Archives for posts with tag: culinary

I have this coffee pot.  Well, it’s no longer, technically, a coffee pot.  By that, I mean, it doesn’t have its guts.  The percolator and coffee basket are long gone.  But, from the outside, it looks just like one of those old Coleman coffee pots your dad used to have.  I still make coffee with it, only now I am far more sophisticated…I use a French press (insert snobby-nasal “hoh hoh hoh” here).

I got out of the Marine Corp in mid-1991.  I had asked to be stationed in Yuma for my last duty station because it was close to home.  My mom, brother and sister lived in Tempe, or thereabouts.  When I got out, I moved into my mom’s house, until I could get on my feet.  I took various odd-jobs including telemarketing and door-to-door sales.  In fact, one of my favorite post-service jobs was that door-to-door sales.

Fast forward a year or two and I’m staying in a condo in Tempe, working in restaurants and at REI.  I got into camping as a kid on family trips and continued “camping” when in the Marines.  I was hooked.  So it was natural for me to start accumulating camping equipment.  That’s where I purchased this coffee pot.

Most of my first camping trips were car-camping at bike races.  I’d use this pot to make coffee for my teammates.  We were really into coffee…primarily because it suppressed the hunger-pangs.  We were poor and the less we thought about food the easier our days would be.  I remember at one race, I and one of my teammates were coming around this turn and there was Jim Huntley.  He was in a different class so he had some time before his start.

Anyway, he was making a pot of coffee, and the aroma was wafting along the trail for about 50’.  More than a few racers mentioned it later.  “Did you smell that coffee that guy was making?” “Yea man, I almost stopped to have a cup”.

We loved coffee.

Some years later I was on a long, cross-country trip with my future ex-wife.  We decided to drive through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and eventually back home to Arizona.  We had stopped at some high-mountain camp in Idaho, right next to a fast running, cold stream.  It was iconic.  I can still see the place in my memories.  I distinctly remember that Idaho was so beautiful that I HAD to come back some day.  I will, someday.

One morning I wanted to rinse out my coffee pot.  I went to the river and dunked it a few times.  At one point I realized that I’d lost the innards of the pot.  I have no recollection of the precise moment they disappeared, but I came to realize it, and I was pissed.  I remember that I threw a bit of a tantrum.  I looked up and down that bank trying to guess how far it might be swept down in the rushing water.

It was gone.

The next trip I took it on was a backpacking trip into the Superstition Mountains.  I was brand-new to “civilian” backpacking and this was my inaugural trip.  We were driving along the AZ-60 and I must have been going too fast because all of the sudden there was a police officer on my tail, lights-a-flashin’.

He saw my wallet and noticed that it had a rasta-marijuana leaf embroidered on it.  He used that as probable cause and asked me if I had any drugs on me.  Instead of lying to him, I volunteered to show him where my meager bag of brown-frown pot was.  His next question was “do you have any meth?”  I immediately said “NO!  I’m going to out there to relax, not clean up the forest.”

Well, he thought I was a good guy, so he wrote me a ticket and sent me on my way.  I was a bit shaken but intent on going backpacking.  We continued on.  I remember this first hike into Angel Basin.  We’d lost the trail at the top of the big descent down into the spot.  We bushwhacked our asses off and arrived at the basin only to find that the Scottsdale Community College Outdoor Club was already there.  The club seemed to be mostly young girls.  Bonanza, right!?  NO – again, I was with my future ex-wife.  The only time I’ve ever encountered a gaggle of girls in the woods was when I was with a girlfriend.

Anyway, it’s not worth dwelling on.

We set up camp, made our (looking back), horrible dinner and retired.  The next morning we awoke to the Girls-Gone-Wild leaving.  We were just getting our day started when a guy walked by, without a pack.  He was one of the chaperones of the trip but had to stay back at the trailhead with a girl that had sprained her ankle early in the trip.  He was trying to catch up to the rest of the party for some reason I can’t remember.

Coffee Pot2I started a pot of coffee.  By now I was going all Cowboy on my Java.  Boil water, add coffee grounds, stir and set; pour a little cold water on the top to sink the grounds and pour gently.  Well, this chaperone came back through and the smell of coffee brought him into our camp.  We shared our magical-black liquid and started chatting.

Within 5 minutes he offered to smoke pot with us.  I looked at Patricia and said “I told you we’d still find a way to get high in the woods!”.

There have been more than one magical moment in my life as a result of this coffee pot.

