August 29th, 2006

Tea-drinker par excellence

I'd live on Mexican food

2 no-prizes for getting the title song lyric, 4 if you don't have to google it.

The first real New Mexican food we had in New Mexico was at Tomasita's in Santa Fé. This restaurant is in the railroad district, meaning it's next to the station. You can even get a train from here but it's just a tourist trip around the mountains and back. The railroad hasn't really come back to the West. The first language in the restaurant seems to be Spanish and there's a twenty minute wait for a seat, on a Wednesday. Both of these are good signs.

There are several things on the menu that I don't recognise from my previous excursions, and I also note the absence of fajitas which are apparently a Texan abomination, as is the use of "chili" as opposed to "chile". Get that wrong and the New Mexicans escort you to the border.

So I order the special, a combo plate with a blue corn enchilada, a taco shell and a chile relleno. There's also rice and refrito beans and a serving of nachos and salsa, but round here that goes without saying.

Whilst the enchilada and taco are pretty good, what really gets my attention is the relleno. This is a Hatch* chile that has been roasted, peeled, slit up the side, emptied of seeds and filled with cheese, then it's dipped in breadcrumb batter and fried. It's also covered in green chile*. It's cheesy, sweet and hot and I would eat them every day if I could. There's also a variant without the breadcrumbs but this seems more like a chile omelette and is not quite so good.

The other novelty is that instead of tortillas we get sopaipillas with our meal. These are fluffy little pillows made of dough that puffs up when fried. Those in Tomasitas are the best I tasted in New Mexico. They are very light with no evidence of doughiness. They are more like pittas made from puff pastry and go great with chile. They are served with cream whip and honey.

The next such meal we had was in the Sunset Grill in Truth or Consequence. We shared chile rellenos and stuffed sopapillas which, with nachos and salsa, came to $7 for the two of us, about £3.80. This was Mom and Pop cooking at its best.

davidt3001 and anubisgrrl also took us to several restaurants. Rancheros in Las Cruces, La Posta in Old Mesilla and Barrigas in El Paso. I'd also rank them in this order, with Tomasita's fighting it out with Barrigas for the top spot. Barrigas means bellies, or possibly even "five bellies". Once you see a portion you know why. It was here than we tried Tres Leches, a kind of sponge cake involving three kinds of milk. It's surprisingly light, creamy and moist and very, very tasty. Each slice is so big that we shared portions between two. We also went to Kiki's another greasy spoon, this time in El Paso on the recommendation of the guide at the Magoffin State Home. And once again New Mexico did not disappoint.

Other good non-Mexican food I had were beef bagels at the Out of this World café in Roswell, a build your own smoked turkey wrap in the River Eatery in Ruidosa and a pretty decent steak (although not quite rare enough for my tastes) also in Ruidoso.

I brought back a few goodies with me. Some chile pecan brittle, a Las Cruces delicacy, some Cholula hot sauce, so much better than Tabasco and my favourite American snack food, Austin Crackers - a devilish blend of cheese crackers and peanut butter. Keep your hands off my stash!


*Hatch is a small town north of Las Cruces, mostly underwater after the Monsoon season. It's the local chile Mecca and fortunately the fields are safe. The Monsoon season is July-August when it actually hardly rains at all - just when it does, it's a few inches all in one go and because the ground is hard it tends to flash-flood.

*New Mexico has a state question, "Red or Green?" to which the answer is "Both!" I prefer the Green Chile but you just can't get tomatillos in the UK. I may try it with gooseberries instead.
Tea-drinker par excellence

Games I played at Gen Con

This is just a short review. I'll post something later about the 21 games I bought.

GURPS IoU
MiB run and dire.

Call of Cthulhu Masters' Tournament
I only got through to the semis so I'm obviously not a master but these two games were excellent. The first was written by Tony who I met at Origins last year. It was the sordid tale of a 1950's gang of teenagers who spend a night in a haunted house. I was the only one who got out. The three GMs (Edie, Steve and Tony) were excellent and Steve in particular for his portayal of a diner rollerskate waitress. The other players were pretty darned good too and we were soon jumping around all over and strutting our stuff. One of them, James Owens, is going to be in London in October. I sense a SteveCon is necessary.

The second game was about teenagers again. This time we were on one of those bootcamp courses and once again Edie did the scenario proud. We spent quite some time being obnoxious and then bad things happened. I tried to kill another PC with a flare pistol and the world ended. I was in the process of breaking a gem on an altar to stop a summoning when another PC shot me in the back. Down to 2 hps I collapsed on the altar and failed my luck roll to break the gem. So it wasn't really my fault.

