rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Trip summary: Visiting the Social Insect Research Group can be challenging because there are too many people to catch up with, and new people want to meet the old guard, too. But I had a productive conversation with J about some academic matters, a productive conversation with N about research and mentoring-related matters, and gave a talk that contained too much data (whoops - will fix for next time).

Then I had a nice discussion with a visiting scientist/philosopher that involved exploring a series of alternative perspectives on oft-considered subjects: what are the alternatives to the model of the University as a Business? (How about the University as a Religious Institution? Or Hospital?) To what extent can we assume the scientific enterprise will remain socially relevant? (hint: if you look at history, you'll observe multiple cases where science has gotten overthrown by alternate agendas) Also, what do you do if you reach a stage where you start to feel like there are a lot of questions that need to be explored that cannot be answered by conducting more experiments and collecting more data? (for him, the answer was switching to a creative writing and philosophy department) Is it a good thing to apply a growth-minded perspective to Higher Education? He also pointed out how I could strengthen my presentation by highlighting the underlying narrative in one section. All good and fun.

There was a potluck in the evening to celebrate the visit by the visiting scientist, and then I left early so I could get sleep ahead of the Desert Sprints Regatta.

On Saturday, the regatta went smoothly, even though my race itself didn't feel particularly great. I'd forgotten what it feels like to row through those wakes that bounce off of the concrete sidewalls. It didn't help that I was in a borrowed boat with an unfamiliar feel. Thanks to the strong current, my time was fast (for me). I can't really say that outside factors determined how I did because there was a hefty 20-second gap between my finishing time and first place. So I'll just view it as another racing experience under my belt. Serving as the announcer also went fine, in large part due to good regatta weather.

Sunday morning, RG had the idea to have crepes for breakfast, and invited SM to join us (AL was at work). I can now tell you that almond milk works as well as cow's milk for crepe-making (fortunately). Then I rode the loaner Brompton up the Grand Canal to Lux. I have so many different emotional associations with the Grand Canal that it was like a good visit with an old friend. Lux, on the other hand, was crowded. That should not surprise me as much as it does.

From there, I headed to downtown proper to a newly opened Cornish Pasty location to catch up with JD (the one who smokes a pile, not the J.D. who goes by his initials). If you find yourself in downtown Phoenix, GO TO THE NEW CORNISH PASTY. It's across from Seamus McCaffrey's. The Cornish Pasty owners spent several years planning out the new downtown location, and the attention to detail shows. Plus you know the food will be good because it's Cornish Pasty. JD says there's a small venue nearby called Valley Bar that is his current favorite place for shows, and he forsees the Cornish Pasty as another new favorite hangout spot. I concur.

Time flew while he and I got caught up on several years of things. Managing to spend time with a good mix of friends, but JD in particular, was a highlight of this trip.

Then it was time to head back to Tempe to meet up with [ profile] thewronghands and meet [ profile] scarybaldguy for dinner at Woodlands Vegetarian South Indian restaurant, in north Chandler. My hustle back from Phoenix was rewarded by a moment to soak in a beautiful sunset from the Priest Bridge over the rapidly flowing Salt River. Dinner was then fun and utterly delicious.

It was nice to have today as an extra day in town. After breakfast with JG and baby A, I met with AC to hear about the state of the locust research, and in the hall of her building I bumped into a neighbor and friend who worked down the hall from me during my first years in grad school. She had great news about one of the former occupants of the Farmer House who now lives in Hawaii.

Revisiting lots of familiar haunts was equally beneficial for my soul. Sunday morning, I walked around the Maple-Ash-Farmer-Wilson neighborhood and took a bunch of pictures of the strange amalgamation of dwellings that are there. The Downtown Phoenix loop ride is something of a pilgrimage plus moving meditation for me (north up to Lux, then down 3rd/5th Ave to Downtown itself, then back on Washington). THAT is exactly the kind of thinkspace I crave. For sanity's sake I hope to find something analogous as I return to California. I wish I could be optimistic on that front.

PS - Photo album here
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
I feel as though I got lucky on this trip to Arizona. When I went to visit Lux, just north of downtown Phoenix, I also checked to see the hours of the Burton Barr Public Library, which remains one of my favorite library buildings. In doing so, I learned that there was an exhibit of work by one of my favorite Arizona artists, a guy who goes by the name P. Nosa. You might be able to figure out why I like his stuff so much by reading this sign that accompanied the art:

Artwork by P. Nosa at Burton Barr

Fellow grad students and I first learned about him when he was coming up to sew at the Phoenix First Fridays artwalks, back before the artwalks exploded/imploded with people more interested in public spectacle than art (and I'm not referring to performance art).*

Here's an example of one of the sewn drawings on exhibit, which of course my camera didn't photograph especially well, but which should at least give you an idea of some of the incredible things P. Nosa does with his sewing machine:

Artwork by P. Nosa at Burton Barr
Detail of artwork by P. Nosa at Burton Barr

There are photos of a couple other pieces in my photostream. Also a photo of one of the solar features on the top floor of the library.

