Jul 042018
 

Adams

Jefferson

Most people in the English-speaking world know that today marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress meeting at the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on July 4th, 1776. What very few people know is that two signers of the document, John Adams (2nd president of the United States), and Thomas Jefferson (3rd president of the United States), died on this date, exactly 50 years later in 1826. That really is some coincidence. Once again I will take this opportunity to point out the huge gulf between people’s perceptions of “important” anniversaries, and the reality.

As I have been at great pains to show in several previous posts, July 4th, 1776 cannot truly be said to be the most momentous date in the long journey of the 13 British colonies to independence. Not by a country mile. But, because the date has been adopted and enshrined as the “nation’s birthday” the events of that date have assumed a much larger significance than they deserve. War broke out between one of the British colonies and British forces on April 19th, 1775 at the battles of Concord and Lexington http://www.bookofdaystales.com/lexington-and-concord/, and the War of Independence that these battles started was not concluded until the surrender at Yorktown http://www.bookofdaystales.com/surrender-at-yorktown/ on October 19th, 1781. The Treaty of Paris http://www.bookofdaystales.com/treaty-of-paris/ that finalized the terms of peace between the North American States and Great Britain was signed on September 3rd, 1783. In strictly historical terms, these three dates are much more important than July 4th, 1776. In fact, in July 1776, the members of the Continental Congress imagined that July 2nd would go down in history as the vital anniversary, not the 4th.

Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed a Resolution of Independence to Congress on June 7th, 1776 after receiving instructions from the Virginia Convention and its President Edmund Pendleton. Lee’s full resolution had three parts which were considered by Congress. Along with the independence issue, it also proposed to establish a plan for implementing formal foreign relations between the states and other nations independent of Great Britain, and to prepare a plan of a confederation for the states to consider. Congress decided to address each of these three parts separately.

Voting on the first part of the resolution was delayed for several weeks while state support and legislative instruction for independence were consolidated, but the press of events forced the other less-discussed parts to proceed immediately. On June 10th, Congress decided to form a committee to draft a declaration of independence in case the resolution should pass. On June 11th, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston were appointed as the Committee of Five to accomplish this. That same day, Congress decided to establish two other committees to develop the resolution’s last two parts. The following day, another committee of five (John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Benjamin Harrison V, and Robert Morris) was established to prepare a plan of treaties to be proposed to foreign powers; a third committee was created, consisting of one member from each colony, to prepare a draft of a constitution for confederation of the states.

Lee’s Resolution for independence was passed on July 2nd with no opposing votes. It was not passed unanimously, however. New York abstained. The Committee of Five had drafted the Declaration to be ready when Congress voted on independence. John Adams, who had been a leader in pushing for independence, had persuaded the committee to select Thomas Jefferson to compose the original draft of the document, which Congress edited to produce the final version. The Declaration was a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2nd to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. Adams wrote to his wife Abigail,

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

Abigail Adams

I would like all my readers born in the United States who joyously celebrate July 4th as Independence Day to read that statement over very carefully. The vote for independence came on July 2nd and in Adams’ mind that was the crucial date, not the 4th. July 2nd was the date he thought would go down in history. All that happened on July 4th was that the exact wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress after several changes to the document prepared by Thomas Jefferson had been made. Celebrating the 4th is the equivalent of celebrating the day that you approved the minutes of a previous meeting when the actual decisions were taken. The world-altering decision to declare independence was made on the 2nd not the 4th.

I guarantee that the great bulk of US citizens have no idea what is in the Declaration of Independence other than “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” and “All men are created equal” and I know for a fact that many of them confuse the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Constitution of the United States was ratified by sufficient states to become law on June 21st, 1788, and came into effect on March 4th, 1789. The Bill of Rights was approved on September 25th, 1789, and ratified on December 15th, 1791. Thus, we have a welter of dates from the “shot heard round the world” in 1775 to the final agreement of how the new nation should be governed in 1791, and any or all of them could be marked as “significant” – 16 years of warfare and political strife out of which to choose one date: the date. July 4th got the nod.

