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January/February 2016 • Issue No. 16 • $4.99

MAKING MEAT No. 16 January/February 2016

Our World City of Gastronomy Making Desert Meat • Re-Imagining Produce

2 January/February 2016


Contents 6 COYOTE TALKING 10 CITY OF GASTRONOMY Tucson becomes the first city in the United States to be recognized as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy. 12 ONLINE What’s happening at 14 VOICES We asked elementary school students: What would you like the people you love to know about your school garden? 22 GLEANINGS Truck 54; Fermented Tea Company; Desert Edibles. 32 BAJA EATS 40 THE PLATE The one thing they should never take off the menu. 45 HOMESTEAD Gardening: Saving water with olla pots.

94 ON UGLY PRODUCE Jonathan Bloom considers how cosmetics doom about 25 percent of fruits and vegetables to the scrap heap even before they reach the store.

Ask a Master Gardener: Your University of Arizona Master Gardeners are here to help. Kitchen 101: Ramen is a dish best made from scratch. Farm report: What’s in season on Baja Arizona farms.

66 IN THE BUSINESS Mark Killian directs the Arizona Department of Agriculture. 70 DAY IN How to spend a day in Tubac, a colorful and rich village along the banks of the Santa Cruz River. 74 ESSAY Life after brain surgery comes full of food. 84 FORAGE At Cheri’s Desert Harvest, Cheri Romanoski has pioneered the processing of prickly pear cactus into nutrient-dense jellies, syrups, and candies. 126 INFOGRAPHIC The tools and tactics of the modern farmer. 130 SABORES DE SONORA A meandering review of five Nogales taco carts.

106 MAKING MEAT On three family farms—a ranch run by a father and son; a pork farm run by a husband and wife; and a poultry farm run by two brothers—the process of making meat emerges from a community of interdependent parts.

136 BUZZ At The Still, Tiffany Eldredge is making cocktails the way cocktails were meant to be made. 144 BOOZE NEWS All the news that’s fit to drink. 154 LAST BITE Mayor Jonathan Rothschild reflects on Tucson’s food culture.

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January issue two years ago, we wrote an open letter that proposed nominating Tucson as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, saying such a designation could help build a vibrant local food economy and make Baja Arizona a worldwide destination. As a result of the subsequent hard work of many dedicated people over the last two years, on December 11 we received word that Tucson had received the first such designation of any city in the United States, becoming part of the UNESCO Creative Cities network. The 116 cities in this global network are intended to work together toward a common objective: placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level. “The Tucson Basin deserves this honor not only for having some of the oldest continually farmed landscapes in North America, but also for emerging as a global hotbed for ideas on relocalizing food economies and growing food in a hotter, drier climate,” says Gary Paul Nabhan, an ethnobotanist and professor at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center. “From food banks, seed libraries, and farmers’ markets, to community gardens, community kitchens, and literary luminaries writing on food and culture, we are serving as a nursery grounds for new innovations, not merely for preserving our food heritage.” Megan Kimble’s essay “Our City of Gastronomy” on page 10 gives you the full context regarding what this designation can mean to our city and the Baja Arizona region. It was Nabhan who originally initiated Tucson’s application to the Creative Cities network, in what is now a joint effort of the University of Arizona and the City of Tucson, with support from many businesses and nonprofits, including Edible Baja Arizona, the official media partner of the project. Thank Mayor Jonathan Rothschild for his stalwart support of the effort, and the dogged work of Jonathan Mabry, the city’s Historic Preservation Officer, who twice shepherded the application through the process. Congratulations to all of us in Baja Arizona for an honor that has the potential to transform what is already an amazing gastronomic landscape into something truly exemplary. N OUR


reader of this magazine, you know we spend a lot of time and ink thinking about where and how food comes to our plates. “We who eat meat,” writes Megan Kimble, “worry a lot about whether or not we’re eating the right meat and how much we’re eating and where it comes from and if it wears the right adjectives—local, organic, humane, free-range—and if these labels are even true.” In her feature story, she introduces us to three local producers of animal protein: a ranch run by a father and son, a pork farm operated by a husband and wife, and a poultry operation managed by two brothers. All three are involved in a process where the animals they raise are considered integral to a community of interdependent parts. Contemplate this radical notion: If you consciously choose to buy “ugly” produce, you are actually supporting real food, which is more likely grown locally and sustainably. The American produce industry, “a beauty pageant with an insistence on homogeneity,” dooms 25 percent of fruits and vegetables the scrap heap before they reach the retailer, simply because the produce doesn’t meet an acceptable cosmetic standard, writes Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland. That means billions of pounds of produce are wasted annually, a travesty on so many levels. Perhaps Steven Meckler’s photo essay of portraits of forlorn vegetables will make you think twice about choosing “less than perfect” the next time you’re shopping for produce, especially at a local farmers’ market. Maya Kapoor writes movingly about her experience after brain surgery; after years of taking medications to control her epilepsy, she had long lost her sense of taste as well as her appetite. “My first clear memories, after the anesthesia wore off,” she writes “were from the recovery room … to my surprise and everyone else’s, I realized I was famished. Eat, my friends said.” And so begins a two-week period during which her friends would arrive every day bearing meals that Kapoor consumed with gusto. “I remembered … how food could be more than another medicine we take to say alive—how in the best possible situation, food embodies love, joy, art, community.” As always, there is much, much more to discover in this issue. Please enjoy and we’ll see you around the table. ¡Salud! F YOU ’ R E A R EGULAR

“The Tucson Basin deserves this honor not only for having some of the oldest continually farmed landscapes in North America, but also for emerging as a global hotbed for ideas on re-localizing food economies and growing food in a hotter, drier climate.” —Gary Paul Nabhan

—Douglas Biggers, editor and publisher 6 January/February 2016

Editor and Publisher Douglas Biggers Managing Editor Megan Kimble Art Director

Steve McMackin

Business Coordinator Kate Kretschmann Advertising Consultant Johnny Smith Digital Content Manager Kate Selby Senior Contributing Editor Gary Paul Nabhan Designers

Lyric Peate, Sally Brooks, Bridget Shanahan

Copy Editor

Ford Burkhart


Charity Whiting


Lee Allen, Amy Belk, Jonathan Bloom, Bryan Eichhorst, Autumn Giles, Laura Greenberg, Sara Jones, Maya L. Kapoor, Lourdes Medrano, Pima County Master Gardeners, Jonathan Rothschild, Eric Swedlund, John Washington, Sheila Wilensky

Photographers & Artists

Casia and Eric Fletcher, Tim Fuller, Danny Martin, Steven Meckler, Flo Razowsky, Jeff Smith, Grace Stufkosky, Eric Swedlund, Moses Thompson, Shelby Thompson, Ellen Wagner


Burning Ant, Mel Meijas, Shiloh Thread-Waist Walkosak, Steve and Anne Bell Anderson

We’d love to hear from you.

On the cover: Desert chicken. Illustration by Chris Gall Above: Produce comes in all shapes and sizes. Lemon (lisbon and ponderosa). Photography by Steven Meckler

307 S. Convent Ave., Barrio Viejo Tucson, Arizona 85701 520.373.5196

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8 January/February 2016

V OLUME 3, I SSUE 4. Edible Baja Arizona (ISSN 2374-345X) is published six times annually by Salt in Pepper Shaker, LLC. Subscriptions are available for $36 annually by phone or at Copyright Š 2016. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used without the express written permission of the publisher. Member of the Association of Edible Publishers (AEP).

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Our City of Gastronomy By Megan Kimble | Photography by Jeff Smith


E ’ VE K NOW N IT —those of us who eat here have tasted it. We’ve felt it in the soil under our fingernails. We’ve seen it in the magenta stain of prickly pear. We’ve heard it in the hammer mill grinding sweet speckled mesquite; smelled it in the exhale of steam from a crowded pot of tamales. Tucson has always been a city of gastronomy. On Dec. 11, it was designated a World City of Gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), becoming the first city in the United States to receive such a designation. The designation added Tucson to UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, created in 2004 to promote cooperation among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development. Tucson joined 46 other cities added to the Creative Cities Network in 2015. The 116 cities in this network are intended to work together toward a common objective: placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level. “The Tucson Basin deserves this honor not only for having some of the oldest continually farmed landscapes in North America, but also for emerging as a global hotbed for ideas on relocalizing food economies and growing food in a hotter, drier climate,” says Gary Paul Nabhan, an ethnobotanist and professor at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center. “From food banks, seed libraries, and farmers’ markets, to community gardens, community kitchens, and literary luminaries writing on food and culture, we are serving as a nursery grounds for new innovations, not merely for preserving our food heritage.” Nabhan helped initiate Tucson’s application to the Creative Cities network, a joint effort of the University of Arizona and the City of Tucson, with support from many businesses and nonprofits, including Edible Baja Arizona.

Across 33 countries, UNESCO has designated Creative Cities in seven categories: Literature, Crafts and Folk Art, Design, Music; Media Arts, Film, and Gastronomy. Including Tucson, there are 18 Cities of Gastronomy worldwide. In the United States, Tucson joins three existing Creative Cities: Iowa City—designated a City of Literature in 2008—and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Paducah, Kentucky, both Cities of Crafts and Folk Art. Two additional U.S. cities joined the network in 2015: Austin, for Media Arts, and Detroit, for Design. What makes Tucson worthy? Like a Nobel Prize in Literature awarded for an author’s body of work rather than a single publication, there is no single reason for Tucson to earn the accolade. There is what came before: Tucson has the longest agricultural history of any city in North America, extending back more than 4,000 years. Three thousand years after the first farmers of the Sonoran Desert settled in the Santa Cruz River valley, missionary Father Eusebio Francisco Kino traveled on horseback from Mexico to an O’odham village called Schookshon—meaning “below the black hill”—and found a community of 750 people thriving on cactus and mesquite, tepary beans and sunflowers, corn and squash. In 2000, archeologists dug below the surface of a decidedly modern city and “found evidence of habitation preserved in every layer, going back 4,000 years,” says Jonathan Mabry, the historic preservation officer for the City of Tucson, who researched and wrote much of the application to UNESCO. But it is not just our past—an uninterrupted lineage of food— that warrants attention. “With this designation, Tucson can affirm its place as an incubator for innovations in borderland cuisines,” says Nabhan. And it’s just not just about gastronomy, says Mabry. “It’s about using our unique food culture as a means for economic development.”

Tucson becomes the first city in the United States to be recognized as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy. Consider the work of the 30-year-old conservation nonprofit Native Seeds/SEARCH—which Nabhan co-founded—and their extensive collection of desert adapted seeds, some of which exist nowhere else in the world. Think about the seeds planted in soil by tiny fingers in the dozens of school gardens that have sprouted around the city—kids who are now eating food grown in southern Arizona, thanks to work done by the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona to connect local producers with institutional markets, offering not only increased economic stability for our region’s farmers and ranchers, but also greater access to local, healthy food throughout our community. Consider our fields of White Sonora wheat, pastures of rugged criollo cattle, and orchards heavy with Kino heritage fruit trees. More heritage foods listed on the Slow Food International Ark of Taste are grown within 100 miles of Tucson than any other city in North America. Volunteers at Mission Garden are collecting many of those foods into a garden planted on a plot of land that’s been producing food for 4,000 years. Down the street from Mission Garden, in Tucson’s newly thriving downtown, are dozens of chefs—two James Beard award winners—preparing many of these heritage foods in distinctly modern ways, from White Sonora wheat biscotti at Pizzeria Bianco to cholla bud escabeche at Janos Wilder’s Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails. “This designation puts Tucson and its southern Arizona foodshed on the global map as the capital of Southwestern borderlands cuisine and a center of food system innovation,” says Mabry. Indeed, much of the excitement surrounding this designation is outward facing. It offers Tucson the opportunity to be known internationally as a destination for culinary tourism. It facilitates collaboration and exchange with other members of the Creative Cities Network. Joining UNESCO’s Creative Cities

Network “presents an opportunity for Tucson’s chefs, farmers, and ranchers, as well as our businesses, academic institutions, and nonprofits, to be represented on the world stage,” says Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. “I’d like our tourism bureau to be able to tout this designation as yet another great reason to visit Tucson.” But the designation also offers an opportunity for Tucson to look inward—to galvanize our community to action in addressing many of the challenges that still exist in our local food system. The designation can help direct public and private funds to support innovation in the food system, from small business incubators to nonprofit foundations. It can serve to focus and reframe efforts to alleviate poverty and food insecurity within our community. It can catalyze the development of a regional food brand to increase consumer awareness of locally produced foods. Mayor Rothschild recently established a City Commission on Food Security, Heritage, and Economy to address issues relating to food security, food heritage, and the food economy. “I know the participants, especially representatives from the University of Arizona, are excited at the prospect of working within UNESCO’s Creative Cities framework,” says Mayor Rothschild. “Like any other honor or designation, it’s what we do with the City of Gastronomy award that matters,” says Nabhan. “If we want to use it to reduce food insecurity, obesity, and diabetes, let’s do it. If we want to use it to jump-start new food micro-enterprises, let’s go for it. What matters to me most about this designation is that it built a collaboration among the city and county governments, the University of Arizona, our grassroots alliance, nonprofits, and businesses—one that will now endure.” In other words: It’s up us to decide how we will leverage our resources to fulfill our designation as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy—one that will now endure. ✜ Megan Kimble is the managing editor of Edible Baja Arizona. 

Join the Conversation Edible Baja Arizona is always serving up fresh content online! Visit

From the Blog:


Spotlight on: Native Seeds/SEARCH

ince its founding in 1983, Native Seeds/SEARCH has pursued its mission to conserve, distribute, and document the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seeds and their wild relatives, and tell the stories behind these seeds in the cultures of the American Southwest and northwest Mexico. This treasured Tucson nonprofit organization promotes the use of these ancient crops and their wild relatives by gathering, safeguarding, and distributing their seeds to farming and gardening communities. For our first Community Spotlight series, Edible Baja Arizona is highlighting different aspects of the work of Native Seeds/ SEARCH with a series of posts by regular contributor Debbie Weingarten. Read the five-part series:


ocaditos is our own bi-weekly newsletter that packs the flavor of Edible Baja Arizona’s online offerings into tasty little bites. It offers: • A roundup of upcoming local events. • The best of the eBA blog and social media. • Great giveaways for newsletter subscribers, like movie tickets to The Loft Cinema and gift certificates to local restaurants. • Exclusive original recipes, and more!

Go to to sign up!

“The Seed Bank is, quite literally, a place where time has stopped, and I have the sensation of being surrounded by unrealized food, fibers, and dyes in the form of thousands of sleeping embryos.” -Debbie Weingarten 12 January/February 2016


ur Instagram account has been bursting with photos from places we visit, restaurants we enjoy, gardens we grow, and behind-the-scenes looks at how we make the magazine. (Left ) Enjoying a chimichanga at La Cocina in the heart of downtown Tucson. (Center) Kicking off our new Kitchen Diary recipe series with an open face sandwich easy enough to make anytime. Get all the recipes: (Right) Our cold weather #TeatimeTuesdays series highlights teas from local tea shops. We loved the Eight Treasures herbal blend from Seven Cups! See the series:


We asked elementary school students: What would you like the people you love to know about your school garden? Photography by Moses Thompson

The garden makes me want to play with the butterflies. The garden teaches me all about plants. The garden makes me feel so happy! Camryn Hernandez-Maldonado, second grade, Borton Elementary Magnet School

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The garden makes me feel happy because I love the bees and butterflies. It teaches me about insects. I like the garden because it’s a quiet place. Allie Sibley, second grade, Borton Elementary Magnet School

I feel glad because we take care of the garden. It is fun when we plant seeds and seedlings. I feel proud because we work together to make the garden grow. We get to eat the food we grow and share it with other kids. Gardening at school helps me garden at home. If we plant at the school, I learn how to plant in my home. Angeli Marin Cruz, third grade, John B. Wright Elementary

I feel joyful because we help the garden grow. I am glad because we work together. I feel happy because we learn in the garden. I feel proud to share what we grow with the school cafeteria. I feel excited to plant seeds and seedlings. Juan Rodriguez, third grade, John B. Wright Elementary

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When I enter the school garden, I think and feel like I should work at Manzo when I get older. I would like to be the garden coordinator, and I can get information from the school and use it for a home garden. We have rearranged our garden at home many times. Right now we’re growing peas, corn, Swiss chard, and onions. When I learn something in the school garden, I can do it in my garden at home, and when I learn something at home, I can do it in the school garden. Xander Madden, third grade, Manzo Elementary

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What’s most important is that when the vegetables are ready, they go to the cafeteria and we eat it. I like working in the garden because I work with my friends. I feel proud about the garden because it grows vegetables like corn, carrots, and chiles. I feel proud because we help kids get more fruits and vegetables. I also like the chickens. We get to hold them, and before Manzo I never held a chicken before. At first I was scared because I thought they were going to poop on me. But now when I go in to catch a chicken, I feel wonderful. Valeria Ortega, third grade, Manzo Elementary

I would want them to know how being in the garden makes learning so much fun. Also how the garden has tons of cool things. Our garden has chickens and an adobe oven that we use to make pizza. The garden has tons of cool plants and fruits that taste so good. I also think it is so cool that the garden is right in the middle of town. The best part is that I get to see it every day when I come to school. Mikey Becies, fifth grade, Davis Bilingual Elementary Magnet School

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I would like everyone to know that the Davis garden is also a community garden and people can just come in and enjoy it as much as we do. Then they don’t have to waste money at the grocery store. We never use pesticides. Everything is 100 percent organic: seeds and fruit and veggies. Also it might be noisy but I don’t mind it. This is the place I’d most like to be in the entire school. Francesca Durán, fourth grade, Davis Bilingual Elementary Magnet School

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Saxon (left) and his brother, Bryce, are the brains behind Desert Edibles, a company that sells garden starter kits in recycled plastic egg cartons.

