Page 1

THE THERE THERE No. 24 May/June 2017

What's Next for Downtown Tucson? Salsa Six Ways • Tasting Baja's Brews • Incarcerated Cooks




10 VOICES We asked participants in the Jewish Community Center’s Taglit day program: What have you learned about—and from—cooking? 16 GLEANINGS Josh’s Foraging Fowls; R Bar; Small Batch Bakery. 22 CALENDAR 24 BAJA EATS 34 THE PLATE

42 EDIBLE INTERVIEW Longtime desert harvester, Jill Lorenzini is an educator, artist, grower, and builder. 48 POEM “Tortillera” by M. E. Wakamatsu. 50 ESSAY Why eating local is a political act. 56 ESSAY The men at Tucson’s state prison get comfortable cooking. 70 TABLE At Sushi on Oracle, chef Tommy Begay is learning from the best—and adding his own spin. 80 MEET YOUR FARMER At raw milk dairy Fond du Lac Farms, the cows come first, in comfort and cleanliness. 115 HOMESTEAD Celebrating summer by harvesting squash blossoms and artichokes; Rain to Table part II; the power of permaculture. 126 FARM REPORT 130 SONORAN SKILLET Salsa six ways. 139 BAJA BREWS After a year of beer, learning how to truly taste. 150 BUZZ The point of a neighborhood bar: Exploring South Tucson’s Saint Charles Tavern. 158 UNESCO Researchers are working to revive and recreate the ancient Mesoamerican diet. 164 A DAY IN BAJA ARIZONA Linger in Benson. 90 THE THERE THERE After three decades of effort, downtown Tucson is indisputably revitalizing. What that revitalization means for downtown is still being determined.

166 INK 170 LAST BITE Store-bought jam is good enough.

edible Baja Arizona 





marks the 24th time we’ve invested a couple thousand hours of intensely choreographed creative effort to craft a magazine that evokes the flavors and aromas, the textures and colors, the heritages and stories, of this place we call Baja Arizona. Just 48 months ago we were scrambling to create a new magazine from scratch. Four years later, we are gratified that Edible Baja Arizona was instrumental in helping Tucson earn a UNESCO designation as the first City of Gastronomy in the United States, which, among many other benefits, has generated nearly $17 million in national and international media coverage of Tucson’s food scene since December 2015, according to statistics compiled by Visit Tucson. We are delighted to chronicle an era of innovative ideas, new ventures, and numerous possibilities to build a strong local food economy that makes our community thrive. Although we share a licensed trademark with some 90 other Edibles, this magazine is as local as a saguaro cactus, operating with total autonomy. It sprang to life from a vision that is deeply rooted in this place; it is owned by longtime Tucsonans. We print at Courier Graphics in Phoenix. We’re proud of our fierce commitment to localism. Our immense thanks to our loyal advertisers, without whom there would be no magazine. Please patronize them frequently and thank them for their support. As regular readers know, we always encourage you to subscribe (leaving the free copies for new readers to discover!) and we thank our stalwart subscribers. And, of course, much love and gratitude to all of our incredible collaborators and the amazing core staff that makes this publication appear like magic every eight weeks. I want to give special acknowledgment to some folks to whom we owe a debt of gratitude: Rick Hoffman, Philip Rosenberg, and Wil Gerken stepped up 18 months ago to provide much-needed capital to enable us to continue publishing. An award-winning endeavor like Edible Baja Arizona requires significant investment—expertise and sweat equity can only go so far—and collectively we’ve invested well over half a million dollars to create the magazine you love. I share that fact to emphasize our commitment to creating an enduring institution that will continue to tell the story of what it means to live and eat in this singular place where Sonoran Desert, sky islands, borderlands, and cities converge. Onward! his issue


prehistoric inhabitants planted corn and beans along the Santa Cruz River floodplain more than 4,000 years ago, the place we call Downtown Tucson has been reinventing itself. The arrival of the railroad in 1880 was a major catalyst for growth, connecting an isolated desert outpost of 7,000 people to the world. After World War II, the rapid influx of new residents and the easy availability of land engendered seemingly endless sprawl, while decimating the city’s once vibrant historic center. And the misguided—and some say overtly racist—decision in the 1960s to obliterate the traditionally Hispanic heart of the downtown in pursuit of “urban renewal” was devastating. I will forever describe the bulldozing of historic neighborhoods as the crime of the century, leaving the ghosts of those displaced residents to haunt downtown. The celebrated arrival of another set of tracks—those of the Modern Streetcar, linking the University of Arizona, Fourth Avenue, Downtown, and the Mercado District with steel in the street—has been heralded as equally catalytic, culminating three decades of intensive effort to make Downtown Tucson the vital, authentic, and historic heart of the metropolitan area. Editor Megan Kimble’s feature story dives deep into the players and dreams behind downtown’s latest effort—during perhaps its most critical juncture—to become something distinct and of this place. She writes: “As the city unsprawls itself—recognizing, like a body builder, the importance of a strong core—the future of downtown is still being defined.” She asks: “In downtown Tucson, where is the there there? What makes us feel like we are here? And why does it matter that we do?” As always, there is an incredible banquet of amazing content to discover in these pages. We’ll see you around the table. ¡Salud!

ONLINE #Tucson Free #Pantry encourages the #community to “take what you need, give what you can.”

Our hearts skipped a #beet when we saw these #local #organic beauties from #Tucson #CSA.

ince the first

—Douglas Biggers, editor and publisher 6  May/June 2017

Ever wonder what goes into making the covers of Edible Baja Arizona? Get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cover for our March/April 2017 issue.

Newsletter subscribers were treated to Shelby Thompson’s recipe for Crispy Baked Fries with Garlic Dipping Sauce. Subscribe at

edible Baja Arizona 


Editor and Publisher Douglas Biggers Editor

Megan Kimble

Art Director

Steve McMackin

Business Coordinator Kate Kretschmann Online Editor

Shelby Thompson


Chloé Tarvin

Senior Contributing Editor Gary Paul Nabhan Copy Editor

Ford Burkhart


Charity Whiting


Jackie Alpers, Luke Anable, Amy Belk, Marguerite Happe, Edie Jarolim Saraiya Kanning, Dennis Newman, Lisa O’Neill, Katherine Pryor, Kate Selby, Lisa Shipek, Katherine E. Standefer, Bill Steen, M. E. Wakamatsu, John Washington, Joe Watson, Rachel Wehr, Debbie Weingarten

Photographers & Artists

Jackie Alpers, Adela Antoinette, Andrew Brown, Julie DeMarre, Marcy Ellis, Liora K, Molly Kiely, Steven Meckler, Julius Schlosburg, Bridget Shanahan, Jeff Smith, Bill Steen


Madeleine Crawford, Gloria Knott, Jake O’Rourke


On the cover: Salsa extravaganza! Salsas from Boca Tacos, Penca Restaurant, Lerua’s, Durazo’s Poco Loco Specialty Salsas, Bean Tree Farm, and El Charro. Tortilla chips from Tortilleria Arevalo. See p. 130 for recipes. Photo by Jackie Alpers Above: Salsa is part of Baja Arizona’s collective identity. Photo by Jackie Alpers

Royce Davenport, Gil Mejias, Shiloh Walkosak-Mejias, Steve and Anne Bell Anderson

We’d love to hear from you

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

Say hello on social media

V olume 4, I ssue 6. 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 © 2017. 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). P r inted in A r izona by C our ier G r aphics C or por ation This issue is dedicated with love to Steve’s mom, Mary Anne Granger.

8  May/June 2017


We asked participants in the Jewish Community Center’s Taglit day program: What have you learned about—and from—cooking? Interviews by Jake O’Rourke | Photography by Julie DeMarre


1989, the Tucson Jewish Community Center has been open to Tucsonans of all faiths. The 110,000-square-foot space is a forum for events, education, after-school care, fitness classes, and community for more than 2,000 families and 5,000 members. The Taglit day program was designed to support adults and young adults with special needs in the JCC community. Every other week, participants in the program attend a cooking class, experimenting with traditional kosher recipes and ingredients to create tasty ince

10  May/June 2017

dishes such as the Matzah Lasagna (pictured), which was being cooked in honor of the Passover holiday. While using these kosher ingredients, the participants are also learning what kosher means and how to practice kosher cooking. Participants learn how to find ingredients in stores and follow recipe instructions and proper kitchen practices, with the goal of being able to apply those skills in their own lives and to shop and cook for themselves. As a volunteer reads the ingredients step-by-step, the class works together to create something delicious.

“I have everyone in class I’d ever want. I have close friends here like Amy and Mark. Everybody’s here! We learn to make good food, like pasta and red sauce.” – Jordan Nissen

“It is a really good program. I have learned to use knives to cut vegetables like the onion for the Matzah Lasagna. I’ve learned skills that will help me be able to cook for myself.” – Chase Haynes

edible Baja Arizona 


“It is something that is very fun for me. It is also a living skill. It helps me take care of myself because I live with my Grandma and she won’t always be here, so it is nice to learn how to do these things for myself actually.” – Kyle Nelson

“I like the program a lot. It has given me a lot of good skills. I learned how to use olive oil in pasta. My favorite meal we have made is the Matzah Lasagna. This is good right here.” – Trudy Dykstra

12  May/June 2017

“I would say teamwork and learning how to cook for myself. My favorite foods to cook are ribs, nachos, hamburgers, steak, and different vegetables. This program has helped my cooking get a lot better.” – Mark Frederick

“My favorite food is my mom’s pepperoni pizza. I have always liked ceramics and painting and have learned a lot about cooking.” – Rikki Williams


Josh Koehn tends his flock of foraging fowls.

An Ideal Egg

Josh’s Foraging Fowls sells eggs laid by hens pastured on Baja Arizona grasses.


Text and Photography by Shelby Thompson

ome on, girls,” Josh Koehn said tenderly as he coaxed his flock of heritage breed hens across a vast expanse of green pasture at the base of the Chiricahua Mountains. A son of farmers, Koehn has been raising hens in Willcox since the age of 10, when he began caring for the family flock. “I’ve just always loved chickens,” he said with a shrug. Ten years ago, after realizing that the cost of land and equipment would prohibit him from farming the way his parents did, Koehn started Josh’s Foraging Fowls, a small company that sells pastured eggs laid in Arizona. You’ve likely never eaten an egg like the pastured (not to be confused with pasteurized) eggs from Josh’s Foraging Fowls. Imagine the ideal of an egg: one laid from a hen that’s lived her entire life grazing on open pasture, with a strong, light brown shell and a yolk as bright as a summer marigold. It’s likely that many have never eaten an egg like this because most eggs sold at the grocery store (even Whole Foods) are one of three kinds: conventional (laid from hens in stacked cages fed grain and GMO corn), cage-free (laid from hens living in compact hen houses fed grain and GMO corn), or organic (laid from caged or cage-free hens fed organic grain and corn). However, Koehn’s love for chickens has led him away from the methods used by conventional chicken farmers. Koehn’s chicks arrive at his farm from a hatchery when they’re one-day old. The chicks, of a French variety that grow slowly and thrive on pasture, are protected in an outdoor pen for the 16  May/June 2017

first two months of their life. From there, the hens are moved to pasture—acres of open land on which Koehn grows seasonal oats, rye, turnips, and clover for his 1,200 hens to forage. Their diet is supplemented by non-GMO corn grown down the road by Koehn’s cousin. It isn’t the vast views of the Chiricahua Mountains that make the hens so happy. “They just love to be out on pasture … that’s how you make the highest quality product and the chickens love it,” Koehn said. Both health and taste-wise, these eggs are superior to those laid by hens not raised on pasture. “Most of the benefits in grass-fed meats and eggs are in the fat,” Koehn said. Because of the diet and exercise that the birds receive, their eggs are higher in healthy fats like Omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acids. The eggs, with a deep-orange colored yolk, also taste richer than the conventional variety. To prepare the eggs for market, Koehn washes them in a natural vinegar solution rather than the more traditional chlorine bath that most egg producers use. Koehn’s farming practices necessitate higher prices than most people are accustomed to paying for eggs. “We as Americans spend less of our disposable income on food than probably any other culture … and it comes at a cost,” Koehn explained. Spending the extra money to buy eggs from Josh’s Foraging Fowls is to invest in a local company that’s changing the way that eggs are produced. You can order eggs from Josh’s Foraging Fowls online or find them at Tucson CSA every Tuesday and Wednesday.


R Bars are made in Tucson, in a small factory on 17th Street. (From left): Patrick Moore, Brian Cornelius, Kalena Shoman, Laura Neidkowski, Katrina Cano, Yolanda Salas.

R Bar, Our Bar

Tucson-made R Bars provide healthy fuel to help you do more.


Text and Photography by Shelby Thompson

f t er ye ar s of high-performance cycling, Tucsonan Brian Cornelius recognized a problem: Half of the dried fruit and nut mixture he packed for fuel fell on the ground before making it into his mouth. Hungering for his food to sustain, rather than deplete, his energy, Cornelius mashed the dried fruit and nuts into a compact bar, solving his problem and creating what would one day become R Bar: an energy bar made of seven (or fewer) whole ingredients. R Bar launched in 2010, after Cornelius’ cycling friends echoed their desire to buy his fruit and nut bars for their own sustenance. The philosophy behind the lemon poppy seed, PB&J, double chocolate, cranberry cashew, and prickly pear pecan flavored bars? “[The bars] could be made at home … that’s how all products should be,” Cornelius said. And the ingredients that R Bar uses are high-quality: the pecans come from the Green Valley Pecan Company; dates from Southern California; and many of the ingredients are organic. While you could go to the store right now and find the seven ingredients it takes to make an R Bar, Cornelius insists that buying R Bars is more cost effective. “We want our bars to be affordable. Any bar over two dollars is ridiculous,” Cornelius said. Indeed, purchased directly from R Bar, each bar costs $1.75 in a 10-pack (the company doesn’t control prices at individual retailers). Aside from using only whole ingredients (i.e. whole dates rather than date paste), many things set R Bar apart from other

18  May/June 2017

fruit-and-nut bar companies like Lärabar (which is owned by General Mills). R Bar falls in the category of middle production, which Cornelius calls “just-in-time inventory.” Every bar is made in small batches, ensuring quality, and shipped out within two weeks of being made, ensuring freshness. While their current factory, a small building on 17th Street, would allow them to increase production in the future, R Bars will always be made in small batches. Unlike many other energy bars, R Bar’s branding “shows what you can do with the bar,” Cornelius said, “not who you have to be to eat the bar.” With R Bar’s gender-neutral branding and motto of “do more,” Cornelius hopes to encourage every type of person to go farther, powered by this wholesome snack—whether that’s walking their dog or biking up Mount Lemmon. As R Bars make their way into more Whole Foods, Sprouts, Natural Grocers, and airports across the state and country, the company’s goal to help people do more is being realized. Here in Tucson, Tucson Unified School District offers R Bar’s PB&J bar alongside a parfait to students for a healthy breakfast; Arizona’s national parks carry them for hikers and climbers; and local wildland firefighters pack them in their lunches for fuel during the draining wildfire season. Tucson, from its mountains to its people, continues to give Cornelius the “desire to show up every day,” he says, to make energy bars that help his community do more.