The actual historical significance of July 4th is lost on the vast majority of US citizens, never mind the fact that there are numerous dates that are equally important, or more important, in the nation’s history. July 4th is a good day to have parades and barbecues because it is the height of summer in North America. It’s not so good for fireworks because the date falls very close to the northern solstice when days are at their longest, and so you have to wait until 9 pm or later in many regions for it to be dark enough for them. I suppose the good aspect of all of this is that parades, barbecues, and fireworks can be strung out over a very long day without bumping into each other. For many years I was either a participant in parades as a firefighter or an observer of my son as a town musician (or just a general observer because I like parades). I went to civic fireworks almost every year wherever I lived because I love fireworks. I usually cooked out in my own back yard because I found the generic US barbecue inexpressibly dull. Hot dogs and hamburgers with cole slaw and potato salad on the side are depressingly universal. It’s true that charcoal-grilled hamburgers are miles better than commercial varieties, but they are still just hamburgers. People in the US eat millions upon millions of them at fast food joints every single day of the year. Why should they be seen as so utterly special for July 4th and why should millions of families across the country invest 100s of dollars in elaborate propane-fueled grills with lava rocks as the heating element to cook generic hamburgers as the big celebratory meal? Most of these highly average hamburgers are not even cooked over real charcoal.

One memorable July 4th I showed my young son (around 7 years old at the time) how it was possible to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner at our fire pit. He was captivated – especially with breakfast. I don’t eat standard Western “breakfast foods” (cereal, eggs, bacon, toast. etc.) for breakfast, first, because I eat only one meal a day, and it is rarely at what is the conventional “breakfast time,” and second, because if I do eat a meal at “breakfast time” it is almost never conventional “breakfast foods.” It is more usually soup or curry or whatever I have on hand. Back when my son was little, however, I did prepare him three meals per day, and his breakfasts were more conventional than mine. On this particular July 4th I used both my fire pit and my charcoal grill/smoker. First order of business was to make a big fire in the fire pit and let it burn down into hot coals. I showed my son how to make toast by finding a long stick, impaling some sliced bread, and toasting it over the coals. Meanwhile I heated one of our cast-iron skillets over the coals and cooked him bacon and eggs in much the same way as I would do at the stove.

For lunch my son cooked some hot dogs on sticks (which he loved immensely), accompanied by my chili which I kept warm in a big pot over the fire. I made chili dogs in toasted buns for myself, but my son was content with charred hot dogs dipped in chili. After that, I showed him how to make ‘smores in the fire using sandwiches of graham crackers with chocolate and marshmallow, wrapped in heavy foil. For dinner I fired up my grill and made grilled chicken, marinated in a fiery sauce, plus assorted grilled vegetables including corn grilled in their own husks, followed by toasted marshmallows, which was probably my son’s favorite part.  Ever after, whenever I lit a fire in the fire pit he toasted marshmallows, whether I cooked anything else on it or not.

I don’t expect you to cook three meals today out in the open, although it’s worth a shot once in your life. I will make an earnest plea however: Cook ANYTHING other than hamburgers and hot dogs today !!! Cook steaks, pork chops, lamb chops, rabbit, goose, duck, quail, oysters, prawns, . . . anything. Save the hamburgers and hot dogs for the other 364 days of the year.

Mar 132018
 

Today is the birthday (1900) of Andrée Bosquet, a Belgian painter who is not especially well known to the general public for a variety of reasons, not least being that art historians have a hard job classifying her work. Bosquet was born in Tournai (Doornik in Dutch), in the province of Hainaut, now part of the Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai metropolitan area.

Bosquet took painting lessons with Marguerite Putsage, Anto Carte, and E. Motte, but she was primarily self-taught. She exhibited regularly from 1922 onwards, invited in particular by the Groupe Nervia and Le Bon Vouloir (Mons). She was awarded the Charles Caty Prize in 1963.