Seed Money

Through their business Desert Edibles, Saxon and Bryce Posey are building gardeners, one carton at a time. By Megan Kimble


A XON P OSEY doesn’t consider himself an entrepreneur. Instead, he prefers to go by the title Entre-manure. His younger brother, Bryce, goes by Loyal Minion. His mom, Erika, is a Proud Mama Bear, and his stepdad, K. Peter Polley, is Dad of All Trades. Saxon, 12, and Bryce, 9, are the brains behind Desert Edibles, a company that sells garden starter kits in recycled plastic egg cartons called V’eggs. Each carton comes with 12 plastic pods full of dirt and seeds. “You add water and then put the caps back on. And then on the second day, you take the caps off, and water every two to three days until the seedling is about two to three inches tall,” says Saxon. “And then you just transplant it into your garden.” The simple idea has proven popular with fledgling gardeners, young and old. “We expected them to appeal primarily to kids who want to learn to garden, but far more adults are wanting to get gardens started with them,” says Peter. Bryce and Saxon had originally wanted to sell vegetables after observing a need at farmers’ market for more produce vendors (at the time, Peter was working for Maya Tea Company, managing the farm stand at Heirloom Farmers’ Markets). “We have a big garden, but it’s not that big,” says Peter. So the boys turned to seeds. When they came to their parents in December of 2014 asking for seed money—literally—to start their business, Peter and Erika were skeptical. “But my thought was, they’re 8 and 11,” says Peter. “When I was their age, I was stealing my dad’s gas can when he was at work, mowing lawns for five bucks a pop, and reloading his gas can. And here they are starting a business. Little did we know it was going to take off.”

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Since they sold their first cartons in February of 2015, they’ve expanded to selling at seven farmers’ markets, schedule permitting. They developed a kit for elementary school classrooms called Schoolhouse Crops. Designed to offer a more hands-on learning experience, the boxes come with soil, seeds, egg cartons, and planting and curriculum guides. The boys, who are in fourth and sixth grade at Liberty Gifted and Talented Magnet School, now have 35 V’eggs varieties available seasonally, ranging from winter lettuce to tomatoes to a “ring of fire” hot pepper kit. “We made a kids pack with really easy vegetables to grow,” says Saxon. “I wanted to make a BLT kit but I’m still looking for bacon seeds,” he says, giggling. Saxon says he loves eating all kinds of vegetables except for onions and bell peppers. Bryce prefers to eat fruit. Before they build their seasonal kits, Saxon and Bryce scan seed catalogs looking for unusual or heirloom varieties—one reason their kits are popular with both expert and novice gardeners. Many of the seeds come from Native Seeds/SEARCH, as well as Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. “If you’re looking for an easy way to garden, this is a good way to start,” says Saxon. Bryce is the quieter of the two brothers, but he’d like you to know that Desert Edibles V’eggs are also a great gift idea. Desert Edibles V’eggs sell for $10 per carton at farmers’ markets. ✜ 520.599.1996. Megan Kimble is the managing editor of Edible Baja Arizona.


From left: Todd, Tad, Trenton, and Tracy Sallee, at their Kombucha Café on South Palo Verde and Ajo Roads.

The T in Your Tea

The family behind Fermented Tea Company is spreading the word about kombucha. By Megan Kimble


ER MENTED T EA C OMPAN Y is about as family-run as it gets. “We’re the Ts who sell you your tea,” says Todd Sallee. He runs the kombucha company with his wife, Tracy, and their two sons, Tad and Trenton. (Even their pets have names that begin with T.) Kombucha is fermented tea, lightly carbonated by means of a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), which digests white sugar and produces carbon dioxide—and the probiotic-rich, slightly sweet drink credited with curing a range of ailments. Tracy was the one to lead the family into kombucha. “Years ago, Tad got sick, and one of the things we had to do was totally change our diet. We introduced more probiotics, and we got addicted to kombucha.” When that got expensive, Tracy figured there must be a way to make it herself. “I turned Tad’s room into a lab,” she says. Their scoby is a hybrid of the many commercial varieties Tracy bought online, the product of months of trial and error. “It’s really vigorous and strong,” she says. After developing a consistent recipe, Tracy approached Manish Shah, the manager of Heirloom Farmers’ Markets, to see if they might sell some of their products at the market. Shah owns Maya Tea Company, and gave the family free rein to experiment with his tea. Today, all their teas come from Maya Tea Company. Tracy loves the tea—she oohs and ahs over every flavor. “Look, you can even see the flower petals in this one,” she says, nose nearly in the bag. The first flavor they created was their cuatros amigos [sic], named for the blend of four teas that fill out the flavor. When Shah suggested they brew a kombucha with chai tea—difficult to ferment, because of its high oil content—they jumped on the challenge, producing their popular kombuchai flavor. “It was so

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flavorful and distinct,” says Tracy. “That was when we realized, we have something special here.” They opened a kombucha café at the corner of South Palo Verde and Ajo Roads in June of 2015. Since then, they’ve built a base of regular customers who come to the café for their kombucha on tap, coffee bar, and locally baked goods. They still sell the four flavors that began the business—cuatros amigos, kombuchai, prickly pear, and green tea—and are working on a fifth, an herbal cherry blend created especially for Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market. They brew new batches every week in four 30-gallon tanks, each marked with a colored bandana corresponding to flavor. Todd still works full-time as a refrigeration technician; Tracy is a nurse at Tucson Medical Center. To accommodate schedules, the family swaps shifts at the café like subs in a basketball game—Trenton is in his second year at the University of Arizona; Tad graduated in 2015. In addition to coffee and espresso drinks, the café menu includes Italian Kombucha, Kombucha Protein Shake, and a kombucha made from coffee called Joe Bucha. “We’ll ferment everything,” says Todd. In addition to their retail clients, which include Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, Aqua Vita, and the Food Conspiracy Co-op, they also sell their kombucha by the keg to local restaurants—and one bar, the Dusty Monk Pub, which offers a kombucha whiskey cocktail. “It’s hard to keep the stuff in stock,” says Todd. “Word is getting out about kombucha,” says Tracy. Find the Fermented Tea Company at the Sunday Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park and the Green Valley Farmers’ Market. Bottles cost $4.25 or $16 for a four-pack. Fermented Tea Company. 3820 S Palo Verde Road. 520.286.6887.


Truck 54 offers customers fresh food and employees a fresh start. From left: Ruth Christopherson, Laura Dow, and Diana Figueroa.

Truck 54 Goes to School

The food truck offers a fresh start for people recovering from serious mental illness. By Sheila Wilensky


UNCH IS ALWAYS a surprise at Truck 54, whether it’s a pear fall salad or homemade butternut squash-parsnip soup. Oohs and aahs usually accompany the customer’s first glance at a colorful stir-fry, or ginger-carrot soup, as a proud server offers the midday treat out of the food truck window. Individuals recovering from serious mental illness staff the mobile restaurant, which has been visiting organizations and businesses around town since July 2014. Driven by its motto of “Fresh Food. Fresh Start.” Truck 54 is based out of Café 54 at 54 E. Pennington St. and serves bistro cuisine that changes with the seasons. “We have the Cadillac of food trucks,” says Diana Figueroa, Truck 54 program manager. When she heard that Pima Community College wanted a consistent food truck presence at its various campuses, Figueroa and her staff jumped at the opportunity. Truck 54 operates under the umbrella of the Coyote Task Force, which includes Café 54, Our Place Clubhouse, a center for psychological and social rehabilitation, and the Re-Threads Shop, all housed in the same building. OPC members, who must be enrolled in Tucson’s behavioral health system, train first in food preparation and waiting tables at the brick and mortar café prior to working on the food truck. Bruce Bowden, Café 54’s executive chef, prepares the truck’s mostly local organic meat and vegetarian options, made from scratch daily in the Café 54 kitchen. At PCC, “A lot of students come up to the truck and say, ‘This is fantastic. This is such a great idea,’” says Figueroa. For OPC members involved in food preparation, the possibility of a regular restaurant job is even a greater idea. During their three-month rotation, two trainees serve up everything from

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fish tacos to grilled cheese, green chile sandwiches to spinach salads, and interact with the public, which builds confidence and self-esteem. “Everyone at Café 54 wants to work on the food truck,” says Figueroa. “When I met Janice [Washington] at Café 54 almost a year ago, this woman was hardened,” she says. “Janice took everything personally. She became a completely different woman when she started working on the truck. I would say, ‘Do your job. Don’t worry about the little things. You need to develop coping skills in the community.’ And she did. I’m so proud of her. She’s a work of art.” “People with mental illness are more than their illness,” says Laura Dow, Truck 54’s kitchen manager and job coach. Washington, 46, smiles, and says of Figueroa and Dow, “These two ladies are my guardian angels. If I fall down, they help me get up and try again. I don’t feel judged.” PCC students or instructors looking for a good lunch receive more than just food, says Figueroa, who often steps off the truck to talk and hand out informational brochures. “It’s all about ending the stigma of mental illness. It’s my job to educate people,” she says. Sometimes she talks with someone who came to the truck for a meal but ended up having an epiphany. “They start sharing about a brother or sister who committed suicide,” she says, “or someone they knew who struggled with mental illness. It makes them more comfortable telling their stories.” The chocolate chip cookies sitting in a basket at the truck pick-up window help, too. Visit Sheila Wilensky is a freelance writer and editor living in Tucson.

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OMETIMES we all need a moment of perceived luxury. So my friend Jennifer and I head to La Encantada, my version of a nearby oasis for upscale eats, drinks, and prettified stores with a parking lot that resembles a high-end car dealership. But just beyond the expensive wheels, we find The Living Room Wine Bar, with its industrial high ceilings, dripping gold-toned chain light fixtures, and enormous sweeping drapes that separate the indoors from patio dining. It’s comfort with class and a bit of Los Angeles theatricality. It’s early evening, but already dark, and the dim yellow illumination is just soft enough to make everyone look happier and younger. We’ve taken up residence on a leather couch with a long rustic coffee table close by for our food and drink. It all has the feel of a vintage salon but with some modern accessories. A huge bar offers rotating boutique wines, and just next to it, a long counter big enough for strangers to become friends, with intimate round tables filling in the space. It fulfills the true intention of a living room. The menu covers many bases. We order four bruschetta ($14.95)—two

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traditional (tomato, mozzarella, basil, balsamic), one mushroom (roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, herbs), and one Greek (roasted peppers, goat cheese, garlic, pepper jam). Jennifer gets a f light of wine, with three Pinot Noir tastings ($18), all smooth.

A flight of red wine at The Living Room.

The Greek bruschetta plays well with a hint of sweet jam against the backdrop of the savory goat cheese, while the roasted mushrooms have a rich umami f lavor. After we plow through the bruschetta, we stray into the land of that

golden fried potato: the glorious French fry, here named Awesome Fries ($7.50). They come blazing hot with parsley, garlic, lemon zest, Parmesan, and chili f lakes, with a spicy after-buzz, even better sunk into cheese ranch dressing. Hey, we all have to live it up sometimes. The Old Pueblo has many fast casual eateries, but in The Living Room, I feel like I should be in a lounge dress with some serious stilettos. But the longer we sat, the more we saw people coming and going—some were dressed to the nines, some ready to play the Ninth hole. Not to stir up the old Nirvana song, but really, come as you are. Why? Well, ’cause it’s Tucson. They have a full menu, everything from burgers to salads (don’t worry, th er e’s plent y o f kale) to seafood (oysters, clams, salmon), steak, and sandwiches. Something for even the fussiest eater. The patio is perfect for our weather most of the year. Come for a drink or come for a meal. It’s cozy and upmarket at the same time. 2905 E. Skyline Drive. 520.308.5591.

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U NC H T I M E . People everywhere; cars seem to be go-carts racing in the streets. Mom and I are near faint from hunger and having passed this small corner restaurant a dozen times, this time I impulsively zip into the parking lot because I like the font and the blue on the sign. (Hey, I’m easily swayed by visuals.) Melt. A Sandwich Joint. No identity crisis, no sovereign foodie masquerading as gourmet. Simple and to the point. Their sandwiches are named after different cities and their motto is “tasty eats that can’t be beat.” You order at the register and everyone is genuinely nice. They said their bestseller was the Philadelphia—a rib-eye cheesesteak grilled with mushrooms, onions, peppers, and American cheese ($8). It was all tucked neatly on an Italian sub. I told them to go full-tilt kamikaze extra chopped and they did it with verve. We also ordered the honey-roasted turkey with smashed avocado and bacon bits ($8). We sat near the window at a comfortable table; the sun was shining and life tasted extra good. The portions are generous but not obscene and they‘ve got the right ratio of meat to grilled veggies to cheese. Same with the turkey—and there’s plenty of avocado. They make a mean sandwich: they’re good quality, and they know how to layer on the grub. The macaroni salad was a bit heavy on the mayo but I adore mayo. Inside, it’s roomy, with high ceilings, simple tables, and dedicated eaters in work clothes on their lunch breaks. The noise level is low, the focus on eating. Customers grab their sides and drinks out of the cooler in the front. To me, there’s almost nothing better than two slices of some kind of yeastf lour-water combo baked into something chewy with various foods stuck between. (Years ago I read a whole detective series by Lawrence Sanders who described elaborate sandwich making in painstaking detail. He could write poems on horseradish.) I can’t believe I haven’t come here before, but now I’ll be a regular. The bill was $21.46 (with tip), which doesn’t break the bank.

5056 E. Broadway Blvd. 520.326.6358. Melt’s roomy interior matches their hearty sandwiches. 34 January/February 2016

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T’S A FRIDAY afternoon and Mom and I are hungry for civilized fare that leans classic, not fancy. And, being women who think the best thing might be what we forget to order, we end up studying the Ghini’s Café menu for nearly 10 minutes in a form of dedicated prayer. You know. To be sure. Ghini’s (rhymes with Lamborghini) Café has been in business since 1992. In Tucson years, that longevity earns the coveted institutional-status honor. Today, we’re havi ng breakfast at lunch. I’ve ordered Chef Ghini’s signature eggs Provençal. It’s an extravaganza of two eggs over easy with a large tomato sliced in half, all sautéed in garlic and olive oil with spices. It’s a plate worthy of artistic notice, along with crispy shredded potatoes, toasted buttered baguette, and a perfectly twisted orange slice ($9.95). The sweet of the tomato highlights the savory backdrop of runny yolks in a serious epicurean mouthful. Mom’s three-egg western omelet ($9.95) was a mixture of mesquite bacon, tomato, and onion with hash browns, striking three corners of f lavor notes— sweet, salty, and savory. And since we were doing breakfast at lunch, we split a half-wilted spinach salad ($7.95), a nest of organic leaves, with mushrooms, boiled egg, and a warm bacon vinaigrette that I could have drunk by the glass. The dressing had the right touch of tang without moving into sour. This café is smallish with an unaffected vibe, a bit of funky, plenty of tables, and a large shaded outdoor patio where you can drink with your leashed Fido hovering nearby. They’ll even bring your beloved a biscuit and water. Chef Ghini knows how to cook—she learned from her mother and grandmother in Marseilles—and through the years she’s expanded and amplified her menu. There’s French onion soup, mussels, and salade niçoise. Brunch can be an elaborate affair—do try their crêpes. It’s hearty French food deftly cooked and presented with just the right herbs. Next door, Chef Ghini’s father owns La Baguette Bakery; you can access it directly from the restaurant, but it also has a separate entrance and different hours. Ghini’s Café stays open late on Friday for dinner.

Ghini’s Café. 1803 E. Prince Road. 520.326.9095.

36 January/February 2016

Chef Ghini’s signature eggs Provençal.


calls his 17-year-old eatery Rocco’s Little Chicago “a Midwestern style Italian place—the kind with too much cheese.” But it’s way more than that. It’s the neighborhood place in old digs where regulars outnumber strangers. The covered patio is full; people are talking and food is being hurried to tables. Max, his two hungry boys, and I slide into a huge booth on a busy weekday evening. It isn’t long before the entire table is a magnificent feast of Rocco’s mouthwatering food. Ian and Miles, in the midst of a growth spurt, insist on their own personal pizzas, and they hunker down with generous-sized kids’ pies swimming in cheese and topped with pepperoni. Thin crust, with just the right amount of crunch. ’Tis a thing of beauty, watching silent preteen boys in the thrall of great pizza. OCCO

Rocco’s spinach ravioli.

Max and I split a 12-inch, four-cheese pie (provolone, mozzarella, parmesan, and Romano) as well as a house salad with romaine lettuce, olives, red onion, sun dried tomato, fresh tomato, with a vinaigrette that doesn’t mask all the complementing tastes. I could eat this salad every day. And there’s the small nibbling of spinach ravioli, covered in chopped tomatoes—these little pillows of pasta are stuffed with enough green that they qualify as vegetable, in my view, but still have all the chewiness of pasta. Rocco builds his dishes from scratch— his soups start in a pot, not out of a can. Tonight it’s roasted potato and Asiago, with just the right amount of creamy.

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Zeman’s vegetable sampler plate.

