Friday, February 16, 2018

February 16, 2018 Let's talk about food

As you know, I enjoy cooking. This is because I enjoy eating good food that has been well prepared, at least most of the time. Sometimes what I cook doesn’t turn out quite right, but that’s all part of the fun of cooking, learning how to cook something, and playing with the ingredients. I have managed to pare down my selection of cookbooks to a handful, or two, of favorites, The Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian see the 10th anniversary edition hereboth being near the top of the stack. 

There are always new recipes coming out, magazines like Bon Appétit and Cook’s Illustrated always having something appealing. We used to subscribe to Bon Appétit and had a lot of fun working with the recipes there, finding some new favorites and realizing that sometimes their recipes call for way too much olive oil. 

While standing in line to pay for groceries I notice the shiny magazines with their beautiful photos of luscious dishes with promises of this being the next best party dish. I usually avert my gaze and remind myself I have stacks of magazines at home with recipes waiting to be tried, my cookbooks and of course, the internet. Last year I fell for one, this one, with an amazing chocolate cake on the cover. I vowed I must make that cake for my birthday. So I shelled out the 10 bucks without hesitation and brought home the magazine. I must admit this was a good investment. There hasn’t been a bad recipe in it that I have tried and some we have had more than once. 

I did make the cake. Including the caramel filling, I had never made caramel before and it was a challenge. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of using cake flour instead of all-purpose flour as called for in the recipe. I know better than to make that type of substitution, especially with baking cakes. But I had cake flour I wanted to use up, and really, how much difference would it make? A lot. The flour didn’t have enough surface area to absorb the moisture and didn’t raise properly. It stuck in the pan, the layers were thin and full of large bubbles. But I was insistent. I made the caramel, and spread it over the thin layers made by slicing the cakes in half. I watched it disappear into the cake itself. All those big bubbles were just holes for the caramel to soak in to. There were no layers of cake and caramel. 

It had an interesting texture. Very soft, not cake like at all and very sweet. The next day, after it had time to set up, the caramel became more like caramel and the whole thing was more like a dense, gooey coffee cake. Some day I may try it again, but without the caramel filling. Or I may just go back to a good solid cake recipe from my Cake Bible cookbook. 

looks just like the picture in the magazine!

get this at Trader Joe's

Further perusal of the magazine led me down another path. I always have a couple of cans of chickpeas in the pantry. They are a great staple to have and easy to toss in to a salad or soup, so I was happy to see a recipe using them in this magazine, Pasta e Ceci. Pretty quick and easy, especially with the pancetta cubes from Trader Joe’s. I always pick up a couple of packages when I’m in Tucson and have them on hand in the freezer. So with just a few simple ingredients of things typically on hand in the pantry and fridge I can whip up a tasty meal. 

If you like chickpeas, I also found this recipe, Kung Pao Chickpeas, which is delicious and vegetarian. It’s from The Splendid Table, a radio cooking show on NPR and you can also sign up for their email list and they send you weekly recipes and kitchen tips.

As for that pile of Bon Appétit magazines, well, I’m still lightening the load and most of them made their way to the recycle bin last week. I actually moved 10 pounds of magazines from Bellingham to Arizona 3-1/2 years ago. I figure if I haven’t opened one of them since then, it’s time for them to stop collecting dust and move on. 

Cook well and in the famous words of Julia Child, Bon Appétit!

Friday, February 9, 2018

February 9, 2018 "now you have something to write about," he says

I do love an adventure. Life is an adventure. I like my adventures to have a modicum of safety to them. I know some people may think, where’s the adventure then if it’s safe? I find it interesting when DH and I are in the midst of one of these adventures he has a nifty way of saying, “now you have something to write in your blog!” 

I don’t really have a shortage of ideas for things to write about, I have a shortage of time to write about them. Lately it seems my head is brimming with ideas, and fun stories, it’s just making the time to write them down.
This past weekend really fit for an adventure story, so here we go.

Our friends from Saskatchewan, who have a Polaris RZR 1000, whom we ride around in the desert with, found out about a big off road vehicle race in southern California, called King of the Hammer. They thought it would be fun if we all went there to have an experience. We would load up our trailers, RZR’s, pets and supplies and head west. It was going to be about 7-10 days long. Well, I can’t go away for that long at this time of year because I teach yoga 3 days a week. So where can we go for a few days, that isn’t too long of a drive for me, so I can get home before they head west? Just 2 hours north of home, Florence, AZ. 

Apparently there are many riding trails in the area with some cool old coke ovens, nifty box canyons and challenging trails. So that’s where we went. 

We arrived Thursday afternoon and found a spot in the desert about 300 yards from the main road. It had some nice trees to afford us afternoon shade and there were just a few trailers to the east of us.This all changed by Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, we were surrounded by about 20 trailers, all with ATV’s, dirt bikes, and side x sides. And kids. And dogs. 

