Tuesday, February 28, 2017

New foodie podcast: Toasted Sister

I've been busy with another food project!

I created the Toasted Sister Podcast at the beginning of January. It's a bi-monthly podcast about Native food where I talk to Native chefs and foodies. It's available on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud and Podcast Addict.

It took some planning to put this thing together. I've been talking about it for a while and it's cool to finally see it come to fruition. Within a few days, I created a website, learned about how to get the program included in different podcast distributors and I drew the logo myself! When this thing takes off, I'm going to make some Toasted Sister T-shirts or postcards!

I'm keeping these episodes to 30 minutes because too many podcasts run on and on for more than an hour and most of us don't have an hour to listen to—what quickly become—ramblings.

KCZY, the Navajo Technical University radio station in Crownpoint, New Mexico (my hometown) plays Toasted Sister episodes some times.

Check it out and please share. As far as I know, there's no other podcast out there that focuses only on Native food.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Lunch Time

Lunch time. Some of you get an hour. Some of you get a few minutes.

At the Native America Calling radio studios (where I work), we don't have a set lunch hour and we don't usually leave the office. We decide when we eat and we take as much time as we need. Usually this is about 20 to 30 minutes right after the live show at noon. But it wasn't always like this, I hear.

Before I got here, there was a lot of eating at desks and wolfing food down while standing by the microwave. I don't think the large break room table was used much until I sat down those first few days and ate my lunch.

Pretty soon the senior producer joined me. Then the engineer. Then the distribution director and then the sales guy. This is the "lunch bunch."

On most days, we sit around the big break room table and talk about the food we brought for the day. We talk about restaurants and cooking adventures and failures. We share dishes and food ideas and we're getting really good at hosting taco and Frito pie parties in the office. And every week, there's always some kind of pastry or sweets on the table to share. For example, today, there was pumpkin pie and a large cheese Danish on the table.

We usually bring homemade food from home, except for the occasional burger and burrito from Hurricane's diner next door. It's interesting to see what my co-workers bring. The sales guy is always bringing in some kind of juicy meat and things from a local garden. The senior producer always brings something from a crock pot, or something she cooked and doesn't like, but she made so much of it, she unhappily eats it all week. And the distribution director always brings something loaded with carbs, like rice, fried rice and pasta.

Over the past seven years that I've been a full-time, working adult, packing lunch has become part of life. But I'm still getting a handle of it. Sometimes it's hard to make sure I have lunch ready every morning, Monday to Friday. And it's hard to dedicate your lazy Sundays to cooking large portions of food for the week.

But, at the same time, it's fun to do that kind of meal prep. My favorite thing to make in large quantities is Middle Eastern and Indian food. Sometimes it's fun to fill all my Tupperware with lunches and then put some in the freezer for later. When I put meals in the freezer, I feel like I'm winning at this adult thing.

The reason why I sat alone at the big break room table those first few days at work is because I value food too much to hurry it up at my desk. I also can't work and eat at the same time. I need to look at my food, smell it and taste it. I need to acknowledge the ingredients and review my own cooking. I need to enjoy eating. It's a shame that so many people treat lunch time as an hour or a few minutes to fill a void and then rush back to work. They're missing out on a whole lot and they're probably missing out on the people they work with.

We had a Halloween Bake-Off last year. There's a pumpkin pie, hot dog mummies, spice cake, pie and coconut macaroons. Yes, all we had was sweets that day. We didn't really think that one through.

A black beery cheesecake I  made for the office.

Tacos in the office!

Sweet potato curry with rice meal prep.

Chicken Alfredo and veggies meal prep. 

Breakfast burrito meal prep. If you wrap the burritos in a paper towel and then foil, they'll keep really well in the freezer.

Broccoli and turkey crust-less quiche is one of my favorite breakfasts.

Herb baked chicken with Brussels sprouts.

Loads of tikka masala and rice.