Then, last night, as S and I headed over to Endgame, a bar/video gaming establishment, we discovered that the Arizona State University Ceramics Collections have relocated into the Brickyard, in part of the space that used to be occupied by a Borders bookstore. Not only had they relocated, they also had a special display of artwork by my ceramics instructor, who passed away this past August due to an inoperable brain tumor.

Ceramic exhibit of Bridget Cherie Harper's Work

Her pieces didn't photograph especially well, either, due to glare off the glass, but it was wonderful to see both older, familiar pieces as well as some of her more recent work.

Ceramic piece by Bridget Cherie Harper

The ASU ceramics collection is an amazing treasure-trove. We only had about 15 minutes to walk around prior to closing, but even that short time was richly rewarding.

In other incidental art encounters, I was also amused by this "Anti Ghetto-Blaster" on display in Cartel Coffee, in Tempe.

Thank you, Arizona, for the encounters with beauty and light.

*When I rode through the area, I couldn't help observing that the artist who made the "Future Site of Gentrification" stickers has probably also moved on, based on the number of new condo developments going into that historic neighborhood.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Nothing says "you are NOT a transportation priority" like arriving at intersections with major roadways and encountering ZERO crossing aids. :-P

I only say this because today I have taken an old route up to Lux Coffee* in Phoenix, the Grand Canal.

Years after moving to Arizona, I encountered a zine-like book written by someone about the area's canal system. The canals originally date back to a prehistoric period, and here, the Salt River Project talks about the period where they have been developed by Westerners.

The canals introduced me to an alternate way of viewing movement through the city. They don't follow the same grid layout that most of the streets use, and are blessedly free of motorized traffic. In the past, most of them were lined with shade trees, and in the period before air conditioning became common, people used them as swimming areas to cool off.

At some point, someone decided that the shade trees used too much water, so they have been removed along much of the system. The Salt River Project does a lot of work to maintain the canals, so they have vehicle access roads along the sides, some paved and some that are gravel, which are thus incidentally available to people for non-motorized transportation and recreation.

In the period while I was living in Tempe, Tempe had recognized the canals as a great transportation asset for cyclists, and was in the midst of redeveloping the Western Canal to better accommodate bicycles and pedestrians. As with every cycling infrastructure project in the City, this one led to complaints by many people: it took a while for motorists to figure out how to use the HAWK crossings, and many residents with houses along the canal worried that increased canal traffic would lead to increased problems with crime (never mind that the canal would encourage increases in LEGITIMATE traffic, not just people skulking about). Change is hard.

It felt like it took forever for SRP to open up a crossing over the Loop 101 highway to connect the Tempe and Mesa stretches of the canal, but upon doing so, the Western Canal now provides great regional connectivity and is a wonderful asset on a piece of land that couldn't really be put to use otherwise.

In contrast, the Grand Canal, which runs between Tempe and Phoenix, hasn't seen quite as much progress. When I first started riding along it, largely to travel between my house and S's apartment, there were still large gates blocking access at the roadway crossings, forcing cyclists to swerve around onto narrow strips of dirt. More recently, the City of Phoenix has begun stepping up by converting the gates into "semi-permeable membranes" (as [ profile] sytharin puts it). Today, riding along, I also observed that the city has put in a really nice connection point at Garfield Street, which should help people trying to travel between Tempe and downtown Phoenix.

And yet - it is still stressful to navigate all of the major roadway crossings along the Grand Canal, all of which feature at least 4 lanes of fast-moving traffic. I had forgotten about having to rely on the center turn lanes as a refuge to cross halfway, then finish crossing. Nerve-wracking. And I'd forgotten about the spots where it's necessary to jog over to the closest pedestrian crosswalk, push the beg button, cross, then ride the wrong way on a narrow sidewalk back to the canal. There's zero indication for motorists zooming along at 45 mph or greater that they might encounter people trying to cross the street or in the middle of the (unprotected) road at the canal intersections.

Still. Despite the difficulties, despite the degraded state of the canal, I've missed this ride. There's something magical about looking over into the canal water, watching the light ripple across the surface, watching the ducks paddling on top and diving down to eat algae, watching the schools of large fish hold themselves in place, heads pointed upstream.

As with the train, the canal offers a different view of the city from what can be seen from cars. I passed by multiple homeless encampments, saw the occasional overturned shopping cart in the canal, and observed one of those collection points where used beverage containers accumulate in the canal. I'm grateful for the interactive experience I've had in bicycling in the Phoenix area, and I know that the experience will continue to improve for future cyclists because this is a dynamic urban place.

Grand Canal, Phoenix

*This place has changed! Paine Bianco has taken over the whole old building (rightly so), and Lux is now next door. Improvements all around. Phoenix hipsters are still more tolerable than Tempe ones.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
On Monday evening, as I was getting ready for the train ride to Arizona, I looked at the top item on my packing list, which said something about knitting and books. I often knit while I travel, because I can't read on airplanes or in cars, but I don't have a particular project lined up, so it would be a project to come up with a project. [Meanwhile, the quilting projects are still stalled out on the task of finding a scrap of velour for making a homemade quilter's pounce. That, and quilting projects don't travel too easily anyway.] I could have dug behind the row of boxes into the yarn box for supplies to work on crocheting myself a bike seat cover, or could have toted along the little ziploc baggie of supplies for crocheting cat toys, but I just couldn't.

