Tuesday, February 21, 2012

You Can Lead a Burro to Water… But Will it Swim? (Ironwood Forest National Monument)

Per my prior kvetching, there’s not much opportunity for riding this time of year, even if the weather couldn’t be better.    I’ve been plagued with (or blessed, depending) not just with a heavy work load, but a dead battery or two here, flooded carb there, flat rear tire, insomnia… all of which have conspired to keep me from even the short rides that I wouldn’t consider newsworthy.  So the Ducati has been languishing under its cover, while the Yamaha’s wheels took up a lengthy residence in the trunk of my car.

You know, I don’t trust that Yamaha one bit. I put both wheels back on (after taking them off, of course, for some re-shoeing) and the job did not require one swear word. I was sure something must have gone terribly, terribly wrong, I just didn’t know it yet, because that simply is not the way I roll, in regards to mechanical repairs.  You haven’t finished the job if you haven’t had to throw a tool at least once.

This week I did get out a bit, and decided to give the newly-shod burro a test ride through little known and undeveloped Ironwood Forest National Monument.  There’s a 23 mile rocky, rutted, dippy turny dirt road that loops through the incredible scenery and it seemed like just the thing.  (It seemed a bit less like just the thing after three people warned me of the violent drug smuggling crime there, and that the area was sans-cell-service, so at that point I reminded myself if I had any question as to the route, or felt like I was getting in at all over my head, technically speaking, I could and would turn around sooner rather than later.  Not quite the best place to get stranded, yanno?)

Ironwood Forest National Monument Map
Avra Valley Road, Silverbell Road, Sasco Road

But I happily putted along, at my inexperienced off-road pace, meeting my little challenges successfully and without undue concern.  A few “mogul” fields (which for me, consist of about 3), some areas rough enough for bucking burro moments, steep blind dips into dry washes lined with loose rocks…. that sort of thing.  It was beautiful and green, full of happy desert plant life, with curious mountains and rocks left and right (including a great view of Ragged Top Mountain, whose craggy jagged silhouette never fails to take my eyes off the road when it I see it from afar on I-10), yet I didn’t stop to take one photo. I just didn’t feel like it, and my current burro packing system is not at all convenient as far as accessing anything but water goes (HAH!*), so I justified my laziness by telling myself that perhaps it was best not to stop in what is considered a dangerous area, anyway (didn’t see a soul for the first 21 of  the 23 dirt miles).  It was simply one of those days when I wanted to enjoy the ride and the surroundings in a simpler fashion.

I was almost back to the safety of asphalt, in a relatively civilized area, with other travelers here and there,  when I came across an obstacle one simply doesn’t expect ‘round these parts…

XT225 Meets the Mighty Santa Cruz River
The Li'l Burro meets the Mighty Santa Cruz! 

Yes! Yes I did!  And no, remarkably, I didn’t**!
Lil’ adventure for a Li’l Burro.

*Turns out my current packing system is a bad one. I was warned that luggage doesn’t stay put when riding off road, so I diligently strapped my Camelbak down, tying it directly to the grab rails, before topping it all off with a bungee net.  Guess those bucking bronco moments were enough to launch the entire reservoir out from inside of the secured pack to who-knows-where.  I’m glad I didn’t know I had lost all my water (and ability to carry it) until I was almost home. That’s scary stuff out here.  Time to buy a new reservoir, and to start appropriately outfitting “Eeyore.”

** Didn’t hurt that two Italian tourists were contemplating crossing in their little car at the same time, and when asked if they’d help me haul my bike out of the river if things went wrong replied, “Maybe.”   We saw a 4x4 plow through, so I knew, at least literally, I wouldn’t be in over my head.  The trick of it, of course, is that you can’t see and avoid any potential obstacles in your path.  And you certainly don’t want to find yourself so deep that your bike starts inhaling water instead of air.  One of the Italian tourists videotaped my success, and as always, these things always look utterly unimpressive on tape.  So I’ll leave the execution of the escapade to your imagination!  The tourists... well, they turned around.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Didn’t Do It.

