Thursdays at the Shelter

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This is what it feels like some days at the shelter:

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Actually, this lovely cat is just a talker (or singer, if you prefer). She has a lot to say off and on during the day. If I translate correctly, she is saying, “Help, there’s been a terrible mistake! I don’t belong here!! Look at me. I’m accustomed to pearls, a tuffet, and tuna for supper.” At least I think that is what she’s saying. She doesn’t have a card on her cage yet, which I imagine means she is waiting the requisite 10 days for an owner to reclaim her. When the waiting period is up she can go to the home, or castle, she so obviously deserves. Until then, she just offers her opinion on everything. She adores being held and scratched, so clearly she is, or was, a well-loved pet.

But I digress.

I wanted to tell you about the wonderful calm and fun there is at the shelter over a holiday, when the place is closed. Instead of the usual rush of preparation before opening to the public, cage cleaning, exercising and playing with the animals is done at a more leisurely pace. Sure, the staff wants to get out early – they need a holiday too! – nonetheless they are more relaxed, the animals are more relaxed (some exceptions) and the volunteers are way more relaxed.

For instance, there are 4 little feral kittens in the back room. They are too young to adopt in any case, but they are too frightened and shy to bring up front for the public to see. One in particular, a teeny little smoke grey, arches and hisses if you so much as look at him. While this is quite alarming behavior from a full-grown cat, it is just adorable and funny when the threat is coming from 3 ounces of fluff. Part of my assignment has been to handle these little ferals as much as possible. It is really fun. They begin by hissing and end up purring. Then when I go back in 5 minutes the whole exercise is repeated. The hope is that they will eventually become tame enough to forget the hissing part and just go immediately to the purr. During my regular volunteer hours there is often not enough time to give to these little guys. Yesterday there was plenty of time, and plenty of fun was had by at least one of us.

Black Friday was decorate the shelter day. Jenny put up the scrawny little artificial tree and we decorated it with beads, ornaments and small lights. The best decorations are the cards, though.

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Here are Margaret and Jean hanging the cards. Each one says either Cat or Dog at the top, and then underneath is written something that the animal would like to receive for Christmas – maybe some hot dogs (yes, good dogs get the occasional hot dog treat after their walks), or some small balls with bells inside, or some cans of food, or some litter, perhaps a wee sweater for a small stray. Shelter friends come and choose a card, and then return later with the requested item, or perhaps something completely different and equally useful. It’s a fun way to give to the shelter, and the shelter sure appreciates the gifts.

Probably a shelter near you does about the same thing, or wishes they did. Why not surprise them over the holidays with something for the beasties in their care? One of our cats requested “three blind mice (stuffed of course).” I am sure Santa will oblige.

Here are three kitties of the dozen or so at the shelter right now:

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This black beauty is full of fun and tricks (note the rumpled state of the cage).

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We all fervently  hope this little comedian will one day grow into her ears.

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This cat is a dreamboat – loves to be held, loves to purr, loves to be brushed – in short, just loves.

Please visit your shelter over the holidays and leave a gift – you’ll feel so happy.

 

16th Street

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Faithful readers of this blog (thank you!) know that Speedy and I don’t go out to eat very often. Speedy’s skill at stove and oven makes almost everything else seem pedestrian at best and second-rate at worst. A visit from a dear Swiss friend was the impetus for us to break our usual practice and venture forth for a meal, in this case lunch.

Our friend needed to be at the airport at 3, so we decided to look for a place near Sky Harbor (I love that name for an airport – don’t you? So friendly, but somehow exciting too). Speedy did his research and came up with La Santisima on 16th Street in Phoenix. It is well-reviewed on Yelp, somewhere north of four stars. Not many places do that well, so we felt pretty optimistic.

santisima-restaurant-exteriorIsn’t that a beautiful door? And a mighty fine bench, too. My purse fits right in with the color scheme. Bellas Artes de Mexico has provided all the furnishings and decorations of this pocket-sized eatery.

Our meals certainly exceeded our expectations. I had two house specialty veggie tacos, and they were sublime. Clearly the veg were all fresh and had been sauteed just before being generously heaped on two soft double tacos. I chose the plate, so my tacos were accompanied by a 1/3 sized cup of rice – just the right amount – and a splash of refried beans with Mexican cheese melted on top. My plate was hot, though the food on it was tepid – but it was so delicious I didn’t mind. Our friend had the same taco I had; here are poor photos of our two plates (this was actually a photo of the two of us, I’ve deleted us and enlarged the food):

ellys-taco my-tacos

Clearly I wasn’t thinking about taking good foodie pics. But I’m sharing them for two reasons – one, to show you how intelligent the portions are and how truly beautiful the tacos are; and two, to show you just a couple of the salsas from the restaurant’s salsa bar. In addition to the usual pico di gallo, salsa cruda, salsa chipotle, etc., there were salsa di guacamole (top photo on left), salsa di cilantro, and salsa di fresa (strawberry, top photo on right), as well as others I don’t remember.

