A Day On Santa Fe’s Canyon Road

canyon roadI’m not what could be described as a patron of the arts, yet for some reason, I seem to have a knack for living in cities famed for their galleries and arts and culture scene: Vail. Lahaina. Santa Barbara. Calistoga. Telluride. Could I be a latent art groupie?

Nah. I’m just attracted to scenic places. I also spent many years waiting tables to support my writing habit, and it’s always been my belief that if I’m going to suffer for my art, then I’m sure as hell going to live someplace beautiful … where I can also make mad tips.

I’ve never lived in Santa Fe, but I’ve spent a lot of time in what’s best described as the arts epicenter of the Southwest. I’ve written of my obsession with the city’s restaurants, but my fondness for Canyon Road is more about visual, rather than prandial, pleasures. According to its official website, “within a few short blocks, visitors to Canyon Road can experience more than two centuries of the historic adobe architecture for which Santa Fe is famous…”

Located within walking distance of downtown and the Plaza, this 3/4-mile stretch of galleries, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and artists’ studios is world-renown amongst art collectors, particularly those attracted to Southwestern and Native American themes.

For me, Canyon Road is less about the art, and more about people watching, architecture, and cultural immersion. And let’s face it: with my writer’s salary, I’m hardly in the market for “investment pieces.” The great thing about Canyon Road, however, is you don’t need money or an interest in art to enjoy it.canyon roadOver the years, I’ve spent many peaceful hours, in all four seasons, wandering Canyon Road. I especially love the enchanting adobe homes that line the side streets and far eastern end.

There’s no bad time of day to visit, but I prefer early morning, before the galleries open, when the only signs of life are dog walkers and the odd sidewalk washer. A late afternoon or evening stroll or run is my other favorite way to experience Canyon Road. The hoards of tourists are gone, and I can pop in and out of galleries as I get in some much-needed exercise (eating, as I’ve mentioned, being my other favorite activity in Santa Fe).

See
What galleries you choose to visit of course depends upon your interests. For what it’s worth, I love Pachamama, a lovely shop specializing in Spanish Colonial antiques and Latin American folk art – both passions of mine. The owner, Martha Egan, is a renown scholar of Latin folk art, and has written some excellent books on the subject. One of the reasons I enjoy this storesanta fe is that it’s full of affordable treasures. I also love Curiosa, a quirky boutique selling milagros, folk art, jewelry and other trinkets.

Eat/Drink
Canyon Road is home to some of Santa Fe’s most famous (and expensive) restaurants, including Geronimo, The Compound, and the venerable El Farol. Personally, I suggest you save your money and fuel up with breakfast at The Teahouse, located at the eastern end. In addition to things like steel-cut oatmeal and house-made granola, they make absolutely insane, gluten-free “scones (more like muffins)” topped with a mantle of crusty melted cheese, green chiles and a soft-boiled egg.

If you’re jonesing to start your day with authentic New Mexican food, you can do no better than the pork or chicken tamales at Johnnie’s Cash Store (above), less than a ten-minute walk from the galleries, on Camino Don Miguel. Go early, and as the name implies, bring cash. Five dollars will fill you up.
inn on the alameda
While you may want to skip the more spendy places for a meal, the patio of El Farol is a favorite spot for an afternoon glass of wine or beer, or happy hour cocktail. The Tea House also serves beer, wine and coffee drinks.

For an afternoon pick-me-up, head down Canyon Road, and turn left onto Acequia Madre, which has some of the area’s most beautiful adobes. Make a right on Paseo de Peralta, cross the street, and you’ll see Kakawa Chocolate House. Revive with a hot or cold sipping chocolate (“elixirs”) and a sweet treat; the red chile caramel coated in dark chocolate is outstanding.

Stay
My favorite hotel in Santa Fe just happens to be located around the corner from Canyon Road. The Inn on the Alameda (right) is an attractive Pueblo-style property with 72 spacious, comfortable rooms, many with French doors and balconies. It’s not the hippest spot in town, as it’s popular with older travelers. I suspect it has something to do with the elaborate full breakfasts and the daily wine and cheese happy hour, both of which are gratis for guests. And really, who in their right mind wouldn’t love a deal like that?

