Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The little town of Carlsbad, New Mexico

I take trips South through New Mexico several times year.  When I first became vegetarian, I tried taking a trip along 285 stopping at my typical places to get a bite to eat.  The first thing I learned is that if you don't do your research and you don't ask questions, meat will pop up in the most unexpected places.   I remember being at a shiny railway cart diner in Vaughn, carefully ordering a bean burrito with cheese and green chile sauce.  Never mind that at this time, I did not think about the fact that green chile sauce -- when it's not just green chile stew -- is often chicken broth based.  My burrito came out with ground beef all through the green chile sauce.  This is not unusual.  I just forgot to ask.  I just silently ate the burrito, and when my brother asked me how lunch was, I just gave a resolved "It was alright."  I ended up making batches of more spring rolls than I could possibly eat and carrying those on trips with me.   Now, I am over it and a bit more daring.  Especially at first, small towns can be difficult to find vegetarian options in, but it's almost never impossible.

My trips almost always involve going through Carlsbad, New Mexico.   I end up there for many reasons:  Carlsbad Caverns is awesome;  I like going to Living Desert State Park where I learned that New Mexico has some wildlife I did not even realize we had; and I simply pass through the town to go see my many cool relatives.  All I really knew about Carlsbad vegetarian-wise is that I was passing through a small town.  I figured my options were pretty much Taco Bell, Subway, Walmart, and Albertson's.   Taco Bell and Subway aren't too bad for a meal or two.   Walmart and Albertson's will have something for taking back to a hotel or carrying to my folks with me.
My last couple of trips have really opened my eyes to Carlsbad, however, and I must say I am quite impressed!  I am even wondering if there's a chance that there's more than just a couple of vegetarians in Carlsbad.  I went on a trip to the Caverns with Tofu Mom and one of her sprouts and was pretty impressed with the places we found:

The first place is a Chinese restaurant with an identity crisis.  I believe the name of the place in the phonebook would be the "Golden China Restaurant".  However, on the building are two signs:  Golden China Buffet and some other name like "The Imperial Chinese Restaurant."  When we went in, we weren't expecting much, but they actually had several vegetarian options on the menu!  We ordered 3 or 4 dishes and all were pretty good for a small town Chinese restaurant.

On the same trip, we went for supper at L&M Pizza and Specialties.  We ordered a pizza without cheese and they did not flinch.  We also asked about dairy ingredients in the dough.  Their pizza is good and they make both pizza and calzones.

Tofu Mom's Black Bean SaladAt Carlsbad Caverns, I had a look at the menu and quickly concluded that I was stuck with their non-vegan garden burger.  It was good, but full of cheese.  Little did I realize I did not have to settle for that!  I should have asked questions and tried harder.  Tofu Mom saw the "Choose any 5 ingredients" salad, asked about the black beans and got a delicious black bean salad.  Not bad for a national park!

Here's what really impressed me and got me to write this blog entry:  Carlsbad has a healthfood store!  I needed to pick myself up something to prepare before I went to see my folks in their very small town.  I was about to pull into Albertson's when my brother said, "Don't you want to go to the health food store"?  I looked and right across the street, there was this tiny health food store called "Healthy Choices".  It suddenly looks conceivable that you might be able to be vegetarian in Carlsbad and have your conveniences too.  I went in, and was almost disappointed because the first thing I saw was aisles full of supplements, like you'd find at a GNC.   My eyes slowly travled right, and I saw aisles full of food.  My eyes went a little more right and I found a couple of refrigerators full of different sorts of items.   I found Earth Balance Margarine, quinoa polenta (but no regular polenta), and what I originally thought I was looking for: tofu.   The tofu and polenta had been frozen as could be expected in a small town store with little product turn-around.  Nonetheless, it was a blessing to have the store there as my last stop before my final destination:  an even smaller New Mexico town.