Friday, September 18, 2009

It wasn't the battery...

As you can see, I'm not going anywhere this weekend. Not to the Petrified National Forest, not to the Black Mesa Ranch and Goat Cheese Dairy, not to Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area and I certainly won't be riding through Salt River Canyon, or down AZ 191.

It still won't start. Battery charged, tested, replaced, spark plugs, safety shut off switches, etc. etc. - a whole day of messing about and you can see I've gotten nowhere fast. I am impressed that I was remarkably patient all day. You know, the whole "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" thing.

It was about 4:30pm when I really lost heart. I'm really, really not going, am I? It'll be two MORE years before I get another chance to take this trip. I went to pick up my dog and had just walked in the door when my good friend called me.

Phone: Ring Ring
Me: [tragically] "Hello?"
Her: "Where are you??"
Me: [even more tragically] "Still here."
Her: "Put on your dancing shoes, we're taking a flamenco lesson!"
Me: ?!?!

I had about enough time to toss on a skirt and clean the grease out from under three of my fingernails. What a silly time we had, stomping our feet and trying to discern left from right. After that, we feasted on tapas, sangria and friendship at one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, Casa Vicente.

What good friends I have.

Afterthought: My bike's broken. Does that mean I can go buy that Ducati I've been talking about?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

We apologize for the delay...

I've been waiting for over two years for the stars to align themselves such that I can visit the Black Mesa Ranch and Goat Dairy in northern Arizona. I simply need a Friday to ride up (an all day affair of several hundred delightful miles of scenic and fun motorcycle roads), a Saturday for all things goat cheese, and a Sunday to ride back (on a different and equally delightful route.) Bearing in mind that I am a symphony musician, how often do you think I have a Friday, Saturday and Sunday off, not to mention one that corresponds with the "third Saturday of select months" when the Ranch has their open house? My last chance was April, 2008, when a pipe broke in my house immediately before an impending mortgage appraisal. So much for THAT. This weekend was my next chance.

I had done the routine maintenance. I had chosen my routes. The bike was packed. I started it, and dragged it out of the back yard, and stopped it while I geared up in the shade. The usual lengthy procedure. Jacket on (riding pants go on before I drag the bike out), helmet on, oops forgot the headphones, helmet off, headphones on, helmet back on, sunglasses, gloves....

Click. (Check the clutch safety switch that sometimes sticks.)



This bike isn't starting again. Why did I not THINK to put it on the trickle charger one night this week, knowing that I had added water to the battery earlier, and then asked a lot from it, starting the bike over and over during that routine maintenance??? It's my own damn fault.

I am consoling myself tonight with a sunset walk up Tumamoc hill, pasta with walnut sauce, and a movie with popcorn. My bike is consoling itself with a loooong drink from the "Battery Tender." Incidentally, when I reached the top of Tumamoc hill, the view - the one I've thoughtlessly seen a thousand times or more - caught my eye. Those mountains, bursting forth from the desert valley floor - how lucky I am to live here!

The good news is, today is Thursday. So my side trip to Petrified Forest National Park is probably out, but all things willing*, I'll head out to the ranch first thing in the morning. Wish me luck.

*All things weren't willing, as I explain here.  So I did this, instead.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Just call me a Passion Fruit

I saw the movie "Julie and Julia" earlier this month. Is it proof of my passion for the culinary arts that I actually found myself a bit teary eyed during the food scenes? I could care less about Julie cooking her way through "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in one year. Honestly, it seems a bit wrong, even. You couldn't possibly create such works of art with any sincerity at all under such a deadline. But to see Julia's passion - my passion - played out on the screen is something else entirely. It's even possible that more of my heart is wrapped up in food than in my other beloved art form, music. That could be because music is my job, cooking is not, and I don't disparage my love for my job in any way by saying this. I'm just trying to give an accurate measure of how I feel about the preparation of the gifts of the earth, their qualities lovingly brought to light, the magic of their whole exceeding the sum of their parts.

A couple of days ago, a surprise windfall of Mexican (aka Key) limes made their way from someone's tree here in town to my kitchen. I spent two days making all things lime. Lime curd, lime curd cream, teeny tiny candied lime slices, I pressure canned more lime curd to bring sunshine to some future dreary day. They were so perfect, so fragrant, so zingy. Honor the lime! How else could I properly do so than by making bite sized meringue cups, filled with lime curd cream, topped with a tiny candied lime garnish? I mean, yes, of course, I froze some extra juice, but really, that is just not enough to do them justice. Once I had this incredible turkey to prepare for Thanksgiving. Local, pastured, raised tenderly by someone who cares (and expensive! which is as it should be)... and I overcooked it. I was devastated. One could argue that I did this bird a great wrong by having it killed and eating it in the first place. But if you agree to do such a thing (and that's an entirely different conversation about which I have very strong opinions), you darn well better transform the beast into nothing less than total rapture for the senses of those you love. If you fail in this, you have done it an even greater wrong. It still bothers me when I think about it, that bird, dying for naught.