Speedy ate a pork and beans burrito and reports that it was “very good.” That’s high praise. Our friend declared her taco, “the best taco I have ever eaten in my whole life.” This is a woman with a fair amount of travel, not to mention tacos, under her belt, so you can take her word for it. This was delicious food, and we saw some enticing plates being delivered to nearby tables (very nearby – it’s a small restaurant and they don’t waste space).

Our host, who flew around non-stop, was very kind when we asked him to turn down the music a tad – he immediately complied, which meant we could actually have a delightful conversation with our long not-seen friend.

But I’m not here to write only about the restaurant, as you may guess from the quality of the food photos. I’m here to write about the neighborhood. We’re definitely returning to this top notch restaurant, and I’ll write more about it when we do.

16th Street north of McDowell is on the edge of a largely Hispanic neighborhood (interesting article on cultural diversity of Phoenix here. It includes a map giving percentages of various ethnicities and where they reside). It is not the most elegant neighborhood in Phoenix, but it is surely one of the most artistically interesting that we’ve visited.

art-on-outside-of-shopAfter lunch we took a short stroll – it was in the mid-90’s, too hot to enjoy much of the post-prandial thing. The building above (the sign says Thai Body Healing/TaSen Buddha) houses a little shop that carries woo-woo items, used clothing, and some fun toys for kids. In addition there is a small coffee shop, an art gallery and, in back (beyond the small elevated stage which was surrounded by children’s toys) what might be a sculpture garden or, perhaps, just a place to dump stuff. There was also a bathroom, of which I was in great need at that very moment.

sign-in-the-toilet-stallThis was hanging over the toilet. I’m ashamed to say I did not comply with the upper command. Maybe I was in the wrong room?

Over the sink was this anatomically vague figure, carefully labeled with such diseases as wrenched ankle, broken heart, water on the knee. I don’t know if it’s art or a children’s game. Note the Scrabble tile holders and a basket of tiles; I couldn’t find all the letters I wanted, so my message read “T_AN_  U. I hope it was clear enough.

1008161353other-bathroom-artI’m not sure what this signifies, but I stared at it for a while.

Outside we continued our stroll, and came upon several more wonderful murals. I got good photos of only one of them. I’m sorry to say I don’t know who the artist is – research needed!

ellie-and-louis-in-front-of-muralSpeedy and our friend give scale to the left side of this mural. The rest of it is below. (I know, there is such a thing as a ‘landscape setting,’ but I neglected to use it (not my best photo day, I guess).

rest-of-that-muralThis area definitely demands a return visit to seek out more of the graffiti and mural art. It is not the only part of Phoenix that sports such excellent examples. Katrina Montgomery has documented her 40 favorites in the New Times. I can’t wait to go hunt for some of them. A picture is fine, but to see such a large piece of art in person is really much more fun.

Thursdays at the shelter

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shelter-kittyI clean out cat cages. It’s what I do. It’s an ugly job, but someone has to do it.

Every Thursday morning I pry myself out of bed at what, for me, is an unnatural hour: 6 a.m. My ‘shift’ at the Paws and Claws Care Center begins at 7. By the time I arrive, typically at 7:10 or 7:15 I am but one step above Zombie. Luckily my job doesn’t require much in the way of wits, see first sentence above.

But wait – some background: Paws and Claws is the animal shelter of Apache Junction, Arizona, a town with a broad mix of inhabitants of all species. It’s not uncommon for residents to find abandoned animals in their yards, or to come across a new family of (typically) cats in the desert, result of feral hanky-panky. While ‘my’ animal shelter cannot describe itself as no-kill, it is extremely low-kill. The sad truth is some animals are simply not ever going to be adopted – they may be terminally ill, they may be vicious. Not their fault, to be sure, but no one is going to take home a biting dog or cat, nor should anyone be asked to. Having said that, P and C sends 90+% of its temporary residents on to new homes, and there is no rule for how long they can wait. Sometimes an animal is special and it will take a bit longer for the right new owner to show up. Thank goodness the Care Center is willing to give every adoptable animal the time required. If you clicked the link above to the shelter you will have already seen that they ‘market’ their guests in the most appealing way possible.

