Sunday, June 28, 2015

Touring: Why We Do It

(Annual Migration 2015…. errr, Return Migration 2013)

The pain of this year’s Annual Migration can be summed up in one photo.

Delta Flight

Even worse, not one of my motorcycles is here in Utah with me. (Yet.)

So, I’ll sit and dream for a bit, I guess.

To date, I’ve been reluctant to pay tribute to heart-lifting exuberance, the melancholy sweetness, the humbling wonder that is motorcycle touring, because, frankly, I’m not equipped to do so. The lonely open road? The wind through your... helmet?  The majesty of the American West?  These phrases are both terribly trite and painfully insufficient.  Why do I ride for hundreds of miles a day, often in heat, cold, rain, and discomfort, anyway?  For my Annual Return Migration, 2013, Pilot Guy followed me home in my Fearsome Toyota.  Turns out he wasn’t just driving, but snapping photos of me, too.  Elusive words, you fail me! This! This! These photos say everything I can not.

Ducati El Capitan Agathla Peak Kayenta AZ
El Capitan/Agathla Peak, near Kayenta, AZ

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sonoran Reina de la Noche (Consolation Prize No. 2)

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

If you saw last post, you know I’ve decided to spend my usual spring motorcycle play time in a voluntary musical incarceration*.  My consolation prize?  Bacon.

This weekend, the Sonoran Desert brought me a second consolation prize. I’ve lived in Tucson for enough years to lose count, and I’ve never witnessed “Bloom Night.”  I’ve simply always skipped town by the then**.

Peniocereus greggii, a type of night blooming cereus, looks like a dead scrappy twig for 364.5 days of the year***.  But after sundown, on one sole, mysterious, synchronous, meta-bloom**** noche, she is the Sonoran Queen of the Night.    Somehow, all the plants in the area know…. tonight’s the night!  Her goal? To be pollinated by the Hawk Moth. Oh, sweet signal-scent, filling the night!  Oh, secretive and wondrous desert!

No one knows how she knows… and I have no idea how the staff at Tohono Chul, keeper of the largest collection of these special cacti, knows when to declare Bloom Night. But they do, and send a silent call through the air*****, a bit like the flowers themselves, just a few hours before the first petals begin to open. Hundreds of people cancel their plans and flock to the gardens to witness the event. And, finally, I was one of them.

Because of the crowds, getting good photographs of the event is nearly as tricky as photographing sun beams in Antelope Canyon (oops, haven’t published that one yet!).  I did manage a few though, so you wouldn't be stuck scratching your head over the silly painting shown above.  Here's a slideshow of the real thing.  Enjoy!

*It seemed like a good idea at the time?
** Not a bad plan. It’s supposed to be 109F here all week.
***I recently learned that underneath those gangly awkward twigs, lies a large turnip type root. My first question, “Can you eat it?,” remains unanswered.
****My neighbor's phrase.
****Email. Get on their list.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

When Time is on Your Side, Bacon (and other things) Happen

I’ve voluntarily given up my annual spring motorcycle camping trip in favor of solitary confinement to a practice room.   No winding my way northward with Li'l Burro on the Utah Backcountry Discovery route, nor overshooting my migration destination with the Ducati, perhaps finally exploring Bear Highway in Montana, no, no, not me.* But as small consolation, I’ve found much can happen in my kitchen, while I’m in the next room practicing the flute.

It all started this winter, when I scored almost two gallons of fresh, raw milk from our CSA.
Heat and culture the milk, then go examine at length the difficulties of keeping your 5ths and 3rds in tune in E-Flat major.  Milk magic happens on its own.

Add some rennet, then enjoy G Major as a reward.

Cut the curds, drain the whey, press the curds, and go work on the crazy technique you learned back in NYC.

After several days of drying, turning, and brining, you’ve got Bach’s Brandenburg 4 in your pocket, and a nice block of Eating On Two Wheels Greek Style Cheese. (That’s feta, to you and me.)

