Tuesday Tribute: Carey Smoot

Tuesday Tribute: Carey Smoot – lover of life, cheese, islands

Part of a Carey selfie

Part of a Carey selfie

“Did I ever tell ya about this guy I met with the Cuban restaurant?”

“Did you know that the cheese at XX restaurant came from XX weird country?”

“I’m so busy – I have so much to tell you!”

Not long after I met Carey, she began to bombard me with every little interesting thing going on in Albuquerque’s restaurant scene. It was dizzying and awesome. Who was fired, who just opened a new place (and if it sucked or not), which place was doomed…. it’s just her nature to be gregarious while cultivating a wide network of friends. Carey has had her hands in the local food scene for many years – everything from her own gourmet shop to cheese distribution to burger joint mastermind to French pastry seller to chocolatier‘s administrator.

Carey is one of those women who is instantly on your radar, usually in a fabulous way. She’s blunt, energetic, and enthusiatic. She’ll tell you about her drama-filled family shenanigans, point out that you have something in your teeth, and then reach into her purse for the gift she couldn’t help but get for you, all while asking if you’ve had the sweetbreads at some new place in the North Valley.

How did I meet Carey? That’s a story I’m racking my brain trying to dig the nuggets out. Was it email? Possibly. Was it before she opened her amazing Downtown Grocery store (which lasted only a few years before vanishing into the local food nostalgia-sphere)? It doesn’t really matter how we first met. Our friendship is punctuated and enduring. Lately we seem to meet up for an overly long lunch or social hour at least once a year, but boy those months go screaming by.

 

She’s been through a lot – with her spunk and experience you can’t really avoid a vibrant life – but nothing is as interesting to her as what’s next. Plans are her thing, and boy does she have some awesome ones that involve building and travel and new places to live. She’s an island fan, so I’ll leave it at that.

Here’s to a lot more years, and many more three hour lunches.

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**Tuesday Tribute is my way of showing off the women in my life who have done something to influence me for the better, through direct advice, great example, resilience, strength, bad-assery, or any number of things. Every week. Every Tuesday.

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Tuesday Tribute: Mina Yamashita (RIP 2013)

Tuesday Tribute #8 (because 8 is a lucky number): Mina Yamashita

Mina around 1970

Mina around 1970

This is an overdue Tuesday Tribute. I missed a week, thinking about writing this and how to broach the topic.

I wanted to write it now, because this past Friday was Mina’s birthday. But here’s the thing. There is no way I can do Mina justice. I’d have to write a whole book and then it would not be enough, not by far. Maybe there is a perfect haiku to summarize her spirit, but I don’t know it. I’ll write a little bit about her, now, here, but she might make another recurrence in my lexicon of Tuesday Tributes.

She would have been another year older, another year wiser, another year sweeter.

She was a designer, a writer, a food lover, a cook, a friend, a preserver of vegetables, a book binder, a gourmand of all good food, and great at everything she did, whether personal or professional. She was a close friend to hundreds of people whose lives she crossed in her time.

I started writing to Mina sometime around 2009, when she popped up on my radar after starting reviews for the Alibi. She had no idea who I was but I figured since her writing was engaging and knowledgable that she must be cool. I made assumptions, like we are want to do, that she was a young-ish woman (like myself), possibly Asian but possibly using a pen name (like myself). I was totally wrong – she was an experienced opinionated woman around the same age as my parents.

Mina had an amazing life. I’ve heard a few stories out of her own lips about her early days in New Mexico and how she acquired her name (it wasn’t her birth name) from some guru in Santa Fe.

She introduced me to a few things that continue to help me in my own (very Gen-X) self-searching attempts, but the most important was just her LIFE. She didn’t take bullshit from anyone, she did what she wanted, she worked on big projects, and she was actively working on new endeavours with all the enthusiasm of a 25 year old up to the week of her death.

There’s so much crap that we Gen X’ers do to ourselves in our own heads – “who am I?” “what’s this life thing for?” “am I doing enough” – and having someone like Mina in your life helps clear through that clutter. In the end, that crap about doing enough and impressing the right people – it’s all crap.

Mina Yamashita was an example to everyone she touched on how to look at living.

Mina at Los Poblanos, "there's a what? where?"

Mina at Los Poblanos, “there’s a what? where?”

P.S. About “TUESDAY TRIBUTE” and the why: a few weeks ago my mind went off a-wandering during my run. As it often does, it strayed into the realm of wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if ideas. Ideas like memes and tributes. It is refreshing to see gratitude posts directed at a certain person or community, someone that made a difference even if they didn’t know it. I thought about those 52 week challenges to leave little notes for strangers or smile more. I decided on a new challenge for myself: I will take every Tuesday to highlight someone from my life, past or present, who has changed my outlook, nudged the course of my life, or given me reason to make a positive change.