We’re still working on our pizza when out comes a delivery of just-cooked beef meatballs, big taste sensations, perfect for subs or pasta or eating plain. We divvy them up, and soon there are baskets of house-made doughy breadsticks. I dip the Parmesan herb stick in Rocco’s thick, slightly sweet marinara sauce. He makes his gravy “sugo,” the way his grandmother did, simmered for hours, from whole ground tomatoes. More bites visit (and promptly disappear)—barbeque breadsticks with ranch dressing, a f lavor that f lips the corners of the mouth automatically upward, and then a batch of spicy ones. I’m salivating even before chewing. By the time the Nutella breadsticks arrive in this dreamscape, I am near a carb coma. At one point, I went in the back and watched them cook. When I saw the pot of marinara simmering on the stove it made me want to weep with happiness (me and tomatoes, always hot ‘n heavy.) The menu is busy with subs, salads, soups, pastas, desserts, and lots of pizza names ending with vowels. Rocco says, “If someone comes in and orders a large pizza, thin crust with extra sausage, I know they’re from the south side of Chicago.” Tucson is lucky that Rocco brought us a piece of Chi-town, even while new studies by researchers at the University of Michigan argue that cheese and pizza are considered as addictive as drugs. I think they’re better—at least there’s some nourishment. 2707 E. Broadway Blvd. 520.321.1860. 38 January/February 2016


TH IOPI AN CUISINE is surprisingly simple fare with an earth-toned palette and humble ingredients. And Zemam’s Ethiopian Restaurant has been cooking and serving it in a small, offbeat old house for 50 years. If you hanker for tasty, heat-softened food cooked in a crockpot (and I often do), you’ll find satisfaction in Zemam’s mix of meats, legumes, and root vegetables. Max and I arrived early on a weeknight and settled into a corner in the yellow room—it’s like sitting in a friend’s house—and each ordered a sample platter of three dishes. The meal came arranged in equidistant, circular mounds on a large, round sponge bread called injera, which is at the heart of Ethiopian cuisine. Zemam’s menu explains: “Most people in the world eat with chopsticks. The second most popular way is with one’s hand. The third is with knives and forks. We invite you to enjoy your food in the traditional way using the traditional bread injera.” Injera is fermented sourdough bread, slightly thicker than a crêpe or tortilla. Tear off a piece of the spongy stuff and pinch a mouthful from one of the spicy mounds. It’s kind of like being a kid again, but less messy and with more to explore. We ordered one meat sampler ($12.50) and one vegetable sampler ($11.75). We tried shiro, puréed chickpeas blended

with berbere, a combo of powdered chiles and spices; yetakelt wat, a medley of potatoes, mushrooms, and carrots stewed with some spicy peppers and onions; and spinach wat—a dark forest green—with a side of cottage cheese to offset the spices. Each food worked in tandem with the next. Take your injera and grab a bit of this and then a bit of that; the f lavors mix well. The other sample we tried was doro wat, bone-in chicken cooked in a rich, spicy berbere chili sauce; zigni, tender beef cubes simmered in a piquant chili sauce; and yemisir kay wat, red lentils sautéed in spicy berbere. Ethiopian food has many taste similarities to both Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines. Think chile, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, garlic, onion, and tomato. By nearly 6 p.m., the restaurant had filled and most of the seats were taken. The ambiance of the dining crowd felt like quiet reverence.  2731 E. Broadway Blvd. 520.323.9928. BYOB ($1.50 corking fee). Read more from Baja Eats online at Laura Greenberg is a Tucson-based writer.

edible Baja Arizona




The Plate Plate the



The one thing they should never take off the menu.

1234 Photography by Shelby Thompson

Phyllo Wrapped Chicken Scott and Co. This all-natural chicken breast comes stuffed with spinach and goat cheese, wrapped in flakey phyllo dough, with a side of salt smashed potatoes, sage-braised carrots, and chicken jus. $18 47 Scott Ave.

40 January/February 2016

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich Mr. Cookman’s Soul Food Truck Mr. Cookman says it himself: “Low and slow, the only way to go.” This classic pulled pork sandwich will leave your hair smelling smokey and your stomach satisfied. $5 Visit for their location.

Fish Tacos Street Tacos & Beer Flaky white fish is fried to golden perfection and topped with shredded cabbage, tomatoes, and a creamy sauce. So good you’ll need more than one taco; it’s just street smarts. $3/taco 58 W. Congress St.

Sammy Dog El Guero Canelo If you’re going to get a Sonoran dog—the classic of the Sonoran desert, a hot dog swaddled in bacon smothered in pinto beans folded into one fluffy bun—why not get one with two franks? $3.29 5201 S. 12th Ave.

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edible EXCURSIONS Hop aboard a comfortable motorcoach, relax, and spend a delightful day exploring, eating, and drinking with us on an Edible Excursion. For complete details on itineraries, dates, and reservations, visit:

Coming this Spring to Baja Arizona.

Explore the gastronomic terrain of Baja Arizona and discover places you’ve read about in the pages of this magazine. Go behind the scenes with farmers, winemakers, cheese makers, brewers, and food artisans! Follow the trail from farm and vineyard to table and glass. Learn about the food culture right here in our City of Gastronomy, and the wine country of Willcox and Sonoita, with your guide Tana Fryer of Blu–A Wine and Cheese Stop.

Cross the border into Sonora following the footsteps of Father Kino, with your guide Jesús García, education specialist at the ArizonaSonora Desert Museum and one of the founders of the Kino Heritage Fruit Tree Project. He’ll share his in-depth knowledge of local history, traditional music, and cultural ecology and how it relates to the mission district in Northern Sonora. Visit a heritage fruit tree orchard in the pueblo of San Ignacio, have lunch under the trees with Doña Chata Gallegos, and spend time in the lovely plaza in Magdalena where Kino is buried.


An olla watering system consists of an unglazed clay pot buried under the soil.

Saving Water with Ollas By Amy Belk | Illustration by Danny Martin


learned about olla gardening last year when an irrigation system wasn’t an option and I needed a long-term alternative to watering with the hose (which, in my garden, ends up being either a death sentence for plants or a waste of water). It turns out that a lot of other people have also just recently been learning about gardening with olla pots, even though this effortless, resource-saving watering technique has been in use for more than 4,000 years. Their resurgence in popularity in the United States comes at a time when water conservation and convenience are top priorities in our gardens. Unfortunately, these are two things that don’t always go hand-in-hand. It’s all too easy to waste water with automatic irrigation systems, but the more time we’re forced to spend tweaking them, the less convenient they become.

An olla (pronounced “oy-yah,” known as an olla pot or olla jar) watering system is nothing more than an unglazed clay pot that is buried under the soil, preferably near a thirsty plant. The clay that ollas are made of is porous enough to allow water to slowly move from the jar into the dry soil around it. The roots of nearby plants grow toward the olla, and they eventually form a dense mat around it, drawing water as needed from the surface of the clay. There are many shapes and sizes available, but they’re often shaped somewhat like bottles with wide bottoms (the wider the better, for the most efficient watering radius) and long, tapered necks. Their tops are left slightly above the soil line when ollas are buried, allowing for easy refills. A cap or rock over the top helps to keep water from evaporating. The neck and lip can be glazed to prevent water from wicking up and above the soil line.

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A modern version of this ancient watering system is also available. One company in Tucson, Cutting Edge Ceramics, has a patent pending on olla balls that are attached to irrigation lines, allowing many smaller ollas to remain filled from a single water source. The more traditional olla pots drop water use by an astounding 50-70 percent, and users of the olla ball system are reporting even deeper water savings. Ollas reduce water waste by delivering water directly to roots below the soil surface, eliminating water loss from evaporation and runoff. A plant growing on olla irrigation is able to draw just the right amount of water whenever it wants, rather than receiving a set amount of water on a schedule that often doesn’t match its needs. Water needs can vary by the plant, the day, and the season, so applying the perfect amount of water is nearly impossible. Because the water supply is constant and steady, ollas keep fruits like tomatoes and peppers from getting disfigurations, cracking, or splitting, all of which often occur when they’re watered erratically or allowed to get too dry.

46 January/February 2016

The top of your olla pot should be left slightly above the soil line when buried, allowing for easy refills.

Another benefit of this subsurface water delivery system is that it helps reduce weeds. Seeds have a hard time germinating with no water at the soil surface. Those that do germinate have a hard time getting their roots deep enough to reach the olla. This means that when you do want seedlings to find your olla, you’ll need to help them along with regular watering until their roots reach the subsurface moisture, which extends out about the same distance as the olla’s radius. Plants can be fed through an olla by adding water-soluble fertilizers. Compost tea can also be used, or graywater, but an olla will only work as long as water can pass through its pores, so make sure that anything you add to the olla is extremely well-filtered with no solid particulates floating around. It’s also important to keep your olla pot full rather than allowing the water level to get too low. Salts and other minerals can build up on the surfaces of the clay as the water line slowly drops, so it’s best to keep the water level above 50 percent as often as possible. You’ll get many more seasons of use by keeping those precious pores unclogged.

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[E.H.] Once the growing season is over, dig up the olla along with all of the tired veggies. Scrape off any roots that are attached to the clay and give the jar a good scrub before storing it or planting it with the new season’s crops. Store it over the winter if you live in an area where the ground freezes. There is one downside to working with ollas; they’re made of clay that is fired at low temperatures and, while the result is very porous, it’s also fairly brittle, and will naturally deteriorate with repeated use. You have to be extra careful when moving, storing, or digging around your olla jar to prevent cracking or breaking the clay. After about five years you’ll probably need to purchase or make a new jar, even if you’ve taken excellent care of it. Since fast-growing, woody roots can easily crush an olla, you have to pay attention to what’s nearby before deciding where to plant it. If a thirsty tree or shrub is in the vicinity, it may be best to limit your olla use to raised beds or large planters. That said, savvy gardeners have

been known to make inexpensive ollas to help get trees or shrubs established, knowing that they won’t be able to dig up the ollas to use them again. Growing interest means that it shouldn’t be too hard to find ollas for sale. Ask at your local nursery to see if they carry ollas, or if they can order some for you. Many garden centers and large retailers are also beginning to regularly stock ollas. Detailed step-by-step instructions for making several different types of ollas are posted online for those who like to DIY. Check out the chapter on olla pots in David Bainbridge’s new book, Gardening with Less Water (Storey 2015). And as you’re saving yourself all kinds of water with your new ollas, make sure to stop and muse over how our favored irrigation methods have come full circle.  Amy Belk is a garden writer and photographer, a certified arborist, and a certified nursery professional who has been learning from her garden for 15 years. She and her husband homestead on a little piece of the desert in the heart of Tucson.



hose at the highest elevations of Baja Arizona

(above 4,500 feet) can continue to plant onion sets through the beginning of February, and it may warm up enough by mid-February to begin planting horseradish, kale, and spring peas. peas If you live between 3,000 and 4,500 feet there’s not much going on in January (though dry onion sets can still be set out through the winter months and into mid-March), but the garden really gets going in February. Endive, horseradish, and kale can be planted early in the month, and pepper seeds can be started, too. Around mid-February you can plant asparagus, cabbage seed, Swiss chard, garlic, kohlrabi, leeks, head lettuce, mustard, green onion, parsley, spring peas, pepper plants, and spinach spinach. It may still be cool enough between 2,000 and 3,000 feet to get some last-minute winter crops in the ground. Plant Chinese cabbage, collard greens, leeks, head lettuce, parsley, and parsnip before mid-January. Cabbage, cauliflower, endive, horseradish, kohlrabi, mustard, and green onion can be planted by the beginning of February if temperatures remain cool. Kale and onion sets can be planted by mid-February. You can also plant asparagus, beets, carrots, Swiss chard, leaf lettuce, radish, rhubarb, rutabaga, spinach, and turnips through the end of February. Meanwhile, tomato seeds can be started from mid-January to mid-February, spring peas can be started in early February, and pepper seeds and potatoes can be started by around Valentine’s Day.

48 January/February 2016

Gardeners between 1,000 and 2,000 feet have time to plant green onions, dry onion sets, rutabaga, spinach, and turnip by early February. By the end of February plant asparagus, carrots, leaf lettuce, Swiss chard, and tomato and pepper seeds. seeds Beet and radish can be planted through the end of February and beyond. Early in February eggplant, potatoes, and summer squash can be started if temperatures are warm enough. By mid-February you should be able to plant bush beans, lima beans, cantaloupe, sweet corn, muskmelon, tomato starts, and watermelon. watermelon The very lowest elevations of Baja Arizona (below 1,000 feet) are still able to plant beets, cantaloupe, cucumber, muskmelon, radish, summer squash, and watermelon through the end of February. Potatoes should be planted by mid-February, and asparagus, rutabaga, spinach, and turnip can be planted until around the end of January. Green onion, dry onion sets, parsley, pepper seed, and tomato seed are usually best if planted by around mid-January. Tomato plants can be started as early as the beginning of January, and by the middle of that month you should be able to plant eggplant eggplant, and spring peas. peas Around Feb. 1 you can begin planting bush beans, lima beans, beans and pepper plants. plants Look to plant sweet corn as early as mid-February if temperatures are warm enough.

edible Baja Arizona



Master Gardeners: Here to Help By Pima County Master Gardeners | Illustration by Danny Martin

Master Gardener Megan Todd


ave you ever wondered what’s causing

those little holes in your favorite plant’s leaves? Why its flowers aren’t turning to fruit? How to feed its soil? Wonder no more! The Pima County Master Gardeners Program (PCMG), part of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, is here to answer those and any other plant questions you might have. Submit any and

50 January/February 2016

all gardening questions at Starting in the March issue, we’ll answer them in our Ask a Master Gardener column. The goal of our 200 enthusiastic Master Gardener volunteers is to help you become a more successful gardener. We provide university research-based answers and resources through our plant clinic, library talks, garden tours, seminars, workshops, home garden

Master Gardener Murray DeArmond

consultations, publications, website, and many outreach programs. We want to help you enjoy gardening and grow healthy, vigorous plants. From cacti to fig trees, we can show you how it’s done. Just who are these people who call themselves Master Gardeners (MGs)? Here are three examples of Master Gardeners who will be answering all your burning questions from the garden. After moving to Green Valley from Kentucky for her husband’s job, Megan Todd found herself feeling homesick and trying to adjust to living in the desert. She loved gardening back home in Kentucky, so she planted some of her favorite plants here. But they didn’t grow as expected. So she sought advice from the Green Valley Master Gardeners. Megan says that anybody can have a garden; she enjoys teaching people how to grow a variety of plants in containers in even a postage-stamp-sized yard. Megan serves on the raised bed edible garden committee

and is eager to help others learn to grow their own fresh vegetables. She continues to volunteer with the Green Valley MGs to help residents and winter visitors oversee their own garden plots. Murray DeArmond, a retired psychiatrist, joined the program in 1999 and has remained a steady and passionate volunteer ever since. Murray honed his gardening expertise by putting in hundreds of hours working in the MG Plant Clinic at our Cooperative Extension Office on Campbell Avenue. At the clinic, MGs answer questions from the public by phone, in person, and online. “We are much more than just hands in the dirt,” he says. “We get the chance to do a variety of activities besides actual gardening.” Over the years, he has served on almost every committee the program has. On Thursday mornings he can be found with his shade hat and gardening gloves on, shovel in hand, helping to create a beautiful garden full of colorful flowers.

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Master Gardener Wanda Bentley

Wanda Bentley was a special education teacher and a 4-H leader in Arizona before she retired. In 1988 she led the first 4-H club in the nation for school-aged children with special needs. She brought her love of plants and flowers to the classroom, where she used gardening to help her students learn vocational and leisure time activities. Wanda loves being part of the MG community and interacting with the array of people from all walks of life who share a common interest in helping to educate the public about the many benefits of gardens. She has contributed more than 1,000 hours of volunteer time. She believes that the MG program is a great way to learn how to grow from “farm to table.” She says, “If you want to eat really well, grow it yourself.” Megan, Murray, and Wanda are just three of our many gardening experts. To benefit from their knowledge and become a more successful gardener, check out our Master Gardener programs.  Pima County Cooperative Extension. Master Gardener Program. 4210 N. Campbell Ave. 520.626.5161.

52 January/February 2016

G ET I NVOLVED ! • Have plant questions? Call our Plant Clinic at 520.626.5161 Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. • Stop by our office and visit the Plant Clinic and our 14 demonstration gardens at 4210 N. Campbell Ave. • Subscribe to our Sonoran Seasons and Activities Update newsletters on our website. • Attend our seminars or workshops. • Check local libraries for gardening talks. • Utilize the home garden consulting team. • Take one of our informative tours. • Stop by the Master Gardener table at a local farmers’ market. • Buy plants at our biannual plant sales (April and October). • Become a Master Gardener!

Bamboo Ranch

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Ramen 101: Use Your Noodle Text and Photography by Laura Greenberg


e all know about salt-soaked packages of

dried ramen, and now even more of us have tried bowls of luscious ramen in Japanese restaurants. But if you’ve got a bit of imagination plus time, ramen is a dish best made from scratch. According to George Solt, a history professor at New York University, ramen originated in China before it traveled into Japan in the 1800s, where it became known as Japan’s national dish. Ramen exploded in popularity in the 1970s with the Japanese invention of instant ramen. The cheap stuff spawned an industry and frenzy through the ’80s and ’90s that created ramen videos, celebrities, and museums, until America’s eventual embrace of all things ramen. The easiest homemade ramen noodle recipe is available on the website for Lucky Peach, edited by David Chang, the chef famous for his Momofuku noodles. Most of the

54 January/February 2016

ramen recipes online are dedicated to making the broth, but not to making a fresh noodle, which I think defeats the purpose. You be the judge. If you become a bit obsessed about ramen, there’s no shortage of information online. Check out “The Mind of a Chef ” on In the first episode, titled “Noodle,” David Chang takes you on a hilarious ramen adventure through Japan. And if you want a movie for your noodling, check out “Tampopo,” a meditation on human nature and the hunt for the perfect noodle restaurant, or “The Ramen Girl,” about a girl who trains to be a ramen chef under a tyrannical Japanese master. But for us newbies, I’m keeping the recipe simple. Don’t forget, the most authentic way to eat ramen is to slurp the noodles.


Recipe adapted from Lucky Peach


went to Lee Lee International Supermarket for a bottle of lansui (potassium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate), called for in this recipe to make the noodles alkaline. But then I just “baked” the baking soda and it was so simple, I used that instead. The process turns the dough a yellow color and is crucial to giving ramen its texture, so the noodles get well coated in the broth and can stand up to the hot liquid without falling apart. This dough looks a bit like it has holes in it. I’ve been making pastas for years but I had to wrestle this through burning muscle fatigue to put it in its place. The best way

to work it is to keep laminating the dough by folding it and then running the dough through the widest setting on the pasta machine five to six times. That’s what it took to tame and smooth out the dough so I could move it through successive thinner settings on the machine. Then I slipped on the small spaghetti attachment and it went through beautifully. I put the noodles on a large cookie sheet covered in parchment to dry. From start to finish, it took me about two hours for the noodles. The next time I make it, I’ll double the amount so I can have some left over. Makes 6 portions.





