Sep 2012
DISCUSSION 10 Comments

No More Dreaming

When we began our quest last January, safely stashed in Nacho’s cabinet was a loaf of banana bread, a few slices of quiche, and my aunt’s cream cheese cutout cookies. The cookies however weren’t shaped in candy canes and Christmas trees like the two dozen times before, but angels and X’s and O’s. And when I ate the last slice of quiche somewhere along the deserted highway on the Baja Coast in Mexico, I had a strange sensation of helplessness, as I realized I was devouring the last tangible piece of home.

Fortunately the mind is strong. The sensations, emotions, and experiences tied to this place we call home are abundant, and within a split second, you can be home.

At least in your mind.

When I close my eyes, I am back at the doorstep on Skyline drive. In the foreground, Black Mountain rises high in the crisp blue sky. The smell of desert rain is irresistibly and deliciously potent, and from every direction, the long reaching shadows of saguaros paint the volcanic rock. Rabbits and families of quail scurry through the cholla cactus and aloe vera patches. And inside, saltillo tiles lead to the kitchen and the aroma of banana bread from the oven gloriously chokes the air.

And then there’s my other home, two hours North, which rises high above the desert. Here, the pine forest stretches for as far as the eye can see. This time, the San Francisco Peaks are in the foreground. When I step outside of our dollhouse in the valley, I stand frozen in time, so fortunate to be spying on the massive herd of elk bugling on the hillside. I run alongside the river, flowers in bloom, briefly stopping at the pond to catch my breath and to watch the mother duck and her trail of babies, bottoms up, scanning through the depths of the water for food.

Fortunately, in July I didn’t have to dream anymore. Our impromptu trip home landed us back in Brad’s home town of Prescott just in time for the 4th of July festivities. Brad’s family and mine gathered in masses, grilling up hot dogs, burgers, and corn on the cob. In true Southwest fashion, mounds of guacamole, spicy salsa, tortilla chips, and many salt rimmed margaritas lined the flagstone countertop.

Farther down the desolate back roads in Prescott, more relatives spoiled us with their delightful food.

July was also the perfect time to visit the Red Rocks of Sedona and the overflowing blackberry bushes that lined Oak Creek. After a wonderful day of mountain biking, Brad and our good friend Mike insisted they could catch us ladies (Lauren and I) some trout. In return for their hard labor we’d make them a blackberry pie and fudge. While they fished, we put on our pants and long sleeved shirts, ready to put in a good fight with the massive web of thorny bushes. We laid down planks of wood through the bushes, gaining us access through the mess until we left in victory, bowls full of lusciously ripe blackberries. Needless to say, no trout arrived back at the house; however we did gorge ourselves on blackberry pie (recipe).

Back in the desert, my bucket lists of things to eat was satisfied in its entirety. Brad’s was too. His only request was that we make it to Barro’s Pizza. History took place here for the two of us. It seemed like a decade ago, and in actuality it was. During high school he’d come in and watch me work while dipping his fat slices of pepperoni pizza into ranch dressing.

And finally, my mom slaved away in the kitchen, cooking up batches of banana bread, quiche, and French toast. Most certainly, if I were to make a cookbook of family recipes, these would easily be the top three. I curiously wondered what foods made home “home” for other people. So, I asked Brad. Chiliquiles from Martannes, the curries at the Himalayan grill, our homemade burgers and daily cappuccinos.

Our trip back home fulfilled us in so many ways. Truly, the food came nowhere close to the enjoyment we received by visiting with friends and family. We never know where life will take us and what circumstances, both good and bad will arise in the future.

Cindy, many X’s and O’s back at you, and may you have many angels watching over you as well.

Banana Bread
Yield: 1 loaf of banana bread

1/3 cup Crisco (or butter)
½ cup turbinado sugar (white works fine as well)
2 eggs
1 ¾ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed banana (the riper the better)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a baking pan, coat the sides with butter or Pam.
In a large bowl, mix Crisco, sugar and eggs together. Next, add the mashed banana.
In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together.
Combine the dry ingredients in with the wet ingredients. Pour the batter into the bread pan.
Lick the bowl clean, preferably with a spatula or spoon. This batter is not to be wasted.
Cook for 45 minutes, or until you can poke the bread with a toothpick and it comes out clean.
Let cool on a baking rack. Slice and slather in butter!

