Wednesday, February 18, 2015

It's not the fire, it's the flavor

My dinner companions were world-class experts in their field. I was privileged to be sitting at a table with some eloquent and knowledgeable souls, and the conversation was getting pretty hot and spicy.
“I find Scorpion arrogant ... all about itself,” said Sue Hard.
Her husband agreed, but had kinder words to offer on another personality.
“Jolokia, on the other hand, plays well with others,” John Hard said.
They weren’t talking about people, but peppers.
Though the Hards’ CaJohn’s factory, store and other enterprises are based in Ohio, they are frequent visitors to Las Cruces and are on an intimate, first-name basis with many of New Mexico’s most famous chile peppers. They’ve created more than 150 savory specialty food products that have won more than 200 regional, national and international awards. And that includes some goodies that have helped raise big bucks for a nearly-there Chile Pepper Institute campaign to endow a $1 million chile pepper research chair.
Their newest offerings include “Jolokia ‘10’ Wing Sauce.”
The teaspoons were drawn as the new sauce made the rounds at the CPI Development Leadership Council dinner during February’s annual New Mexico Chile Conference here.
It put me in mind of many evenings with wine aficionados, meticulously evaluating the qualities of wine.
And it was clear that pepper appreciation has come of age.
At past conferences, we’d heard about some big developments in the field. Two years ago, Paul Bosland, NMSU Regents professor and director of the CPI, announced the results of a cooperative chile genome mapping project with Seoul National University in South Korea.
“The chile pepper has approximately 3.5 billion base pairs, which are the building blocks that make up the DNA double helix, compared to tomatoes, which have about 950 million (homo sapiens have about 3 billion). The Human Genome Project determined we have about 20,000 genes. Chile peppers have about 37,000 genes. Whether that means chiles are more evolved than we are, I don’t know,” Bosland quipped after the 2013 announcement.
That year, the table talk focused on cosmic chile questions: Could it be, for instance, that our fave peppers are more sophisticated and complex than the humans who eat them?
In other years, there were announcements that Trinidad Moruga Scorpion’s mean heat measurement of more than 1.2 million Scoville Heat Units made it the planet’s hottest chile pepper, dethroning Bhut Jolokia, a previous world record holder identified by the CPI and certified by Guinness World Records in 2007.
Other contenders seem to come and go, but the connoisseurs at my table made it clear that hotness is no longer so hot in the chile biz.
“It’s not the fire, it’s the flavor,” John Hard said. “It’s not the macho thing of who can endure the biggest burn.”
There was discussion about the return and culinary evolution of some of our favorite heritage peppers.
“NuMex Heritage 6-4 was originally released by NMSU as a green chile pepper developed to have five times the flavor and aroma compounds of similar chile peppers grown today. We found that when you dried it as a red chile pepper, it makes for a mild, very flavorful taste. With some red chile powders, you end up with a bitter taste.
“With this, it’s a quick way to get a very flavorful red sauce,” Bosland said.
Ah, so many peppers, so little time. We mere humans may not yet have the means to fully appreciate our sophisticated chile amigos, but we can have fun trying (and instead of a hangover, we can look forward to an endorphin rush reward).
If you’d like to have your own chile-tasting party, check out a fun CPI “Flavor Wheel” with information on heat and flavor profiles and uses of 14 popular peppers, along with packaged sauces, powders, brownie mixes and other goodies, at the CPI store in NMSU’s Gerald Thomas Hall, room 265, or visit online at chilepepperinstitute.org.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at lcsun-news.com, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