For months, I’ve had a bucket-list-war-room map, covered with sticky notes, hanging on the wall.  I was hoping to take a sabbatical leave from my summer job this year and do some serious touring.  Finally visit all those “next year, next year…” destinations, do all those “next year, next year…” things.  I’ve heard the call of so many alluring places, without so much as pulling over for a look-see, for eight years going on nine now, always promising myself that “next year” I would find the time to see them.  Enough! This year is next year.  With my one day off a month work schedule of late *(and much of it not the sort of work I love) I thought hanging the map on the wall would give me something to look forward to.  A light.

I almost did it.
I almost took the map down.

I almost said it.  “Maybe next year…”


2011 was the year of expensive unexpected expenses.  $1200 in plumbing here.  A $1300 car repair there.  Replacing said newly repaired car (I had a little – make that a lot – of help with that one, thankfully).  $1000 in vet bills here.  $1000 in unplanned housing expenses there. Travel expenses for failed job searches… You get the picture.  And it wouldn’t be fair not to admit I have only myself to blame for a certain additional expenditure.  I don’t regret it, but it didn’t do much for the bottom line.* *

Summers present an income challenge for most classical musicians.  Work is hard to come by, and what work there is usually does not pay anything close to industry standard wages.  So we do our best to pad the bank account during the busy season, grab what scraps of employment we can during the summer, and hope by the time the money starts coming in for real (relatively speaking) in October, we’re not living on the street.  Thanks to all the, uh, excitement 2011 brought me, I’ll be entering summer 2012 with the smallest safety net ever.   So yeah,  you can understand why I soon realized turning this year into the mythical “next year” was pretty delusional.  If nothing else, you can generally count on me to do the responsible thing.  The right thing.  Sometimes, I really, really hate that.

So this time I didn’t. Take the map down.  A funny thing happened instead.

The same week I received the annual initial inquiry from my summer employer (“Are you coming?”), we played a special concert here at home.  It’s the 100th anniversary of Arizona’s statehood this month and to celebrate, the Tucson and Phoenix symphonies jointly commissioned a new piece of “symphonic photochoreography” to accompany our performances of Grofé’s “Grand Canyon Suite.”  After one of the rehearsals, the orchestra musicians got a chance to see this spectacular slide show for themselves.

My heart twisted with grief. I missed my motorcycle.  I was almost ill.

So I didn’t do it.  And, as a result, starting June 7…  I’m doing it!***

Motorcycle Touring Map
The war room map.  I made a bit of a compromise,*** so I won't hit all the sticky notes originally planned, but I think I can still get plenty of miles in.  Feel free to send me a nice little netbook, so I can report on my progress in a timely manner.  Thanks!

 * Happy exception last October, which I still haven’t told you about.  I swear I’ll get to it soon!
**All my complaining and drama aside, I am amazed at and grateful for how well I (along with most of the musicians I know) seem to be able to live on so little.  It’s a matter of careful choices, priorities, willingness to work hard when opportunity presents, flexibility, thrift, and much ingenuity.  Lucky, I am.  I try hard not to forget that.
*** Compromise: I’ll be having a “half-bucket list” summer.  I’ll still work in Utah, but I’ve arranged, for one year, to shave a number of weeks (and dollars) off my seasonal stay.  I should have almost a month of Ducati touring time before showing up to my first rehearsal. And since my schedule will be unusually light while I am there, I’ll get to tap into the almost endless new-to-me local off-road exploring on my "Li’l Burro” once I arrive. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Good-Tempered Valentine’s Day (Chocolate Bonbons)

When the soufflé of life disappointingly deflates and it seems no one’s got your back, well… what girl doesn’t turn to chocolate?  I take comfort that in an uncertain world, the crystalline structure of chocolate will, if carefully heated, cooled, and heated again to exacting temperatures,* reliably return to its subtly lustrous yet cheerfully snappy state.

Quince Hearts and Nutella Hazelnut Bon Bons
Chocolate dipped quince hearts, hazelnut Nutella bonbons.

Life’s grandest adventure is found not on the open road, but within the mysterious alcoves of the heart.  This Valentine’s Day, let your own heart rise to its challenges.   What’s the worst that could happen?

