Post # 268 Another Bucket of Water

June 30, 2014 at 2:33 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 268 Another Bucket of Water

Water is the staff of life.  I’ve said this before, in various words, a whole bunch of times.  About a decade ago, I was a member of Toastmasters through the company I worked for.  For those who don’t know, Toastmasters is an organization that teaches its members how to speak in public via small group settings and larger speaking competitions.  One of the speeches I gave was about water and I spoke for nearly ten minutes about it.  Growing up in the desert made me very aware of water and the individual’s responsibility towards wasting it.  Lessons I took with me in all my wanderings.

water drop

Several days ago, I heard on the news that my city is one of the top cities in the nations for water conservation, and one of the lowest for per capita consumption.  Here in Tucson, per person, we use only 90 gallons of water a day.  That figure includes the baths and showers, the dishwashers, the clothes washers, the bathroom flushes, the water in the kitchen for coffee pots, tea pots, cooking, rinsing dishes, as well as outside use, water plants, filling ponds and pools, keeping water features from drying out, washing cars, and all the other fun things we have to do.  90 gallons per day per person is amazing.  I felt a certain amount of pride that I’m part of that effort.

I was talking to a friend recently as were driving somewhere in the city and I noticed a new fast food restaurant being built.  I saw the lot grading and how there seemed to be a moat around it.  He told me that there was a city ordinance that all new business development had to keep the water from doing into the street.  He said it does no one any good running through the streets to the drains.  However, it will lower maintenance costs for businesses if water is harvested and used for that business’s landscaping.  They don’t have to use as much city water in the long run.

Water harvesting in the desert is a constant topic of debate.  Some people feel very responsible for it and others don’t.  To be truly successful, it has to be everybody’s effort or the effort is wasted.  I lived in this city a long time ago when I went to college.  This was in the years before the major water crisis facing all the desert southwest states.  When it rained, I could count the number of  minutes before the sirens started sounding on the emergency vehicles.  The roadways would get slippery from the oil the rain brought to the surface but didn’t have a chance to wash away.  Underpasses and dips would fill with water, stranding motorists and sometimes walkers.  Dry washes would suddenly fill with water and mud causing all kinds of damage to property and roadways.  Now, slightly over thirty years later, the city has adopted a long range plan not only to harvest that water into catchment basins, but to minimize the “traps” for drivers and pedestrians.  Even the roadway surfaces have changed and are changing so the materials sluice the water away more quickly, and the materials themselves provide traction rather than become slippery.

The city is also harvesting water through their street design.  They’ve changed many of the residential intersections to traffic circles that are mini parks designed to break water flow and divert the flow either to the yards for harvesting or to catch basins for harvesting.  The city also provides rebates for home owners who proactively design their yards for water harvesting, and install water collection systems.  We have both of those (one is called passive, the other is called active) through our landscaping and plant choice, and our gutter system that drains into HUGE collection barrels.  We use the water collected from the roof and gutter system to water the grapefruit tree.  In the front yard, we have two very large berms to keep all the water away from the street and in the yard.  The gutters in the front point directly into the yard.  The gutters in the back empty into the barrels.  The backyard is sloped to keep the water out of the alley, and to keep the alley water out of the yard (it can be really nasty stuff.)

So with all this water harvesting going on, where is the water that’s being harvested?

water dry wash

There it is!  That’s a picture of a “river” in the desert.  It’s actually called an arroyo, or dry wash.  What happens is when those clouds release their moisture, those mountains in the distance help collect and direct the water into these arroyos.  The water quickly (very quickly) washes through these dry washes on their way to wherever the lowest point is, a lake, a river, or sometimes even the ocean.  It’s those clouds that the water all comes from.  We’re entering the monsoon season now here.  It brings higher humidity, rain fall in the mountains, and sometimes, if the storm is strong enough, torrential downpours here in the city.  When the rain is just right, we’ll fill our two 800 gallon barrels in about thirty minutes.