ROADRUNNER LEAVES A LEGACY OF FRIENDSHIP



ROADRUNNER LEAVES A LEGACY OF FRIENDSHIP  FEB. 15
Recently, as I peered over the rock wall in my backyard, I spotted a roadrunner darting through a ravine.
It was a rare sighting. Even though my adobe abode backs up on the last little patch of desert wilderness in my neighborhood, traffic and housing developments are encroaching more than our dashing little paisanos seem to like.
For a week or so, I found myself spotting other roadrunners on my rounds.
I was about to go searching for Jessica Palmer’s book, “Animal Wisdom: Definitive Guide to Myth, Folklore and Medicine Power of Animals,” when, as fate and ubiquitous New Mexican synchronicity would have it, I got an email from the former Las Crucen.
“There’s another edition (the seventh) of ‘Animal Wisdom’ coming out. This time it’s a U.S. edition,” said Jessica, a longtime resident of the U.K. who now lives in Alamogordo. The new edition is from McFarland & Co. Inc., the same publisher who released her two recent historical volumes: “The Dakota Peoples” and the “Apache Peoples: A History of All Bands and Tribes Through the 1880s.”
“Sorry to say, roadrunner is not in ‘Animal Wisdom;’ but here’s what legends have to say,” Jessica wrote.
“In Southwestern myths, roadrunners are notable for their speed (despite their small size, roadrunners can run faster than humans), bravery (roadrunners kill and eat rattlesnakes), and endurance,” Jessica told me in an email.
“The Hopi and other Pueblo tribes believed that roadrunners were medicine birds and could protect against evil spirits,” she wrote.
“Items with their footprints were supposed to provide protection and confuse the enemy since their X-shape tracks in the dirt disguises the direction that they are going,” she wrote. “Roadrunner feathers were traditionally used to decorate Pueblo cradleboards to protect their babies. In some tribes, it was considered good luck to see a roadrunner. The bird was considered sacred and never killed. The Apache and the Maya both have myths about electing roadrunner as leader.”
Ever since, I’ve been thinking of Errol, and wondering if his descendents are still roaming the territory.
In my first years here, I had a pet paisano, who lived in the porch overhang when I was a tenant in the Picacho Hills home of Verlaine Davies.
I named him Errol, because something in his dashing demeanor reminded me of the handsome, swashbuckling movie star Errol Flynn.
Errol the roadrunner would hover like a puppy whenever I made albondigas (his fave) and leave rattles of snakes he’d killed on our front door stoop.
In those days, I was an earlier bird than our resident roadrunner, who would often grumble at me when I woke him, as I was leaving for the office before 5 a.m. Roadrunners make a unique range of sounds, and Errol’s crabby morning protests reminded me of the raspy vocals of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.
Most of the time, he was a pretty chipper fellow, darting and dancing around me during mountain walks and one year, showing off the wife and kids. My first story for the Sun-News was about roadrunners, and I knew male birds take a very active role in rearing their offspring. Errol seemed to be a good daddy, and the baby runners grew and flourished and went off to stake out their own territory.
So did I. I left Picacho Peak and eventually moved to a considerably more populated neighborhood in Las Cruces, where roadrunners seldom visit.
When grandson Alexander the Great was a small boy, we were strolling through my new neighborhood and having one of our philosophic chats. I was talking to him about the power of prayer before we played for a while in our local park and decided it was time to head on home.
“I pray to see a roadrunner,” Alex said, and when we got home, there was a handsome young roadrunner, perched and waiting patiently in my new driveway.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450.