Today, my backpacking skills have progressed.  I’ve probably walked a couple thousand miles across Arizona’s amazing landscapes.  Deserts, forests, canyons and mountains.  I even tried to do a thru-hike of the AZT.  As part of my learning curve I’ve cut untold pounds out of my pack.

This coffee pot only makes it into a few of my backpacks; it all depends on the trip.  One one annual foray it’s the “water-heater”.  It resides somewhere on the fire heating water for someone.  When you want water, just go fill it up and put it on the flame.

On this sojourn it has taken its place, central on my stovetop.  It sees daily use in making my coffee, oatmeal and evening tea.  It’s a comfortable friend that’s been with me for over 20 years.

Like the Tinman of Oz, it never really needed guts or a heart because it performs its job perfectly as is.

This is my Linus-blanket and I intend to use this pot until I die, or it falls apart, whichever comes first.

Can I pour you a cup?

 

 

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I know what you’re probably thinking…”isn’t Arizona “hell-oven-Africa” hot in the summer?”  Well, the answer is “yes and not really”.  The yes part applies to the lower elevations, in the middle of the day, while in the sun and not near any water; the “not really” means that there are myriad ways to avoid that oppressive “dry” heat.  I’m a native of Arizona and my family has been in this state since the 1880’s AND I happen to be a heat-wuss, so I know what I’m talking about.

Before I get to my list I want to mention two words that make Arizona even possible: air conditioning.  Seriously.  I love history, particularly frontier history; when I think of the pioneers I’m struck by how hearty they were as a people.  Think about it…they didn’t have AC, their cell reception was probably worse than T-Mobile (maybe), they were being hunted by other people and to top it all off they had to do all of this in wooden underwear.  People today, by comparison, are so soft.

Air conditioning makes being in the desert possible, for us marshmallows.  But there are other ways to enjoy Arizona while being outside.  So, without further ado, here’s my top 5 ways to enjoy our state without spontaneously combusting like a Spinal Tap drummer.

NUMBER 5:  Swimming Pools.  If you come to Arizona and book a room at a hotel or resort without a pool then you deserve to sweat your crotch off!  I’m not sure how hard you’d have to work to find a place without a pool but I’m sure there are some seedy places that don’t.  The Arizona heat only really sucks when the sun is at its peak AND you’re in the direct sunlight.  Yes, 110°F is still hot, but it’s the combination of heat and sun that’s the killer.  Factor in a swimming pool and a cabana boy or girl and you’ve got the makings of a great afternoon.  Too warm, jump in the water.

Mark Boisclair Photography, Inc.

Mother of Pearl swimming pool at The Phoenician Resort & Spa

NUMBER 4: Animal Activity.  During the summer the animals come out to play at night.  In fact, it’s so prolific that we even have a stargazing & night-vision tour that you might want to consider.  You can’t get the night-vision portion during the winter because the animals are hibernating.  But at summer you’ll see coyote, javelina, Jack-hares, and snakes (don’t freak out, seriously…they want nothing to do with you).  In fact, there’s a statistic about who gets bit the most: males between the ages of 18-35, drunk, bitten on the hand, and a low “TTR”.  TTR stands for “tooth to tattoo ratio”.  Ladies, you’re safe!

NUMBER 3: Less Traffic/People.  Every November the population in The Valley increases by about a billion people.  Most of these people are what we lovingly call “snow birds”.  These are the seasonal visitors that descend upon our city with their motor-homes and basically clog up our roadways, shops & restaurants.  Don’t get me wrong – we make our living serving these guests; and I love people, just not when they’re driving.  But during the summer our population literally drops by thousands of people…and they’re not on the roads.

NUMBER 2: High-elevation activities.  Most people don’t realize that Arizona isn’t all desert.  In fact, we have a mountain that’s over 12,000′ tall.  The south rim of the Grand Canyon sits at 7,000′, and the north rim even higher.  The town of Flagstaff, one of our lesser-known gems, is a hub of adventure and activity and also sits at 7,000.  Their record high temperature was in 1973 and it was only 97°F, and considering it’s a “dry” climate it’s downright beautiful.  There are also other high elevations throughout the state so don’t think that coming to Arizona during the summer is going to cause you to catch fire.

Flagstaff

Flagstaff, Arizona

NUMBER 1:  Resort Discounts.  Because the entire world knows that even Satan has a summer home outside the Sonoran Desert in the summer the local hotels and resorts cut their room rates embarrassingly low.  They used to just close for the summer but lately they figure that some revenue is better than no revenue.  You can book a room at a high-end resort, in the summer, for about the same cost as a Bate’s Motel in the peak season…almost.  Factor in the premium level of service and the manicured pools and grounds and it’s a no-brainer.  Perfect time for a family get-away.

