Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lunch Ride: Desert Rain Cafe, Kitt Peak, and an Aquisition


Yeah, yeah, you've heard it all before... Kitt Peak, blah blah blah.   It's my local ride of choice this time of year, it's true, so it's hardly blog worthy.  But it's been a year since I've been about 20 miles west of there, to the Desert Rain Cafe (which I told you all about here), and I almost always ride up there by myself, so... why not go out to lunch with a Suzuki riding friend?


Prickly Pear Chicken Wrap




Tepary Bean Quesadilla


 170 miles round trip, by my estimate.  This ride rarely disappoints.  I should say there was one other reason to meet up with my friend today.  She handed over the title to this bike.  It's official.  Welcome to the herd, Eeyore.  HeeeeeeHaaaawww!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas! (Tiramisu Tart*)

It’s been a while since I’ve made an “impractical” dessert.   I’ve had no shortage of delicious sweets, mind you, but when your work hours double and your income, the number at the dinner table and your oven size all decrease by half, well, it’s only natural to simplify.  These days I’m more likely to turn to this cabinet, or my CSA haul (remember the beet cake?) for ingredients rather than stand on a loading dock in a sketchy part of town, looking to score exotic items before the local upper crust restaurateurs nab them.  (Yes, I’ve actually done that.)  Although this little tiramisu tart doesn’t quite compare with the towering showcase confections of my younger years, I’m happy to present it to you.


Black Bottom Tiramisu Tart


What you can’t see from the picture are the layers within:  a sweet cookie crust, the barest brushing of dark chocolate, the creamy noggy mascapone Marsala filling, a wafer thin disc of chocolate sponge cake soaked with an espresso syrup, then more filling, all hiding under the cocoa dusting and chocolate curls.  I can safely say I could have easily ridden three hundred miles and had lunch at a diner in the time it took me to make this tart for dessert last night.  But I had great fun doing it, and I’m already gleefully plotting and shopping for ingredients for a New Years Eve dinner finale.  Many thanks to my dear friends who provided the rest of Christmas Eve dinner, along with their gracious and loving company last night. I could not be more blessed.

Tonight’s dinner left me plenty of time for a ride on the the sleigh.  Magret (seared duck breasts with coarse sea salt - "the other prime rib" if you ask me, with the bonus of a sinfully rich crispy skin), crusty bread, cranberry sauce and a salad. So quick, so few dishes to wash, so elegant – I can’t think of anything else I’d want to eat more.  And what did Santa bring?  Do I dare divulge?  Sing along!  “Itsy bitsy, teeny tiny, red Ducati, string bikini!”  I’m not sure which I’m surprised to own more – the motorcycle or the swimwear!  Perhaps I should reconsider that second slice of tart…


Ducati Sleigh

Joy to the world for 2012!  May you all find happiness in the here and now!

* I used the recipe for the "Tiramisu Black Bottom Tart" from The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum.  You could use bits and pieces from other cookbooks or recipes, instead, to create your own spin on the idea, if you wanted.  That opens up a lot of doors, doesn't it...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Let Us Give Thanks...

 ...for red motorcycles, blue skies, mountain roads and...


 ...pork shoulder braised in milk!

Give thanks for all those loved ones and experiences that make your heart soar.
Alleluia and Amen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Canyon Carving without a Motorcycle? (Eaton Canyon, Haven Gastropub, Stone Brewing Company)

Wow, my quads are really sore…

…FROM RAPPELLING DOWN FIVE (or was it six?) SLIPPERY RUSHING WATERFALLS!




Yes, that’s me, demonstrating truly exquisite novice form: awkward, tense, and really slow.  But I’m still standing and I had fun doing it, so I consider my day in Lower Eaton Canyon a smashing success.

Here my host and his GoPro helmet camera provide a glimpse into what it feels like to rappel down (and through) a waterfall.


video


I found myself in Orange County earlier this month in early September, graciously hosted by the Ducati Instigator aka my Most Excellent Tour Guide.  The trip was mostly a work thing (i.e. failed job search) along with a quick trip to Motorport* to have some adjustments made to my motorcycle jacket, but I was able to reserve one day for an adventure.  Naturally, I imagined that day would involve a motorcycle.   Naturally, I was wrong.

The motorcycle gear I had packed would not serve for this escapade.  With borrowed clown shoes (at least two sizes too big), borrowed wetsuit (also way too big), borrowed bicycle helmet, gloves, backpack, and harness, and borrowed waterproof camera that malfunctioned in the first hour, I was about as well suited as I was on my first motorcycle tour.

