, salsa and numerous meats on the menu. But it's a chain! Or is it?

I looked at El Taco Tote's website and they have 20 locations; mostly in El Paso. Is that a chain? What qualifies as a chain? I think Blake's Lotaburger is a local New Mexico joint, but they have 68 locations in New Mexico with two in El Paso and two in Tucson. Why did I consider El Taco Tote a chain restaurant and Lotaburger a local restaurant? Well part of it is because Lotaburger is a staple of The Land of Enchantment. El Taco Tote? From El Paso.

I mean, a restaurant can be successful, right? And success can be local, right? Lotaburger was once a tiny thing, but it grew to be New Mexico's favorite. El Taco Tote seems to be the same. It started as a tiny taco joint in El Paso. So maybe I can eat at El Taco Tote next time... I think I will. 

It's a dilemma, alright. But I'll be forcing myself to try new restaurants and explore a little "harder." 

Now, Taco Cabana, is definitely a chain restaurant. It's part of Fiesta Restaurant Group, an investment company. Damn... I liked their tacos and their tortillas. I guess I won't be visiting Taco Cabana (or Pollo Tropical) this year. I'll have to find tacos and tortillas elsewhere. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Food Review: Jan. 24

Tonight's kitchen was messy with a few dirty dishes spread across the kitchen. I didn't feel like looking at the mess so I took a seat at the dining table, which was a little cluttered from the day's shopping bags and new items (food and nonfood). A mix of dance rock from the Eagles of Death Metal played from the kitchen and gave my brain more energy than my body actually had. It was kind of exhausting at 10 p.m. on Sunday. 

Tonight's menu: green chile cheese enchiladas with calabacitas. 

Each enchilada was small and rolled tight, which helped smooth out the sharp cheddar in the middle. The sauce was a little bit salty, but full of warm and spicy green chile goodness. It tasted very familiar, or, like a mix of all green chile sauces I tasted before. Some sauces are very good and some are OK. 

Let me tell you about the bad sauces I had; the bad sauces have loads of heat and chile with no substantial flavor. The good ones have all the chile flavor with varying heat. This sauce was leaning on that really good side where none of the ingredients conflicted or stood out too much, but they complemented the green chile and put it on a pedestal. Even though it was kind of salty, it added a salt to the tortilla and cheese. Imagine if there was some chicken or beef in there! 

The calabacitas, on the other hand, was a simple mix of squash, red bell peppers, onions, corn and black beans. There was nothing special about them, in fact, I ate them first go get them out of the way so I can focus on the enchilada. It needed something like a spice or a sauce; maybe more time on the cast iron to caramelize. Maybe I don't like the taste of bell peppers anymore. I'm still on the fence with that one. Sometimes I appreciate some peppers and other times, like tonight, it's lackluster, out of place and almost off putting.  

The cheesy enchiladas carried the weight of the dish tonight. But we have to have our veggies, right?

Out of boredom and necessity, I cook a lot of food on Sundays. I usually take out all the stops or try new dishes. In the Sunday Food Review, I review my own Sunday cooking.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Eating: We do it every day

I recently introduced my dad to a kale salad. It was premade from Sam's Club and I pared it with some caramelized Brussels sprouts and roast chicken. He had a good time and said he would like to buy more of that kale salad.

Slowly, but surely, I'm introducing my parents to more foods and new ingredients.   

My parents (and I) are from the Navajo Nation reservation and they live in a small town called Crownpoint, New Mexico. Unlike a lot of Navajos on the reservation, my parents have access to good food. They live less than a mile from the grocery store, which carries a wide variety of foods. Even though fresh things can be expensive, the store has a nice little produce section. 

As a family, we started eating healthier about 5 or 6 years ago. We lost weight together and gained weight together. It's a challenge but we always try to keep to that healthy goal. 

The thing for my parents, though, is that they sometimes get stuck in a rut when it comes to variety and flavor. They get bored (even though they're both very good in the kitchen). I believe, you can give people healthy foods and tell them to eat healthy foods, but do they know how to cook them? Variety and spice is key to never getting bored with your food. 

If your food doesn't excite you, why would you keep eating it? 

I'm trying to bring variety and flavor to my family because I'm a foodie whose tasted variety and flavors from all over the world and I make it a personal hobby to try new things and cook new things whenever I get the chance. 

My family now has a passion for food and it blossomed since my sister and I "left the nest." My parents have more money and time to themselves now and they sometimes use it to explore foods. My sister and I have more money and time to explore food too. And every time we get together or talk on the phone, we talk about food and new things we tried and liked and didn't like. These are some of the most lively conversations we have because the passion is there.
We're exploring together and it's a fantastic journey that leads to healthier choices and more passion for the food we buy, cook and eat. 

There was a time I didn't have this much passion for food and flavor. But I realized: eating is something we do every day and we do it for as long as we're alive. Food is the most important part of life. We should have a passion and respect for it. We should be excited about food and it should be a good experience.  

Like I said before, flavor and variety is key to never getting bored but that comes with either a lot of take-out or from cooking. One of them is definitely harder than the other, but it's necessary. For something we do every single day, we should know how to cook. 

I learned to cook through years of observing, listening, reading and trying. And I'm still no expert. I get bored sometimes and I end up eating something premade that's much saltier and greasier than what I would normally cook for myself. I can't imagine what's it's like for people who can't cook. They probably eat a lot of take-out, fast food and premade salty things. 

