Thursday, September 8, 2011

Green Chile and the Quest for Human Fulfillment

For many years now, I have watched with great interest as customers lined up outside of Smith's each fall to have their boxes of Hatch green chile roasted. I do really like green chile. I get some delivered each season in my farm box from Los Poblanos and I use it to make green chile stew (the recipe for which appears on a link under the banner above).

For the first five years that we lived in New Mexico, we didn't have a chest freezer, although we badly needed one. That being the case, I never went and got all that green chile, since the idea of keeping all of it in my under-sized frig-top freezer, alongside numerous loaves of bread, bags of shredded cheese and other oddments, seemed irritating. This summer, however, we went ahead and bought a chest freezer from Lowe's, which is now already almost all the way full, setting aside the fact that we are receiving half of a butchered cow some time in October as well. My understanding is that this will be an extremely happy cow, and therefore, the meat will fill us with great happiness. Anyway, I digress.

The point is that I have, up to now, been frustrated in my efforts to be the right sort of person, which is, of course, the sort of person who buys locally harvested chiles and cows and keeps them in her freezer. So, I thought to myself, smugly calling to mind my new chest freezer-NOT anymore!

My mother lives across the street from Smith's, and is now retired, so I felt she would be in the unique position to do reconnaissance and determine when one might undertake to have their chilies roasted without waiting in a line fifteen people deep for over an hour. I tasked her with the mission of retrieving the chile and having it roasted.

I, quite naturally, failed to give any other specific directions as to whether the chile should be mild, medium or hot, since this hadn't occurred to me. My mom went and selected a random box of chile, which the checker then told her was "hot". She replied that this would have to do and took it to be roasted.This blog entry would not be complete without adding that my mom ended up having to wait in line for at least half an hour anyway. Such is the advantage of motherhood.

Happily, I arrived home Friday to discover a black garbage bag on my counter filled with warm green chilies and a house redolent with the aroma of New Mexico. Now, all that remained was to peel, seed, chop and store all of this chile before it could go bad. Easy.

Being no idiot, I donned vinyl gloves to do this job. (Actually it may be more accurate to say that I was once idiot enough to process quite a bit of chile with my bare hands, and that having hands that burn for hours with an invisible fire may be a wonderful home remedy to cure nail-biting and masturbation, but I have not felt the need to repeat the experience.) Hardly having stopped long enough to hang up my purse, I  stuck my hand deep into the womb-like warm garbage bag to retrieve one large handful of green chilies which I ran under cold water in a large bowl in my sink. I painstakingly doffed as much of the skin as I could manage, and virtually all of the seeds. This took about ten minutes, and only needed to be repeated thirty-four more times.

Interestingly, green chiles omit something like a toxic gas that causes one's throat to tickle incessantly, so, for approximately three hours, both before and after preparing dinner, I coughed and retched my way through the entire bag of green chilies, with the added steps of running each small batch through my Ninja food processor and filling Zip-Loc quart bags with approximately a pound of chopped green chiles, squished flat to freeze. A gas mask would have been useful.

The Ninja lid won't seat well on the blending container and I am contemplating throwing it out the window.
Since I had no choice but to labor through the entire process myself, I forced my mother, who was suffering from a mild stomach flu, to stay in the kitchen through the entire process, so that I didn't die of boredom, and also so that anyone who had to deal directly and immediately with my six year-old was not completely covered in capsacin.

At the point that I had to interrupt the chile production line to serve dinner, my kitchen looked somewhat like a chlorophyll bomb had been set off. Bits of green chile pulp and skins clung to every surface and were intractably cleaved to the tile, as if an entire legion of flu-ridden kindergartners had wiped boogers on the floor and left them to dry for several hours.

The thing I really found striking about this is how many people do it. The conversation between my mother and me centered around our disbelief that anyone not completely hamstrung by outdated notions of Protestant work ethic would undertake this project in their spare time, merely to avoid having to pay slightly more for green chile which has already been processed and frozen for them in convenient tubs. But, then again, it is a peculiar blind spot of mine that I tend to be shocked that anyone else is willing to do foolishly difficult tasks that I perform myself. (For instance, I continue to be shocked that lots and lots of women bear children, despite the obvious discomfort and work involved.)

Somehow, I seem to have arrived at full-fledged adulthood continually surprised and appalled at the amount of actual work that living requires, as if I had very recently been rudely awakened from a prolonged daydream wherein servants attended to my every whim. My natural tendency to eschew work is, however, at odds with my continual pursuit of attaining Perfection. Not that I'm ever actually striving for perfection. I set what seem to be modest goals, and then either abandon them or somehow enlarge my goal, so that I have never quite arrived.  I believe both that this is a somewhat dysfunctional state of affairs and that it is an inescapably human thing to do, and that either I can play along and keep myself entertained with the pursuit or face the consequences of a life lived as a series of half-measures.

As pertains to cooking, I am not the sort of person who would end up being interested in trying to make Beef Wellington or Baked Alaska. I have somewhat less than the necessary culinary fortitude and a great deal less than the required amount of interest. I am willing to spend hours making Christmas dinner, but, on a regular basis, meals must be produced in an hour or less and be something that children will probably eat. That said, I do enjoy cooking, and I am excited by fresh, high quality ingredients and variety. So I tend to pay a fair bit of attention to food and food preparation, which is why I would end up doing something dumb like processing green chile into the evening at the end of a long and overwhelming work week.

I once (well, three times actually) made red chile sauce from scratch using the dried red pods I bought from Los Poblanos . These needed to be seeded, de-veined, roasted and then processed through a blender (which, strangely enough, I still possess ten years after the lid went permanently missing) before being set in a slow cooker with cubed pork loin to make carne adovada. On that occasion, my kitchen looked less like a booger bomb and more like an especially bloody battle had recently taken place. The carne adovada was delicious, but hardly so much so that it justified the ridiculous labor involved in making it.

Anyway, the green chile finally got done, I got to use both my new freezer and my new food processor (complete with lid) and, happily our major weekly housecleaning was scheduled for the next day. Last night I used it to make green chile stew. It was hotter than Hell, but it tasted both of New Mexico and of the pursuit of human fulfillment.

And I have twelve more bags of it for later.

No comments:

Post a Comment

When you comment, it keeps fairies alive.

Don't forget to choose "subscribe by email" to receive follow-up comments. I almost always reply to comments, and you wouldn't want to miss that. It's all part of saving the fairies.

My Zimbio
Creative Commons License
Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License