Eaton Canyon Rappel Gear

Fear is such a funny, irrational thing.  Although I had a few successful practice rappels off my host’s porch the night before, I had no idea how I would react when staring down a 60 foot waterfall.  And once you’re in, there’s no going back.  I have no idea why, but my heart pounds a lot harder when I’m riding on gravel or loading my motorcycle on its trailer.  Go figure.

Oh glorious Nature!  It’s a good thing I was up to the task, because it’s the only way one can experience the daisy chain of magical intimate pools of crystal water, the water slides, and the waterfalls that make up this beautiful (and dangerous**) canyon.  How wonderful it would be to go back with a quality camera, tripod, and some more time on my hands.

Notable Food Finds in the area:

I met my host in Old Towne Orange for lunch and touristy wanderings. 

 
Haven Gastropub Pork Sandwich
Pork Sandwich and Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse at the Haven Gastropub.




O'Keefe and Merritt Stove Antique Station
Just up the street, a windowful of restored vintage stoves at Antique Station.


As we went our separate ways, my host found the helmet latch on his Goldwing had broken. Broken locked, that is.  The options?  I ride it home for him (I happened to have my gear in my car), he wears my helmet, or we both go home in my boring Toyota.  Someone else's 800 lb motorcycle I'd never ridden before in SoCal rush hour?  I really did laugh aloud.  I think his head still hurts from cramming it into my leeetle helmet.

The next day, after our ride to Motoport (I guess I did get on a motorcycle that weekend!), we dined at the nearby Stone Brewing World Bistro.

Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens 005
Mac n' Beer Cheese, with Smoked Porter Sausage tossed in for some real excess.  Yeah, it was fantastical.  I can't remember which beer I opted for, but it sure looks like another hefe-weisse.  Love a good hefe in the summer.



Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens 043
Chocolate pate surfeit Medjool Date dessert.  Beautifully presented, every component delicious - candied kumquats, currant coulis, cocoa nibs - yum! - but I'm not sure the cocoa pate is the best match for the dates.  At home, I stuff 'em with mascarpone cheese, and I see no reason to change that now.


And, notable for another reason, the pasta dinner I prepared for my host.  In what could easily be one of my top three kitchen failures of all time, I ended up throwing out my pasta dough and acquiring “fresh pappardelle” from the corner Trader Joe’s.   Either I shouldn’t talk and knead at the same time, or the flour I used was gluten-free***.  No matter how much I kneaded (it typically takes 5-10 minutes), the eggs and flour refused to become that smooth elastic mass that allows itself to be rolled and stretched into those silky satiny sheets you wish you could sleep in.  I’ve made pasta more times than I can count, but this time the dough simply tore into pieces if I flattened it any thinner than my Ducati owner’s manual.  I even toted my 32” pasta rolling pin to California for the occasion.  Go figure.  At least the wine (provided by my host) was good.


Funny.  Sometimes you are tossing a no-brainer dinner into the trash and other times you are Jane Bond, rappelling down a towering foot waterfall into a string of secret grottos glimmering with sparkling cool water.  You just never know.

* I’m even more impressed with this company after my visit.  Every single point of design of their gear (even those that I had, at first, questioned) is so thoroughly thought out, they spent a generous amount time with me discussing the alterations on my jacket, and charged me nothing for this service.
** Two deaths and 48 rescue operations for the year at the time of my transit.
***The flour on hand was Gold Medal brand.  It has lower protein content that other brands which makes it an excellent choice for some things (a delicate butter cookie, perhaps), but is less than ideal for recipes that require the formation of a strong web of gluten (say, bread or… pasta)  Still and all, that was just weird, especially given that the Italian “doppio zero” flour traditional used for fresh pasta is not all that high in gluten.   I did manage to make maccheroni alla chitarra  when I got home a few days later without drama.  Clearly it was an astrological phenomenon.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Daily Special – Keeping the House Warm in Winter (No-Knead Bread)

Ahh, the change in seasons…  Motorcycle jacket vented panels are replaced with thermal liners and electric vests.  One begins to wonder if perhaps riding halfway up Mount Lemmon twice is a wiser tactic than riding all the way up, once.  Or an even better idea - head west and ride Kitt Peak, instead.  As the temperatures drop from triple digits (and then some) to more in the frost on my car, snow in sight, plant killing range, my morning muesli gets a hit in the microwave before breakfast and my daily bread shape-shifts from tortilllas to hearty loaves.  Because, while having your oven roaring at 500 degrees in the summer is a bad idea, it’s a fine way for those of us without central heating to warm up the house!*

So, the first day snow hit the Catalinas and I found myself feeling like a character from Puccini’s Boheme (yes, I was wearing a scarf and hat indoors) while cursing my high tech low solar heat gain coefficient windows, I knew it was time.   Here's the result of my version of the “No-Knead Bread” method that took the world by storm back in 2006.  The one that purports even a six year old (or four, or eight, depending on your source) can make bread better than almost any bakery.  It’s true.  See?


