Posted by: Travis | April 1, 2008

My first business trip, foodie stuff, and March Madness

I went on my first business trip last week with my boss to Albuquerque, NM. Don’t worry, i did my best to avoid all of the annoying business traveler traps: I tried to limit the amount that i talked on my cell phone in public places, kept the volume down when i did and never talked business. I didn’t break the carry on luggage requirements: small computer case and then overnight clothes bag, both of which actually fit into that little cubbie hole that dictates if a bag is too big to carry on (trust me, i checked). Lastly, i did my best to avoid talking business on the plane. Part of this trip was for me to learn how we do contracts with the government, so there was a little bit of discussion on the plane, but i tried to keep it to a minimum and keep the volume down. The iPhone stayed in my pocket and i didn’t bring a bluetooth headset (has anyone else been creeped out by some business guy talking to himself in the airport bathroom, only to find out later that he’s got a bluetooth in the ear that you can’t see? I hate that).

Anyway, the trip was pretty cool, i learned a lot and got a behind the scenes tour of the AFRL (Air Force Research Lab) where they design all of the satellites and stuff that the Air Force puts up into space. The main goal of the trip was to deliver a piece of hardware that i designed for a contract that we had with the Air Force. It was received well and they are now talking about putting it on display in the lobby of the main AFRL building. Pretty cool.

Another big part of the trip (kind of by accident) was food. My boss, Eric and i both enjoy indulging in local food when we travel somewhere. As a result we hit three of the most popular New Mexican places in town, even though we were only there for 30 hours. I noticed that everyone called it Mexican food, but it wasn’t, it was distinctly New Mexican. But i guess us Texans are also guilty of calling TexMex just Mexican. Anyway, the food was similar but had some major differences. I still like the best TexMex in Houston better, but i enjoyed our 30 hour blitzkrieg of New Mexican food. Here are some things i noticed:

  • Those New Mexicans sure do love their green chili. I like it too, but i think they certainly over do it sometimes.
  • Every place we went gave us free sopapillas with honey. But they weren’t like sopapillas that i was used to. Im used to them being sprinkled in cinnamon and sugar, pretty thin, and baked until crispy. These were much bigger, softer, doughy, and not sweetened at all, in fact, they tasted a bit like sour dough. I liked these a little bit better than the sopapillas i was used to and whats not to like about them being free? It was pretty funny though how every waiter at all three restaurants we went to promptly asked us if we wanted dessert immediately after eating our sopapillas. But the idea of sopapillas not being dessert continues: they bring them out with your dinner and i noticed when looking around at other tables that people would stop in the middle of their entres to take a quick bit of sopapilla soaked in honey. Im not a big fan of this one; i prefer to keep my dinner and dessert separate.
  • The other strange thing they did with sopapillas was create a savory menu item with them by stuffing them with ground beef or pork. I didn’t indulge because there were other items that i was more interested in, but Eric did and he said it was pretty good. I personally thought it was kind of weird. Why call it a sopapilla? I would change the name.
  • New Mexicans (at least at the places we ate) don’t do frozen margaritas. I love all kinds of margaritas (frozen, on the rocks, mango, with patron, etc.) but in my opinion the perfect margarita has to be frozen. I realize that frozen margaritas are not Mexican at all and they were invented in Dallas. And those of you that know me well know that i try enjoy food in its purest, most authentic form, and know that i, like any good Houstonian, loathe the city of Dallas, but i must make an exception here because frozen margaritas are just that good. The slushy-like consistency and balance of citrus acidity with the punch of the tequila while sitting outside on a hot Texas day is one of those little pieces of evidence that god loves us. There is certainly a time and a place for margaritas on the rocks, but to ignore the frozen margarita all together is something that i just don’t understand.
  • I ordered enchiladas one night and the dish that arrived was unlike any enchiladas i’d ever seen. The dish was constructed by first laying out the tortillas flat on the plate (like a chalupa, but the tortillas weren’t fried), then just ladeling the filling over the tortillas until the entire standard issue, oval, mexican restaurant platter/plate was filled to the brim with filling and gravy. It was okay, but i tend to prefer a little bit more structure. Plus, mexican cuisine already gives every permutation of some sort of meat with a tortilla a different name, why don’t we just continue that trend so as not to confuse people traveling to different regions?
  • Those of you who read often have heard me sing of my love for slow cooked braised meats. Unfortunately TexMex relies mostly on grilling meats to serve as fajitas, or put into tacos, enchiladas, and burritos. Yes you can get barbacoa and al pastor at a taqueria, but that ain’t TexMex. Two out of our three meals in the ABQ, i ordered some form of pork Adovado (or Adobado, or Adovada, or Adobo). Basically its pork slow cooked in a sweet but spicy bright red chipotle sauce, then pulled, and put into whatever form you want (you can get it in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, or just by itself on a plate). It was a revelation. The meat was so tender and juicy, the sauce was spicy enough to hurt, but it tasted so good that i just couldn’t stop. One of the guys from the AFRL that went to eat with us joked about how Eric obviously wasn’t paying me enough to feed myself because i ate my food so fast when he was picking up the tab. I don’t think i ever put my fork down as i raced through my meal. I finally sat back and waved my white flag of a napkin as i removed it from my lap and neatly folded it to place next to my spotless plate. I sat back (probably with the corners of my mouth stained red from the sauce) in a hazy state of contented bliss only to realize a few minutes later that Eric and Russ were only half way done with their meals. When i got home i had to have more so i found a recipe and cooked it on sunday, putting everything together after we returned home from church and letting it sit on the stove all afternoon, reducing into magic. We ate it with whole wheat tortillas from Trader Joe’s. It put me in my happy place. I will eat the last of it for lunch today. This time around i got pork stew meat, but i think next time i will get a larger shoulder roast and leave it intact during the cooking time, pull (or shred the pork after a few hours), then return it to the sauce for another hour or two before serving. The dish was great, but i think i can make it better. The best part is that you can make it pretty easily in large batches, then have leftovers for a few days by making tacos, burritos, eating it straight up like chili, or even making a torta (sandwich) with it.