There’s a reason they call themselves a Care Center. A remarkable staff and a host of volunteers take terrific care of the animals. Sick or pregnant animals are identified, put in quarantine and given whatever is required, be it medicine or just a quiet place to give birth. Every day every cage is cleaned from top to bottom and fresh new bedding is put out. Each dog has a kennel in the air-conditioned dog area. As well, volunteers walk and play with the dogs outside (though often the spoiled brats just want to come back in to the air-conditioning. It goes without saying that the cats demand air-conditioning.)  A professional photographer volunteers her time weekly to take portraits for the web-site, and groomers volunteer beauty treatments for cats and dogs. Staff and volunteers spend a lot of time with timid animals in an effort to socialize them.

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It’s just a great place to spend a few hours even if, like this morning, some over-active little kitten dumps her box of litter on my head (I’m not kidding). As I said, 7 a.m. is not My time. And that’s why little missy below is giving me that wary look.

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Goin’ to Ghana

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No, not really – I’m pulling your leg. We’re not going to Ghana.

But not too long ago we felt as if we’d been magically transported to that far-away country. Fufu and Jolof rice and Banku – these are just some of the delicacies on the menu at Max’s Mukhaase Restaurant in Mesa. ‘Mukhaase’ means ‘kitchen’ in Akan, a language spoken in much of the southern half of Ghana. While English is the ‘official’ language of Ghana (population 25.9 million), Akan is the language most widely spoken of the 80+ indigenous languages. If you visit Max’s you are more than a little likely to hear a good bit of it.

Map of Ghana

Max came to the U.S. some fifteen years ago and, he told us, since acquiring a cat, fortune has smiled on him. Being cat-lovers ourselves we are perfectly willing to believe that his feline companion has something to do with his luck.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How did we even find Max’s Mukaase Restaurant? Through one of those irritating restaurant card promotions, that’s how. In this case, though, it worked out really well. Somehow we came to have a restaurant card that gives 50% off at selected restaurants if you order a certain amount. A doctor’s appointment took us to Mesa, and Speedy researched what restaurants from the card were nearby – and there it was: Max’s! Who could resist? Surely not us.

The menu is not enormous, but it’s varied enough for all tastes, from adventurous (fufu with goat) to cautious (hot dog or beef burger). Isn’t ‘fufu’ a great word? It’s almost as fun as ‘wolof’ (the language of Senegal). Fufu, a staple of Ghanan cuisine, is made from cassava or plantain flour. There are several methods of making it; a common one is to boil the cassava or plantain, and then pound it into a dough-like consistency. Peanuts are another staple on the Ghanan menu; a good peanut soup is hard to beat, and is often eaten with balls of fufu.

I had the Peanut Soup with Rice Balls (and lots of veggies) – scrumptious and very, very filling.

goat and rice balls in peanut soup

Louis opted for the Goat Stew, Waakye, Gari & Salad (Goat meat, Rice, Black Eye Beans, Veggies and Gari; Gari is a kind of pud made from cassava), which he declared divine. In fact, he liked it so much he ordered a second helping to bring home. It did not suffer, he reported, by either its short journey or its wait of a day or two.

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The food would certainly have been enough to draw us back for another visit some day, but even more than the food, the atmosphere was delightful. A pair of young men occupied another table, rapidly speaking a patois that, I assume, was a combination of Akan and English. One of them kept leaping up and running outside to conduct important business on his cell phone, to the bemused patience of his friend. At one point Speedy said to him, “You should be paid for providing entertainment,” and he shouted back to the kitchen, “Hey Max! I eat for free from now on!” Great laughs all around.

Not long after we arrived a young woman in a health-provider uniform arrived and sat at another table. Soon a lively conversation began, mostly in English, on the desirability of legalizing marijuana.  The young woman it turned out, is a pharmacist, and she declared that having seen what marijuana can do, she could never countenance it becoming legal in any way, shape or form. This was a discussion we followed with great interest but in which we sagely decided not to participate.

Overseeing it all, the activity in the kitchen, the spirited conversation, was Max, who is as friendly and accessible as his delicious food. When I asked for a photo with him he disappeared in back and returned wearing his chef’s coat and a toque. I prefer the photo of him hatless, so that is what I share with you, along with a recommendation to visit Max’s Mukhaase Kitchen if you find yourself near Guadalupe and Alma School Roads in Mesa.