No Knead Bread
Making this bread is less work than running out to the bakery.  Cheaper by a long shot, too!



Basic Recipe:
(My favorite tweaks and variations not shown, since you'll find your own soon enough.)

Make yourself a really too wet dough by slinging flour, salt, yeast (1/4 tsp per three cups flour) and water in the bowl, mix it ‘round, oh, maybe 10 times and walk away.  For 18 hours.

Use a bit more flour as needed to form the dough into a loose roundish kind of boule shape, spending no more than 30 seconds doing so. Walk a way for an hour or two more.

Now, here’s the good part:  twist that oven throttle all the way to 500 and put in an oven proof pot to preheat.  If you have my  silly little easy-bake sized and quality oven, it will take at least an hour to reach the proper temp.  The house is a few degrees warmer already, isn’t it?

Take your blob of dough, toss it in the pot (plop!), cover said pot (don’t forget, the pot has been in the oven, so you need an oven mitt!), and walk away for a half hour.   The covered pot, a clever method of approximating a professional steam injected oven, is the genius of this recipe.  Everything else – the no-kneading, the wet dough, the low yeast percentage, the long cool temp rising periods - has already been done.

Uncover and cook ‘til done. (Another 10-15 minutes).  So, yeah, it took you almost 24 hours to make the bread, but hands on time was probably less than five minutes.

Consider peeling off that scarf and hat.  And start the next loaf now, since this one will be gone by tomorrow.

*Yes, it routinely freezes in Tucson (last year we hit a low of 18F and pipes all over town were bursting like it was the Fourth of July, okay?), and no, I don't have central heating.  And, are you ready for this?... I don't have central air conditioning either. Which is why there's no way in hell I'll make this bread anywhere between March and October.  Tortillas are much better for the environment during the summer months.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Daily Special: Pesto, Anyone?

Completely coincidentally, the day after my pasta post, I became the lucky recipient of this windfall.  Downtown Tucson is quite prolific is seems, as my Armory Park neighborhood provided me with some 20 lbs of Mexican limes two years ago.  No motorcycle was needed for its retrieval, as it was growing just a few minutes walk from my house.

Basil, Appellation Armory Park
Basil haul, with bonus zinnia! All for the cost of two tickets to Aida, which for me, means free!

 

And if you’re wondering what all that basil looks like after trimming and washing, wonder no longer:

Basil, Appellation Armory Park (2)

A pile of leaves practically worthy of jumping in.  Autumn under the Tucsonan Sun!


If you're wondering how long it took me to trim, wash, dry (and photograph) all this basil, I'll tell you.  About two acts of Aida. 

I made more than two quarts of pesto last night, which is now stashed in my freezer in little half cup portions.  Winter, I am ready for you!

Recipe (of sorts)
For each time I stuffed my food processor* with leaves, I added a good handful of ground toasted pine nuts,** several cloves of pureed garlic,*** several glugs of olive oil from the bottle (four?  five?), and a pinch of salt (not too much, since the cheese you’ll add later is salty.)  Blend, re-stuff the processor bowl and repeat.  When the bowl is nearly fully of spreadable green goodness, and you’re nearly drunk and from the heavenly scent of basil, add great handfuls of freshly grated parmesan (mixed with romano, if you have it, but if you don't, good heavens, don't let that stop you).  Taste it.  Adjust to your liking (although, honestly, I don’t think you can get this wrong, no matter what proportions you use).  I’ve heard of mashing in soft butter after the pesto is made.  I've never done it, but how could that be wrong?  Eat immediately, or put it in a container and float a thin film of oil over the top to keep it from turning brown.

I really was going to figure out actual quantities for you.  I really was. 

