A New Year’s Story

What, If Anything Did We Learn In Food This Year?

Dan Pennington
11 min read
weird holidays
It always gets weird around here during the holidays. (Dan Pennington)
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I awoke with a start in the middle of the night. The air felt cold, uncomfortable, and I had a feeling of being watched. Lo and behold, when I opened my eyes, before me stood a specter. Floating in front of the bed, its judging eyes took in the state of my room. “Ah crap, I knew this place was haunted,” I muttered sleepily.

“Nay, sir. I take no residence here, only passing through. Tonight I come bearing a message,” it said, very spookily.

“You sound familiar. Why do I recognize that voice?” A memory tugged at the back of my mind, and with it, the pieces fell into place. “Oh my God, you’re Jacob Farley. We ran a lemonade stand together when we were kids. Wait, you died?”

“No, I got roped into doing this by some other ghosts actually. It was super weird. Yeah, no, I’ve been doing good actually. Just got a promotion at work. The wife isn’t super happy about me being out this late, so I was hoping we could, like, just get this over with,” he rambled, gesticulating with his hands wildly, as ghosts are want to do. “Here’s the deal: Tonight, you’re getting visited by these way freakier ghosts, and they want to tell you about this year in food-past, present and future. I know, the premise of the whole thing is really stupid and hokey, but I guess hipsters are trying to bring Charles Dickens back into some sort of revival.”

“You’re right, this is a terribly stupid concept. But I’m in. Though now that I’m thinking about it, would that make me Scrooge? If I were to write this as a story, that would be a really weird thing to do. Is there any way we can make me more favorable? I could be Tiny Tim. I use a cane sometimes,” I mused emphatically, as I uncomfortably dressed in front of the not-dead ghost of a childhood friend.

“Nah, in fact, your ego deserves to take a hit. I gotta go. Wife stuff. Uhhhm, best of luck with these ghosts though.” He vanished, his words still hanging in the air.

Ghost Of Food Past

Upon his arrival, I noticed he looked quite full, as if he’d just finished a huge meal. He was a very generic ghost, all things considered. I was expecting more, but I guess the creativity just wasn’t there. “Let me guess. You just finished running through all the food I wrote about this year, trying it to see if I was right?”

“That’s right! Let’s talk about those articles, but not in dialogue form, because I’m sure this would be hard to transcribe, and even harder to come up with!” it joyously expressed.

Gazing into what I guess was a portal that showed newspaper articles, which is a wild thing that exists in this story, I saw all the pieces we published this year. I saw the shift of tone, from the very talented and in-depth work of Robin Babb to the strange ramblings of a man who had never really done this before, finding a voice and a love of food through writing. I saw Hosho McCreesh tackling the feel-good eateries that fill the comfort food spots our hearts crave. I saw the rise of amazing new restaurants, the fall of a long-held love for older ones, a series of food weeks and events of the past that stretched on for miles.

Often asked and rarely properly answered is what my favorite discovery this year was. I find it hard to say because so frequently, everything I tried stood out so immensely for different reasons. Red Rock Deli, for example, surprised me with the absolute level of taste and excitement I found in every bite at their location. Conversely, places like Founder’s have taken the craft cocktail scene in Albuquerque and pushed it to new heights, leading a growth in the sector of people who truly appreciate their drinks as more than something to sip on during a bad date. VARA Winery had a new food program launch from the talented team behind Malagueña’s Latin Tapas, giving us even more reason to go visit them. I even got the chance to dig through the large swath of independent donuteries (it’s totally a word, I declare it so) in a day-long trip filled with fried, sweet goodness. Speaking of eating a ton of one thing, our food weeks saw more success than ever before this year, with hamburgers, tacos and craft cocktails. All in all, there was a lot that happened in food this year, all of it exciting.

The ghost and I just nodded, staring into the portal. “Is that it?” I asked. They shrugged. “I dunno, I just expected more out of this. Who organized all these ghosts anyways? And we’re really gonna skip over the whole Reddit thread tearing into me? I have more questions, Ghost!” But in a blink, they were gone, with myself left standing in a room alone.

