The Debut of “The Maverick Cookbook”

Gourmet Girl - August 2, 2015

The Maverick Cookbook: Iconic Recipes and Tales From New Mexico celebrates the many people who have shaped New Mexico's cuisine, from traditional New Mexican foods to the diverse fare brought here from around the world by Spanish and Mexican settlers, pioneers of the Santa Fe Trail, the railroads, the artists and writers who established colonies in the first half of the 20th century and so many others.

Pajarito Watermelon Pickle. Photo by Guy Ambrosino: copyright © 2015 by Leaf Storm Press LLC

The idea for this book first struck me while dining at a small restaurant in Florence where my husband, brother and I were visiting my folks, who had rented an apartment overlooking the famous Piazza Santa Croce for three months. As we ate our last meal in Florence before heading home to the states, we reviewed the two incredible weeks we'd spent exploring museums, palazzos, and Michelangelo's house, among other spectacular sites. But it was the food that really stood out for me. As we ate yet one more memorable Italian meal, I realized that here in New Mexico, we share a similar history of food that, like Italy's, spans the centuries, traditionally prepared with ingredients both indigenous and foreign, creating a cuisine so unique, it's long been celebrated by the rest of the world.

At first, I thought to write a cookbook with chapters devoted to different eras that included ancestral Puebloan people, miners, cowboys and ranchers, the Manhattan Project scientists and their families, the Route 66 travelers of the Mother Road's heyday and the movie stars who worked beneath New Mexico skies.

Capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding). Photo by Guy Ambrosino: copyright © 2015 by Leaf Storm Press LLC

But then Sarah Stark (who together with her husband Andy Dudzik is the team behind my publisher, Santa Fe’s Leaf Storm Press), offered a suggestion that made my initial idea so much better—much more interesting and vivid. “What do you think about writing each chapter from the perspective of a person from each era,” she asked. “You could choose one real-life person who really captures the era. And then let them tell their stories.”

From that brilliant idea, the book took on a life of its own. I settled into the research, reading as many diaries, biographies, articles and other reliable sources as I could unearth. For months, I would rise well before the sun and work by candlelight as I tried to channel the spirits of Doña Tules in her Santa Fe gambling saloon; Billy the Kid on the run and hungry in southern New Mexico; Edith Warner preparing meals in her little adobe house for Los Alamos scientists; Georgia O'Keeffe plucking fruits and vegetables from her Abiquiu garden for her meals; and Stanley Crawford defying nature and growing garlic in the high Dixon mountains. It was a privilege to get to know each and every one of these mavericks: icons who not only contributed to the cuisines of New Mexico but helped shape its history.

Palace Picadillo. Photo by Guy Ambrosino: copyright © 2015 by Leaf Storm Press LLC

Fate seemed to have a big hand in the creation of this book, Andy and Sarah chose photographer Guy Ambrosino and his wife Kate Winslow to create the book’s mouth-watering images. I'd known Guy and Kate years ago in Santa Fe, where Guy's photographs appeared in the local press and Kate had been the food editor for the Santa Fe Reporter. Today, they are the team behind And We Ate, a photography and food styling studio based in Lambertville, N.J., not even a half hour's drive from where I grew up in Princeton. We met last November in their office, in a 19th-century house on the banks of the Delaware River, and talked about the recipes I was working on that they would photograph. Kate was an invaluable food stylist and tested all the recipes Guy shot, sending me detailed notes and suggestions for improving each one.

Roasted Acorn Squash. Photo by Guy Ambrosino: copyright © 2015 by Leaf Storm Press LLC

The recipes in The Maverick Cookbook are original. Many of been adapted from others to create new recipes that haven't yet been in circulation. But the book stands squarely on the shoulders of so many helpful predecessors including Huntley Dent's 'The Feast of Santa Fe,' Stephen Fried's 'Appetite for America', Mabel Dodge Luhan's 'Winter in Taos,' and Adolph Bandelier's 'The Delight-Makers.' While 11 of the 12 chapters are devoted to real people, the first chapter, about a Pueblo grandmother, is an invention as there are no records of any of the indigenous people who lived and cooked in New Mexico thousands of years ago.

It is my hope that The Maverick Cookbook will inspire you not only to try the recipes at home in your kitchen, and to work with perhaps unfamiliar and new ingredients, but also to seek out more information about these iconic people who helped shape the cuisine of New Mexico that is so celebrated today.

Gourmet Girl's first cookbook will be celebrated with a book launch party at Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse this Friday, July 24 at 6 pm. Chef John Vollertsen, better known as Johnny Vee, will MC the event!