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On the Menu: Four Daughters Land and Cattle

28 Oct
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I’m reviving this series – On the Menu – to highlight additions and special features of our menus at The Blonde Bear Tavern and Café Naranja. We’ve been busy this summer with our continuous search for superior ingredients – organic and local when possible – that will ensure every one of our guest’s dining experience is the best it can be.

To kick it off, I am especially enthused to announce The Blonde Bear Tavern’s exclusive relationship with Four Daughters Land and Cattle.  I visited the central New Mexico cattle ranch a couple of weeks ago after tasting its beef this summer with our consulting butcher, Tom Bertelle.

The Tasting
Those of us participating in the tasting were speechless.  Eyes collectively closed as tasters’ palates first came into contact with the silky tenderloin and its surprising full flavor, usually reserved for fattier cuts.  The New York strip revealed layers of complex succulence, but was unexpectedly tender, almost filet-like. The ground beef, which we prepared on the griddle, had beautiful texture, full flavor, and was profoundly satisfying. The bone-in rib eye? Extraordinary.

We just all sat around looking at each other, smiling and reaching for more of this wonderful New Mexico meat. There didn’t seem to be enough adjectives at the tip of our tongues. One taster finally exclaimed, “Jon, you must put this beef on the menu!” Everyone unreservedly agreed.  And so did I.

As a Nebraska native, I’ve consumed my fair share of beef – and the meat from Four Daughters Land and Cattle blew me away. I love meat and we serve a lot of it at The Blonde Bear Tavern: braised, roasted, burgers, steaks, and in soups and stews. What’s more satisfying after a day on the steep slopes of Taos Ski Valley?

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Looking Northwest from the Ranch House

The Ranch, The Tour
Located some 20 miles west of Belen, New Mexico, Four Daughters is 330 square miles. It is an amalgamation of six contiguous ranches that proprietor Mike Mechenbier and his wife Kathy have purchased over the past few decades. Named after their four daughters – Jessica, Abby, Katie, and Emily – the ranch makes Mechenbier one of the nation’s top 100 private landowners according to Land Report magazine.

I spent most of the day touring the ranch with Mike and his sidekick Hoss, a Jack Russell terrier that never leaves his side.  The three of us drove through the property and met some of the ranch hands, cowboys, and, of course, the cattle.

RanchThe first thing I noticed was the ranch’s vastness.  And the land is full of wildlife: antelopes, elk, and several species of foxes and birds. Also roaming the latest property the Mechenbiers purchased are herds of wild mustangs, which Mike told me were descendants of Iberian horses of the Spanish Conquistadors, according to DNA tests.

Electricity on the ranch is provided only by solar panels. There is no cellular service. Water is scarce; most is captured rain. The most common form of transportation is horseback.

This may be ranching as it was a century ago, but it produces beef that many more modern operations can only dream of.

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There is extensive research investigating the connection between stress levels in cattle and the quality of their meat. This is due in large part to the release of cortisol (known more formally as hydrocortisone) as a cow experiences stress. The more cortisol in a cow’s muscles – especially chronically – the lower the meat’s overall quality.

Four Daughters grazes up to 7,000 cattle at any one time on the land, but unlike many large ranches, the operation does not rely upon four-wheelers, motorcycles, or even helicopters to round up cattle. It’s all done by cowboys on horseback. One can only imagine the stress felt by animals when they’re badgered by obnoxiously loud motors.

The ranch also grows its own grain to finish the cattle before slaughter (by the way, the P.C. word now is “harvest”, which I find creepy), which is fed to them on the ranch’s own small feedlot. This is important from a beef quality standpoint for two reasons:

• Cattle transported over long distances to large regional feedlots experience high stress and even sickness
• The ranch has complete control of the cow’s diet – from birth to slaughter – ensuring optimum nutrition throughout its life

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The high desert grasses of Four Daughters are different from those in other parts of the country where there is more rain, as in, say, East Texas. These “washy” grasses – as Mike calls them – are lusher and denser than those in New Mexico, but counter intuitively have less nourishment than our own state’s grasses, which are richer in nutrients.  In fact, the ranch is full of blue grama (bouteloua gracilis, New Mexico’s official state grass), which during the autumn months contain more protein than corn.

A typical ranch with thick lush grasses will graze one cow per three or four acres.  At Four Daughters, it’s one cow per 50 acres. The cattle can stretch out, as it were, making them calm, content, well-nourished – and happy!

