Travelcraft Journal

Navigation Menu

The Southwest’s Indigenous Food and Films

Posted by on Oct 9, 2017 in Craft, Travel | 2 comments

I don’t think I’ve shared this video of a cooking demonstration from Agave Heritage Festival in Tucson here yet.

It seemed fitting to post this on Indigenous People’s Day (which I’m glad is gaining traction over Columbus Day!), since the recipe includes several local ingredients originally used by the Native American tribes in this area.

Also, unrelated to the video, we went to an IPD screening of two documentaries by Diné (Navajo) filmmakers at the Heard Museum yesterday. Both films were really great!

Heard Museum

You may get a chance to see them too, since they’re traveling around on a Navajo Films Documentary Tour starting in November, and one of the films, The Mayors of Shiprock, will air on the World Channel November 6.

Heard Museum

If I can track down tour dates, I’ll put them on the next Happenings List.

 




 

Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space

Read More

Smithsonian: Air and Space Museum and Mitsitam Café

Posted by on Sep 21, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Smithsonian American Indian Museum
Cafe at Smithsonian American Indian Museum

Cafe at National Museum of the American Indian

While I could have easily spent a full day at the Smithsonian American History Museum, a D.C.-area friend had recommended the Mitsitam Café at the Smithsonian American Indian Museum as a “little known gem.” I decided to make my way there for lunch.

Mitsitam cafe
Smithsonian Native American Museum

The cafeteria serves native-inspired foods that span the American continents. I got a buffalo burger and fry bread.

Smithsonian Native American Museum

The menu also includes options like wild rice and ceviche.

DC Museum cafe

This is definitely a place I’d like to come back to and try more things!

Smithsonian space museum

National Air and Space Museum

When I walked down Independence Avenue to the south entrance of the Air and Space Museum, I was discouraged to see a line over 100 feet long to get in. I had started back toward our hotel, when I looked back and saw that the northern entrance – along Jefferson Drive – didn’t seem to have a line! Sure enough, about five minutes later I was in the museum!

Air and space museum

So keep in mind that there is more than one entrance, especially since, as Stephanie later told me, the Air and Space Museum is the most popular of the Smithsonian museums.

Amelia Earhart

Immediately upon entering, I saw display spaces festoooned with replica and original air and space craft – a lunar landing module, the “Spirit of St. Louis,” the front half of the fuselage of a 747, rocket nozzles as big as my living room.

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: plane

In the past I had wanted to be an astronaut, so I was particularly intrigued by the exhibits showing relics of the U.S. space program in the 60s and 70s – toolkits, suits, windowed hatches, flight manuals, and the like. There’s even a very official and ornate “certificate of merit” presented to the first chimpanzee sent to space by the U.S., which I found both ridiculous and moving. While I was certainly impressed by the spacecrafts themselves, oddly, it was these historic bits of ephemera that captivated me the most.

image

The guided tour moved a bit too slow for me, so I bailed out to cover more ground.

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

Marty met up with me about an hour into my museum visit, so that was a nice surprise. We toured the World War II fighter aircraft exhibit together. I especially appreciated the naval aircraft display that replicated both the deck and interior of an aircraft carrier.

Air and space museum

Unfortunately, our time soon ran out at the Air and Space Museum. We went to the food court with the biggest McDonald’s I’d ever been to. There was a large seating area and lots of windows to let in light. Fortunately, we went as the day was winding down, so we didn’t have to wait in line long.

National Mall sunset

I enjoyed sitting in the gradually-emptying mega-McDonald’s and debriefing the museum sights with Marty.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More