Friday, January 30, 2015

NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS, Jan. 11, 2015

By the time you read this, I will have started 2015 right, with several sessions of lap swimming, water aerobics, walking and circuit training and a total of 1,100 sit-ups, and some heart-to-heart visits with loved ones.
No sugar, flour, white rice or dairy products shall have passed my lips, but I will have consumed a colorful array of fresh veggies, in salads and soups and steamed with a little device that was a Christmas present to my new, improved self. It's shaped like a cute piggy, something I don't wish to be myself this year.
I will have recorded 55 things for which I am grateful in my daily gratitude diary, and spent some quality time each day with mediations and uplifting reading projects. I hope that will include some books by Las Cruces authors I've been wanting to investigate.
This scenario of success is officially predicted as 2014 draws to a close amidst the last of the office sugar shock bounty of cookies, cakes, pies, pastries and fudge.
Then again, I look toward the future as I wonder if it's really too cold today to do laps, even in a heated pool, and wonder if I really should be hiking until the bruises from a recent stumble have fully healed. And shouldn't I really get in one last enchilada feast before my favorite restaurant takes a holiday break?
What are the odds of sticking to my resolve and stated goals for the first days of the new year? And then long enough to make a real difference?
Pretty darn good, I think.
Most resolutions for the new year are things I manage to do, generally, consistently anyway. I think the key is in the "generally."
With my body type and metabolism, when you get to a certain age, losing weight seems to be almost like solving a complex scientific puzzle involving chemistry, math and physics, never subjects in which I have shined. (Talking a good game, does not, alas, seem to burn many calories or increase muscle mass.)
I am resolved to devote the time and study necessary to solving that puzzle in 2015. I've assembled a file of diet plans, videos and programs that have been personally successful in the past, along with methods that have worked for trusted family members and friends and ideas from usually reliable sources.
I'm going to go through them one by one, until I come upon a program, or combination of programs, that work.
Most of us who have fought avoirdupois for decades are surprisingly skilled in self-denial. I've come to look at the process more as self-preservation. I know what I'm allergic to and what to avoid. I know I feel better when I eat what's healthy for me and that it's not the same for everyone.
I also have learned that there are ways to have treats and savor life if you put some thought into it.
When I became allergic to garlic and onions, I discovered ways to make my own magically delicious meals with celery, green chile and other spices. (As all New Mexicans know, chile makes everything better.)
As with so many things in life, a few perfect bites, slowly savored, are considerably more satisfying than mindlessly wolfing down stuff you don't really want in the heat of battle.
And successful exercise programs, which I'm generally pretty good at maintaining, also involve a kind of mindful approach. I love swimming and have to push myself to more frequently cycle in the treadmill and circuit training sessions, reminding myself that I always feel more energized on those non-aquatic days, even if I'd much rather be in the pool.
In 2015, I've resolved to focus less on goals, though I still have some, and more on the journey. To eschew stress and take time to experience and enjoy each day, to discover and appreciate the new adventures that can surprise and delight each of us, and be shared with those we love.
I'll let you know how it goes. Happy New Year, and may we all have the health and awareness to savor and make the most of whatever life has to offer, each day.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news.com, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

LAS CRUCES HAS BECOME A CENTER FOR FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY



