Green Chile Believer – Food Thoughts

New Mexicans have their own mantra for treating the common cold: drink lots of fluids, get lots of rest, and eat lots of green chile.  Didn’t find that last thing on the Mayo Clinic web site? Someone should fix that.  

IMAG0803Therapeutic properties aside, there remain countless gustatory reasons to eat green chile (Capsicum annuum), the defining ingredient in New Mexican cuisine.  Similar in appearance to Anaheim and poblano chiles, New Mexico green chiles are hotter with more complex flavors.  Within the state, natives heap it over eggs, onto pizza and into stews.  You can even order a green chile cheeseburger at McDonalds, though longtime locals hit Blake’s Lottaburger, recognized by National Geographic in their 2006 article: Passport to the Best. [1]  Really though, the best place to find green chile is inside a freshly-rolled flour tortilla, hot off a wood-burning cook stove in a tiny stucco house at the end of dirt road outside Cebolla, NM.  Just the tortilla and the chile.  Nothing like it.

If you think “Chile is chile, so what?” then you have not tasted green chile from Hatch, New Mexico, home of the Hatch Chile Festival.  During this two day event, the town (population: 1639) has hosted up to 30,000 people. [2] If you found your sampling of green chile unexceptional, you may have ingested fake New Mexico green chile.  “What we’ve got is people coming in and selling chile and saying it’s from New Mexico, and some of it is being shipped in from Mexico or elsewhere,” said State Representative Andy Nuñez, sponsor of the New Mexico Chile Advertising Act.

esq-Roasting-the-green-chilesFolks from out of state with friends or family in New Mexico can export authentic Hatch green chiles in airline luggage.  To prepare green chiles for transport, my mom buys and freezes the peppers every September, when fresh chiles arrive in local grocery stores and street corner stands.  Street vendors will fire-roast chiles in rotating screened bins for a nominal fee. It’s quick and cheap and yields perfectly charred, smoky peppers.  Once roasted, the peppers collapse, like the water-doused wicked witch of the west, minimizing their volume.  Most DIYer’s and commercial companies do not peel whole pods before freezing. My mom tucks the flavorsome babies into quart-sized plastic bags, labels with relative temperament (hot, medium or mild) and lets them rest in the freezer.  To ready the peppers for flight, she bundles the frozen chile bags with freeze-packs in thick layers of newspaper, which I further insulate in laundry from my always-too-short visit.  Albuquerque TSA has seen this a million times.

calabacitasAnd what to do once you get them home?  Prior to cooking or just plain eating them, run lukewarm water over the frozen pod.  This defrosts the skin, but leaves the meat firm.  With a little tactile encouragement the skin falls away.  (Take care not to rub your eyes during this process – yeow!)  Once peeled, chile possibilities span every meal of the day.  Breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros, quiche… pretty much any egg dish.  Most “Mexican” dishes: chicken enchiladas, tacos, tostadas.  The Santa Fe School of Cooking offers its version of Green Chile Stew [5].  Vegetable side dishes hosting green chile include quelites (spinach) and calabacitas (squash).  Until I left New Mexico, I had no idea people made guacamole without green chile.

While a virus hijacks my normally fine health, I research the finer points of green chile to learn that chile peppers are packed with vitamins C and A (as beta-carotene), as well as potassium, iron, and fiber.  That may explain why people claim green chile fights the common cold.  I’m heading for the freezer.  Good things come to those who believe.

[1]  “National Geographic Passport to the Best, The 10 Best of Everything”. National Geographic. 2006-03-21.

[2],_New_Mexico viewed 01/08/14.

[3]  viewed 01/09/14.

[4] viewed 01/09/14.

[5] viewed 01/09/14

photo basket of chiles

photo street vendor roasters

photo calabacitas


The River – Education Thoughts


In 2001, I joined a math department that included one of that year’s PAEMST winners (Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching).  It is the nation’s highest honor for math teachers.  “Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education.” [1] To top that off, Jerry Young, our PAEMST-winner, is just a heck of a nice guy.