Happy cows on the ranch translate into extraordinary beef on the plate.

Good for New Mexico’s Environment
The environmental impact of meat production is of concern to many in this country, and part of the decision to serve Four Daughters beef at The Blonde Bear Tavern is the ranch’s low environmental impact on our state.

With one cow per 50 acres, there’s no danger of overgrazing at this ranch, which can lead to soil erosion. The grazing land is unirrigated, and thus is able to support the grassland ecosystem in perpetuity with a sustainable level of water use and adequate groundwater recharge.

DSCN0838Compared to many of its peers, the ranch uses little energy for operations. The entire ranch is powered by solar energy. The use of cowboys rather than combustion-powered vehicles to round up cattle keeps fossil fuel use low.

Unless well managed, manure and other substances from livestock operations can cause severe environmental water contamination. This is particularly true for very large feedlots – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)  –  of which there are over 12,000 in the United States.  Four Daughters has a small feedlot and makes use of animal waste by depositing it on the farmland where grains are grown for its horses and finishing cattle, thus minimizing or even eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers.

Mike and Hoss

Mike and Hoss
Photo courtesy Albuquerque Journal

Good for the Community
Thirteen years ago, Mike and Kathy started an orphanage in Tomé, New Mexico. He told me the concept of El Ranchito de los Niños came to him “after one too many beers.” He and Kathy simply wanted to give children from difficult situations food, shelter, and education while also giving the comfort of an environment full of animals.

“So many of these kids come and they’re so damaged, they can’t even bond to a person, but they can bond to an animal, and take care of an animal and become responsible,” Mechanbier told the Albuquerque Journal. “I have kids hanging off me from one end to the other. It’s pretty gratifying (to see) that they can finally heal and start trusting again.”

 

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Responsible agriculture is important to us at The Blonde Bear Tavern. So is supporting local farmers and ranchers while minimizing the financial and environmental impact of transportation. Food that is raised in a natural way is more nutritious – but most importantly tastes better.

Starting in November, we will proudly serve Four Daughters Land and Cattle beef:

  • The Tavern Burger, An American Classic
  • French Country Beef Stew over fresh Buttered Noodles, Boeuf Bourguignon – Burgundy, France
  • New York Strip with Italian Salsa Verde, La Tagliata – Tuscany, Italy
  • Filet of Beef with Béarnaise Sauce, Filet Mignon – Franche-Comté, France
  • “Cowboy Cut” Bone-In Rib Eye Steak with simple Red Wine Sauce, Côte de Bœuf avec Sauce au Vin Rouge, Midi-Pyrénées, France

 

This beef is going to knock your socks off.  I invite you to try it when ski season begins November 28th.

Eat New Mexico beef. Be enchanted.

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First Snow of the Season

23 Sep
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Okay, a dusting really.  What a difference a day makes.  A front moved through yesterday and brought with it a cold air mass and moisture.  I don’t even think it broke 50° today.

I snapped these pictures this morning of the snow that had fallen overnight.  Note the aspens are beginning to turn.

Sure seems like we had a lot of rain this summer.  An indicator of heavy snowfall this winter?

I’m optimistic.

 

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Up Up and Away: Ballooning over Taos

23 Sep
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New Mexico is famous for its hot air balloons.  I’ve wanted to experience air travel this way since I moved to the state.  This past Saturday, I did just that – along with two of my favorite cousins who were visiting from Arizona.

The Rio Grande Gorge cuts through the high desert mesa west of Taos like a 650 foot-deep miniature Grand Canyon.  The famous Rio Grande River flows through the 70-mile canyon on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.  Gently gliding on the soft desert winds into the Gorge in our purple hot air balloon, with the Sangre de Cristo mountains as our backdrop, we had the premier hot air ballooning experience.

We flew with Pueblo Balloon Company of Taos – Ed was our pilot and Lisa was Crew Chief.  The company does a fine job and I have no hesitation recommending the company.  We loved every moment.

Images in the film are from yours truly and Taos photographer Jared Yankowy.  Music is by Blush.

Pueblo Balloon Company
PO Box 361
Taos, NM  87571
575.751.9877
www.puebloballoon.com
 
Jared Yankowy
[email protected]
323.286.5967
www.visceralstudios.com.
 
