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Solstice Cookies and Solar Cooking

Posted by on Jun 27, 2017 in Craft | 0 comments

Solstice cookies

The forecast high in Phoenix for the longest day of the year was 120F (49C).

So it seemed like a great day to try baking outside.

Burton Barr Library

On the way home from the summer solstice celebration at Burton Barr Library last Tuesday, we picked up chocolate chip cookie dough. I chose that for my solar cooking experiment, because there’s no raw egg in it, and if it doesn’t cook all the way, you end up with doughy cookies – not a bad thing, in my opinion!

I scooped spoonfuls of cookie dough into a reflective aluminum roasting pan, covered the top with plastic wrap, sealed the sides with packing tape to trap the heat, and added a meat thermometer, so I could see how hot it actually got next to the cookies.

Solar baked cookies

I had intended to get an earlier start, but at 3:45pm, it was still 120 degrees out. So I decided to give it a go and set the pan in direct sun on our concrete patio.

The temperature inside the pan got as high as 160. The cookies began to look like they were melting, with the oil separating from the dough.

Baking cookies outside

Four hours later, the sun was low enough in the sky that the whole patio was in the shade. The dough had flattened out into cookie shapes that were somewhat solid but still pretty soft.

Solar baking

So we scooped vanilla frozen yogurt on top (à la pizookie), and it was delicious!

Apparently, a proper solar oven will bake faster, even if it’s not as hot out. But I would try my improvised “oven” again on a day when I could get an earlier start and give it a little more time in the sun.

Phoenix

– More info –

  • The package actually said not to eat the cookie dough raw. That didn’t stop me. But I thought you should know.
  • Many of the solar ovens I saw online have glass on top. If you decide to use plastic wrap like I did (because I didn’t have any glass panes just sitting around), try to get good cling wrap. I used the Target brand, and it was really annoying trying to get it tight across the top. (In the end, it was a wrinkly mess.)

Articles to check out…

Cookie dough

 




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Ramada – part 2

Posted by on Jun 19, 2017 in Travel | 3 comments

papago-park-picnic-table

It was really interesting last week to find out your words for what I’d call a ramada.

Ramada At Usury Pass

It comfirmed my suspicion that it’s a word used primarily in the southwestern U.S., where our proximity to Mexico shows up in bits of Spanish peppered through our language.

Fountain hills ramada

Around here, it’s not unusual to hear words like mesa (a flat-topped mountain, literally “table,” and the name of a city) or arroyo (a dry stream bed), call a cottage a casita (which you can see in a few of the listings in my Airbnb post), or say garbanzos instead of chick peas.

And we tend to call the type of cover that goes over a picnic table a ramada. It comes from the Spanish rama (“branch”). Ramada is the adjective form, so it would roughly translate to “branched” or “covered in branches.”

Ramada in tucson

Here are some of your words…

“We say pergola over here in Australia, but I love ramada as well!”
Linda (Circle of Daydreams)

 

“I didn’t know the word Ramada, but this now makes me wonder if that’s where the name of the hotel chain comes from? I would have called that a shelter or a pavilion.”
Mel (Stirrup Queens)

 

“I think here we’d call that a pergola or even a ‘wooden marquee’ – I’ve never heard of ramada in this context! I knew I’d heard that somewhere though and recall now that there’s a chain of hotels here called Ramada: probably the only use of the word I’ve heard! I see others are mentioning the hotel too…. I see the dictionary says it means an arbour or porch, from Spanish: I wonder if it’s very regional usage in the US then…”
Different Shores

 

Casa grande ruins

I wasn’t able to find the story behind the name of the hotel chain. I imagine it comes from the sense of a ramada as a shelter, but it does seem odd to name your hotels after a structure with no walls!

Mission garden tucson ramada




Where the photos were taken:

1. Papago Park, Phoenix
2. Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa
3. Fountain Park, Fountain Hills
4. + 6. Mission Garden, Tucson
5. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Coolidge


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Vacancy

Posted by on May 8, 2017 in Craft, Travel | 6 comments

Historic hotel in Peoria AZPhillip read an article an old hotel that had been sitting abandoned for years with plans to tear it down when the city decided instead to preserve it.

Historic hotel in Peoria AZ

He wanted to go find the Edwards Hotel on his day off, so we drove to the Peoria address in the article. It wasn’t hard to find.

Edwards hotel

Even from outside the chain link fence, it was interesting to guess what had been there originally and what had been added later.

IMG_9564

Then we took a stroll around Old Town Peoria, where there’s currently not much going on, but they have a revitalization program in the works.