Bosquet used primarily oil, red chalk and charcoal, painting and drawing with simplicity and delicacy. Her subjects included multiple self-portraits, children, still life, and waterscapes. She used soft colors in half-tints mainly. Her style cannot be connected with any school defined by art history, although it is sometimes likened to Primitivist or Symbolist works. Her work are exhibited in various Belgian museums in Ghent, Brussels, Mons, and La Louvière.

She died in La Louvière on June 27, 1980. Here is my gallery of selected works:

For Bosquet I have chosen a dish that you can think of as having a distinctive Walloon style. Like Bosquet’s art, it is both simple and profound. The trick is that it is made from classic ingredients from Wallonia: Herve cheese and sirop de Liège. Rotsa ruck finding them outside of Belgium. Herve cheese is a strongly flavored, rind washed soft cheese made from cow’s milk. The aging process takes place in ripening cellars of the Herve countryside, sometimes cut into its chalky rock. Sirop de Liège is made by boiling apple or pear juices for hours until they are reduced to a syrup, somewhat like apple butter only not as firm.

Toast thick slices of crusty bread. Spread them with sirop de Liège, and top this with a layer of Herve cheese. Place the slices on a baking sheet and bake in a very hot oven for a few minutes until the cheese melts. Serve hot straight from the oven.

Nov 152016
 

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Today is the birthday (1887) of renowned U.S. artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, noted for images of big flowers, New York buildings, and (especially) scenes of New Mexico. She was a major player in the modernist movement. She was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Her parents, Francis Calyxtus O’Keeffe and Ida (Totto) O’Keeffe, were dairy farmers. Her father was of Irish descent. Her maternal grandfather George Victor Totto, for whom O’Keeffe was named, was a Hungarian count who came to the United States in 1848.

She attended Town Hall School in Sun Prairie. By age ten she had decided to become an artist, and she and her sister received art instruction from local watercolorist Sara Mann. O’Keeffe attended high school at Sacred Heart Academy in Madison, Wisconsin as a boarder between 1901 and 1902. In late 1902, the O’Keeffes moved from Wisconsin to the neighborhood of Peacock Hill in Williamsburg, Virginia. O’Keeffe stayed in Wisconsin with her aunt and attended Madison High School, then joined her family in Virginia in 1903. She completed high school as a boarder at Chatham Episcopal Institute in Virginia (now Chatham Hall) and graduated in 1905.

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O’Keeffe studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1905 to 1906. In 1907, she attended the Art Students League in New York City, where she studied under William Merritt Chase. In 1908, she won the League’s William Merritt Chase still-life prize for her oil painting Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot. Her prize was a scholarship to attend the League’s outdoor summer school in Lake George, New York. While in the city in 1908, O’Keeffe attended an exhibition of Rodin’s watercolors at the gallery 291, owned by her future husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

O’Keeffe abandoned the idea of pursuing a career as an artist in late 1908, claiming that she could never distinguish herself as an artist within the mimetic tradition which had formed the basis of her art training. She took a job in Chicago as a commercial artist and did not paint for four years, claiming that the smell of turpentine made her sick. She was inspired to paint again in 1912, when she attended a class at the University of Virginia Summer School, where she was introduced to the innovative ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow by Alon Bement. From 1912-14, she taught art in the public schools in Amarillo in Texas. She attended Teachers College of Columbia University from 1914–15, where she took classes from Dow, who greatly influenced O’Keeffe’s thinking about the process of making art. She served as a teaching assistant to Bement during the summers from 1913–16 and taught at Columbia College, Columbia, South Carolina in late 1915, where she completed a series of highly innovative charcoal abstractions. After further course work at Columbia in early 1916 and summer teaching for Bement, she took a job as head of the art department at West Texas State Normal College from late 1916 to February 1918, the fledgling West Texas A&M University in Canyon just south of Amarillo. While there, she often visited the Palo Duro Canyon, making its forms a subject in her work.