Yield: 1 pie

1 cup of half and half
3 eggs
2 teaspoons of flour
½ teaspoons of salt
¼ cup of cheddar
Spinach (1 frozen package)
2 chicken breast (boiled and shredded)
1 prepackaged Pie crust
2 slices of swiss cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, mix together half and half, eggs, flour, and salt. Set aside.
Line the bottom of the pie crust with swiss cheese. Next, add the spinach evenly over the cheese.
Add the shredded chicken on top of the spinach, stopping when the chicken is level with the pie crust.
Pour the egg mixture lastly, stopping when the mixture has come close to the top edge of the pie crust.
Sprinkle with cheddar cheese.
Cook in the oven for 45 minutes or until the egg mixture is cooked through and top has browned.

Challah bread French Toast
Yield: 12 slices

1 loaf of challah bread (egg based bread)
Canola oil
1 teaspoon of Cinnamon
A few pinches Nutmeg
2 teaspoons of Vanilla
8 eggs
Whole milk (about 1 cup)
Powdered sugar

Thickly slice the challah bread and leave out for a few hours. This allows the bread to dry out, better absorbing the batter. In a bowl, add the eggs. Pour in the milk, stopping when the milk to egg ratio is 1:1 (about a cup of milk).
Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Mix well.
Dip each slice of bread into the mixture and set aside.
In a griddle, pour an incredibly healthy dose of canola oil and heat to medium high.
Place the bread in the griddle and let cook on each side for 4-5 minutes, or until brown and crispy.
Sprinkle each side with cinnamon and sugar.
Before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve with maple syrup, or Brad’s favorite, plain yogurt and brown sugar.

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Aug 2012
DISCUSSION 10 Comments

The Great White North

Standing on a granite boulder in the middle of the creek, my neon green flyline whipped back and forth in ten-and-two motions overhead. In one final throw, I set the fly upstream of a large boulder and let the current carry it past what was sure to be an underwater lair filled with hungry fish. Moments later my line was taut, having coaxed a large native brown trout out from under the boulder. After a short battle, it jerked hard and broke my line. Sheena and Lauren had given us one mandate before we stepped out the door: bring back enough trout to eat for dinner. After two hours of fishing in Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon, we had managed to catch and release a couple dozen six inchers, and the one edible-sized one had gotten away.

Later, while standing downstream of the bridge to Garland’s Cabins, a vacationing Mexican family walked past me and stopped to watch. I put a halt to my unfruitful fishing and excitedly recounted to them how we had left Mexico five months ago, and that I had spent every night since then crying myself to sleep thinking about the Mexican food we’d left behind.

I told them how on my recent flight home I had stopped over in Hermosillo, Mexico, with only one thing on my mind. I recounted how after the plane had landed, I had bolted away from the airport on foot, how the heat had enveloped me as I left the terminal, and how the air smelled like nostalgia. I was alone; for reasons not worth mentioning Sheena was on a different flight. Despite the absence of my navigator, I knew where to find my fix. I ducked into the first neighborhood I came across looking for a dealer who could feed my addiction. I wandered only a short time before finding what had been haunting my dreams, like a crack addict finding his next fix. As I approached the open air taco stand the husband, wife, and son were just setting up for the day. It was eight o’clock in the morning, the crock pots of beef and pork let off a hint of chili-scented steam. I dropped my backpack and melted into a familiar red plastic chair. A fly buzzed around the table, and the wife started slapping dough between her hands to form the fresh tortillas that would be the foundation for the many tacos on which I would gorge myself. The endorphins coursing through my veins put me into a stationary runner’s high. True happiness, I told the family as they sat on the bridge straddling Oak Creek, is a Mexican taco stand.

We returned empty handed to Mike and Lauren’s cabin on the banks of Oak Creek. Fortunately, Lauren was an avid reader of our blog, and knew that this would happen. She and Sheena had gone to the store while we were out, and nodded an unsurprised nod as we came through the door with nothing but our fishing rods. Without grocery stores we would have starved to death long ago.

A few days before hopping on the plane in Bogotá, we had put the word out on our Facebook page that we were looking for a car to use for a month to travel between the corners of our eje familiar; our families and friends were scattered between three locations in Arizona: Phoenix, Prescott, and Flagstaff. A few hours later, my good friend Brian – the one who introduced me to mountain biking in 7th grade, whose family had been good friends since elementary school, and whose sisters would host us in our final stop before crossing the border into Mexico at the onset of our trip – offered up his car. “No problem, I’ll just ride my motorcycle for the month,” he said.

