Welcome to New Mexico... the land of enchantment. It's safe to say we felt like this state had some kind of magical influence over us, some master plan we still don't know the significance of.
On our drive over from Phoenix, the name “Esther” kept coming up - in a podcast we listened to about coincidences, and then a woman who stopped to help us on the road when our car wouldn’t start. We'd been thinking about the name since that podcast and then this woman, alone on a random intersection 100 miles from anywhere, told us her name was Esther and invited us to her farm to fix our car. The engine started up so we kept going, but we couldn't get that moment out of our heads. We researched the name Esther, and then found out that that weekend was the Jewish holiday of Purim, based on the book of Esther. The universe was trying to tell us something, but we still don't know what it was.
We drove to White Sands that night and slept in a Walmart parking lot not far from the monument. The gates to the park were closed by the time we got there. We'd heard about a camping spot around a man-made lake but couldn't find it either. So there we were, our last night in the camper with a (barely) working engine, in an appropriately bleak camping spot. We woke up early and drove back to the monument to try to catch the sun rising over the dunes. The sun was up by the time we got there, but it was still outrageously beautiful and totally weird. We drove out to the far reaches of the park, where all the vegetation dissipates, the dunes get taller, and the road becomes just a path of flattened sand.
From the road, White Sands looks unbecoming and out of place. Just piles of bright white gypsum plopped in the middle of a wide and flat expanse of absolutely nothing. I didn’t know until we got there that it’s part of a military base that does missile research. That makes a lot of sense now. It’s one of the emptiest places I’ve ever been. Walking through the dunes, it felt like we were the only people on Earth. So peaceful and quiet that any sign of other life almost felt like an interruption. A mouse scuttering across the sand, a car driving by, a rogue tourist and her kids. It’s so quiet that every noise was a loud one. Everything echoed.
It's been over a month now and I'm still finding sand in my shoes. I remember digging it out of my hair for a week, from our clothes, from under our finger nails. But maybe that's also because we were rolling around in it, making sand angels, "sledding" on stolen McDonald's trays.
We made this charred broccoli sandwich for lunch in a lot in between the dunes. For hours we were the only ones there, surrounded by literally nothing but bright white and baby blue and a yucca plant here and there. We sat there trimming broccoli, quick pickling peppers, making aioli. Occasionally a car would drive by, the sound in a crescendo, and a few people would stop to take a picture with a selfie stick. And then it was just us again, sitting in sand, eating a sandwich. We made the decision to head to Roswell that day, and a few hours later, broke down for good.
This sandwich recipe is one of our favorites. It might not be the same without the white sand blowing into it, but it'll be good nonetheless.
Charred Broccoli Rabe Sandwich
Makes: one giant baguette sandwich (serves 2-4)
Trim the broccoli rabe, cutting off about 1 inch of hard stems. Heat a cast iron until almost smoking. Add 2 tbsp olive oil and then the broccoli. Sauté in 2 batches, each until the broccoli is charred and starts to soften. Set aside.
Pickle the peppers: Place the vinegar, water, & salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Pour over the sliced chiles and let sit for about ten minutes.
Make the aioli: Combine the egg yolk, lemon juice, and mustard. Grate the garlic cloves into the bowl with a microplane. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and whisk together until it comes together. It should start to thicken and emulsify. Season with salt to taste. It should be flavorful and very garlicky.
Combine all the tapenade ingredients. Set aside.
Make the sandwich: spread the aioli on one side of the bread, and the tapenade on the other. Place the cooked broccoli rabe on top of the aioli, followed by the pickled peppers and the shaved cheese. Top with fresh-grated black pepper.
One baguette, sliced in half length-wise
1 bunch broccoli rabe
2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
For the pickled chiles:
2 fresno chilies, sliced into thin rings
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp salt
1/4 cup shaved parmesan or peccorino cheese
For the olive tapenade:
1 cup mixed olives (we used castelveltrano & kalamata), finely chopped
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/2 lemon, squeezed
For the aioli:
1 egg yolk
1 cup olive oil
1 tsp mustard
2 garlic cloves
1/2 lemon, squeezed
salt to taste