Small Batch Bakery’s offerings include seasonal baked goods like citrus almond cake (left) and strawberry scones, biscuits, and English muffins.

Small Batch Delights

Food microbiologist Harper Hall turns her focus on flavor to sweet and savory baked goods. Text and Photography by Shelby Thompson


n a modest - sized back house in the Lost Barrio, the heavenly scent of freshly baked citrus cake, strawberry scones, and berry pie wafts through the air. The house is home to Harper Hall and Small Batch Bakery, Hall’s certified home bakery. From her humble kitchen (with one standard-sized oven), Hall has spent the last eight months baking sweet and savory treats for the Tucson community. Hall’s background in baking is more scientific than most; her master’s degree is in food microbiology. “I’ve always loved food and cooking and I had a background in chemistry … I was interested in how those things affect the flavor of [food],” she said of her interest in the program. After receiving her graduate degree, Hall moved to Tucson with her husband, Seth. Abandoning her original idea to open a vineyard, Hall began working as a microbiologist in the food safety lab at the Green Valley Pecan Company. But she wasn’t fulfilled by the work there. “The whole reason I went to grad school was to get out of the lab,” Hall said. After more than two years, she realized it was time to put her efforts into something she felt passionate about: making food. Hall began the process of registering her kitchen as a home bakery with the Arizona Department of Health Services’ Home Baked and Confectionary Goods program. The registration process required that Hall take an in-person food safety course, vow to sell only low-risk goods (i.e. low pH, low-moisture foods), and keep the department up-to-date with a list of the products she sells. “I used to be a food safety auditor; I couldn’t forget that stuff if I tried,” Hall said of maintaining safety regulations in her home bakery.

20  May/June 2017

Small Batch Bakery’s first customer was Exo Roast, who had been looking for a bread supplier for their new breakfast sandwiches. Hall began supplying them with 12 dozen naturally leavened English muffins each week. Soon, she began providing Seven Cups with three varieties of shortbread cookies, eventually gaining individual customers by word of mouth. Because the Home Baked and Confectionary Goods program prohibits high-risk goods such as iced cakes, cream pie, and custard, Hall sticks with seasonal goods such as citrus-almond-olive oil cakes (winter), strawberry rhubarb pies (spring), zucchini tea cakes (summer), and apple-pear galettes (fall). In addition to baking with seasonal produce, Hall uses local ingredients such as hard red wheat and khorasan wheat (known as kamut) from BKW Farms; local citrus from the farmers’ markets; and produce from SouthWinds Farm. Each of her baked goods reflects the seasons in some way. The menu on Hall’s website will continue to rotate as the seasons change. As she experiments with recipes, the menu will offer new goods to customers, who can submit orders through a form on the site. Harper also plans to have a booth at one of the local farmers’ markets, where she’ll offer a variety of bread, mini pies, individual tea cakes, and scones. No matter what you choose, you’ll be sure to taste the care and passion that goes into each and every small batch.  Shelby Thompson is the online editor of Edible Baja Arizona.

edible Baja Arizona 


M AY Wednesday, May 10

Wine Enrichment Series 5-7 p.m. Sierra Bonita Vineyards Tasting Room 6720 E. Camino Principal

Thursday, May 11

Field Studies: Building Healthy Desert Soils

4-7 p.m. Watershed Management Group 1137 N. Dodge Boulevard

Friday, May 12

National Public Gardens Day: Free admission All-day event Tohono Chul 3061 N. Campbell Ave.

Saturday, May 13

CALENDAR Cooking from Tucson’s Spring Garden – Chef Janos Wilder 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. The Carriage House 125 S. Arizona Avenue

Saturday, May 20 – Sunday May 21

Willcox Wine Country Festival 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Railroad Avenue Park 100 N. Railroad Avenue, Willcox

Wednesday, May 24

Sustainable Living Forum: Wastewater 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Watershed Management Group 1137 N. Dodge Blvd.

Thursday, May 25

Weird Plant Sale

8 a.m.-1 p.m. Tucson Botanical Gardens 2150 N. Alvernon Way

Thursday, May 18

Tucson Water Rebate Class: Greywater 4-6 p.m. Watershed Management Group 1137 N. Dodge Boulevard

Thursday, May 18 – Friday, May 19

Arizona Food & Farm Finance Forum

All-day event ENR2, University of Arizona 1064 E. Lowell Street

Saturday, May 20

20th Annual Mariachi Festival and Wine Tasting

9 a.m.-9 p.m. Patagonia Lake State Park 400 Patagonia Lake Road, Nogales

Tucson Water Rebate Class: Rainwater Harvesting 4-6 p.m. Watershed Management Group 1137 N. Dodge Boulevard

Friday, May 26

Kitchens of Nogales: A Gastronomic Tour

2:30-8:30 p.m. Border Community Alliance 47 N. Sonoita Avenue, Nogales

Friday, May 26 – Sunday, May 28

Silver City Blues Festival All-day event Gough Park N. Pope Street, Silver City

Saturday, May 27

Iskashitaa Group Garlic Harvest 9-10:30 a.m. Forever Yong Farm Moyza Ranch Road, Amado

Living Lab and Learning Center Free Tour

9-10:30 a.m. Watershed Management Group 1137 N. Dodge Boulevard

Wine, Beer & Spirits Festival

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Veterans Memorial Park 3105 E. Fry Road, Sierra Vista

JUNE Sunday, June 11

Baja Brews Tasting Event: Local Nuts & Seeds 5-8 p.m. Rialto Theatre 318 E. Congress Street

Friday, June 16 – Sunday, June 18

12th Annual Bisbee Pride Weekend

All-day event Locations throughout Old Bisbee

Sunday, June 18

Father’s Day: Free Admission for Dads All-day event Tohono Chul 3061 N. Campbell Ave.

Saturday, June 17

The Tucson 23: A Mexican Food Festival

Friday, June 23

Adopt-a-Bee Pollinator Party 6-8 p.m. Tohono Chul 3061 N. Campbell Avenue

Saturday, June 24

Ha:san Bak Saguaro Fruit Harvest Celebration

Colossal Cave Mountain Park 16721 E. Old Spanish Trail, Vail

Monday, June 26 – Wednesday, June 28

Pima County Home & Garden Show

10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tucson Convention Center 260 S. Church Avenue

R E P E AT I N G Saturday

Distillery Tour and Tasting

3 p.m. Hamilton Distillers 2106 N. Forbes Boulevard, Suite 103

Monday – Sunday

Mesquite Sawmill Tour

No appointment needed Tumacacori Mesquite Sawmill 2007 E. Frontage Road, Tumacacori

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday

Birds of Tohono Chul Walking Tour 8 a.m. Tohono Chul 7366 Paseo del Norte

6 p.m. JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort 3800 W. Starr Pass Boulevard

Tucson Juneteenth Festival 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Dunbar Cultural Center 325 W. 2nd Street

SEND US YOUR EVENTS! Submit events by June 16 for our July/August issue.

22  May/June 2017



Heirloom Farmers’ Market 8 a.m.-12 p.m. Steam Pump Ranch, Oro Valley 10901 N. Oracle Road

FoodInRoot Farmers’ Market 9 a.m.-1 p.m. St. Philip’s Plaza


Heirloom Farmers’ Market 8 a.m.-12 p.m. Rillito Park Food Pavilion

FoodInRoot Farmers’ Market 9 a.m.-1 p.m. St. Philip’s Plaza


Rincon Valley Farmers’ Market 8 a.m.-1 p.m. 12500 E. Old Spanish Trail

FoodInRoot Farmers’ Market 9 a.m.-1 p.m. First and Third Tuesdays Northwest Medical Center

Bisbee Farmers’ Market 8 a.m.-12 p.m. Vista Park, Bisbee

St. David Farmers’ Market 9 a.m.-12 p.m. 70 E. Patton St., St. David

Shorey Family Farms

12-4 p.m. Mirage & Bird Botanicals, 10 Plaza Road, Tubac

Authentically Ajo Farmers’ Market 9 a.m.-12 p.m. 15 W. Plaza, Ajo

Authentically Ajo Farmers’ Market 5-7 p.m. 15 W. Plaza, Ajo First and third Thursdays through June

Bloom Farm and Art Market

4-8 p.m. Continental Ranch Community Center, Marana


Heirloom Farmers’ Market 8 a.m.-12 p.m. Trail Dust Town

FoodInRoot Farmers’ Market Wednesdays

Shorey Family Farms

12-4 p.m. Mirage & Bird Botanicals, 10 Plaza Road, Tubac


Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market 4-7 p.m. Mercado San Agustín

Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Veterans’ Memorial Park 3105 E Fry Blvd., Sierra Vista

10 a.m.-2 p.m. Banner-UMC

77 North Marketplace Farmers’ Market 8 a.m.-12 p.m. 16733 N. Oracle Road, Catalina

El Presidio Mercado

9 a.m.-2 p.m. Corner of Church and Alameda

FoodInRoot Farmers’ Market 4:30-7:30 p.m. Third Fridays Rancho Sahuarita

FoodInRoot Farmers’ Market 5-8 p.m. Fourth Fridays Tucson Botanical Gardens

edible Baja Arizona 



location is a perfect match for its name. Tucked into the base of a four-story office building in downtown Tucson, the self-described urban kitchen serves breakfast and lunch, with dinner coming in the near future, according to co-owner and executive chef Matt Thompson. I started off my meal with a Chai Tea Latte ($3.50) from Nook’s café counter, located by the entrance for easy access by the 9-to-5 office crowd. The latte was right on: sweet without being too sweet. Since Nook’s post-11 a.m. menu features both breakfast and lunch, my coworker and I split our attention between dishes belonging to each. Representing breakfast was the enjoyable Breakfast Tamale Pie ($10), featuring Nook’s house-made sweet masa baked with roasted chiles and cheese, sitting on top of a bed of red guajillo chile ranchero sauce and topped by two eggs, cheese, and a tangy tomatillo salsa. Thompson says that they play up the natural tang of tomatillos in the salsa with fresh lemon juice and vinegar. He explains, “I believe an acid is a necessary element for the perfect salsa.” While the masa is quite sweet, with chunks of corn mixed throughout, it’s tempered by the savory ranchero sauce, with the end result being a well-balanced dish whose sauces are as integral to the final flavor as everything else. ook ’ s

24  May/June 2017

Nook’s BreakfastTamale Pie.

The Steak Panzanella ($12) from the lunch menu featured a tender and flavorful locally raised hanger steak, cooked perfectly to the medium side of medium rare. Thompson says the trick is in using the right cut of meat; hanger steaks have a “nice natural marbling,” and all he does to enhance that is add “a little bit of salt and pepper before it hits the grill.” The white balsamic vinaigrette dressing and fresh pesto provided a consistency of flavor that held the plate together, while the green salad, featuring vibrant bursts of tomato, buttery croutons, and mozzarella, was the perfect companion for the steak. Not too light and not too heavy, this salad easily lived up to its role as entrée. In the name of journalistic duty, we ordered two cocktails: Nook’s take on the Bloody Mary, called the Drunken Tomato ($7), and an elegant pineapple

cocktail called the Aloha Tucson ($7). The spicy version of the Drunken Tomato turned out to be a dream come true for a savory cocktail lover like me. Thompson credits his wife, fellow Nook co-owner Nikki Thompson, with the drink’s success; he says they taste-tested about 20 versions before settling on the final recipe, which draws on Tabasco to give it kick. The Aloha Tucson, with its rim dipped in chamoy and tajin, turned out to be a great complement to the tamale pie, with the chile and salt keeping the pineapple juice’s sweetness in check. “Boring, under-seasoned, and dull food is not our thing,” says Thompson. He also points to the role community plays at Nook. The walls are decorated with work by local artists, and Thompson sources ingredients from local producers when possible, notably working with the Best Day Ever Kids Gardening Project, which helps kids engage with both gardening and selling vegetables, all the way from planting seedlings to weighing the harvested produce purchased by Nook. Most important, Thompson says, Nook is a “local restaurant that will go above and beyond for the guest’s experience,” and that he and Nikki “live for a happy guest that leaves wanting to come back and taste more.” If my experience is any indication, I imagine they have plenty of return customers. Nook. 1 E. Congress St. 520.622.6665.

edible Baja Arizona 


Serial Grillers’ Bone Collector Pizza.


f you have an affinity for food-based puns, horror movies, and classic American eats, Serial Grillers is the casual pizza-and-cheesesteakand-burger place for you. Started as a stand-alone food truck serving cheesesteaks and burgers in 2012, Serial Grillers opened their first brick and mortar location in 2013 on Speedway Boulevard, just east of Craycroft Road, expanding their menu to include cold sandwiches, paninis, salads, calzones, and pizzas. Four years later, they’ve opened a second location on River Road. I asked co-owner Travis Miller about the inspiration for Serial Grillers’ theme. Travis and his brother, co-owner William Miller, sought to give their business “a name that people will talk about and remember.” After spotting Los Angeles-based Grill ‘Em All food truck’s heavy-metal-inspired menu names, the brothers drew on their shared love of horror movies to name both their restaurant and its menu items, “and it just seemed like the perfect fit.” As for the development of the menu, Miller says their main focus was to “put out good food that we could eat seven days a week,” and “eat the things we wanted to eat whether they were considered normal or not.” The brothers embarked on a