Max and Louise-001

Our Natural Easter Eggs

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I can’t remember how it started, but once upon a time Speedy either read about or dreamed up himself the idea of dying Easter eggs using flowers and leaves that we found outdoors. Now that we live in the desert the types of things we find has changed considerably; but it is spring and there are a lot of flowers blooming right now, on trees, bushes and cacti, so there was plenty to choose from.

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This basket contains Speedy’s gleanings from our yard: some frondy leaves from a mesquite, some flowers from hedgehog cactus (ouch – I’m still pulling spines from my fingers today), bougainvillea flowers and flowers of sage and lavender. There are also a few odd stems in the mix, and I have no idea what they are. I should add that the dry skins of both red and yellow onions are always part of the process.

First we boil up a big pot of water with tea and vinegar added to it, take it off the stove when it’s good and murky colored and let it cool for a while.

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While the cooking water is cooling we wrap the beautiful white eggs. The skins of the onions go on the outside, the various leaves and petals go on the inside, held in place by the onion skins. Then we tie each egg package securely with cotton twine. This is tricky because the twine wants to slip, and frequently does, either before or during the cooking.

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Into the warm water the little packets go. We slowly bring the water back up to a boil and cook the eggs for 15 minutes to a half hour.

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We take them out let them cool and then unwrap them. This year’s efforts were a bit underwhelming, but still lovely. For some reason our red flowers did not share any of their colors – we’ll have to search for others next year. (We’re not remotely expert on the flora of this area, and this is a good way to get to know some new plants.) We also did not have very tightly wrapped bundles this time, and I think too much tea water got underneath the petals, which blurs the shapes they are supposed to leave on the eggs.

easter eggs for cardStill, it makes a pretty Spring Time basket and we’ll enjoy eating the well-cooked eggs.

Next year I want to try coloring eggs with Speedy’s old silk ties, the few that he still has. When we moved back to the States he gave most of them away, but there are a few left, and I’m sure more are readily available at thrift shops. Kate Jones and Sara Wells have a great tutorial over at Our Best Bites – it looks easy and fun. Come back next year to see how it goes. It is certainly a different look from our tea, leaf and flower eggs.

Meanwhile, Happy Spring to all!

A Superior Home Tour

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Superior House Tour sign

A recent visit to Superior left me of the opinion that the town is both falling apart and being reborn. Which process will win is not certain by any means, but the visit was fascinating for that very reason. If imagination and creativity have anything to do with it, though, I will vote for rebirth. I’ve never seen such density of murals, decorated facades and all around artistic expression; it seems that given the choice between cans of cheerful paint or mundane signage the Superians will choose the paint every time.

Superior is a copper-mining town whose old mine (the Magma) has closed and whose proposed new mine (Resolution Copper, to which there is no small amount of opposition) is not yet open. Once relatively booming with a population of over 7,000, the town is now home to under 3,000 residents (2013). (For a very interesting portrait of the town’s struggles and hopes, see Kari Lydersen’s 2012 article).  Declining population does not seem to have put a dent in the town’s optimism or belief in itself, though. A look at the Chamber of Commerce’s website shows a bustling sense of possibility (We Believe in Superior!), expressed in three annual events – a House Tour, a Mining Festival, and a Prickly Pear Festival.

Hiking Buddy E rounded up a couple of her young friends and me and took us all off to the House Tour a month or so ago. What a wonderful eye-opener it was. The homes we visited were modest (with one exuberant exception). They were built, by and large, in the 1920’s and years following to house miners and their families. Most of them were rescued from various levels of decay and restored, either to their original state or a more modern version of same. They lay in all the neighborhoods of Superior, sometimes bracketed by boarded up neighbors.

Here are some photos of the homes we visited that day, of hopeful Superior, and of the unique surroundings of this struggling town.

Superior lies between the steep mountains known locally as Apache Leap on one side and the old copper mine on the other.

Superior House Tour Superior in the shadow of Apache Leap

High School at the base of Apache Leap

Superior House Tour mine behind the town

Mine chimneys and slag on the other side of town

Many houses that were not on the house tour are creatively painted.

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Superior House Tour painted houseSuperior House Tour painted house-001Superior House Tour Elly, Cristina, NaomiSuperior House Tour painted building plane

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Store signs are, for the most part, painted, with the major exception of the Save Money Market (which always makes me think of Lake Woebegone). What a great name – direct and to the point.