Well, that’s just the top 5 reasons to visit Arizona in the summer.  There are more but I know your attention span is at it’s limit right now.  In fact, if you’re still reading this then I’m amazed and honored.

See you outside.

Sequioa Log 03302017

Hikers continue to pass through. So do other trail users; mountain bikers, people scouting the trailheads for future endeavors, and even trail stewards doing routine maintenance on the trail. Oh, and Marney, from Chalet Village. Not a day goes by without someone stopping by. The best part is that by now, thru-hikers know I’m here.

But most of the time I’m alone, with Kika and Emmie (backup). The sun has been shining but the temperatures have been sublime. The nights are perfect sleeping temperatures. The wind picks up, usually after noon but they’re not constant. They’re just enough to keep it cool. Every once in a while a ranch truck drives by at about 70.

During the days I’m “at work”. There’s plenty to do but there’s still a lot of “quiet” time. So what I’ve been doing, to break up the day, is to check out the local flora; there is no shortage. In fact, I’m willing to wager that every single hiker that’s hiked this section would agree: this desert is lush!

Not only is the desert wide open out here, it’s a sea of rolling green. Crest a hill and look around, in addition to endless mountain ranges in the distance you’ll see more vegetation than dirt or rock. It’s f’n LUSH I’m tellin’ ya!

Interspersed with the myriad shades of green are reds, oranges, purples, whites . . . and sinews of yellow, weaving through other plants. If you’re up early, you’ll see golden sun-rays illuminating these red-silvery puffs of flowers. It’s truly a kaleidoscope of color!

So, what are these wondrous species? Are they edible or do they have any medicinal benefits? Not that they have to…flowers this beautiful don’t have to do anything more than just BE. Seeing them makes me happy, which in-itself is soul-nourishing enough.  But still, what are these happy plants that make it look like Walt Disney came through with leaky paint cans?

Well, I’m here to tell ya’!  And yes, a couple of them do have edible/medicinal benefit…

Yummy in my tummy

Let’s start with one of my favorites – the banana yucca.  I wrote about this a while ago, but this is one of the sweets of the Sonoran Desert.  The flower buds, fruits and leaf-bases are edible.  The natives would pit roast some parts or they might dry the flowers. For example, they would roast the fruits then remove the skins and seeds.  The resulting pulp was formed into dry cakes.  Then, they might reconstitute them into sweet drinks.  The flowers can be cooked into soups or dried and formed into burgers with acorns.

 Hmmm, that almost sounds good…minus all of the labor involved.

People often ask “how did the natives survive?”  My response is always “they didn’t just survive, they thrived!”.

I once heard a statistic: that of the 3400 species native to the Sonoran Desert, 550 of them are edible.  I admit that I have never verified either of those numbers, but it sounds reasonable enough.  When you start digging into edible plants you’ll discover that there are quite a few…probably 550.

These ain’t one of them…at least not for us.

The Fairy Duster

One of the many species of penstemon

Not sure…Chinese Lantern

Sanddune Wallflower

This is just a small collection of photos from my morning coffee-walks.  There are more, like the Desert Globemallow.  The globemallow is also known as “mal de ojo”, which is Spanish for “bad for the eyes”.  It got this name because it’s one hell of an allergen – it’s pollen strands are long, and when observed in cross-section looks like a star…bad for eyes.
The hedgehogs are starting to flower too.  Pretty soon the palo verdes will explode in yellow, so will the brittle bush.  In just a few weeks you’ll look across the desert and it’ll be aglow in yellow.

I think it’s pretty universal to assume that because it’s a harsh desert that not many plants exist.  Not in the Sonoran Desert though…being the warmest & wettest desert in the world we have quite a few plants.  In fact, this is one of the most bio-diverse locations on the globe.

And if there really ARE 550 edible plants in this desert than it’s not a stretch to think the natives really did thrive.  They sure didn’t know any better.

HOWEVER – I’m willing to bet that none of these edible species tastes as good as a pizza delivered to the trailhead by Old Time Pizza in Kearney, or a burrito the size of a donkey at Casa Rivera’s Taco Express in Oracle.  I can vouch for the pizza…I’ll be chompin’ on the burrito this Friday night.