There are only two guidelines: First, I must have interacted directly with this person. Authors or public figures that have had positive effects in my life are not candidates if I do not know them well enough to call them an acquaintence. Second, those I choose to highlight are in no particular order. There is no implicit hierarchy or chronology. 

Loss Changed Me, and You, Too

I went a long time without tragedy or loss in my life. Almost 40 years; how’s that for being lucky?

Sure, I had fights with friends, I lost grandparents, I saw friends of mine lose loved ones. All of that was somewhat detached or expected, so it was manageable.

Friends that I’ve known for many years have been through their own losses whether or not I was aware; surely they must have changed as a result. Some of those friends are very private, with well guarded emotions. Did they get that armor after suffering or was that part of their makeup all along? If something terrible happens to them, do they cope on their own time and put on a good or neutral face when out in the world? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I did that – stuffed it all in – with all of the mundane hurts and disappointments that came my way. I fought outward displays of emotion for many years, and still have a hard time with it. No one – NO ONE – got to see me cry in public. That was not OK. But then that changed.

Losing a close friend last fall, and then a beloved pet very suddenly over the holidays (where I felt at least partly culpable), and now another friend at a far younger age than is right or fair, changed me. The magnitude of those losses meant that the bottleneck had to give, and it has helped to not just show that “I’ve been crying all day” face in public but to reach out and ask for support from my wide network of friends and acquaintences. It really helps, despite any doubts I had.

What has changed in me?

Love.

I love more. I use that word more frequently. I used to think you can only use that word for someone you would step in front of a train for or devote your life to. Now I see that love is that big, and can be that powerful, but it is much more encompassing. Saying “I love you” to a friend takes nothing away from the big loves in my life like family or my partner.

All I can see for myself is that the more loved ones I lose, the more love I have and show. Of course, I’d not choose to lose anyone else. But loss clarifies emotion and helps to grow the bonds between the survivors and that is nothing but good.

The Way to Know Life is to Love Many Things

Yoga: Gateway [Drug] To Eastern Religion

“Are we teaching yoga in public schools now?” he asked. “Are parents notified?” – New Mexico state representative Alonzo Baldonado (R, but like you couldn’t guess THAT). He said these comments and more in a meeting of the Legislative Education Study Committee where he is a non-voting member, during a session meant to demonstrate things that educators are doing to combat obesity and assist in the general health of schoolkids. The committee studies current educational metrics in New Mexico and makes recommendations for funding or changes to educational law.

During the meeting, a local PE teacher was describing her stretching routine to help warm the kids up before engaging in other sports, and this is when Mr. Baldonado chose to speak saying that he, “didn’t go looking for a discussion on religion. It just came up.”

Never mind the fact that the state representative’s own children are home-schooled, far from the overly influencing realm of regular classrooms and gym class and stretching. Good for them (?). However, Mr. Baldonado is extremely concerned that other people’s kids will be exposed to non-Christian religious practices without their knowledge or consent of their parents.

Yoga for Westerners = Stretching in Tight Pants

Never mind the fact that yoga, as Westerners know it, has approximately zero to do with its own traditional roots. According to Mr. Baldonado, who has “nothing against Buddhism or Hinduism”, “yoga could be seen as a gateway to Eastern religion.”

I won’t spend this post talking about what might happen if, indeed, some kids became interested in Eastern religion, whether that interest was sparked by a book they read or a conversation at school or a television show or gym class stretching. Conversion from one religious thought system to another is rare and not my topic for today.

Instead, my topic is on yoga: Mr. Baldonado could use just a wee bit of schooling himself. On eastern religions, on Christianity’s hold on upbringing, on yogic traditions, and on physical activity as a contributor to mental/academic performance. But mostly on what in the heck it means when a person says, “yoga”.

Do YOU know what yoga’s traditional roots are? Do you know what yoga really means? Let’s do a brief overview, keeping in mind that I am not a trained scholar on the history of yogic practice. So this will be quick, and it will be assisted by other folks online who are better experts than I.

Yoga – the Driving Analogy

Calling the stretching and exercises that we as Westerners call yoga, “yoga”, is like calling your ignition key your car. The key is a tool, used in the whole process we call “driving from one place to another”. Other parts of the process are things like the car itself, the roads, your knowledge and experience with driving, how much you know about your destination, the traffic along the way, and even the mental decision that made you choose this destination and this day and this car to take you there. Whew.

Similarly, the whole system and concept and world of yoga is a journey and an education, with goals along the way, rules, guideposts, and teachers. A yoga teacher of mine likes to say that we “will never have a perfect pose or session or day – that is why you call it yoga practice!”

