Another Day, Another Pepper

I’ve been in Arizona and New Mexico the last seven days, deliberately without a schedule, plan, sense of direction. It’s the kind of feeling one needs after constant planning, yelling at people, being the know-it-all boss intent on finding perfection, or at least continuity, consistency. So far, in a mere seven days, in desert, in pine trees, down the creek or up the mountain, this soul is being rejuvenated.

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The first stop, for belly sustenance, was a Vietnamese shop, of course (Pho Thanh, Camelback and 17th Ave in Phoenix). Pho, the ever-nourishing thoroughly-filling beef noodle soup; bun bo hue, pho’s cooler, lesser known cousin; or bahn mi, the famous sandwich on crusty baguette: these are always my first go-to when I leave Puerto Rico.

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Second stop, the dark side, or the brown side, or whatever. I’ve never been surrounded by so many Indians, even during my past visits to the Navajo Nation Fair. This year it seemed bigger, the smell of fry bread and mutton wafting freely with the pungent scent of grease from the carnival rides, the grease from the giant french fry vendors, and always the hint of horse manure in there somewhere. Even though I’ve spent so many years off the rez I somehow felt at home. When the sandstorm blew in as we rode in the back of the pickup, with the grit of the dirt crunching in our teeth while chewing on piñons, I had to laugh because this is what the rez is supposed to be like. Grungy, dirty, dry, ch’izhi. But Arizona has been getting a lot of rain this year, so in between the tumbleweeds were thick red pools of water from the previous storm. It’s hard to explain, but the announcer’s baritone voice at the powpow captured it nicely, if a little creepily, when he said, “I feel like I’m in heaven here with all these beautiful Indians, so proud to be among my people,” punctuated by heavy panting breaths.

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Now, in Flagstaff, I get to visit my brother and see old friends. But most importantly I’m eating roasted Hatch green chilies every single meal. I’m not kidding. Green chile and eggs with corn or flour tortilla. Green chile on burgers and sandwiches. Calabacitas (a kind of Mexican-Southwest ratatouille with peppers, onion, garlic, zucchini, squash, black beans, corn, cilantro, lime), served with a seared ribeye and more corn tortillas. Pozole made with a corn cob stock and roasted pork loin. Chilaquiles. Huevos rancheros. Breakfast burritos. I’ve probably gained at least five pounds already.

Yesterday, there was a brief hiatus: a kale caesar salad with roasted beets. But of course, our sandwich had yet another goddamn green chile. I don’t think I can ever get of sick of them. I even bought a whole case of roasted chiles from the Farmer’s Market on the eastside, bagged them up, froze most of them. They will go into the cooler once we start heading north. That’ll be in the next few days.

Maybe by the time we get to Gilroy we’ll swith to garlic.

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