26  May/June 2017

“gruesome” research and development period that Travis says “forced [them] to eat an insane amount of sandwiches.” The result is a menu featuring dishes like mozzarella stick burgers and French fry-stuffed cheesesteaks, all named after fictional serial killers and horror movies. Craving something cheesy, carby, and spicy, I ordered an eight-inch Bone Collector Pizza ($6.25 for the mini size), complete with three types of cheese, bites of boneless buffalo wings, chopped up scallions, and swirls of both ranch and hot sauce. This pizza made Food Network’s list of the top 50 delivery pizzas in the United States, and is one of Serial Grillers’ top selling menu items. It’s easy to taste why: the crust is chewy and golden-brown, and the mozzarella, provolone, and cheddar cheeses provide a creamy backdrop for the deconstructed buffalo wings, without any tomato sauce to distract. All pizzas can be ordered in sizes from a single slice to a 20-inch extra large, and the mini makes a goodsized personal pizza that can be safely demolished in one sitting. Bringing it on the bun front was the Jack of All Trades Cheeseburger ($8). The guacamole, chipotle mayo, and pepper jack cheese make for a burger that enthusiastically bites back. That

spice is tempered by French fries and generous slices of bacon. The ground chuck patty is smashed on the grill by a steak weight, resulting in an extra tasty crust on the meat. The burger is large enough that you’ll probably make a mess while eating it, but the flavor is worth the extra napkins. The portions at Serial Grillers are plentiful, but if you’re really feeling hungry, there’s one cheesesteak that stands above the rest. The Gormogon Cheesesteak ($15) is piled high with a double order of thin-sliced ribeye, six slices of white American cheese, grilled onions and sweet peppers, bacon, hot cherry peppers, French fries, and onion rings. This is a monster of a sandwich that packs a good amount of heat. Be prepared. Both Serial Grillers locations feature extensive draft beer options, with 40 handles pouring in their Speedway taproom and 20 beers on tap at their River location, all rotating and many of them from local breweries. With enough menu variety to please everyone and flavor combinations that demand return visits, you could say their execution is killer. Serial Grillers. 1970 W. River Road. 520.887.3950.

edible Baja Arizona 


Wilko’s charcuterie Mixed Board.


eloved by both Centennial Hall concert attendees and University of Arizona gourmets, Wilko’s rustic-chic interior is home to well-crafted food served without fuss, by people who know their way around a charcuterie board. Owned by Peter and Bree Wilke, Wilko is the campus location of the couple’s growing food empire that includes Time Market and The B-Line. Wilko’s kitchen manager, Nick Bamford, credits the Wilkes with using their “incredible palates” to shape the menu, which features a proven list of customer favorites with just enough innovation to keep things fresh. We kicked off our late afternoon meal with a charcuterie board, opting for the Mixed Board ($20) with a mouthwatering juxtaposition of textures and flavors, three cheeses, and two cured meats. I asked Bamford about what goes into choosing the various cheeses, meats, and accompanying foodstuffs that make up a charcuterie board; he says the cheeses are largely chosen by the Wilkes, with input from other restaurant staff, while the vegetables, compotes, and other items on the charcuterie boards are where his kitchen gets to have fun and try things out. The results were fantastic: Everything on our platter was delicious, with a few items especially deserving of praise. There was a Bacon Beet Brittle, which resembled a bacon-filled

28  May/June 2017

praline and melted in our mouths. One of the cheeses, a Michigan blue cheese called Detroit Street Brick, was similar in consistency to brie and had a rich, delicious flavor. Finally, while the house-pickled vegetables were all outstanding, it was the fruit—specifically the melons, quick-pickled with serrano chiles and served over a house made pineapple poblano jam—that was jawdroppingly delicious. Salty, spicy, and sweet all at once, we fought over every bite. It was perfection. Our cocktails were no less impressive: the Daisy ($8) was a great choice for a light afternoon drink, combining the tang of grapefruit with salted curaçao, and finishing things off with a smoky mezcal. It reminded me of a Pimm’s Cup, with south-of-the-border teeth. The Garnet Rita ($9) was a showstopper of a cocktail with a gorgeous fuchsia color thanks to the beet-infused Corazon tequila, and a tantalizing tajin-crusted rim. The beets, combined with cucumber and angostura bitters, gave the drink an earthy flavor reminiscent of kvass, with the tajin providing just the right amount of citrus and chile to give it an edge. For our entrées, we chose the Jerk Chicken Sandwich ($12) and the Panna Pizza ($13). The sandwich was stacked high with a mild sour cream slaw, a blackened, flavorful chicken breast, and

crispy house-made sweet potato chips, all served on a fluffy brioche bun. This sandwich must be crushed before eating to have any hope of fitting your mouth around it, but the experience of so many different textures at once make it well worth the extra effort. The pizza, meanwhile, was significantly larger than the price point led us to believe, making this an easily shareable entrée. A white sauce made from a reduction of sautéed onions, white wine, heavy cream, and garlic provides the creamy base for the mozzarella, Parmesan, garlic, rosemary, and basil, and the result is a decadent pizza with a golden brown crust that positively melts in your mouth. We topped things off with a piece of delightfully tart Blackberry Rhubarb Pie ($8). If you love the pie at B-Line, you’ll love the pie at Wilko—they come from the same B-Line kitchen. With a flaky crust and tangy purple filling, the pie provided an irresistible end to our meal. I already know what I’ll be eating when I return. Chef Bamford recommends the Portobello Pizza: “That stuff is out of this world.” Wilko. 943 E. University Blvd. 520.792.6684.

edible Baja Arizona 



hose w ho

sushi tend to have strong opinions on where to eat it. For me, the place to go is Sachiko Sushi. The classic Japanese décor, large flat screens displaying sports games, and walls covered with handwritten signs advertising specials provides the backdrop for some truly outstanding food, both raw and cooked. I arrived at Sachiko with two friends, all of us with different food agendas. A bowl of Spicy Ramen ($11.45) satisfied the soup lover, while my sushi-wary companion found a great deal in the Chicken Teriyaki lunch special ($5.50). I opted for sushi, ordering a Philadelphia Roll ($7) and two pieces of Salmon Nigiri ($4.50) to share. At the suggestion of sushi chef Ross Condoy, I also ordered the Super Shrimp Tempura Roll ($9.95). Sachiko provides complimentary miso soup with every order, and I believe it to be among the best miso soups in town. With just the right amount of saltiness and small circles of green onions floating in the cloudy broth, this soup is the definition of umami. The Spicy Ramen arrived, bringing nosetingling scents of chile wafting from the large bowl of red-orange broth. Loaded with ground pork, bean sprouts, green and white onions, and ground chiles hot enough to make our lips numb, each mouthful contributed to the long, slow burn that lingered in our throats. If you love spicy food, this is the soup for you. eat

30  May/June 2017

Sachiko Sushi’s Philadelphia Roll with Salmon Nigiri.

The Chicken Teriyaki lunch special was served in a bento, with a heap of tempura fried vegetables stealing the show. With breading so light and crisp, and just the right amount of oil, they were irresistible, and the accompanying dipping sauce was light enough in flavor to let the vegetables shine. The chicken had a nice smokiness to it, and the sauce was less syrupy than other teriyaki sauces I’ve tried—a definite plus. Filling out the bento was some fluffy white rice (brown rice available on request), a small

Sachiko Sushi’s miso soup.

helping of potato salad, and a small green salad, making this the go-to choice for maximum variety with minimal cost. As for the sushi, it was fresh and assembled beautifully, with generous piles of wasabi and pickled ginger on the side. Sachiko is sensitive to the needs of those with shellfish allergies, careful to keep rolls separate on request, and their Philadelphia Roll was a tasty crustaceanfree option. The Super Shrimp Tempura Roll was as extravagant as it sounds, with a generous coating of sweet orange tobiko (flying fish roe) that popped pleasantly between my teeth. Inside the rice, the tempura shrimp, greens, and cream cheese stood up to my less-thanperfect chopstick skills, and had plenty of flavor to enjoy. The Salmon Nigiri I saved for last. Garnished with some finely sliced green onion and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, each piece included a large slice of tender, fresh fish, with just enough rice to give me something to chew. I asked Chef Condoy what to look for when choosing a sushi restaurant. He suggests looking for a place that is busy. Why? Because the fish sells quickly, ensuring its freshness. Sachiko Sushi has been doing business in Tucson for 24 years, and when I asked for the secret to their success, Condoy says it’s simple: people come to Sachiko because “it’s a busy place.” That may be an oversimplification—but the reputation that keeps Sachiko busy has most definitely been earned. Sachiko Sushi. 1101 N. Wilmot Road. 520.886.7000.

edible Baja Arizona 



r eole food fans ,

rejoice: Sazerac Creole Kitchen & Cocktails, part of the JAM Culinary Concepts family of restaurants, opened January 2017 inside St. Philip’s Plaza. With a generous amount of picturesque outdoor seating and indoor dining, Sazerac is a great spot for guests to take their ease while enjoying the foods of The Big Easy. We arrived during happy hour (every day from 2-6 p.m.) and took the opportunity to try some of Sazerac’s self-described “preprohibition and prohibition-era specialty cocktails.” A snaiquiri ($4 at happy hour), described on the menu as “like a daiquiri but smaller,” was like sipping a petite glass of grownup lemonade; not a lot of liquor to taste, but very refreshing as a day drink. We followed that up with two of their full-sized cocktails, the Brass Band ($10) and the Louisiana Porch Swing ($10). The Brass Band, made with bourbon, velvet falernum (a spiced citrus syrup), lemon, and ginger beer, was very sweet. The Louisiana Porch Swing, while also sweet, presented multiple layers of complex flavor that kept developing as we sipped. Made with gin, orgeat (an almond syrup), Cherry Heering (a brandy first made in 1818), orange juice, lime juice, and Averna (an herbal bitter created in 1868), this cocktail’s tea-like flavor and floral aroma were enjoyable both on the nose and on the tongue. Executive Chef Robert Kimball credits bartender Tiffany Eldredge as the “genius behind the bar,” and I’m inclined to agree after a sip of the Louisiana Porch Swing. Sazerac’s New Orleans BBQ Shrimp appetizer ($14) started things off. The six shrimp were tender and juicy and came in an herby, savory barbecue sauce that transitioned from rosemary

32  May/June 2017

to barbecue spices and chiles, with an emphasis on Worcestershire sauce, which Chef Kimball describes as “as original a barbecue sauce as one can be.” The sauce was thin and less syrupy than many barbecue concoctions, and used the provided bread to soak up every last drop.

Sazerac’s crab cake entrée.

We followed up the shrimp with a cup of Chicken Andouille Gumbo ($6). The stew was thick and smoky, with a medium level of spice, and served over fluffy white rice. As Kimball says, “Creole doesn’t mean everything is spicy.” Large chunks of celery and green peppers added to the stew’s variety of textures, while the pork flavor of the andouille sausage shone through. Kimball says they order sausage straight from a Louisiana purveyor “because we want authentic everything.” If sample-size servings don’t sound like your thing, our server recommended the crab cake entrée ($26). Kimball says the cakes are “a huge point of pride for us,” and it was easy to see why. Lightly breaded and fried, without being oily, the crab cakes

are made simply, with seasoning, a bit of egg, and giant chunks of both lump and sugar lump crab. The only “filler” present is the crumb coating on the outside. Kimball believes “a crab cake should taste like crab.” Also of note: a side of vibrant, squeaky green beans, which were cooked in ham hock broth and finished with onion and butter. For dessert, we ordered the Bananas Foster ($9), accompanied by a Sazerac Past cocktail ($9). Fair warning: this drink doesn’t just look fiery; it definitely burns going down. While there are pleasant citrus and herbal notes on the nose thanks to the orange peel, herbal liquor, and bitters, the cognac that makes up the body of the drink does not mess around. This is a drink best saved for sipping as an aperitif, and I recommend making sure to stir in the remaining sugar crystals prior to drinking. Luckily, the Sazerac Past turned out to be a perfect complement to the Bananas Foster. Caramelized and sweet, with two big scoops of vanilla ice cream on top, the Bananas Foster was rich enough to share among four people and still feel satisfying. While Kimball reports that Sazerac still has a number of culinary goals in the works (from house-made sausage and ice cream to one day building a visible flambé station), he says their No. 1 goal is to allow guests to “be transported to the feelings that only New Orleans can give you.” For him, that feeling is “home,” and he says that the staff of Sazerac is “dedicated to giving everyone that experience.”  Sazerac. 4340 N. Campbell Ave. 520.389.8156. Kate Selby is a local living enthusiast and craft cocktail chaser living in Tucson. She received a degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona.

edible Baja Arizona 




The Plate Plate the



The one salad they should never take off the menu.

1234 Photography by Shelby Thompson

Bistro Salad Maynards Market & Kitchen Scarlet butter lettuce and baby kale comes topped with smoky bacon, softcooked egg, red onion, and crunchy brioche croutons, then drizzled with an herb vinaigrette and topped with edible flowers from Maynards on-site garden. $9 400 N. Toole Ave. 34  May/June 2017

Cholla Salad Tumerico Local mixed greens are topped with earthy roasted beets, grilled avocado, turmeric, water chestnuts, and creamy tepary beans, then drizzled in a sweet balsamic vinaigrette. A dreamy, creamy treat. $12 2526 E. Sixth St.