Superior House Tour Appliance painted business Superior House Tour painted sign dentist Superior House Tour flower shop door flower shop Superior House Tour the VFW
Superior House Tour car show painted sign

Superior House Tour painted sign-002 Superior House Tour painted sign Steven McNeeley's diner Superior House Tour Zapetta shoe repairIt’s hard to read, but the sign above says Zapeta Shoe Repair.

Superior House Tour Save Money Market sign

Go Panthers!

Like the storefront signs, the murals in town are in various states – some are fading and need repair, others are fresher. All are full of movement and interest.

Superior House Tour mural-001 Superior House Tour mural, faded Superior House Tour mural-002 Superior House Tour muralWell, it was a house tour, so it’s probably time to show you some photographs of the homes. Each has been snatched from the jaws of decrepitude and lovingly restored.

Superior House Tour Abandoned Creek House

Visitors wait to enter “Abandoned Creek House”

Superior House Tour Abandoned Creek house progress photos

The “Abandoned Creek House” – photos of before and during restoration

Superior House Tour abandoned creek house adobe brick

“Abandoned Creek House” original adobe brick under the plaster

Superior House Tour varied decade house if it's crooked, embrace it

If it’s crooked, turn it into art

Superior House Tour varied decade house bedroom-001

Low ceilings, small doors, tight quarters – common threads in Superior homes like “The Decade House”. Later additions to this house are more spacious.

Superior House Tour varied decade house bathroom

Teeny tiny toilet in “The Decade House”

Superior House Tour varied decade house fireplace

Fireplace in “The Decade House”

 

Superior House Tour Melville home kitchen

Beautiful wall treatment done by Mrs. Melville in the kitchen of “The Home on Pinal”

Superior House Tour Melville home-001

Bedroom in the Melville Home

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Superior House Tour painted outside Lasch home

Exterior of” the Lasch Home”

Superior House Tour overdone house

Entrance to “The Lasch Home”

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“Lasch Home” bedroom

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Lasch Home” terrace

Superior House Tour copper cottages kitchen

“Copper Cottages” kitchen

Superior House Tour copper cottages shared terrace

Two of the “Copper Cottages” share this terrace

copper cottages shower

The shower is one big room in this “Copper Cottage”

Superior House Tour The Alamo

“The Alamo”

 

The house tour in Superior was a shining example of what elbow grease, optimism and a lot of love can accomplish to rejuvenate a house. But here’s my ugly truth: in many ways I found the abandoned and boarded up properties every bit as interesting as the restored homes.

Right on Main Street there is a boarded up section of wall with a hole in the boards – what lies on the other side?

Superior House Tour boarded door peekWhat a great opportunity for a budding capitalist – perhaps you could build to suit your needs exactly!

Superior House Tour boarded door other side

Superior House Tour painted sign

Grifters Market, all boarded up

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Superior House Tour rubbish outside house

Not everyone tidied up for the house tour

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The town is full of “Welcome” signs on homes, as well as “No Trespassing” and “Beware of Dog” signs.

Superior House Tour sign - beware of putbull

Superior House Tour the pitbull-001

Turns out he wasn’t such a fierce pup after all. He and his daddy, driving the truck, were both quite sweet.

Superior House Tour welcome sign at no trespassing house

I loved this house for combining the No Trespassing and Welcome philosophies of Superior

Superior House Tour sign no trespassing

 

Superior House Tour non-tour house, odd window treatments

Exploration of window treatments

Superior House Tour broken window
Superior House Tour sign no trepassing Superior House Tour crosses for vets-001

Superior House Tour beware of dog & dog

Superior House Tour sign keep out

Superior House Tour former mine housing

The residents are the best part of any town. I’ve visited Superior any number of times and, No Trespassing signs notwithstanding, have always been made to feel welcome. Here are a few portraits from House Tour Day.

Superior House Tour Mrs. B of fish taco

Mrs. B takes a break before the noon rush. Her fish tacos were so delicious she had to run out for more supplies half way through the noon hours.

Superior House Tour octagonal house dog trainer

I can rarely resist asking to photograph a dog. Throw some great body art into the mix and it must be done. This man was having a good play with his dog outside his lavender hexagonal house.

old gent

What stories this man could tell.

Superior House Tour Leroy, photographer, Superior native

Leroy has lived in Superior his whole life. He told us about some good hiking trails nearby.

Superior House Tour mine rescue Tee

This man’s tee tells you all you need to know about the downside of mining.

Superior House Tour young musician-001

This young man was so animated as he played and chatted with his friends next to Mrs. B’s.

Superior House Tour Born again 'Teflon' Superior native

Everyone calls this lifelong Superior gentleman ‘Teflon.’