See you outside…or at Casa Rivera’s

 

The last time I wrote I told you that I’ve decided to be a rich and famous travel writer.  I remember listening to a motivational speaker (that didn’t live in a van, down by the river) and he said that speak in the present tense when you speak about dreams.  For example, don’t say “some day I’m going to be a millionaire”; instead say “I’m a millionaire, the money just hasn’t made it into my bank account yet.”

So, I’m a rich and famous travel writer, it’s just that the money isn’t here yet and nobody knows who I am (except for my friends but they’re certainly not going to pay me to write shit; maybe to shut up, but that’s a different blog). I just need to travel and write.  My plan for the summer is to take my travel trailer around the state, to higher elevation cities, and write about what there is to do and places to eat.  Done deal, right?

Well, the “travel” part is proving to be a challenge.  You see, I discovered that a skylight in my travel trailer was cracked, and as a result it leaked…into my shower (yay) and vanity (boo).  So, I bought a replacement skylight and removed the old one.  Only to discover that there was some pretty significant water damage to the substrate.  I learned that word, “substrate”, after watching about 20 YouTube videos about how to repair RV roofs.  I discovered that this is an easy project as long as you’re handy and have tools.

I have a backpack and a bong.  I have a few tools but I’m better at watching professionals use them than I am at using them myself.

But I’m going to learn.

It’s part of the new “me”, and shit.  Yep, I’m trying to grow up and learn how to actually do things other than run a business.  I’m almost 50 so there’s time.

Anyway, my plan for the next few works is to learn how to replace rotten wood and resurfacing my travel trailer roof.

So I got that going for me, which is nice.

“Living the Dream!”

That’s how I answer people when they ask “How are you doing today?”  It happens multiple times a day, to all of us.  When we go shopping and the checkout person greets us.  It happens when that annoying telemarketing call gets through.

I respond like that because, in some ways – I am already doing it.  I also believe that “if you can’t say it, you can’t do it.”  I actually learned that line from the movie Risky Business; Miles was talking to Joel and he suggested that in order to truly live, you have to say “What the fuck” once in a while.  At the end of his speech he said “if you can’t say it, you can’t do it.

So I say “Living the Dream” because responding “What the Fuck” isn’t as refined.  Plus it might set an inappropriate first tone with strangers.

Anyway, beginning in March I really will be “living the dream” because I said “what the fuck!”

How am I already living the dream?

I am the co-owner of an adventure tour company.  We started as a guide company but we’ve morphed into some kind of Adventure Concierge service – we guide and arrange adventures and experiences throughout Arizona.  In some respects – that’s kind of a dream career – to work in the outdoor adventure industry.

I also have been in the kitchen, metaphorically & literally, my whole life.  I cooked with my mom & grandmother growing up; I’ve worked in professional kitchens, from McDonald’s to an elite, fine-dining restaurant out of a 4-star resort.  I LOVE food.  I love to eat food, but I love preparing it even more.

Adventure and food are the things I love most in life.  You can share them with anyone, friends, guests & clients, and loved ones.  Those to are my favorite life experiences other than being in love.  I mean, let’s face it – true love is the most amazing thing ever.  But adventure and food are close seconds.

My point?  I exist in a world full of love, adventure and food.

So, how can it get even better?  Well, because I said “WTF”.  I bought a trailer.  Here are the photos of the inside.

thebedroomThis is a photo of the bedroom. and my office chair.

theofficekitchenandbathroomThis is the office, kitchen and restroom.

Pretty modest, but it has everything I need.

I will be leaving this March to do a boondocking practice run.  I’m going to post up along the Arizona Trail between Superior and Oracle (because there is mobile reception there) and do “trail magic”.  Then in April, after I’ve got my wheels under me, I’m going to start moving north trying to stay in cooler weather.  I’ll travel all over Arizona and maybe even into Utah and Colorado.

But here’s the best part – I will be scouting out new adventures, restaurants, watering holes and camping spots, then writing about them.  That’s right, I just said “what the fuck” I’m going to be a travel writer.

Livin’ the Dream,

AG

Full disclosure, I saw someone else’s article about this topic.  It wasn’t about Arizona, so I figured it was OK to pirate their idea.  Also, I keep posting on Twitter that we’re #stillwearingshorts.  So, I decided to put my blog where my mouth is and let you know how to prepare for the grandeur that is Arizona.