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O’Keeffe had made some charcoal drawings in late 1915 which she had mailed from South Carolina to Anita Pollitzer. Pollitzer took them to Alfred Stieglitz at his 291 gallery early in 1916. Stieglitz told Pollitzer that the drawings were the “purest, finest, sincerest things that had entered 291 in a long while”, and that he would like to show them. O’Keeffe had first visited 291 in 1908, but did not speak with Stieglitz then, although she came to have high regard for him and to know him in early 1916, when she was in New York at Teachers College. In April 1916, he exhibited ten of her drawings at 291. O’Keeffe knew that Stieglitz was planning to exhibit her work but he had not told her when, and she was surprised to learn that her work was on view; she confronted Stieglitz over the drawings but agreed to let them remain on exhibit. Stieglitz organized O’Keeffe’s first solo show at 291 in April 1917, which included oil paintings and watercolors completed in Texas.

O'Keefe Love Letters

Stieglitz and O’Keeffe corresponded frequently beginning in 1916 and, in June 1918, she accepted his invitation to move to New York to devote all of her time to her work. The two were deeply in love and, shortly after her arrival, they began living together, even though Stieglitz was married and 23 years her senior. That year, Stieglitz first took O’Keeffe to his family home at the village of Lake George in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, and they spent part of every year there until 1929, when O’Keeffe spent the first of many summers painting in New Mexico. In 1924, Stieglitz’s divorce was approved by a judge and, within four months, he and O’Keeffe married. It was a small, private ceremony at John Marin’s house, and afterward the couple went back home. There was no reception, festivities, or honeymoon. O’Keeffe said later that they married in order to help soothe the troubles of Stieglitz’s daughter Kitty who was being treated in a sanatorium for depression and hallucinations at that time. The marriage did not seem to have any immediate effect on either Stieglitz or O’Keeffe; they both continued working on their individual projects as they had before. For the rest of their lives together, their relationship was, let us say, functional – characterized by her biographer as, “a collusion … a system of deals and trade-offs, tacitly agreed to and carried out, for the most part, without the exchange of a word. Preferring avoidance to confrontation on most issues, O’Keeffe was the principal agent of collusion in their union.”

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Stieglitz started photographing O’Keeffe when she visited him in New York City to see her 1917 exhibition. By 1937, when he retired from photography, he had made more than 350 portraits of her. Most of the more erotic photographs were made in the 1910s and early 1920s. In February 1921, 45 of Stieglitz’ photographs were exhibited in a retrospective exhibition at the Anderson Galleries, including many of O’Keeffe, some of which depicted her in the nude. It created a public sensation. She once made a remark to Pollitzer about the nude photographs which may be the best indication of O’Keeffe’s ultimate reaction to being their subject: “I felt somehow that the photographs had nothing to do with me personally.” In 1978, she wrote about how distant from them she had become: “When I look over the photographs Stieglitz took of me-some of them more than sixty years ago—I wonder who that person is. It is as if in my one life I have lived many lives. If the person in the photographs were living in this world today, she would be quite a different person—but it doesn’t matter—Stieglitz photographed her then.”

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Beginning in 1918, O’Keeffe came to know the many early American modernists who were part of Stieglitz’ circle of artists, including Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Paul Strand, and Edward Steichen. Strand’s photography, as well as that of Stieglitz and his many photographer friends, inspired O’Keeffe’s work. Also around this time, O’Keeffe became sick during the 1918 ‘flu pandemic. Soon after 1918, she began working primarily in oil, a shift away from having worked primarily in watercolor in the earlier 1910s. By the mid-1920s, O’Keeffe began making large-scale paintings of natural forms at close range, as if seen through a magnifying lens. In 1924, she painted her first large-scale flower painting Petunia, No. 2, which was first exhibited in 1925. She also completed a significant body of paintings of New York buildings, such as City Night and New York—Night (1926) and Radiator Bldg—Night, New York (1927).