One of the ways that I’ve chose to conserve water is to switch to container gardening.  All my plants are in pots, or baskets, or raised beds.  Last year, I planted my garden directly in the ground and wasted a ton of water making certain the ground was saturated.  Now, I make sure the limited area inside the pots and baskets and beds are saturated and I can control the amount of water the plants are getting better.  My plants are all happy, too.  Blossoms all year long.  Another thing we did to conserve, we switched over to drought tolerant plants, and got rid of plants that are water dogs.  This year, I had one tomato plant, and I used that one simply to grab a ripe warm tomato while doing the yard work.  I also planted so the sun tolerant plants got the sun they wanted and the shade tolerant plants got the shade they wanted.  I also moved pots and baskets around so that the water that ran off baskets fell onto the pots below so water wasn’t wasted.  Again, blossoms all year round.

I don’t mind managing water.  It makes me feel a little like Luke Skywalker managing his ‘vaporators on Tatooine.  However, the landscape of my dreams always involves a lake or river of some kind.

water log cabin


Post # 267 Trail Mixing It Up

June 27, 2014 at 5:41 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Okay, short quiz here.  How many people who are reading this know that I like to hike?  If you’ve paid any attention to this blog over the last two years, you’ll know the answer is YES!!  One of my earliest memories is from when we lived in South Carolina while my dad was in the Marines.  We went on a family camping trip and slept in a pop up tent trailer.  The things that I recall most vividly are the trees were so tall; we got to eat cereal out of little boxes that opened up and became the bowls to put the milk in; there was a stream nearby that I would float down on a blow up mattress; and we got a brand new whiffle ball set that no one seemed interested in using and from which the ball disappeared almost immediately.

I like hiking and camping.  It’s sort of a family trait.  Everyone in my family likes the outdoors and moving around in it.  One topic that continually comes up is food on the trail.  At one time, I was steeped in the most up-to-date info about food on the trail.  I had (and still have) a food dehydrator.  I had a water purifier so I wouldn’t get sick on the trail.  I had three different pack stoves for various types of uses.  I knew how to sprout seeds on the trail to have fresh vegetables.

I have a friend in Virginia.  He’s quite a bit younger than me, and when we first met back in the 90’s he was in the Army.  He also liked to go hiking and get out into nature and see the kinds of things that I had seen around us.  We would spend hours getting “lost” on a trail in the middle of a city in a state park.  I’d be pointing out this plant was edible, or that plant could be turned into a salad, or that tree’s leaves were good to line a fire pit to steam fish.  He once joked that going hiking with me was more like going to the grocery store.

As we all grew older and wiser, the tenor of our trips changed a bit.  The food became more gourmet rather than Spartan.  Wine started featuring on the menu alongside cheese and fresh fruit.  Dehydrated foods and energy bars started disappearing while whole eggs, and fresh lettuce, and frozen but thawed choice cut meats became the norm.  “Car camping” evolved into the standard so the camping equipment changed.  I never had one, but a friend once had a margarita mixer that ran off the car’s power plug.  I’ve also heard rumors about mini fridges, microwave ovens, and that kind of thing.

Another guy I knew in Virginia came in to work one day talking about a hike he and his uncle had taken that weekend.  The hike they’d done was in Shenandoah National Park and is probably the most popular hike in the area.  It has spectacular views, plenty of woodsy shade, a natural staircase to make the climbing easier, and on any given day you’ll meet about 600 of your closest friends on the hike up and down.  It really gets so crowded that sometimes during the hike, the sight you’ll see most is the back of the person in front of you.  Most people reach the top of the mountain, look at the views for a few minutes, then head back down.  My friend and his uncle walked about 700 feet away from the main area, plopped themselves down on a boulder under a tree, nestled into the carpet of old pine needles, opened their packs.  My friend broke out a bottle of chilled wine and a plastic glass while his uncle pulled out a six pack of beer.  His uncle had frozen the beer the night before counting on it to thaw out on the hike.  He popped one open and slugged down a frosty cold beer while my friend enjoyed his wine.  They also ate crackers and cheese to the dumbfounded looks of the crowd.  My friend told me he could tell the pervading thought was “Why didn’t we think of that?”  Strictly speaking, alcohol is not allowed in National parks, and usually not in state parks either.  But they were on top of a mountain on a hot day with no rangers in sight.  They enjoyed themselves.  As my friend said, it was a lot easier going down than climbing up.