But let’s stay within our little time line. Friday morning about 9, we loaded up, Tika got his new doggles on and was hamming it up for the camera with Jay and Ron. We headed east to explore the roads, the weather was fine, not to hot and not a bunch of riders so there wasn’t too much dust, relatively speaking.

The road was rough in spots, but we managed to get through. Then we came to a spot in the canyon where two large outcroppings of rock met that were just a little bit narrower than either of our buggies. We thought that must have been the end of the box canyon but by my estimation this wasn’t the box canyon the website was referring to. As it was nearing noon, we thought we should head back and have some lunch, regroup and figure out how to get to the coke ovens.

You might be asking, what the heck are coke ovens?  This website provides a brief explanation: What are coke ovens?

On to our adventure. Ron figured we could get there by going out east and hanging a right where we turned left to go out to the canyon. He said it wasn’t more than about 15-20 miles out to the coke ovens and shouldn’t take us too long to get there. So we packed up again, with no extra water, no food, no extra fuel, no flashlight and only a light jacket. Heck, it’s 82 degrees and we’ll be back before sundown. No need to be prepared for any mishaps. Off we go at 2:00 in the afternoon. You can see the map we used here: RiderPlanet map

Stair steps, yep, we went up this in the dark
As soon as we make that right turn the road turns into more of a trail, I hesitate to call it a goat trail, not sure goats would want to walk on it, it was so steep and rough. Loose rock, hard rock faces, narrow in place with steep drop offs. It’s all pretty cool, part of the adventure but it sure makes for slow going, 5 maybe 8 mph. After about an hour and a half of this, we come to a spot that looks like a stair case for the Jolly Green Giant. Turns out it’s called the Stair Steps. Jay goes first to find a way down. We are both too wide to go on the far left side where it looks like ATV’s go up and down, so we go down right over the face of the rocks. All is good! So Ron and Lynn, with Tika the dog, come down too. And we’re off! Like a herd of turtles, 5-8 mph

After another half hour or so, we get to the top of a ridge and survey our surroundings. 
Lynn pipes up and says, ‘it’s quarter of 4, how much farther?’ 
‘Not too far now,’ says Ron. And on we go.
It’s about 5:30 next time we pull over and I suggest we consider not trying to find the coke ovens and maybe try to find an alternate way back to camp. We are going to run out of daylight in about 45 minutes and I don’t relish the idea of driving back the way we came in the dark.

Continuing on, we head downhill toward the Gila River. I figure there must be a road that runs along the river and Jay said there is the old railroad and we could follow that back out the highway. 

Then a barbed wire fence with a broken down gate appears in our path, no trespassing signs and private property posted on both sides. Ron thought we should turn around, but I said we should continue on, take our chances. We really need to find a way out of here before dark. Around two more bends down the hill and what appears? The coke ovens! And we almost gave up. Well, technically we had given up finding them, we didn’t know they would be right there. So we stopped and took a few pictures, stretched our legs. Lynn misstepped off the curb in front of the doorways and took a tumble but she does know how to tuck and roll and came away unscathed.

Anxiousness is settling in about the lessening daylight so we loaded up quickly and headed downhill again. The trail quickly turned to sand so I knew we were going in the right direction to get to the river. It was only a couple of miles through a mesquite and tamarisk jungle to the rivers edge. This happens to be one of the few rivers in the area that actually has water in it. Quite a bit of water too. Flowing at a pretty good pace and kind of deep. Oh, how I longed to be on the other side. But it was not to be. Too deep and too fast. 

At the point we realize that we are going to have to go all the way back the way we came. Fortunately, our GPS leaves a blue line on the map from where we have traveled so we led the way. We came up away from the river and back past the coke ovens, across private property, and up the ridge where we could enjoy a beautiful sunset. Gaack! I don’t want a beautiful sunset! I want it to stay light for another 2 hours! Where is the full moon? Even moonlight would help out here.

upper left curve is where Ron tipped over in the dark
Driving as fast as we dare, which isn’t very fast, we keep moving. Remember 5-8 mph? Now we are doing it in the dark. We do have a lot of headlights, running lights, driving lights. But that’s all we have. And it’s dark out here. I keep turning around to make sure Ron and Lynn are behind us. After one particularly steep incline over very bumpy large rock faces, we pause near the top. I look over my shoulder and I don’t see any headlights. I jump out thinking I’m going to run back to see what’s happened and as soon as I am out of the headlights, I can’t see where to put my feet. I let my eyes adjust and see Lynn and Tika walking up towards us with a weak light shining on her feet. She yells, “we’re on the side”. They had tipped over on the incline. 