Fermenting vegetables is even easier. Sprinkle them liberally with salt or brine them, weight them so they stay below the surface of their liquid, step back, and allow the local population of microbes do the work for you.  By the time you’ve re-learned the Stravinsky part you haven’t looked at in a decade, which, admittedly, takes a few days,  you’ll have a spicy radish and root kimchi.  Or curtido, that lightly fermented El Salvadoran slaw one simply must have along side a pupusa.

Operation Curtido Test.  The fancy set up in the photo is wholly unnecessary, but I was only too happy to receive this little birthday gift.

Unlike canning, from which, if you don’t follow the directions exactly, you just might experience the neurotoxic paralysis of botulinum, albeit with a particularly youthful facial complexion, when fermenting, the good guys always win!

Then there’s the adorable little “ginger bug,” a siren song for wild yeasts everywhere.  She’ll be the starter for a half gallon of ginger beer in a day or two.

People, please. I know it’s a hack job, but you get my point. I’ve no time for Photoshop, only time for bacon.

I don’t (yet!) have a temperature and humidity controlled space for fermenting, oh, say, salame (yes!!), but… look what I can do!

Take the Community Supported Agriculture humanely raised pork belly out of your freezer.  Carefully** measure out some curing salts and seasonings, lovingly rub that belly with the mixture, and let it rest comfortably in the fridge.  Don’t come out until you can play the tricky bits from Strauss’s Rosenkavalier.  There are a lot of tricky bits.

Take the belly out, drop it in your good neighbor’s smoker, go practice for a couple more hours, and…

Ding! Practice break!  If you are anything like me, the rest of the story will proceed along these lines:

The delicious smell wafting towards me sparks a wild kitchen circle dance, carving knife held high in the air.  But it’s difficult to slice meat whilst leaping around, so gaining control of my hysteria is paramount. I cut a slice, then reverently lower my weapon.  “Sweet Baby Jesus,” I whisper to myself.  “Bacon happened.”

No good can come of this newly discovered culinary superpower.

But there is still one thing left to do...

Sizzle. <taps watch> Sizzle.

Blessed be the steady supply of Grandpa-Good tomatoes at the Santa Cruz River Farmers' Market

Although it may appear otherwise, I do still ride motorcycles. This picture is not from today’s ride, when, after flying by the Sheriff at twice the speed limit, I sat up quickly, hoping to look like an innocent mushroom hunter***, but from a Kitt Peak ride back in March. Thanks to the good "Olive and Emilie", who I met at the top, for the photo!

Milk - The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages, Anne Mendelson: I checked this one out of the library years ago, and have wanted my own copy ever since. I finally plunked down real money for it, and, more importantly, allotted it space on my very small bookshelf this winter. Fascinating information, some recipes, and interesting little kitchen experiments, too.
Dry-Curing Pork, Hector Kent: A purely self-serving gift from Pilot Guy. Clear explanations regarding both “how” and “why.”  I expect to put this book to heavy use.  Features photos of cheerfully smiling people wielding butchering knives in a field.
The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation, both by Sandor Ellix Katz, aka “Sandorkraut”: The former is an absolute Bible, or “in-depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world,” the latter a small book focusing on actual recipes. I absolutely love this guy, and his philosophy on food, life, and community.  Visit him and a useful support forum online.

*Prepare for neglect, dear flute, because August, you are mine!
**This is no time for eyeballing it, because, if you goof, you’ll stand a chance of enjoying either nitrite toxicity or botulism.  Get yourself an accurate gram scale, if you don’t already have one from, uhhh, other pursuits.  I didn’t trust my aging kitchen scale, but Pilot Guy’s mad scientist laboratory includes, among other things, a three foot wide photo printer, a 3D printer, and a scale once owned by the former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner.  I’m pretty sure that means it’s good for these purposes, too, so long as all traces of plutonium have been removed.
***I came up empty on the mushroom hunt, although I only allowed myself a ten minute foray at one favorite spot. But – rain in June, twice?? – it’s unheard of. The season is off to an early start!  Regarding the sheriff, I guess he was texting. Useful Lemmon Tip: Once you know where he is, you know where he isn’t.  Yeeee-HA!