First, you need to know that Arizona isn’t all desert.  In fact, Arizona is home to almost all of the world’s biomes.  The only one not strictly represented is a Tropical Forest.  What does this mean?  It means that we have an amazing diversity of weather and temperatures.  In fact, as I write this (February) I could go skiing in the morning, and by late afternoon I could be enjoying a margarita while soaking up the sun, poolside.  I’m not sure I’d want to jump in the water unless it was a heated pool, but you get the point.buddabeachbeauty1

What this means is that, depending on where you plan on visiting, your attire will need to be as diverse as our topography.  Most likely you’ll be flying into Phoenix-Sky Harbor and staying a day or more.  You might also be planning to visit Sedona or Grand Canyon. The more informed you are the higher the probability you’ve also included Tucson or Flagstaff to your itinerary.  If you’ve consulted with a local professional, such as (ahem, me) 360 Adventures then you’ll come up with ideas such as visiting Tombstone, Bisbee, Page or even the Navajo/Hopi reservations.

For the purposes of this amazing and omnipotent blog let’s suppose you have those locations in mind.  I’m also going to assume that you are going to be participating in activities OTHER than golf, shopping and a spa visit.  You’ll be hiking, taking a culinary tour, going on a balloon flight, or even trying something adventurous like canyoneering or doing an ATV ride.  Yes – I’m shamelessly suggesting you let us plan your vacation; you won’t be sorry.dsc_2284

OK – so you’ve trusted us with your memories of a lifetime.  Let’s get down to planning your attire.  Because the elevations, average precipitation, terrain and hours of sunlight differ greatly in these locations you’re going to need, at least, one of everything in your wardrobe.  I’m not kidding – you’re going to need stuff for when it’s warm, like skirts/shorts, blouses/t-shirts, hats and sunglasses.  If you’re staying at a resort then you might even need a swimsuit and flip-flops (the higher-end resorts do heat their pools).  For a night on the town in The Valley you’re also going to need a light jacket.

For your trips up north you’re going to need pants, heavier jackets and possibly gloves.  This year we had some pretty good snow storms so you might even want to consider moisture (sorry ladies) barriers, especially if you decide to play in the snow.  A visit to the Grand Canyon will take you to 7000′ and it’s actually darned cold, unless you’re from the Arctic Circle or Siberia then it’s merely chilly.

I think what catches people off guard most is that when they are in Scottsdale or Phoenix, during the “winter” and spring, that it’s actually chilly.  Another thing to remember is sunscreen.  Seriously – we aren’t called The Valley of the Sun because we’re trying to sound cute.

Something that most people forget is close-toe, athletic-type shoes.  If you’re going to be doing any of the adventures I mentioned above then you’ll be participating in nature.  There’s a saying – everything in the Sonoran Desert either sticks, stings, bites or eats meat.  Be prepared.

Most of all  you want to bring a sense of adventure.  Sure, we have hundreds of golf courses, some of the best galleries & shops in the world, and you can’t drive for 10 minutes without seeing a spa of some type.  But you can get that anywhere.  What you can’t get is a world-class mecca of outdoor adventures that include snow and sunshine anywhere else like you can in Arizona.  At least not with Mexican food.

See you outside.

If you’ve been following this blog you already know that one of the topics I talk about is the edible and medicinal plants of the Sonoran Desert.  Well, here we go again.  This particular plant is about to be ubiquitous.  In fact, they’re starting to pop up already thanks to the abundant rainfall we’ve received this “winter”.

dandelionThe common dandelion.  Taraxacum officinale as it’s known by the scientists.  This is truly a “eat the whole plant” kinda’ plant.  The leaves, stems, flower buds, flowers and root are edible.  Most of us have seen these weeds and it’s the plant that RoundUp shows in it’s commercial.  That’s OK because they spray that stuff on other foods too.

The roots are best gathered in the late autumn or winter, and you should collect the leaves before the plant flowers.  There are so many culinary uses for this plant that I had to pick some of the most appealing options lest this blog get too long.  The leaves have a bitter flavor and are perfect for adding to salad mixes or as the herb in a pesto.  The flowers can be added to salads and when you roast the insulin-rich roots the insulin converts to fructose making them sweet.  Num!

Medicinally this herb is still in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia and used to be listed in the US Pharmacopoeia (presumably before modern medicine decided to call herbal medicine witchcraft) and many European ones as well.  The herb was prescribed to treat liver disease and jaundice and to promote the production of bile.  It is mildly diuretic and laxative.  It was also historically used to treat kidney disorders, lower back pain, menstrual cramps, arthritis and allergies.

dandelion2I think that we all have fond memories of plucking the downy, globular masses and blowing the small parachutelike seeds into the wind.  I know I do.

So, the next time you’re looking at the weeds on your property stop and think for a moment – your grandparents and their grandparents used to call some of those things “food”.

See you outside.