The last time I got into a small airplane involved 5th of vodka and a 70-pound-hog-tied dog, because the time before that involved an unleashed 70-pound-dog frantically clawing her way into the cockpit of a six-seater. IN. MIDFLIGHT.
I promised myself next time would be different. But change took time.
Buddhist practitioners work at accepting change and “what is” without judgment. A well-practiced Buddhist certainly wouldn’t need a pint of vodka to face a freaked out dog at 1000 feet-off-the-ground. But, I’m judging again. Blame the vodka.
But let’s set alcohol aside and talk about food and how I arrived at one of the best meals in a historic setting (Churro Lamb Posole) in Northeastern Arizona.
New Year’s Flight
After a year or more of avoiding small airplanes, it was time for change. I nudged my husband awake on New Year’s Day. “I’d go for a spin with you, if you were up for it.” Realizing I wasn’t joking, he flew out of bed. I also knew we’d be taking a plane that wouldn’t hold a dog. At least not a 70-lb-neurotic one.
We departed our local airport: Sunny. No wind. Temps aloft: 0 degree C. Once aloft, we could see the up-thrust Mogollon Rim to the North and the curve of the Verde River and the snow-dusted, chaparral of the Mazatzal Wilderness and Sierra Anacha to the East. The flight path took us over places called: Sunflower, Punkin Center, Strawberry, Tonto Village, Kohl’s Ranch, past Two Guns and on to Winslow.
And, I remembered the part of flying I liked most: setting down into someplace different. Someplace wild.
Happiness & Change
Sunada at Wildming.org reflects on the Buddhist idea of abundant happiness. Buddhists believe that we can change our conditions to allow for more happiness and spiritual growth. Buddhists also believe that you can stay with your current way of thinking or change your way of thinking toward more abundant happiness.
That morning I knew suggesting a flight would make my husband happy. Likewise, as we were aloft, about 8500 feet, I heard him tell a fellow pilot he located on the radio that he was taking me to The Turquoise Room in Winslow. I looked at the back of his head and smiled. He was going to make me happy! Since I’d avoided airplanes so long, he wisely didn’t tell me the flight would take 45 minutes until we were well enroute, and now he was suggesting lunch at a locale I’d longed to visit for sometime.
The smooth flight rewarded us with almost panoramic views through the clear canopy. We whisked our way along canyons, above arroyos and through cloud holes as our speed made them whirl overhead or alongside.
This time of year though Arizona aloft is cold. Zero degrees cold. Even with gloves, I alternated putting my hands under my thighs to warm up. When I asked Mischa if he could turn on the heat, he said, “It’s been on a while.” The brisk breeze needling through the canopy made me dream of that steamy bowl of posole.
A few years ago we had attended the Phoenix Art Museum’s Devoured Culinary Festival and had fallen in love with the Turquoise Room’s posole, that Southwestern rustic stew of hominy, roasted vegetables and chilis and usually pork. The Turquoise Room had once again hit our radar when my folks at our suggestion—on a cross-country trip–had stayed at La Posada and dined at the Turquoise Room. They brought back wonderful descriptions of the locally grown and procured foods on the menu, the Navajo rugs and colorful, sometimes surrealistic artwork throughout the establishment after a night in a room named for John Wayne.
The Turquoise Room is a restaurant housed in La Posada, a hotel designed by beloved architect Mary Colter and once staffed by Fred Harvey of railway hospitality renown. It is one of the finest and most fascinating historic hotels in Northeastern Arizona. La Posada—the resting place—was converted into Santa Fe Railroad offices in the 1960s. In the 1990s in danger of demolition, LaPosada came to the attention of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was purchased and restored for over 12 million dollars by Allen Affeldt. Today he and his wife, artist Tina Mion, oversee the management of the property. An accomplished artist, Tina’s modernist, Dali-esque paintings add intrigue and whimsy to the grand yet earthy Southwestern architecture. You can read more about it at: www.laposada.org.
