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The Opening Of The Fire Pit

Posted by on May 5, 2017 in Craft, Travel | 0 comments

After our morning hike at Tumamoc Hill, we returned to the Mission Garden that evening for demonstrations on agave rope making and roasting, tequila tastings, a display of products made from agave fibers, plant sale, and The Opening of the Fire Pit.

Agave products

Tequila

The day before, probably about the time Phillip and I were driving from Phoenix to Tucson, a group had gathered at the Mission Garden. Jesús García, an Education Specialist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, was demonstrating how to build a fire in a traditional roasting pit and fill it with agaves. They would be covered with metal from the side of an old washing machine and then layers of dirt to keep the heat inside the earth oven.

Jesus Garcia

Other than the repurposed washing machine, the pit would be similar to the ones we had seen evidence of on our hike that morning, the charcoal gray rocks contrasting with the reddish desert clay only hinting at what was under our feet.

Agave plants

We don’t know exactly how the ancient roasting pits worked. Current tribes in the area have not continued this tradition. However, Jesús García pointed out that just a few miles south of the border, “the tradition is still alive.” He talked to his family in Mexico about the process, taking notes and drawing extensive diagrams about every step. Adapting those techniques to the Tucson area has taken some trial and error. Apparently. Last year’s cooking time wasn’t quite enough.

So this year, they would give the agave a full 24 hours to cook underground before literally digging in and opening up the fire pit.

Agave

That must be the magic number. It was soft and slightly sweet. Each variety had a different flavor. One tasted like sweet potatoes.
Roasted agave

So what if you don’t happen to have access to a 5-foot by 6-foot roasting pit?

Carolyn Niethammer shared how she roasts quartered agave heads in her home oven – just roast at 350 for 17 hours (!)

Carolyn cooking demo

Once they’ve been roasted, you can add them into other dishes. With an electric skillet, she demonstrated how to saute up some agave along with nopales (prickly pear pads), peppers, and tepary beans, a drought-tolerant heritage bean that has recently come back into use. It was delicious!

Agave and tepary beans

She followed up by passing around some “Aztec delights,” bite-sized treats she made from amaranth, chia, agave syrup, and chocolate.

Dessert at Mission Garden

It was a sweet finish to our Mission Garden visit.

 

 


Next Agave Heritage Festival events in Downtown Tucson:

  • May 6 + 7, 10am + 1pm: Fibers, Tequila and Fun at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 6 + 7, 10am: Agave Garden Tours at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 6 + 7, 10am: Rare + Collectible Agave Sale at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 6, 6pm: Agave Fest tequila party at Hotel Congress. $35
  • May 7, 11am: Agave Heritage Brunch at Carriage House. Proceeds from this brunch help benefit Mission Garden. $55



We were guests of Hotel Congress and Maynards Market + Kitchen.

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Maynards Market + Kitchen Garden

Posted by on May 3, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Maynards historic

Cities + Railroads

The history of many western U.S. cities is tied to the railroads. Their stories run parallel, like two lengths of track. Sometimes railroad stops were built for cities and sometimes cities were built for railroad stops.

Tucson is an example of the former. By the time its depot was built in 1909, Tucson was the Southwest’s big city.

Good Roads map

The Arizona Good Roads book described it this way in 1913:

“Tucson is the metropolis of Arizona and New Mexico, and has a population according to the United States Census of 1910 of over 2000 more than any other city in either state. […] The modern Tucson is a growing city of some 22,000 inhabitants. Her rapid growth in the last few years may be attributed to her advantageous position as a distributing point for Southern Arizona and northern Mexico, and to the rich mining, agricultural and grazing country surrounding the city…”

Trains kept bringing passengers, and Tucson kept growing, buildings sprouting up throughout the downtown.

Maynards and hotel congress

By 1919, what you’d see as you exited the depot was Hotel Congress, one of the earliest Arizona hotels that’s still in operation. You can still stay there (we did!) and hear the train from your room.