Harvest Salad Harvest Restaurant Organic field greens are tossed in a grape-champagne vinaigrette and topped with burgundy poached beets, candied walnuts, roasted pumpkin seeds, poached cranberries, and feta cheese. $9.90. 10355 N. La Cañada Drive, Oro Valley

Wine-Poached Orange and Burrata Agustín Kitchen Orange slices are poached in wine, plated with fresh burrata and toasted pine nuts, and topped with a basil and spinach pesto. Top it all off with a sprinkling of caraway seeds and micro red shiso. $10. 100 S. Avenida del Convento

edible Baja Arizona 


36  May/June 2017

edible Baja Arizona 


edible Baja Arizona 



All Things Wild Longtime desert harvester, Jill Lorenzini is an educator, artist, grower, and builder. By Lisa O’Neill | Photography by Julius Schlosburg


riving west into the afternoon sun toward the mountains, the buildings begin to disappear as the road opens into a seemingly never-ending landscape. Saguaros dot the mountains, arms up in welcome. A pompadoured quail jets across the road as a prairie dog jumps in its burrow. The roads turn from asphalt to dirt, and you get the sense that this place has a different vocabulary to accommodate the way that light hits the hill at dusk or the echo of birdsong. You notice how the sky just keeps getting bigger and how you can breathe in deep, feeling that expansion. You might begin to know some of what Jill Lorenzini knows. Jill Lorenzini is an educator, artist, grower, builder, and longtime desert dweller. Her life and work are grounded in the place she inhabits, and out of this place, she creates structures, art, food, and medicine. Lorenzini greets me in the drive. We pass a garden with endless shades of green. Heat has come early this year, so yesterday she put up shade structures. Peas spill over trellises and the sun dapples their green stalks. A bathtub raised on blocks is covered in cob plaster with the shape of a mermaid on the basin and, underneath, a cut out to make a wood-burning fire. The tub is stained red from the creosote trees just next to it, the leaves of which Lorenzini uses for soothing sore muscles. We walk by a solar oven—up to 325 degrees today—with dinner: yams and squash and garlic roasting inside, and we continue into the shaded wraparound porch surrounding the circular house Lorenzini built. On the right, an outdoor pantry with shelves full of jars of spices, hanging baskets of herbs, and counter space for food preparation. On the left, an outdoor sink. Past her two refrigerators, one for her food and one for the products she makes, we find a table. Lorenzini pours hibiscus punch over ice into a Mason jar, now fuchsia, and hands it to me.

Could you tell me a little about how you came to the desert and what about it appealed to you? What made it become home?

I grew up around Buffalo, New York—huge snow country, not a lot of sun. My father’s work was as a pilot with American Airlines. People within that circle were always seeking sunny destinations so one of the people recommended Arizona. We took vacations 42  May/June 2017

here when I was a kid. It was so different from where I grew up and mostly that was the wide openness, the ability to see other than just down the street. Then my sister came to college here and I came shortly after—anthropology was something that I was interested in and the idea of being able to be active year-round. I keep wanting to explore the idea of terroir—the definition given to food when it tastes like the place it came from. The flavor of a place. Like true champagne is made from champagne grapes and they grow in a certain region and there are all the soil conditions, the air, the climate, the seasons, the sun exposure, the elevation. There’s an essence of what Tucson is. I know the desert in all the ways I’ve walked through it. I feel at home because I realized when I came here that I needed that wide openness to truly feel comfortable in myself.

So you built this house? Can you tell me about that process?

I had been an alternative school and public school teacher for a while. During my teaching, I met a mentor, Judy Knox. She and her husband had started a straw-bale construction company called Out on Bale. I asked: “Do you need any help?” And they said yes. I was right in the thick of it: teaching workshops, writing a quarterly journal, getting interested in how to build and use different materials, which fed a need in me I always had without really knowing. I’m not a trained architect but I’m proof anyone can do this. I’m handy and I did a lot of study and research [when building the house], but you can get away with a lot. I call what I do opportunitecture—I scrounge and find something and I use it. I think people are very hungry for these kinds of elemental things. We all have those skills, but it’s [been] generations since we used them. Recently, I was helping in a permaculture class and I did a section on natural building where you actually handle dirt and mix it and pour into an adobe form. You can see that people have a natural proclivity and then they are lost in it, like children.

Jill Lorenzini learned how to build her own home through the process of building it. “I call what I do opportunitecture—I scrounge and find something and I use it,” she says.

The lesson of harvesting peas, says Lorenzini, is that you can never see anything clearly the first time.

Can you tell me about the cookbook you’re working on?

I’m one of the core members of Desert Harvesters. The first cookbook we made was called Eat Mesquite. Now, we’re increasing to 12 to 14 new ingredients. All the bean trees: mesquite, ironwood, palo verde. All the main cactus foods: saguaro, cholla, prickly pear, barrel. We have greens and herbs, things triggered by the rains. Chia seeds are one of the new ingredients. Chiltepin is another. And then a variety of flowers. We’re doing a “meet the ingredients” section and organizing the book by seasons. We’re paying homage to native people because we’re beginning with the summer, which is the beginning of the year for Tohono O’odham, when the rains come and the saguaro fruits are ripe. For each of those ingredients, I’m doing dry erase art. I’m illustrating a calendar of wild foods in ink. The book is heavy on stories and featuring people who have done what we call fusions: taking old recipes from the regions they were from, or their ethnic heritage, and substituting desert ingredients.

Lorenzini lays out several small jars and a bag of tortilla chips on the table, next to the peas she just harvested.

This is radish relish—it has radishes, carrots, garlic greens, ginger. There are golden raisins to give it a bit of sweet. Kimchi is usually made with cabbage, but this is made with mustard greens, radishes, greens, ginger, cayenne, and garlic. That pea, you have to open the pod like a zipper. That one, you can eat whole pod. 44  May/June 2017

Peas are notorious. Their lesson is you can never see everything the first time. They stay hidden, even if you are looking right at it. You have to go around the trellis or change your position to see the peas. I picked yesterday and already there were more to pick. I know if you have things that are growing, you have to attend to them.

Can you tell me a little about the medicinal things you make?

Most of my friends joke: ask me any question and the answer is creosote. But it is very valuable to make a salve. In fact there’s a series at the farmers’ market that Barbara [Rose] and I set up called Homestead and for one of the classes I’m steeping creosote in olive oil to make salve. The essential qualities of the creosote make it super good before sun, for sunburn, to put on any cut or scrape or in a tincture. One of my other favorite medicinals is desert lavender and that is a great one to know because it’s a hemostat. If I’m out in the desert and I fall and start bleeding, I can take desert lavender, chew it in my mouth, and put that poultice right on the cut. I’ve also infused it in tequila and it has a nice peppery, lavender flavor.

What educational programming are you working on now?

Through Desert Harvesters, Barbara Rose and I are doing a monthly demonstration at the Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market on Thursdays in partnership with the [Community] Food Bank. Barbara and I created a Homestead series: how to ferment, how to make salves, how to use solar ovens. I like hands-on learning, so

Lorenzini’s radish relish is made with radishes, carrots, garlic greens, ginger, and golden raisins. She’s a core member of Desert Harvesters and is working on an updated version of the group’s Eat Mesquite cookbook.

we offer follow ups. If we do a demo on cholla buds and you really want to know how to harvest, process, prepare, and store them, we offer hands-on workshops at Bean Tree Farm. I created a series I’m going to do in partnership with Food Conspiracy Co-op starting this month on Monday nights: the Sonoran Desert Series. I do monthly plant walks based around the season in Dunbar Spring and around La Cocina on their Tuesdays for Tucson nights.

Can you speak to, in our current political, cultural moment, the value of connectedness to the place you inhabit and intimacy with that place?

God, that’s all that’s keeping me going. In the current state of affairs, I’m heartbroken to think this could all be lost. If I can have a dose of beauty or understanding or contribution to the preservation of this, or if anyone is empowered to know the plants around them that are foods and medicines, that’s gonna help all of us. That’s going be a reservoir of sanity if things break down. I think of surviving the current political climate as—how do I develop toolkits that are going to allow me to do that? If I have pain, I need to develop a pain toolkit. If I have sorrow, I need to develop a sorrow toolkit. If I have anger and rage and frustration, I need a toolkit for that, too. And it’s all here. It’s everywhere. That’s why I feel at home. When I feel depleted, I go out in the desert. Getting grounded, even lying on the ground. People think the desert is hostile or spiny. I find it extremely inviting. 46  May/June 2017

It can be so easy to forget that going out and spending time in the desert is an option. So for people that feel intimated or want to have more of a relationship, what would you say to them?

Think of it like exercise, you have to set aside a regular time. And I’m the same way: I’ve planned all these things through Desert Harvesters where I’m getting out to walk. And I’m doing that in both urban and wild places because I think there are treasures in the urban. But you have to commit to getting out into it. You have to grow intimacy. Even getting outside, even walking. Walking slows you down enough to see things. Eating is one of the biggest ones. I’ve been working with Barbara Rose going on nine years now. And pretty much every time we’re together, we’re eating some amazing foods. Desert Harvesters is all about developing intimacy with place through native foods. I think when I eat desert foods that I’m eating the place that I am. That’s ultimate intimacy to me. I can be in my garden and go eat peas and eat them immediately—there’s heavy-duty chi in that sort of relationship. Or if you’re out on the trail and you know what’s an edible food and you can eat it, I like that. I need that.  Desert Harvesters. Lisa O’Neill is a freelance writer living in Tucson. Her work focuses on intersections of social justice issues including sustainability and food security. Visit



By M. E. Wakamatsu With right hand cupped, she scoops a handful of masa. Wet, gritty, white masa speckled black and brown. You see, no matter how white the maíz, prietitos still swirl in there like cobalt blue ribbons round golden Moroccan sunflowers. Her hands, the color of wet earth, dig out balls the size of her heart. With eyes closed and between both hands, she rolls and pats. Pats and rolls until she hears Malintzin, palmaditas and copper palomitas flutter and flatten maíz wider and wider until her lifeline hangs swaying in the wind.

M.E. Wakamatsu was born and raised on the U.S.Mexico border. She is the recipient of the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s Mary Ann Campau Fellowship Inaugural Award and a Southern Arizona Teacher of the Year Scarlet & Gray Award from The Ohio State University Alumni of Southern Arizona. Wakamatsu’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide, This Piece of Earth: Images and Words from Tumamoc Hill, Spiral Orb, Cantos al Sexto Sol, Southwestern Women: New Voices, Drunken Boat, and Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island. 48  May/June 2017

edible Baja Arizona 



The Sustenance of Democracy Why eating local—now more than ever—is a political act. By Katherine E. Standefer | Illustration by Marcy Ellis


came to local food years ago, in college, when I learned how unsustainable our industrial system was—how precariously it rested upon the back of fossil fuels, a broken immigration system, and ecologically harmful monoculture crops. I learned that what looked like food could be built from things other than food—that it could actually not be food at all. What looked like food might allow me to survive, but it would also deposit into my body chemical compounds that left me moody, vitamin-depleted, laced with pesticides. More important, I learned that an industrial food system that stretched across the globe failed, by default, to be accountable to its communities. It could nourish neither individual nor place, because its priority lay so inherently in profit margins and efficiency, in the logic of working parts. What seemed to be a miracle at first—that we could grow so much and transport it so far—has revealed itself to be profoundly undernourishing for all but the stockholders at the top, and not a form of sustenance at all. Here is a question, then: What does it mean for our eating to nourish us? If the word sustenance refers to food or drink regarded as a source of strength, how might our eating become a deeper and more powerful source of communal strength in this way, in a political moment when we need it? For the tiny tomatoes I buy each week from the father with round glasses and his two kids are votes. In the act of purchasing—by consuming intentionally—I cast a vote for my community: that the money stays here in Tucson, where it can do so much more. That the money not go onward into the pockets of corporations with the money and power to bulldoze ecosystems, scatter pesticides, and influence policy in ways that benefit a powerful few, the way it does when we shop in the industrial economy. As the strength of regulatory agencies weakens under the new administration, our strongest hand in protecting ourselves from the noxious chemicals so wedded to agriculture may be in extending that hand to our local farmer—not once but weekly, as a feature of our lives. It’s

50  May/June 2017

that farmer who’s helping hone our stocks of drought-resistant heirloom seeds in the face of climate change. It’s that farmer who’ll develop the sustainable water practices necessary for prospering in parched-earth Arizona. That our consumer choices amount to votes has long since ceased to be a novel idea, but I want to offer one variation. When we eat local, we create the conditions under which people are able to live the lives they love. Statistics about the way dollars spent locally stay within a community fail to illuminate what this looks like for individual entrepreneurs and farmers, freelancers and artists, those with the itch to make beautiful things, those deeply invested in living lives wedded to the land. To be a farmer, you understand, is to risk. It is an act of faith to plant the crop, to kid the goats, to bring your salsa to the stand. Yet for those of us filled with the creative impulse, to not do so is a betrayal of the self. Our communities are enriched when people are able to be their boldest, most vibrant selves. And what we need more than anything right now is to be our biggest selves. If we honor the fullest potential of our community members when we buy from them, we also build that community in real terms. These are the faces I’ve come to know, faces I likely wouldn’t have met otherwise: the Syrian ladies in headscarves and sunglasses, gesturing at their fresh semolina cake and baklava dripping with syrup; the sunburned and white-toothed Sleeping Frog Farms crew, joking about our addiction to fresh oranges; the goat lady who makes my shampoo, whose ranch I visited early one morning with friends to bottle-feed her bleating, jumping kids. It is easy to lob around the word community in a digital age, in which we have access to the minds of people whose bodies we’ve never sat beside. But the truth is that flesh bodies matter. In an uncertain political climate, I feel more and more certain that we need to occupy spaces together, to gather together as bodies, to look each other in the eye. To invest in each others’ creations. These are the touchstones that have satiated humans for all of history.


h av e l o n g b e e n an America of grand gestures and cutting corners. In the current political moment, we want record levels of protestors. We want clogged congressional phone lines and airport terminals shut down. We must be, somehow, everywhere at once. And so there exists an enormous temptation to compromise our food choices, to make possible our activism by reducing the time we spend on the simplest part of life, to let efficiency—rather than sustenance—become our guiding value. Yet as the Trappist monk and American writer Thomas Merton reminds us, “The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.” He goes so far as to say, “The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” A question to walk with: How might we choose a daily bread that sustains our own wisdom and rootedness? Certainly it is my habit of visiting the market, and nothing else, which calls me back from this edge. That my Sunday calendar is built around the market, that my body is so accustomed to packing the basket, that I miss the faces there: This is why I eat local. It is a routine not just of purchasing but of connection. In a busy week, the routine reminds me to fill a jar with soup or buy a premade tamale—to let this community, not industrial agriculture, hold me up. And perhaps it should be noted: It is a routine. If it is a decision I make each week, I rarely think of it as such; it is a practice I keep, so obvious that I do not put it on the calendar anymore. Unlike a grocery store, where I will need to scrutinize labels or look for special tags to determine local products, at the farmers’ market I need mostly, simply, to show up. e