*Prior rant aside, the food processor does a good job in this instance.  Especially if you put the leaves in first, then all the “heavy” stuff on top of them.  But if I’m making just enough for one serving, I’ll revert back to my mortar and pestle.
**I do like the Italian ones better than the Chinese ones.  They’re a different species, I think, but they’re hard to find and harder to pay for.
***Four?  Six? I don’t know how many, since I puree several heads at a time and keep a block of garlic in my freezer. It’s easy to shave however much you need off the block with a sharp paring knife.  That's one of my strategies for quickly getting a decent dinner on the table, but still getting to work on time.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Other Fine Italian Machinery (Homemade Pasta)

Remember when I bought my Ducati?  I never got around to telling you, but that wasn’t the only fine (and expensive!) Italian luxury item I acquired in August of 2010*.

Pasta Equipment
Pasta guitar, garganelli comb, and corzetti stamp



The fresh pasta of northern Italy is made with white flour and eggs.  Nothing more, nothing less.  And if you use eggs from pastured chickens (chickens that live a normal chicken life and eat a normal chicken diet, unlike those who lay the eggs you find in the grocery store), your pasta will have an especially lovely golden color to it.

For each (small Italian sized) serving, mix together 1 egg and 1/2 cup flour.  Forget all that nonsense about putting the flour in a heap on a big wooden counter top, making a well in the center, breaking the eggs in the well etc., etc.  Do that, and I guarantee the eggs will escape from your flour volcano caldera and make a fine mess.  Just mix it in a bowl, like you’d do anything else, okay?  Hold back a bit of the flour at first, and add that remaining portion a bit at a time as you finish your mixing until you judge the dough to be soft, but not sticky.  Now you must knead.  And knead.  And knead.  For eight minutes, according to the irrefutable Marcella Hazan, whose recipe I adapt here.  Until the dough is satiny, silky, deliciously smooth.  Dust the ball with flour, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it rest a bit while you wash the bowl, the counter and prepare your pasta rolling surface and equipment.

Next, pick your pasta dough flattening weapon of choice.  If you own a hand cranked pasta machine by all means, use it.  Or, if you lost your hand cranked pasta machine in your divorce, and/or you want to make pasta the traditional way and/or you don’t have any money to buy a hand cranked pasta machine (especially after shelling out the big bucks your funky pasta shaping toys), get thee to Home Depot and have them cut you a 32” by 1 1/2” diameter wooden dowel.  That shall be your pasta rolling pin.  But don’t use it to roll the dough.  Use it to stretch the dough.  Like this: (excepting the awful music, which would most certainly ruin the pasta).



This is my method, and although I don’t take the trouble to make my circle of dough so perfectly round, I do it quickly enough to finish the job before the dough dries out (no small task here in the desert), which is all you need to get the job done.  It’s really not terribly difficult, and once you get the hang of it, I think it’s actually quicker than the hand cranked machine.  And a bit better, too, as it works more texture into the pasta, which is a good thing.  For the record, I think this video is from a restaurant is in Japan (!!).  They have a whole slew of pasta making videos that fascinate the kitchen nerd in me.  The thickness of your sheets will vary in according to your personal taste, skill, and shape of pasta you are making.  Aim for sheets as thin as, you know… pasta!

Finally, as delightfully fun as working play-doh, but (for those of you who ate your play-doh as a child) infinitely tastier, make your pasta shapes!**

Corzetti Stampati
Corzetti stampati - I served them with pesto.




Garganelli
Garganelli - Their classic pairing is the the three P's. Peas, Peppers and Prosciutto.  In a cream sauce.  Which clings delightfully to those ridges supplied by the garganelli "comb."



Maccheroni alla chitarra
Roll your pasta sheets over the wires of the "guitar..." 




Spaghetti alla chitarra
... and automagically, you have the square cross section of  Maccheroni alla chitarra!  Yum yum with a simple sauce of meat drippings, rosemary and garlic.



After all that creative manipulation, do pay attention when you cook your fresh pasta.  It cooks much more quickly than dried. Your sauce of choice*** should be completed before you ever put the pasta in the pot.  Walk away from the pot at your own risk.

Edit:  Wouldn't you know it?  Oct 16 was "Blog Action Day," and the 2011 topic was food.  Looks like I unknowingly complied!

* I got (and photographed) my Rosle food mill around the same time.  It was quite the spending spree.
** No special gadgets needed to make ravioli, farfalle (bow ties), most ribbons (tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine, etc.) cavatelli, orecchiette, tortellini,  and countless other pasta types.
***Which sauce with which shape?  Oy, that’s a long discussion.  Ask Marcella.  Or do what feels right.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Conquering Fear (Off Road on a Yamaha XT 225)

Remember my pathological fear of riding upon anything that is not smooth asphalt?