Things have been so hectic over the last couple of months that it was a serious relief just to sit on the train and look out the window and let my thoughts wander in circles.

Does the emphasis on being surrounded by friends and family over the holidays come from our loved ones who are extroverts? For me, it has been a great pleasure to instead have had a simple and quiet Christmas morning with [ profile] scrottie, exchanging a few treasured gifts, and then just have the time and space to do a bit of random cooking without having to be constantly strategizing about how to get things done in a time-efficient manner so as to get to the next item on the to-do list. There's also so much social stimulation in California that I crave more alone time.

Observations from the train trip and beyond:

-There are a lot of areas of north-central California where there's a tremendous amount of trash strewn everywhere. There are also a lot of places with all sorts of hobo camps and living arrangements. I guess maybe people don't see quite the same thing from the freeways, but it's shocking to witness from the train. I've seen things that look a bit like those trash piles in various other places on occasion, but never at that density.

-There are orchards in the Central Valley where the fences along the ditches are lined with what look like pomegranate bushes that are full of rotting pomegranates. The scale of the orchards was overwhelming to me. Lately, I've been trying to pay close attention to things that happen at the margin of fields (as in the hedgerows over the summer). In the Central Valley almost all the margins are bare, scraped dirt - including the margins at the edges of vineyards. Not a lot of places for small animals to hide.

-My Amtrak itinerary put me on an evening connector bus from Bakersfield, CA, to the Los Angeles Union Station. Train passengers are generally civilized bus passengers. The Los Angeles traffic wasn't especially terrible, but I am still grateful that I didn't have to drive in it, and was relieved when we finally got to Union Station. The scenery along freeways is really quite different from the scenery along train tracks. More neon signs, gas stations, and billboards.

Los Angeles Union Station

After the bus arrived, there was even enough time for me to walk over to nearby Olvera Street and get some cheese enchiladas at a little restaurant right before closing time. There are some nice cultural spots tucked into the massive concrete black hole that is Los Angeles.

-The train platform in Maricopa, AZ is so short that our train had to make three separate stops to let all of the passengers on and off. It's the closest station to Phoenix, 30 miles away, with zero public transit connections to the city. That's still better than the situation in College Station, where the closest train station was 75 miles away. But not much better.

-[ profile] scrottie and I spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon on food-gathering errands, which meant an opportunity for me to try out the new bike lanes on McClintock. Biking around Tempe made me both happy and sad. For one thing, I am still achingly sad for the loss of my ceramics instructor, Bridget, who passed away from cancer several months back, and I can't help thinking of her while traipsing around because of all the memories this place holds. I also can't help being sad about how this city was built entirely around a car-centric lifestyle. We stopped in at a Fry's grocery (Baseline and McClintock), and I believe Christmas Eve might be one of the few days that every single parking space in the lot gets used. There were no spare shopping carts to be found anywhere, and the store was a bustling madhouse full of Keurig products. After Fry's, we forded across the parking lot, street, and Target's parking lot for another errand, and while S was inside shopping dealing with the hordes I just sat and watched the ebb and flow of people coming and going, and tried and failed to imagine what it would be like if the whole parking lot was replaced with housing. There are a lot of beautiful things about living in Arizona, but there are also a lot of heartbreaking things. On the other hand, the new bike lane on McClintock is GLORIOUS. It is so much easier to reach so many great places on McClintock now.

Really, it is so easy to ride a bike in Tempe. The pavement is smooth, the weather is lovely, and things are pretty flat. But it is so hard to ride a bike in Tempe, where traffic speeds are too high, where things are so spread out and buried in strip malls, and where on every ride there's at least one close call with a person driving a car.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
I visited my advisor this morning and we had a great discussion about the current leafcutter manuscript. Things are moving forward, hurrah! I am supposed to be working on revisions right this very minute so I can keep the momentum going. Hmm.

It was also fun to see the current state of the ants in the behavior lab. Here's my advisor and a kickass grad student in front of the Cabinet of Curiosities:

Fewell Lab Curiosity Cabinet
Blurry as usual. Thanks, smart-o-phone!

This student studies honeypot ants of the genus Myrmecocystus.

My photos came out mediocre or terrible, but here's an observation colony he constructed:
Myrmecocystus nest in the Fewell lab

The cool thing about these ants is that they use a subgroup of workers as living storage vessels for water, sugar, and fat.

Myrmecocystus nest in the Fewell lab

You can see some of the workers hanging from the ceiling with large, balloon-like abdomens.

This student was a huge help to me when he was an undergraduate because he and his father built a set of cabinets for this lab so I could more easily store all of my leafcutter ant colonies.

