Gigging on the rails

I spend an awful lot of time on airplanes, but my true love, transportation-wise, is the train. Relaxing in a quiet train car is so much more comfortable and civilized than being buckled into a tiny seat at 35,000 feet, the views from the train are wonderful and you have time to take them in, and then there’s that old-fashioned romance of riding the rails.

I was pretty excited, then, when my flight arrival in New Mexico last month turned out to be early enough for me to take the commuter train, the Rail Runner, from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. I’ve wanted to take that ride since the Rail Runner began service in 2008, but the timing never worked out and I usually have to take the Sandia Shuttle whose vans and drivers are perfectly nice but you know, it’s not the train.

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We left downtown Albuquerque on a gorgeous sunny morning,

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and began a scenic journey past mesas and arroyos,

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through Indian pueblos,

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and finally into sight of Santa Fe and the stunning blue of its Sangre de Cristo mountains.

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It was Spring Break week for Albuquerque students, so a lot of families were riding up to Santa Fe for lunch or shopping. Despite the happy chaos, the ride was relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable. Sometimes the Rail Runner’s tracks closely parallel I-25 and you can see the cars and drivers streaming up the highway to Santa Fe, but for a lot of the ride the tracks are hidden from view of the road and it can feel like you and the people you’re riding with are the only souls for miles around, the lone beings enjoying the quiet blues and yellows of the scenery in all directions.

In Bernalillo I got some seat mates, a woman and her two adorable young granddaughters who were on their way to Tomasita’s for lunch. It was fun to visit with them, and I told the woman about my concert with Santa Fe Pro Musica and what I was doing in New Mexico that week. She said she’d try to come. People say that all the time. But, lo and behold, she appeared at my final concert with her parents as her guests, and I was surprisingly delighted to see her there. It’s like sharing that train journey forged some kind of relationship between us,something more real than what happens when you chat with a stranger on a plane or in a checkout line.

It was the perfect way to kick off a wonderful, sunny week of great music in Santa Fe.

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This Gig brought to you by Green Chile

I am in Santa Fe — probably my favorite place on earth — this week for Baroque Holy Week concerts with Santa Fe Pro Musica. They’re in the magical Loretto Chapel, and I’m singing two great pieces: Pergolesi’s Salve Regina in C minor and Handel’s Gloria.

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In case you haven’t figured out by now, I like to experience places not just by their sights and sounds, but just as importantly by their tastes. And I have some favorite tastes from this favorite place of mine. Last summer I rhapsodized over Ecco Gelato, which scoops up arguably the best gelato in the U.S. Today I’m here to talk to you about green chile.

In New Mexico, chile — both the green made from fresh chiles and the red made from dried chiles — is a culinary staple. New Mexican cuisine features red or green chile sauce, or both (which is called Christmas), on almost every dish. And any self-respecting non-New Mexican restaurant will let you add green chile to your eggs or your burger or your pizza or your pasta.

New Mexicans put chile in everything, from nuts, to popcorn, to hummus, to candy.

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When I was in Indonesia five years ago with the Swara Sonora Trio, several people we met told us that spicy chile (also an important ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine) was good for singing voices. I decided to take that questionable fact and run with it. I ate a lot of spicy sambal that month.

This week I am off and running again, moments after arriving in Santa Fe Tuesday morning. I checked into my hotel and then hopped down the street to the Guadalupe Cafe for a lunch of cheese enchiladas with Christmas.

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I used to think Guadalupe Cafe had the best green chile in town, but they’ve moved and the menu is different and it just didn’t taste the same. The red chile was pretty good but the green had little taste. Still, it was a tasty meal.

Unfortunately, like many singers I have problems with GERD (acid reflux), so I have to be judicious about my consumption of GERD-activating foods. I waited a couple days until my next green chile experience: a green chile grilled cheese sandwich at Luminaria, which paired nicely with their slightly spicy black bean soup.

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I was wondering whether I could squeeze in two more chile meals before leaving tomorrow, but yesterday I overdid it. I went to one of Santa Fe’s most famous restaurants, Tomasita’s, and ordered their vegetarian combination plate.

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I admit with shame that I scarfed down the enchilada, taco, most of the beans, rice and chile sauces, and then followed it with a sopapilla (which was really not a good choice — fried dough after all that cheese and chile? but it was soooooo good torn into bits with honey poured into the pockets). The red chile was very good, but I should stop kidding myself and ordering Christmas all the time, because I’m a green chile girl. Tomasita’s green was wonderful, and I’m sure I wouldn’t hurt red chile’s feelings by leaving it off my plate next time.

Chile may be good for the singing voice, but acid reflux is not. I spent the rest of the day getting mine under control with ginger tea, carrots, and a carefully timed lavender gelato. Luckily I still sang well last night, and finished the Handel Gloria at quite a clip!

But that will be my last green chile experience this trip. Unless I think I can swing a breakfast burrito at the airport tomorrow morning…

In Praise of Ecco Gelato

This week I was on a family vacation in Santa Fe, one of my favorite places in the world and a city I’ve come to know through my years singing here with Santa Fe Pro Musica and before that the Santa Fe Desert Chorale. I could make a very long post with a list of all the things I adore about this place, and high on that list would be Ecco Gelato:

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Having been lucky enough to visit Italy three times, I’m kind of a gelato snob. Last year during a food tour of Rome N and I learned how to tell authentic gelato from the fake stuff, which is made from a powder. Ecco’s delectable offerings pass the test: no frothy swirling above the level of the pans, no eye-catching slices of fruit or shavings of chocolate adorning the flavors, and no unnatural brightness to the green of the pistachio (here, pictured in excellent partnership with zabaglione):

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Ecco’s gelato makes me so happy, I decided to compose an ode to it:

Oh Ecco, your gelato is exceeding fair.
I love your many flavors, whether norm or rare.
Though far across these fifty states my taste buds roam,
Your gleaming case and tables are my heart’s true home.

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