Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Chasing Figs in Santa Fe

Our house in Connecticut was scheduled to close on November 20th but when that was not likely to happen, we decided to have our attorney do the closing in our absence, whenever it might occur, and we set off in our truck with all our worldly possessions in tow.

We arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico on November 25th, 2015 and checked into Santa Fe Suites, a pleasant hotel that allows dogs. It was the day before Thanksgiving. Leon had done all of the driving, and although he didn’t say so, I knew it was because he didn’t trust my inexperience towing a big trailer.

I had acquired a nasty cold, probably back in Connecticut, though it didn’t manifest itself until the end of the first day of the uneventful four-day trip. Headache, congestion, all the miserable symptoms, but not incapacitating like the flu. A stop at the pharmacy to buy cough syrup and a decongestant was imperative.

We had been invited to have Thanksgiving dinner with two friends who had moved to Santa Fe from Brooklyn two years ago. It was nice to have an invitation for the holiday but I wasn’t feeling all that great on Thursday morning and thought I should not go and spread east coast germs in New Mexico. After warning our friends that I was likely infectious, they said I was nonetheless welcome, so we joined them and two of their other friends for a very nice Thanksgiving evening meal.

The delays in closing the deal in Connecticut were numerous. I’m not even sure what the reasons were, but it necessitated our extended stay in the hotel until I asked our realtor in Santa Fe if we could possibly rent the house we were buying until which time we could actually purchase it. That suggestion was approved within the day and we were able to move into the house in Cochiti Lake on Saturday, November 28th, as renters.

Despite my having a headache and producing phlegm profusely, I managed stoically to help Leon unload the huge trailer full of boxes and furniture. Somehow we unloaded the entire Connecticut house into the garage on Vooscane Avenue, set up our bed and a few necessities for sitting, eating and personal hygiene.

Cochiti Lake, a small, quiet community of fewer than 300 homes, is on land owned by the Cochiti Pueblo and was built, I assume, as an income venture through land leases to the homeowners. The original plan for 4,000 homes got waylaid soon after the first phase of building had been completed.

The town of Cochiti Lake, its spectacular views, its convenience store and gas station, its library, town hall and emergency services, its recreational reservoir on the Rio Grande and its campground and golf course constitute a small gem approximately half way between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

We were first drawn to the town due to the lake, because I felt I needed to be near water, if not an ocean, then some body of water. Such lakes, natural or man-made, are rare in New Mexico. Then we discovered that homes in Cochiti Lake are actually affordable compared to Santa Fe which is beyond our means in so many ways.

Despite the beauty of the natural surroundings, our mantra that first day was, “What have we done?” I have to admit that we were both a bit fearful, anxious, worried, apprehensive about the decision we had made. The house we were committed to was purchased sight-unseen. It was the one home we never got to see back in August when our realtor showed us about ten homes in the town. For some reason the key did not work. We walked around it, peeked in the windows, but never walked through it.

“What have we done?” The question kept coming back to us. And, “What will Benni do?”

He’ll have a fenced in yard instead of acres of woods, he’ll have miles of hiking trails but no girlfriend Katija to walk with. And we sold his couch! Poor Benni!

The deal back in Connecticut was not lucrative. It cost us dearly in so many ways, great and small. We seemed to be hemorrhaging money there. And we believe that those who we entrusted with the legal and financial intricacies of the transactions were not fully looking out for our best interests.

The deal in New Mexico was a bit sweeter and definitely easier, but the cost of moving such a distance is not insignificant. As of some time late afternoon New Mexico time on Monday, December 7th we became owners of the house in Cochiti Lake. Finally. No longer paying rent, wondering if something might go drastically wrong.

The new home, while very pleasant seems smaller and in many respects is less polished. A bit rough around the edges, and the paint job in many places is amateurish. Every room will need painting and a gay touch. The kitchen is a bit of a disappointment: old, painted wooden cabinets and drawers that don’t, well, they don’t slide like fancy newer ones. 

And I brought so much stuff, kitchen stuff, pots and pans, utensils, blenders, bowls, pizza pans and cookie sheets and roasting pans and a crock pot and more pots and pans, and more and more. Where will it all go?

“What have we done?” we thought to ourselves, more than a few times a day for several days. Benni looked lost, confused and homesick.

But then there’s the flip side. New surroundings, views, culture, things to do and see.

The views are gorgeous. The landscape in Cochiti is more interesting I think, than in Santa Fe. More variety in terrain, vegetation, mountain views. There are hiking trails all around and once we discovered where to go we brought Benni out for a run. He seemed to take to the outdoors quite well.

Leon’s brother, his wife and their grandson arrived on Tuesday, December 1st with our van and the Honda Fit in tow. It was generous and kind of them to offer to drive our vehicles out for us. We of course paid for their gas and for two of the air fares back to South Carolina. And a few meals. Such are the “hidden expenses” of moving, or of moving a great distance.