And... I tried to make biscochitos once. They physically turned out really well, but I added the wrong spice. I was supposed to add star anis. Ajwan is very bitter and tastes like sour oregano. My co-workers did not like this at all and they're never going to let me forget how terrible these were.

Friday, September 16, 2016

9 Months In

When 2016 started, I made a New Year's resolution: I won't eat at chain restaurants or at fast food restaurants for one year.

We'll that's not really how it started. I didn't plan on it and I didn't get ready for it. Basically, during the first two weeks of 2016, I realized I didn't have any food from chain restaurants and I asked myself, "what if I kept that up for the whole year?" And it became so. I declared it on social media and to all my family and friends.  

It's been 9 months so far and I haven't had one meal at a fast food or chain restaurant. It's been quite a challenge and an adventure. It's a challenge when I'm in a hurry in the morning and I just want to go to McDonald's for a quick one. It's also a challenge when I want a greasy snack late at night on a weekday.

Over these months, I visited so many restaurants for the first time. I found good and delicious things in large and small restaurants all around me.

I found this cute place near my apartment called Rex' Burgers and it's become my go-to for a quick burger. I took my family there and now we all love that place. I also took my folks to an Irish restaurant, a New Orleans-style restaurant and they learned to love pho. 

At first, my family wasn't open to my challenge. My dad, especially, would get in a bad mood when we would drive around and around, past dinner time, looking for a place to eat when he's used to having fast food. But over time, he got used to it and both of my parents realized that this little challenge of mine became important to me. And it did become important to me.

I'm supporting real, local people and that feels good. Since I'm not eating at these chain restaurants, I believe I'm eating less salt, too. And that feels good. I'm also broadening my palate when I visit a new restaurant and I order a dish I never had before. That's exciting and mostly satisfying. And, I'm cooking more at home, and that's always so fun.

Lately, though, I've been "hangry" for McDonald's fries and a Whopper. If you've seen my previous blog post about Burger King, I mention that the Whopper is my favorite burger of all time. I haven't had it in more than 9 months and that's what makes this a struggle. But I have just 3 more months to go and I plan on visiting a Burger King at the stroke of midnight. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Howler Hut

I got an idea last year at the Diné Bi Eastern Fair (Eastern Navajo Nation Fair in Crownpoint, New Mexico). As I walked around the fair grounds I saw frybread, mutton stew and Navajo burgers and nothing else. While these food items are near and dear to my Navajo heart, I can get them anywhere, any time in Crownpoint.

I ordered a Navajo burger, but I wanted something different. I wanted tacos.

I want to bring tacos to the fair! That was my idea. I wanted to bring a food that I only discovered when I left Crownpoint and the Navajo Nation. When I ate a real taco a few years ago, it changed how I thought about Mexican food. Tacos are one of my absolute favorite foods (see my previous blog called "Tacos!").

So I had this idea and told my family about it. Our dinner table conversations became all about "we have to serve these kinds of tacos" and "we should also sell cupcakes because people always want something sweet after good tacos."

No one remembers who came up with the name, but it was during a conversation about the Crownpoint Howler, a bigfoot being that howls at night in the surrounding mesas. Our family is fascinated by the Howler and that fascination started with my grandma.

Our project became "The Howler Hut" in early 2016 and my folks were excited.

For months, my idea didn't have legs. We only talked about it but as the weeks went by, each of us took July 20, 21 and 22 off from work. Then I bought a notebook and started writing down things we needed and foods we were going to serve.

What sealed the deal was when my parents and I bought a box of checkered food trays in May.

The ball started rolling after that. We went to Home Depot for lumber because we wanted my dad to build benches for the tables. We bought supplies and nonperishables every weekend and we compared prices all over Albuquerque. We tested tacos and did a taco photo shoot in Las Cruces on my sister's birthday. We scheduled Howler meetings and eventually came up with a "mascot."