Superior House Tour Teflon's son, a college-educated man

‘Teflon’ could not be prouder of his son, a college-educated man and Superior resident.

Superior House Tour monkey resident

A calm resident surveys the passing scene.

There’s a lot more to Superior than what I’ve shown you here. Main Street hosts several charming shops, and there are no fewer than nine eateries in the town. The bustling public library is bursting with materials and with people using them. The senior center appears to be very active, and Headstart has a fine modern building near the elementary school.

When is the best time to visit Superior? Any time! HBE and I visit several times a year, just to walk around, admire the colors and see if any new murals have appeared. The House Tour, Prickly Pear Cactus Festival and Mining Festival are special weekends, making the trip even more worthwhile, but truly, it’s a good visit no matter when you go. If you visit let me know afterwards if you think the town is coming or going. My vote and hope is for the former.



 

A New Hike – The Vineyard Trail

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Map of the Vineyard Trail

map courtesy of americansouthwest.com

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Hiking Buddy E and I finally had the opportunity to take a real hike together a couple of weeks ago. We chose the Vineyard Trail which leaves from a parking area at Roosevelt Lake, an hour plus drive from Gold Canyon.

Now here’s the thing about the Vineyard Trail: it begins with some rather steep climbing. In fact, we had to gain some 1100 feet in the first mile and a quarter of the hike. Being ‘of a certain age,’ and having a kind of hinky hip these days, this took some amount of effort for me. E., however, is a gazelle. The footing was nothing to be happy about either – lots of loose stones and small rocks on the well-maintained trail. Not much of a problem going up, more of a problem coming down that steep part. We were lucky that we were on the trail only a week after about 5 inches of rain fell. The path would have been a lot more slippery had it been very dry, I think.

Now you know the only negative thing I can say about this hike. Otherwise it was Perfect with a capital P. On the way up we enjoyed stunning views of Roosevelt Lake and the gracefully arched bridge that spans a part of it.

Vinyard trail with Elly, bridge from aboveRoosevelt Lake was created when Roosevelt Dam was completed in 1911. Both named for and opened by President Theodore Roosevelt, the dam was part of the Reclamation Act of 1902 which funded irrigation projects in twenty western states. The lake the dam created is 22.4 miles long and has a shoreline of some 128 miles. It holds a lot of water (1.6 million acre feet) and has a maximum depth of 188 feet. Best of all, it’s just plain beautiful.

Most of my attention and effort was given over to just getting one foot in front of the other on the steep climb, but I did notice (after E pointed it out) the lovely frost-bedecked moss, and the true succulents, which I have not identified. (help?)

Vinyard trail with Elly, moss with frostIMG_7269I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: people who think the desert of the southwest isn’t green just haven’t seen it.

Vinyard trail with Elly, radio towerThis was identified on our hike description as a ‘radio tower.’ To us it looked more like a white board – something of a mystery, but a good landmark nonetheless.

This was a real ‘bear went over the mountain’ hike. That means that E would reach the crest of a hill and call back down to me, “Bear!” meaning that she saw not the wished for distant view but another hill to be scaled. (“The bear went over the mountain, The bear went over the mountain, The bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see. He saw another mountain, He saw another mountain, He saw another mountain,and that is what he saw” – children’s song set to sing-songy tune).

At last, though, we reached a high point with a lovely view off to the south. The trail leveled out for a while as we walked along a crest.

Vinyard trail with Elly, view south At a certain point there was bit more of a climb and a turn in the trail and then, Voila!

Vinyard trail with Elly, Elly with 4 peaksSnow-bedecked Four Peaks looking much closer than I had thought it was. What a sight. We don’t get snow here that frequently, but the aforementioned 5″ of rain was snow on the mountain tops, and it stayed for almost a week. Four Peaks is a highly visible landmark from many parts of the Phoenix Valley, but I had never seen it from this particular angle before.

We’d been walking long enough to feel a little peckish. And as if on cue, the perfect picnic site presented itself: a saguaro forest.

Vinyard trail with Elly Saguaro forest

Our path led along the base of this handsome, ancient and undisturbed stand of cactus. We found an excellent flat spot and had a splendid meal in the shadow of these giants.

Vinyard trail with Elly saguaro forest from pathShortly afterwards the trail led sharply downhill. Thinking back on how tough the up had been, we decided not to penalize ourselves with another difficult climb back by continuing down. So, feeling a little sad that we had not reached the end of the hike (or anywhere near it, as it turned out; it’s 6 miles one-way and I calculate we hiked in only about 3) we began to retrace our steps. The views were, obviously, completely different on the way back and were even more beautiful than before.

