Sunday, December 30, 2007

Paean to the Simple Things

Christmas sucked all the cells out of my skull again this year, the way it does every year, and replaced them with aery nothing. And then came the flu, or whatever, and if I'm not posting regularly, it must be because I'm still gulping for air at three in the morning when neither lying flat nor sitting up opens the usual airways, and everything inside my body has turned to gelatin.

But enough about me! Tell me about all the fun you had this year, dears! What did you give, and what did you get, and where did you go, and how was it all?

While you're pondering, let me tell you about my favorite presents this year.

Some things are the best there is. Of their kind, be it ever so humble, they are the undisputed best.

Stilton cheese is one of these, though how "humble" it is can be debated. If you haven't tried it, what you need to do is get a box of Bremner Wafers (also the best of its kind) and a wedge of Stilton and possibly the best pear you can lay hands on, but I consider the pear part optional.

Stilton is a blue veined, richly creamy cow's milk cheese that can be made only "by authorised creameries operating only in the three English counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire," and associated with the village of Melton Mowbray, not the village of Stilton.

I remember my first encounter with Stilton as plain as if it were yesterday, though it was these thirty years since. And it is Stilton that one man who shall remain (partially) nameless can thank for having been redeemed from consignment to my own private hell. When Larry served Stilton--a fine, fat wheel of browning, mouldy cheese cut fetchingly to display its warm, creamy interior amidst a lace of Bremner Wavers--he didn't atone for all the rest, but he added to the whole that saving one percent that testified to his having once, at least, had a better, higher nature.

This Christmas, I was the happy recipient of about 1.5 pounds of Stilton, from Phoenix's least impeachable source, The Duck and Decanter, and three boxes of Bremner Wafers. If you gave me a shaggy pony and a barn and a field to keep him in, I wouldn't be happier.

Ah, but that wasn't all.

Is there a Great Chain of Being of Vegetables? Doth Tomato sit at the top, or Garlic, or Peppers? I know these things can be debated, too. My own view is that the peculiar notion that Tomato is a fruit allows us gracefully to sidestep one-third of the conundrum, which leaves us to choose between Peppers and Garlic. I'm going to resolve the irresolvable. In odd years, Peppers reign, but in even, the crown belongs to Garlic. This being an odd year (a very odd year), Peppers rule, and of Peppers, there is but one Grand Dame. It is the hot Hatch green chile.

If all you crave is heat, have your Habanero and your Scotch Bonnet. Feh! But if you prefer depth, wrap-around flavor, nourishment, and fire, there's simply no other possibility.

I also remember my first encounter with a hot Hatch green chile. It was just short of 20 years ago in a no-name mom-and-pop mall eatery on the outskirts of Santa Fe wehn someone asked, "Red or green?" and obviously I didn't say "Red." What I remember is my mouth filling with the flavor of green--green--over grilled chicken wrapped in a warm tortilla and layered in jack cheese. And the residual fire. The first bite was in fact painful. After that, there was no pain. There was only the flavor and texture of smoky green chile, soft and seductive.

This must be like meth minus the downers. One hit and you're done.

I now know for certain the real meaning of love. Real love is when your parter of nearly 25 years takes time out from a family gathering in Albuquerque to drive 10 miles to a funky chile shack and load up the last four 2-pound bricks of roasted, peeled, diced, and frozen hot Hatch green chiles, pack them in the suitcase, and get them back to Phoenix intact, through Sky Harbor's baggage checkers.

If there is a Heaven, it will surely include a large pot of hot Hatch green chile pork stew on the back burner, a stack of fresh, warm corn tortillas, and an adequate quantity of very cold beer.

I'm not picky about the beer, really, as long as it's Negro Modelo, Tecate, Dos Equis, or Corona, all headache-cold.

Come to think of it, one of my best memories of all time is of a stash of same in a Taos snowdrift outside my window, and a pot of Hatch green chile pork stew simmering on the grate.

I guess Heaven isn't in doubt after all.


Liana said...

OK, I'm with you on all but the beer. Can we find some nice Seattle microbrew to fit the bill and give us a headache? I just don't like any of those other things you mentioned of the hops-distilled variety. Other than that, you got my taste buds, sistah!

Pico said...

We can, indeed! You choose your poison, I'll choose mine. Let's do the Seattle thing with Dungeness crabs and sourdough, too. I mean, I believe in going local when I'm local, you know?