LOOK WHAT I DID!!!

Lil Burro Saquaro NP West Bajada Loop 006a
Bajada Loop Drive in Saguaro National Park, Western Division


That’s right!  That’s me, fishtailing about in sand!  On purpose, even!

In a great act of generosity and trust, a local Tucson rider (who hardly knows me, even!) loaned me her mini dual sport motorcycle to drop*, errr, I mean, ride.  Perhaps it was karma for loaning my Kawasaki for off road experimentation years ago.  Make no mistake, I adore my Ducati, but there is something delightfully liberating about riding a bike you don’t mind dropping.  I mean LOOK at this thing…


Lil Burro Saquaro NP West Bajada Loop 010
You gotta love race track apparel on what I’ve been calling the “little burro,” aka “Eeyore”.


 
Who CARES if it falls?   And it’s so light, I could land it upside down in a ravine and still be able to haul it out.  (Maybe.)  This bike is everything the Ducati is not:  Ugly, utterly devoid of any power, eminently droppable and fixable with a plastic spork.  I LOVE it!

Remarkably, I would actually voluntarily repeat this activity.

So I did!  This time up Redington Pass.  No deep sand, but now a dirt road with hills and switchbacks.  I’ve often wondered the point of going off road (especially as a passenger) if there isn’t a prize at the end of the line.

How’d ya like to have Pastrami Gorgonzola sandwiches* HERE?

Tanque Verde Falls
Tanque Verde Falls.  A cool, deep pool, smack in the middle of the 100+ degree desert.  Waterfall included at no extra charge.  That makes TWO miracles.




Now I find out this little Yamaha XT225 is mine for the buying.  I may not be able to stop myself.

I am SO ready for the Dakar.


* Make gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce (butter, cream, and Gorgonzola of course).  Use the leftover sauce for a sandwich spread.  Genius, thank you very much.
** As of this writing, I have not (yet) dropped the bike.  No one is more surprised than I.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Zion National Park – What I Did THIS Summer

What did I do this summer? I worked.  A lot.  And when I wasn’t working, I was practicing.  A lot.  My car died and left me stranded in Utah, and my dog, motorcycle, trailer, stuff and I hitched* a ride in an un-air-conditioned van with only one operating window to get home to Tucson.   My dog passed on to greener pastures soon after our return (not due to the hot as hell journey, for the record), and one of my jobs got really wonky, which is going to make the next eight months a real challenge.  (I am vehemently - and I mean vehemently! - opposed to my new and  highly unimproved seven day work week.)  Not the best summer, I’d say, but there was one wonderfully bright spot.  One precious four day respite where I packed in 800 miles on two wheels, 27 miles on two feet, 1028 river crossings (approx) and 1 scratched camera lens.  Go big or go home, don't you think?

Zion National Park! 

Inspiration Point



No doubt the rain opened up a few campsites.  Usually the park is full for the months of July and August, but we were lucky and secured walk-in a spot (late in the afternoon, even!) at South Campground.


Zion Hwy 9 004
Riding Hwy 9 (Mount Carmel-Zion Highway) again.  Unlike last year, this year I was allowed to stop and take pictures.  Except I didn’t.  Because it was raining.


After setting up camp, we stretched our legs in the drizzle on a short hike to the Emerald Pools. The pain you feel upon discovering your camera lens is fatally scratched is directly proportional to the grandeur of your location.  Ouch.  I’m glad I had a little back up Lumix in my tank bag.


Lower and Upper Emerald Pool Trails- Kayenta Trail 041
Dusk on the Kayenta trail, as we return from the Emerald Pools.  The pools weren't so emerald in the rain.



Good morning, Ducati!  Time to hike to Inspiration Point (shown in the first photo of this post.) 

Good Morning, Ducati

We got a little off trail here, but it was worth the trouble.  I thought the only place you saw stuff like this was the cover of Utah guidebooks.  Magical to see it for real!