With gas in our little car and freedom in our little hearts, we set off from Phoenix to the Great White North: our adopted hometown of Flagstaff. After a quick and, of all the excellent establishments we could have chosen, utterly unexplainable stop at Carl’s Junior, we knocked on the door of our good friends Brigit and Bret. We had crashed at their downtown home for the week prior to our departure, and when we arrived our room was just as we had left it; the same books were stacked on the desk, and the Flight of the Concords poster hung inanimately on the wall next to the bed. Bret, a magician when it comes to baking, hastily got to work making a fresh batch of his famous chocolate chip cookies.

In an uncanny display of perfect timing, we had arrived in Flagstaff just in time for the annual Clips of Faith festival; an outdoor gathering to celebrate brews and short films put on by New Belgium Brewing Company. Accompanied by our friends Nathan and Claire we made our way over to the park, bought a handful of wooden tokens, and passed the evening sipping remarkable beer, catching up with friends, and being entertained by this year’s selection of short films.

Fittingly, the last film of the evening was one we came across a couple of months ago, which puts into words and images our feelings about the importance of doing the trip we’re currently doing. Car trouble be damned, we’re doing the right thing.

The day after Clips of Faith we decided to continue the celebration. Being that the New Belgium crew was already in town, we threw together a beer tasting at Nathan’s house and invited some of the New Belgium crew. Nathan supplied a few bottles from a recent business trip to the East coast, while Grant, a New Belgium sales rep, supplied several experimental New Belgium brews and an especially rare and expensive bottle of 2002 Stone Vertical Epic, of which he had found an entire case buried in his garage. Matt, a brewer from New Belgium, spent the evening ensuring that our palates were well calibrated to the treats he expertly brewed up back in Fort Collins.

Before we started eight months ago, Nathan had brewed a special batch of Belgian Quadrupel for us; a beer he called World Wide Quadrupel. We took a case of it on our trip, temporarily occupying our toilet paper cabinet. After being hounded for a very long time by friends and fans of his beer, he finally pulled the trigger and decided to start a microbrewery. We dropped by the brewery to see how things were progressing, and found the place full of equipment, ready to be plumbed together into a beer wonderland. If all goes well, Wanderlust Brewing Company should be distributing in Arizona within the next couple of months. With the goodness he’s about to unleash on the world, Nathan is soon to be, I don’t know, the fifth most famous person I know.

The sixth most famous person I know is Delia Withey. There exists a natural foods brand called Annie’s Organics. Annie, as it turns out, is Delia’s aunt. When Delia was but a wee child, she had a rabbit named Bernie. Buyers of Annie’s foods will know that all Annie’s products come adorned with a stamp on the package depicting a rabbit. This is “Bernie’s Stamp of Approval”. Delia’s childhood pet is thus depicted on millions of boxes of Annie’s Organics, making Delia the sixth most famous person I know.

We spent our time in Flagstaff catching up with good friends and eating good food. We paid the exorbitant and shocking price of $18 for a hamburger and a drink at Diablo Burger, had the world’s best breakfast burritos at Tacos Los Altos, induced food coma over a plate of Fratelliquiles at Martanne’s, and gave ourselves wasabi headrushes at Karma Sushi. See the girl second from the right in the first picture below? That’s Delia. She’s the sixth most famous person I know.

The climax of our “Reacquainting with Long Forgotten Foods of Home” tour was a visit to our favorite restaurant, the Himalayan Grill. Arriving for dinner was like coming home from war; Ramesh welcomed us with a huge smile, Jit came out of the kitchen to chat and hear about our trip, and Karan and Jyotsna told us all about their newborn son. Ramesh brought me a beer from a local brewery, and Karan made Sheena a melon flavored coctail, which he delivered with a huge smile. “I always wanted to be a bartender in New York when I was growing up. This is a drink I made up.” The food, as usual, was awesome.

As we headed for the door, Ramesh corralled us into the bar and sat us down. “We must drink a toast!” Several shots of tequila and rum later, we were fully toasted and ready to walk home. As I clambered out of the bar to pay for our meal, Ramesh waved his hand. “We’re glad to see you, it’s on the house!” He then reached behind the register and produced a bag containing two dinners to go; Sheena’s favorite: saag paneer. “Now you don’t have to cook tomorrow,” he said, as he whisked us out the door. Some people just exude awesomeness.

After the first couple of weeks at home it was clear that the fourth option was the right one. I was enjoying a much needed respite from Vanagon maintenance and transmission problems, and a steady diet comprising mostly Mexican food had put a temporary end to me crying myself to sleep. While it is no exaggeration that true happiness is a Mexican taco stand, there is no denying the fact that no number of taco stands can rival the happiness that time spent with friends and family can deliver. Now, if only traveling halfway across a hemisphere could heal a man’s inability to catch a fish worthy of eating.

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