A Walk Along the Wash

Tuesday, November 22, 2011
It's been a long time since I took a walk in the morning. One of the disadvantages of taking my current job when I was laid off from the last one was that I had to give up my early morning walks. At the last job, most days I could work from home. Even when I had to go into the office, we had flex time, so I could arrive as late as 9:00 AM and still not be late. That left plenty of time for walking before I needed to shower and get dressed. At my current job, I have to be at my desk by the incredibly early hour (for me) of 8:00 AM.

I took this week as vacation in the hopes of being able to catch up on my word count for NaNoWriMo. Since the day after Thanksgiving is a holiday here, you get a whole week off while only using three PTO days. With no need to get up early or hurry off to the day job, another of my goals was to walk along the wash every morning like I used to. This was the first morning I made it.

I've missed my morning walks with a chance to watch the rabbits and listen to the birds greeting the day. I've missed saying hello to the other walkers. That's all the conversation that is required. The rest of the time it's just me and my thoughts. I come up with story ideas in the quiet of my mind. There's something about walking along in the outdoors that stimulates the creative side of my brain. It's kind of like writing with a pen on paper instead of typing on a computer. There's a link between the physical movement and the pathways of the brain. I don't know if science has proved that, but ask any writer.

I got too late a start to catch up with the rabbits or most of the birds, but most of the vegetation was there. As I've mentioned before, last winter was severe for Tucson, so a lot of plants died.  Not all plants died from the cold. For some, it was just their time. There was the agave with its twelve foot flower stalk that in an exuberant burst of life signaled its own death. The last time I was walking on a regular basis, it was one of the landmarks of my walk.

I'd forgotten the stunning surprise of turning around to head home and seeing the splendor of the Catalina Mountains against the sky. No matter how many times I see them this way, it never gets old.

It's days like this when I feel like I could walk forever. The temperature was just tipping sixty degrees, the sun is shining, and there's nowhere in particular I need to be other than walking along the wash.

Cooking the Wild Southwest

Sunday, November 13, 2011
Saturday morning I headed out early for another one of my Tucson adventures. It started out as a little bit more of an adventure than I had anticipated. Traffic had slowed to almost a stop and I wondered what could be causing it. Because it was Saturday, the elementary school wasn't in session and I doubted that they were doing the road construction that has been a problem this past month on my way to work.

As I crept up to the site of the problem, I had to smile to myself. There was a steer on the side of the road with a member of Tucson's finest parked nearby. Well, there is an Open Range sign not far from there, but there's also a fence which is supposed to keep the cattle off the road. Apparently this steer had discovered a way through the fence.

In case you're thinking that I live out in the wilds of Arizona, let me remind you that I'm inside Tucson city limits in a typical Southwestern subdivision. It's just that typical in Tucson isn't quite like typical in Boston or New York. The line of cars managed to pass by the steer with damage to neither steer nor cars and I proceeded on my journey to Tohono Chul Park.

I'm always interested in local foods. There's nothing more disappointing to me than going to a new place and eating at McDonald's or some other chain restaurant. I'd much prefer to sample some of the local fare. Even better is cooking them yourself. Since I didn't grow up in Tucson, I didn't learn how to use mesquite flour or prickly pear pads from my mother, which is why I eagerly signed up for a class given by Carolyn Niethammer. She's just released a new cookbook and I wanted to see her prepare these strange foods. I also wanted to know where I could buy them since I don't have time for gardening.

She started right off with the pad from a prickly pear cactus, illustrating how to remove the spines and nubs with a serrated knife before trimming the edges and stem. Then she diced them up. Apparently you can buy them already cleaned and diced from one of the markets here, but you have to use them within a day or they go bad. These are brought up from Mexico because they have a slightly different variety there and have perfected a technique to get them to sprout new pads. You can harvest pads from the prickly pear in Tucson in the spring, when they're new and fresh, but later in the year they become tough and fibrous.

While she was sauteing the diced cactus, she also passed around a plate with the raw plant and suggested that we taste it. I was surprised at the flavor. In addition to the usual "green vegetable" taste, there was a tartness that reminded me of lemon. It was actually quite good raw.

When the nopalitos were cooked to a dark olive green, she added them to a French green lentil salad. This also had peppers, onions, carrots, and herbs and was topped with a hazelnut oil and sherry vinegar dressing and feta cheese. It was delicious!

Another dish she made was tepary-basil appetizer. Tepary is a kind of bean and you can use it like most dried beans. You can also grow your own easily in the summer. The tepary plant is adapted to the monsoon season. If you plant before the monsoon season starts, it flowers with the rain and produces beans before the weather turns dry again. The dried beans have to be soaked and cooked for a long time. She had done that before the class. She showed us how she put the cooked beans and fresh basil in a food processor with seasonings. The paste was spread on crisp bread rounds, then topped with either a sun-dried tomato or olive tapenade. The red and green toppings made this a festive looking appetizer for Christmas.

She made some meatballs with a sauce based on prickly pear fruit syrup and brought some holiday bars made with mesquite meal. There was also a salad with a prickly pear dressing. After the demonstration was over, we each filled a paper plate with the different foods to sample.

An interesting fact is that at least two of these native foods are good for keeping blood sugar under control and combating non-insulin dependent diabetes. I'd heard that about mesquite flour, but it's also true of the prickly pear pads. I believe I mentioned this when I went to the saguarro harvest at Colossal Cave Mountain Park earlier this year. It's more reinforcement for eating natural, native foods.

If you want to see what some of these dishes look like, here's the promotional video for the book.

Book Review: Superior Longing by Patricia Deuson

Wednesday, November 02, 2011
In the interests of full disclosure, I received the epub version for free from the author in return for writing a review of this book. That did not influence my opinion in any way.

Unfortunately, this book is rife with errors that should have been picked up by a copy editor. In fact, after reading about five pages, the errors were so numerous that I stopped reading and went online to verify that it had been published by a commercial publisher and that Echelon Press was not an imprint of the author's.
Some are relatively minor:
"Positive, Ms Moore." (Missing a period after Ms)

While others are so obvious that they really disrupt the reading:
"I thought I saw her car I saw"

This severely detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

It was also difficult to get into the story because there were three different openings. First there was a prelude showing the murder. Then we meet our amateur sleuth, Neva Moore, coping with the problems of opening a new cooking school. And finally Neva travels to the small town where her uncle was murdered. I don't think the prologue added anything to the story and could have been omitted.

Despite a rocky beginning, this is an enjoyable cozy mystery. There were several unique characters that I enjoyed getting to know. And sometimes the author's language was close to poetry. I certainly didn't guess who the killer was. I would read the next book in the series.
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A Clash of Kings
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