Yoga: the four letter word with eight parts

Eight limbs of yoga

What that tiny four letter word YOGA encompasses is EIGHT areas of focus that ultimately touch upon all of a person’s life:

  1. Yama: self-restraint. Otherwise known as not going overboard in a Western consumer kind of way.
  2. Niyama: introspection, self-study.
  3. Asana: activity, stretching, body alignment.
  4. Pranayama: breathing, study of breath.
  5. Pratyahara: quiet sitting, detachment from distractions.
  6. Dharana: calming the mind, preparing for #7.
  7. Dhyana: contemplation, meditation.
  8. Samadhi: bliss or enlightenment, or just plain feeling at one with everything.

THAT – all of it – is “the yoga”. What looks familiar? The word “posture” should have been a sign – it’s number 3 on the list. That is what most of us – we humans who go to yoga class and bend and twist and say hello to our friends and their new shiny yoga mats – do and call it yoga. From now on I will call what Mr. Baldonado and everyone else refer to as yoga by its name on the list: asana. (Asana is also referred to as “hatha yoga” – so if you go to a yoga studio that says they practice Hatha Yoga you can be sure that you’re getting…. yoga. Just like you expected. As opposed to a meditation studio or such.)

There is nothing wrong with asana all on its own. Physical movement, especially habitual daily patterns as is common with asana practice, is extremely good for us.

Most of the other steps and practices are also helpful in our cluttered lives: steadying your thoughts, breathing in different ways to enhance your desired goals (slow to calm down, forceful to awaken, et cetera), meditation. These are practices that would benefit nearly every human on the planet. Ok, I’ll go on a limb (har) and say it could benefit EVERY human.

And that’s nothing that a schoolkid’s parent should have to sign a consent form for.

Eat Carne Adovada in Honor of Mary Gonzales

Mary GonzalesOn Tuesday, September 17, 2013, Albuquerque lost a legend of local culinary genius: Mary Gonzales of Mary & Tito’s Cafe. Mary, originally from Santa Fe with Spanish ancestry, managed the restaurant she and her husband Tito founded in 1963, with the enthusiastic help of her daughters and cooks that have worked for her for over 30 years.

I had the honor of interviewing Mary in 2008 for an article about their recent James Beard American Classics award, an award they won three years in a row. She was also featured in an Edible article from 2010 about food treasures on North 4th Street. Here is Mary’s story, from my interview notes and my history with dining at Mary & Tito’s. Enjoy.

My first encounter with Mary was about 10 years ago after a tip from Jason Sheehan (the Alibi’s food writer at the time); I was enjoying some fabulous red chile as she perched in the corner of her dining room, ringing up checks and greeting regular customers with a huge smile and about six pounds of turquoise jewelry. She was your mind’s incarnation of a perfect New Mexican grandma, never a matriarch with too much time on her hands, just a gentle person with a smile for everyone.

Tito had just retired from the military and after two weeks of “unemployment” he couldn’t take it any more and decided to open a restaurant. Mary was working downtown at the court and he showed up one day to inform her of his decision. She was pretty dubious about the prospect.

I thought he was out of his mind to open a restaurant!

They opened first at 4th & Mountain with a 5 year lease before moving to the current location. For 10 years, Tito did all of the cooking with one dishwasher and one waitress; after a big expansion into a new building extra help was needed both in the kitchen as well as in the dining room. From the very beginning, Tito served up red chile by the bucket as well as something he called a Mexican Turnover – what we now know as a stuffed sopaipilla. For all I know, Tito freakin’ invented stuffed sopaipillas, right here in downtown Albuquerque, five decades ago.

In 1989 Tito passed, and Mary kept up the very popular business with the help of her daughter Antoinette and long time employees. They continue to make the red chile sauce just the way Tito taught them, from whole pods from Hatch, NM. Here’s how: the pods are washed, boiled until soft and then hit with some serious blender action. Into a huge stockpot the vital red slurry goes with a “tiny” amount of shortening and salt to season, then cooked for another half an hour. That’s it – you can make your own red chile in the style of Tito, but you will not get near the experience of actually eating in this comforting establishment that feels like home. Even Mary had little interest in non-local cuisine; while she like most folks she has a sweet tooth, when asked about her favorite non New Mexican food she was clear:

Really, all I want is chile, chile, chile.

Mary was beloved, and that’s a great thing. She WAS appreciated while she was still around, and I hope that she really understood how much people were in awe of her contribution to the Albuquerque food scene.

2013 is the 50 year anniversary of the start of Mary & Tito’s, five whole decades since Tito marched up to Mary and said, “I’m bored. I’m starting a restaurant.” We’ve all been rich with New Mexican spice ever since.