Laura Esquival, in her book "Like Water for Chocolate," expresses emotions and food better than I ever will. I am reminded of it because tonight I made Chiles en Nogada for dinner, a dish that plays an important role in her book. Again, I ask you, how better to honor these gorgeous roasted chiles (chile/motorcycle story coming soon) and pomegranates fresh from trees right here than by making Chiles en Nogada? Could you possibly bring yourself to painstakingly peel the papery brown skin off each and every one of a mountain of toasted walnuts if you weren't driven by overwhelming passion for the contents of your refrigerator? Or harvest cactus from your yard, pick the spines off it, and candy it, to create a better version of one of the many components of your recipe? When you have ingredients this exquisite, you don't just mix up a smoothie, if you know what I mean. In Laura's story, our chef/heroine embues her work with such feeling - feelings so powerful that they are dramatically transferred to her unsuspecting dinner guests in a most astonishing way. I'll never put my thoughts into words the magical way Laura Esquival does, but I tell you, it's all right there. My heart isn't on my sleeve, it's on my dinner plate.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sonoran Hot Dogs - Tucson Makes the NYT Dining Section

Just today I had a Sonoran Hot dog in Jacome Plaza (from "Hot Dog Titulu".) I can't say it was quite as good as the ones on Presidio Plaza (I think that cart is called Grand Canyon Hot Dogs, but I don't quite remember), but it didn't stop me from eating it all.
The whole topic of Sonoran Dogs showed up on the New York Times Dining Section last week. Here's the article.
Now, if I could only remember that my phone is also a camera, I would have a picture for you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Texas Hill Country (Riding "Pillion")

My career as a motorcyclist began not as a rider, but as a passenger - a somewhat unsure passenger at that.

A group trip from Logan, UT to Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho. My car in the shop.
Me: "Hey can I have a ride with you?"
Future Moto Mentor: "Yes, I'm taking my motorcycle!"
Me: "uhhhh..."
End result: I was hooked within the first few miles, and very disappointed when we arrived at our destination a few hundred miles later. ("When do we get to get back on the moto?") For the rest of the summer, I got on that BMW K1200RS every chance I got.

Here I am, upon arrival, in my not-so-glamorous, ill-fitting loaner safety gear. I was crazy happy.

Tragically, summer ended. I went back to AZ, the "Super-K" went to TX.
My only option? Get my own bike. The rest is history.

Even though I have my two-wheeled machine now, riding as a passenger (or "pillion," if you want to use moto-lingo), has not lost its appeal. For me, they are two distinctly separate and equally enjoyable activities. I've toured Texas Hill Country on a number of occasions now, always from the back seat. Here are my (our!) findings.

In the summer of 2008, with its record gas prices and airfares, vacationing locally (or at least closer to home than, say, Europe) became pretty hip. The New York Times featured the area in an article "31 Places to Go" and I think they described it pretty well. I'll use their words, and hope that I'm not breaking any laws.

Who needs Europe? The Texas Hill Country, west of Austin and north of San Antonio, might be the next best thing to crossing the Atlantic. The region is lush, colorful and, unlike much of the pancake-flat state, dotted with beautiful green hills that are evocative of Tuscany or the south of France. Moreover, the region is speckled with 22 wineries that buzz with food and music festivals year round. And towns like Fredericksburg offer a taste of the Old World, with German-style biergartens and schnitzelhäuser.

Beautiful hills quickly translate in any rider's (or pillion's) mind to "twisty fun moto roads!" And, indeed they are there; "the 300's", specifically routes 335, 336, and 337 are particularly beloved.
If rolling hills dotted with live oaks are not enough for you, there are plenty of other things to see and do in the area. The Lost Maples State Natural Area, in Vanderpool, "features a large, isolated stand of uncommon Uvalde Bigtooth Maple." On one of my visits, we enjoyed a fantastic foliage display.

Here's an oddity you don't see everywhere - replicas of Stonehenge and Easter Island, in Hunt, TX.

I've noticed what seems to be an usually large number of goats in the fields and pastures in the area. But I'm disappointed when I look for goat cheese and/or goat meat. I wonder what they use all those goats for. And here, roaming the hills - Yes! Giraffes! Kangaroos! (I love the little roo in the left background, caught in mid hop.)

It's easy to spend hours and cover hundreds of miles looping around the area, riding the most exciting stretches over and over... back and forth, back and forth until...

... you get hungry! And when that happens, there is no shortage of places to eat. Two of my favorites are the Ace Cafe at the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum, in Vanderpool, and Cooper's Barbecue, in Llano. The Ace Cafe has delicious and innovative burgers, as well as a fleet of interesting antique motorcycles. You can see me in that same borrowed jacket. This was in the early days, before I had my own bike. I was passing through the area on my way to/from a Hurricane Katrina diasater response, right after the summer I learned that I loved motorcycles! Soon, very soon, I would have my own motorcycle AND jacket.

Cooper's Barbecue sells its grub by the pound. It's not elegant, but it's amazingly tasty!

Fredericksburg has a German slant, and at the Altdorf Biergarten you can get a fine selection of sausages. Having had sausages in Munich, I can say that they are the real deal!

If you prefer, you can have a THREE pound burger at Lord's Kitchen, in San Antonio. (One pound burger shown here.)

Or how about a bubbling cauldron (the Molcajete Special) at El Jalisco Grill, also in San Antonio, for a whopping $5.95, including chips? (I couldn't stop myself from taking an actual movie of the thing.)

There's still plenty left for me to explore in Texas Hill Country. The area is famous for its wildflower display in the spring, and I would love to ride the Bluebonnet Trail one day. And although I've ridden by the Grey Moss Inn many times, I've yet to stop and eat there. Doesn't Roasted Texas Quail sound good? Plus, I haven't even begun to explore all the wineries in the area. One of the benefits of being a passenger is being able to have a bit of wine with your meals!

Here's a movie of a Texas adventure of a different sort. It has nothing to do with riding or eating, but it was a life dream, realized. (It looks a bit funny here on this blog until the movie starts playing, since the first few seconds are just a black screen.)
Many thanks to Diek for putting this movie together for me.