* There are several ways to temper or encourage “Type V” crystal formation in chocolate, but the most sensuous and beguiling (although also the trickiest) is to pour a portion of 115F degree melted dark chocolate onto a marble slab, work it until its temperature drops to 80F, then add it back to the pot and gently seek a final temp of 90F.  If you have the technology to plug your electric vest into a wall outlet, it’s a fine tool to keep the chocolate at this temperature while you work with it.  Failing that, bring your appropriately wired motorcycle into the kitchen.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mission Not So Very Impossible At All (CSA Harvest)

My local Community Supported Agriculture group invited me to write a small article in their weekly newsletter detailing how I used my most recent produce haul.  I thought I’d share it with you, too.

The mission? (I joyously accept!) Turn a bicycle basket of produce into 14 days of sustenance.

The resources at hand?

CSA Produce Share
Belgian Endive, Broccoli, Beets, Collard Greens, Endive, Dill, Fennel, Purple Cabbage.

I have 14 days to complete the task.  (Since I am generally the sole diner at my table,  my weekly pick up lasts me two.  I alternate shares with a friend.)

In the maddening annual scheduling mishap that is the month of February, the heartbreakingly beautiful weather arrives simultaneously with the bumper crop of work we symphony musicians depend upon to finance our leaner months.  Since it’s all I can do to keep up with the notes that arrive with alarming rapidity on my music stand, cooking becomes a call for efficiency. The days of experimentation and creativity are temporarily set aside.  Now is the time to draw upon trusted standards and the contents of my freezer.

I find it a wise investment of time to wash, trim and ogle the entire harvest as soon as it enters my front door.  When you’re racing to get to work by 7pm, you’ll feel quite clever indeed having already checked one task between you and dinner off the list.  Besides, it all fits into the fridge more easily in tidy little packages, the chickens next door enjoy the windfall of trimmings, and even my plants benefit from the leftover bowls of greens washing water.

This week’s delights were dispatched thusly:

Belgian Endive:  Steamed briefly, wrapped in ham, napped with a Sauce Mornay (kitchen-ese for that cheesy saucy goodness one puts on homemade mac ‘n cheese) and run  under the broiler.  If you’ve got your kitchen kung-fu going strong, you can make (and eat) this in 30 minutes.

Purple Cabbage: Great piles of Asian slaw at the ready (toss shredded cabbage with a what’s-in-the-fridge version of Asian dressing:  peanut oil, rice wine vinegar, hot sauce, soy, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds) make a meal when consumed with sandwiches, soup, or the potstickers made and stashed in the aforementioned freezer some weeks ago.

Escarole: Salade Lyonnaise, non?  This biting green is perfectly complemented by the richness of bacon and eggs.  Toss the escarole with warm bacon pieces and a mustardy vinaigrette (make it right in that bacon pan!), top each portion with a poached egg.

Collard and Beet Greens:  Wilt the entire lot of it at once and toss it with lots olive oil, chile flakes and raw mashed garlic. (Dirty Little Secret: I pureé four heads at a time, freeze it, and shave the amount I need off the brick with a paring knife.)  Prepared as such, it’s the foundation of two of my favorite quick meal standards:  pasta, greens and beans (the parmesan goes, I hope, without saying) or heaped atop a cheese melt sandwich.

Broccoli: a simple soup made in the off hours is – ding! – reheated in an instant.  Some serves to replenish the freezer.

Dill:  One big handful in a loaf of no-knead, no effort bread, the other handful in a dill garlic yogurt dip.

Beets: Roasted while the no-knead, no-effort bread was in the oven.  Plunged directly into that garlic dill yogurt dip, leaving a pink streaky sunrise in the bowl.

Fennel: still pending.  I’d like to try candying thin slices, but my schedule will likely insist I mound those thin slices atop a piece of salmon, wrap the lot in foil and bake.  The chopped fronds will find their way into that Sicilian classic: pasta with finnochio, sardines, pinenuts and raisins.  Strange but true.

Over a week to spare, and the refrigerator is stocked with mighty meals!  Mission accomplished, thank you very much!