Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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I had a fire in the wood stove last night, officially welcoming the winter to our house. This week we welcomed the nutcracker and some mixed nuts to the kitchen. I am not sure why I feel so much satisfaction in nut cracking, but I do. It slows down the process and makes me appreciate the taste of my nutty prize when I manage to crack the shell and extract it. This time of year we start to eat nuts more often because they are featured in seasonal fall dishes as part of a healthy harvest. Arizona grows wonderful pecans and pistachios, two of my favorite crops. Both are healthy and add rich flavor to all kinds of dishes.
We are big fans of cheese and pear combinations, so this month I will make us a pear pecan roquefort cheesecake. That has to be a winner with those ingredients. Brussels sprouts have arrived on the stalk as a favorite vegetable, so we will try the pistachio cranberry sprouts as a savory treat as well. Nuts always make appearances in cookies and sweets, but this year I want to try the extravagant pumpkin pecan cobbler. This will be right up our alley for dessert, and a new way to use both November favorites, pumpkin and pecans.
This weekend we have a neighborhood potluck party. I plan to take some soup, but this pineapple cream cheese spread covered with pecans is so cute I think I will make one of those for the party too. It is simple, but looks really festive.
Trader Joe’s brings out small cans of exotic nut oils this time of year which I enjoy using to add rich flavor to all kinds of dishes. Using walnut or pistachio oils for roasting vegetables delivers fabulous punch. Gravy based in nut oil is lovely and mysteriously rich. I still like butter, but like to variations that nut oils can bring to the fall table. Evidence keeps piling in about the benefits of including nuts in the diet. While I do believe the research I am nuts for nuts because they taste so great. Do you have a favorite nut, gentle reader?
I initiated my new fabulous senior pass for the national parks yesterday at Tumacacori. It was a full moon night and a special program was presented. The park reopens a few times a year to let the public experience the place after dark. The ranger was a wonderfully knowledgeable presenter who showed a lot of pride in her position. This is a unique park because it preserves history of a mission that was abandoned. The original mission was founded by Padre Kino, who visited a couple of times before he died, but had little contact with the locals. He became popular by gifting the natives with seeds, animals and trees. Mission land was granted for the natives to use, but not trade or sell. Success through new agriculture was the main selling point used by the missionaries. By farming within the mission walls the crops were protected from wildlife and livestock grazing in the area. Crops and animals were introduced that provided food in seasons when native plant harvests were scarce.
Kino was a member of the Jesuit order, which would eventually be banished from New Spain by the king. The Franciscans took over the place, but when Mexico won independence the funds no longer flowed from Spain. The missionaries moved north to Mission San Javier del Bac, which is still in use today as a Catholic church. The abandoned site sat empty until the National Park Service took over.
The full moon tour was an exciting and authentic way to honor this historic place by learning about the past. I learned many new facts that make me curious to learn more and return in the future to take in this very special atmosphere. I plan to make the most of my senior pass by checking out all the national parks in Arizona. I will have many happy travels in the future by tuning into programs and events such as the one we enjoyed yesterday as a day trip . If you know a senior (62 or over) who does not yet have a pass, this would make the very best of holiday gifts. It works for a whole car load of visitors. You only need one senior pass per car for free entry for all passengers. Maybe it is time to start traveling with a senior on board.
Arizona is full of scenic places with ancient civilizations. We are privileged to have such a rich cultural and natural tradition surrounding us. Now that I am loaded with my lifetime park pass I will be taking full advantage of it.
In Tucson we have a harsh climate and sparse rain, both of which make gardening a challenge. Arizona had thriving agricultural crops until the ground water became too scarce and too deep to pump to the surface for many growers. Around Phoenix one can find large citrus groves abandoned, full of dead mature trees. It is a sad sight. Our large pecan groves are starting to compete for water with the surrounding residential users. Since the water is finite this problem will only increase with time. Our state needs to be very conservative with water, finding solutions to feed the population without depleting the water table. We are lucky that Nogales, Arizona is the main port for Mexican produce into the states. Most of the year we are able to buy deeply discounted produce from Mexico which is brought to Tucson by the Santa Cruz County Food Bank to save it from the landfill.
In Tucson there is a thriving urban agriculture movement. Small growers and producers are encouraged to bring produce to market through some innovative programs operated by the Community Food Bank Southern Arizona . The Food Conspiracy and Native Seed Search are strong supporters of local gardens as well as purveyors of local products. This enriches our community by supporting options that decrease food waste and the costs of food storage and transport. What could be better than allowing fruits to ripen on the vine, then harvesting them for dinner in your own back yard? Not everyone can have a garden, but those who do add to the beauty and sustainability of the neighborhood.
I like to garden, but many folks around town enjoy keeping hens for eggs. My neighbor Heidi had 6 lovely chickens in her back yard for many years. Suddenly the city zoning department demanded that she remove the chickens and tear down their home. This was in response to some complaint which can’t be traced to any neighbor. There are laws on the books that are never enforced unless somebody complains. The chicken rules have been ignored, then randomly enforced when complaints are made. This has become some kind of political football. Finally after many years of working on a new proposal that is more friendly to small time egg farmers the issue will come to a vote by our city council. The final touches of the zoning committee will be presented to the mayor and council for review and decisions. The Tucson Clucks are organizing and hoping that all their illicit coops will be permitted to stay in place. I think it is not only reasonable, but good for the city to promote food growing that does not disturb neighbors. Roosters will still be outlawed because of the potential noise, but responsible chicken owners will no longer be outlaws.