Jay is turning around so we can help them get upright. I’m starting to shake by now, it’s dark and I can’t see very well. Jay tells me to get the controller for the winch out and plug it in. I don’t remember where to plug it in and am fumbling with get the cable unwound. He says it’s in the glove box so using the flashlight in my phone, I manage to get it plugged in. I press the button and nothing happens. He comes over to make sure I’ve got it plugged in the right way, which I do, but there is no power to the winch. We hook on to Ron’s buggy anyway, then Jay gets in and pulls backward to get Ron’s wheels on the ground and to keep some tension until he can get up past the rough spots. Okay, that was scary, but everyone is uninjured and nothing is broken. It was about this time when Jay informed me that the fuel light was flashing, low fuel. Really? And we have no extra? And this is about the time I should be starting to panic. But for some reason all along, I didn’t have a sense of panic. Once I realized we were going to be driving all the way back in the dark, I had a sense of acceptance. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, but what other choice did we have? Be in the present moment, it will soon be in the past.

On we go. Up the hill. Down the hill. Up the hill. Down the hill. For another hour and a half. We are going through a low spot and on the side of the road is a 4-seater buggy, missing a wheel. There are no people around and I am trying not to panic. I tell Jay to just keep going, we aren’t going to stop to check anything out, we have our own problems. About 5 minutes later, we see oncoming headlights. We slow down to chat with the two guys in this vehicle, they are on their way out with a new wheel and tire for the broken down buggy. We tell them we didn’t see any people there and they were dismayed to hear that because they didn’t have the key to the vehicle and weren’t going to be able to drive it back. Don’t know where those people went, but they weren’t hanging out in the desert in the dark. I did ask them how much farther we had to go to get back and they said quite a ways. They were right.

yep, going down
I kept wondering at this point, did we bypass those stair steps? I think we did. We must have. We have been driving for so long, we must have gone around them already. The road has smoothed out, following the creek, surely we went around them. Nope. We rounded the bend and there they were, right in our path. In the dark. We still can’t go the easy way up, the way the ATV’s would go, too narrow an opening and the rocks on either side are too high to get around. Jay finds a way near the cliff wall and slowly creeps up. He high centers half way, can’t get a foot hold on the back wheels. I see what’s happening and tell him to back down a skosh. There’s a low spot where the back wheel drops down so I find three big rocks to fill in the gap. It’s just enough to keep that back wheel up so he can make it. We stop at the top and get out to help guide Ron up. Lynn got out to walk, no more tipping over for her. Ron gets stuck.

Our winch isn’t working, but Ron’s is so we roll it out and hook on to our buggy. Jay is manning the winch, I hop in to drive backwards, to pull Ron up over the rocks. It’s touch and go, but after what seems like forever, he’s up. And back to our crawl to camp. Another 45 minutes, but the road is getting easier to drive. We start to see the lights of Florence in the distance, that means no more ridges to get over. We pass a pick up parked on the side of the road, lights blaring. It’s the driver of the broken down 4-seater. He was happy to hear the guys were on their way, don’t know how he didn’t see them when they went by.

It quarter of nine by the time we get back to camp. Lynn just says, “that was horrible.” She said that’s all should could say to Ron on the way back. It pretty much sums up the experience as it was happening. But we all managed to not panic, even when we were in those pretty difficult situations. We whipped together a quick supper and ate in the comfort of our trailer. 
Here’s a recap of everything we did wrong, all the bad decisions that could have made it worse:

  • Too late a start,
  • Not knowing the way,
  • No extra fuel,
  • No extra water and food,
  • No warm clothing,
  • Not making sure all our equipment was functioning properly,
  • No flashlights,
  • And whatever else I’m forgetting that we should have been prepared for.

As I said before though, I was surprised by my own reactions, or lack of reactions. I didn’t panic or yell at anyone. There was no one to blame, we were all part of the decisions we made to either go on or turn around. I was relying on someone else to know the way, and they didn’t and that’s part of the adventure.  I don’t always need to be the one to know what’s best, I don’t know all the answers. If I stay calm, I can function more rationally and be more useful to help get us out of a jam. Even though my adrenalin was running high I didn’t let it get the better of me. I was really happy to be back to the trailers in one piece, me, the buggies and all of us. And for a couple of stiff shots of my friend, Jack Daniels, just to take the edge off all that adventure.

this is the way to Box Canyon, we didn't go there,
not even in the dark
Believe it or not, on Saturday we loaded up in the buggies again to set out to find the real Box Canyon. I was surprised that Lynn and I were both willing to go out again without knowing exactly where we were going. We set a time limit, including setting an alarm, for when we would need to turn around. We thought we had it figured out how to get there, and I think we did. But when we came to those Stair Steps again, we decided to turn around. We’ll have to talk with some of the locals to find an easier way to get there. That was enough adventure for that day.

I never made it to the Box Canyon. Ron and Jay did on Sunday. I had to head south for home. Lynn didn’t go either. She decided she’d had enough of the dust and adventure so she and Tika stayed at camp. Jay tells me the road to the Box Canyon was good enough I could have taken my new Outback up there. Another time, maybe. Or on to the next adventure?

Here's a link to more photos of the weekend.Florence, AZ album

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