Feb. 8 FINE ART Photography center
It’s been building for decades and now I think it’s time to call it.
Las Cruces is becoming a world-class center for fine art photography and photographers.
Those in the know were taking note, long before my arrival in the mid 90s, when I soon learned of several legendary sharpshooters.
Mike Groves and his father L.C. (many don’t know that Mike started shooting first, and encouraged his dad ) already had stellar reps and popular studios and galleries. Frank Parrish was attracting attention for his remarkable wildlife images. Mary Daniels Taylor was eloquently chronicling life in the Mesilla Valley with her photos, as well as her historical research.
As in so much in Cruces, academia has given the arts a boost, too. New Mexico State University’s historical archives collected and preserved some landmark photos. The University Museum and the NMSU Art Gallery also showcase fine art photography in exhibits and collections. Former NMSU Gallery director Charles Lovell, a fine art photographer himself, helped nurture an appreciation for photography as a diverse and rich art form and talented journalism instructors have inspired generations of promising photojournalists.
And I think the Sun-News deserves a pat on the back for hiring photographers with that something extra that crosses into the realm of fine art photography. Many of our photogs have the awards, exhibit credits and in some cases, internationally-acclaimed studios, to prove it.
The late Dale Fulkerson comes to mind, and more recently Vladimir Chaloupka, Shari Viapando Hill and Norm Dettlaff. Currently our staff includes multi-award winner Robin Zielinkski, and our newest photog: Jett Loe, an award-winning  photojournalist and director whose credits include a long stint with the BBC in the UK.
Jim Turrentine at Main Street /The  Picture, is a talented and innovative fine art photographer in his own right and has also helped other photogs with advanced  printing and processing technology and a gallery space that searches out and showcases the work of some of our region’s top photographers.
Our museums have done their part, too. with exhibitions of internationally-renowned photographers’ works, including some world-class photogs who have recently moved to southern New Mexico. The New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, Branigan Cultural Center, the Las Cruces Museum of Art, the Museum of Nature and Science and the Las Cruces Railroad Museum all incorporate photography in both permanent and rotating exhibits.
Preston Contemporary Art Center in Mesilla may have been a bit ahead of its time, but before it closed, renowned photography instructor Paul Schranz had established a cutting-edge series of multimedia workshops and gallery shows. Schranz has also taught at Doña Ana Branch Community College, where a variety of multimedia classes, in concert with programs at NMSU’s creative Media Institute, are preparing new generations for careers in everything from movies to video and game design.
We’ve even come up with ways to use photography as a way to nurture and heal and to help build bonds with others.
Former Las Crucen Cecilia Lewis, helped by several regional photographers, established Fresh Eyes, a photography program designed to help both prison inmates and juvenile offenders learn artistic and social skills. Fresh Eyes became a model for similar programs throughout the state and eventually, the nation. The project resulted in a first: a fine art prisoners’ photography exhibit in New Mexico’s State Capitol Building.
The Las Cruces Photography Club (formerly Camera Club) offers regular meetings, critique sessions and training workshops. They welcome photographers of all skill levels. Several members have told me that the camaraderie and encouragement of those in the group and annual competitions have helped them reach new levels.
And speaking of competition, Wayne Suggs of Las Cruces just received grand prize honors in the prestigious annual New Mexico Magazine Photography Contest. Another Las Crucen, Gary Kaiser, won second place honors. Check out their spectacular work in the magazine’s February issue.
There many others that deserve credit and acknowledgement for their own innovative work in photography and for teaching and inspiring others. The fact that at least two dozen other names spring to mind is indicative of what is now more tradition than trend here.
Las Cruces has become a world class center for fine art photography.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news.com, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

For the Love of Art Month



Feb. 1, 2015 FOR THE LOVE OF ART MONTH
It’s that time again.
Today marks the beginning of 28 days focused on celebrating what some take for granted here, and many of us appreciate all year long.
It’s For the Love of Art Month, an enduring tradition that has thrived for nearly two decades, thanks to dedicated volunteers in its sponsoring nonprofit organization, ArtForms Artists Association of New Mexico.
We should all doff our hats (which really should be handmade this month, or at least festooned with handcrafted hatbands, pins and broaches) to those dedicated souls who envisioned the celebration and the stalwart souls who have kept it going.
I have fond memories of some of those seminal meetings at the Mesilla Park home of multimedia artist Myriam Lozada-Jarvis. She and sculptor and multimedia artist Kelley Hestir were among a core group of talented founding artists that also include Roy van der Aa, who continues to be involved in coordinating and promoting the unique event.
Their mission has also been embraced by more recent proponents of FLAM, including sculptor John Northcutt and David Jacquez, a retired educator, artist and gallery owner who has served as FLAM president for two years.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s a lot of work to wrangle artists and arts events into some semblance of accessible order for this ever-evolving month, with a cast of characters and venues that change every year.
I’ve also been in on FLAM since the beginning and my colleagues will attest that I can get a little crabby and exasperated just trying to round up and write about everything that’s happening. Like many dedicated arts aficionados, I don’t want to miss anything, and I don’t want you to miss out either.
The FLAM volunteers do a great job of producing an annual guide that lists official ArtForms FLAM events, FLAM Artists Studio Tour weekend locations and participating galleries and other venues. Pick it up this month at art galleries and other sites around town, or download your own copy from the group’s website, artformsnm.org.
But success begets success and it has come to pass that the official guide is just the beginning.
Just about every official arts organization tends to identify with FLAM spirit, and even the overworked ArtForms volunteers agree that’s a good thing. I’m thinking we should all send a check to ArtForms this month and become members, whether we have an official event to promote or not.
In the meantime, the Sun-News is working to keep you informed about as many arts happenings as we can, from popup galleries and art exhibits to plays, concerts, poetry readings, dance and performance art pieces and lots more.
And don’t let the proliferation of events stop you from plotting your own. As always, feel free to organize an office gallery show, a Valentine’s Day caroling group in your neighborhood or participate in my continuing cause: FLAM-WAPP (For the Love of Art Month Wearable Art Promenade and Parade). Just dress up in some kind of wearable art (raid your closet, or better yet, buy something new from a regional artist) and strut your stuff.
Next Saturday, Feb. 7, is always a good FLAM-WAPP occasion, at the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market on Main Street, where I’d be on the lookout for a surprise art happening, or at For the Love of Art Day in Mesilla.
Don’t miss Friday’s Ramble, either.
Be romantic and artistic on Valentine’s Day.
And what the hey, why not go full-tilt and get down with your artistic self and amigos all month long?