52  May/June 2017


ourselves on the backs of industrial agriculture while committing ourselves as activists, we lose some of the potency of our work. There’s empathy and thanks owed, of course, to those who are engaged in grand gestures, who place their bodies so firmly in the midst of the struggle; the Standing Rock activists enduring rubber bullets, staring down machinery, no doubt must eat whatever comes their way. But I maintain that the greatest activism is, and always has been, a simple life in alignment, not fueled by the sort of sleeplessness, anger, and judgment that burns activists out regularly, but fueled by an attention, a love, that connects neighbors to each other and to the land. To respond to the current political moment is necessary, but it is also not necessarily grand. It is sustained, careful, and clear. If we rage, it is what Terry Tempest Williams terms “sacred rage”—a deeper, more focused burn. These long-burning coals don’t go out in the night. The election of Donald Trump reminds us: We must not be lazy. We must not, through our quiet, unnoticed actions, hand our power away to others who do not have us in mind. Wendell Berry writes, “The ‘environmental crisis’ is no such thing; it is not a crisis of our environs or surroundings; it is a crisis of our lives as individuals, as family members, as community members, and as citizens.” Let us step, as citizens, back into the habits of communal life that nourish us. Let us make possible each others’ most beautiful lives; let us cast our votes in favor of heirloom seeds; let us withdraw our small bit of power from the people who will not serve us. Let us look each other in the eye each week and sustain each other—even on the days when the system does not.  f we sustain

Katherine E. Standefer teaches intimate classes that help writers explore sexuality, illness, and trauma. Her writing appears in The Best American Essays 2016. Follow her on Twitter @girlmakesfire or  

edible Baja Arizona 


54  May/June 2017


Sentences That End with Food The men at Tucson’s state prison get comfortable cooking. By Joe Watson | Illustrations by Molly Kiely


v ery S at ur day af t er noon , Matt Patton helps me escape from prison, 18 ounces at a time. He stops at my bunk inside this institutional warehouse and reaches into the Styrofoam ice chest he has in tow. His hand swims around and brings to the surface a recycled plastic jar filled with something fuchsia inside and capped with a twist-on lid. “Nope, this one’s cherry-chocolate brownie,” Patton says, and tosses it back into its icy pond. He tries again. “And this one’s cappuccino—not your f lavor, either,” he says, his arm now multiple hues of blue. And then, finally, eureka! Patton towel-dries the winning jar and hands me a prison miracle: chocolate ice cream. Made within the confines of the minimum-security Whetstone Unit at Tucson’s state prison complex, Patton’s ice cream—made of milk, ice, instant cocoa, and other ingredients of dubious origin—is more like a soft-serve Wendy’s Frosty. As I twist off the top, I wonder if this stuff is safe to eat. Is the milk still good, or past its expiration date? How many unwashed hands did Patton include in the process?

Who cares? I decide, as I swallow the first creamy sporkful. Nothing against Patton, but there are risks to eating food prepared by unsupervised prisoners. Still, like almost everyone else here, I’m willing to take those chances in exchange for a little comfort. Once I’m satisfied this treat won’t kill me—not immediately, anyway—I reach into my locker for the $2.50 I owe Patton for his work. Not with cash, of course, but with the gold standard in prison wampum: a variety pack of ramen noodles. With agreeable head nods, our transaction is complete. And I’m left to my mental furlough, which—including a 30second head-splitting brain freeze—ends just six minutes later with me pitifully sporking the bottom of the jar.

Cooking in prison is a tedious, frustrating, and expensive endeavor. It’s also when many of us are at our happiest.

56  May/June 2017

Prison menudo is made by substituting beef stomach with pork rinds and summer sausage, and hominy with Corn Nuts; it’s all mixed in a couple of five-gallon sanitized wastebaskets.

edible Baja Arizona 


The “Fat Bastard”—chili, sausage, Spanish rice, and jalapeños stuffed in between two halves of a bagel, and steamed for at least an hour.


hums along in relative peace, it’s largely thanks to guys like Matt Patton. The hustlers and hawkers with their ice cream, no-bake brownies, steamed tamales and burritos, plying the captive audience with high contents of sodium and sugar. The fair-trade system of Whetstone—where the entire population is nearing the end of incarceration—helps perpetuate an off-the-books economy that gives everyone the chance to make prison life less miserable. But this sort of fast-food fare only fills a niche. Most prisoners cook for themselves “at home”—their bunks and cubicles—almost every day, even if it’s just a bowl of ramen or tuna casserole. More commonly, though, it’s something heartier and more elaborate, using ingredients only available by purchasing them from the prison store. “I doubt people realize how much time and money we spend cooking,” says Nate Dixon, a Tucsonan serving seven years for drug trafficking and organized crime convictions. “Unless you know someone in prison, you probably think we just lay around and do nothing.” Cooking in prison is a tedious, frustrating, and expensive endeavor. It’s also when many of us are at our happiest. But it isn’t something that, as a new arrival, you just show up and do. For most, in fact, learning to cook for oneself in prison takes years—to acquire the resources, the prison IQ, and frankly, the courage to forgo the often-indigestible chow hall food the state serves, and to invest in better-tasting meals. This all requires recipes, makeshift utensils, a shelf full of spices, and the bartering know-how to negotiate for last-minute accoutrements. Each of these is as much an indication of the length of time we’ve been incarcerated as are full-sleeve tattoos and stacks of letters from pen pals. hen pr ison life

58  May/June 2017


at t P at ton might be the most cerebral ice-cream man at Whetstone. A former architectural engineering student, Patton tutors fellow prisoners trying to earn their GEDs, a state-sanctioned job that pays him just 40 cents an hour. Most of Patton’s income is bartered for, with his confectionaries filling his locker with up to $200 in trade items in a good month. With those resources, Patton employs a pretty extensive menu of prison recipes, including beef pot pies, a crude interpretation of “Chinese” food (using instant iced tea mix to achieve a sweet-and-sour flavor) and a prison staple called a “Fat Bastard”—chili, sausage, Spanish rice, and jalapeños stuffed in between two halves of a bagel, and steamed for at least an hour. “I don’t believe there’s really anything I don’t know how to make,” Patton says. It’s his lasagna that Patton is most proud to share—“maybe my greatest culinary creation,” he says. Cooking prison lasagna is a weeklong affair that includes rolling out pasta “dough” derived from crushed ramen noodles and slow-cooking the meat sauce—summer sausages, beef crumbles, salsa, and leftover beef bouillon packets from the ramen—inside a plastic bag over boiling water for eight hours. The secret to his lasagna’s authenticity, Patton says, is the cheese he learned to make “by accident” after reading a 1970s-era science book he checked out from the prison library. He recites a nursery rhyme to explain the process of extracting cheese curds from lactose and whey, using a hairnet as a cheesecloth “to squeeze out as much of the whey as possible.” The first time he made his own cheese, however, “my hairnet started to break, so I didn’t get all the whey out,” he says. “So it ended up being a sort-of ricotta cheese. And that is the key.”

(Above) A “red-velvet, chocolate-layered soda cake” commands up to $20. (Left) Prison chimichangas are made with sausage, peanuts, and shredded pork, and bathed in squeezable cheese sauce.


ndrew R oss applies similar poor man’s chemistry in the creation of his so-called “red-velvet, chocolate-layered soda cakes,” which command up to $20 each in trade and are so irresistible that even prison guards submit requests for complimentary samples. And when dozens of diabetics’ blood sugar levels suddenly spike, they’ve probably just done business with “The Pusher,” the predatory sobriquet bestowed upon Ross by Whetstone’s medical staff. “I compete with Andrew in the sugar trade,” Nate Dixon says. “And even I can’t stay away from the stuff he makes!” A U.S. Army veteran who served in pre-Glasnost Berlin in the 1980s, guarding Checkpoint Charlie and the Wall, this is Ross’s fifth prison sentence since losing his wife to a fatal auto accident in 2002. “After she died, PTSD kicked in,” says Ross, whose latest conviction is for car theft. “I coped with it by looking for danger, adrenaline. In the Army, I was rappelling out of helicopters, shooting people for a living.” And now, he “bakes” cakes in a microwave, mixing his batter of vanilla wafers and chocolate chip cookies with strawberry soda to make the batter rise—in order to calm himself when days in prison are especially tense. “It helps me get away for a while, helps me get out of my own head,” says Ross, who will have done 15 total years in prison when he’s released in 2019.

60  May/June 2017

Ross has gastrointestinal problems that prevent him from indulging in most of the meals his fellow prisoners make for themselves. He blames chow hall fare he endured in previous prison stints for the ulcerative colitis that forced the removal of his small intestine and colon a few years ago. Prison nutritionists have prescribed him a “low-residue diet” of hard-boiled eggs, pasta, mixed vegetables, mozzarella cheese, real chicken and turkey—a diet that’s unavailable except under a doctor’s order to the whole of Arizona’s 40,000-plus prison population. “You know the only reason I go to the chow hall? To give my tray away to someone who’s hungrier than me,” says César Vázquez-Morales, a Mexican immigrant originally from Cuernavaca who, like me, is doing 12 years for armed robbery. Vázquez-Morales cooks not only for himself but also for his “surrogate family” of other Mexican immigrants, which sometimes totals two-dozen mouths to feed. The most popular request? Menudo—which Cesar makes by substituting the beef stomach with pork rinds and summer sausage, and the hominy with Corn Nuts. It’s made in a couple of five-gallon sanitized wastebaskets, cooking inside plastic trash-can liners over boiling water that’s powered by immersion heaters, or “stingers.” Cooking menudo is an all-day event, and everyone contributes something. “There’s a reason you don’t see anyone eating menudo alone,” Vázquez-Morales says.


D i xon is my closest friend and confidante at Whetstone, a place where both are found as rarely as the governor grants clemency. Probably a dozen other prisoners would say the same thing about Dixon, a former Army medic who served in Afghanistan and now lives in a specially designated dorm at Whetstone with 100-plus offenders who are also veterans, including Andrew Ross and myself (a former Navy reservist). Dixon is known for greeting almost everyone on the yard with a toothy, ear-to-ear smile and a bro-hug. The pained ecstasy of his current expression—as we inhale a dozen habit-forming chimichangas—is quite a different look. “Oh my God,” he says with his mouth half-full. “This is so good.” It should be noted that these chimichangas, admittedly, bear almost no resemblance to those served at El Charro, a more palatable kind of Tucson institution and the purported birthplace of the real thing. Nonetheless, Dixon’s chimichangas are filled with sausage, peanuts (which give the chimis a distinctive crunch), and about 18 ounces of shredded pork containing 2.3 grams of sodium. Bathed in a tub of squeezable cheese sauce and then rolled in a batter of pulverized, chili-flavored nacho chips, they are finally steamed over boiling water for three hours. “OK, let’s be honest. This is not healthy,” says Dixon, a graduate of the University of Arizona’s College of Pharmacy. “But it’s so much better than the chow hall.” It isn’t healthy, I concur, nor is it routinely affordable for most prisoners. This particular meal costs about $10 per person, which is more, we speculate, than a majority of the Whetstone population earn every two weeks. Thankfully, I have one of a handful of prison jobs that pay enough to afford this meal and to save for my imminent release. Dixon’s job maintaining the yard’s recreational equipment pays much less, but his mother sends him money on a regular basis. I ask him if his mother’s generosity makes him feel any additional guilt. “Sometimes, yes, I feel like a financial burden on my mom,” he says, swallowing hard, averting his gaze. “But she says she does it so I can eat well. It’s coming from a good place—she’s doing it to help.” ate


n yone w ho spends enough time cooking knows there’s only one ingredient that could comfort troubled men at rock bottom. “It’s love,” Vázquez-Morales says. “When I cook, I’m thinking about my kids and how I’ll make up for all this lost time. “So when I’m cooking for this fellowship in here, this brotherhood, I’m cooking with love.” When Dixon cooks, he says it’s as much of an escape for him as a jar of Matt Patton’s ice cream is for me. “I get lost in my own little world,” he says. “I think about my mom. I think about all the guys who did time before me and gave me these recipes. It calms me, keeps me centered. “And you know what I love the most?” he asks. “I love that we can all sit down together, even when it’s tumultuous on the yard, and everyone sets aside their differences and just eats.” Menudo and Fat Bastards: the great peacekeepers of Tucson’s state prisons. Comfort food helps to make prison safer, but does it make prison better? “There’s a Mexican country song,” Vázquez-Morales says, “and it goes, ‘If this jail was made out of gold, it wouldn’t stop being a jail.’ I mean, yes, cooking alleviates some of the stress, but it can’t make it better,” he says. “You’re still in prison.” 