Possessions can definitely be a burden. And we thought we had downsized. We are still looking for a place for everything. Leon scrubbed the walls, cleaned the bathrooms and cleaned and cleaned. We’ve organized and re-organized. We’ve hung some of the “art” - the picture from Aunt Mary’s dining room hangs in our dining area, dad’s paintings grace the walls and of course the art piece of Benni and Katija by Nicoletta Poli is in our foyer.

People are surprised that we’ve set up house so quickly, but we are a bit OCD about our living space. Maybe we just have built-in Fung Shui proclivities. But there is a sense of calm from having things in the environment in some kind of harmony, balance and pleasing to the eye.

We are living near Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. A natural rock formation and a spectacular hike. We hadn’t planned to go to the top of the trail but only just to see “a little bit more” or “just around the next bend” until we finally decided to hike the whole trail to see the view from the highest point. We'd done the hike a year ago, but it still is amazing.

 I see what people post on Facebook: food, sayings, political articles, travels, hobbies. We’ve been posting mostly outdoor scenes of late as the scenery is so varied and ever changing and we are drawn to nature and the outdoors.

With Thanksgiving behind us, and Christmas approaching, we have turned some of our attention to decorating and cooking.

We brought a home-grown tree with us from our property in Connecticut - a Vermont evergreen tree that we gathered as a seedling and re-planted years ago on our hillside. It now sits in front of our new house all lit up like a Christmas tree.

I have a need to resist the New Mexico habit of covering everything edible with green or red chile or both or inserting such pepper concoctions into recipes like Christmas cookies - like the ones we bought at the Cochiti Pueblo Arts and Crafts Fair - cake-like cookies with powdered sugar on them and a kick. 

This has given me an overwhelming desire to make cuccidati, the Sicilian Christmas fig cookies that I learned from “Cooking with Clara” on You Tube.

The filling for cuccidati contains figs, raisins, dates, almonds and hazelnuts and walnuts and orange and spices and brandy and more. I was able to find almost all the ingredients in the local Smith's Supermarket but they didn’t have figs. 

The main ingredient of cuccidati is, of course, figs. I called the Italian market in Albuquerque (the one and only Italian market around as far as I can determine) only to learn that figs are on order and may arrive by next week.

I wanted to get started on these cookies sooner than later. Why I didn’t think to try Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, I don’t know. Perhaps because I don’t have a Gold Credit Card. I experienced sticker shock at “ordinary” supermarkets here - Smith’s and Albertson’s - and can’t imagine how little my money can buy at the upscale markets. So, WF and TJ didn’t even enter my mind.

I called Albertson’s on Zafarano and asked if they sold dried figs. “Yes,” said the produce manager. We were closer to the one on Saint Francis, so stopped there. Of course they didn’t have figs. We drove across town to Zafarano and there, alas, I found dried Greek figs. Not the golden ones, but the white ones, but they will do. I paid a small fortune for them, but the result will hopefully be worth it.

I’m missing the candied citron and the one tangerine called for in the recipe, but I’m sure no one will notice their absence. Figs, on the other hand, are mostly necessary for Italian fig cookies.

I haven’t yet visited the Italian market in Albuquerque. I’m sure I will go there occasionally. Perhaps I’ll find a good quality ricotta cheese there - one without xanthin gum or carrageenan - for my Christmas manicotti. (Why do I feel like doing Christmas this year?)

As for green and red chile. It is everywhere! I’ve vowed that neither will be on my shopping list.

Here are some random photos of the house and landscapes.


  1. Sip a drink out on the deck. Lovely.

  2. Wow, you guys have it looking like home already, that was fast. M.P., who grew up in El Paso and used to go camping up in that part of New Mexico, thinks your little house on the desert looks charming, and was nearly salivating at the thought of xeriscaping your yard. (I had to look up that word.) Hope you guys enjoy many happy sunset years there.

  3. What have you done? You've made a wonderful move to a charming house that you guys will turn into a beautiful home. You've relocated to an incredible part of the country and you've got stunning vistas. You'll be great! Cutting your losses, whatever the financial cost was worth it (easy for me to say... but, well, come to think of it, we've done the same thing a couple of times and I'm so glad we did). Congratulations!

  4. Leaving behind familiar people close friends family and places is a bit scary. But we've had a lot of support and have met a lot of wonderful friendly people here. Thank you guys for your kind words of support. Our yard has been xeriscaped but has not been tended to in quite some time. So we've been sprucing up a bit. Hoping to put in a vegetable garden but need to get some pointers on how to garden successfully in this climate. Doing this on my iPhone because we still do not have Internet in the house. Will publish more as I get around to it.

  5. PS - M.P. says your soil is very alkaline, so if you want things to grow you must add acids - e.g., leftover coffee - to your non-cactus stuff.



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