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May 2017 Photo: Ramada

Posted by on Jun 12, 2017 in Travel | 10 comments

There was sliver of the moon over the ramada at Mission Garden in Tucson.

Pergola at Mission Garden, Tucson

The spiny “branches” across the top of the roof come from the ocotillo plant. You can see what they look like growing in the desert in the photo below.

Ocotillo

 

Runner up:

I loved colors and shading in this handpainted parasol at Phoenix Comicon!

Unikornis Art parasol at phxcc

Side note: I wasn’t sure how widely the word “ramada” was used outside the Southwestern U.S. for describing the type of covering supported by posts you see over picnic tables etc., like a roof without walls. In the U.K., I thought they might call this a “shelter.” My Twitter poll on the topic only received a few votes – all in favor of ramada – but my friend Kelli did mention that she thinks of a ramada as made of brick and of this as a “pergola”.

Ramada in tucson

Perhaps the thing itself is just more common here in the Southwest, where you need shade more than protection from rain or snow and desert trees may be too sparse to provide it.

Anyway, if you use a word besides ramada, the language geek in me would love to know!




Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space

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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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Ancient Agave Tour

Posted by on May 4, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Agave

To kick off the Agave Heritage Festival, Stephanie and I got to play archeologists for the morning.

Mission Garden Tucson

After getting to the Hotel Congress late the night before, I used my front-desk-issued earplugs to get some sleep, so we could get ourselves to the Mission Garden by 8:15 am.

Paul and Suzie Fish

We met our gracious guides there: Paul and Suzie Fish, emeriti professors of archaeology from the University of Arizona and the Arizona State Museum. The plan for the day was to carpool over to some pristine desert land several miles away at the base of Tumamoc Hill, where U of A Desert Laboratory is located, hike in about a half mile, and then be guided by the archaeologists on a tour of an ancient agave horticultural/gardening site and roasting pit used by the Hohokam people of the American Southwest.

Desert hike in tucson

While on this tour, I was surprised to find out that the Tucson area has evidence of farming estimated to go as far back as 5,000 years! The fields we were to tour are estimated to date to the 1200-1300s.

Charred rock

The first stop was the roasting pit. It’s a good thing we had trained professionals to take us here. Most anyone would have walked right by the spot, which looked like any other unremarkable clearing in the desert. A closer look yielded the clues: a few potsherds here and there, a slightly more charcoal-colored soil, and pieces of “rind.” Rind is the bubbly mix of stone and organic material that forms around such pits due to the high temperature in the roasting process.

Agave roasting site and cactus

The roasting was probably done every few years as it takes years for agave to grow to the harvesting stage. During its lifetime, little “pups” or rhizomes, which are essentially agave clones, grow out from the plants. Farmers would have taken these and used them to plant new agaves, which would have helped stagger the harvesting seasons.

Agave pups

Our guides explained that the agave was cultivated for three reasons: food, alcoholic beverages, and fibers – Stephanie filmed a jaw-dropping demonstration on how agave fiber can be made into a rope within minutes!

Since it would take at least 24 hours to roast the agaves, apparently, the Hohokam would multitask, using the time to work on other projects like making spindles for forming the fibers into thread or ropes.

Suzie Fish

As Suzie was explaining this to us, she reached down and grabbed a few bits of pottery sherds to show us. So I stooped down to glance at the dirt around my feet.

All of the sudden, the desert seemed to bloom with evidence of past humans. I found some pieces of the rind that our guides had described and some pottery pieces. Most interestingly, I found a rounded piece of pottery that Suzie told us was likely the beginnings of a spindle for making thread. Therein lies one of the most amazing aspect of archaeology – to touch an object that had been made with such intentional effort by another human centuries removed from me.

From the pit, we moved on to the remains of the gardens.

Desert

While there are no original agave plants left, our guides pointed out rocks arranged along the sloping hillsides to guide water to various miniature terraces where the agave would have been. Farther along, we started seeing evidence of experiments being done by the University of Arizona to replicate agricultural techniques used by the Hohokam. Since the early 1980s, scientists have been using this spot to try to replicate Hohokam techniques with agave horticulture.

Agave oasis

My favorite example was seeing how the terraces set up to encourage agave growth would not only foster significantly better growth for agaves, but they would also have a variety of plant neighbors which would grow up alongside next to them. They also benefited from the more advantageous microclimate of the terrace.

Desert terraces

I was in awe of how observant and creative the Hohokam were to create a space where they could cultivate agave on a larger scale. Indeed, our guides say that agaves are seldom naturally found below the 3,000 foot elevation mark. With a few ingenious adaptations, the Hohokam were able to make it work!

 

Ocotillo

 

– More Archaelogy Info –

The Southwestern United States and Arizona are hotspots for archaeology.

If you’re interested in getting involved in local AZ archaeological preservation efforts, one place to look is the Southwest Archaeology Team. It’s a great opportunity to get involved with archaeology on an amateur basis. They’re based in Mesa, Arizona and affiliated with the Arizona Museum of Natural History. I joined the organization for a time during high school and used the opportunity to take a class they offered in archaeological field surveying. In addition to educational opportunities, they provide volunteering opportunities in archaeology.

You can also check with local community colleges. As a high school student, I was able to take a class at Mesa Community College on archaeological field methods to learn the tools, techniques and terms of the profession.
Tucson desert


Next Agave Heritage Festival events in Downtown Tucson:

  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am + 1pm: Fibers, Tequila and Fun at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am: Agave Garden Tours at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 6 + 7, 10am: Rare + Collectible Agave Sale at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 1:30pm: Talk on Cryptic Gardens and Pre-Columbian Agave Clones at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Included with admission.
  • May 5, 5pm: Cinco De Mayo Party at Club Congress. Free until 9pm, then $3
  • May 5, 6:30pm: Agave Heritage Dinner at Maynards Plaza Patio. Proceeds from this dinner help benefit Native Seed Search. $110
  • 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.

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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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