Apparently these guys were inspired after a visit to Germany last year/earlier in the year (date uncertain), to the Universität Würzburg, where they got to see some of the incredible nest designs partially featured in the film Ants - Nature's Secret Power. They returned to Arizona with ideas for how to improve their nests, and are now able to grow bigger, better seed-harvester colonies.

Pogonomyrmex nests in the Fewell lab

This is phenomenal for people whose research centers around colony size, colony organization, and colony growth.

Pogo nest design
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Nest entrance
The desert leafcutter ant Acromyrmex versicolor is known for the conspicuous volcano-shaped nest entrances it makes. However, the nest entrances are often just simple openings, making them harder to find.

Field assistant
Field Assistant

Sleepy birthday boy
Sleepy birthday boy


Finally, murals.
Finally, murals.

Semi-shoddy photos of foragers at work:

Flower girls:
Flower girls


Follow the yellow flower path:
Follow the yellow flower path
This colony was not actively foraging, but it was clearly active not too long ago.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
It's raining today! It's so beautiful!

This morning, K and I finished rowing, and as we started to put the boat away, a few light drops of water fell from the sky and dotted the pavement. On my ride home from rowing, the sky was all sorts of hues of gold and orange and pink and purple and blue, and a rainbow formed off in the eastern sky. While I was showering, I could hear the unfamiliar sound of raindrops striking the roof, and now it's wet outside.

Since I'm an Arizonan unaccustomed to rain these days, I geared up in rain pants and a rain jacket for the ride to school. My rain jacket *almost* covers my backpack, making me nearly waterproof, but the underside of my backpack ended up catching a little bit of the grit flung up by my tires.

It's almost enough to make a girl think about designing her own bicycle fenders out of plastic soda bottles, except I'd only use them once or twice a year.

Still...rain! I think the last time it rained was in September.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
This morning, I woke up somewhat early to head over to the farmer’s market, as has become my habit on Saturdays when I’m not called away to other events. It’s interesting to realize that I’ve been making this trek for at least a year now. I’ve only realized this because I’ve started to notice some of the market’s seasonal patterns—the disappearance of eggs, for example, signals the influence of the waning day length on the laying habits of local hens that actually live outdoors.

Anyway, I’d quietly advertised the ride to others who might be interested, although I figured turnout would be low due to the usually combination of factors that also contribute to the quiet and clear roadways on Saturday mornings. Namely, most people don’t get up to run errands at 7 am on Saturdays. But perhaps that’s what I like most about the ride.

In light of these plans, R and I had chatted briefly earlier in the week about going for a long bike ride this Saturday morning. El Tour de Tucson is coming up next weekend, and we thought we should make at least some small attempt to prepare. Originally, we had hatched a scheme wherein I would ride to the farmer’s market and would then meet up with the usual gang of suspects (R, P and J) down at South Mountain. From there, we’d head out for an expedition Around The Mountain, as we call it. It would make for a nice, 50-mile-plus Saturday ride.

Instead, we got notice later in the week that the Bike Saviours, our local bike co-op, was going to relocate on Saturday, which would require immediate attention and help from R. After some discussion, I decided I would carry on with my own plans, but I invited J to go along for the ride since she had been feeling like she needed to get in a longer bike ride.

So J and I met up at Tempe Beach Park at 7 this morning, and enjoyed a pleasant ride over to the farmer’s market. Activity at the market seemed somewhat subdued, although there was still an exciting assortment of things to try and buy, including two particular items of note.

The first item came from a couple who make and sell exquisite preserves at the Market (Terra Verde Farms): peach-blackberry preserves. I’ve been quietly waiting for this couple to bring this particular flavor to the market for weeks. I had purchased a jar of blackberry preserves a month ago, and while it’s amazing (seedless, delicately smooth, with just enough sugar to balance the preserves’ tart-sweetness), the peach-blackberry preserves are better, probably for the simple reason that they also contain delectable essence of peaches. I learned today that they make all of their products semi-seasonally and all in small batches, so now they’ve got me hooked on checking to see when and if my favorite varieties are available. I could - and have - made my own preserves, but they’d be a far cry from the Terra Verde Farms preserves, so it’s worth it to occasionally splurge for a delectable treat.

The other item that I got incredibly excited about was a stall selling Back Sphinx Dates. First and foremost, let it be known that I generally don’t care for dates. Ahem. Regardless, I’d read about Black Sphinx Dates in a book titled Renewing America’s Food Traditions (by Gary Nabham), which explains that the trees producing these dates are almost exclusively limited to a grove in the Arcadia neighborhood in Phoenix. The book also mentions that these dates enjoyed former fame because of their superb flavor. Samples were set out, so I figured I’d better at least try a bit before deciding to move on. Well. J will attest to the fact that I was unable to stop talking about the surprisingly rich and delicious taste of that small bite of date. The woman selling the dates informed us that all—literally all—of her neighbors let their trees’ dates go to waste, so she’s the only one harvesting and selling the dates from the neighborhood at the moment. I didn’t buy any dates this morning because I wasn’t sure what I’d do with them, and I have to tell you now that I deeply regret that decision. Hopefully she’ll still be there the next time I return to the farmer’s market.