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news.com, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

WILL PICACHO AVENUE BLOOM AGAIN?



Strolling Picacho Avenue this week got me in the mood to do something I haven’t done in a long time: list my pet peeves.
Maybe I’m mellowing, but even in January, traditionally my crabbiest time of the year, the list is not long, but poignant. Right now, it’s focused on the way-lengthy street repairs and “improvements” that can damage — or even destroy — promising developments and quaint neighborhoods.
Like visitors and returning Las Crucens I’ve talked with recently, I’m delighted at the positive changes that have come to my querencia, from new buildings and downtown revitalization to the boom in visual and performing arts.
Still, I’m sad that Picacho Avenue is going through a rough transition these days.
When I moved here in the mid-1990s, it looked like my fave stretch of Picacho was on the verge of becoming a stellar attraction, a fun and trendy district, comparable perhaps, to Albuquerque’s Nob Hill District and some of the quaint neighborhoods like Goose Hollow and Multnomah that made life a creative adventure in my longtime home in Portland, Oregon.
There was a time when things were really hopping on Picacho and it was a great place to spend a few hours or most of a leisurely Saturday. Mel and Sandy Hester’s Coyote Traders was a sprawling wonderland of exotic finds that took up most of a block. Coyote Traders, Bob Gaines’ S,O.B. Antiques, Small Mall Antiques and a few other stalwarts anchored a stretch of antique, vintage and specialty shops that started just west of Main Street and stretched nearly to Valley Drive.
Wayne Hilton established The Gen!, a unique blend of old and vintage costumes and objets d’arte, and then renovated a building across the street that housed one of the most original home decor and gift shops I’ve encountered in a lifetime of international power shopping.
Other exotic emporiums followed. I can’t remember the name of the artist, alas, but I can still remember her vision for the sprawling rock building on Picacho, She decorated a patio, set up an art gallery, and assembled an eclectic group of vintage goodies for sale and was well on her way to establishing a kind of artists’ salon, with a tea room and restaurant on the horizon.
Then, a street “improvement” project began on Picacho Avenue.
At first, the creative souls headquartered on my favorite stretch of Picacho Avenue were enthusiastic and optimistic.
But the project dragged on. And on. For years. Those in charge were threatened with fines, which were eventually imposed, but nothing seemed to stop the delays. I lived in Picacho Hills in those days and the frustrating commute during that long repair era convinced me to settle in another part of the city.
Finally, the project was finished, but many of the fun little emporiums couldn’t survive the long siege that daunted even their most loyal customers.
Some of those who marginally made it through the transition couldn’t cope with the street reconfigurations and barriers that made it difficult, if not impossible, for customers to casually drop by and park at a favorite shop.
There have been some bright spots since then.
I loved Eyedazzler Gallery, the inventive enterprise of Bert Crisp and Jesse Williams.
In 2011, they brought new life to the street when they moved into the  old adobe at 1150 W. Picacho Ave., the longtime home and shop of the late Ross Bell, one of the region’s best-known estate sale managers and purveyors of vintage and secondhand goods.
In 2014, they decided to close and move to northern New Mexico. Maybe that would have happened anyway, but I still wonder what the street would be like today if that sincere and innovative burst of creativity had been nurtured, rather than strangled and nearly extinguished by a poorly planned street project.
I hope we’ve learned something, and that those creative seeds planted by Picacho pioneers will bloom again and flourish.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news.com, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout or call 575-541-5450.