I was telling my sister that story the other night and she shared a similar one.  She and several people had gone on a rigorous hike here in Arizona in a mountainous area.  Mountain hikes here are different than mountain hikes almost anywhere else.  The desert never leaves the mountains, and the trails can be just as dusty and rocky as the desert floor.  One time, they were hiking a challenging trail and stopped for a rest.  They broke out the wine and only half a glass into their rest stop, it started to rain.  Rain in this area is not unheard of, but it also started to hail.  Large balls of frozen water started pelting them.  They looked around and found a rock shelf to hide under while they continued drinking wine.  After about ten minutes, the hail stopped and they packed up and continued their hike.  They found a sign at the start of the trail which they’d missed.  It gave the name of the trail and it’s length, difficulty, etc.  It was called The Hail Trail.  As they were reading it, several people came rushing up clamoring about being caught in the hail.  “How did you guys do?  We were caught right out in the open!”  My sister and her friends just shrugged their shoulders.  “We hid under a rock shelf and finished our wine.”

Years ago, as the age evolution set in, my sister and her friends started packing along the necessities of life.  They had to buy the equipment one piece at a time as finances allowed and they were thrilled when they bought their little espresso machine for their Coleman gas grill.  They planned their trip meticulously and looked forward to their morning coffee.  Problem was, when it came time for the coffee, their little espresso maker made a tiny cup of espresso, on at a time.  And they didn’t think to bring along any other coffee maker.  So they made one cup and shared it with everyone getting a small sip.  They kept making espresso one little cup at a time until everyone had had enough.

One time, a friend of theirs came along who didn’t ordinarily go camping and hiking with them.  He was unfamiliar with the routine, so he brought along the foods he usually took.  He had not hit the “evolving” stage.  He had a lot of freeze dried packages of soup and rice and things you wouldn’t ordinarily eat.  The first night, he made himself a pot full of freeze dried chili and corn chips.  The rest had chicken kiev done on the campfire.  The second night he abandoned his menu and ate along with the rest with lentil soup and flour tortillas.  The third night, when he had downed his second glass of wine from the box and was checking the veggies that were roasting in a hole under the embers, he looked at the rest of the people and said, “I don’t eat this well when I’m at home!”

My friend from the Army and I went out one day in January to hike to an overlook I knew about that he’d never seen.  Knowing it was cold, I packed along a surprise for us.  While hiking, I told him about when my sister and her friends first started their hiking food evolution.  They had done a day hike to the top of a mountain to see an overlook similar to what we were doing.  When they arrived, they spread out a large towel and arranged several small platters of cheese, crackers, and fruit along with a bottle of wine.  They were relaxing and enjoying themselves when two younger girls showed up from a different direction.  The two girls took in the sight of the wine and cheese and grapes and said, “Man!  All we have are Clif bars and water!”  They didn’t stick around for long.

My friend and I chuckled over that as we trudged through the snow.  We arrived at our overlook and he was suitably impressed.  I pointed out a couple of other places where he could get different views and while he wandered off, I set up our surprise.  I had recently received a new camp stove so I set it up and soon had a pan of water getting to the boiling stage.  I took out two large mugs and filled them partway with homemade hot chocolate mix.  Then I set out a small plate piled high with homemade chocolate chip cookies.  When my friend stepped back onto the rock we were set up at, he stopped short and looked at me.

“Hungry?  Hope you like hot chocolate.”  I poured the now boiling water into the mugs and stirred them up.  “Help yourself.”

Shaking his head, he said, “Only you could come up with something like this on top of a mountain in winter.”

I thought back to all the people I know who’ve hiked and camped and the creative ways they had of doing food on the trail.  “Probably not.” I said.


Post # 266 A Sandwich Not From Cuba?, Maybe

June 25, 2014 at 11:09 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

“What did you get?” my friend asked as I sat down, brushing away some of his peanut shells.  We were at one of my favorite hamburger places.  Not a fast food joint, but it served it’s fresh made food fast and hot.  And everything was made from fresh ingredients with no fillers or chemicals.  They even posted on a sign about where the potatoes came from they made their fries (fresh to order!) everyday.

“I got a double with extra cheese, mustard, and extra pickles.” I replied.  I like a good burger with a tangy kick.

He chuckled and shook his head.  “It’s impossible that you don’t like a Cuban sandwich.” he said.

“What’s that?”  I was puzzled, never having heard of that sandwich before.