The Aztecs worshiped the sun, but in Arizona we worship the rain. Our rainy season is dramatic and somewhat predictable. Summer heat draws moisture up from the Sea of Cortez to form clouds. The monsoon season lasts from late June until August, shifting slightly from year to year. Winter rains are scattered at best, but in the heat of our dry summer we are guaranteed to get some rain. Tropical style thunder storms fly around, dropping a big loads of water and filling the sky with lightening. They can be dangerous because of lightening strikes. Almost every year someone here is stuck by lightning on a golf course. The most severe safety issue that comes with rainy season is flash flooding. Washes fill with water and swell so quickly that anyone in the bed has to hustle in order to avoid being swept away. The rivers that flow through the city can flood the banks and cause damage along the shore, but normally it just carries debris and silt down from the mountains rapidly. Hiking this time of year carries with it risk that other seasons just don’t have. There is erosion of the soil because the surface becomes so compacted that the rain does not sink into the earth when it begins to rain. If we are lucky we will have many afternoons that run in to thunder storms for a few hours. It is rare that it would rain all day. These tropical events are short and sweet.
I catch water from my roof in a rain container in my backyard. It is empty and ready to receive. For those who live in cloudy places it is hard to explain the full significance of these first glimpses of our holy rainy season. It holds promise and humidity for the future. We know that we spend more water resources than we can afford, but for a brief period every summer we can immerse ourselves in storms and lightening, floods and washes overflowing. Water, water, everywhere….but not for long. Here is to a glorious monsoon that sinks into the ground and makes everything bloom with happiness.
I drove to Clarkdale, AZ last weekend to ride the Verde Valley Railroad with Sonora the bald eagle. She was brought to wildlife rescue as a very young bird with her wing badly broken. Today she can fly in her enclosure, but her wing never healed well enough for her to return to the wild. I have to say for a captive eagle, this girl gets around and continues to enjoy nature while she rides the train through the canyons. Her enclosure in Scottsdale is at Liberty Wildlife Refuge, at the home of a former vet of the Phoenix zoo, and her two handlers that accompany her on field trips obviously love her dearly. She is a pampered (not that it was her choice) suburban eagle with a soccer mom schedule of school events, train appearances, and other symbolic and educational obligations. She seems happy, and everyone who gets to see her up close and personal is ecstatic while in her presence. I was completely out of my mind. She flapped me on the head with her wing while I was standing next to her, which I consider to have been a super magical gift. She didn’t hurt me at all, but I did get a sense of her power. I want to say I am her greatest fan, but I suspect we all adore her at the same very high level. She is just awesome. If you have a chance to meet Sonora, don’t miss it. She rides the train once a month for now. She began her programs on the train in 2010 when she was 3. Now she is a seasoned model and train enthusiast. I can’t tell you how fun it is to meet her.
I grew up in the 1950’s watching You Bet Your Life on our big black and white TV. When I see this episode I am shocked that Chiricahua Apache Chief, Niño Cochise was a contestant on the show. The jokes made at his expense by Groucho were equalled later in the show with his comments to an overweight woman in the contest. Our prejudices may have remained active, but nobody would publicly joke in such racist and chauvinist ways in 2014. Niño Cochise used sit at the Wilcox visitor center and to greet tourists when I moved to Arizona in the 1970’s. He is buried in Tombstone in the old cemetery. It is odd to see him in a business suit answering quiz questions while he is the Chief of the tribe. Times have changed.
There is an arch rivalry between the cities of Phoenix and Tucson. We Tucsonans know that people outside the state have no way to distinguish the two and often confuse them. Politics aside (which would be impossible for Arizonans), there are extreme differences in the tourism and hospitality styles of these two towns. Tourists are attracted to the golf tournaments in both Maricopa and Pima Counties. Baseball spring training has all moved up there, and brings in millions. Bowl games and the Phoenix Suns brighten the economic situation for them too. The typical Tucson tourist is much less interested in shopping and is more likely to be spending time involved in outdoor sports of all kinds. Scottsdale is not afraid to step up and cover that niche offering the shopper from back east a wester phantasy phree phun time. Phree parking in old town allows these people to leave the car and ride around in a horse-drawn wagon for an exorbitant price. Everyone is excited to be way out west. The city of Scottsdale hires the trusty horse Dusty and Gary J Sprague, the singing cowboy, to serenade the crowd 1-4 on Saturdays. They are a huge hit.
I am inspired to drive to the Valley of the Sun for the phabulous phood scene. The AZ Slow Food newsletter informed me recently about the existence of a special highly rare date variety growing only in Scottsdale known as the Black Sphinx. The market was established in 1951 selling a date that developed there from seed and was distinct from all others. The extremely thin skin makes it a poor candidate (pun intended) for shipping. The fresh dates require refrigeration and are extremely delicate. After shopping the Scottsdale Pharmer’s market where I scored amazing produce and preserved items, we visited the date store, which features Arizona products of high gourmet quality. Bob bought beers brewed in Arizona, one of which was a stout that contained the dates from the Sphinx Pharm. We both agree the Black Sphinx is the best date we have ever tasted, and before Bob ate it he told me he does not like dates…a convert. We also tried a very good date cookie and some chocolate covered Medjools that are scrumptious. We came home loaded with gourmet groceries and exotic citrus. We have to admit we had phun.