3 ½ ½ ½

cups (400 grams) all-purpose flour cup baked baking soda cup (100 grams) warm tap water cup (100 grams) cold tap water

Spread a half-cup of baking soda on a foil-lined sheet pan and bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour. Put the warm water in a large mixing bowl. Dissolve 4 teaspoons of the “baked soda” then add the cold water. Add flour, stirring and mixing to form crumbly, pebbly dough—this is not friendly dough. Turn crumbly dough onto a work surface. Knead together, working the dough for 5 full minutes—and don’t skimp on the time. (This hurts, worse than a dozen onions in a windowless room. It will be a tougher sparring partner than any flour dough you’ve ever tried before.) Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 20 minutes, then knead for another 5 minutes. (You will curse and sweat and curse more.) Rewrap the dough and put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Divide the dough into five or six portions. Roll each portion out using a pasta machine. Progress through the various thickness settings one by one. The final thickness of the noodles is up to you, as is the width and shape into which you cut them. Keep the noodles well floured to prevent them from sticking. Cook the noodles in a big pot with plenty of water. Noodles cut on the thinnest setting will only need two and a half or three minutes to cook. Check the noodles regularly while they’re cooking; if they stick together, rinse them under cold water immediately after straining them from the pot to stop the cooking and rinse off any excess starch.

8-10 large chicken breasts 1 pound (approximately) of pork shoulder or 2 pounds of spare ribs 1 large bunch of Italian parsley 3 large onions 6 long celery stalks 8 peeled carrots 4 cloves garlic, pressed 1-2 tablespoons of organic chicken bouillon Combine in a very large stockpot and cover with water, leaving about a foot of space at the top. Cook on a low simmer for 5 hours, until you have a flavorful stock. Once it’s strong enough, then you transform it from a standard soup broth into one with an Asian twist. I put mine in the fridge so I could get it cool enough to easily get the fat off and strain it through a tight mesh or cheesecloth. (That’s a personal taste thing.) Add the following slowly, so you can decide the taste level you’d like: Start with 3 tablespoons of sesame oil Add ½ cup of soy sauce 1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger ½ cup of mirin ½ cup rice vinegar I put in a tablespoon of Vegeta, (vegetable powder, no MSG) that I bought at Caravan foods at Glenn and Country Club. If you want some kick, hit it with a little bit of chile oil, but start with a teaspoon. The reason the measurements aren’t set in stone is because everyone likes their soup flavored differently. Remember, you can always add more.

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R AMEN T OPPINGS All toppings are optional —use all or none. Wash 3 pounds of natural pork shoulder and put in a slow cooker or in the oven at 325 in a roasting pan with 3 onions, a bit of salt, and about 3 inches of water. It usually takes about 3 hours until it’s soft. I check it with a fork and knife and once it starts shredding, pull it from the oven. After it cools, cut out the fat and shred it. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil. Put the shredded pieces on top and cook on a low broil, on the bottom 1/3 of the oven. Broil until it gets slightly crispy. Boil a few eggs until hardboiled or make a poached egg and serve hot after your bowl is all prepared. Chop one head of bok choy into fairly small pieces and sweat it in a pan with olive oil and a touch of butter with some black pepper. De-stem a bunch (or more) of spinach, then sauté with garlic in a pan with olive oil. Chop up 2 stems of leeks and sauté. Chop up some green scallions or chives.

Arranging Your Bowl I think half the fun of making this soup is putting it together. It reminded me of arranging flowers. Edible ones. Put the broth in a bowl then put a big batch of fresh cooked noodles in the middle and round out the circle with your toppings, finishing with the scallions.  Laura Greenberg is a Tucson-based writer.

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(Left to right) Cabbage from Sleeping Frog Farms; Brussels sprouts from Grammy’s, and arugula from La Oesta Gardens.

FARM REPORT What’s in season in Baja Arizona. By Sara Jones | Photography by Liora K


n the winter , leafy greens and root crops dominate

at markets and in Community Supported Agriculture shares. At first glance, a winter market may not seem to offer many choices, but there is actually a wide variety of vegetables available during these months. Grocery stores usually sell just one type of each vegetable, selected for its ability to ship and store well. Farmers’ market vendors can offer more variety. “We grow several types of carrots in different shapes and colors to give people more options during winter,” says Clay Smith of Sleeping Frog Farms. Farmers growing for market also have access to a variety of seed. Seed companies and seed banks work hard to preserve and promote heirloom seeds as well as develop new varieties, offering you the opportunity to try candy striped beets, purple carrots, speckled lettuce, and many more distinctive, colorful vegetables. There are many types of greens to choose from at the market in winter. To make shopping and cooking easier, familiarize yourself with the different varieties; each has its own taste and texture. “One of the best things about the CSA is the great quantity and amazing variety of greens we

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get during the cold months,” says Philippe Waterinckx of the Tucson CSA. “Winter greens can be daunting at first, but once you’ve embraced them, you’re tapping into a source of very healthy and low calorie foods that can be prepared in many different and delicious ways.” While you can use most greens interchangeably in recipes, it helps to know the characteristics of each. Many of the greens at market are in the highly nutritious cruciferous family, a huge family which also includes broccoli and cauliflower. Cruciferous greens include earthy kale and collards, as well as their pungent cousins, mustard and turnip greens. Many Asian greens are also in the cruciferous family. Succulent stemmed bok choy and pac choy have a mild cabbage flavor while mizuna can have the spice of horseradish. Though their leaves may resemble lettuce, greens like radicchio, dandelion, and escarole can be quite bitter. Chard and beet greens are in the same family as spinach and are similarly mild in flavor. If you are sensitive to bitter or pungent flavors, you may want to blanch strongly flavored greens before using them in a recipe. Just add a handful of greens to a pot of boiling

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water and stir to submerge. After about a minute you can remove the greens from the pot, dunk them in cold water and squeeze to remove excess water. Blanching is also a good space-saving option if you end up with several big bunches of greens. Cooking greens, both cultivated and wild harvested, have been an important part of almost every culinary tradition around the world. For recipe inspiration look to your favorite ethnic food for ideas. Large, sturdy leaf greens like kale, collards, and mustard greens can be used for stuffed cabbage recipes or raw wraps. These sturdy greens are also great for long-simmered dishes like Indian saag or Southern style braised greens. Any of these greens will also make great baked chips. Cheese, butter, cream, or pork fat will help mellow the bitterness or pungency of strongly flavored greens. Tart flavors like lemon, tomatoes, or vinegar also work well in balancing bitter flavors. Greens are generally sweeter in cold weather, making this a good time of year to eat them raw in salads or by juicing. For salads, look for baby green mixes that include several varieties of leaves. One new item available at local farmers’ markets is oyster mushrooms from Old Pueblo Mushroom Growers. “Oyster mushrooms can tolerate variations in temperature better than other varieties of mushrooms,” says Andrew Carhuff of Old Pueblo. “They grow in a hoop house where they can survive the occasional freeze in winter.” To grow the mushrooms, Carhuff and Nicole DeVito prepare their own straw logs, which they inoculate with the mushroom mycelium. “Once the mushrooms appear they can double in size in 24 hours,” says Carhuff. Several batches of mushrooms grow on one log; after they harvest, the straw makes a perfect addition to their compost pile. Nicole and Andrew are looking forward to raising shitake mushrooms. “Shitakes grow on hardwood logs,” says Carhuff. “It is something that hasn’t been tried in this region, so we are experimenting in order to find the right locally available wood.” Oyster mushrooms and produce are available at the Old Pueblo Mushroom Growers booth at the Thursday Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market and the Sunday Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park. ✜ Sara Jones is a longtime employee of the Tucson CSA.

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itrus is a fantastic winter treat in Baja Arizona. Early in the year, many varieties of citrus, both sweet and sour, are at their peak. There are many uses for citrus besides eating it as a snack or juicing the fruit. Citrus can be used in both sweet and savory recipes. It adds flavor to pies, cakes, custards, and more. A squeeze of juice and a pinch of zest add tang to creamy pasta or risotto. Sliced or quartered citrus are a good addition to roasted chicken or fish dishes or long-braised meat or vegetable dishes. Slices of kumquats and and other varieties of citrus with tart juice and sweet edible peels are great garnishes for salads, pies, and cakes. The citrus you find at market (or get from your own backyard) is organic and wax free. That means you can use the zest and peels as well. The zest is the thin layer of colored skin around the fruit where the highly fragrant citrus oils are. Use a paring knife to remove strips of zest, taking care to avoid the white pith. Add the zest of a few fruits to one cup of either oil, honey, or vodka and let it infuse for one week to add a citrusy flavor. You can also lay the zest out to dry for a day or two, and then use it for mulled wines and tea blends. Marmalades or candied citrus peels are delicious options for using your citrus fruit and recipes are easy to find online or in cookbooks.



lean one bunch of greens by submerging in water. Chop roughly and add the still-damp greens and some minced garlic to a hot, well oiled skillet. Stir until wilted (this will take 30 second for greens like spinach and a minute or two for thicker greens like kale. If necessary, add a splash of water to keep from sticking). Season to taste (ideas below) and serve immediately.

Add: Soy sauce + balsamic vinegar + Parmesan cheese or Soy sauce + ginger + chile flakes (add ginger to pan with greens and garlic) or Salt and pepper + lemon + capers or Hot sauce + queso fresco

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Arizona’s Farmhand A lifelong family farmer, Mark Killian now oversees 200 employees, an $8 million budget, and a $17 billion a year agricultural economy as the director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture. By Lee Allen | Photography by Grace Stufkosky

What is your vision for the Department of Agriculture?

I’m hopeful that under my direction the department can advocate for both large production agriculture and small farm operations because I place them both together. Small farmers are a piece of the puzzle for future food production. They probably won’t replace production agriculture on a large scale, but we need as many avenues of production as possible and the smaller growers fit in well. I raise chickens for a hobby and grow pumpkins on my ranch in Show Low to sell at farmers’ markets. Whether you’re the biggest production farmer or a backyard carrot grower, if I can do something to help you, that’s what I’m going to do.

How would your describe yourself ?

I’m a Mormon and my religion defines me and guides me in how I think and what I do. After my mission, I married my sweetheart, Nancy, and we have six children. I love horses and dogs and raise ranch quarter horses and Australian shepherds as well as too many chickens to count.

What is the state of Arizona’s agriculture?

Production agriculture in Arizona is growing, and because of California’s water shortages, we’re beginning to see producers come into our state, like some West Coast vegetable growers now looking at the Eloy area to farm their crops. The cattle industry is coming back and the genetics of the overall herd is improving. The dairy industry continues to grow with more dairies arriving in the state and, because of avian flu, I think we’re going to see the same thing with egg production. Arizona will be a destination spot for broilers, turkeys, egg production—it’s all positive. 66 January/February 2016

What does our water future look like?

Approximately 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water f lows into Pima, Pinal, and Maricopa Counties yearly and irrigated agriculture uses nearly 70 percent of available water. But we’ve got a ton of water underground called brackish water that we haven’t even tapped yet that gives us an insurance policy for the future. Fifteen consecutive years of drought conditions affect us, sure, but I’m still optimistic.

Now that Lake Mead has dropped to its lowest historic level, and future water rationing seems imminent, what is your vision for helping Arizona farmers and ranchers adapt to higher water prices and periodic drought-driven water scarcity?

I would not agree that water rationing is imminent. Arizona ranchers and farmers have been preparing for the possibility for decades, and we continue. In 1980 we created the Groundwater Management Code that addressed the drought, allocated the current groundwater resources, and provided an actionable plan to replace groundwater. People in agriculture understand exactly how valuable water is; they’ve been using technology to enhance efficiency in production. We’ll work with our current partners to educate and share developments when they become available and when they become more cost efficient.

Where does Arizona rank in agricultural output?

Those who plow dirt in this state do so in prolific fashion. Mark Killian is the director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture. What’s up with the SPAM? Killian said that the Department of Agriculture is the second largest consumer of SPAM in Arizona. They cut it up into little pieces and use it to attract fire ants so they can eliminate them.

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Arizona ranks third in the nation for overall production of fresh market vegetables, producing close to 90 million cartons of fresh produce last year. The state ranks second nationally in production of leaf, iceberg, and romaine lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, cantaloupes, and honeydew melons.

Arizona imports $3.2 billion in foodstuffs while exporting $2.8 billion. Why is that?

You always want to export more than you import, but importation also brings money into the state and that’s good. It’s just a matter of our ability as a state to increase our production and trade agreements and a lot of that is handled at the federal level. We employ a lot of people and buy a lot of stuff to do our job and to equalize the import/export balance. It’s time for our industry to be humbly aggressive in educating people about just what a great production operation we represent. We’ve been so busy doing what we do that we’ve not articulated our mission as well as we could. Everything about Arizona agriculture is a net positive. But in order for us to survive in an atmosphere where radical environmentalists and people who advocate against production agriculture exist, we need to better educate the general public and our policy makers about what we do, how we do it, and the reach of our agriculture dollars. We need to stop apologizing for what we do. We’re a sleeping giant that needs to awaken, to dispel some of the negative myths about agriculture, and spread our positive message.

How will you accomplish this?

One way is through education, a resumption of former Agriculture Days on university campuses. We’re going to approach the presidents of UA, ASU, and NAU and see if we can’t bring that back—a day where production agriculture brings its tractors, farm equipment, and produce to campus so students can ask questions. Right now people are only getting one side of the story and we want to balance that with the farmer story.

So can environmentalists and work more closely together?

I think if environmentalists would quit trying to kick the cowboys off the land and quit trying to keep farmers from farming, we could find some commonality. It’s easy for radicals to paint a picture of “terrible corporate farms,” and PETA, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and others pick on us all the time, but in most cases, folks in agriculture care about the land and their animals because they’re dependent on both for their survival. There’s so much that farmers already do to take care of the land and what it produces; environmentalists need to take a deep breath and work with us.

What would you like to see changed in the state?

It involves government inducements to attract new industry while overlooking current money makers. We get in a hurry to chase big companies like Intel and Apple to relocate and we give away tax breaks to attract them here, yet we’ve got a multibillion-dollar 68 January/February 2016

ndustry already here that is sort of ignored. Even though Arizona is rapidly urbanizing, it’s also a rapidly growing agriculture state and the potential is probably brighter than it has ever been. I feel the policy makers, before they run off and offer great deals to out-of-state companies who may never move here, need to re-evaluate how they’re treating agriculture. When all is said and done, agriculture is probably the most important strategic industry in America today. It doesn’t matter how many tanks or planes or walls you build; if you can’t feed or clothe the populace, you’re in tough shape.

Arizona has the highest number of American Indian farmers in the United States; these farms cover almost 21 million acres of land, nearly 80 percent of all farmland in Arizona. Given that “minority” farmers, including Native Americans such as Navajo, Tohono O’odham, Pima, and Cocopah, are now the majority of farmers in the state, how can your department better reach out and provide services to this new majority? Do you have plans to add minority members to your advisory board or staff ?

You raise great points concerning potentially increasing collaboration with our Native American agricultural partners. We will investigate potentially adding a Native American member to our Advisory Council, but that may take a statutory change. In the meantime, we are going to establish a Native American Advisory Council to the director. The goal is to have a quarterly meeting with representatives from all tribes. As sovereign nations, the department doesn’t have authority concerning Native American lands. Currently we reach out and provide assistance to the tribes when we’re invited … It’s important to note that much of the agricultural activity on tribal land is done by lease to non-Native Americans.

According to national projections, 200 million acres of American farm and ranch land may change hands within the next decade, and perhaps a fifth of it will go out of food production. You have expressed concern that the rising average age of our food producers and difficult inheritance tax policies are making it difficult to pass land on to young family members who wish to farm and ranch. How will you deal with this pressing issue? 

The issue of legacy farming is critical to the future of our food supply, in Arizona and across the country. One of the biggest impediments to keeping farms in the family is the estate tax. The average age of agriculture professionals is 58, meaning every year the families are closer to facing the estate tax. Many times family-owned farms must be needlessly broken apart to pay taxes, threatening the future of these farmers and ranchers who’ve worked hard to create a family business. It also threatens the cost of food that we put on our tables. Educating the public and policy makers about the inevitable consequences will help. ✜  Additional reporting by Gary Paul Nabhan. Lee Allen likes to see what’s growing in other people’s gardens.

A Day in

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Tubac Art and history are intertwined in this colorful and rich village along the banks of the Santa Cruz River. Text and Photgraphy By Eric Swedlund


N AN IDYLLIC natural setting just 45 minutes south of Tucson by car, this bustling, if small, artists’ colony was the state’s original colonial garrison, the Spanish crown’s sole outpost in the region for more than 20 years before the Tucson presidio was built. Today, there are more than 100 galleries and every February, the village hosts its Festival of the Arts, the oldest annual art gathering in the country. But for twists of fate and the whims of the Spanish crown,

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Tubac might’ve become the city Tucson is today. Instead, Tubac is a calm and restorative getaway for Tucsonans and outside visitors alike. Start a trip to Tubac at The Goods (26A Tubac Road), a juice and smoothie bar that focuses on fresh, local produce. Light yet filling, house specialties like the Green & Blue (spinach, kale, blueberries and banana, blended with almond milk) give an energetic boost to prime an explorer’s day.