Joe Watson, a journalist, will be released to community supervision this summer.

edible Baja Arizona 


edible Baja Arizona 


66  May/June 2017

68  May/June 2017


Yoshi Begets Begay At Sushi on Oracle, chef Tommy Begay is learning from the best —and adding his own spin. By Edie Jarolim | Photography by Jeff Smith


on ’ t call Yoshinobu Shiratori—Yoshi, as everyone knows him—a sushi master. Yes, the owner of Sushi on Oracle is arguably the most respected sushi chef in Tucson. But Yoshi dislikes the implications of the term “master.” Tommy Begay III, the restaurant’s associate sushi chef, explains, “Once you say you’ve mastered something, it implies you’re no longer seeking to improve. Yoshi is always learning, always asking what’s next to further his knowledge of the craft.” Begay is not only Yoshi’s culinary colleague but also his informal spokesman. He is naturally outgoing, chatting easily with customers at the sushi bar. Also, Begay says, “My English is a lot better than his.” This is true, even though Yoshi moved to Los Angeles from the city of Kyushu in southern Japan some 30 years ago. He relocated to Tucson—“it’s smaller and doesn’t have earthquakes”—and opened his northwest side restaurant in early 2002. Yoshi soon gathered a following among Tucson’s next generation of sushi chefs, including Begay, who worked at Neo of Melaka and Ra Sushi before being offered a coveted position at Sushi on Oracle. But while most members of the close-knit culinary group are Asian—from Korea and China as well as Japan—Begay is Navajo. Raised in a small reservation town in the Four Corners area, he found that his culture and Japanese culture have some key affinities. “They share the basics of respecting your elders and utilizing a product to its fullest potential rather than throwing it away,” Begay says. Yoshi and his wife and daughter, who also

70  May/June 2017

work at the restaurant, “feel like family. It’s kind of like being back home only with completely different surroundings.” Begay isn’t the only one who finds these surroundings completely different. Although it is in a strip mall and has a generic name, Sushi on Oracle doesn’t look like any other Japanese restaurant in town—or anywhere else for that matter, which is what Yoshi intended. The “mismatched decor,” as Begay puts it, includes a whimsical mix of driftwood branches, mobiles of cardboard fish, and corrugated-steel ceiling panels. Original pieces by local artists line the walls, including a wood block print on rice paper by Monica Warhol (second cousin to that Warhol) and the colorful postage stamp collages of Barbara Brandel. Of course, the artistry behind the sushi bar is the restaurant’s main draw (although many of the cooked Japanese dishes are popular, too). The freshness and texture of the fish, as well as the aesthetics of the presentations, are some of the core criteria by which sushi is judged, but subtle differences in flavor that may be lost on most Westerners come into play, too. Sushi was popularized at food stalls in Tokyo, formerly known as Edo, in the early 19th century, and then spread to the rest of Japan. Tokyo-style sushi is comparatively sweet, according to Begay; the farther away you get from Tokyo, the saltier the taste.

Yoshinobu Shiratori (left) is the owner of Sushi on Oracle and arguably the most respected sushi chef in Tucson. Tommy Begay III, the restaurant’s associate sushi chef, spent months preparing to work alongside his mentor.

edible Baja Arizona 


(Top) Begay is Navajo, and says that his culture and Japanese culture share key affinities. (Left) Begay breaks down a yellowtail fish from Japan. (Right) Sushi on Oracle’s futomaki roll, a traditional Japanese roll usually eaten at lunch time.

Yoshi is from southern Japan, so his f lavor profiles tend to be on the savory side. That’s noticeable in the rice, for example—which makes it a perfect fit for Tucson. Sushi chefs throughout Japan add salt to their rice in the summer, on the principle that people need to replenish the amount they lose by sweating. It’s no stretch to have salty rice in this warm-weather town year round. Although Yoshi largely sticks with the style of his region, his preparations shift with the times—and with available ingredients. When he moved to Tucson, there were not many fish markets to choose from; everyone struggled to get the best of the best. With the advent of sushi’s popularity in Arizona, however, distribution to Tucson became far more dependable, making it easier for all restaurateurs to get a variety of high-quality fish. Now black cod, geoduck (GOO-ey-duck) clams, and monkfish liver are as likely 72  May/June 2017

to turn up on the menu as the more familiar salmon, yellowtail, and tuna, and Yoshi is able to focus on his preparations. When Begay was hired six years ago, he was nervous at the idea of working for someone as skilled as Yoshi, who was revered by all his young colleagues at Ra: “He is a very sweet and humble man,” Begay says, “and he made the best sushi that we’d ever eaten.” He gave Ra several months’ notice, and spent this time feverishly getting ready for the new job. “I bought a lot of different knives and learned to use them,” he says. “I watched a lot of YouTube videos, talked to a lot of people, ate a lot of sushi. I would go to Lee Lee market and buy fish and learn how to butcher it so I wouldn’t make any mistakes.” All this preparation stood Begay in good stead; Yoshi let him make sushi for the customers from day one. It was another year and a half, however, before Yoshi was open to the innovations

that the younger chef wanted to introduce. “He didn’t let me go wild right off the bat,” Begay says. “I had to earn it.” The first change Begay made was to introduce a Japanese craft beer program. “The scene is exploding in Japan, just like it is in Tucson. I thought it would be nice to offer beer that was actually brewed in Japan as opposed to Canada,” he says—alluding to the source of such familiar brands as Kirin, Sapporo, and Asahi. The ever-changing selections from Japanese boutique breweries—Black Bean Ale from Kizakura, say, or Nipponia Pilsner from Hitachino Nest—mingle with picks from Tucson microbrewers. Begay is happy to detail the taste profiles of each bottle listed on the whiteboard behind the sushi bar. Begay also introduced a playlist for the restaurant. He became interested in Asian music in the early 2000s, searching MySpace for sounds he enjoyed from a variety of regions and styles, like Malaysian indie rock. At Sushi on Oracle, you’ll hear what Begay describes as “underground Japanese jazz/hip hop with an overlay of live instrumentation created by a DJ”—a genre found nowhere else in Tucson (or in most cities, for that matter). But beer and obscure music aren’t Yoshi’s areas of expertise. It took a bit more daring for Begay to suggest dishes that he calls “fusion-y.” Take his Perfect Pear creation: yellowtail and Asian pear sashimi with kiwi wasabi purée. His original concept for the dish included brie but, Begay concedes, “I didn’t think it would sell.” Perhaps more typical is a dish consisting of edamame and avocado purée served with tuna that’s been soaked for a day in soy sauce and sake; the fish comes out cured on the outside but still raw on the inside. “I like to take an old-style method like this one, which I learned from Yoshi, and use it with something new that I think would complement it,” Begay says. This epitomizes the relationship that has evolved between the two chefs, Begay doing creative spins on Yoshi’s traditional preparations, Yoshi trusting him to come up with pleasing tastes. His recognition of the value of change when not merely done for novelty’s sake is why Yoshi eschews the title of “master”—and why others nevertheless confer it on him.  Sushi on Oracle. 6449 N. Oracle Road. 520.297.3615. Edie Jarolim is a freelance writer and the author of Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.

Begay introduced a Japanese craft beer program at Sushi on Oracle, offering selections from Japanese boutique breweries—Black Bean Ale from Kizakura, say, or Nipponia Pilsner from Hitachino Nest. 74  May/June 2017

edible Baja Arizona 


76  May/June 2017

edible Baja Arizona 


78  May/June 2017

edible Baja Arizona 



The Battle in the Bottle At raw milk dairy Fond du Lac Farms, the cows come first, in comfort and cleanliness. By Debbie Weingarten | Photography by Julie DeMarre


A nglin doesn’t remember a time when he was not in love with cows. He met his first love at the age of 9—a Holstein named Inka, bought for him by his father, a lifelong dairyman. In 1987, when Rick was 16, he spent $1,500 of his own money on a Brown Swiss calf from Canada. “I won every show I entered with her,” Anglin says. Today Anglin and his family run a raw milk dairy on a 30-acre patch of scrubby desert in Casa Grande. The day I visit, the cows are all lined up in the holding area for their 3 o’clock milking. I’m introduced to each one—Fergie, the 10-year-old matriarch, Minnie, Fondu, Juju, Sue—their tongues reaching out sideways to lick our hands. The building is immaculate—the cement floors, the milk lines, and the railings separating the cows kept spotlessly clean. In the cement pit below the milk parlor, an employee is taking his time, carefully checking the underside of each cow, and spraying down legs and hooves, the water disappearing through floor grates. The milking process takes an hour and a half, twice a day. “It’s real slow, and that’s intentional. It’s not a race,” says Anglin. The cows stand, docile and quiet. Aside from the sound of the hose and the rhythmic pulsing of the milk machines, there is just the echo of our own voices beneath the rafters. For Anglin, the road to Fond du Lac has been unexpected. In 1995, Anglin, following a long family tradition, started his own dairy in Chandler with 30 Holstein heifers. But in 2008, with the onset of the economic recession, Anglin says, “Everything tanked. So many dairies around the country were going under. Dairymen were committing suicide from the stress of having ick

80  May/June 2017

millions due and the bank suddenly not renewing their notes. It was dire straits.” Feeling that pressure, Anglin felt stuck under the thumb of the marketplace. By 2012, he had grown his operation to 650 cows, but in order to make a living, he was spending less time with his cows and more time monitoring market activity. Each day, he checked Chicago Board of Trade milk futures. He tried to buy feed at a lower price before it changed and tried to lock in milk prices before they dropped again. When the government increased subsidies for the production of corn for ethanol, Anglin says, “It doubled feed costs … we were competing with oil companies for corn.” He pauses. “And I just thought, if this is what dairying looks like, I’m not interested. This is miserable. It’s taken all the fun out of it.” Against the advice of nearly every dairyman he knew, he sold the entire operation and began researching raw milk production. In 2013, Rick and his wife, Kristin, and their three daughters, Quincy, Chloe, and Macy, bought the property in Casa Grande. They spent the first year hunkered down, studying numbers, regulations, and infrastructure design. They drilled a well, ran electricity, and built corrals and a state-of-the-art barn, milking parlor, testing and processing rooms inspired by dairies in the Midwest. In July 2014, Fond du Lac Farms was up and running with 11 Brown Swiss heifers. Rick Anglin got his first cow when he was 9 years old. Today, he and his wife, Kristin (left), run Fond du Lac Farms in Casa Grande along with their three daughters, Quincy, Chloe, and Macy (right).

edible Baja Arizona 



h o u gh A r i zo na is a raw milk state, meaning that it’s legal to produce and sell raw milk with proper certification, the standards are higher, the insurance more expensive, and the hoops a bit harder to jump through. “If you’re gonna’ do this, you better be all in,” says Anglin, adding, “I have a great working relationship with the state. I’m very transparent, and they see my results.” Results, he says, which are excellent. “To make a standard and say it’s gotta be less than a certain number—well, if you cook it, you can get that done. But the crazy part is we’re getting that done, and we’re not cooking it. It’s baffling to a lot of people.” By “cooking,” Anglin means pasteurizing. Developed to aid food safety efforts, pasteurization is a flash heating process that essentially nukes bacteria. The problem, say raw milk proponents, is that pasteurization kills off the good bacteria as well. “My milk is alive,” says Anglin, when I ask him what’s different about his product. “It’s a probiotic. There’s a battle raging in that bottle.” As a raw milk dairy, Fond du Lac Farms is held to the same quality and health standards as pasteurized milk producers, but without the crutch of pasteurization. The product must be

82  May/June 2017

ready to be bottled, with appropriate cell counts and bacteria levels, as soon as the machine is hooked up to the cow. So, in addition to being a dairyman, Anglin must also be a diligent laboratory scientist. Legally, he must test each load of milk for antibiotic residue, even though he doesn’t use antibiotics in his herd. He monitors coliform levels, somatic cell counts, as well as other food safety measurements standard for a dairy and milk processing facility. During his dairy certification process, he was trained to test and sample milk. Twice a year, the state sends him several random milk samples to ensure that he can analyze milk properly. And all of his records for every load of milk are audited every two years. “Cleanliness has got to be one of the biggest things you do in a raw milk dairy,” he says. “Everything’s gotta be perfect every time. There is no room for mistakes.” He compares it to prepping for surgery—he washes his hands repeatedly throughout the day, opens the doors to the processing room with his elbows, even shaves his arms to prevent dirt from catching in the hairs and getting into the milk. He points through the glass door to the processing room. “No boots in there,” he says, “It’s sacred.”

Fond du Lac Farms raises Brown Swiss cattle, which are thought to be the oldest dairy breed, having originated in the mountains of Switzerland.


ince h igh school , Anglin has been in love with the temperament and timelessness of the Brown Swiss breed. “We could wind the clock back 80 years and it’s this cow,” he says, “These are the same cows my grandfather would have had. They still possess the original characteristics of the breed.” Thought to be the oldest dairy breed, Brown Swiss originated in the mountains of Switzerland. In the 1800s, 25 Brown Swiss bulls and 140 heifers were brought from Switzerland to the United States, becoming the seedstock for nearly all of the purebred Brown Swiss in North America today. Rugged and adaptable, the breed can handle varying terrains and temperature extremes. They’re also heavy milk producers, with high annual yields and high protein and fat contents—perfect for cheese production, which Anglin says may be in Fond du Lac’s future. As a child, Anglin spent time undergoing tests at the Mayo Clinic. “They thought I had Crohn’s disease,” he says. “I’m a dairyman who couldn’t consume dairy. I couldn’t drink milk, nothing.” But now he says he drinks half a gallon of Fond du Lac milk every day. He hears similar stories from customers. “I

have those emails that say, ‘I haven’t had milk in 30 years and I’m drinking your milk.’ That’s cool to hear.” In part, Anglin credits the raw milk. “The benefit of raw milk is gut health. Your gut is what determines how the rest of your body functions. When you drink raw milk, you’re adding beneficial bacteria to your gut,” says Anglin. But he also believes it’s due to his breed of dairy cattle and the beta-casein protein found in their milk. With the overbreeding of popular European dairy breeds such as Holsteins and Jerseys, the very make-up of our milk has changed. Over time, the beta-casein protein mutated from its original A2 to A1, a distinction that is surprisingly miniscule: A1 beta-casein has evolved to have a different amino acid in position 67 in its chain of 209 amino acids. As beta-casein in milk has been studied, some scientists believe they’ve linked A1 beta-casein to inflammation in the digestive system and a wide range of health issues, including what is often termed “lactose intolerance.” But the Brown Swiss breed produces milk with only A2 beta-casein (as do goats and humans), which many scientists and producers believe is easier to digest.

edible Baja Arizona 


Fond du Lac Farms is a raw milk dairy, which means that in addition to being a dairyman, Anglin must also be a diligent laboratory scientist.


s a family ,

the Anglins and Kristin’s parents, Dale and Marilyn Tuck, have rallied together around the dairy, working on everything from caring for the cows, to keeping the books, to making deliveries. Anglin says it has been all-encompassing, a family endeavor, a labor of dedication and love. “It was 16 months before I took my first day off. I was about 40 pounds lighter than I am now. I was just walking skin and bones,” he says. But there is balance on the horizon. Within the business, routines are being carved out, employees trained, and stress is letting up. Anglin says he has time to think about the future: kefir, butter, and cream sales, more time to write, the potential of buying extra acreage to farm his own feed, perhaps even a vacation. “I’m not trying to be the biggest guy in the world,” says Anglin. “I want to produce an excellent product, whatever I produce. We’re going to grow slowly, and we’re going to hone our craft. It’s not a typical business model.” 84  May/June 2017

In the end, Anglin says he’s happy to be exactly where he is, working with his family by his side. “My giftedness is working with the cows. I know how to care for cattle and this is where I’m best suited right here,” he says. “What an opportunity to get up and go to work. I’ve gotten a lot of perspective, and I’ve been humbled here. I’m thankful every day that I’m doing what I love.”  Find Fond du Lac milk in Tucson at Aqua Vita, New Life Health Centers, the Food Conspiracy Co-op, and Sprouts Farmers Market. Debbie Weingarten is the cofounder of the Farm Education and Resource Network and a writing partner with the Female Farmer Project. She loves coffee, nectarines, and monsoon season.

edible Baja Arizona 


86  May/June 2017

edible Baja Arizona 


88  May/June 2017

edible Baja Arizona 


90  May/June 2017


After three decades of effort, downtown Tucson is indisputably revitalizing. What that revitalization means for downtown is still being determined.