 

Peoria

image

Peoria

State bird quilt

In the meantime, they have ornate, agriculturally-themed bus stops, a handful of historic buildings (including a church that was turning 100 the week we were there),  and a nice little community center with paintings and quilts on display. It was all a cozy contrast to the hollowed-out hotel.

image

Peoria

Peoria

 

Peoria Quilt




 

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Century Plant Blooms, Tequila Making and Pulque Therapy

Posted by on May 2, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

I used to believe that a century plant bloomed once every hundred years.

Agave

Turns out it’s a rare event but not that rare.

A century plant/agave will bloom once in its (10-30 year) lifetime, using all the energy it has saved up in the form of sugars to shoot up a single, brilliant flowering stalk.

And then it dies.

image

Which is the depressing part. (It should probably be called the decade plant.)

So let’s focus on a happier part of that story: sugar.

If you happen to harvest an agave plant after it has had years to store up sugar but before it spends it all to go out in a blaze of glory, then all that sweetness can be yours.

agave

The edible part of the agave plant is well guarded by layers of pointed, spiny leaves in every direction.

Cut those off (carefully!) and you get to the head of the plant. (In Spanish, it’s called la piña, because it looks like a pineapple.) And that is where the sugar is hidden.

Agave

A few hours (or maybe days) in an oven or roasting pit, and it will be ready to eat or mash up for syrup or liquor.

roasted agave

I may be oversimplifying a bit, but this gives you the basic idea.

Now let’s talk tequila. It’s only tequila if it is made from the blue agave plant and comes from certain regions in Mexico (the same way sparkling wine can only be called “champagne” if it’s from a specific part of France).

Tequila

The roasted, mashed up agave liquid gets fermented and distilled to become silver (in Spanish, blanco, “white”) tequila. You can drink it that way or change the flavor by allowing it to age in barrels. If it has been aged (“rested”) two months to a year, it’s known as reposado. If it’s been aged longer than a year, it’s añejo. I’m not a tequila expert, but silver tequila is said to have a brighter flavor, while reposados and añejos are said to be more mellow.

Tequila is just one type of mezcal, an umbrella term for any distilled alcoholic beverage made from any species of agave. There are regional variations throughout Mexico, including bacanora, sotol, and others only available locally.

Century plant blooms

Pulque is a drink made from agave that’s not distilled, so it’s not a mezcal. It is fermented, however, and alcoholic enough to cause early Spanish missionaries to accuse local populations of being constantly drunk on it. But, really, people probably would’ve been drinking a lot less if they didn’t have Spanish colonizers all up in their business.

Anyway, Mezcal PhD has a really useful article and chart of agave beverages.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, along with the fact that it doesn’t take agave a century to bloom and that tequila is made from agave that hasn’t bloomed, I have another thing for you to think about.

Desert

Agave typically grows in higher elevation deserts that get more rainfall than Tucson. However, as I mentioned yesterday, agave was one of the crops grown there centuries ago. (You’ll notice agaves showing up around 0:36 on my Mount Lemmon video, after we’ve gained some elevation and left the saguaros behind.)

The riddle: How could this have been this possible?

Feel free to share your theories, and I’ll fill you in on what I learned in a post later this week!


 

The Agave Heritage Festival goes through May 7 in Downtown Tucson!

Next events:

  • May 3, 12pm: Lecture on Mezcal Origins + Future by Ana Valenzuela in Haury Auditorium at University of Arizona. Free.
  • May 3, 3pm: Agave Heritage Festival Week Proclamation from Tucson Mayor Rothschild in Hotel Congress lobby. Free.

image

– More Agave Info –

If you want to go down a historical rabbit hole about pulque and cochineal in colonial Mexico, this should get you started…




 

We were guests of Hotel Congress, one of the presenters of the festival.

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Agave Heritage Week

Posted by on May 1, 2017 in Craft, Travel | 3 comments

Can you name all the U.S. cities that have the UNESCO “City of Gastronomy” designation?

image
There’s actually only one: Tucson, Arizona.

It received the designation, in part, because of its agricultural tradition that goes back thousands of years.

Mission Garden, Tucson

One of the early plants cultivated in the region for food, medicine, and fiber was agave, the spiked succulent best known today for tequila.

agave

The annual Agave Heritage Festival in Tucson celebrates both ancient and contemporary uses of the plant and its importance to the region.

We got to participate in the first weekend of this year’s festival, which runs through May 7th.

image

We took a tour of ancient agave farming and roasting sites on Tumamoc Hill, learned about cooking with agave (both in traditional fire pits and with modern appliances), tasted different agave-based beverages, including tequila and bacanora, and saw how agave fiber can be twisted into rope and crafted into all kinds of things.

Agave products

We’ll be celebrating here all this week with daily posts about Tucson and agave, so come back and visit!


PS We were guests of Hotel Congress, one of the presenters of the festival.




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