The cradle of Arizona’s colonial past, Tubac celebrates its history. Three miles south of the village is Mission San José de Tumacácori, founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1691. The preserved church—dating to the early 1800s—is now at the center of the Tumacácori National Historical Park (1891 I-19 Frontage Road), easily explored on foot. Back in Tubac, the site of the presidio became the first Arizona State Park in 1958. On display at

the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park (1 Burruel St.) are portions of the presidio’s original foundation and a museum that houses, among many artifacts, Arizona’s first printing press. A short walk away on Tubac Road is Shelby’s Bistro (19 Tubac Road), named one of the state’s 25 best restaurants by Arizona Highways. The family-run bistro features Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, with salads, sandwiches, and burgers joining Shelby’s


4 signature pizzas on the lunch menu and fresh pastas, seafood, and steaks rounding out the dinner menu. On the main drag is the venerable Tubac Jack’s Restaurant and Saloon (7 Plaza Road), founded in 1956, serving a Southwestern mix of burgers, barbeque, and Mexican-inspired dishes like the house-specialty, green chili stew. Devote the afternoon to exploring galleries, studios, and shops. The free-admission Tubac Center of the Arts (9 Plaza Road), at the heart of the village, features a master artist gallery with works by world-renowned locals like Bobb Vann, Hal Empie, and Tom Hill, as well as rotating exhibits showcasing up-andcoming artists. Nearby is La Paloma de Tubac (1 Presidio Drive), one of the best Latin American folk art collections in the world, with more than 10,000 items expertly selected and imported over 35 years. Among the shops at La Entrada de Tubac is the foodie heaven Tumacookery (2221 I-19 Frontage Road, Suite N102), with its dizzying array of cookware, gadgets, and local delicacies. Back down the road in Tumacácori is the Santa


5 Cruz Chili & Spice Co. (1868 I-19 Frontage Road), dedicated to the region’s rich heritage of flavors, making and selling chili pastes, sauce, and spice mixtures to enliven your cooking. Since 1982, the eco-friendly Tumacácori Mesquite Sawmill (2007 I-19 Frontage Road) has been transforming the familiar velvet mesquite trees of the Sonoran Desert into lumber, furniture, fine arts, and their ever-popular cutting boards and crosses. For dinner and cocktails, the Tubac area offers plenty of options, like the eclectic Elvira’s (2221 E. Frontage Road), which opened in 1927 in Nogales, Sonora, and moved to Tubac in 2009, the longstanding Wisdom’s Café (1931 I-19 Frontage Road) in Tumacácori and new Wisdom’s ¡DOS! (4 Plaza Road) in Tubac have been serving Mexican favorites for generations. Visit to read more about Elvira’s and Wisdom’s Café. From the rustic dining room of the Stables Ranch Grille (1 Otero Road) at the Tubac Golf Resort & Spa, arched picture windows open to a view of the Santa Rita Mountains. From the cocktail menu, the Tin Cup margarita nods to art and history of a different sort (named for the 1996 Kevin Costner movie, which filmed scenes here). Entrees like braised beef short ribs, with garlic mashed potatoes, heirloom carrots, and sautéed spinach display an elegance perfect for a moment of reflection in the fading twilight.  Visit or Eric Swedlund writes about music, travel, and food and drink. He lives in Tucson. Follow him on Twitter @EricSwedlund.


9 1 Mission San José de Tumacácori 2 La Paloma de Tubac 3 Shelby’s Bistro 4 Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co. 5 K. Newby Gallery + Sculpture Garden 6 The entrance to

Tubac Jack’s Restaurant & Saloon 7 A hearty stew at Tubac Jack’s Restaurant & Saloon 8 Tubac was established in 1752 as a Spanish presidio. 9 La Paloma de Tubac

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Bearing Dinner Life after brain surgery comes full of food. By Maya L. Kapoor | Illustrations by Ellen Wagner


I passed out from anesthesia I could not picture my life after surgery. Though the neurosurgeon told me to prepare a living will, I did not have the impression the procedure was, as far as brain surgery went, high risk. I would leave the hospital after one night with one stitch in my scalp. I did not fear dying during the procedure—but when I tried to imagine what would come next I pictured something like thick coastal fog stretching from sand to sky, a single shade of impenetrable gray. To calm my nerves on the eve of the surgery, I picked up a collection of science writing from my shelf. The page to which I opened described a woman’s experience waking up during a surgical operation, too drugged to speak or move, awake enough to witness everything. Yelping, I slammed the book shut and curled up in bed. I was having brain surgery because approximately four years earlier I’d woken up during a conference with my head resting on another attendee’s shoulder. Not because I’d fallen asleep but because I’d had a seizure. Adult-onset epilepsy is more common than most people realize. My case was complicated, though, because my seizures were intractable: uncontrolled despite my doctors’ best efforts. My neurologist found medication that reduced my seizures, but physical or mental stress—the flu, holiday travels, hard decisions—sometimes set off several seizures in one day. P UN TIL THE MOMEN T

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For years I had taken multiple medications to reduce the number of my seizures. The medicines I took also reduced my appetite and deadened my sense of taste. For me, raised in a large family that celebrated all life events with boisterous dinner parties or hours-long brunches, one of the saddest things about managing epilepsy had been falling out of love with food. At first, I thought that my cast-iron skillets had somehow gone rancid in the hot Tucson weather. Next, I did research and concluded that the acid from raw tomatoes had ruined the finish on those same skillets. Or perhaps my Indian spices, carried out in hand baggage from holiday visits back East or purchased here and there at Indian grocery stores, were old and stale? As I eventually realized that the problem was not my cooking supplies but my taste buds, I gave up on my exuberant cooking. I turned off the stove, put up the pans, shut the spices in a drawer. I ate salads and veggie burgers, bland beans and rice, food from restaurants. Cooking became a chore instead of a passion. Worse, cooking ceased to be a way to connect with other people. Because I couldn’t tell whether my dishes tasted right, I grew insecure about feeding other people. The dinners I imagined hosting became breakfasts—eggs are hard to get wrong. Meals at restaurants became coffee shop dates.

A year of tests—including one that resulted in my having to skip a potluck afterward because of my radioactivity—revealed that the source of seizures in my brain happened to be a discrete, identifiable, accessible location. Surgery might mean an end to seizures—and an end to seizure medication. My first clear memories after the anesthesia wore off were from the recovery room, where just a few hours after surgery three of my friends sat with me and teased the nurses. To my surprise and everyone else’s, I realized I was famished. Eat, my friends said. With their help I ordered lasagna from the hospital kitchen. The fog began ever so slightly to dissipate. The future held people I loved, and they held nourishing meals. 76 January/February 2016

My stomach hurt and my fridge ran empty and still my heart swelled with the wonder of food.

Each day for two weeks after surgery, as my brain rested and healed, different people knocked on my apartment door bearing dinner. Every meal told a story about the people in whose arms it arrived. A fellow student who ate only healthy foods stopped by with a curried dish she had picked up at the Food Conspiracy Co-op’s hot bar while bicycling to work. A couple with whom I’d become close brought a three-course meal that included bread still hot from the oven, delicious home-made stew, and dessert of caramel-laced chocolate chip cookie bars. Three guy friends teamed up and purchased multiple days’ worth of food from a Greek restaurant—after realizing just in the nick of time that it was their day for food delivery.

Sometimes when a friend walked up the dusty stairs of my adobe rowhouse and knocked, I was fast asleep. My friend of more than a decade, Greta, who had volunteered to be my caretaker while my brain healed, accepted the plates and bowls offered, gave a status update on my recovery, and quietly shut the door. Other times, excited to see love made edible, I moved unsteadily into the living room and said hello. I wore pajamas all day and had the remains of my hair in a bun on the top of my head, with Band-Aids here and there on my shaved scalp. My recovering brain vaguely sensed that friends sometimes looked concerned, even shocked, by my appearance. Not enough for my smile to falter. I loved every bite of everything friends cooked for me—from roasted Brussels sprouts and rice to home-made tofu egg rolls to pumpkin risotto to crusty quiche—and not simply because of the deliciousness of being helped and considered, or the actual deliciousness of the dishes. There was a chemical reason that I gorged blissfully on my friends’ food dishes. During the first two weeks after my brain surgery, in addition to being fed by friends, I took a steroid to reduce brain swelling—a steroid also prescribed to cancer patients to stimulate their appetites. I remembered once more how good it felt to be 78 January/February 2016

hungry, when paired with the anticipation of soon being satisfied. How food could be more than another medicine we take to stay alive—how in the best possible situations, food embodies love, joy, art, community. I ate constantly. I can’t believe I just had brain surgery, I’d muse to Greta while munching cookie after cookie from a batch my mother mailed. My favorites from childhood, chocolate chip, light and crunchy and addictive. And berries—how had I forgotten the sound of strawberries split by teeth, the way the red fruits tasted both sweet and tangy? Greta made steel-cut oats for breakfast, and I hated oatmeal, except suddenly I didn’t, not when served with fresh blueberries and a swirl of sugar. Followed, a short while later, by second breakfast—eggs smeared on toast, the glowing yellow yolks an unspeakable delight the likes of which I’d never experienced, not since breakfast the morning before. My stomach hurt and my fridge ran empty and still my heart swelled with the wonder of food. Every evening something new and delicious appeared in the hands of a friend with a knock on the door. I could look online in the morning to see who would stop by and what they would bring later that day. Then, because part of my brain had not yet rewired for the task of short-term memory formation, the information faded from my mind. I got to enjoy the surprise twice before even tasting the meal.

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As buttoning my favorite pair of shorts became a struggle, the wall of fog that haunted me before my brain surgery evaporated further still. I knew that after my two weeks of steroids ended— on the same day that the friendly food deliveries stopped—my appetite would begin to vanish once more. I’d remember to eat just like remembering to brush my teeth and wash my hands—because food was good for me, if not good to me. But I would savor those two weeks on steroids as a vision of what life

after epilepsy might mean. If the surgery had been successful and time passed without seizures, I would slowly come off of my medications. Eventually, I would be medication free. The world would fill with hunger, anticipation, flavor—the delight of eating once more.  Maya L. Kapoor holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona and an MS in biology from Arizona State University. She is writing a collection of essays about nature in the urbanizing West.

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Harvest Bloom Cheri Romanoski has pioneered the processing of prickly pear cactus into nutrient-dense jellies, syrups, and candies. By Lourdes Medrano | Photography by Casia & Eric Fletcher


PR ING IN THE S ONOR AN D ESERT brings a showy display of color, as prickly pear cactuses bloom in yellow, red, and purple along trails, canyons, and urban landscapes. The ephemeral spectacle delights wildflower enthusiasts, and Cheri Romanoski is top among them. For the native Tucsonan, the blooming prickly pear cactus isn’t just something to admire. The more bright petals that sprout on the plant’s spiny paddle-shaped pads, the more fruit it will produce. A bumper crop each season means Romanoski can count on an ample supply of prickly pears for the jellies, marmalades, syrups, and candies she has been making for the past quarter century. Romanoski is at the helm of Cheri’s Desert Harvest, the Tucson company she founded in 1985 after turning her attention to the hardy desert plant as a source of food that is not only tasty but also healthy. She had been making preserves from citrus fruits for about five years before she realized, “I’m right here in the desert, I should be working with indigenous fruits.”

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To make her fledgling business distinctive and sustainable, she settled on the prickly pear cactus that abounds in the region. Though then novel in mainstream America, the fruit and tender pads of the plant have long been staples in native and Latin American diets and medicine. Over the years, as consumer awareness of the plants’ health benefits has grown in the United States, so has demand for Romanoski’s prickly pear concoctions. The fruit packs a punch of nutrients that include Vitamin C, calcium, dietary fiber, and antioxidant compounds. “More and more, people are learning about the diversity of the fruit,” she says. “People are becoming more conscious about eating natural foods, superfoods. The prickly pear is a superfood.” Her prickly pear cactus of choice is the Englemann’s variety, which sprouts rich red fruit. The shrubby plants blanket a large desert patch in the Vail area, one of the sites where Romanoski’s workers typically harvest the fruit between July and September. Cheri Romanoski started Cheri’s Desert Harvest in 1985 after realizing her citrus fruit preserves could be made with native desert fruit instead.

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(Clockwise, from top left) Manuel Barajas is the harvest foreman at Cheri’s Desert Harvest; Maria (Nellie) Botelo is the harvest manager. Both Barajas and Botello have been gathering prickly pear fruits across the desert with Cheri’s Desert Harvest for 22 years.

Early on an August morning, Romanoski arrives at the site and spots a handful of 10-gallon white plastic baskets overflowing with prickly pears along the edge of a solitary road. She strains to see past a thicket of mesquite trees in search of her crew but sees no one. She ventures into the desert terrain, cautiously dodging the thorny, spreading mounds of her favorite cactus all around her. Years ago, Romanoski and her children used to pick fruit here during family outings. “I’d bring food and we’d make a morning of it. It was very special,” she says. “I quit doing that because I was just too worried about snakes.” The property belongs to a cattle rancher who allows her to harvest on it. Her crew is usually fewer than 10 people. Pickers

go into the desert every weekend until they reach their collective goal for the season: 35 to 40 tons of prickly pears, enough for Romanoski to meet demand and accommodate nature’s fickle ways. In the past, little rain and warm winters have meant fewer prickly pears. “They usually bring in about five tons a weekend,” Romanoski says. “So far, they’ve harvested 21 tons.” The sun shines bright but the heat has yet to overpower on this summer day. The six-member crew has been picking pears since 6 a.m. It’s after 7 a.m. when Romanoski comes across Gilbert Alvarado. He and his boss briefly talk shop as he swiftly plucks prickly pears with tongs to avoid touching the clusters of tiny bristles, or glochids, that cover the fruit. The white bucket next to him is almost full.

“I stuck with it because I liked the challenge and I like to do things no one has done before. I like to learn and figure things out.”

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(Clockwise, from top left) After 30 years, Romanoski is still involved in the day-to-day operation of harvesting, processing, and selling prickly pear. Her newest venture is finding a use for prickly pear seeds. The stubborn, beautiful magenta hue of prickly pear fruit stains even the white harvest buckets.

Alvarado and the rest of the crew work fast. The prickly pears are ripe and falling off. “They’re just at the tail end,” notes Romanoski, who says the fruit on the ground is unusable because it can collect rocks that might damage processing equipment. A few yards away, the crew leader, Nellie Botelo, emerges onto the roadside from the desert brush. She’s nursing a broken foot, so she limps toward her husband, Manuel Barajas, who’s arranging buckets in the back of a truck. She hands him one more and pauses to rest. “I love coming out here to pick prickly pears,” says Botelo, who wears ankle-to-knee chaps to protect against snake bites. “It’s so peaceful and serene.” Botelo is well acquainted with prickly pears. She grew up on a communal farm in the northern state of Sonora, Mexico, where the cactus plants—called nopales and their fruit, tunas—are ever-present in Mexican cuisine. People also rely on the plant to relieve various ailments. Botelo says eating prickly pears and tender cactus pads helps keep her diabetes under control.

She and Barajas get ready to join pickers at another site nearby. The crew has collected as much fruit as they can on this strip of land. Barajas recalls more productive harvesting seasons and Romanoski ascribes it to a mild winter that caused prickly pears to peak early. “I knew that they could potentially come in early, but they all came in at the same time,” she says. “We can only deal with so much at a time.” To have more control, Romanoski plans to farm the cactus plant on 20 acres of land that her parents own in Elephant Head, near Green Valley, although her crew will still harvest the wild prickly pears that grow rampant on ranch land in southern Arizona. On the farm, “We will start planting in rows for easier harvesting,” she says. Romanoski bids farewell to the crew and heads toward the plant on Winsett Street where the fruit is processed. The building, part of an industrial tract off South Kino Boulevard near East 22nd Street, is where Romanoski spends most of her

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Prickly pear comes full cycle. Clockwise, from top left: Prickly pear cactus syrup (perfect for margaritas); candies made with desert-sourced syrup; oil made from prickly pear seeds; and prickly pear honey.

time making about three dozen different products year-round. Although the prickly pear cactus is the star of Romanoski’s business, she also relies on mesquite, agave, and other desert plants for her organic, kosher-certified foods. And she makes jelly with hot peppers, candy with pomegranates, and marmalade with Arizona Red Lime. Romanoski discovered the lime, also known as Rangpur lime, growing in her backyard some 30 years ago, when she was still a schoolteacher foraging for natural desert foods for her family. She recalls that seeing her firstborn child’s red-stained face after drinking a commercial, sugary drink prompted her to look for healthier alternatives. She started making preserves around that time, and her hobby gradually grew into a home-based business. It took some time for her husband, Jon, to get used to the idea. “I thought it was a lark,” he says. “I didn’t take it seriously.” One day, a package arrived in the mail with 2,400 empty jars. He knew then that his wife was indeed serious. Building her company to what it is today took time. After leaving her teaching job, she worked as an aerobics instructor 88 January/February 2016

for 20 years to help supplement her family’s income. As the head of the business, she didn’t draw a salary for 15 years. “I stuck with it because I liked the challenge and I like to do things no one has done before,” she says. “I like to learn and figure things out.” To come up with the prickly pear combinations she’s now known for, Romanoski enlisted the help of a Chicago chemist who had retired in Tucson. Despite his dislike for the fruit, the late Everett Gustafson introduced the budding entrepreneur to the wonders of food chemistry. “I was eager to learn and he became my professor,” Romanoski says. Her newfound knowledge was central, she says, to building a primarily wholesale business with a presence in restaurants, co-ops, and hotels across Arizona and in all the contiguous states. Her husband joined the company after retiring from a long teaching career in Tucson schools. Now he keeps busy at the processing plant crunching numbers and sticking labels on bottles of prickly pear syrup in a room

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packed with ribbons, boxes, and empty buckets. Employees come and go throughout the building, cleaning and rinsing the fruit that pickers drop off. Later, they will steam the prickly pears and extract their juice with a press. “All the juice has to be processed, refrigerated, and frozen,” Romanoski says. Depending on their size and ripeness, the prickly pears are dropped into either a 10- or 20-gallon steam kettle. Once soft, after about 10 to 15 minutes, the fruit is placed for a couple of hours in a press that extracts the juice. “Steaming it increases the nutrient value so you get a higher vitamin and mineral content,” she says. “Without steaming, it has a wild, more milky taste instead of a fruity flavor, almost like an apple.” The extracted juice fills buckets stacked high near the processing equipment. An assigned grade according to color and viscosity is visible on a label adhered to each bucket. “Certain grades I use in certain products,” Romanoski says. The juice is used to make a magenta-colored syrup that can accompany desserts, and is a key ingredient in most of the company products. Various Tucson restaurants use the syrup to whip up prickly pear margaritas, wine coolers, and lemonades, Romanoski says. The juice is made faster than it can be used, so it is stored in freezers. It’s late afternoon as Ryan Velasco, the company’s shipping manager, loads stack after stack of 46-pound buckets onto a dolly and rolls the cooled-down juice into walk-in freezers. Stacks already inside reach from floor to ceiling. “We keep two years’ worth of frozen juice just in case,” says Velasco before disappearing into another freezer. Not one to waste food, Romanoski donates the byproducts of the pressed fruit to organic gardeners for compost. She likes the idea of giving back to nature some of what it’s given her, she says. By late afternoon, the workday winds down. Sebastian Botelo, the picking crew leader’s grandson, flits from one room to the next finishing up various tasks. He wears a smile and a red-stained white T-shirt. Dania Nuñez washes dishes and Bob Dixon, who’s known as the kitchen manager, sweeps the floor. “I just do whatever needs to be done,” he says. Romanoski is in the tiny gift shop where she sells her products on site to the few customers who drop by. The goods also are available online, but retail sales make up just 15 percent of business. That’s just fine with Romanoski, who has her hands full trying to figure out ways to expand her prickly pear cactus products. Recently she started working with an artist to turn the pulp of excess prickly pears into dye for specialty T-shirts emblazoned with desert scenes. Her latest venture involves the production of seed oil for cosmetics companies. It’s a complex undertaking. Romanoski knows of only two companies outside the United States that produce oil from prickly pear seeds. True to form, she is up for the challenge. “We are constantly working to improve and find ways to use every part of the prickly pear,” she says. ✜ Cheri’s Desert Harvest. 520.623.4141. Lourdes Medrano is a Tucson writer who covers stories on both sides of the border. Follow her on Twitter @_lourdesmedrano.