As time passed, people continued arriving in Tucson but more came by car. The trains carried fewer passengers and more freight. Since freight doesn’t need a train station, part of the building was converted into restaurant space.

Maynards Patio

Market + Kitchen

In 2008, the owners of Hotel Congress opened Maynards Market + Kitchen inside the station building.

Maynards Market

Maynards Agave

The Market part of that equation is open all day with lots of patio seating and a take-out counter for items like coffee, sandwiches, and baked goods. They also sell wine and local gourmet food products. (If you’re from the Phoenix area, think Liberty Market or La Grande Orange, and you’re on the right track.)

Maynards Market wine

Next to it is the Kitchen, a sit-down restaurant open only for dinner, happy hour, and Sunday brunch. It is unfussy and elegant with salvaged train and rail parts repurposed seamlessly into the decor as subtle nods to the building’s history.

Maynards door

Brunch goes until 2pm, which is nice, especially since Hotel Congress is popping until the wee hours of the morning. Non-morning-person-ness aside, it gave us time to check out of the hotel and catch a film screening (The Arizona International Film Festival happened to be going on that weeekend, as well.)

Maynards

From our table, we could see the window-level garden planted just outside and watch little white butterflies dance around the flowers.

I ordered the braised greens/lump crab/crème fraîche omelet – and enjoyed every bite. To really taste the flavors of the garden, I also had the (very, very lightly) dressed greens. Oh, and a delicious coffee from neighboring Caffe Luce Coffee Roasting Co.

Maynards Kitchen

Phillip ordered a macchiato (which he liked), baked eggs (which were good but not what he expected) and bacon (which was crazy crispy).

Maynards Coffee

The signature baked egg dish from sister restaurant Cup Cafe comes in a small cast iron skillet. Perhaps because the menu said “broiled,” Phillip thought they’d be more like fried eggs, but they are cooked solid all the way through. The eggs, spinach, mushrooms, and leeks are buried under a layer of cream, wine, and gruyère. He was surprised by it but liked it and said the flavors blended well.

Maynards Baked Eggs

As for the bacon, I don’t know if they always cook it to that level of crispness, but Phillip regretted not specifying how he liked it and ended up just crumbling it on top of his eggs.

Maynards Salad

Both of our dishes came with downright addictive breakfast potatoes, fruit, housemade English muffins, and this incredible orange-rhubarb jam.

Maynards Garden

Garden + Grove

The garden out the window is where Maynards Kitchen sources herbs, seasonal vegetables, edible flowers, and citrus. It’s hard to get more locally grown than that!

Maynards garden

Maynards Garden

Chef Brian Smith was kind enough to take us out to the garden and point out the citrus trees, cornstalks, three varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and colorful, diamond-shaped plantings of lettuces, kale, violas, nasturtiums, pansies, parsley, chives, basil, peppers, and probably other herbs and greens I’m forgetting.

Chef Brian

The garden is new, planted in an unused plot of ground earlier this year. And they are still experimenting, finding what works best where they are, incorporating what’s in season into their dishes in new ways. (Orange blossom dressing, anyone?)

image

Like Tucson, the garden is flourishing, and whether you get there by road or by rail, Maynards Market + Kitchen is worth a stop.

Maynards


Next Agave Heritage Festival events in Downtown Tucson:

  • May 4, 6pm: Tucson City of Gastronomy Seminar at Maynards Market & Kitchen Drawing Room. $15
  • May 4, 7pm: Mezcal and Chocolate Pairing Seminar at Maynards Market & Kitchen Drawing Room. $15
  • May 4, 7pm: Mezcrawl at participating bars in Downtown Tucson. $25-40



We were guests of Hotel Congress and Maynards Market + Kitchen.

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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.




Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space

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6 Travel Tips for Non-Morning People

Posted by on Apr 27, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

north-beach-capuccino

I’m not particularly good at mornings. And, as much as I like the idea of jumping out of bed and tackling the day, I don’t magically transform into an early bird when I travel.