As we got back towards the dam we saw the Salt river snaking down its valley, with the picturesque Route 88 draped over its shoulder.
Vinyard trail with Elly, Canyon LakeSoon we were presented with a terrific aerial view of the dam itself with the bridge in the background. Far in the distance you can barely see what I think is part of the White Mountains Range (or perhaps even Mt. Baldy?) – or I may be completely confused.

Vinyard trail with Elly Roosevelt dam, bridge, lakeThis photo gives an idea how steep the climb back down was – in many ways harder than going up. With the climb up the problem was simply catching one’s breath, going down had some tricky footing – so I spent most of my time looking down. Which was nice, because I saw some rather interesting rocks. This one got me wondering if it had been shaped by weather or by human hands centuries ago.

Vinyard trail with Elly stone This one looks like what I see in the mirror every morning. Just kidding! I love the juxtaposition of sharp cracks and rounded shapes.Vinyard trail with Elly rockI wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk up our driveway hill when we got home, but I did! And then made my way immediately into a hot tub of very hot water. At the end of the hike I said to E, “I don’t think I could do that one again.” But you know what? I’m ready! Let’s go this weekend!!

Enter cats

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It’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me. There are two reasons for this sorry state of affairs. One is that Speedy and I acquired a piece of land after we moved back to America permanently, and we have been flirting, ever more seriously, with the idea of building a house. This takes a lot of time and energy, or at least mental energy.

Then there are the cats. I promised myself I wouldn’t become a cat-blogger. There are many wonderful cat blogs out there (I personally subscribe to far too many of them). But this is a promise I find I cannot keep, even though the world does not NEED one more cute kitten photograph.

Meet Jack.

Jack

Those of you who remember our late, lamented Luciano will understand the immediate attraction we felt for Jack when we saw him in the Pet of the Week cage at the local shelter. Never mind the one eye, he’s a fat marmalade kitty, so much like Luciano in his heyday. Jack, as it turns out, does not share Luciano’s outgoing personality, but never mind. The fact that he is missing an eye and has been declawed speaks to some early trauma. He’s smart to be cautious (some might call him a scaredy-cat.) If only he could speak.

While at the shelter falling in love with Jack we decided to take a look at kittens just for the heck of it. Jill was sitting by himself, his wee size making his cage look awfully big. He practically hurled himself at us crying Mew Mew Mew in that way kittens have that manages to sound pathetic, aggressive and appealing all at the same time. ‘Oh we can’t,’ we said to each other. ‘He’s awfully cute,’ we said to each other. ‘Oh, why not,’ we said to each other.

“We’d like to adopt the small orange kitten, too,” Louis told the woman at the desk.

“Oh, no!” she said, “Captain Jack [his full name] doesn’t like other orange cats.”

“Um. What??”

“His cage was next to another orange cat, and he hissed at it.”

With all due respect to the wonderful people who work at the Animal Shelter, this made no sense to us. Why don’t we introduce the kitten to Jack? we suggested. No sooner said than done. Quietly Jack sniffed the little one and started to groom him. End of problem.

Jack went home with us that very day and commenced to spend all his time under various beds. He shied from our hands when we tried to pat him, and raced away when we walked towards him.

A week later Jill (so named because every Jack needs a Jill and every Jill needs a Jack, and Jill doesn’t know it’s usually a girl’s name) came home. Jack came out from under the beds and Jill has taught him that we’re not all bad. Jill is the quintessential kitten – playful, mischievous, adorable. He has even encouraged Jack to play with toys a bit, and now Jack rubs against our legs, as any self-respecting cat should, and loves to have us rub his head and belly.

Some of Jill’s favorite games are Where’s Jill? This is a great game that can be played in the kitchen, the front hall, or the guest bath. They all have appropriate little rugs.

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Mouse in the Box:

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Like all youngsters Jill is well and truly plugged in. He’s mad for my laptop, and he quickly joined Speedy in the ranks of Packer fans. So far we’ve resisted getting him his own smart phone.

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If there’s nothing happening on a screen any old piece of paper or a box (or bliss: paper IN a box) will do just fine.

brown paper - best toy ever Jill

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Jack follows more contemplative pursuits – mostly watching Jill with amusement or quietly dozing. He does share Jill’s interest in bird-watching, however.

Jack and Jill birdwatching

Grooming each other is a big part of their days, as is tussling and sleeping all wrapped up with each other.