Once the prickly pear fruit has been steamed, it goes into a press to extract the precious juice. 90 January/February 2016

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By Jonathan Bloom | Photography by Steven Meckler


LOSE YOUR EYES . You’re in the supermarket, in the produce section. You’re getting sleepy, very sleepy. Just kidding—you’re trying to pick out a red pepper. In a sea of red, you spot one with a hint of green. How do you respond? Now imagine that you’re looking for a cucumber. There’s a hypnotizing array of straight ones. And then a cuke that’s curvy. Would you choose that one? And what if there was a slightly smaller cucumber? For most of us, the answers are all “no.” After we recover from the shock of seeing a fruit or vegetable that’s a different shape, size or color—heavens!—we still don’t buy it. Then again, we rarely even have the option because imperfect produce seldom reaches the store. Most oddities aren’t even picked in the field. And then packing-shed culling further thins the crop out. In addition to appearance, packing logistics also play a role. For example, cucumbers are shipped in 24-count boxes (a “count pack”) and a curved one throws off the numbers. It’s a beauty pageant with an insistence on homogeneity. As a result, cosmetics doom about 25 percent of fruits and vegetables to the scrap heap even before they reach the retailer. As those of you with gardens or an affinity for farmers’ markets can attest, fruits and vegetables grow however they damn well please. I’ve long threatened to create a T-shirt with the words, “Real food has curves.” And you likely know that imperfect produce has the same taste and nutritional qualities. Yet, most retailers don’t want “real” food, they want pristine, homogenous produce. They don’t want outliers because neither do we. Supermarket executives and produce managers say they’d love to be less picky with appearance, but shoppers’ spending indicates that we only want uniform produce. Then again, have we taught supermarkets, or have they taught us? Yes. The goal of most supermarkets is to avoid unsold goods, but what is driving consumer disdain for ugly produce? It likely stems from our millennia-old fear of food poisoning. Ugly produce often triggers a visceral, subconscious rejection. We likely have that hard-wired response because

of our species’ hunter-gather history, but it’s a bit ridiculous in today’s homogenized, sanitized supermarket scene. Today’s cosmetic culling means billions of pounds of produce are plowed under, composted, or even thrown away. That has harmful environmental, ethical, and economic implications. Contrastingly, buying ugly produce is a way to support (and eat) real food, which is likely more locally and sustainably grown. Plus, imperfect produce is much more interesting. As you’ll see in this photo essay, they’re quirky, fun and full of life. Why pick a regular old carrot when you can have two hugging? Why buy a straight zucchini when you can find one shaped like an S? Incidentally, my quest to complete a produce alphabet continues, so please do send me your own photos if—when—you find produce that resembles letters, at wastedfood@ or on Twitter @WastedFood tagged #AlphabetProduce. Today, ugly produce is having a moment, f lipping the notion of what’s beautiful. The topic has received plenty of press, including two recent articles in The New York Times. A recent petition asking supermarkets to sell “less than perfect” produce has received more than 100,000 signatures. Boston’s Daily Table sells produce that others have deemed cosmetically flawed. There are now subscription companies delivering ugly produce on both coasts—Hidden Harvest (Washington, D.C.) and Imperfect (Oakland). The latter collaborated with California retailer Raley’s to get imperfect fruits and vegetables into supermarkets. Hopefully this increased exposure for uglies will translate into acceptance. (And feel free to draw your own parallels into society at large). We can all seek out imperfect produce, tell retailers we’re open to it, or simply shop at markets that don’t judge food superficially. And we need to make these changes promptly because our produce status quo—wasting a quarter of what we grow for cosmetic reasons—that’s really ugly.  Jonathan Bloom is the author of American Wasteland and creator of He lives in North Carolina, where he writes, consults, lectures, and laments wasted food.

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Photographed vegetables, in order: Eggplant, cucumber, sweet potato, watermelon radish, carrot, butternut squash, turnip, collard green. Thanks to the Tucson CSA, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Rattlebox Farm, and Forever Young Farm.

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A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. — Aldo Leopold

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the bio community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. — Aldo Leopold




By Megan Kimble | Photography by Jeff Smith

UCH OF W HAT we concern ourselves with here at Edible Baja Arizona is the “right” way to produce and consume food, both plant and animal. Of course, just as there is no right way to live, there is no right way to eat. And yet we exert a fair amount of fuss making rules for both endeavors. “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts,” wrote Aldo Leopold in his seminal work, A Sand County Almanac. “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” I’ve asked a lot of people why and how they eat meat and why and how they don’t eat meat. My parents don’t eat meat because they haven’t eaten meat for three decades, and three decades ago, the way we produced meat in this country was atrocious. I didn’t eat meat for a long time because mostly, it still is. I know someone who eats meat “in complete and total denial of most everything [she] believes in.” A friend eats meat “because it tastes good and is a healthy source of protein.” Someone else I know eats only the meat she hunts and kills. Another friend is a vegetarian except for bacon and hangovers. We who eat meat worry a lot about whether or not we’re eating the right meat and how much we’re eating and where it comes from and if it wears the right adjectives—local, organic, humane, free-range—and if those labels are even true. Of course, there are as many right ways to eat meat as there are wrong ways. On these three family farms—a ranch run by a father and son; a pork farm run by a husband and wife; and a poultry farm run by two brothers—the animals they raise are considered integral to a community of interdependent parts. There is struggle and death, life and growth. And there, included in the equation, is us—us eaters of meat.

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108 January/February 2016


R EGG V INSON leans out the open driver’s side window of the white Jeep. “Hey, Mama!” he calls. “You’re fat, Mama!” He maneuvers his torso back into the car and turns to me. “I love my cows. I really do.” Gregg drives across the ranch’s rolling hills, narrating the story of every animal we encounter. That cow just gave birth—she’s a good strong cow. Auburn hair ripples shiny over taut muscles. “See that one over there?” he says, referring to a thinner cow ambling across the pasture. She has a six brand—born in 2006. “She’s getting old. Her hair isn’t as shiny. It’s time for her,” he says, and then leans out the window to tell the cow just that. “You’ve had a good life, Mama!” He returns. “She’s been here fighting off mountain lions for nine years. She’s a good strong cow, but now it’s her time. So why shouldn’t she become food? We think that’s reasonable.” A lifelong Arizona rancher, Gregg Vinson, 60, owns and runs the Jojoba Beef Company with his son, Gary Vinson, 33. The name refers to the meat from cows raised entirely on a range filled with jojoba plants, a dense green scrub with small leaves and nutrient-dense seeds better known for the oil they produce. Their ranch, called A Diamond Ranch, spreads across 22,000 acres—six square miles—of upper Sonoran desert scrub. This is copper country—the meandering Gila River is just visible at the bottom of a valley rolling with hills the color of a rusted copper pot: splotches of turquoise sagebrush, amber dirt, green prickly pear, olive green jojoba. Visible from the ranch’s highest point is the open-pit copper mine in Ray, where 250,000 tons of ore are extracted every single day. To raise cattle on wild desert scrub, you take a very big piece of land, section it off into pastures, and rotate the cattle across those pastures, giving each section of land time to breathe and grow anew. The word pasture evokes rolling green hills and even squares, but a pasture is simply any fenced piece of land, and here, a pasture is measured by access to water. “Water in a desert ranching operation is the limiting factor,” says Gary. “Water is life.” Since they bought the ranch in March of 2013, Gary and Gregg have installed nearly 15 miles of pipeline and installed five solar pumps in place of petroleum-powered generators to pump well water into those pipelines. “You don’t need to finish cattle on irrigated pastures,” Gregg says. He mutters numbers, his voice twangy and slow: “Two hundred times twice is twenty-four hundred times three-sixty-five.” Finally, he concludes that they’re using about four acre-feet of water every year to sustain their 200 head of cattle. “It’s not very much water at all,” he says. “One cow on irrigated farmland will use four acre-feet of water.”

Gregg Vinson and his son, Gary (right), raise cattle on wild desert scrub for their Jojoba Beef Company.

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(Above) Cows are weaned from their mothers at around nine months; Gregg and Gary will keep them close at hand for a couple of weeks to let them settle down and gain some weight before releasing them back onto the range. (Below) Jojoba seeds are a large part of the diet of these desert-bred cows.

Gary and Gregg—but mostly Gary—spend their days moving cattle from pasture to pasture, spreading their impact across the land. “We make quick, intensive moves,” says Gary. During the summer, cattle wander the lowlands, near the river. When it rains, the cows wander high in the hills to find grass. When it gets hot again, they come to the river to munch on mesquite pods and slurp cool water. When cold air collects in the valley, they leave the river bottom and sleep on the ridges, seeking sun. “The way to manage the ranch is simply to try to figure out the way animals roamed and ate a thousand years ago,” says Gary. “How did animals behave without human intervention? We try to mimic that for our rotation.” These cattle are a breed called Beefmaster, a mix of Hereford, Shorthorn, and Brahman developed during the Great Depression to withstand drought. They will live long lives out on the range before they become beef—4 to 12 years, 110 January/February 2016

depending on the animal. That, compared to a conventional operation, where cattle are slaughtered between 2 and 3 years old. Gregg and Gary’s cows often birth between eight and 10 calves, so it’s worth their time to invest in their animals, to make sure they know how to survive and thrive in a wild landscape. Mountain lions take a few of their calves every year, but that’s just the cost of doing business in the West, Gregg says. Because they’re older when they go to the slaughterhouse, the meat is less tender. “I’m trying to teach our customers that there’s no association between tenderness and flavor,” says Gregg. “Chewy is good. This is an old cow—it’s lived a long life on the ranch, and so all those life flavors are in the meat.” Jagged mountains frame the bright sky, the edge of White Canyon Wilderness visible in the distance. “We process cattle twice a year in response to rainfall,” says Gregg as we descend back to the ranch house. “The rain causes

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“Part of gathering is habituating the cows and habituating to the cows,” says Gary. “If you habituate the cows and understand how they move, then you have to do less gathering.”

a lot of grass to grow. And then it gets dry and the grass dries up. That’s pure carbohydrates. Ranchers have always known that if you want to get fat, eat carbohydrates.” Gregg really wants people to understand that when done properly, cattle grazing on wild forage can improve a piece of land. “Animals grind up the pasture with their hooves. They chew species down to where they’re supposed to be, and then they grind that carbonaceous material into the ground. I can tell you exactly how many tons of manure I’m putting onto this pasture.” That movement of manure and carbon helps the soil hold water and build organic matter, leaving the land more fertile than it began. “We’re conservation ranchers,” Gregg says. “It’s very important to our customers that we are that. Urban people don’t have much control over what goes on out on the land. This is all public land. Our customers know when they buy our beef that we are managing our land. They feel a

part of it.” And they know that this attention extends beyond the cattle to the other wildlife sharing this space—mule deer, javelina, quail. When I ask him why he’s a conservation rancher, Gregg pauses, surprised. “For me personally, it’s stewardship,” he says, finally. “I have a deep sense of taking care of something and not abusing it.” He loves selling beef at the farmers’ market, the only place they do. Gregg tells customers worried about eating animals that “death in the natural world is very slow and very cruel. These cows have lived a long life on the range and it’s their time to die. We take them to the processor and then it’s done. It’s a good way to go.” “Ranching is a noble profession,” says Gregg. “When Gary was a kid, I used to wake him and say, ‘You’ve got to get up and feed the world.’” He pauses. “There’s a little struggle to it, of course, but nothing worth doing doesn’t have a little struggle.”

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Rod Miller and Erika Pacheco hold onto two of their piglets. “We look at every single pig and make sure they’re happy and healthy,” says Erika.

HE PIGS AT E & R P OR K sound like a creaky door. They snort and shriek, grunt and whine, staccato. The bigger pigs jump up and stand leaning on the wood fences, as tall as a tall person, nostrils wavering in the wind. Tails wag, expressive between those very big haunches. There are dozens of pigs, split into pens by age—six weeks here, three months there. The difference in size is striking. The smaller pigs cluster, parallel, head to head or head to end. They sniff and swivel their ears. Flies meander through the open-air barn, bump against skin and mud. It smells like pigs—manure—but it’s breezy, so soon it smells like desert dirt, like palo verde and creosote. “Sometimes, I just stand out there and look at one pig,” says Erika Pacheco, 48, who runs E & R Pork with her husband, Rod Miller, 49—E & R Pork is Erika and Rod, E & R and their pigs. “I watch it eat, with its little tail wagging. I look to see how it walks. I look to make sure they have no abscesses. And their poop. To me, the poop is really important. It tells me how their innards are working,” she says—Erika works full time as a nurse at El Rio Community Health Center. “We look at every single pig and make sure they’re happy and healthy.”

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The business that became E & R Pork began because Erika and Rod wanted to buy a pig. Rod grew up on a pig farm in Iowa and Erika grew up on a farm in Mexico that raised pigs; they wanted to buy an animal they could raise and butcher once a year to provide meat for themselves. “And we looked around and we couldn’t find anything,” says Erika. “As we were looking for pigs, people would say, ‘Go to that farm.’ And we found out that whatever farm no longer had pigs, but those same people would say, ‘You know, I want to have one for myself.’” They ended up going back to Independence, Iowa, to buy pigs—and instead of one pig, they ended up buying “a whole bunch, one for ourselves and one for whoever wanted one,” says Erika. “We got known for selling pigs. And so we decided not to butcher our pigs. We decided to start breeding them.” Today, they raise two heritage breeds, Red Wattle and Berkshire, near the dusty end of Swan Road on the south side of Tucson. When Rod went back to Iowa to find traditional meat breeds, he found that many of the bloodlines he grew up with were no longer around. “We had to go to the Amish to start buying,” says Rod.

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The pigs at E & R Pork are an expressive bunch. Erika and Rod raise two heritage breeds, Red Wattle and Berkshire.

“We try to keep all the flavors as old fashioned as possible,” says Erika. Their bacon and ham isn’t hickory-smoked or maple-flavored. “It’s just an old-fashioned taste. Some of the old-timers come back to us and say, this tastes just like my parents had on their farm.” Sows give birth in farrowing crates—a smaller enclosure where the sow is held in place next to an adjacent pen full of their piglets. Rod is conflicted about their reliance on farrowing crates—he’d rather let the pigs roam free, but he says it’s just not practical. “I’m not a big fan of crates, but it’s safer for Erika to handle the piglets when the sows can’t interfere, and it’s safer for the piglets.” In a litter of 10, they otherwise might lose one or two piglets to a sow 116 January/February 2016

unintentionally rolling or stepping on her own babies. They can control the bloodlines—who breeds with whom. And it’s cleaner, too, as the water stays fresh, the feed separate, and the waste gets drained directly to their compost pile. With 36 breeding sows and two boars, Rod says they’ve got anywhere from 350 to 500 pigs “on the ground” at a time. Pigs are butchered at six months and 250 pounds. The baby pigs—squirmy and squeaky, wheels in need of grease—will spend four to six weeks milking from their mothers before they’re transferred into bigger pens and switched to feed. All of E & R’s pigs eat 100 percent non-GMO feed. This is no small feat—there are only 17 GMO-free pork producers in the

Rod feeds all of E & R’s pigs 100 percent non-GMO feed. “It’s the right thing to do,” he says.

United States, says Rod; to his knowledge, he’s the only one in Arizona. They mix and grind all their feed on site, which helps them cut costs and control inputs. The grain, corn, and barley come from Bonita Grains in Willcox; the wheat germ comes from Hayden Flour Mills in Phoenix. “We’ve been working really hard for the past year to make it 100 percent Arizona grown,” says Rod. “We found that doing things locally, knowing its point of origin, is the most important thing.” “We want to know what they’re eating, because then we know what we’re eating,” says Erika. They switched to non-GMO feed last summer and Rod says he noticed a big difference in the pigs. “They just seem to be doing a lot better. They’re gaining weight better. They have more energy,” he says. Rod speaks deliberately, slowly. He’s careful to consider his words. He says, “It’s real hard”—it being the whole thing. It’s hard to keep their pigs healthy—they don’t use antibiotics, but haven’t yet found a vet that’ll help out. It’s hard (read: expensive) to raise pigs on 100 percent non-GMO feed. It’s hard to schedule enough slots at the processor. It’s hard to meet demand—and hard to scale up, without access to capital or traditional bank loans. 118 January/February 2016

“We’re struggling just to keep Tucson fed with our pork,” says Rod. Twice a week, he takes pigs to the UA meat lab for harvesting; they often sell out at weekend farmers’ markets before the meat is even frozen through. For Rod, getting feedback from the public at farmers’ markets makes the whole endeavor worthwhile. “The public is a real morale booster,” he says. He and Erika are constantly pulling out their phones to show customers pictures of the pigs and the farm. “The public is asking the right questions,” says Rod. “And we want them to ask questions.” Questions like: What are the pigs eating? Where do they live? Do they get to see sunlight? Do they get to roam around a bit? Do they get fresh air and fresh water? Erika and Rod want to scale up to meet the seemingly unending demand, but recognize that they’ll have to be patient. Their 10-year plan has them breeding 500 sows and expanding to another piece of property. “It’s not respectable to put our 10-year program on this property,” says Rod. “It’s not stewardship enough. Stewardship is a big part of the program. The stewardship is that we’ve got to make things better than when we came.” “Our primary concern is the health of the pigs and their well-being,” says Erika. “And the quality of the meat that we’re getting to the public.”