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Rainbow Over Taos Ski Valley

28 Aug
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Rainbow over Taos Ski Valley

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Interrupt Your Day – Lighten Up

08 Aug
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Sometimes we need to take ourselves out of the world and transcend to a mental place that provides perspective — and perhaps a little joy — to our lives.  Today, the above video did just that . . . and suddenly, out of nowhere, my day got a little better.

Shot at Plaça de Sant Roc in Sabadell, Spain, a little north of Barcelona, the performance was orchestrated by the financially-challenged Spanish bank, Banco Sabadell.  The bank brought together 100 musicians and singers from the Orchestra Simfonica del Valles, Amics de l’Opera de Sabadell, Coral Belles Arts, and Cor Lieder Camera to perform.

The music, of course, is Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from his Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (sometimes known simply as “the Choral”).  Among critics, it is almost universally considered to be among Beethoven’s greatest works, and perhaps to be the greatest piece of music ever written.

Beethoven finished the symphony when he was nearly deaf.

The Ninth Symphony premiered on May 7, 1824 in Vienna’s Theater am Kärntnertor.  This was the composer’s first on-stage appearance in 12 years; the hall was packed.

Although the performance was officially directed by Michael Umlauf, the theatre’s Kapellmeister, Beethoven shared the stage with him.  Two years earlier, Umlauf had witnessed the composer’s attempt to conduct a dress rehearsal of his opera Fidelio, which ended in disaster.  So this time, he instructed the singers and musicians to ignore the almost totally deaf Beethoven.  At the beginning of every part, Beethoven, who sat by the stage, gave the tempos.  He was turning the pages of his score and beating time for an orchestra he could not hear.

BeethovenWhen the audience applauded, Beethoven was several measures off and still conducting.  Because of that, the contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven around to accept the audience’s cheers and applause.  According to one witness, “the public received the musical hero with the utmost respect and sympathy, listened to his wonderful, gigantic creations with the most absorbed attention and broke out in jubilant applause, often during sections, and repeatedly at the end of them.”  The audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven — who could not hear the applause — could at least see the ovation gestures.

Hearing nothing, but seeing the tumultuous applause of the audience, Beethoven wept. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Gardens of Edelweiss Lodge & Spa

03 Aug
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I’ve been gardening since I was a kid in Nebraska.  A few years after planting my first seed – a Lima bean I had plucked from a sack in our pantry and stuck it in the ground – I asked my dad if we could clear some bushes and trees in our back yard to make way for a sunny garden plot.  He agreed and I’ve been gardening ever since.

During the off season here in Taos Ski Valley, we only operate Café Naranja for breakfast and lunch four days a week.  That gives me time to tend to the beautiful gardens that surround the Edelweiss Lodge & Spa.

The Lodge is nestled within the heart of Taos Ski Valley on Sutton Place.  The crystal mountain waters of Rio Hondo meander through the north side of the property; these gardens we keep largely in their natural state.  To the south and east, we offer a more cultivated expression of our microclimate – our terroir.

Our terroir presents unique gardening benefits – and challenges, but this is my second year, so I think I’m getting the hang of it.

Friends and family have asked that I send pictures of my handiwork, so here they are, both for them and for folks that only come to Taos Ski Valley in the winter.

I spend many hours working the gardens, and do so with great pleasure.  My favorite time of day is near dusk, after perhaps a few hours of huffing and puffing in the thin dry mountain air:  tilling, planting, watering.  At sunset the light turns warm, the breeze becomes soft, and I feel close to God.

The music is the favorite of my grandma – Alice Hopp – to whom I dedicate this short film.

 

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Alice and John Hopp, painted circa 1948

 

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Granite Mountain Hotshots: How You Can Help

13 Jul
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Taos Ski Valley is enveloped by Carson National Forest.  During the dry months of May and June, we residents become wary of fire danger.  We keep an eye on the sky, fearful of lightening strikes, a careless cigarette smoker, or perhaps an uncontrollable campfire that sets off our worst fear:  forest fire.

Our Fire Department up here is all volunteer.  The only time I’ve seen the fire truck in action was when our volunteers successfully extinguished a small hotel fire this past ski season (which could have been disastrous), and of course every July 4th when it rolls down the parade route, squirting laughing children with water.

Many of our residents are also forest fire fighters during the summer months, rounding out their winter employment on the ski patrol or as ski instructors.  Some are even Hot Shots, including our own Alex Mithoefer, who made his debut this summer.  He works in The Blonde Bear Tavern’s kitchen during the winter months.