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O’Keeffe turned to working more representationally in the 1920s in an effort to move her critics away from Freudian interpretations. Her earlier work had been mostly abstract, but works such as Black Iris III (1926) evoke a veiled representation of female genitalia while also accurately depicting the center of an iris. O’Keeffe consistently denied the legitimacy of Freudian interpretations of her art, but 50 years after it had first been interpreted in that way, many prominent feminist artists assessed her work similarly. Judy Chicago, for example, gave O’Keeffe a prominent place in her The Dinner Party. Although 1970s feminists celebrated O’Keeffe as the originator of “female iconography”, O’Keeffe rejected their celebration of her work and refused to cooperate with any of their projects.

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In 1922, the New York Sun published an article quoting O’Keeffe: “It is only by selection, by elimination, and by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things.” Inspired by Precisionism, The Green Apple, completed in 1922, depicts her notion of simple, meaningful life.

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Beginning in 1923, Stieglitz organized annual exhibitions of O’Keeffe’s work. By the mid-1920s, O’Keeffe had become known as one of the most important artists in the US. Her work commanded high prices; in 1928, Stieglitz masterminded a sale of six of her calla lily paintings for US$25,000, which would have been the largest sum ever paid for a group of paintings by a living US artist. Although the sale fell through, Stieglitz’s promotion of it drew extensive media attention.

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In 1938, the advertising agency N. W. Ayer & Son approached O’Keeffe about creating two paintings for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole Food Company) to use in their revamped and innovative advertising campaign. Other artists who produced paintings of Hawaii for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company’s advertising include Lloyd Sexton, Jr., Millard Sheets, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Isamu Noguchi, and Miguel Covarrubias. The offer came at a critical time in O’Keeffe’s life: she was 51, and her career seemed to be stalling (critics were calling her focus on New Mexico limited, and branding her desert images “a kind of mass production”). She arrived in Honolulu February 8, 1939 aboard the SS Lurline, and spent nine weeks in Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the island of Hawaii. By far the most productive and vivid period was on Maui, where she was given complete freedom to explore and paint. She painted flowers, landscapes, and traditional Hawaiian fishhooks. Back in New York, O’Keeffe completed a series of 20 paintings. However, she did not paint the requested pineapple until the Hawaiian Pineapple Company sent a plant to her New York studio.

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Even by 1929, O’Keeffe felt the need to find a new source of inspiration for her work and to escape summers at Lake George, where she was surrounded by the Stieglitz family and their friends. O’Keeffe had considered finding a studio separate from Lake George in upstate New York and had also thought about spending the summer in Europe, but opted instead to travel to Santa Fe, with her friend Rebecca Strand. The two set out by train in May 1929 and soon after their arrival, Mabel Dodge Luhan moved them to her house in Taos and provided them with studios. O’Keeffe went on many pack trips exploring the rugged mountains and deserts of the region that summer and later visited the nearby D. H. Lawrence Ranch, where she completed her now famous oil painting, The Lawrence Tree (one of those “modern” paintings that people can’t seem to orient correctly)

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Between 1929 and 1949, O’Keeffe spent part of nearly every year working in New Mexico. She collected rocks and bones from the desert floor and made them and the distinctive architectural and landscape forms of the area subjects in her work. She also went on several camping trips with friends, visiting sites in the Southwest, and in 1961, she and others, including photographers Eliot Porter and Todd Webb, went on a rafting trip down the Colorado River about Glen Canyon, Utah.

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Late in 1932, O’Keeffe suffered a nervous collapse that was brought on, in part, because she was unable to complete a Radio City Music Hall mural project that had fallen behind schedule. She was hospitalized in early 1933 and did not paint again until January 1934. In early 1933 and 1934, O’Keeffe recuperated in Bermuda, and she returned to New Mexico in mid-1934. In August of that year, she visited Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiú, for the first time and decided immediately to live there; in 1940, she moved into a house on the ranch property. The varicolored cliffs of Ghost Ranch inspired some of her most famous landscapes. In 1977, O’Keeffe wrote: “[the] cliffs over there are almost painted for you—you think—until you try to paint them.” Among guests to visit her at the ranch over the years were Charles and Anne Lindbergh, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, poet Allen Ginsberg, and photographer Ansel Adams.