Here are a few things I’ve found helpful.

image

1. Get organized for the next day.

Anything you can do the night before is one less thing you’re stumbling around trying to do in the morning.

Either shower at night or at least get your shower stuff set up. You’re not at home where everything is in a place you’re used to, so make it easier on your sleepy self. Unpack your razor and unwrap the soap. Make sure there’s a towel within reach.

Lo and Sons bag at tucson hotel

I also get out everything I’m planning to wear the next day, down to my skivvies. Finding out you need to iron a top or don’t have a crucial part of your outfit is a bigger issue when you’re traveling. I’d rather not have that type of surprise in the morning.

Getting your purse/bag/daypack stuff together, as well, will help make sure things don’t get forgotten in a last-minute groggy scramble.

Coffee

2. But first, coffee.

If you require morning caffeination, make sure you plan for that too. Figure out the coffeemaker in your room or pick out your tea or find a nearby coffee shop. Or if you’re particular enough to feel it’s worth the hassle, bring your own.

I like to set up the coffeepot the night before (sometimes doubling up on the coffee packets), so all I have to do when I get up is turn it on. Even if coffee comes with breakfast and even if the hotel does not have good coffee, I like having a hot cuppa right away while I get ready.

Hotel Indigo Anaheim

3. Plan for breakfast.

Stay somewhere that serves breakfast, find a spot nearby (check the hours ahead of time), or bring your own.

Easy BYOB(reakfast) ideas:

  • If there’s a fridge, you can pick up yogurt, local fruit, etc.
  • We like those individual oatmeal cups that you just add hot water to.
  • Trail mix or granola bars work pretty much anywhere. No kitchen required.

sf-san-remo

4. Time or sleep?

For me, a little extra time to ease into the day is even more beneficial than a little extra sleep. Even when it’s hard getting up, an earlier wake up time is better for me than having a rushed, hectic morning.

Maybe this is the case for you or maybe not. It’s worth paying attention to what works for you, even before your trip.

Hotel

5. Set multiple alarms.

Traveling often throws off your sleep cycle and routines, which can make it even more difficult to get up.

If you really need to be somewhere at a certain time – catch a flight, make a meeting or tour time – don’t count on just one thing to wake you up. Some ideas:

  • Set more than one alarm on your phone, but don’t rely only on your phone.
  • Request a wake up call (or two).
  • Don’t use black-out curtains. Allow natural light in.
  • If you’re traveling with someone else, ask them to wake you up (or knock on your door or call you) if they haven’t seen you by a certain time.

Downtown LA

6. Give yourself permission to sleep in.

If you have flexibility in your schedule, don’t make every morning an early one. Plan for some more relaxed days that allow a later start.

Of course, this requires some compromise if you happen to be traveling with a morning person. In that case, come up with a plan so that they’re not just going crazy in the room (and driving you crazy in the process).

Omni charlottesville
Things a morning person can do while you’re sleeping (i.e. take all that annoying AM energy elsewhere!):

  • Go for a run, swim, or work out.
  • Take a walk and get familiar with the area.
  • Bring you breakfast.
  • Visit a sight (or go do something) you’re not interested in.
  • Start on an activity you can join when ready. (Head to the beach, begin working their way through a large museum, etc.)

As much as you can, honor your natural rhythms instead of constantly fighting them. Resting better will help you make the most out of your trip.

co-ridgway-bnb-2




In case you’re curious, here’s where I took all the photos:

1. Tasting Tour in San Francisco
2 + 5. Hotel Indigo Anaheim
3. Residence Inn, Tucson (bag)
4. Candlewood Suites Yuma
6. San Remo Hotel in San Francisco
7. Hilton in San Jose
8. Downtown L.A.
9. Omni Charlottesville
10. Airbnb in Ridgway, Colorado

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