Sometimes It’s Not About the Plan

When I asked Molly O’Neill if I should rent a car for my trip to Santa Fe in April to attend her Food Writer’s Retreat, she replied, “Nah, we have plenty of cars.”

When I asked how I should get from the Albuquerque airport to Santa Fe, Molly said, “You can ride in with my One Big Table business partner who is arriving a few days into the retreat like you.

When, a couple days before I was leaving my family for five days, the Rooster asked, “Where exactly are you staying?” I replied, “I’m not sure. Tesuque?”

I have a have a new attitude, different from my usual bossy, take-charge-self, which involves going with the flow, trusting the process, and when I can’t explain a situation, simply saying, “Interesting.”

I did meet-up with Molly’s business partner, Paul, who I correctly identified at the airport by his description “the guy from New Jersey wearing a cowboy hat.” We spent the hour-long car ride to Santa Fe talking about our kids, the ridiculous schedules for kids’ sports, and wondering what the “Twitter generation” will be like when they grow-up.

Famished, we drove straight to Bobcat Bite for their fiesta-in-your-mouth Green Chile Cheeseburgers.

Our hunger satiated, we headed for the Tesuque Compound where we were staying. After a few wrong turns and a few incorrectly inputted codes, we managed to open the gate to the compound and pull in. I later learned that the only way back out of the compound was with a car. Interesting.

Molly came right out of the current writing session to greet us. Her big brown eyes…that, no lie, sparkle with energy…and her generous smile welcomed us right in and made us feel like we hadn’t missed a thing even though, ahem, we had.

I signed up for the retreat to write. And, Molly did not disappoint in her mentoring. She is the ultimate wordsmith. I was constantly amazed at the words she could weave on the spot to fix issues in other people’s writing. But, I was not in the right mind-set to write. I arrived on too little sleep. When one morning we were given three minutes and the writing prompt, “I remember….” All I could think of to write was, I remember nothing.

Instead, I spent my days searching for chile sauce to try. Red chile sauce on pork. Green chile sauce on tamales. And a little of each, known to locals as Christmas, on enchiladas. Enchiladas from Garcia’s. Enchiladas from The Shed. And enchiladas from La Casa Sena.

Yes, I did Photoshop the bags under my eyes.

Two photos above compliments of Jen Reyneri Photography

And, I spent my time talking.

I talked to Mark, a baker and a chef, who started his career in the Kennedy White House with the war on poverty, more recently helped Thomas Keller of The French Laundry open his bakeries, and now teaches at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley in the bread program he helped create.

I talked to Donna, an ordained Christian minister in Manhattan, and her 27-year-old Jewish daughter. One morning, we cracked ourselves up shouting, “And we took the trail least taken!!” when we lost the group leading our hike and instead found our own trail, complete with an abandoned car and remnants of skeet shooting disks.

I loved talking to Jen, a food writer/photographer from Florida, and a fireball of energy, about the book she’s working on, Finding Jesus in Las Vegas.

Katie, who recently left Portland for Santa Fe and now works in a café in Santa Fe with a Portlandia theme, could have been my new best friend.

Somehow my mug shot ended up in the local newspaper. Here’s the story.

When I asked Wendy, a forager from Colorado, what her favorite foraged plants are, she replied, “Cattail pollen. Delicious in pancakes. And nettles.” When I asked her favorite “foraged” meat, she smiled and said, “Deer and squirrel.”

I met back up with “her talents never end” Deb, who I had met before at a food conference. She and her darling husband, Rod, made a romantic retreat of the whole thing. He practically brought her “breakfast in bed” one day.

There was Deb #2, our resident cellist who could pick out the rhythm in our writing, Melissa, a former internet marketing executive who has actually figured out how to make money from her website, Randy, the local attorney who tutored us in New Mexican history, the talented writer/blogger, Shauna Ahern, Molly’s right-hand workshop woman, Carol who was exploring the theme “forever lost,” and of course Rosa, our lovely event planner and local celebrity who was never without ideas of how we should be spending our time.

And, finally, dear, dear, Peggy, a contributing writer for the Chicago Tribune with a new book due out in fall 2013, who became Aunt Peggy when she secured her AAA rate for me at The Hotel St. Francis and drove me off the compound so I could see Santa Fe.

In keeping with my new attitude, here is my take-away from the retreat:

Sometimes it’s not about what the plan was.
It’s about the food and the conversations we share.
And somehow, our lives are made more interesting because of that.


PS: Anyone have a good red chile sauce recipe they want to share with me? I’m on the hunt!




  1. Lovely memories. I hope our paths cross again soon.

    You didn’t get to go on the field trip to watch the Horno demo, did you? We didn’t taste it that day, but the very same Norma’s red chile recipe appears on p. 8 of One Big Table.

    • No, sadly, I didn’t make that field trip but thanks for the tip on the red chile recipe. I’ll definitely be checking that one out. Thank you, Wendy!!

  2. Carrie:
    As always, I enjoy very much reading your blog, posts, comments and receiving your emails.
    At this exact moment, I am on vacation in Sedona, AZ, and on my return to Colorado will stay one day in Santa Fe. So nice to see your pictures and know you keep learning and finding ordinary beauty in ordinary life.
    Pleasure to hear from you!

    • Simone, I was in Sedona a few years ago and loved it. Such a relaxing place. Hope you enjoy your quick trip to Santa Fe. If you feel like enchiladas, I recommend the blue corn enchiladas at The Shed with red and green sauces – or an order of Christmas as I learned to call it.

  3. What a wonderful recap. How I wish I’d been able to go to the SF workshop!

    • It would have been so wonderful to have you there, Winnie. Hopefully our paths will cross at one of these workshops put on by the fabulous Molly O’Neill.

  4. Carrie, what a gorgeous place. Thanks for sharing.
    I use the bottled red chili sauce (often) Wish I had a homemade
    recipe to share.

    • Kristy, I usually use bottled too with great results but now that I’ve tasted the “real deal” I am on a mission to make my own. It may be a one time deal, but I’ve got to try!!

  5. I wondered if it was just a ka winky dink that you and Deb were in Sante Fe at the same time! ; ) I love, love, love that town. I bought a church cookbook while I was there, I’m sure there is a good red chili sauce in it, I will ck and let you know.

    • Ooo…Sheila, darling…definitely let me know if you find the red chili recipe. I’m a lookin’. Just a few weeks left until we meet again, my friend!

  6. such a nice post Carrie and it was terrific hanging w/you again even though time was short; hope we can connect again soon. LOVE the pics girl – YOU ARE TALENTED!! (((hugs)))

  7. It sounds like you did really well, Carrie. Brave of you to go, and well-worth it obviously!

    • Shalini, I met so many fabulous people and you know Molly, she’s the ultimate wordsmith. Hope we can meet up at one of these one day!

  8. I am not wordy in any way and for the first time I wish I could reveal my thoughts in the lovely way that you are able too. You are walking the talk! Really living your dreams. How do you do it?

  9. You make me want to visit Santa Fe and taste chile sauce all day. I love meeting interesting people, it fills me up. Great post!