East Rim Trail to Observation Point 027

We sacrificed a chance to hike to the famous (and treacherous, I'm told!) Angel’s Landing that afternoon to complete preparations for the next day, our one chance to tackle “The Narrows – Top Down.”  Listed as one of National Geographic’s “America’s Best 100 Adventures,” this 16 mile river trek brings the hiker down the Virgin River, through graceful pastures, by spouting springs, past waterfalls and hanging gardens, and into majestic and mysterious narrow gorges with walls soaring up to 2000 feet overhead.  The slot canyon sections (marked on our map in a caution tape shade of  yellow as "NO WAY OUT!") meant that flash flooding could be a real danger.  I was only willing to attempt it if the flash flood potential rating was “low”.  A hopeful inquiry at the back country permit office revealed that it was high today, medium two days later, and on the day we had designated for the expedition… low!  We slapped down ten dollars for our back country permit and took some time to strategize our gear and transportation.  Dry bags, shuttles, and enough food to get me to the moon and back (plus a little extra).

Food find!  The Springdale Candy Company is a cut above your typical country fudge shack.  As a reward for our research and prep, we took critical tastebuds to dried apricots, candied oranges and candied ginger, all covered in lustrous velvety smooth chocolate.  We absolutely could not pick a favorite.

IMG_0726
Quality stuff


Well before dawn, we stumbled and yawned by the light of headlamp about a mile to our shuttle.  It stung us more than a little, but logistics did not allow for the two motorcycle arrangement (the hike is not a loop), so we reserved shuttle seats with the Zion Adventure Company.  With a bit of a shrug, we rented the strongly recommended neoprene socks (to wear with our hiking sandals) and hiking sticks.  The ride to our starting point of Chamberlain Ranch would take an hour and a half, consuming precious daylight, if the shuttle could make it through the slippery mud at all.  If not, no hike for us!

We hit the trail and cautiously dipped toes into the gently flowing stream…  HaHA!  We are INVINCIBLE!  The All Powerful neoprene socks protected us from cold water, sharp rocks, flash floods*... even my pedicure handily survived the assault of 16 miles of toe bashing.  And my hiking stick?   How I HATE YOU.  Must I drag you along for the entire day? I considered abandoning it, and paying a fee for its, um, "loss."

The Narrows Top Down 006
We begin in gently rambling pastureland.  The value of the neoprene socks was made immediately clear. The powers of the hiking stick would be revealed later.

 

In order to find the smoothest route, we crossed the river more times than we could count.  I wonder if the 16 mile estimate takes this into account.

IMGP8811
Not too deep here. Yet.  Even so, I was beginning to suspect that stick was going to make itself useful.  The method? Plant stick against current, stumble, stumble.  Plant stick against current, stumble, stumble.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Approximately 1028 times.


Pretty deep here!  I do believe I was being washed away towards a small but threatening waterfall (not shown). I can thank my hiking partner for photographing the moment.  As you can see, real dry bags are essential equipment.  A zip lock bag is not going to do the job.  We had to swim a number of times.



And after we made our first really deep, really serious, perhaps even a teensy bit scary river crossing?  Oh, hiking stick!  Where have you been all my life?

The Narrows Top Down 106
Bestowing blessings upon the previously despised hiking stick at the end of the day.  We were told that trekking poles would not survive the trip, and when we got to the end of our hike, we believed.
 

I do believe I have never been on a more simultaneously awe-inspiring and heart breaking hike.  This is truly the stuff that defines our American West - grand and wild, and achingly beautiful.  Yet  we had so little time to sit back with mouths agape at the wonder of it all.  As we calculated our progress using landmarks and a timeline, we soon realized that if we continued to hike without stopping we would (hopefully) reach Sinawava Point (the end of the trek and the northern most shuttle stop in the park) around sunset.  Pause to unpack the 2lb (that doesn’t count the lenses!) dSLR camera I had been lugging (not mine), along with the necessary tripod (the low light conditions of a slot canyon really demand one) and we’d be bumbling over that tricky terrain in the dark.  No thanks.

Press on, press on!  And so we did, snapping grainy, blurry photos in the few moments that were not fully occupied with river crossings and unstable footing, using the waterproof camera (also not mine) attached to my pack by a retractable lanyard.  Thank goodness for that!

IMGP8839
Constraints of time, equipment (because we didn’t have time to unpack the drybags that held the good stuff) and light really hampered our ability to capture this spectacular place on film.  This photo comes close, though, which is why it is one of my favorites.