And that was the market. Freed from the plan to meet up with the gang at South Mountain, I devised a somewhat vague plan to head north instead, to circle around the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. First, however, J and I made a stop at Lux so I could fuel up on a delicious latte and scone while she enjoyed hot chocolate and brioche with raspberry bostock (all of which is to say, yes, it’s possible to find good food, in Phoenix). While there, we plotted out our route, northward and clockwise around the mountains.

I’ll spare you many details of the ride, but must tell you about the most interesting and exciting portions, which occurred during the northwestern part of the loop. We first rode up towards the Cave Creek Wash, where the map indicated the presence of a scenic bikeway. Well, there was a bikeway, and true to promise it was beautifully scenic, reminiscent of the trail we followed along a wash in Tucson. It was not built for speed, but for the sake of enjoying the channels and waterways, the scruffy trees and shrubs with enough tenacity to cling to life in great thickets and resist the periodic onslaught of flash floods. We were grateful for the shade and a rambling trail that encouraged leisurely enjoyment.

A section of the path eventually dropped us off at a roadway (19th Avenue), but we located the spot where it picked up again with no problems, continuing to follow the meanderings of the wash. Eventually, we reached another abrupt ending, this one slightly more puzzling (near 7th Ave. and Greenway Rd.). With a few hints from some passers-by, and some small turnarounds, we managed to get back on track again, or so we thought until the path impolitely dumped us out yet again onto the sidewalk along Greenway Road. We gamely followed the sidewalk for a ways until we reached an intersection, where we spied a path ducking under the roadway along the wash. So we nosed our bicycles back down to the pathway in the hopes of riding along the was again until we reached our intended turn-off point.

Somewhere in that section of the ride, I took a right turn where a left turn probably would have been advised, and eventually J and I found ourselves deep within a section of the wash that had been lined with concrete and that was contained by high, steep walls. If you live in Arizona, you probably know the shape of these washes quite well from a view from above, for they are efficiently shaped to channel the fury of flash floods through neighborhoods without causing harm to the surrounding homes. Most of the time, they sit dry, but they become both vitally important and dangerous at very particular times of the year, during heavy rains.

These are not places for bicycle-riding. And yet, there we were, somehow guided by the very path to use the wash as our conduit. Not knowing what else to do, we rode onward, through thin puddles of stagnant water and past heaps of plastic bottles and the occasional formerly sodden mattress or limp blanket. By the time we reached the first road underpass, we had a pretty good idea that we were somewhere where we weren’t supposed to be. It was strangely quiet and peaceful in the channel, though, with the traffic all twenty feet overhead and off to one side, the only sound our bicycles and the occasional disturbed bird flapping its wings as it flew away. Not seeing any clear exit point, we rode onward.

By the time we reached the second underpass, we began to look for escape routes in greater earnest. There wasn’t even a remote chance of rain, but even so our options for leaving were getting to be pretty limited. The walls were not insurmountably steep, but they were nonetheless high enough that they made us think twice about hauling our belongings and bicycles to the top to then throw over to the other side. Besides, we weren’t there yet--we still hadn’t reached the roadway where we planned to turn away from the wash path. So we kept going. Soon enough a gradual ramp appeared on the right side of the wash: a serendipitous escape. The ramp led to a bumpy, grassy field, which led to a road, which led to the road we had planned to turn onto in the first pace. Freedom from the wash, at last. To celebrate, we stopped at a donut shop for a snack.

The rest of the ride wasn’t nearly as exciting, after that adventure, especially because in the end we met up with the other end of another familiar path that closed the rest of our loop around the mountain. But it was a beautiful day to be out for a ride. And I have to say that I think J is one of my favorite biking buddies for this sort of adventure: calm, game for anything, and better at remembering street names than I am, which is ideal for those stretches where one must pull out the map every half-mile to double-check the route.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
I came across an article today that is supposedly about what's going on in Arizona with respect to locally grown food . This article doesn't have a whole lot to add to the story, but it does reference another potentially useful resource, Fill Your Plate, a directory to Arizona-grown foods. The directory still looks pretty clunky, though, so good luck putting it to practical use.

All of this is to say, there are ways to get to locally-grown food in Arizona if you don't grow it yourself (but you should try!). Also, if you're looking to start a small-scale farm, you'll probably get business if you start it in Arizona, but good luck getting past zoning laws. And shifting Arizona's food economy to a system with a local focus is going to be a difficult transition.

Can Arizona do it? I have no idea. There are so many factors involved, not the least of which are Arizona's water supplies and climate. On the other hand, I firmly believe that places like Arizona have no choice but to try and localize.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
There are certain things that I will undoubtedly miss when/if I leave Arizona, like many friends and some of the sublime wilderness areas and all of the memories of adventures associated with them. Hiking up Oak Creek Canyon stands out, for example (I'd still go back in an instant), as well as our Grand Canyon adventures. And let's not forget southbound travels, either. It has been a good year for Arizona, and I didn't even get to go back to the Chiricahuas for raspberries in the monsoons.