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at Top Knot Farms listen to classical music in the mornings. Week-old ducks sway, clack, and cuddle. They are identically blond, cartoon cute. Flat orange beaks, lips eternally pursed, webbed flippers for feet. The music isn’t really for the birds—Colton Reily, the farm foreman, listens to classical music as he sweeps day-old hay out of the pens in the brooder house. “It’s one of the only stations we get out here,” he says. In an adjacent pen, days-old chicks—barely a palmful of life—cluster under white heat panels. Lift up one panel and they peep, indignant, and press under the adjacent panel, burrowing into a wall of golden fluff. Thirty-five miles east of Tucson, just before Benson, the barns at Top Knot Farms gleam in the sunlight. The buildings are sleek, shining, reflecting the morning sun in winking glimmers. The walls of the barn are opaque panels of polycarbonate that slide open to let in the wind that blows west to east across the high desert plain. It’s bright inside, cold outside. “The chicks get up when the sun comes up,” says Michael Muthart, who owns Top Knot Farms with his brother, Luke Muthart. “When the sun goes down, it’s lights out.” Michael and Luke, 34 and 27 respectively, grew up in Yuma, sons of a manager at a large commercial watermelon and lettuce farm. The oldest of four brothers, Michael worked as a chef for 15 years, most recently at Tucson’s The Dish bistro. The youngest of the four, Luke graduated from the University of Arizona School of Architecture in 2014. And now they run a poultry farm together. After a stint in Philadelphia working at a French restaurant that served fresh poultry—partridge, grouse, quail—Michael returned to Tucson and wondered why he couldn’t get such fresh poultry in southern Arizona. “Quail run all over the place in Tucson, but you have to order frozen quail from Georgia. I didn’t understand that,” he says, soft-spoken and earnest. “So my brother and I started growing birds in our backyards for ourselves.” They grew pheasant and quail, chicken and duck, and when they started sharing the birds with friends and friendly chefs, “We discovered we were producing pretty awesome meat,” Luke says. “And we realized that there’s nobody in southern Arizona producing fresh chicken and duck,” Michael says. After only eight months in business, they’re still trying to get their legs under them, building accounts and growing capacity. There are 500 Cornish Cross hens and Pekin ducks wandering around the barns; Michael hopes to hit 1,600 within the year. Birds arrive on the farm when they’re a day old—Michael and Luke buy chicks from a hatchery in Wisconsin—and go straight into the brooder house, where they’re kept safe, warm, and well fed on a grain ration of ground corn and soy meal. After three or four weeks inside, the birds graduate to one of four pastures outside. The pastures are still becoming pastures—for now, they are mostly turned earth and grass seedlings. Adult chickens—bright white feathers, red wattles—strut under the barn awning, dipping their faces in and out of the water dispenser, pecking at feed, and swaying in corners of sunlight. HE BIR DS

(Top) The barn at Top Knot Farms was designed by Luke Muthart, who graduated from the UA School of Architecture. (Bottom) Michael Muthart throws chicken feed onto the ever-growing pasture.

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(Above) Top Knot Farms began when Luke (left) and Michael started growing birds in their backyard for themselves to eat. (Below) A dusty radio broadcasts classical music to the peeping chicks.

Luke, who works full time as a site superintendent for a custom homebuilder, was tasked with the farm’s design and construction. “My job was to ask: How can we maximize our ability to minimize our footprint?” he says. The open barn is one answer, as is the rainwater harvesting system in the works, capable of gathering enough water to support 6,000 birds. He bought four insulated shipping containers to retrofit into a processing plant, packaging facility, storage unit, and office. The site plan “emphasizes a pragmatic hierarchy,” he says, and then apologizes for sounding “too architecty.” Retrofitted with water and electricity, the processing plant is strikingly simple. “A shipping container is linear and our processing is linear, so it works,” Luke says. “At a traditional chicken operation, there are these 500-foot tunnels that are dark and cold. We took that and we re-glorified it.” Inside, the shipping container is clean, silver, and sunny. The north end opens to a square frame holding the Rincon Mountains, a sweep of desert scrub and bright blue sky. “When you see the mountains, it takes the stress off,” he says. “I mean, we’re out here killing animals, but having this space—it shines a different light on this kind of meat production.” Luke, Michael, Colton, and a handful of workers harvest birds weekly. After they’re inverted, killed, and bled, the birds pass along an assembly line within the insulated shipping container— 122 January/February 2016

defeathered, beheaded, eviscerated, rinsed, iced, and packaged, all within five or six minutes. “It’s not a far stretch from work I did in a restaurant,” says Michael. “I went into this familiar with the anatomy of a bird. I know how to use a knife. I understand sanitation. I know how to manage a small group of people.” The birds go out to customers fresh—freezing and defrosting causes the bird to lose moisture, says Michael. They typically get orders from restaurants on Sunday, process on Monday, and deliver birds on Wednesday. “As a chef, I think it’s incredible to be able to buy a bird that was alive three days ago,” he says. “But everybody loves the idea of farm fresh poultry. It’s my challenge to find people to put their money where their mouths are.” Luckily, money follows mouth. “The biggest thing I hear from our customers is, ‘Hey, that tastes like chicken,’” says Luke. “Normal chicken doesn’t have a taste—it tastes like whatever seasoning you put on it. In a normal chicken operation, the birds don’t move, so they don’t develop any texture—it’s just like mush. Our birds develop texture. They’re chasing bugs, digging in the earth. The meat has tooth.” What motivates both Luke and Michael seems to be providing something better. Better poultry, but also better days and better taste and better air. “I think the biggest motivator for me is when we realized that there was nobody doing this and that there was a demand for it,”

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Luke and Michael raise Pekin ducks and Cornish Cross hens.

says Michael. “We came out here to grow chickens in a healthy natural way. Fresh air, sunshine, good water, good food. Since I’ve been out here, I realize it’s the same thing for me—I’m like the chickens. I’m out here breathing good air; I’m out here drinking good water. I’m out here in a beautiful place eating vegetables that I grow outside my house.” “I love that we can teach people that meat doesn’t come from a cellophane package from WalMart,” says Luke. “I love that we’re showing people where meat really comes from. It doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Go harvest meat, celebrate it, and enjoy it.” ✜ 124 January/February 2016

The Jojoba Beef Company. 24631 N. Diamond A Ranch Road, Kearny. 520.400.7710. E & R Pork. 10852 S. Side Saddle Lane. 520.490.0166. Top Knot Farms. 602.697.6948. Megan Kimble is the managing editor of Edible Baja Arizona and the author of Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food.

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128 January/February 2016


Millions of Tacos A meandering review of five Nogales taco carts. By John Washington | Photography by K. Flo Razowsky


LEGAL ASSISTANT , a photographer, and a writer cross the

border into Nogales, Sonora. One of us is hung over. One of us is famished. One of us likes to eat animal heads. We sample tacos from five different carts—one cart selling tacos de perro (dog tacos, they’re called, but they’re definitely not made with dog), two carts specializing in beef head (principally jowl and tongue) and stewed meat tacos (cabeza and birria, the two prototypical Nogalense tacos), one cart offering carne asada, Sonoran dogs, and tacos al pastor, and one upscale specialty cart with esoterically dubbed tacos, such as Lorenzo, Tololoche, and the Tarola. In total, I eat 10 tacos, about half of a chimichanga, a few chiles caribes, and stacks of cucumber and radish slices. Plus, more than a half-pint of salsa. With a beer and coffee halftime break, the whole thing takes about four and a half hours. According to the estimates of veteran taco-man Antonio León, of Nogales, Sonora, representing taco cart Don José, about 20,000 tacos are eaten in the city of Nogales every single day. León’s first guess is 10,000, but then, after some hard-chuckling thinking, he doubles the number to 20,000, and there he settles. I ask Oscár Reyes, sub-director of official communication for the City of Nogales, Sonora, how many tacos he thinks are consumed each day in his city. He does some temple-tapping, reminding me of the official and estimated population of the city (240,000 and more than 300,000, respectively), and then lands on the number 5 million. Five million tacos eaten every day, just in Nogales. I repeat the number back to him. “Between five and eight million tacos a day,” he assures me. Sub-director Reyes and taco-man León differ by a factor of at least 250 (more tacos than I could eat in a month). The verdict: Extremely narrow sample size and complete dismissal of scientific standards notwithstanding, I indubitably conclude that it is impossible to find a bad taco in all of Mexico. You want evidence? Talk to taco-man José Luis Zamora, of Los Compadres. I asked him if he’d ever eaten a bad taco. He told me he’s never heard of the concept. 130 January/February 2016

Stop No. 1

Tacos de Perro Yes, the literal translation is Dog Taco, but the meat—the two taqueros repeatedly assure us—is not dog meat. Rather, the name comes from the saying, Ando de perro, or (roughly) I’m dogging it—which means you’re impecunious. These tacos cost five pesos a piece, but make up for their poverty in palatability. Crisp, clam-shell tortillas close around buttery refried pinto beans or lightly fried strips of beef. The single salsa option is a hot, mouth-tanging, uncooked slosh of tomato, lime, and pico de pajaro chiles—perfect complement to the mouth-sharp tortilla shards. Tacos de Perro has been dishing bean, meat, and pork rind tacos, as well as chimichangas, for 30 years, and Joel Galindo, who serves up our tacos, has been working there for 20 of them. He estimates that they sell about 600 tacos a day. I ask Galindo for the most tacos he’s ever seen someone eat. He tells me that a man once sat down and ate 35 tacos before standing back up. We find that tacos de perro are excellent for hangovers, the crisp tortillas little more than vehicles for the delicious bean grease and the salsa to ride in on. These are the first tacos we tried, and (spoiler alert) they are also the best. Location: About a block south from the DeConcini Port of Entry, across the street from La Parroquia Iglesia, and nearly in front of the Nogales Museum of Art. Serves tacos dorados and chimichangas. Hours: 8 a.m. to whenever they run out of food, usually around 4 p.m. Price: 5 pesos a taco.

Joel Galindo has been serving tacos at Tacos de Perro for 20 years.

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Stop No. 2

Los Compadres

Two luchadores (Mexican wrestlers) run the cart and have been cooking tacos on the same corner for 50 years. Their lucha names are Genesis and Nocturno. To prove their battle history, they show me the scars on their foreheads; Nocturno points to the enormous lump in his back. Genesis also has at least one stitch on the top of his head. When Nocturno (José Luis Zamora) was a boy, he recalls, tacos cost 1 peso. They now cost 12 (current exchange rate is about 16.5 pesos to the dollar). He serves up melt-in-your-mouth cabeza and swallowable birria, but I find the best thing here is the salsa: a cumulously creamy (without actual cream!) salsa of jalapeño, serrano chile, and oil, served in a Banco Azteca sports water bottle. In between bites, I ask Genesis if he actually hits opponents when he performs in la lucha. “Sí,” he says. “We punch, bite, even stick fingers in each others’ ears.” “It’s like therapy,” Nocturno chimes in. “A stress relief.” Though Nocturno claims that he’s never in his life eaten a bad taco, he’s found that tacos in Arizona are made with pallid tortillas: “It’s like they’re sick,” he says. “As if they’re suffering from typhoid.” These tacos here are good, but it is los compas themselves, Nocturno and Genesis, who are worth the visit. Location: Southwest corner of Avenida Juarez and Campillo. Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Price: 12 pesos a taco. Interlude: The legal assistant, the photographer, and the writer try to pinpoint the color of birria. Is it Burgundy and Chestnut? Merlot and Light Roast Coffee? Is it Muscle-Brown? Does it matter? We wonder, too, what is the color of the universe, the great cosmic latte? Somehow, we are both full and famished. The salt has sucked my throat dry. I quaff a sparkling agua and we hit the streets.

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Stop No. 3

Don José

Our next stop is the handsomely outfitted (tables and an awning) taco stand Don José where we talk to Marta (daughter of the late Don José) about the ingredients essential to a taco. She lists each of the ingredients in her tacos: meat, onions, salsa, tortillas, cabbage, lime, salt. Marta ate her first taco (an unspecified “many” years ago) at this very stand. I ask, “Besides all the ingredients, what’s the secret to a good taco?” Her answer: “The hand that prepares it.” Also, she adds, she uses a molcajete, a stone mortar, to make the salsas and to crush the spices. Instead of liquefying ingredients into uniform gravy, crushing the tomatoes and chiles into the stone of the molcajete pounds them into a mash, so each spoonful has its own soul. These tacos (birria and cabeza again) were good. Maybe they were better than good. It was getting hard to taste. I scarf one of each, and then down part of a cup of birria broth—deeply spicy, oily, and rich, like soup broth on steroids and sort of what I imagine wolverine milk might taste like. Marta’s parting wisdom: “If you don’t like tacos, you’re not Mexican.” Location: Underneath Qahwa Coffee Shop, a funky coffee shop, venue, and art space on the corner of Díaz and Alvaro Obregón. Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Price: 12 pesos.

(Top) Visit Los Compadres for the tacos and the stories from the compas, Genesis and Nocturno. (Bottom) At Don José, the secret to a good taco is in the hand that prepares it, says Marta, daughter of the late Don José.

Stop No. 4

La Vasquez

The best thing about this taco shop might be that they have a hand-washing station—a little jerry-rigged cooler contraption with a hand-pump full of dish soap. The worst thing might be the small TV set up on a red plastic chair, volume-blasting Recuerda y Gana, a Mexican quiz show that pits families against each other to win loads of pesos (sort of like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, but two decades even further out of style).

Accompanying the tacos (yes, more tacos, this time carne asada and adobado) are cucumber half-moons, radish full-moons, and plump chiles caribes, pale-yellow and grill-blackened equilateral-triangle-shaped peppers that are hot in the mouth, but not in the throat, or somehow, on the tongue. The taco adobado, a stewed version of the more famous taco al pastor, was gristly. The carne asada was delicately charred, and willingly absconded its dominance in my folded tortilla to the mélange of flavorful salsas, fragmented cabbage, diced onion, and wilted specks of cilantro. Location: Southwest corner of Obregón and Vasquez. Hours: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Price: Slightly drunk on taco meat, I walked away without paying. The taquero ran me down and, apologizing profusely, I gave him a 50-peso bill, which covered our three tacos and tip. They cost 10 pesos a pop. 134 January/February 2016

Stop No. 5


By far the most upscale of the taco stands we visit—it’s run by Pedro Rubio, the chef who cooks in the swanky hotel the taco stand sits in the shadow of, the Fray Marcos de Niza. Though it is still properly a cart, there is more than just one or two taqueros running the place, and the flock that functions as a wait staff is slightly pushy—though they may just be trying to impress what they mistakenly understand (and I sort of fail to correct) to be a team of food critics. Taca-tacos offers the typical taco—carne asada, tripa (intestine, which, with lime, was iron-tasting and slightly chalky) but also delicious specialty tacos: the Tololoche (named after the mariachi bass guitar), with pickled peppers, cheese, and cream; the Tarola, or the Papa Loca (the crazy potato), with beef, cream, potato, and cheese; and the Lorenzo, a crisped tortilla with melted cheese and perfectly grilled (juicy and skin-crisped) pile of meat. Taca-Tacos also has the most original salsas of all the carts we try: Tatemado, Tatemado Tomatillo, and Salsa Chilosa. The tacos here are fantastic (and probably objectively better than any other we try—high quality meat, fresh ingredients, and careful sazón) but the ambience is a little haughty for street tacos. I miss the dust on the tables, the water-bottle salsas, the rusting 50-year old carritos. If you’re stomach sensitive, however, this is the best stand for you. Location: Outside of Fray Marcos de Niza Hotel and Restaurant on the corner of Alvaro Obregón and Campillo. Hours: Tuesday to Thursday 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. and Friday to Saturday 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Closed Monday. Price: Between 18 and 50 pesos. Post Script: If there were really as many as 8 million tacos eaten a day in Nogales, and we were to go with the official population count of 240,000, that would mean each Nogalense would eat on average just over 33 tacos a day. I ate 10, and, though I was extremely taste-satisfied, I also felt a little high on all the spice and grease celebrating in my gut. I find that it’s about more than just the taco. Sonora certainly offers taste varieties different from anything you can find north of the border, but besides the delicious taco de perro or molcajete-pounded birria sauce, the culture and history of the taco carts are rich in themselves.  John Washington is a novelist, teacher, and translator based in Tucson. He and Daniela Maria Ugaz co-translated Sandra Rodriguez Nieto’s The Story of Vicente, Who Murdered His Mother, His Father, and His Sister: Life and Death in Juarez (Verso Books). Visit or find him on Twitter at @EndDeportations. (Above) Tacos at La Vasquez come with an array of toppings and flavorful salsas. (Below) Taca-tacos is an upscale taco stop, as taco stops go.


Strictly Cocktails At The Still, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar in midtown Tucson, Tiffany Eldredge is making cocktails the way cocktails were meant to be made. By Autumn Giles | Photography by Tim Fuller


E LDR EDGE gets teased for the amount of amaretto she burns through at The Still, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar tucked away in the restaurant Vero Amore, where Eldredge runs the bar and curates a rotating list of classic cocktails. The liquor rep laughs at Eldredge. She sells more amaretto to her than to any other bartender in Tucson. “That’s what people come back for,” says Eldredge. “My amaretto sour is far and away my most popular cocktail in here. We joke and say it pays the bills, but it really does.” The much-maligned amaretto sour is all too often what Eldredge rightfully describes as “just amaretto and sour mix, which is heinous. It’s just grosser than hell.” It’s the stuff of bad wedding open bars and your great aunt from New Jersey. In Eldredge’s hands, the drink is a revelation. IFFAN Y

136 January/February 2016

“It’s like I just showed them electricity or fire for the first time,” says Eldredge of patrons when they taste her versions of notorious drinks like amaretto and whiskey sours. “I can’t take credit for it because I did not invent the whiskey sour,” she says. Eldredge situates herself squarely in a tradition of renowned, classically trained bartenders and she has the chops to back it up. Her sister Amy Eldredge, whom Tiffany calls “a very gifted bartender,” apprenticed with the late Sasha Petraske, craft cocktail pioneer and owner of famed New York City bars like Milk & Honey, Little Branch, and Dutch Kills. When the folks

Tiffany Eldredge welcomes visitors to The Still through a door hidden behind what look innocently like shelves of Chianti bottles.