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Tragedy at Yarnell Hills Fire

And so we were stunned with the tragic loss of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshots near Prescott, Arizona.  Our hearts sank and the local talk in our café was nothing but these brave firemen, with names and faces; lives and families.  New Mexico and Arizona make up “Region 3″ of the National Forest Service, so there is a lot of back and forth between the states, and thus many friendships have been forged.

On July 1st, our Governor Susana Martinez ordered flags throughout New Mexico to be flown at half mast.  Just a few weeks prior, members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were in New Mexico to battle the Thompson Ridge fire southwest of here in Jemez.  She represented the state at the memorial service held in Prescott Valley.

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About Hot Shots

Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC) are diverse teams of career and temporary agency employees who uphold a tradition of excellence and have solid reputations as multi-skilled professional firefighters.  Crews are available for each fire season and are employed by the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, various Native American tribes, and the states of Alaska and Utah.

Their core values of “duty, integrity, and respect” have earned Hotshot crews an excellent reputation throughout the United States and Canada as elite teams of professional wildland firefighters.

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How You Can Help

My cousin Georgia Burns has been with the Forest Service for over 30 years in the Tonto National Forest office in Mesa, Arizona.  This morning, she sent me this e-mail:

Just wanted to pass along this information, it’s another way to help the family members.  I am on the same fire team as Darrell (see flyer).  He is such a wonderful person, and is the one who started the Granite Mt. Hotshot crew, it’s the only hotshot crew in the U.S. within a structured fire dept.

Thank you for your support, it has been such an emotional couple of weeks.  I was so honored to attend the memorial service and cannot begin to put into words all of the love and support that was felt the day of the memorial.  Some of us in fire have gotten together at different times just to support each other has really helped.  All of our operations folks on my team were the ones who walked in and found the firefighters.  They stayed with them that night and then had a CAT cut a line in so they could carry them out.  They really have and will continue to struggle through all of this that does not seem real.

Our team is at a stand down so I have been working 12 hour shifts in dispatch which has really helped me to stay busy but yet still be helpful within fire.

Here’s the flyer Georgia is talking about:

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The Prescott Hotshots are raising funds for the direct support of the families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.Hot Shot Crew  This fundraising effort and the shirts are officially sanctioned by the Prescott Hotshots and the Prescott Fire Department.  100% of the proceeds will be given to the families left behind.  I ordered mine today and hope you will consider helping out as well.

There is also a Facebook page for the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial.

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The Worst Firefighter Disaster since 9-11

It’s been over ten years now since I was in New York and witnessed first hand the tragedy of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  At the heart of the story were the firemen.  The heroics those men demonstrated were no different from what we have just witnessed here in the Southwest.  Perhaps you can just substitute the word “mountain” for “building” in the moving accounts of New York’s Finest.

A local New York TV reporter Dick Oliver was asked how it was that so many firemen died in the Twin Towers, couldn’t they have escaped, and he said, with a rough voice that had love in it, “Firemen don’t run out of buildings. Firemen run into buildings”.

The Christian scholar and author Os Guinness said after 9-11 that horror and tragedy crack open the human heart and force the beauty out. It is in terrible times that people with great goodness inside become most themselves. “The real mystery,” he added, “is not the mystery of evil but the mystery of goodness.”

And Peggy Noonan wrote a moving article for The Wall Street Journal, one that was talked about for years to come, titled “Courage Under Fire”:

In the now-famous phrase, they ran into the burning building and not out of the burning building. They ran up the stairs, not down, they went into it and not out of it. They didn’t flee, they charged. 

Firemen put out fires and save people, they take people who can’t walk and sling them over their shoulders like a sack of potatoes and take them to safety. That’s what they do for a living. You think to yourself: Do we pay them enough? You realize: We couldn’t possibly pay them enough. And in any case a career like that is not about money.

It’s that what the New York Fire Department did–what those men did on that brilliant blue day in September–was like D-Day. It was daring and brilliant and brave, and the fact of it–the fact that they did it, charging into harm’s way–changed the world we live in. They brought love into a story about hate–for only love will make you enter fire. Talk about your Greatest Generation–the greatest generation is the greatest pieces of any generation, and right now that is: them.

[The firemen] gave us a moment in history that has left us speechless with gratitude and amazement, and maybe relief, too. We still make men like that. We’re still making their kind. Then that must be who we are.

 

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Click on image to order your T-shirt and support the families of these lost firefighters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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