But I am also realizing that there's a culinary experience that I will miss like nothing else: the smell and taste of freshly roasted hatch chilis. I don't think it's possible to get them in other parts of the country. Their smell is just incredible, buttery but fiery and smoky, and they are so freaking delicious in quesadillas. We already have some at home, but one of the stands at the farmer's market was selling some this morning and I couldn't help myself. It's like buying salmon in the Northwest.

Unfortunately for those who live elsewhere, they don't really travel well. Sorry, guys. And they aren't quite as good after they're frozen.

But seriously--methinks the chilis are the best part of the local cuisine that I've discovered so far. Other foods are cool to try out and all, and nice to eat from the standpoint that they're different and good for you, but the chilis. Yeah.
rebeccmeister: (Default)
The weekend before the insanity all began, my friend L and I went out in search of some delicious mesquite pods. These are a native food that was a staple in the diets of native Americans in the southwest. After getting some experience collecting the pods in Phoenix, I kept on seeing delicious-looking trees down in Tucson and was repeatedly tempted to abandon my hunt for ants, leap out of the truck, and collect tons and tons of pods. Anyway, here's how things went in Phoenix.

Step 1: Locate tree without many pods, and climb up in it to find the few that are ripe:

Step 2: Locate a second tree with beautiful, red-veined pods and pick a whole bunch. Many trees have pods that are yellowish, but the red- or purple-veined pods are much sweeter. If you ever go looking for mesquite pods, I recommend taste-testing every tree that you collect from, to make sure you're getting the best of the best. If you collect, you will want pods that are still on the tree but that are dried out and that make a nice rattling sound. The Sonoran mesquites hybridize readily with Chilean mesquites, so each tree will have slightly different pods. Here are our buckets half-full of pods:

Also, sometimes you might be fooled by non-mesquite trees. Towards the end of our collections, I accidentally ate part of a pod from a non-mesquite tree that was utterly terrible (the branch was dangling down in the middle of a mesquite tree). Fortunately, I figured out that it wasn't any good and spat it out right away.

Step 3: Spread out the pods to dry for a while--you can put them in the oven for an hour (I want to say at about 175 degrees), or, if you live in Arizona, you can spread them out on the back seat of your car, where they will cook quite naturally if you leave your car in a sunny spot for a few hours. [Aside: L has decided that one of these days she's going to bake cookies in her car. Brilliant, no?]

Once the pods are dried out, they will keep for a long time. In November, a hammer mill is going to be brought up from Tucson (at Native Seed/SEARCH), so we can have our pods ground up into flour. Then the REAL fun can begin! I have also just ordered a cookbook that portends to be awesome, called Fruits of the Desert, by Sandal English. My aunt T had a copy, and it has some excellent recipes that use mesquite beans and flour. If it weren't for the fact that I'm tired of going to Tucson, I'd be pretty tempted to go back and collect more pods. But I think that instead I will be focusing my energies on collecting and processing prickly pear fruits.

Inasmuch as I'm kind of depressed about being in Arizona right now, it's things like food-collecting that give me some small comfort and cheer. Oh yeah--I also finally got around to planting some tepary beans in my back yard, too. We'll have to see how they do. My planting is a bit on the late side, but both L and D have also planted some, so we can at least compare notes about our experiences.


Jul. 14th, 2008 02:50 pm
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
I will be in Tucson by Wednesday evening. It has been raining. A lot. So much for family time. :/ I'm seriously upset, but will at least get to see people on Tuesday night.

Photo post!

Jun. 9th, 2008 11:33 am
rebeccmeister: (Default)
Well, it has been quite a long time since I've posted any pictures, so I got a little bit behind. Here are a series of photos, all of which can always be accessed from the top-level of my scrapbook gallery. Clicky to view larger--photos not posted here to spare your bandwidth. As usual, if there's a picture of you and you're uncomfortable having it up on teh Internets, let me know and I will remove it. All photos were taken with my rinky-dinky camera, which is great.

Tour of the Farmer House! (for all you out-of-towners who have wanted to see where I live now)

Picking Peaches in Arizona!

Traveling to Austin!

Extreme Picnicing!

Oak Creek Canyon, Trip #1 (there aren't any Trip #2 pictures from my camera because I left it in the lab...bummer...but see R's pictures).


Jun. 4th, 2008 03:46 pm
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One of the side-effects of having no internet at home is that by the time I reach school, my mind has already turned to school-related matters and I can hardly spare a minute to type out my thoughts. This has made me appreciate why [ profile] sytharin's posts are so few and far in between--she similarly does not have internet at home, and when she's somewhere with an internet connection, her priorities are usually elswhere, unless some subject matter has been building up and decides to bubble to the surface.