Breaking the Ice
This is Emily Care Boss' game of the first three dates of a relationship. It's a two-player game so Emily split the eight of us into pairs and I played with Erin. It's got a nice way of creating characters based around word association but once the dating starts things can get pretty messy (in terms of the situation, the system's easy). Our two lovebirds Jenny and Jess only really seemed to get it on when things went badly and although the three dates ended with much love gained, we decided that it would burn itself out pretty soon.

This is a rather sweet game whose mechanic does a good job of generating tension in the scenes so that both players become involved in what is going on. I imagine that it's quite easy to play more with even more stressful situations but playing the dating game was a nice respite from poking shoggoths in the eye, any eye.

Cold City
I hadn't had a go at playing this but with rpgactionfigure volunteering how could I miss it. As the untrustworthy French character (natch) I almost ruined everything but nikotesla's mad scheming got us an in with the Soviet scientists and Paula's prim Englishwoman's stiff upper lip saw us through in the end. It was an overflowing of scheming and inventiveness, I think I had 0 trust in 3 of 5 PCs by the end.

Mortal Coil
Mortal Coil is a game where the players and GM define the magic as the game progresses. Characters are driven by passions that change during the session. It's diceless using poker chips for resource management. And it rocks on toast. Brennan Taylor, the author was running this session and I was lucky enough to get in on it.

1924 in Mississippi, Robert Johnson meets the Devil at the crossroads and comes away with the music and its magic. The Devil is not best pleased and since then the Man has been trying to get it back.

1974 in New Amsterdam.
Coming to a venue near you! Live and Dangerous! It's ... Flaming Taft!

It's the hottest summer on record, there's a garbage strike and someone called Son of Sam is running amok with a knife. In the middle of this mayhem, Flaming Taft ("They're doomed - They're the best" says their manager) have stepped up to the plate with some new punk sounds ("What sort of music do you play?", asks someone of the bassist TFB aka The Fucking Bassplayer, "I'm aiming for a Cthonic Hypershape", he replies in earnest whilst concentrating on fixing speakers to a helicopter).

I played Crash, son of an EMI exec (and servant of the Man), whose twin passions of "I love my dad" and "I hate myself" ensure that he is doomed to die a druggy death. The others are Lizzie Something, our desperate manager played by judd_sonofbert, TFB played by nikotesla, John Walker our normal drummer who holds the band together, played by ptevis and Skank, the self-important guitarist plated by Rémi.

There was intense conflict, some with the Man in the shape of my dad, an A&R man and the Man himself but mostly between band members and we tried to self-destruct. In the end, Lizzie sold out to the Man so that the band could get the stage she thought deserved. And I don't think there was 5 minutes in the whole 4 four hours when we didn't stop laughing.

I enjoyed this so much that I inflicted it on davidt3001 and anubisgrrl the very next weekend.

Demos
A Thousand and One Nights
This is Meguey Baker's storytelling game, literally. Everyone plays a character at the Sultan's court. You can't easily interact with each other without offending the Sultan so you tell stories to each other that show how you really feel about the other PCs. We only played one round but even that was a joy. It was a tale of how a genie gave a king a choice of giving water to his subjects or to the people and animals of the oasis that surrounded the well in which the genie lived. In the end the king ended up being turned into a goat. You can see the influence of Dogs in the Vineyard on the creation and resolution of conflicts in the game but the system is much lighter and better supports the game in my opinion. Definitely one to try out for real.

Shock
nikotesla, that man again, ran a demo of Shock for Paula and I. This was a little rushed so I've not got a clear idea of the dice mechanic but I did enjoy the premise and think it has promise. Shock is the game of social science fiction in which future science clashes with today's social problems. The players create pro- and antagonists who interact in the background and there's a mechanic for building the world as you go along. I'd like to give this one a better go too.

Perfect
This is Joe MacDonald's game set in a world akin to Victorian England that is under oppressive rule. The PCs are criminals within this world who strike out against the system. The demo was interesting but not long enough for Paula and I to get a good feel of how the game works in the long run. But I bought it anyway so I'll have a chance to see whether it can deliver more than it originally promised. It is a good looking game however.

Mortal Coil
I almost forgot. The day after playing this, Brennan ran a demo for Paula and me. It was short but very to the point and an excellent introduction into the game that really grabbed Paula's interest.