My bathroom smells like lavender. But not just any lavender: the kind that smells like it was just plucked from the fields seconds ago: strong and fragrant, more pure than most. Almost with a spicy, extra floral scent so concentrated you can use the soap in place of perfume.
I chalk this spa-like essence I’ve created up to a very smart purchase at the farm store Los Poblanos Historic Farm and Organic Farm, which I visited during a trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
This was like no other farm I had ever been to in the Midwest. First of all, it was surrounded by lavender fields – yep – the source of that luxurious soap, lotion and soave perfuming my powder room.
Matt Rembe, part-owner and executive director explained that Los Poblanos is so different from many farms in the United States because typically farms don’t have inns or even restaurants on the premises. Los Poblanos, therefore, resembles more of the European farm inns, where sleeping and dining on the farm is considered a fun getaway for urbanites from Paris, for one.
So why do we care about something in New Mexico if this blog is about Chicago food, culture and cuisine? Turns out Los Poblanos has an extensive history, one that includes a McCormick family member from Chicago. In fact, they’ve one of the rooms after the family in the semi-sprawling ranch house (which includes an old school library and game room still smells faintly like cigars and old books).
The Los Poblanos land was originally inhabited by ancient pueblo Indians in the 14th century and many of the original settlers came from Puebla, Mexico (where citizens are called “Poblanos.” While the ownership changed hands over the years, in the 1930s, Ruth Hanna McCormick from Chicago, then a widowed United States Representative for Illinois (once married to the late Illinois Senator Joseph Medill McCormick, whose grandfather was former Chicago Tribune owner Joseph Medill), married Albert Simms, another widowed congressman from New Mexico, and the couple took over the Los Poblanos ranch.
They extended the property to the Sandia Mountains, using the historic inn as their private residence and a hub for their dairy and farm operation, nursery and cultural endeavors – many local and acclaimed artists and architects were commissioned by the couple for the wood-carved doors, paintings and other architecture still seen today throughout the property.
Read more about the history of Los Poblanos.
One of the most intriguing aspects about Los Poblanos – aside from the serene surroundings, rich history, lavender fields and on-site organic vegetable and animal farm – is its on-premise restaurant. Resembling more of a country home or B&B dining room offset from the kitchen, the restaurant serves breakfast and dinner daily for guests in addition to special dinners and events (think gorgeous weddings) from time to time.
What’s fantastic about the restaurant (which is really a small dining room off of the kitchen and surrounded by glass doors overlooking the greenery on the grounds) is that Chef Jonathon Perno (who trained under Wolfgang Puck and has cooked all over the world), along with Sous Chef Jaye Wilkinson (a woman, fyi), both native New Mexicans, have designed their changing menu where literally every single food comes from nearby farms or from the Los Poblanos property itself, save for the occasional citrus, olive or other nominal ingredient coming from nearby California.
It’s farm-to-table, literally.
And that’s what made the food taste so ethereal. Sure, I’ve had “farm-to-table” dining plenty at restaurants in Chicago, but nothing tasted so literally plucked from the fields. Because it was.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to experience the dinner on this trip. But my breakfast was memorable enough. We started with strong coffee and a crumbly coffee cake made with homemade jam that tasted more like a raspberry crisp shaped into a triangle.
A limited menu (that changes daily) gave us a choice of homemade Challah French toast with a peach-maple compote (which, from a taste I sensed was sprinkled with lavender), or Los Poblanos’ take on shakshouka, an Israeli dish, with two poached eggs in a spiced tomato “stew” over chick peas drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and feta cheese. I chose the latter.
Sounds sort of simple, even kind of plain right? Wrong.
The eggs, taken that morning steps away from the brown-speckled hens I spotted running around by the coop, tasted like a rich Wisconsin butter and ran-neth perfectly over the homegrown, meaty chickpeas nestled among ripe heirloom tomatoes and torn basil, also homegrown. The feta cheese came from a nearby dairy farm and had just the right amount of tang to contrast the sweetness of the tomatoes. If that wasn’t enough, the dish came with a generous slice of thick-cut bacon from the pigs they had on the farm “up until last week,” Rembe explained.
Ok, so the olive oil came from Italy, but who cares. This was about as good as it gets. Any farmer would shrug, tell you that’s how they eat every day. Its dishes like these that make my thoughts of moving to the country and having my own farm grow stronger every day.
Chef Wilkinson came out of the kitchen to talk to our group during breakfast to tell us about the runner beans and heirloom squash she was growing out back, using the same Native American “Three Sisters” growing method combining corn with beans and squash: the stalks of the corn plant serve as a trellis for the beans, which then supply nitrogen in the soil to grow sweet squash. It’s considered one of the most sustainable, natural way to grow crops, and many small farmers in New Mexico and around the country still use the age-old method, including right here in Illinois at Three Sisters Farm. The other case-in-point here is that now the chefs at Los Poblanos aren’t just chefs, they’re farmers and gardeners too.
Los Poblanos was more than a resort or a get-away. It was a dream. They get plenty of press so they don’t need me to say this, but the place made an impression on me so I’ll say this: if you’re thinking of going to New Mexico, you’re likely going to hit up Santa Fe. Forget it. Go here in Albuquerque. You’ll thank me later.