Last night I rode my bicycle over to Changing Hands Bookstore to hear Gary Nabhan speak about his latest book, Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods. I ended up buying the book, partly out of a sense of homesickness for my favorite Pacific Northwest foods, which are featured in a chapter. Endangered foods are an interesting conundrum: they're things that aren't commonly eaten anymore, and that are often close to extinction, but Nabhan's interested in reviving them through eating them. Paradoxically, that can result in a revival of the food source.

Maybe it's kind of the reverse of commodified food--many of the "endangered" foods have fallen out of popularity because it's impractical to commercialize them. Take the black sphinx date, for example, which grows in a neighborhood in Phoenix. It goes bad quickly enough that it cannot really be shipped anywhere, but it's supposed to be an utterly delicious date (I'll probably see if I can find any to try, though I'm not too fond of dates).

It also made me think of salmon, which are delicious but overfished and subject to population pressures that we don't fully understand. I generally don't eat fish, but have made an exception for salmon when I'm in the Pacific Northwest because it is delicious and it's strongly tied to my sense of Seattle. [I feel similarly about huckleberries on Mt. Rainier, which probably taste much like huckleberries from other parts of the country, but which will never really be the same to me.] But I'm still conflicted about eating salmon, and would never make a habit out of it out of a respect for constraints on its availability.

Towards the end of the evening, I ended up talking to a few people who are interested in permaculture and gardening, which was also nice. Even if it's just a small herb garden, there's something to be said for growing and eating one's own food. Altogether, I think I'll plan to participate in Native Seed/SEARCH's food-plant growing endeavors in the upcoming year. Sure, it's fun to grow foods we know and love, like tomatoes, but it's also pretty cool to try out things like tepary beans, too.
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If I had more functioning neurons at the moment, I'd rattle off a lengthy recapitulation of the events of the weekend. As it is, my neurons don't seem to want to talk to each other much, so here are some highlights:

On Saturday, a bunch of my friends and I drove (or rode) up to Sedona to Oak Creek Canyon to go hiking. We got off to a bit of a late start, so the hiking only really began at around noon. The first section of the hike is along dusty trails through pine forests, and then the trail comes to an end at mile 3 and the REAL hike begins, wading along the creek bed. It was the sort of hike where pictures can't do justice to the experience (though they might reveal the amusing practicality of socks and sandals).

The most entertaining stretches were one section where we had to edge along a ledge while up to our knees in water (the rest of the creek bed would have required swimming), and a second section that did require a brief doggie paddle or breast stroke. Oak Creek was kind of a nice counterpoint to the Grand Canyon, because it was large and beautiful but the hike was mostly flat and not nearly so strenuous. Another favorite was a section where the creek fanned out across a wide, flat rock bed, and the water was only about six inches deep. The group had a good time skipping rocks across this stretch. The light was especially beautiful when the sun began to set.

On Sunday morning, I had a good time with the push-mower, mowing our expansive back yard. If left up to my own devices, I think I'd choose a yard without any grass, but given the effort required to transition to a non-grass yard that looks halfway decent, I'll settle for what we've got. Whenever I mow, though, I can't help but think about Wendell Berry's essay about the joys of learning to use a scythe to mow.

I have a feeling that my collection of gardening devices is going to expand over the next couple of months. I already have a pitchfork (yes, Mom, pitchfork and not potato fork), grass shears, pruning shears, a hand rake, a hand shovel, and a push-mower. But the pruning shears were a bit hard to use on some of the larger tree branches, and I'm going to have to round up some kind of branch-shredding device for the branches I pruned off. Mmm. I love gardening. Who knew?

Subsequently, R and I arranged to fetch a new (used) couch and loveseat from someone who is moving, and now suddenly our house feels a bit more civilized and settled, and we have a place to read and accidentally fall asleep. As an added bonus, it has a pull-out bed, so if you're looking to visit Arizona...

Finally, this morning, 'twas back to rowing among some of the glorious lights and colors of the hot Arizona summer. Sure, it's hot, but the colors are incredible. Oh yeah, and I should also mention that stuck-up coffee has arrived in downtown Tempe: a shop called Cartel Coffee served up a delicious latte for me this morning. If they have wireless internet, they could become a new favorite place for me to get work done, though they don't have many tasty edibles around.

And when all's said and done, that's a fairly comprehensive retelling.
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Here are the photos that R took while we hiked the Grand Canyon. He got a wide-angle lens not too long ago and had a whole lot of fun putting it to good use.

It's funny--lately, when I go and do something so tremendous in magnitude, I almost feel kind of numb during the experience and wonder why I don't feel more exhilarated. But afterwards, when I look through photographs, I'm filled with a sense of awe over how incredible the experience was. R's pictures bring that out even more than my photographs did. This sensation contrasts with how I've felt when in comparable places in Washington and Montana (and in between), where I feel more instantly swept up with my surroundings. Maybe it's a sort of "parched emotion" response or something, or a reflection on how this place catches me quietly when I'm not noticing.
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Here is a link to photos from our Grande Canyone Expedition. My calves are still a bit sore.