Don’t let the median age dissuade you if you’re a bright young thing. The hotel has stellar service, an outdoor hot tub, free parking, allows pets and is close to all of Santa Fe’s attractions. It’s also across the street from a bucolic creekside running path, and offers killer packages (especially if you’re a food-lover) in conjunction with the Santa Fe School of Cooking, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the farmers market. A stay here always feels like coming home to me, but then, Santa Fe just has that way about it.

P.S. Canyon Road on Christmas Eve is a vision of fairy lights and farolitos.

[Photo credits: gallery, Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau; gallery, Flickr user xnergy; Johnnie’s Cash Store, Laurel Miller; Inn on the Alameda; Alice Marshall Public Relations]

Seattle’s best spots for hot chocolate

Seattle best hot chocolateBaby, it’s cold outside here in Seattle, and that makes me want to drink. No, not coffee or craft beer, despite Seattle’s status where those beverages are concerned. I’m talking about chocolate. Hot chocolate. It’s a national obsession these days, along with its more solid counterpart. There are chocolate boutiques, chocolate tastings, chocolate cafes, chocolate factory tours. Whether you love a single varietal 72% Madagascar from the Sambirano Valley, or a bar of Hershey’s, one of the many great things about chocolate is that it caters to all tastes and budgets.

While I loathe the culinary pretentiousness that frequently goes hand-in-hand with fine food and drink, I’ll be the first to admit that there is a vast difference in quality (and sustainable growing and harvesting practices) when it comes to chocolate. That same quality variation extends to hot chocolate, which these days also goes by such nom de plume’s as drinking chocolate, sipping chocolate, or chocolate chaud. There are even health benefits to ponying up for a quality cup if it’s within your means.

Generally speaking, the above terms are interchangeable, although it’s implied they contain bittersweet (dark) chocolate, rather than cocoa powder. Dark chocolate (65% cacao or more) is loaded with antioxidants; a quarter ounce per day is has significant health benefits, and also acts as a natural antidepressant. Researchers believe that the endorphins and opioids in chocolate elevate mood and reduce anxiety.

So, because it’s delicious, heart-healthy, cancer-preventing, mood-enhancing, and mojo-making (just in time for Valentine’s Day!), here are my picks on where to find Seattle’s best hot chocolate. If a trip to the Pacific Northwest isn’t on your itinerary, I’ve provided online sources so you can make your own cup of chocolatey goodness.

Fran’s Chocolates
Seattle’s own Fran’s is my top pick, thanks to a rich blend of 65% Venezuelan single-origin chocolate, and half two-percent/half whole milk topped with a healthy dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. Three locations in Seattle and nearby Bellevue. You can order Fran’s Dark Hot Chocolate pistoles (pellets designed for melting) here.Seattle best hot chocolateTrophy Cupcakes
Topped with unsweetened whipped cream or a housemade marshmallow, this European-style hot chocolate made with heavy cream is the beverage equivalent to fuzzy bunny slippers. Three locations in Seattle and Bellevue.

Theo’s Chocolates
This hometown company in trendy Fremont was the first organic/fair trade chocolate factory in the U.S.. Today, Theo’s delectable chocolates are available nationwide. The factory also has tours and a retail store/cafe counter, where cups of sipping chocolate are available (depending upon the day; call ahead). The Dark contains a 70% blend and whole milk, making for an intensely chocolately cuppa; Chipotle Spice has the mouth-tingling additon of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and smoked and ground ancho chile. You can also order cans of ground sipping chocolate online.

Café Presse
A heady blend of bittersweet and unsweetened chocolates, cocoa powder, cream, and milk make for one of the most well-balanced cups in town at this charming Capitol Hill spot. You’ll find more of the same at downtown sister cafe Le Pichet. P.S. It’s worth the extra cash to slip some Armagnac in your cup.