Where’s Jill?


Jill loves to hide, so every now and then, just for fun, I’ll share a photo with you of his antics. It started when he was quite young:


This was part of his box train, a play area he got too large to enjoy. But it was his first step on the path to secrecy. He may have a career as a private eye yet.



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.

goat and rice balls in peanut soup-001

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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.

Superior House Tour painted house-004

Superior House Tour painted house-005

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

Superior House Tour painted house-002

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

Superior House Tour varied decade house-002

Superior House Tour painted outside Lasch home

Exterior of” the Lasch Home”

Superior House Tour overdone house

Entrance to “The Lasch Home”

Superior House Tour overdone house-006

“Lasch Home” bedroom

Superior House Tour overdone house-010

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

Superior House Tour non-tour house-003

Superior House Tour rubbish outside house

Not everyone tidied up for the house tour

Superior House Tour non-tour house-001

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



Map of the Vineyard Trail

map courtesy of americansouthwest.com


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



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.


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.

IMG_6950 IMG_6956 IMG_6981

Mouse in the Box:

Mouse in the box-003 IMG_7186

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.

Jill and take cat to work screen-004A IMG_2503

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


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.


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.

Jack and Jill-002





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


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.


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.

cooking tee shirt

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



chow line

Nopales in the foreground, sangria in the background


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


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!

Basil Hummus


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Above you see the Basil That Will Not Quit. We bought this remarkable plant a couple of months ago at Trader Joe’s, thinking that it would behave like all our previous basil pets. We used to broadcast seeds in the old wash-tubs-turned-planters outside our house in Rapallo. The plants flourished in the high summer heat, then the leaves would begin to get tougher and have a slightly bitter flavor, and then the plant would bolt. Not this plant. This basil keeps growing taller and taller (almost 2 feet in the photo). We whack it back to make pesto and it just says, Fine, watch this! and grows a foot in two days. (Speedy removed a lot of it just before I took this photo.) It would be nice to take full credit for the plant’s vigor and health, but it came with its own vigor, and only the daily watering by caring neighbors (thank you Linda and Laura) kept it alive while we were gone for two weeks.

The other day as Speedy was having his afternoon bob-and-read in our community pool he began to think about what he could do with all this basil. Smart Phone to the rescue! Huffington Post offered 34 Basil Recipes, some of which sounded interesting, some ghastly (basil ice cream? Well, maybe I shouldn’t condemn it til we’ve tried it). Way down at #23 was Edamame Basil Hummus.

“Hummus!” said Speedy, “what an interesting idea.” As soon as we got home he put together his own take on Basil Hummus:

basil hummus

It’s one of those recipes where you’re going to have to find your own way with measurements – do what feels right to you, what gives you the consistency you prefer.

Put in a food processor:
A LOT of basil
Olive oil, about 1/4 cup to a can of beans
1 can of canellinni beans, drained
1 clove of garlic, chopped
Lemon juice to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste

Whiz it all up and then sit down with your favorite dipping tool and enjoy. We used crusts of old dried bread and some stale tortilla chips. It was so good we couldn’t stop eating it, so then we put it on the gorgeous pork roast Speedy had done to golden perfection the BBQ. I imagine it would also be wonderful with crudites.  Or you may want to just sit down with a spoon and pretend it’s soup. It’s that good.

I’m baaaaack

A reader whose opinions I respect wrote recently to encourage me to continue this blog. “But I’m just back in the U.S., most of my readers know all about life here,” I replied. He went on to say that every part of the U.S. holds interest for others who don’t know it well, and he’s right. For a girl from the East, Arizona is in many ways a mysterious entity. The base culture is American, but the overlay is about as different from former homes Massachusetts and Connecticut as can be.

Arizona was a wild place until not so long ago – wild in nature (which it still is in most of the State) and wild in its population, which it still is in some instances (yes, you can carry a weapon openly without a permit – now that might be a good subject for a post). There is a lot of interest to see and learn about here. It’s a State where history is so fresh it seems like the present. There are even other countries within the State –  The Navajo Nation,  The Tohono O’odham Nation, for instance. As well, it is a State of great natural beauty (home of the Grand Canyon, after all), spicy Mexican-influenced food, and a political point of view slightly right of right.  As old as Italy is, that’s how new Arizona is – it makes for striking contrasts.

It will be a such a pleasure to get to know our newly permanent home better through the eyes of this blog. I hope that having been an expatriate for a number of years will give me a slightly-but-not-quite foreigner’s perception of what we see.  And I hope you’ll stick around for the ride, pardner – you’re mighty welcome.

Learning to say goodbye…



This old blog has been pretty quiet lately, but for a good reason. Speedy and I are selling our house here in Rapallo and moving back full-time to the States.

It’s hard to say goodbye. We’ve been here about 14 years, 4 of them as full-time residents. Rapallo feels as much like home as Arizona (both feel a little other-worldly, to tell you the truth).

House from Rosa's

We leave behind a house into which we’ve poured our hearts and souls. We leave behind the gardens which were non-existent when we started, but which now produce oranges, cherries, apricots, pomegranates, grapes, plums and persimmons, in addition to basil, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary, more basil, and any veggies we feel like growing. Sometimes there’s even a good olive crop.

grapes our garden

But a house is just stones, stucco and paint, and a garden is just dirt and plants. Either can be replaced in another location. What can’t be replaced is the friendships we’ve made over so many years. From our first visit in nearby Camogli, when we met a friend of a friend, to a meeting just a few days ago, people have been welcoming, kind and – always! – helpful. The community here helps one another when necessary in ways that are humbling and heartwarming. We’ve been befriended by people from all over Europe, from Asia, from America, some through introductions, some simply by chance.

We’ve had adventures in Rapallo and beyond, many described in the pages of this blog. We’ve entertained under the wisteria which, just last year began to provide the shade we planned for.


We’ve had guests visit from near and far, some old friends, some family, and some new friends too.

View from the guest room

View from the guest room

Speedy has cooked fantastic meals in the kitchen, on the outdoor BBQ and, beginning a couple of years ago, in the tandoor that he built himself.

There are so many stories I could tell you! Some of them I have, but many not. And now I won’t. Most likely this will be the last post from Expatriate in Rapallo, but I hope you’ll return for a visit now and then when you want a dose of beautiful Italy, or want to rustle up one of Speedy’s amazing dishes.

Thank you for reading and commenting on Expatriate. Your presence has kept my eyes open and my mind interested. It wouldn’t have been any fun without you.

I have an idea for a new blog – but not quite yet, as we’re very busy trying to move.

And busier still learning to say goodbye…