“Really?  You don’t know?  A cook like you?”

My mouth was full of hamburger and fixings so I just shook my head.  There’s nothing like that first bite of burger when it’s hot and fresh and full of things you like.

“I’ll have to make you one sometime.  Next time you make a pork roast, let me know.  I’ll use the leftover to make us a Cuban sandwich.”

I reach for a fry, nearly but not quite burning my fingers they were so fresh.  “What’s in it?”

“It’s a grilled sandwich with ham, roast pork, swiss cheese, dill pickles, mustard.  It’s really very good.  It’s basically the same kind of sandwich you’re eating now.”

I glanced at my burger.  Yup, meat, cheese, mustard, dill pickles.  It all fit.  And it sounded pretty good.

“I’ve got a pork roast in the freezer.  Wanna do this tomorrow?”

He grinned through his beard.  “Sure.  Let’s say around 4.”

“Want me to bring anything else?  Chips?  Dip?  Wine?”

He waved away all offers.  “I’ll take care of everything else.  Just bring the roast pork, seasoned well.”

We both turned back to our lunch burgers and fries.

A traditional Cuban sandwich, I found out,  consists of Cuban bread, roasted pork slices, swiss cheese, thinly sliced ham, yellow mustard, and dill pickles grilled in a press.  The bread is halved and the ingredients are layered inside.  Sometimes mayonnaise is added.  My friend didn’t have a press.

“I just use a heavy brick wrapped in foil,” he said.  “Then I put a heavy skillet on top.”

The sandwich is grilled 2-3 minutes each side until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted and brown.  It’s delicious!

cuban sandwich

I found out that the brick/skillet solution to the standard sandwich press is actually not only well-known, but is almost the traditional way to make this sandwich since it helps to flatten the bread to keep the sandwich together.

Like many foods, the origin of the sandwich is debatable.   It first became very well known about a hundred years ago in Florida among the Cuban community, sugar worker and cigar makers.  It was a quick evening snack, originally.  The ingredients are pretty standard, and the sandwich in this form is found in Cuban communities all over the country.  That tells me that the sandwich originated in Cuba rather than Florida.  But it’s not worth a huge debate.  There are some minor differences from area to area.  Some places add salami; some places shred the pork rather than slice it; some places use french or italian sandwich rolls.  But the primary ingredient is always roast pork.

When I ate my first one at my friend’s house, we ate potato chips and canned baked beans on the side.  He told me these were pretty standard, along with cole slaw.  I don’t like cole slaw and he knew that.  Over the next several years, before I moved from that area, we enjoyed the Cuban sandwich, or Cubano, as it’s sometimes called (also mixto) several more times.  It’s a very good meal.  Partner/Spouse has made it once or twice, as well.


Post # 265 Flour Power

June 23, 2014 at 12:55 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 265 Flour Power

I’ve written about flour before, but I had a day this weekend that was all about flour.

First, though, I need to let you know what happened last week.  I had a family crisis which needed my presence on the other side of the state.  I wasn’t able to take anything but my tablet computer with me and although the hotel promised internet connection, it didn’t happen.  Once we returned home, I was tired and there was still a lot of work at home to do.  So I concentrated on that rather than on the blog.  In the upcoming weeks, there may be times when I have to run across the state for a day or two and the blog may suffer for it.  I’ll apologize now and put it to rest.

So Saturday turned into baking day.  It wasn’t planned, but it’s what happened.  Everyone in the house had a sweet tooth that day.  Actually, it had started the day before.  So I decided to bake a spice cake and make cream cheese frosting for it.  Cakes are easy and everything went like clockwork.  I even got a little adventurous with the decorations.  Everyone was happy with it and here’s the result:

spice cake

I always use throwaway aluminum pans.  Easier clean up and portability.  I’m going to take it over to my sister’s house tonight.  So that was the first flour event.

After the cake was in the oven, I got to thinking that I could use the residual heat from the cake baking to proof a batch of sandwich rolls.  I pulled out the bread making machine, put in the ingredients (I’ve got this particular recipe memorized), set the machine on the “dough” setting, and let her rip.  The dough setting takes 90 minutes.  The cake came out about twenty minutes later and the oven was turned off.  By the time the dough was done, and I’d shaped 16 sandwich rolls, the oven was cooled more than enough to proof the rolls.