MESILLA IS EVERYBODY'S BACK YARD

“You belong in Mesilla. That’s where you should live. It’s like Santa Fe used to be,” said my Santa Fe artist friend Carole LaRoche, when she learned I was moving back to New Mexico.
I wasn’t returning to Santa Fe, but heading for Las Cruces, then, back in the mid-90s. I’d had offers for newspapers I’d worked for in the City Different and Albuquerque, but I’d been considering moving south when I took a seven-year detour to Jamaica and South Florida. I’d seen the Organ Mountains before I was shanghaied to the tropics, and I knew this was where I wanted to be.
And Mesilla was where I started out. The amigos who lured me here were finishing things up in Silver City, and my first Las Cruces friends were Elaine Szalay and Lou Innes, both of whom lived, then, in Mesilla.
The pretty little town, as it turned out, was a hard act to follow. Lou graciously gave me a guided tour of the Mesilla Valley, putting Xs on a map to indicate places I should avoid while I searched for a little apartment to live in until I could get my bearings.
As it happened, none of the places I’ve lived here, after those first weeks, have been in Mesilla.
But, like many of us who live in Southern New Mexico, I’ve always thought of Mesilla as my home base, the roots of my querencia.
“Mesilla is everybody’s backyard,” Lalo Natividad once told me.
Certainly, it’s where many of us are drawn to celebrate holidays, thanks to El Grupo Cultural, established by Lalo and his late partner Richard Meeks, who helped revive traditional fiestas like Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis de Septiembre.
I am a refugee from colder climes, born of uptight generations bred to never drop in without calling first, or better yet, an engraved invitation.
But Mesilla feels like an endless open house with loving friends and family.
My family album and memory banks, are, in fact, full of shots of Mesilla. Grandson Alex the Great as a baby, shaking his first maracas at Cinco de Mayo. Birthdays and anniversaries with loved ones. A final Christmas Eve with a very ill amigo who wanted to see the luminarias one more time.
One day, I hope not for some time, we’ll all be able to drop in every day at the rambling adobe where J. Paul and Mary Daniels Taylor raised their children. The cozy home, and the Taylors’ remarkable collection of art and artifacts, will one day become a museum, open to the public: the Taylor-Barela-Reynolds-Mesilla New Mexico State Monument. And it’s appropriate that it will be in a family hacienda, another welcoming home in everybody’s home away from home.
You might also attend one of the annual events sponsored by the Friends of Taylor Monument. Or be fortunate enough to catch a sighting of the dapper J. Paul Taylor himself, who at 94 maintains a schedule that would daunt people half his age, but who still finds time to meet and greet old friends and new visitors during his regular strolls around the plaza.
And there are lots of good reasons to visit the Mesilla Plaza: for a leisurely amble, a contemplative minute or hour on a bench alone or with friends. We flock to Mesilla for assorted fiestas, or to browse through shops, have a meal at Josefina’s, Emilio’s, La Posta or the Double Eagle, a drink at El Patio or to check out the vendors at the Mesilla Mercado on Fridays and Sundays.
Of course, you don’t really need an official reason.
When we have visitors, a trip to Mesilla is mandatory. It’s easier than trying to explain why we’ve chosen to live here, or why we’re so happy. One glimpse of lovely, historical, festive, laid-back adobe Mesilla under lapis blue skies is worth several thousand words.
If Main Street in Las Cruces is the corazon (heart) of our valley, Mesilla is its alma (soul).
Mesilla is everybody’s backyard.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at dmoore@lcsun-news.com, @DerricksonMoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450