Okay, enough about my trip to the ABQ. Last weekend Rachel and I finally made it over to the Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero in San Francisco. I’ve been to many a farmer’s market, but holy crap, this is the grand daddy of them all. The whole thing is huge and really crowded. Premium samples fly in what becomes this blur of local, fresh, organic, hard to find produce, sauces, cheeses, and other goodies. In addition to the many samples we had we purchased beer battered asparagus (unbelievably good), asparagus ravioli (so good it made me make a funny face), rosemary gnocchi (haven’t cooked it yet), and a buffalo burger that was fantastic. With the crowd being so big, it took us a while to get aggressive enough to assert ourselves and elbow through the crowd to get to the samples, but eventually we got used to it. It really was this very strange mix of people: yuppie families with cute kids, retired couples with dogs, gay and straight couples being unapologetically affectionate, tons of hipsters with tattoos, piercings, and colored hair, some girl playing punk rock covers of 80’s new wave music on an accordion (i really didn’t make that one up), some dude with a violin playing Irish folk music, and a mellow guy playing Coltrane on a sax. It was fun and reminded us why we made the decision to move out here for a while.

Sunday we went by the local (Palo Alto) farmer’s market after church and picked up a delicious rotisserie chicken for lunch, along with some herbs to plant in our new herb garden, and some asparagus to cook for dinner this week (i guess there’s just something about us and asparagus at farmer’s markets).

Last night we cooked that asparagus to have with buffalo steak. I was planning on grilling it, but i got outside and turned on the grill, only to find that we were out of propane. So i then moved on to broiling the steak, just going by the seat of the pants. I had the idea of putting the steak on the open top rack, then lightly tossing the asparagus in olive oil, salt, and pepper, then putting it under the buffalo steak so that the juices would drip down on the the asparagus and keep them from getting dried out. It worked out pretty fantastically. Maybe not having propane was actually a good thing, as this method would not have worked on a grill.

In closing, we are in the middle of the NCAA Tournament, one of my favorite sporting events of the year. I thought the Longhorns had a pretty decent (though slightly outside) shot at doing really well this year, but they rolled over and died against Memphis on Sunday in a game that just tore my heart out. I decided at that point that i was now going to root for Davidson, the cinderella of the tourney so far. One of their guards, Stephen Curry (who looks like he’s too young to drive) has easily been the player of the tourney up to this point. But it wasn’t to be, as i watched them hang with, but eventually lose to heavily favored Kansas by 2 points. Now im feeling pretty uninspired, but i guess i will be throwing my support behind North Carolina because i like the way that Tyler Hansbrough plays so hard for the entire 40 minutes. It should be a good weekend for college basketball, though i will have trouble getting too excited because all of my favorite teams are out.

Oh well, such is life. When college basketball is the biggest thing i have to complain about, i guess things are going pretty damn well.



  1. Hey Trav!
    As an unofficial New Mexican (Panzon Angell is an ABQ native) I must insist that no amount of green chili is too much and they layered enchilada is definitely the way to go! Sometime I will have to make you my aunt Kathy’s green chili chicken enchiladas and you will never want to eat rolled enchiladas again! Which restaurants did you go to? I must admit that you and I probably agree that they best part of New Mexico is the food. Enjoy and see you this month!


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