My sister and I came up with a few scribbles and sketches that we gave over to my friend, Terry Fisher, a screenprinter who goes by The Pug Dream. He drew the Howler for us and we ordered 100 T-shirts in June.

After the T-shirts, everything went by so fast. All of a sudden July 20 came around, I was off work and my car was filled with fresh tomatoes, cilantro, limes and lettuce.

On Thursday we rushed to Crownpoint to get our food handler's permits from the tribe at the last minute. (My sister lives in Las Cruces, my boyfriend and I live in Albuquerque and my parents are in Crownpoint.)

Earlier in the week, my grandparents and my parents built the actual hut at the fairgrounds the week of the fair. And when the rest of us blew into town, chaos ensued.

We stayed up late packing and making sure we had all we needed. On Friday morning we got a late start and I was stressed. It took so much time to pack and unload everything at the fairgrounds.

We missed the morning crowd...

Then the lunch crowd came and went.

It was burning hot. The ground was soft and things got dusty as soon as we unpacked them. There was a little bit of snapping, but we worked well together because we had a lot to do.

By 4 p.m. Friday, we were ready to go and we put our menu up and waited.

And waited.

People came and went. They didn't' understand the menu. They asked for Navajo burgers all day on Friday.

I felt discouraged and disappointed. Why weren't people having as much fun as we were with the menu? Why didn't anyone want to try something new? Why weren't people ordering tacos?!?!

I bought most of the food and I saw it sit there all day on Friday. I bought 19 packages of little white corn tortillas (60 in each). I got 2 boxes of tomatoes, 100 limes, 15 pounds of cheese, 60 pounds of chuck beef roll, 60 pounds of ground beef, 18 bunches of cilantro, 100 pounds of flour, 24 cans of Spam and a ton of soda. We got all these things without really knowing how much we would need and it pained us to realize we bought too much. It pained me the most to hear people asking "do you have the hard shells?"

I made 10 tacos on Friday. That's what the new flat grill was for: tacos.

That night, we changed our menu and made it easier to understand. We added Navajo burgers. We took out the clever names and replaced them with "Large Navajo Taco" and "Small Navajo Taco."

Saturday was a different story. We sold dozens of Navajo burgers (hamburgers made with frybread instead of hamburger buns). My mom also stepped it up with the frybread. On Friday, she was turning them out nonstop and they were sitting on the counter getting cold and tough. But on Saturday, she made them fresh and hot and it was delicious! That frybread was the best I've had in a long time, and that's what one of our customers said in a Facebook review!

We cooked our own burger patties on the flat grill and seasoned them. Several people told us we had the best Navajo burgers.

More people ordered tacos on Saturday, too. I used four packages of tortillas.

A little boy came over to buy tacos, one at a time. He tried to get one for free but I said, "you have to pay for it." An hour later, we saw him counting pennies and dimes. I gave him two big tacos for his fist full of change. That was cute! That made me feel good.

The reaction to our small Navajo tacos made me feel good too. If you ever ordered a Navajo taco, it's a big round thing, bigger than a plate that you need to eat at a table with a fork and knife. We made them small and I think that was the first time anyone ever saw a small Navajo taco. Gasp, "look how small this is! It's so cute!" I heard that three times Saturday and we sold a bunch of them, mostly to parents who were feeding their kids.

My dad's hot salsa was a hit, too! My dad's salsa is already a hit with friends, family and my coworkers in Albuquerque. We gave everyone some salsa with the Navajo burgers and tacos. They loved it. If there's one thing Navajos like, it's hot chili that makes your ears burn.

When making the menu, I wanted to make sure things were small. How many times have you been to the fair, oogled at all the food, but you order one thing and you're full and you have no room for all the other foods? Smaller portions give you more room to eat more. Because it's the Fair!

Two days at the fair this year was a lot of work. It was hot, dusty and greasy. We did heavy lifting. We worked fast. And we learned a lot. Now we're planning for future.

We'd like to do this again during Halloween, because it's so fitting! We also really love Halloween!

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.