Even though we breezily complete mountain hikes in half the published projected time, this hike humbled us like no other.    Slogging almost the entire 16 miles through a rushing river and over slippery rocks and boulders (there is no actual “trail”) is slow going and hard work.  And, (what luck!), the usually clear water was muddied from the rain in the days before, making all those algae covered stones invisible.  We had to test the depth of the water and find secure footholds for each step by feel using our feet and hiking sticks.   The river flow that day, measured at 81 cfs,*** was enough for me.  We found ourselves neck deep (or swimming) plenty of times and I was, quite frankly, simply washed away by the current more than once.  In the end, we would need every minute of the listed 12 1/2 hours for our journey, and surely would not have emerged before dark without the aid of our hiking sticks.  Although completing this trek in one day felt like a lifetime accomplishment, I don’t recommend it as the best way to appreciate its richness.  If time had allowed, it would have been far better to make use of one of the back country campsites along the way, allowing two full days to explore this magical route.  Next time, (the more I do, the more my “to do” list grows!) I’ll hike in and back out from the south end, covering far fewer miles yet somehow seeing much so much more.   And that would leave me just about enough time to take in Angel's Landing, too, no?


*Okay, “hitched” gives the wrong impression.  The driver of said van was caravaning with me to begin with.
**Not really.
*** Cubic Feet per Second.  Anything under 70 is considered ideal or “easy,” 80 is on the upper end of “mild" (good grief, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t sign up for the “moderate” rating of 100 cfs),  and thru permits (needed to hike “Top-Down,” as we did) are not issued at flows greater than 120 cfs.  The average for the month of August is about 50 cfs.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Daily Special: Spicy Potato Matchsticks

Spicy Potato Sticks 004

Recipe:

1) Decide you will have gnocchi for dinner.  Purchase the wrong type of potato since you haven’t made gnocchi since last winter.  Let the two accidental baking potatoes sit around while you are busy with other things.

2) The potatoes need to be eaten.   You’ve been traveling more than not this month.  There is nothing else in the house to eat.  This potato shall be dinner.  How to best capitalize upon the situation?

3)  Drag out the mandoline slicer with which you sliced off an alarming amount of your finger last year.  Discover you do not have a waffle blade, so figure out how to install the julienne blade, instead.  (This may take several minutes.)

4)  Slice up your potato(es) into delightfully teeny tiny matchsticks, and deep fry them only a small handful at a time, since you can not stomach the thought of using an entire dollar’s worth of oil to cook one potato.  Poke at them with a fork if you want to keep them separated while frying (drying them in a paper towel first helps), but it won’t really work, and they’ll stick to the fork if you poke them immediately after their submersion.  Does it really matter if they come out as a charming birds nest instead of individual sticks?

5) If you can resist the temptation to eat them all as they come out of the pan (impressive!), allow them to drain while you prepare a paste of aromatics (onion, garlic, ginger, shallot, whatever), spices (cumin, chile, coriander, again whatever), and salt. Use your mortar and pestle if you wish to avoid food processor rage.  Or use the mini food processor.  It’s entirely up to you. 

6) Slowly fry this paste in a tablespoon or two (or more, depends on how much paste you’ve got) of oil (yes! more oil! or use leftover from frying the potatoes) until it’s nearly dry and nicely browned.  You can cook the paste and fry the batches of potatoes simultaneously, but you better have your kitchen kung-fu goin’ on, because if you look away from either for more than a few seconds, something is going to burn.  Add your fried potatoes to the cooking paste, gently stir ‘round and mash up the bits of spicy goodness.   Don’t try too hard to get it perfect, because who knows?  Perhaps you’ll be the lucky one to hit the jackpot glob of spiciness in your mouthful of potatoes.

7) Enjoy with a cold beer.  (Do not open the beer until the mandoline slicer is safely put away.  No, really.)  Turn on some Bollywood and pretend you are in Mumbai.

8) Oh, the glorious crunchiness of it all!

Monday, September 19, 2011

What I Did (Later) Last Summer: Part Five (Picking Up Some Loose Ends at Mesa Falls)

Remember my Yellowstone/Tetons ride from 2009?  The one where I couldn't manage a photo because of the violent wind, and where I missed Mesa Falls completely thanks to road construction?  Well I corrected both those omissions on a little weekend ride in Idaho in August 2010.  Here are a few photos.

Hello, Idaho!  Hello, Idaho Potato!



The Tetons as seen from their western side, near Driggs, ID.  Yes, I think this route earns the name "Teton Scenic Byway."  The view was every bit as captivating as in was in 2009, but this time I could stop to take a picture.



Upper Mesa Falls, one of the "two last undisturbed waterfalls of consequence in the US."  Weirdly, I don't think I have a photo of Lower Mesa Falls.


And, because I am a map geek , here's the approximate route.





