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 - 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?


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.

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.

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!

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.