By Megan Kimble Photography by Steven Meckler

edible Baja Arizona 



F riday , J uly 25, 2014, Tucsonans gathered in the streets. The University of Arizona marching band trumpeted and drummed. Wilma Wildcat danced. Volunteers handed out free water bottles. Politicians spoke of Tucson’s bright future. Hundreds of people gathered and sweated under white canopy tents. The amateur paparazzi thronged, cameras clicking. Just after 9 a.m., as the shining blue Sun Link Modern Streetcar glided slowly through the packed intersection at Fifth and Congress, a cheer erupted across the block. By sunset, the sidewalks were full of people. No one seemed to be going anywhere in particular—there was a two-hour wait for a table at the recently opened Pizzeria Bianco. The bar at Proper Restaurant was stacked three deep. A queue hovered outside Diablo Burger. So Tucsonans waited in line and gawked at each other, everyone eager for a chance, simply and amazingly, to ride. By the time the streetcar rolled into downtown, it was two and half years behind schedule. Construction had closed Fourth Avenue and Congress Street for almost a year. Several local businesses had also closed, cash-strapped during construction. Dozens of cyclists had already been snared in its tracks. Ten years in the making, the streetcar had cost a total of $198.8 million. But perhaps what was so remarkable—so transformative—about the streetcar was its cost. “The prospect of the streetcar changed the thinking of developers and businesses,” says Park Tucson administrator Donovan Durband. “They saw the price tag as a serious commitment.” Funded through a combination of federal and local money, “the idea was that the city was surely going to keep investing in the area to support that initial investment,” he says. Money follows money, and as the streetcar route was negotiated starting in 2006, developers took note. By 2016, the Downtown Tucson Partnership estimated that there has been more than $1.2 billion invested in real estate and infrastructure along the 3.9-mile streetcar route. After three decades of concerted effort to revitalize Tucson’s downtown, downtown Tucson is indisputably revitalizing. In March of 2017, the Downtown Tucson Partnership reported that a new business opens downtown on average every two weeks. Twenty-nine businesses have opened downtown since the start of 2016. Twenty-eight projects are currently under construction, including the $32-million, 136-room AC Hotel by Marriott. A very precise 678 housing units will be built downtown by the end of 2018, with another 1,067 units scheduled into 2019. But for all the construction and commotion, downtown Tucson’s revitalization is still tenuous. It is still developing and still, in many ways, uncertain. Less than two years after the streetcar glided into downtown, on a Saturday in June of 2016, Proper’s owner, Paul Moir, told his employees the restaurant wouldn’t be opening for breakfast the following day. Moir, who owns three restaurants in Flagstaff, cited n

92  May/June 2017

Scenes from downtown (clockwise from top left): The Transamerica building on Church and Alameda; Downtown Tucson Partnership offices behind the Joel D. Valdez Main Library on Stone and Pennington; the Sun Link Modern Streetcar; a Wells Fargo branch at 150 N. Stone Ave..

personal reasons for the closure of the three-year-old restaurant—he wanted to put his energy into projects closer to home. One block west and three months later, Chris Bianco announced the closure of Pizzeria Bianco, which had opened in July of 2014. Bianco—the Phoenix-based, James Beard-award winning chef that the New York Times once dubbed the best pizza maker in America—said he wasn’t able to deliver the experience he wanted to, citing issues with the restaurant’s location and available parking. Proper and Pizzeria Bianco were only the highest profile restaurants to close in those exuberant years, but there were others. In January of 2015, facing a significant rent increase after 10 years on Congress, The District Tavern closed. In October, Barrio Cuisine quietly closed its doors, unable to pay rent after only a year in business. The following month, Travis Reese and Nicole Flowers announced the closure of their Caribbean-style restaurant, Saint House Island Bistro and Rum Bar, which had opened at 256 E. Congress St. in August of 2013. “On the backside of the streetcar, there was an irrational exuberance,” says Reese, who has run 47 Scott, a thriving downtown restaurant and bar, since May of 2010. “During the streetcar construction, we were all like, oh, watch out, this is going to be big. There was a huge period of optimism. And then afterward there was a fallout. A realization that, oh, we’re still dealing with the same issues we were before.” Today, Reese says downtown Tucson is in its teenage phase. “We’ve seen good restaurants close, which makes you ask a lot of questions,” he says. “What does Tucson want? Have we been overly ambitious with rents? I think the hardest thing is wondering how much we’ve overextended ourselves as a restaurant community. Maybe we’re not the food city that we think we are?” As the city unsprawls itself—recognizing, like a bodybuilder, the importance of a strong core—the future of downtown Tucson is still being defined. Two of the most commonly cited concerns about downtown redevelopment are gentrification and homogenization. People worry that Tucson will become Austin—flooded with tech money and transient workers, unaffordable to the artists and small business owners who made it such a vibrant place to begin with. Or people worry that Tucson will become Tempe, taken over by chain retail and generic restaurants, sterile and placeless. “You want to have a downtown that’s for everybody: families, young and old, not just white people, not just wealthy people,” says Durband. The extent to which that vision is realized will determine much of how Tucson is defined over the next decade, particularly as the city wrestles with its recent designation as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. “When I moved here, Tucson had all these great attributes: weather, mountains, desert. But it didn’t have a great urban experience,” says Durband. “It was like Gertrude Stein’s comment: ‘There’s no there there.’”

edible Baja Arizona 


Ron and Patricia Schwabe own Peach Properties and specialize in refurbishing and renovating historic properties, like Penca Restaurant on Scott and Broadway.


in predictable ways, writes Christopher Leinberger, a fellow with the Brookings Institution. Every downtown is different—that is, of course, the point—but successful revitalizations follow similar patterns. First, there’s a vision—there is consensus that downtown matters. That vision becomes a strategic plan. Public entities partner with private developers. Zoning and building codes are updated to reflect new priorities like walkability and density. Property owners agree to pay extra taxes to fund a downtown management team, and a few catalytic developers take on projects with high market risk and refurbish old buildings or start new construction. Restaurants open. Entertainment venues open. People feel safe walking between the two. A rental housing market develops, followed by a forsale housing market. Smaller-scale retail shops—like pharmacies and markets—open, catering to locals and pedestrians. Finally, companies bring their offices back downtown. This pattern is useful to understanding Tucson’s development, says Donovan Durband. Durband started working downtown in 1999 after completing a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Arizona. In the late 1990s, “there was rampant panhandling; people were openly selling drugs on the street,” says Durband. There were office buildings, a healthy lunch crowd, and a few core restaurants—notably, Café Poca Cosa and El Charro—but Hotel Congress was basically the only nighttime destination. “Nobody was coming downtown,” says Shana Oseran, who took over Hotel Congress with her husband, Richard, in 1985. “The perception was, it’s scary, it’s a dirty place, there’s no place to park.” owntowns revitalize

94  May/June 2017

In 2000, Durband took over Tucson’s f ledgling business improvement district, now known as the Downtown Tucson Partnership. In a geographically defined business improvement district, property owners agree to self-assess their properties and pay additional taxes to fund services for the whole district. At first, DTP’s $600,000 budget focused on core services like security and sanitation—marketing downtown as a clean and safe place, and employing the staff to make sure it actually was. Durband rallied people around the idea of building an entertainment district along Congress Street to bring people back downtown. With funding from the Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District, The Fox Theatre and The Rialto Theatre were restored and the five-block spread between these two anchors became the nexus for this emerging entertainment district. By 2005, there was enough interest in downtown that a group of developers and business owners calling themselves the Downtown Stakeholders started meeting weekly; within a year, 40 people were showing up regularly to build a vision for downtown. In 2006, this group helped lobby the Arizona Legislature to extend the term of Rio Nuevo, the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District approved by Tucson voters in 1999. A TIF is a form of public subsidy for redevelopment projects; in the case of Rio Nuevo, state sales tax revenues are diverted to fund development projects within the district, with the idea that those projects would eventually siphon increased sales tax back to the state. Between 1999 and 2009, Rio Nuevo spent nearly $230 million with very little to show for the trouble. “It was quite controversial,” says Fletcher McCusker, who took over leadership of the Rio

edible Baja Arizona 


Fletcher McCusker is the chairman of the Rio Nuevo Board and the CEO of Sinfonía HealthCare Corp., located at One East Toole. He’s also part of a desert rock band called SQWRL.

Nuevo board in 2012. To put it politely, the first iteration of Rio Nuevo was a boondoggle, one that “completely screwed up downtown’s natural growth and retarded the natural process of development,” says Ron Schwabe, co-owner of Peach Properties. But in 2006, with the promise of downtown beginning to materialize, the state agreed to extend TIF financing for another 15 years. In early 2010, the Arizona Legislature restructured Rio Nuevo and appointed a new board, ending a decade of mismanagement. That same year, supported by $63 million in federal funding, the Sun Link Modern Streetcar project became a reality. In 2011, the University of Arizona announced that it would sponsor student housing downtown—“the Modern Streetcar serves almost as a campus extension into the downtown area,” said the then-UA president Robert Shelton. “When I heard that, I was like, hallelujah,’” says developer Scott Stiteler. He saw the UA as finally recognizing that its success as an institution depended in part on a successful downtown. Indeed, the promise of the streetcar was that it would connect previously distant districts—distant, at least, in the minds of Tucsonans—into something like an urban core. Born in Phoenix and based in the Bay Area, Stiteler was attracted to Tucson in the 1990s because of “the urban grit, the history of these old buildings, the broken sidewalks, cool alleys,” he says. He started acquiring property downtown, eventually taking over most of Congress between Fourth and Sixth Avenues. He partnered with Ron and Patricia Schwabe’s 96  May/June 2017

Peach Properties to renovate what had been the Martin Luther King Public Housing facility, completing 96 market-rate and affordable apartments called One North Fifth in 2008. Patricia Schwabe helped lease the first retail businesses in front of the apartment complex, eventually signing Sparkroot Coffee and Yoga Oasis. “The first weekend that Yoga Oasis opened, there were all these people walking with yoga mats downtown!” she says. “That was for me a revelation more than anything else—we have really done something. People feel safe, people feel happy being downtown. The place is changing and breathing a different air.” In October of 2010, Janos Wilder—who had been named the top chef in the Southwest in 2000 by the James Beard Foundation—opened Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails on Sixth Avenue and Broadway. “That was a big deal,” says 47 Scott’s Reese. “It gave us credibility, where people would come down here and explore.” In February of 2011, Stiteler opened The Hub on Congress between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and started serving cold beer, comfort food, and homemade ice cream. Stiteler remembers walking along Congress that first year, seeing a mother and child sitting outside “eating mac and cheese and there’s ice cream dripping everywhere and it’s a beautiful day. That didn’t exist before. If you don’t have that, you won’t have a downtown.” Ron Schwabe says that restaurants have been catalytic for changing Tucsonans’ perception of downtown. “But downtown can’t survive on just restaurants,” he says.

edible Baja Arizona 


Corky Poster is an architect, planner, and principal at Poster Frost Mirto, which specializes in historic preservation and affordable housing. The firm is rehabilitating the old Marist College at Ochoa and Church as part of larger 83-unit housing development for lower income seniors.


at h l e e n E r i k s e n , the CEO of the Downtown Tucson Partnership, lives above the streetcar line downtown. “I’ll go out on my patio and the streetcar comes by and it’s like ding ding ding—streetcar going east,” she says, mimicking the electronic intonation. “It’s like being in a city,” she says, delighted. She’s not the only one. The fact that people have started to move downtown—and are willing to pay for the privilege—is significant. Corky Poster, an architect and planner with Poster Frost Mirto, says that, until recently, the going rate for a decent place to live in Tucson was about $1.10 a square foot, no matter what part of town you were in. “Tucsonans are typically not locationally sensitive in their housing rent payments,” he says. But as new construction downtown required developers to charge more, “the big question was, was anyone in Tucson willing to pay more for a cooler location?” he says. That was the gamble developers Art Wadlund and Rob Caylor took with the One East Broadway apartment building, which opened at Broadway and Stone in 2013 charging $1.60 a square foot. They reached full occupancy within months. “They took a risk, and they nailed it,” says Poster. It was, Poster says, a bellwether for other developers, signaling that the market had fundamentally changed downtown—that there was money to be made in renting to people who wanted to live near downtown’s restaurants and entertainment venues.