I'm a big advocate for cooking in the home. If you're just beginning, keep at it! If you don't know how, please try. At the end of a great meal that you've made yourself (after 30 minutes or 3 hours in the kitchen), there's an uplifting, almost spiritual experience that ignites that passion and excitement. It's a great feeling. That's what keeps me in the kitchen. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Food Review: Dec. 13

Around 10 p.m. on Sundays one can smell all sorts of spices coming from the apartment. That's because after 10 p.m. is when two or three dishes come together and it's time for an intimate taste test. Small plates, small portions; very exclusive. Actually no one is invited. You stand in the kitchen because the table is a mess of ingredients, utensils, empty shopping bags and a ravaged UPS package.

The kitchen, though, was spotless and clean. I didn't worry about staining my clothes while leaning on the sink.

Tonight's menu? Seasoned salmon with fried Brussels sprouts, toasted almonds and onions.

While cutting into a piece of salmon, it was obvious that it was cooked perfectly because it flaked beautifully. The salmon was seasoned lightly with garlic, salt and pepper and it was delicious. (The less you use on meats, especially fish, the better. You don't want to hide meat flavors, it doesn't do justice to the animal.). I did a little dance in the kitchen to the heavy sounds of Queens of the Stone Age playing from a small speaker on the counter. There's usually some sort of rock 'n' roll or rockabilly in the kitchen on Sunday nights.

The fried mix of Brussels sprouts, purple onion and toasted almonds were a perfect partner for the salmon. Some parts of the sprouts were caramelized but still had some green and a little bitterness to them. The onions were sweet and the almonds added a little nuttiness and a crunch. The butter used to cook this side dish added a little flavor which I'm not sure went well with these ingredients. Maybe olive oil or some fat more subtle might have been better. It was an exciting mouthful none the less.

Out of boredom and necessity, I cook a lot of food for the next couple of days on Sundays. I usually take out all the stops or try new dishes. In the Sunday Food Review, I review my own Sunday cooking creations.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving Food Photos

This year's feast was a pretty one. Check it out!

My plate was filled with mostly vegetables. Wild rice, roast root vegetables, mashed potatoes, bread dressing, green bean casserole and some turkey with cranberry sauce. Everything was tasty. The turkey my grandma baked was on point and juicy, so was her turkey gravy.  

My aunt's family made some gingerbread and sugar cookies. This was a cute spread. The cookies were in the shape of leaves, squirrels and acorns. 

No special Murphy dinner is complete without chips and salsa. My dad usually makes the salsa and this year it was especially tasty with lots of cilantro. Spicy goodness!

My mom usually makes the pumpkin pies for our Thanksgiving dinner. She makes these pies all night and works with a huge plastic bowl when making the filling. The house smells like pumpkin pies for three days. 

My mom also makes the yeast rolls every year. This year's rolls were perfect! They were a little sweet, yeasty, fluffy and fresh.

For the last few years, I've been making the cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries. This year, we didn't have any orange juice, so I improvised and used apple juice. It was tasty!

I also spent all night peeling, seeding and chopping all these vegetables. I have a small bruise on my hand from all the rough knife work. The finished product was OK. I think the parsnip took over the dish because it was a little bitter and odd. I covered it up with some brown sugar which made the sweet potatoes pop.

I also brought some Brussels sprouts to the party.

I made roast Brussels sprouts with baby purple onions and walnuts. I halfway steamed the sprouts and onions and finished them in a cast iron pan with some bacon grease. This was tasty and I'm surprised that many members of my family said they loved Brussels sprouts. I spent nearly an hour peeling those damned onions! How do you peel them faster?

This, I thought was one of the best things I've made (without a recipe) in a long time. It's wild rice with cranberries, toasted walnuts and Portabella mushrooms. I cooked the wild rice in half water and chicken stock, sauteed the mushrooms and added the two together. I added the cranberries and toasted walnuts when the butter melted into the rice. I was so satisfied and excited to share with this everyone. I think they liked it. Not all of them are open to new foods.
I ordered the wild rice from an acquaintance on the Fond du Lac reservation in Minnesota.

Talking About Food

In a whole different way, food brings people together without food actually being present.

On a lazy and gray weekend my parents and I met with my uncles. We haven't seen them in a long while and outside our regular greetings and "how are you"s, there was not much to talk about. We stood around in a circle and looked out to the horizon and pretended to be interested in what was going on in that horizon. It was kind of awkward for me so I smiled and looked from one family member to the other. Then my dad said "I'm hungry" and everyone's ears perked up.

"We're going to go into town, where should we eat?" my dad asked.

My uncles came alive and we had a good conversation about food, restaurants, portions and prices. That's when I saw another positive aspect of food.

One of the best things about being a foodie is the great conversations you can have with anyone. Because everyone eats food they have something to say about it. Talking about food is so easy and for me, it can turn into an hours-long conversation if something or someone doesn't stop me.

In a whole different way, food brings people together without food actually being present.

I like some sports (in small doses), but I cannot talk about it. I certainly didn't have the vocabulary to talk to some of my coworkers about sports -- some of whom were sports reporters. There was a lot of sports chatter at my former workplace and I felt a little left out. But every once in a while, they would talk about food and they would talk to me about food. Some folks I never really talked to, but I did have one or two conversations about food with them.

In my current workplace, we have daily, sometimes multiple, conversations about food (I think on my job interview, the interview was taken over by a conversation about food!). And as the new girl last year, food talk broke the ice for me. When I mentioned food, an easy conversation was started and it lead to a couple of friendships.

But lately, I noticed some snootiness coming from myself when I'm talking about food. If they mention restaurants or foods I don't like, I can be judgey. And I don't like that. I realize I'm a more advanced eater than a lot of people because I have this blog, I take food photos, I read food magazines, articles and listen to food podcasts. And sometimes I get annoyed by some people and it shows a little bit. I'm working on it.