Jill’s growing fast. Soon he’ll be as big as Jack and, probably, a lot less active.

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We’ll miss his kittenish ways. But until that happens he’s guaranteed to keep us in stitches, and you’re probably guaranteed to have to read about his antics on this blog. I’m sorry; I can’t help myself.

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Prickly pears!

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Painted Mtn blooming cactus

Lovely, isn’t it? At our house we it call Paddle Cactus. Its true scientific name is Opuntia englemannii, but if it’s your friend you may call it Englemann’s Prickly Pear. It blooms in the spring and by August it has formed fat fruits which some deem delicious.

Source: http://www.pricklypearextract.net

photo courtesy of prickleypearextract.net

How to get from what you see above to something you might want to put in your mouth was the purpose of a delightful morning program recently at Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden. Intrepid friend E and I went to learn and taste. The first thing to know is that there are Opuntia and there are Opuntia. There are 181 species in the genus, including the ubiquitous cholla cactus which looks nothing like its cousin above. The variety with round fat paddles is Englemann’s. There is a similar variety with elongated paddles and the appropriate and charming moniker of cow’s tongue cactus (it’s another englemannii, but with the variation subname ‘linguiformis’).

The harvesting problems are evident in the photo above. The paddles are equipped with daggers, and the fruit has nasty little hairy spikes that like nothing better than to insinuate themselves into your fingers or tongue and drive you mad. They are called glochids, and they can be a misery.

Luckily there are ways to deal with them, as we learned from our instructor at BTA. The first step in your prickly pear adventure is to pick a bunch of desert broom, a stiff brushy plant that is everywhere in the desert, frequently and courteously to be found right in the middle of the cactus whose fruit you wish to harvest. 
dusting tool, desert broom

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Before picking the fruit, vigorously brush each globe with the desert broom. This will remove a great many of the glochids.  Then, using tongs, carefully twist the fruit off the cactus and drop it in a bucket.

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Once you have a full bucket find a nice gravelly or rough patch of ground. Be careful to choose a place where you will not later be walking barefoot (don’t do this in your garage!). Empty your bucket of fruit and rake it back and forth, around and through the gravel. This will pull off almost all any remaining glochids. Now you’re ready to make use of your fruit.

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Eric and Terri of Tall Order Catering in Phoenix, along with several helpers, taught us how to peel the fruit  for use in various recipes, as well as how to make juice for jelly, sangria or margaritas. They also peeled the paddles of the prickly pear and used them in various recipes. The name for this veg in Spanish is ‘nopales.’ In the picture below Eric and Terri are demonstrating that the juice of the prickly pear does not stain.

removing spines

Eric is also demonstrating that you can shave the spines off the nopales with a sharp kitchen knife.

During the program Eric described how he had made the dishes that were so temptingly on display for us to look at, and afterwards, to eat. The internet is full of recipes, so if you care to try any of this yourself, you can begin your search here. Here are some of Eric’s delicious preparations:

paddle salsa

Nopales salad

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Salsa!

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Nopales in the foreground, sangria in the background

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Salad ingredients for the salad above: strawberries, prickly pear fruit, cilantro, nopales, red onion

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The easiest way to extract juice from the prickly pear is to use a juicer. My cohort E just happens to have one, so after the program we went foraging to put the methods we had learned to practical use. A few cactus fruits make quite a bit of juice – it is a gorgeous color, as you can see. One thing we quickly learned is that the round Englemann’s makes a much tastier juice than the cow’s tongue.

here comes the juice

lovely bottle of juice

The juice has some very beneficial side effects – Mayo Clinic explains: “Prickly pear cactus, also called nopales, is promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers. It is also touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.” Not all of these benefits have yet been proven.

What does it taste like? The closest I can come to explaining is to say the juice tastes both red and green, a bit like a fruit, a bit like a vegetable. It is a pleasant flavor. The paddles taste rather like green beans.

As you can see from the pictures of Eric’s food above, there is no end to the ways the paddles and fruits of the prickly pear can be enjoyed. Have some fun and experiment.  I decided to make jelly with my share of the juice E and I made. After an afternoon in the kitchen I had 10 jars of over-sweet soup. I followed the directions for failed jelly and ended up with 9 jars of over-sweet soup. It all went down the drain. But I’m not discouraged – there will be more prickly pears next year, and I shall try again. Meanwhile, the paddles are always available at Food City.

Next time you encounter a prickly pear cactus, look beyond the daggers and spines and see all the good free food waiting for you!