Eldredge says she creates cocktails through sense, feeling the balance of a mixed drink in her hands as much as in the recipe.

at Vero Amore decided to open a cocktail bar, it only made sense to send Tiffany to train with her sister. “She made me do these really intense drills. It was Karate Kid type stuff,” says Tiffany of her time studying with Amy. “She’d make me hold bottles and pour to build up my arm strength and muscle memory. After two days I couldn’t even lift my arms up to wash my hair.” The in-person instruction with her sister came after months of what Tiffany calls “nose in books” studying. 138 January/February 2016

“She basically said if you’re going to be my lineage … you need to be as good as I am,” recalls Tiffany. While Tiffany’s legacy in bartending is quite literally familial, she also strives to uphold her pedigree working in the tradition of Petraske. She explains that by training with her sister who had trained with him, “essentially, I’m taking Sasha’s name, so I can’t mess up his reputation.” Tiffany traces her initial love of craft cocktails back to Amy, who would call to report, “This is the craziest thing. We’re

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Tiffany’s Lavender Basil Gimlet 2 ounces London dry gin ¾ ounce lime juice ¾ ounce lavender syrup Add a basil leaf to the shaking tin, plus ice. Shake and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Add a few drops of lavender bitters. And a garnish with a basil leaf and dried lavender.

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making our own ice ... we have these huge ice cubes and we cut them ourselves,” Eldredge says. The idea of using a pick to chisel off exactly the right size and shape ice for each drink was foreign to Eldredge, and opened her eyes to a different way of making cocktails. As a result, she says, “I got really excited about these kinds of drinks really early on.” The types of drinks that Eldredge makes at The Still are a product of Petraske’s “branch system,” a series of precise ratios and techniques for crafting balanced, consistent, and delicious cocktails. “It’s a very strict style of bartending,” says Eldredge. Made up of 14 branches—sours, branches—sours, nontraditional sours, martinis, branches— and bucks (drinks with ginger beer on top), for example—the example—the example— branches are divided by how the drink is made—say, made—say, shaken made— or stirred—and stirred—and the measurements used to make it. Eldredge stirred— compares it to a “mental flow chart.” Her ability to play within the structure of the branch system informs how she develops cocktail recipes for The Still’s menu, which changes every two weeks. When Eldredge builds a new cocktail, it starts with a single ingredient. “Every time that I start my new cocktail menu, I basically just pick ingredients that I like and then I plug them into these branches to see which ratio and which style fits best. I know off the top of my head that some of the branches are super boozy—kind boozy— boozy —kind of a more stiff drink—and drink—and some of the branches drink— are more citrusy, sweet, or floral. I can think of a flavor profile and a style that I want and then I’ll just plug it into these branches and see which one works best.” When she makes new drinks she rearranges flavors, incorporating seasonal ingredients around set ratios. The branch system allows for plenty of creativity, but doesn’t leave a lot of room for error. “It’s very meticulous,” she admits. “It’s for a very pedantic type of person.” She likens what she does to baking rather than cooking. “If you were making a cake, you wouldn’t freehand anything because it’s going to taste terrible,” she says. “There’s a precise amount of ice I have to use, a precise amount of time I have to shake it for, a precise amount of stirs, so that I can get it as cold as I need it and get as much water dilution in it as I want.” This results in popular drinks like The Old Money, an old-fashioned variation that features walnut bitters and an allspice rinse, named for the fact that it tastes like it ought to be sipped in a study on an estate, while wearing a jacket and smoking a pipe. She manipulates a series of ratios, to be sure, but it’s the human on the other side of the weighted Japanese

cocktail tin that ultimately makes the drink successful. “I don’t count how many times I stir. It’s really a matter of senses, senses, listening for it and watching it,” she says. Eldredge knows the sound the ice makes when it shatters and how it feels in her hand hand,, even through the tin. This attention results in a cocktail that is as balanced and as good as it could be, every single time. Eldredge loves “introducing people to this kind of drinking that’s not a race to get drunk, essentially. It’s not a vodka soda that is thrown together and thrown back.” She’s proud of the number of folks who come into the bar cursing gin because it tastes like pine trees—a trees—a surprisingly common complaint—who trees— complaint—who she then converts to full-on gin drinkers with cocktails like her gimlet variation, which features gin, fresh cucumbers, and cracked black pepper. The novelty of how enamored customers are when she cracks an egg into a drink, thwacks her ice bag with a mallet “caveman style,” or brings out a traditional absinthe fountain still hasn’t worn off for Eldredge. Eldredge says it’s her commitment to these classic techniques and ingredients that helps define The Still as a speakeasy— that, and the fact that the bar is hidden. “I think people think it’s a lot harder to get in than it is,” she says, addressing the misconception that The Still is trying to be snobby or exclusive. There’s no dress code and she’ll make customers whatever drink they want, as long as she has the ingredients. Although she confesses to “cheating” by using an electric juicer to juice things like carrots and celery for her cocktails, “for the most part we stay pretty close to the old school styles of bartending,” she says, which means things like no foams, no infusions, and no blenders. “It’s basically just presenting cocktails the way they were originally meant to be.” The Still is open Friday and Saturday nights by reservation. For directions and to make a reservation, text 520.909.6299. ✜

Eldredge knows the sound the ice makes when it shatters and how it feels in her hand, even through the tin.

142 January/February 2016 Vero Amore. 2920 N. Swan Road. 520.325.4122. Autumn Giles is a freelance writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in Modern in Modern Farmer and Punch. and Punch and  Punch.. Her first Punch book, Beyond book, Beyond Canning: New Techniques, Ingredients, and Flavors to Preserve, Pickle, and Ferment Like Never Before, Before, will be out in February.

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A NA BLE has played a major role in the growth of Tucson’s craft cocktail scene. He has helped write cocktail lists and spearhead spirit selections at The Red Room, Wilko, Penca, Sidecar, and most recently has been working with Derrick Widmark to grow Good Oak Bar into its next stage. From the beginning, Good Oak has been exclusively an Arizona beer and wine venue, becoming an important foothold for the local spirits community to show off their products. With Anable’s new additions of distilled spirits and cocktails, the bar is hoping to fully embrace the pub aesthetic of the space and become more inclusive to a range of drinkers. Through a modest cocktail list, some examples of natural California and Oregon wines, a selection of agave distillates, and a small list of craft whiskeys, he’s hoping to showcase those drinks that helped shape the development of the Arizona beers, wines, and cocktails. The success of the craft drink scene locally will come from the hard work of many people across the country to change the status quo across the country and bring craft drinking into our daily lives. By featuring Del Bac Whiskey next to microdistilleries from the Hudson Valley, we see a more complete picture of our own craft in Arizona—a sense of context and maybe a chance to see what makes our own spirits different. UK E

Good Oak Bar. 316 E. Congress St. 520.882.2007.


HR EE W ELLS D ISTILLING , a new Tucson distillery, has released their first product into the market. The Sonora Silver is what I would describe as a prickly pear eau de vie—a fruit brandy—although the Tax and Trade

144 January/February 2016

Bureau in charge of liquor labeling seems to disagree, calling it instead a “special distillate.” The prickly pear fruit is co-fermented with sugar cane, double distilled in handmade pot stills, and proofed down to 40 percent ABV. I have tasted a few different examples of prickly pear brandy, and its close relatives, and this is by far the most accessible entry into the category. The spirit presents a candied prickly pear

f lavor from top to bottom with just a touch of heat from the alcohol. Prepare to find this popping up on every cocktail list around town—the flavor almost demands to be used as a mixing ingredient. Hopefully the entrance of this product onto the market will inspire other distillers to begin searching through our native and indigenous plants for fermentables

to start making novel Arizona spirits. Taste the growing line of Three Wells’ liquor every first and third Saturday from 3-6 p.m. at their tasting room near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Three Wells Distilling Company. 3780 E. 44th St., No. 120. 520.205.1363.


ROW ING UP ON the east side of Tucson, I used to pass by a bar called Eddie’s Cocktails every day on my way to school. There were no real outward clues as to what went on inside of Eddie’s. Every Wednesday night there would be cars parked as far as I could see. Something exciting must have been going on inside that building—I knew that one day I would find out what that something was. A few weeks ago, I ventured back to my old stomping ground and finally went inside Eddie’s. What was actually going on inside was fairly tame: a group of mostly middle-aged and older people relaxing, drinking beer, and watching live country music. The bar could fit about 20 people, and another 20 or so tables spread across the room focused on a modest stage that barely held the band. Eddie’s boasts 16 beers on tap. Not that long ago, any bar that had more than four draught beers was something to behold. The crowd and service wasn’t the least bit intimidating, the beer was cold, and the music was great. These are the bars that maintain the unique nature of our city. Businesses that focus on serving their populations for decades at a time are businesses that we should all support.

Eddie’s Cocktails. 8150 E. 22nd St. 520.290.8750.

Swizzlefish, Kingfisher


F T ER MOR E than 20 years of consistent high quality food, impeccable service, and a strong domestic wine list, Kingfisher Bar and Grill has become one of our strongest and most decorated institutions of food and drink in Tucson. Their long line of charismatic bartenders has been an important part of that continued success. Although I would wager that nine out of every 10 drinks coming out of the service well are wine, why not discuss one of their simple, impressive, and concise cocktails: the Swizzlefish. Mostly a Rum swizzle played fairly straight, the cocktail is simply this: Rum, Velvet Falernum, cinnamon syrup, Angostura bitters, and lime juice. Molasses-driven spirit, baking spice, citrus, and a touch of sweetness are the dignifi ed building blocks of a classic tiki drink that many too quickly overlook in lieu of something more bourgeois. Before the oysters, before the Muscadet, before you have to impress your guests—order a Swizzlefish.

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Black Iron India Pale Ale, Grand Canyon Brewing Co.


Williams, Grand Canyon Brewing Company’s Black Iron India Pale Ale is a reasonably priced can of beer. It leans heavily on the richness and nuttiness gained through the addition of Maris Otter malts in the fermentation. Centennial and Columbus hops make themselves present in the floral and reserved citrus bitterness but aren’t as loud as those found in Pacific Northwest-inspired Arizona IPAs. It has a fairly weighty mouthfeel, pleasant nuttiness in both the nose and palate, and an unmistakable British Pale nostalgia that sings throughout the beer. Another great can to add to the arsenal of Arizona’s maturing beer scene. OCATED IN

2013 Rune Vineyards Viognier


UNE V INEYARDS are the upand-comers within the perennially up and coming Arizona wine industry. Although there are many competitors, most of whom have more funding, this new label has a lot going for it. The 2013 Viognier, sourced from Pillsbury Vineyard in Cochise County, splits its points of interest between the Rhone varietal’s always compelling Arizona aromatic expression and the decisions made in the winemaking process. The inclusion of wild yeast into the fermentation process (in concert with a selection of commercial yeasts) allows the Viognier to become even more a product of its own terroir. A touch of neutral oak adds a tinge of color, helping emphasize the honey on the nose. In the mouth, the wine is full-throated and lengthily driven by stone fruits. This wine is perfect to drink as the opening toast of a family holiday gathering in Baja Arizona. 

Bryan Eichhorst is a native Tucsonan, dedicated evangelist of Oaxacan mescal, and the beverage director at Penca.

edible Baja Arizona




Exit #281


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1 2 3


18585 S. Sonoita Hwy, Vail 520.762.8585 Thu–Sun: 10-6

DOS CABEZAS WINEWORKS 3248 Hwy 82, Sonoita 520.455.5141 Thurs–Sun: 10:30-4:30

4 5


3450 Hwy 82, Sonoita 888.569.1642 Thurs: 10-4, Fri-Sun: 10-6

148 January/February 2016


3989 State Hwy 82, Elgin 520.456.9000 Sat-Sun by Appointment


21 Mtn. Ranch Dr., Elgin 520.455.9291 Nov–March: Daily 11-5 April–Oct: Fri – Sun 11-5 Mon-Thurs by Appointment

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RANCHO ROSSA VINEYARDS 32 Cattle Ranch Lane, Elgin 520.455.0700 Fri–Sun: 10:30-3:30

CALLAGHAN VINEYARDS 336 Elgin Road, Elgin 520.455.5322 Thurs–Sun: 11-4

FLYING LEAP VINEYARDS 342 Elgin Road, Elgin 520.455.5499 Daily: 11-4


To Ft. Huachuca (50 min.) Sierra Vista (1 hr.)


370 Elgin Road, Elgin 520.455.5582 Daily: 11-5

10 V471 Elgin Road,EElgin ILLAGE OF


520.455.9309 Daily: 11-5

V 11 S290 Elgin Canelo Road, Elgin ONOITA


520.455.5893 Daily: 10-4

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520.455.5383 Fri-Sun: 11-4

13 WT



15 N 4th Street, Tombstone 520.261.1674 Daily: 12-6

14 S334 E AllenS Street,WTombstone ILVER



520.678.8200 Daily: 12-6

edible Baja Arizona



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SAND-RECKONER 130 S. Haskell Avenue 303.931.8472 By Appointment Only FLYING LEAP VINEYARDS: WILLCOX TASTING ROOM 100 N. Railroad Avenue 520.384.6030 Wed-Sun: 12-6 KEELING SCHAEFER VINEYARDS: WILLCOX TASTING ROOM 154 N. Railroad Avenue 520.766.0600 Thurs-Sun: 11-5 CARLSON CREEK 115 Railroad Avenue 520.766.3000 Thu-Sun 11-5 ARIDUS TASTING ROOM 145 N Railview Avenue 520.766.9463 Tasting Room Daily: 11-5 Crush Room Daily: 11-5 w/appt. ARIDUS CRUSH FACILITY 1126 N. Haskell Avenue 520.766.2926 Mon-Fri: 11-5, Sat-Sun: By Appt.

11 12 13 14 15 16



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to New Mexico

Exit #

Exit #331




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PASSION CELLARS AT SALVATORE VINEYARDS 3052 N. Fort Grant Road 602.750.7771 CORONADO VINEYARDS 2909 E. Country Club Drive 520.384.2993 Mon-Sat: 9:30-5:30, Sun: 10-4 FORT BOWIE VINEYARDS 156 N. Jefferson, Bowie AZ 520.847.2593 Daily: 8-4 BODEGA PIERCE TASTING ROOM 4511 E. Robbs Road 602.320.1722 Thurs-Sun: 11-5, M-W by Appt. PILLSBURY WINE COMPANY 6450 S. Bennett Place 520.384.3964 Thurs-Sun: 11-5 Weekdays by Appointment ZARPARA VINEYARDS 6777 S. Zarpara Lane 602.885.8903 Fri-Sun: 11-5, Mon-Thurs: By Appt. KEELING SCHAEFER VINEYARD 10277 E. Rock Creek Lane 520.824.2500 Wine Club Events Only LAWRENCE DUNHAM VINEYARDS 13922 S. Kuykendall Cutoff Road 602.320.1485 By Appointment Only GOLDEN RULE VINEYARDS 3525 N. Golden Rule Road 520.507.2400 Thurs-Sun 11-5 Mon-Weds: by Appointment FLYING LEAP VINEYARDS: BISBEE TASTING ROOM 67 Main St. Bisbee 520.384.6030 Fri-Sat: 12-7 Sun: 12-6

edible Baja Arizona



A World City By Jonathan Rothschild


bring you ways to work on those I’m not much of a problems—even opportunities. foodie. I enjoy our local restauHere, I’ve been lucky. The folks rants, but I have no idea how on my food commission include to cook the food they serve, much experts from the Community Food less grow it. Bank of Southern Arizona, Local So the decision to create a ComFirst Arizona, the University of mission on Food Security, Heritage, Arizona, and several other orgaand Economy was a bit of a stretch nizations. They bring a wealth of for me. But as mayor, I’m always knowledge to the table … if you’ll looking for two things: to build on pardon the expression. our community’s strengths and to Two of the main problems help those most in need. Tucson’s the commission will work on are food economy has the potential to reducing food insecurity and indo both. creasing access to low-cost healthy For a city in the desert, we have food—eliminating “food deserts.” a remarkable diversity of locally The opportunities are a little harder grown food. We have heritage to define, but basically they have varieties that have grown here for to do with using our vibrant food hundreds of years. We have varieties culture to boost our economy—inthat are well-adapted to low rainfall creasing tourism and our residents’ and high temperatures. And we have quality of life. While promoting our our own unique foods that are native region as a travel destination falls to to our Sonoran desert—cholla buds, Visit Tucson, I’m hopeful this new mesquite flour, and nopales, among food commission can bring added others. insight where our local food scene Many Tucsonans are directly Mayor Rothchild visits the Mission Garden with students is concerned. involved in food production. We from YMCA’s summer camp. Photo by Lisa Markkula. In December, Tucson became the have organic farmers, artisanal food first and only city in the United States producers, and groups dedicated to to be designated a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy. backyard, community, and school gardens. We have native This designation not only helps us promote Tucson using one peoples who’ve preserved the farming techniques of their anof our great strengths; it also ties us into a network of other cestors, and we have fifth graders who can explain composting creative cities around the world. I say it often, but I think finally and aquaponics because they have it at their school. we’re starting to believe that Tucson is indeed a world city, an We have Tucson Meet Yourself, a festival so well-known for its international city. ethnic food that some affectionately call it Tucson Eat Yourself. The bottom line is, whenever we work on making our city Tens of thousands visit this festival every year to enjoy food from a great place to visit—and great food can be a pretty powerful different cultures around the globe—and it’s all made in Tucson. incentive to visit—we end up with a city that’s also a great place Food, it turns out, is more than just fundamental to life. It’s to live. And that’s my goal as mayor: a city where people want also part of our identity. to stay and can stay. I may not know much about cooking but I I didn’t know very much about this until after I became mayor. think that’s a recipe for success. ✜ I knew we had great restaurants, but that was pretty much all I knew about our local food economy. When you’re mayor, Jonathan Rothschild is the mayor of the City of Tucson. however, people bring you problems. If you’re lucky, they also CONFESS:

154 January/February 2016

Edible Baja Arizona - January/February 2016  

Our World City of Gastronomy • Making Desert Meat • Re-Imagining Produce

Edible Baja Arizona - January/February 2016  

Our World City of Gastronomy • Making Desert Meat • Re-Imagining Produce