A windswept, one-taxi town sporting restaurants either advertised by neon signs or shuttered for good, is probably the last place you’d expect to find a celebrity chef. But, if you drive through and blink, you’d miss a rare, delectable opportunity to try James Beard nominee chef John Sharpe’s artful, local cuisine.
Fly-in, Walk or Taxi to Town
If you fly into Winslow, read the signs carefully or in winter you might freeze to death walking the gated interior perimeter of the airport before you find your way out of the self-service gate behind the FBO (Fixed Base Operator) headquarters. Note: it’s a windswept, rural mile to town and the closest bathroom is in the FBO when it’s open or a Port-O-Potty behind it. Needless to say, I found myself on the wrong side of the gate when I needed the Port-O-potty the most.
Turquoise Room Hospitality and Menu
The experienced diner that he is, my husband called the restaurant to make sure they were still serving at 1:50 PM. They offered to keep lunch open send a taxi to fetch us. Nice! The taxi driver even called the owner of the wallet we found laying on the backseat.
Once at La Posada, we passed through the grand entryway, past a massive carved floor clock, model train car displays, Navajo rugs to The Turquoise Room. The menu enthralled. (See below for a few mouth-watering listings. The Chef’s Notes are particularly interesting if you’re a foodie*).
But savoring each spoonful of posole and the new-to-me warm potato-fennel salad in my husband’s satisfied gaze was well worth the brisk trip.
Pushing myself into the New Year yielded unexpected gifts: seeing the curve of the earth from 8500 feet, the tantalizing, bone-warming meal of posole and cornbread, the magic of flying through whispy cloud tunnels. That saying yes gave me a beautiful shared start to this year.
Sunada says our happiness is more abundant when we go after it. Other philosophers say we are happiest when we make others happy.
There are simpler things than jumping into an airplane that I can say yes to in order to ascend into happiness: yes to eating more green beans, yes to letting someone cut in line at the store, yes to more dog walks (to make up for no more plane rides), yes to more thoughtful moments with my girls. Wait, can I nix the green beans?
In this coming year, what new place or experience will you say yes to?
And to what will you say yes to discover a hidden corner of happiness or to give it to another?
*Some LUNCH offerings at La Posada Two Piki breads made by Joyce Saufkie of Second Mesa, served with my version of Bad- dap – suki. A hummus made with reservation grown Tepary beans pit roasted corn, corn and sunflower oils. Garnished with sunflower seeds $10 Warm Fingerling Potato and Fennel Salad with Smoked Salmon The warm salad is tossed in Champagne saffron vinaigrette and then draped with Scottish Style smoked salmon and sliced avocado. Served with shredded Tuscan Kale, gold beets and cherry tomatoes $13 “Chefs notes” We have been blessed with a wonderful summer bounty of produce from our local market. I still have lots of chilies and root crops from Whipstone Farms. I am very excited to announce that for the rest of the winter we will have Peoria based McClendon’s organic produce and citrus delivered to us every week. I am grateful to Peaks Produce for this. In the past I have transported this produce myself every week. Sandwiches, Quesadilla and Burger The Box Car Burger (Harris Ranch Beef) 1⁄2 LB of certified ground Angus chuck, fire grilled and served on a sesame roll with red onions, lettuce, tomato, and John’s special sauce $10 Wild - Wild - Wild Chili with Christmas Lima Beans Bison, elk and wild boar meat in John’s rich red chili. Simmered with beer and spices topped with melted creamy Oaxaca cheese and served with sweet potato fries and cornbread $12 Churro Lamb Posole A steaming bowl of lean lamb, hominy corn, peppers, onions, and red chile with roasted corn salsa and warm tortillas. I make my posole using all of the lamb including the bones. We remove the bone and sinew after the stock is made and then cook the posole with the spices and vegetables. There could be a small bone or cartilage that escapes us. $12 Our Churro Lamb is free range reared by Irene Bennally of Black Mesa on the Navajo reservation. It is hormone and antibiotic free as well as being a “Heritage Breed” of lamb.We are the only restaurant serving this unique breed on a daily basis.