As for the rest of summer 2010?  Well, I told you about that already.  Last summer.  Of course.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What I Did Last Summer (Hwy 12 Reprise Part Four: Capital Reef and Cafe Diabolo)

In my eternal race to beat the setting sun, I declined a kind invitation for coffee by the Ducati Instigator to head to my next destination.  Even though it was too early in the season to harvest apples, plums, pears, quince, and cherries, wouldn't it be a lovely "Eating of Two Wheels" activity to camp beside an orchard of heritage fruit trees? I must have not been the only one to think so, because there was no vacancy at Capital Reef National Park.  Nada. Still, I couldn’t leave without a short tour of a that glorious place.

This orchard is right next to the campground.  Self serve!

Although just on the other end of Highway 12 from Bryce Canyon  and its hoodoos that remind me of the muddy sand castles I made as a child, Capital Reef looks entirely different. Surely these cliffs are the product of God's giant chisel? And Zion National Park, also just a short ride away, with its swirling waves frozen in time - how is it that these three parks be so close on the map, yet so utterly unique?



I set up an alternative camp at Sunglow Campground,  not far from Cafe Diabolo in Torrey, UT, kitchen of Honda riding chef Gary Pankow, and home of some seriously tall food.

I pilfered this shot from across the dining patio.  A towering skyscraper of... lamb?


 
Rattlesnake cakes with three sauces?  Delicious!

The pumpkin seed trout had entirely too much going on for one plate.  If you could eat plaid, this was it.


Next time I’m in the neighborhood, I look forward to trying  Hell’s Backbone Grill, delightfully located on Highway 12 in Boulder, UT.  I’ve ridden by it at least four times over the years and have been mysteriously oblivious to its existence each time.  I only recently just heard of it, and it looks very promising.   My “Next Year, Next Year" list continues to grow faster than my backlog of blog posts.



Back to camp, where I chatted with quirky postcard photographer Mark Smith, and on home the next morning.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What I Did Last Summer (Utah Scenic Highway 12 Reprise Part Three: A Fateful Meeting at Calf Creek Falls)

Now that the dust has cleared from the meteor called August* that smashed into my life, I can continue with this little series on Summer 2010.  (Actually, September is a meteor of another sort, but one of my own design, so at least I could prepare for it. Which isn't meant to imply I was ready for it.)

ANYWAY…

June in Utah can be… cold.  It was so cold the night before in Bryce Canyon I couldn’t sleep.  And while I can usually count on the wrestling, struggling, swearing and panting required to get my sleeping bag into its dry bag to warm me up, it was too cold even for that to be effective.  I was nearly beaten by that daily athletic event, yet my teeth were still chattering.  Breaking camp and loading up that shivery morning wasn’t the highlight of my trip, but even so, as I rode out of the park, I wasn’t sure if the tears stinging my eyes were solely from the weather.  How lucky I am to be here, in these wonderful places, doing what I love to do!

Good morning, Highway 12!  Special Bonus: I had time for the short hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls. This would serve me well, as you will soon see.

I love these stripey rock walls.


Not quite three miles in and Lo!  Lower Calf Creek Falls appear!







The falls in all their glory.  Next year, next year… the upper falls, from a shorter but more difficult trail.

A friendly hiker at the falls noticed my awkward attempts at a self portrait and offered to take my photo.  We hiked back to the parking area together, and I learned that he too, was a motorcyclist.  Do you remember, back in 2009, the day I fell in love with the Ducati 696?  Not only faster than my Kawi, but lower and lighter, too.  Sadly, I never did find that extra $10,000+ under the couch cushions, and had ruled it out as an impossibility.  But fate, in her mysterious ways, would put this unsuspecting starving artist in the saddle of shiny new bike before summer's end.  A few weeks later, this friendly hiker (who would later become my Most Excellent Tour Guide)** would search for and post a Craig’s List ad for a practically brand new Ducati (but, remarkably, in the same solar system as my budget - Pluto to be sure, but still the same solar system) on my Facebook Wall.  Thanks to this chance meeting on the trail, in little over a month’s time I’d be the proud owner of my “little pony.”  Who knew?

*Pack and move home from UT, dead car leaves me stranded in UT, ridiculous alternate transport home to Tucson, job goes wonky, find affordable reliable new-to-me-used car (Hah!), beloved doggie moves on to greener pastures… I think that’s plenty for one month!
** My METG took me on a most unexpected tour last week, the description of which is approximately fifth in the line of blogposts held up on the runway.