Hoo boy

May. 12th, 2008 08:38 am
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Well, I'm finally back in Internetsland. The withdrawal wasn't too painful, considering the awesome scenery. I owe all y'all, my two loyal readers, some photographic evidence of recent exploits. Hopefully I'll have time to provide it this afternoon.

I must say, if you ever in your whole entire life have an opportunity to hike the Grand Canyon, do it. It's by far the best way to experience the place and really appreciate it. I wouldn't particularly recommend hiking down and up again in one day, though it's not impossible. Probably the best thing to do would be to backpack down to the bottom, camp overnight, go day hiking, and then backpack out the following day. As it is, my calves are pretty darned sore now.



Apr. 27th, 2008 08:50 pm
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I think my social calendar is going to need a bit of a break after this weekend. Here's a brief summary before I head to bed so I can get at least 7 hours of sleep before rowing tomorrow:

-Woke up somewhat early (6 am) and rode my bike to the Downtown Phoenix Farmer's Market for bread, eggs, and tomatoes. Things are still pretty busy there, which is heartening.
-Started some laundry and showered
-Led a ride over to Lulu's Cupcakes in Scottsdale. A small but fun bunch, though we managed to miss R and her mom and brother. They ended up going on a longer ride and enjoyed cupcakes a bit later than us.
-Browsed through cookbooks, made a list, and grocery-shopped
-Sped home, changed into a pretty skirt and top, French-braided my hair, and headed to Kiwanis Park for Afternoon Tea with the Ladies. Arrived merely an hour late.
-Enjoyed tea, and rode around in a two-person surrey bicycle (those are those car-like contraptions complete with fringed awnings), fulfilling a childhood dream (they're silly, yes, but isn't it great when dreams are so simply achievable and ridiculous?)
-Rode home again, and then got picked up by R and J to go over to South Mountain for a night hike
-Night hiked on South Mountain. I have to say, there's nothing quite like seeing the Valley all lit up at night. It's a hundred times better than during the day because you can't tell that you're looking at housing developments, and the view of glimmering lights is panoramic. On top of that, you're in the middle of a huge park, which is quiet and still. It was magical.
-I was supposed to call my brother back, but by the time I got home I was exhausted and went to bed. I managed to ride 48 miles, and then hiked about 3-4 miles.

-Woke up early again, climbed back on my bicycle, and rode over to J and R's house.
-Rode down to South Mountain again (east entrance, only a 6-mile ride), and went on a 5-mile hike. It was a nice hike, but the night hike was still so much more magical. I should note that we're hiking a lot in preparation for a trip to the Grand Canyon in two weeks. Squee! I shall climb down into its depths and then clamber back up again, all in one day, and hopefully without emerging as a cripple.
-Assembled some things, called my brother, and then rode over to L's house to bake a few cakes (hopefully we'll have awesome pictures to show you by Wednesday), stopping at the grocery store on the way to pick up forgotten items
-Baked cakes, one a chocolate espresso torte from Pure Chocolate, the other a lemon-poppyseed cake based on a cupcake recipe from cupcakes! by Elinor Klivans. Mmm. Butter is delicious.
-Got a flat tire (kind of a long story), changed it, and then rode over to meet up with some friends
-Discussed the Nitrogen cycle in all of its gory detail
-Rode home, ate dinner, washed the huge pile of dirty dishes, and wrote this.

I'm exhausted again, and my pile of final exams is still only half-graded. Good night!
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Phoenix issued its first high-pollution advisory of the year on Thursday, due to high levels of ozone at ground level.

Over the past couple of years, I haven't paid too much heed to these advisories, which generally include recommendations to reduce high-intensity physical activity during the worst times of day. But it's becoming impossible to ignore the way I feel on these days as I inhale and cough on the air's sharpness and dryness, and it's impossible to ignore the brown cloud that hovered above Phoenix this morning. I think my awareness has grown in part because I've now lived here just long enough to be aware of yearly weather patterns and aberrations in those patterns, or the absence of patterns (the unpredictability of rain is quite striking, as are the points where it's clear it won't rain anymore for a few months).

In some ways, we've been pretty lucky this winter, because with all of the rain we haven't had any winter dry season high-pollution advisories, and in fact there were some clear days where visibility was incredible. But the rain also led to wildflowers and high pollen levels, and the pollen has lingered because it hasn't rained since those mid-winter rains. And I think pretty much everyone is aware of friends or family members who are suffering with allergies (whatever I'm allergic to is mercifully brief, and over by mid-March).

This is where I start to get really angry about other peoples' behavior. Air pollution is one of those things that is uncontained--a landscaper's decision to use a leaf-blower puts more dust into the air that everyone breathes. Every single time someone decides to drive alone instead of carpooling, their additional auto exhaust makes the air I inhale less delicious. Air quality is at least a bit more tangible than global warming, which would make you think that people would do a bit more about it.

I don't want this area to turn into another Los Angeles (though we do inherit some of their bad air), or into parts of the world where people routinely wear face masks because the air is that dangerous to them. So my celebrations of alternate transportation and low-energy alternatives (human-powered lawnmowers, brooms) will continue.


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