In retrospect, I should have noticed my co-workers tippy-toeing around the honor.  People quietly congratulated Jerry, but no one suggested even taking him out to lunch.  Suffering from social tone-deafness, I took it upon myself to email the math department invitations to a little celebration.  We all gathered for lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Everyone had to sit somewhere at the table, but the half that sat furthest from Jerry actively ignored the rest of us.

Math Wars.  Wikipedia defines Math Wars as the debate in modern mathematics education over traditional mathematics and reform mathematics, philosophy and curricula. [2]  Ladieees and gentlemen… At this end of the table, we have Jerry Young, passionate advocate of reform mathematics.  And, at the far end we have the traditionalists, firm believers in time-honored methods.

What is the difference and who is right?  In the simplest terms, traditional methods rely on direct instruction. Teachers provide full and explicit guidance accompanied by practice and feedback. Students do not “discover” what they must learn. [3]  Reform methods, on the other hand, challenge students to make sense of new mathematical ideas through explorations and projects.  Teachers do not explicitly tell students what or how to think.  Teachers provide support and guidance as students develop new ideas by building on what they already know. [4] Sage-on-the-stage versus guide-on-the-side. Though either side may take exception with this generalization: traditional curricula tends towards more breadth, reform tends towards more depth.  The debate over which is better has raged for more than 20 years.

River - Ants

Did you hear the one about the two ants?  I digress here, but hang with me.  Two ants stand at water’s edge arguing about how to build a bridge to cross the river.  Ends up, ants have a remarkable ability to build bridges out of their collective live bodies.  One of the ants has experience with live-body bridges, the other wants to use the more standard grass-blade technique.  Soon, the argument gets physical and the ants are trying to sever each other at their skinny little waists.  Zoom out from the scene…  back a bit further…  the river is a mile wide and an inch deep.

The River.  Many teachers will recognize the phrase “mile wide and inch deep.” It is often used to describe math curriculum in the United States, particularly when compared to other top achieving countries.  “Mile wide” refers to the large number of topics taught at each grade level; “inch deep” refers to the unavoidably shallow understanding that results from covering too much, too fast.  It matters little how you teach when the time spent on each topic allows for only rote or algorithmic understanding of the problems. (Note: The most traditional of teachers maintain that K-12 requires a mile-wide river to insure their view of “math literacy.”  For them, the goal is to memorize and use as many different algorithms as possible.)

Many reasons account for the creation of our mile-wide river.  Among the first stands the breadth of topics in No Child Left Behind high stakes tests, which were based on NCTM Standards [5].  Fortunately, as we move onto the new Common Core Standards, those days are behind us.  Or are they?

Common Core has something for everyone, reformists and traditionalists, alike.  And therein lies the danger. Few would question that Common Core calls for deeper understanding.  At the same time, for high school math, it also addresses breadth with a vast number of standards.*  Do we now have a river that is 0.8 miles wide and 0.8 miles deep?


How wide and how deep is the river?  With the number of school days pre-set, breadth and depth are interdependent.  In practice, whichever gets established first becomes the limiting factor for the other.  In policy-making, that interdependence can slip by forgotten or ignored.  The language and rationale that go with Common Core seem to prioritize depth; however, the number of high school standards provides a breath-taking width.  In practice, since depth of understanding can be difficult to quantify, hitting all those standards often becomes the driving factor – at depth’s expense.  Once again, we find ourselves gazing across the River of Perpetual Return.

Teachers need policy-makers to clearly define depth and specify a compatible breadth in the number of standards.  Until then, it really does not matter if one teaches reform or traditional.  Neither can be fully effective.

* I cannot speak to the number of standards in K-8.

[1] viewed 01/02/2104.

[2] viewed 01/02/2014.

[3]  viewed 01/02/2014.

[4] viewed 01/02/2104

[5] I use the phrase “NCTM Standards” for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommendations for K–12 curriculum contained Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000).