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Solstice Cookies and Solar Cooking

Posted by on Jun 27, 2017 in Craft | 2 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.


– 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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Make a Mt. Lemmon Day Trip

Posted by on Apr 7, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Mount Lemmon wildlowers

You start in the Tucson heat surrounded by saguaros. An hour (or so) and a few thousand feet in elevation later, you can be sitting among spruce trees in air cool enough to not melt the chocolate chips of the oversized cookie in front of you.

Summerhaven tables

Welcome to Mount Lemmon, a 9000-foot peak in the Santa Catalina Mountain Range.

Mount Lemmon view

Drive the Sky Island Scenic Byway (also called the Mt. Lemmon Highway, the Catalina Highway, and – officially – the General Hitchcock Highway) through beautiful landscape and six (6!) different climate zones.

Mt. Lemmon

Mt Lemmon

Then you can hike or picnic or ride the year-round ski lift. (Yes, it gets cold and snowy enough in the winter for skiing up there!)

Mt Lemmon trail

When Phillip and I and my parents went, we stopped at a picnic area (Box Elder, I think-?) before driving to the parking lot at end of the road and taking a little hike from there.

Mt. Lemmon

Along the way is the town of Summerhaven, a one-and-a half mile high city that caters to visitors seeking shelter from sweltering Tucson summers.

Cookie Cabin

It’s also home to the giant cookies of Cookie Cabin. Four of us split one sampler cookie. There was literally a line out the door but plenty of nice outdoor seating.

Mount Lemmon cookie

I taught my dad how to use the Hyperlapse app, so we could take timelapse videos of the drive up. You can see the dramatic changes of scenery compressed into two minutes.

Mount lemmon

– More Mt. Lemmon info –

  • Be prepared to pack out your own trash.
  • Ski lift – The “sky ride” to the summit lasts about half an hour. Off-season (summer) adult tickets are $12/ride. Winter lift tickets are $45/day. Details at
  • Keep the high altitude in mind when you’re planning hiking or other activities.
  • We were there in mid-August, right at the end of the summer wildflower season.


Scenic Drive:

Mt. Lemmon - Ski Valley


  • Many places you can park on Mount Lemmon require a pass, including the visitor center, picnic areas, etc.
  • You can purchase a Coronado Recreation Pass on the mountain at the Palisades Visitor Center or buy one before you go.
  • Passes are available at several locations, including the Coronado National Forest Supervisor’s Office at 300 W. Congress near Downtown Tucson.
  • Day passes are $5 per vehicle. ($10 for a weekly pass.)
  • Instead of worrying about which specific places require it, consider just getting a day pass in town before you make the drive. It’s only 5 bucks and helps to support the forest.

Mount Lemmon

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Apple Desserts for Fall

Posted by on Sep 19, 2016 in Craft | 6 comments

Apple trees

It’s apple season here! And I wanted to share a few of the delicious-looking desserts I’ve been seeing recently.

First, if you’re planning to go to an orchard, check out these apple-picking tips from Bon Appetit. I wish I had read an article like that before Phillip and I went to pick apples at Apple Annie’s in Willcox! We had a fun time, but would’ve been helpful to know a few tricks.

Apple picking

Speaking of which, did you know you could core an apple with a metal melon baller?

1. Baked Apples (via a Beautiful Mess): Whole apples covered with puff pastry and stuffed with pecans – yum!

Baked apples via A Beautiful Mess

2. Caramel Apple Bar (via Craftberry Bush): A fun idea for a fall get-together, slice up apples for people to dip in their favorite toppings!

Caramel apple bar


3. Apple Pie Bites (via The Blond Cook): A quick recipe for crescent roll-wrapped apple slices that taste like little pies. I’d try these with my DIY Holiday Spice mix.

Apple pie bites via the blond cook

4. Peanut Butter and Apple Oatmeal Cookies (photo and recipe by Creative Culinary): Okay, peanut butter + apple + oatmeal cookie…how could I argue with that combination?!

Peanut Butter and Apple Oatmeal Cookies

Do you have a favorite apple dessert?

Photos via respective sites.

Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space

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Where to Stop for Date Shakes on California Road Trips

Posted by on Aug 18, 2016 in Travel | 2 comments

Palm yuma
We don’t order date shakes at home in Phoenix. We could. There are a couple places that serve them, since date palms grow here.

But we only look for them on road trips through a certain western Arizona/eastern California corridor.
Hadley date farm cabazon california


If you’re headed from Phoenix to Los Angeles on the 10, there’s the Hadley Fruit Orchards store in Cabazon near the dinosaurs.