O’Keeffe explored the land often in her Ford Model A, which she bought and learned to drive in 1929. She often talked about her fondness for Ghost Ranch and Northern New Mexico, as in 1943, when she explained: “Such a beautiful, untouched lonely feeling place, such a fine part of what I call the ‘Faraway’. It is a place I have painted before … even now I must do it again.”

Shortly after O’Keeffe arrived for the summer in New Mexico in 1946, Stieglitz suffered a cerebral thrombosis. She immediately flew to New York to be with him. He died on July 13, 1946. She buried his ashes at Lake George. She spent the next three years mostly in New York settling his estate, and moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949. From 1946 through the 1950s, she made the architectural forms of her Abiquiú house—patio wall and door—subjects in her work. Another distinctive painting of the decade was Ladder to the Moon, 1958. From her first world travels in the late 1950s, O’Keeffe produced an extensive series of paintings of clouds, such as Above the Clouds I, 1962/1963. These were inspired by her views from the windows of airplanes.

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In late 1970, the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted the Georgia O’Keeffe Retrospective Exhibition, the first retrospective exhibition of her work in New York since 1946, the year Stieglitz died. This exhibit did much to revive her public career.

In 1972, O’Keeffe’s eyesight was compromised by macular degeneration, leading to the loss of central vision and leaving her with only peripheral vision. She stopped oil painting without assistance in 1972, but continued working in pencil and charcoal until 1984. Juan Hamilton, a young potter, appeared at her ranch house in 1973 looking for work. She hired him for a few odd jobs and soon employed him full-time. He became her closest confidant, companion, and business manager until her death. Hamilton taught O’Keeffe to work with clay and, working with assistance, she produced clay pots and a series of works in watercolor. In 1976, she wrote a book about her art and allowed a film to be made about her in 1977.

O’Keeffe became increasingly frail in her late 90s. She moved to Santa Fe in 1984, where she died on March 6, 1986 at the age of 98. In accordance with her wishes, her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered to the wind at the top of Pedernal Mountain.

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A recipe from New Mexico seems fitting, and in reviewing my previous posts I see that I have twice given recipes for green chile stew – an absolute favorite – and one for sopapillas. Trying to capture the flavors of New Mexico in other places is as elusive as emulating Chinese or Italian foods in Guatemala or Morocco.  It can’t be done. The green chile of New Mexico has to be savored in New Mexico – end of story. Not only that; you have to understand the many subtle differences between the chiles of different regions, and not just settle for everyday Hatch chiles, which are good, but not the best in my opinion. The chiles of Chimayó, for example, are exquisite and hard to come by unless you know someone, and know when to find them.

I’ve extolled the joys of posole – white hominy – several times, and certainly hanker after it now and again. I have not mentioned chicos, though, and you might be able to find them if you hunt. Chicos are dried yellow corn that are virtually unknown outside of New Mexico. The best chicos are dried overnight in a beehive oven and have an intense smoky flavor when rehydrated. Here is a classic recipe. As with all New Mexico stews the question is “verde o rojo?” – green or red? For green, use fresh chiles, for red use red chile powder. Actual quantities are cook’s choice. I ALWAYS eat green.

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Chico Stew

2 cups chicos
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ pork shoulder, cut in ½ inch cubes
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
salt
dried oregano
4 New Mexico green chiles, chopped coarse (or red New Mexico chile powder)

Instructions

Soak the chicos in cold water overnight.

Next day drain the chicos and cover them with 10 cups of cold water.  Cook the chicos in a crock pot all day on low, or simmer them on very low heat for 3 hours or more.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet on a medium flame, and sear the pork all over. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until just translucent. Add salt and oregano to taste, chiles, and the chicos with all their water. Cook for about 20 minutes (or longer) to blend the flavors. Waiting one more day and reheating is even better.

Serve piping hot with sopapillas.