Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Who knew that the "world's largest irrigated pecan orchard" is a mere 20 miles south of Tucson? I didn't, until a spread about it in the local paper caught my eye. The Green Valley Pecan Company, located not in Green Valley, but in Sahuarita, AZ, has over 6,000 acres of trees. They provide pecans to such companies as Hershey's, Ghirardelli, and even Costco! That's a lot of nuts. I thought a visit to the orchard would make for a fun little day trip, and indeed it did. I was hoping for a bit of a tour, but I was told that the facility wasn't set up for that sort of thing. But the nice ladies in the shop were kind enough to answer all sorts of questions and I did get to watch a little video. I guess not too many people grill them about the life of a pecan as much as I did - eventually they gave me a quizzical look and asked "Are you writing a research paper?" I had to laugh and admit, that no, I wasn't, I was just a geek. I picked up a nice bag of organic nuts. Given the amount of entertainment I've gotten from them already (and I haven't even made anything with them yet) they were quite a bargain at $10.

I couldn't help but take a detour through Saguaro National Park (Eastern Division) on my way home.

Hmm - looks like the prickly pears are ripe for the picking...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Found! The Holy Grail

Here it is, friends, the holy grail of the plant kingdom. More precious than saffron, more elusive than the Italian White Truffle...

it is The Perfect Tomato.

Yes, these are as good as Grandpa's, as good as those from Gary's farm in Utah. And they're right here in Southern, AZ about 70 miles from my house. (Well, if one chooses to take the scenic motorcycle fun route, it's substantially further.) I came to meet Jim Dumas of Richcrest Farms in a prophetic fashion, befitting to the singular event of coming across this seemingly endangered species. An SOS email written by him hit my inbox, wisely forwarded by a friend. Up to his eyeballs in ripening produce, with not enough help at the farm, he put out the call to all he knew. Come out and can! He would provide the produce and the use of his fully equipped commercial kitchen free of charge as well as a host of canning jars, if we would put in the labor of picking, prepping and preserving anything and everything that was ripe that day. His fee was 50% of the finished product. Woo hoo! I was SO there! People of all sorts came from far and wide for this two day project. Despite it being an interesting sociological study on the "too many cooks in the kitchen" phenomenon, our productivity was impressive. We made soup, salsa, pickles, hot sauce, we preserved zucchini, peppers, eggplant, onions....

I was the first to arrive that morning and got a nice tour of the farm. Here are a few things I saw above and beyond the expected fields of crops (organic, even!).

Artichoke in Bloom

Butterflies and Zinnias

Grape Arbor

A Particularly Handsome Chicken

Farmer Jim at Rest

Last week I cracked open a jar of salsa. It was just way too good to be served as a mere condiment. I poured the entire jar into a bowl and called it gazpacho. Ahhh - sunshine in a bowl. I'd never had better. It confirmed that the canning party was a complete and total success. Except...

...nary a jar of pure unadulterated tomatoes!

Today I returned to the farm to correct this grave omission. Here I am in Farmer Jim's kitchen, canning almost 30 lbs of deliciousness.

NOW I can sleep.

Monday, September 22, 2008

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program. (Farewell, Utah!)

Okay, enough of contests and scrappy back yards. Back to the business at hand - riding and eating. Or is that eating and riding? All good things (well, most of them) must come to an end, and I did eventually have to leave Utah. The drive home (alas, I had to tow the moto rather than ride it - too much stuff to haul) was - take a guess - heartstoppingly beautiful. I came upon the Vermilion Cliffs/Lake Powell area at that time of day just before sunset, when the light is just, well, magical. It must be the same sort of light that inspired the great landscape painters in southern France. All the cliffs were positvely luminescent, and I found myself meditating on the salmony-corally-pinkish-reddish hues, trying to pin down just exactly WHAT those amazing colors were. (It can't be done, at least not by me.) It's an interesting exercise though, running through the palate of words in your mind and constantly coming up short. There's a certain color of grass in southern Idaho that first sparked my interest in this little game. The best I could come up with was "ever so slightly radioactive jade". Funny, I didn't stop to take pictures - not of this grass and paint by numbers green landscape in southern Idaho, nor the unbelievably saturated study on pink in southern Utah. I always regret not having the pictures, but at the time, pulling out the camera almost seems like a distraction.
After all this magical sunlight, I had to suffer through yet another extraordinary sunset. I'm going to stop saying how beautiful it all is, lest you stop believing me.

Let's talk delicious, instead. Gary, one of those wonderful people who keep the Utah Festival Opera festival running, happens to live on a small farm outside of Logan. (Where he and his wife find the time to actually run the farm, I have no idea, but it seems to be working.) Some years ago, he decided to give a party for the entire opera company. For those of you who don't know, that is a really big party. He had ribs, barbecue, deep fried turkeys, pies... you name it. But the most memorable item on the table for me were his tomatoes. Who knew the holy grail would be sitting there on a plate, with no more than salt and pepper on them, looking so innocent? I've had tomotoes like this as a child, from my grandfathers garden, but I had long ago given up finding anything like that again. Well, Gary had another party this year, and all I could think about was those tomatoes. They weren't a featured item on the table this time, but I wasn't shy, and the lady of the house handed me a stash from her kitchen counter to take away. I'm embarassed to admit that I actually sort of hid them as I left - they were that precious, and I wasn't about to give even one away. When I prepared them (yes, I did share with my roommates), I was almost nervous about eating them - would they really be as good as I remembered? They didn't disappoint. Here they are, with some basil from my front door herb garden in a pot.

Little did I know that there were more such tomatoes in my future. In Arizona no less. Stay tuned.

My transport to this party was indeed a motorcycle, but not my own. My moto-mentor (i.e. the one who got me into this motorcycle madness), on his annual (more often if possible) cross country moto-camping trip, arrived in Utah the day before on his new KTM 990 Adventure. It's the three dimensional moto! Big and comfy enough for the long haul, fast and sporty for fun, and (this is the new part for him), highly capable off-road. What's not to like? You can read about his adventures here.

And so, with the taste of tomatoes still lingering and more than a bit of sadness, I bid farewell to Utah until June 2009. But, ahhh... Arizona! I've yet to share my adventures on what may be the grand-daddy of all Glorious Motorcycle Roads - AZ 191...