The decades-old farm store recently moved to a shiny new building. They still have a little cafe, and it’s still a great place to stop for snacks – all kinds of specialty trail mix and dried fruit and veggies, much of it from the local area and/or their own blends.

Hadley date farm cabazon california

Shakes come in a reusable souvenir cup. Last time, we got there near the end of the day and they said they were out of regular date shakes but had banana date shakes. So they must mix them in advance-? Anyway, you could mostly just taste the banana, and it wasn’t the same.

Marthas garden date farm, yuma


If you’re on I-8 headed for San Diego, I’d recommend skipping the well-publicized Dateland and opting for Martha’s Gardens in Yuma instead. Coming from Phoenix, it’s about another hour down the freeway but worth it. The shake we got at the Dateland Travel Center tasted overly, artificially sweet with dates in clumps. The Martha’s Garden shakes were blended well and sweet without being sickeningly so.

Date shakes in Yuma

The Martha’s Garden store is smack in the middle of a working date farm, down a dirt driveway surrounded by rows of palm trees. While Martha’s store shelves are mostly stocked with bulk dates, they do sell some other local products like honey and salsa.

Marthas garden date farm, yuma

From the counter at the back, you can order sandwiches, date shakes, coffee, or a shot of espresso in your date shake. Behind it is a room of tables and chairs – and a couple outlets if you need to recharge.

Marthas garden date farm, yuma

Have you ever tried date shakes? Do you have food/drinks you only get on road trips?

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This Ain’t Your Mama’s Macayo’s

Posted by on Sep 18, 2015 in Travel | 0 comments

I wonder what Mexican food was like in 1946. Not so much the food in Mexico, but in the few little mom-and-pop spots in the US, where it was still a novelty. It must have seemed so exotic back then, in the year that the first Macayo’s Mexican Grill & Cantina opened in Phoenix.


While most of Macayo’s restaurants continue to serve their traditional brand of Arizona-style Mexican food, the Scottsdale location is mixing things up with chef-inspired menu items and a renovated restaurant (including a dog-friendly patio!). Their grand re-opening was this week, and they raised over $2000 for charity.

My friend Kelli and I got to be part of a preview event for their new menu one fine Taco Tuesday.


How Macayo’s Scottsdale spiced up their menu…


  • Jicama Shrimp Tacos – Instead of dicing up the crunchy vegetable and putting it inside the taco, the jicama is actually thinly sliced to create the taco shell. I have to admit, the first few bites were a little weird. But, once my taste buds got over the initial shock of the slightly sweet, juicy outer layer where there’s usually a blander, drier corn or flour tortilla, I enjoyed it. It complements the fresh fruit salsa and fried shrimp inside really well, and I’d order these again.
  • Fried Avocado – How do you even fry an avocado without it all falling apart? I don’t know. I just know it puts a nice crispy outside around that lovely avocado mushiness. Macayo’s adds queso fresco, salsa, and chipotle crema, all layered on top of individual tortilla chips.
  • Homemade Churros – By the time there was a break in the conversation where I could say, “Kelli, you have to eat a churro!” they had cooled off and she was less impressed than I was. My advice: Order the churros, then pounce when they arrive. Dip one in the accompanying Mexican Chocolate the moment they’re under mouth-burning temperature. They’re good a few minutes later, but, when they’re still warm, they’re transcendent.

Also delicious: Bosio’s Shrimp, Queso Fundido, Rolled Tacos.



  • Specialty Margaritas – I was intrigued by the Watermelon Jalapeño but chickened out, thinking it might be crazy spicy. One of our tablemates gave it a try and said it had just the right amount of kick to it. I ordered the (very pink) Prickly Pear, which turned out to be more regular pear than cactus fruit. It was good, just not really out of the ordinary. They all are served in tapered glasses (which my brother/barware expert Ian and I determined were some kind of hybrid that should be called “margatini glasses”) rather than the typical bowl-like stemware.
  • Macayo Mule – Kelli ordered Macayo’s answer to a Moscow Mule, made with tequila instead of vodka. It still comes in a copper cup, particularly appropriate here in the Copper State.
  • Happy Hour – Specials go from 3:30-6:30pm on weekdays. On the weekends, it’s happy hour all day long, amigos!


The new menu (which also includes some old favorites) is available now at the Scottsdale Shea Macayo’s.

Thank you to Macayo’s Mexican Grill & Cantina for allowing us to be part of their media preview night and to RSVP & Associates for the invitation.

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