Proofing dough is just the process of letting it rise.  The machine had let it rise twice and punched it down once.  Once the rolls are shaped, they have to rise once again, or “proof” once again.  Serious bread makers have all kinds of tricks and devices for doing this.  When dough is rising, it should be at room temperature or just slightly warmer than that so the yeast will work.  It also needs to be out of any breezes to  ensure a stable temp.  Most of the time, leaving a bowl of dough on the kitchen counter covered with plastic wrap or a towel will be enough.  Most home cooks tend to stay away from bread because it can be finicky.  However, when you make a lot of bread, as I do, you try to standardize your process so  you can compare results, as well as modify recipes, processes, etc. and still have a reliable loaf of bread.  Some elements in bread making are entirely beyond your control.  Something as simple as the ambient humidity on a given day can have an impact on your bread.

Some bakers use what’s called a proofing box.  It can be as simple as a cardboard box that covers the bowl or pan or whatever the dough is in.  I thought about making one of these (they can be pretty intricate with insulation, etc.) when partner/spouse said “I’ve always just used the oven.”  Seemed the perfect solution to me.  It’s certainly large enough.  It’s airtight so no breezes to worry about or humidity or any other factors.  And you can heat it, turn it off, allow to cool, and the residual heat will be perfect to keep the yeast happy.

So knowing all this, I made sandwich rolls.  Pretty good ones, too.


While all this was going on, I was also defrosting chicken for dinner.  I planned to bake the chicken with olive oil, butter, garlic, and Italian herbs.  Additionally, I was going to make fresh pesto with basil from the garden.  To make it extra special, I wanted to make fresh fettuccini.  My sister’s mother in law has a Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the tilt head that was stored in our cabinets.  We also have one that’s quite a bit more powerful than hers.  She has several attachments as well, and one of those is a pasta maker.  So I got out the flour once again and made a batch of pasta dough, enough for the three of us to have with our baked chicken.

pasta dough

Normally, I’m used to putting the pasta through the spreader so it gets thinner and thinner and longer and longer.  Then I put it through the slicer to slice into noodles of various widths and thicknesses and lengths.  But this particular attachment you just put wads of dough into a hopper, feed it into a tube and it extrudes through the attachment to a replaceable head that shapes the pasta to what you want.  I chose the noodles head, started the machine, fed the dough into the hopper and feeder tube.  And watched the whole thing break into several pieces!  It had been so long since it had been used, the plastic pieces just fell apart under use.  Didn’t even get one noodle out of it.  Not one.

So we had baked chicken, stuffing, and steamed broccoli.  I put Italian seasoning over everything.  And it was all good.

As I sat at the computer later, I realized that I had taken one simple ingredient and made three different things (two if you don’t count the disaster) throughout the day and kept my family fed.  Flour can be intimidating sometimes, but I like the stuff.

A friend once said she moved a bag of flour in one of her kitchen cabinets and thought, “How the heck did THAT get here?”



Post # 264 Full Moon Friday

June 13, 2014 at 1:11 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 264 Full Moon Friday

Today is a day of power.  It’s Friday the 13th, always an important day for the superstitious, and it’s the June full moon, the closest full moon to the summer solstice.   If you believe what the internet memes are saying, this won’t happen again for a couple more decades.

friday full moon

Today, I’m going to be extraordinarily busy taking advantage of the astrological power available right now.  Lots going on, keeping my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I’m leaving you with some pics of my favorite foods, in no particular order.

I love a good burger.  And if it has dill pickle on it, well that only makes it better.

fave food 1

Anyone who has read this blog longer than a month will recognize these next two with no comments:

fave food 10

fave food 2

I love to grill, yum!

fave food 8

fave food 3

This one ticks a lot of my boxes.  I’ll walk a long way to get this stuff when I can smell its aroma.

popcorn buckets 001

Here’s another one I eat minimally once a week, but mostly as often as I can get it.

fave food 6

A gyro (pronounced any way you like, but Partner/Spouse always says “yeerow”) is tangy, tasty, strongly flavored, and wonderful.

fave food 7

Finally, fried chicken is the best, but for my money, this is the best fried chicken!

fave food 9

Hope everyone has a good weekend!  Enjoy!

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