Ghost Of Food Present

Now, mythos-wise, I knew Scrooge went back to sleep, which is kind of a wild thing to do after being visited by ghosts. Not me, though. I needed coffee. Thankfully, I remembered the wonderful discussion we had with Amanda Turpin, noted local coffee expert, on brewing at home and the office on how to make the best coffee. It was 3am, why not sit around with coffee and wait for the next ghost? Unfortunately, I accidentally made decaf and fell asleep in my chair. That’s when I heard jolly laughter. Opening my eyes, there sat a jolly green giant. Actually, it was the Jolly Green Giant. “Come friend! Let’s talk about the here and now!” he exclaimed. “Yeah this is super normal and ok. Let’s do it,” I replied groggily. There was a flash of light, and I was no longer in my living room. I looked around to find we were standing on a newspaper, and oh my goodness, it was this week’s issue! It hadn’t even come out yet! This guy was good.

“How did you feel about your article this week?” he asked. I looked down to see it, letters imposingly large next to my feet. “I liked it,” I said, without much preamble or energy. “Ok, great that was all I needed to know,” he said, patting me on the back and beginning to walk away.

“Wait, that’s it?” I yelled after him. “This clearly wouldn’t work great for the prompt. I still have questions! Am I Tiny Tim yet? And why is your tunic so short? I mean, wear what you want but that thing is scandalous!” But he was already gone, and my tunic question was left unanswered. “He’s not even local. Why couldn’t I get the lumberjack from Louisiana and Central to vist me instead? He seems cool.” He also didn’t bring me home, which I found rude, so I sat and read my article again, which is located very near this piece for your own reading pleasure, if Korean BBQ and sushi are your thing.

Two ghosts down, one left to go. I had never felt more like Shaggy from “Scooby-Doo” than I did in this moment. What was left? Oh right, the really morbid and creepy one. As if on cue, a dark mist rolled across the pages where I stood. The bright warmth of the Jolly Green Giant was gone, and now had arrived the…

Ghost Of Food Future

“Ok, no, you’re not chill at all. I’m not liking the energy you’re bringing to this space.” A stereotypical hooded figure, his spectral hand came out, upturned as if to say, “What did you expect? I do what I gotta do.”

“Alright, ghost. Here’s the deal. You want to show me pain and sadness, but that’s not me. I’m all about the good vibes in the food section. It’s about positivity and highlighting what is working and improving New Mexico. So don’t bring forth any graves or anything. We lost too many good places this year. Scalo, Elaine’s, Winning Coffee, Zacatecas and Poki Poblano to name a few. But so many more came after, and the new year will carry even better new places to find and discover!” If ghosts could feel shame, this one definitely did.

“As a matter of fact, let me tell you what I want to see for food in 2020. I want to see restaurants continue to be bold, creating strange and new combinations and pushing the boundaries on what we hold near and dear. I want to see ART bring life back to Nob Hill, and for the places that held on through it all to thrive and grow immensely. I want to see culinary styles we don’t normally have here start giving us more options when we go out to eat. There has been a trend of food events geared toward helping people learn to try and eat new and strange things, and there needs to be even more of that. Finally, we need to keep the old guard up. All our favorites from childhood that are entering their later years are still around and kicking while the city continues to grow, and they need the business to keep their dreams going. I still have questions! How’s that for you, future food ghost?!” I cheered in its face, or more accurately, at the hood that covered what I assumed was a skull. It looked around nervously.

“Are we done? Have I learned anything from this? You know what, I think I have. Conceptually, this idea was sound and good, but man, execution wise? Not as much fun as I thought,” I mused. Finally, the ghost nodded, and receded away with the mists it rode in on. It also never took me back home. This was insane. These ghosts were certified dicks.

I walked off toward the end of one of the pages, hoping to find a doorway or ladder. Yet, in my hubris, I forgot that newspaper doesn’t hold weight well, and as I approached the corner, the floor began to crumple underneath me, leading me to fall endlessly into a dark, inky nothingness. I woke back up in my recliner, with my now cold coffee spilled all over me. Was it all a dream? That’d be a real cop-out; I hope it wasn’t a dream.

Changing pants and sitting back at my desk, I looked over my soon-to-publish end-of-year wrap-up. It was alright, nothing too special. Just some thoughts I’d been mulling around. If only there were some way to add some flavor to it, a little excitement. I shrugged it off and went to sleep.

The next morning was supposed to be the epiphany, right? I’d wake up, realize I had been a terrible old miser and instead change my ways, running through the streets and improving my image with immense generosity. It was too cold to go running, as if I would do that when it was warm out anyways. But, my articles needed to be submitted for publication. As I pulled out of my driveway, I swear I saw, somewhere behind the trees, the flash of a ridiculously short leaf tunic. That’s when it struck me. Next year, I’m writing my end of year wrap-up as a rock opera.
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