98  May/June 2017

Poster says Tucson has thus far been protected by its poverty—there simply hasn’t been enough money to rapidly and irreversibly gentrify downtown. But he has also been one of the most vocal proponents for affordable housing projects. “A lot of us have worked hard to advocate for permanent affordable housing as a hedge against the inevitable economic change,” he says. That economic change is basic supply and demand—as the real estate market does what markets do, housing will become prohibitively expensive for all except the wealthiest renters and buyers, no matter their connection to downtown. Without affordable housing options, downtown becomes a monoculture, says Poster. “If you’re going to try to create a mixed income, mixed ethnic community, the only way to do that is to provide permanent affordable choices for folks,” he says. “There are some restaurant and bar owners who say, we don’t need more affordable housing; we need people who buy $10 cocktails,” says Poster. “Actually, the market is going to take care of your $10 cocktails. If we don’t protect affordable housing, then it’s going to be gone.” And as goes affordable housing, so goes affordable anything—services, food, transportation. Poster says that he worries about the attitude that, in order to support high-end businesses, downtown must gentrify. “I think it’s the opposite strategy. In order to avoid gentrifying downtown, we need a wide range of service and prices,” he says.

edible Baja Arizona 


Travis Reese opened 47 Scott on Scott Ave. between Congress and Pennington in May of 2010.


ot ev eryone sees it that way. Running a restaurant or bar entails high risk and low profit and many business owners are worried about just getting enough people through the door to keep those doors open. And they say downtown needs more market-rate housing—more homes for residents who can afford to eat out—and more parking. “I had always thought, bad restaurants need good locations and good restaurants can go anywhere,” says Pizzeria Bianco’s Chris Bianco. “I think with our experience in our location, I didn’t feel like I could deliver an experience I wanted to. It’s like, there’s an old saying: That place is too busy, no one goes there anymore.” Bianco says that although he tries to walk or bike or rideshare, “There are a ton of people that still drive and park. Until the world changes, we need to make economic decisions based on those realities.” Parking is a perception problem—if you show up somewhere and you don’t have a place to put your car, then you are not really

100  May/June 2017

there. And that is stressful—particularly for Tucsonans who are accustomed to free parking steps from where they want to be. That perception needs to change, says Durband. When you park downtown “you are occupying real estate that has an opportunity cost. Paying for parking in downtown Tucson is the price you pay to be able to enjoy a walkable urban experience,” he says. Local business owners tend to fixate on parking, assuming that the only way their customers will reach them is in a car. But according to studies compiled by The Atlantic’s CityLab, while pedestrians and cyclists tend to spend less per shopping trip than drivers, they visit more frequently, resulting in a greater total economic impact over time. “If there was one issue about this project that I would call doing it on faith, it was the fact that there was no parking,” says Paul Cisek, a co-owner of Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market. “We rolled the dice. We said we feel like demographics are moving toward carless people.”

Cisek and his wife, Christi, were having dinner one night in 2014 with Ron and Kelly Abbott—the couple who bought Rincon Market from the Ciseks in 2008—when the subject of a downtown grocery came up. That night, they visited the 6,000-square-foot building on Sixth near Congress that had been the Beowulf Alley Theatre and decided to do it. “There had been no grocery store down here for 40 or 45 years,” Cisek 102  May/June 2017

says. “We had nothing to point to besides failures. It was a little tense, if you will.” Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market opened in July of 2015; over the next year, the market morphed as its owners tried to figure out what downtown needed. “What we thought the store was going to provide in terms of stock, goods, services, and what it finally ended up providing, based on who was walking through the door—it

Paul and Christi Cisek partnered with Ron and Kelly Abbott to open Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market in the former Beowulf Alley Theatre.

shifted,” says Cisek. In part, that shift emerged as the owners realized a core clientele would be downtown’s transient population. “We have a very nice homeless population. They’re local. We watch out for each other,” says Cisek. “I think people see the value in our interaction with homeless or less economically advantaged people. We’re providing food that they can afford, that’s a bit better quality than, say, Circle K, which is what the other option was.” He says that

in the beginning of each month, 12 to 13 percent of their sales come from EBT cards, “which is not insignificant. So we moved some of our offerings to meet people who didn’t have a lot of money.” But as downtown’s demographics change, he says, the market will respond and stock different foods. And that inevitable shift, from instant ramen and Eegee’s to artisan bread and olives, represents a microcosm of a change unfolding throughout downtown.

edible Baja Arizona 


104  May/June 2017


in March, I’m jogging behind the Tucson Fire Department headquarters and I notice lettering scrawled on the edge of the I-10 interstate: WHOSE CITY IS IT? it reads. DEVELOPERS OUT! If downtowns revitalize in predicable ways, then so does the resistance to revitalization. The question of who Tucson belongs to—who is downtown for?—is an essential question and also essentially unanswerable. What is downtown Tucson? First and fundamentally, it is a physical place. “Think of a city and what comes to mind?” wrote Jane Jacobs in her seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. “Its streets.” One way to define downtown is according to the boundaries of the business improvement district, which extends roughly—jaggedly—from Franklin to 14th and Granada to Toole. But downtown is a layered place, defined as much by the buildings visible today as the ones that aren’t. Unlike many cities in the West, including Phoenix, downtown Tucson is hundreds of years old, with histories built and rebuilt. People who have worked downtown for decades are fluent in this kind of layered language, seeing simultaneously what was—the Greyhound bus station— and what is—The Cadence Tucson. The very premise of revitalization assumes that something vital has been lost and must be re-found and rebuilt. In Tucson, for many years, that loss had an office. In 1958, the City of Tucson opened its urban renewal office, which housed the Pueblo Center Redevelopment Project—a project that would eventually bulldoze a historic neighborhood and displace a thriving and interconnected urban community. “The racialized nature of the Pueblo Center Redevelopment Project, which targeted the most densely populated nonwhite area in the city, is unmistakable,” writes Lydia Otero in La Calle: Spatial Conf licts and Urban Renewal and a Southwest City. Today, the Tucson Convention Center and its monoculture of parking lots serve as a tangible reminder of “a persistent campaign to whiten n a war m ev ening

Scott Stiteler is the developer behind the AC Hotel by Marriott on Broadway and Fifth Avenue —the first hotel built downtown since 1972. Developed with partners Rudy Dabdoub and Paul Chellgren, the eight-story, 136-room hotel will contain four floors of parking.

edible Baja Arizona 


by removing Mexican American residents, history, and architecture from the coveted downtown landscape,” she writes. So, whose city is it? Have we recovered our losses? Heeded the history of those displaced? I moved to Tucson in 2011, and even I am occasionally awestruck by how quickly the geography of downtown has changed. The accumulation of small changes only coheres into something visible now and again, when, looking up from my private dramas, I catch glimpses of a public city that didn’t used to be here. I am on South Fourth Avenue at the crosswalk at Broadway and I look up to see the blue streetcar silhouetted by the gleaming white of The Cadence building. In the same intersection, there are walkers—a gaggle of middle-aged women, striding across Fourth, purposeful and purple in their Meet Me at Maynard’s T-shirts. Another day, I’m sitting on the patio at Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market eating a sandwich, ensconced in this red brick courtyard between Congress and Broadway. An early group of drinkers settles on a picnic table outside Independent Distillery. A hum of power saw cuts through the warm air, the scaffolding of the AC Hotel climbing the urban horizon like a promise. In downtown Tucson, where is the there? What makes us feel like we are here? And why does it matter that we do? Studies show that connection to place matters and most of us do not feel connected to places like Target or WalMart. According to a threeyear, 26-city study conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, people who are connected to their communities are more likely to vote, volunteer, give charitably, and pay taxes. Connection to place was the single leading indicator for a community’s prosperity—that is, researchers found “a significant correlation between community attachment and economic growth.” 106  May/June 2017

Park Tucson administrator Donovan Durband says Tucsonans need to change their perception of parking. “Paying for parking in downtown Tucson is the price you pay to be able to enjoy a walkable urban experience,” he says. The Centro Garage was built in 2011.

A busy evening at Obon Sushi, located at 350 E. Congress St.

A downtown helps create that connection. Downtown is the place where we see each other on the streets. It is also the place where we remember our history. According to a survey by Jonathan Mabry, the City of Tucson’s historic preservation officer, 95 percent of restaurants in downtown Tucson are locally owned; of the more than 50 new restaurants that opened downtown since 2008, all but four occupy buildings constructed before 1965. “When we preserve our historic buildings and adapt them for new uses so they stay relevant, it creates this visual continuity with the past,” says Mabry. “A community has a past, and you can see it, represented in these older buildings.” A study of Tucson by the Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservation found that Tucson’s older, smaller buildings and mixed-vintage blocks—like those in downtown Tucson—contributed to the city’s economic vitality and growth. Districts with older, smaller buildings are more 108  May/June 2017

walkable and are, on average, a full degree cooler than areas with mostly new buildings. There are more minority- and women-owned businesses in these districts, and more jobs per square foot of commercial space. And districts with older, smaller buildings are more resilient and adaptable to change—according to sales tax records analyzed between 2009 and 2013, these districts, including downtown, recovered faster from the recession. And downtown’s older buildings lend themselves to continuous use. “They’re kind of like a loose fit,” says Mabry. A wellbuilt brick building can be basically anything. A McDonald’s, on the other hand, is never not a McDonald’s and McDonald’s is everywhere. “What’s interesting to me in terms of what Tucson has become is this unique connection to the desert, to Native American and Hispanic foods,” says McCusker. “An Applebee’s would totally fuck that up. But you can’t stop them. There’s no way any of us can stop them.”

A mural at R Bar, located at 350 E. Congress in the Herbert Alley, depicts a scene of downtown Tucson. Mural by Gary Patch and Darren Clark.

Rio Nuevo has transformed itself under McCusker’s leadership. Rather than develop and push monolithic projects, the seven-member board reacts to project proposals and supports those that have the potential to increase sales tax revenue in the TIF district. “We tell developers: We’d like to be your last stop. So when you have your idea, you have your financing, your bank, you have your tenants, and you need a little money, that’s when you should come to Rio Nuevo,” says McCusker. This approach of partnering rather than pushing has enabled the board to leverage Rio Nuevo’s remaining funds—the TIF collects about $1 million a month—to greater effect: On average, for every dollar Rio Nuevo invests, the private sector invests $10. Between now and 2025, when the TIF district is set to expire, McCusker says Rio Nuevo will have between $50 and $60 million to invest downtown. McCusker intends for that money to go primarily to local developers and businesses. “We can choose not to fund those

big chains—they don’t need our money. They don’t need us to help them,” he says. Legally, the City of Tucson can’t tell property owners what kinds of businesses they can lease to, says Durband. Accordingly, “The community places a huge amount of trust in developers to bring in independent local businesses as tenants,” he says. So far, Tucson has been lucky. “Our developers are homegrown, and not only have a sense of what the right thing to do is but are also pretty modest in their money and therefore make small decisions,” says Poster. He points to Ron and Patricia Schwabe’s approach: “They keep buying stuff, but they keep improving it. Incrementally, not with a giant amount of capital,” he says. “If you don’t have a lot of money, it’s hard to make a big mistake. The last time we had a lot of money in Tucson, we built the convention center.” He says that, in the same way that One East Broadway was a bellwether for the housing market, the next critical development

edible Baja Arizona 


to watch for downtown is the first chain retail. “When will a national chain be willing to come to downtown without a standard suburban parking solution?” he asks. The question is not if, but when. “It’s a pretty big stride we’re about to take,” says Stiteler. Today, the projects are bigger and the stakes higher. “We are definitely scaling up,” he says. And as Tucson scales up, other developers will become interested. Other businesses will want in. I tell him my concern—that slowly but surely, Tucson’s independent businesses will lose out to chains, and the quality that captured me six years ago— the there that is here—will disappear. “It’s a tough question to answer,” says Stiteler. “It depends on the developers we attract.” But, he says, “Tucson is so fiercely loyal to locals.” “I think it’s important that we keep our local flavor—that’s one of the biggest selling points of downtown,” says Kathleen Eriksen. “But if a larger chain were to come in and want to open up on an anchor corner, that would provide a lot of stability for downtown. And it would send the message to entrepreneurs, more local businesses, that—hey, this is a safe place to open up. The AC Marriott? It gives you credibility.” So does an employer like Caterpillar, says Stiteler. In May of 2016, Caterpillar Inc.—the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment—announced it would locate its regional headquarters in downtown Tucson, aided by $52 million in support from Rio Nuevo. “Without that, none of our dreams are realized for downtown having this stable growth and opportunity—if you don’t have employers who are willing to commit to your community, specifically to your downtown,” he says. Although some Caterpillar employees are temporarily working in a building on Congress, the company’s headquarters will eventually occupy a 200,000-squarefoot complex in the Mercado district on the west side of downtown—thus fulfilling the original promise of the streetcar to expand downtown’s reach. “The biggest challenge we face is everything west of the freeway,” says McCusker. “It’s the moon.” He anticipates that the Caterpillar headquarters—and its 600 110  May/June 2017

Scenes from downtown and a night on Congress Street. (Clockwise from top left): Batch Café & Bar; Kathleen Eriksen, the CEO of the Downtown Tucson Partnership; Hydra Tucson; Club Congress.

employees—will start to change that. Already the Mercado San Agustín has broken ground on the MSA Annex, which will feature more than a dozen local stores and restaurants housed in modified shipping containers. And many of the housing units projected for downtown will be located on the west side. Some neighborhood residents have expressed concern. “Rio Nuevo was intended to be of cultural significance to the west side. The Convento, the Mission Garden,” Barrio Kroeger Lane resident Josefina Cárdenas told the Tucson Weekly. “What historical, traditional, cultural component does a company like Caterpillar have to offer us?” The question remains: Who is downtown for? What is the correct balance between the multiplicity required to avoid monoculture and the economic development needed to support a city? Patricia Schwabe recalls advice Chris Bianco once gave her about finding tenants: “When somebody is telling you, ‘Oh, I want to open a restaurant and the food is going to be kind of Asian or kind of Italian. That ‘kind of’ is a bad beginning,” she says. “We want people that have a stubborn and clear vision for what they want to do.” “We had this idea to do, kind of this rum Tiki Caribbean food sort of thing,” says 47 Scott’s Reese about the concept behind Saint House Island Bistro and Rum Bar. They were initially going to use half the space at 256 E. Congress; as the project morphed, they took on more and more space. Their plans became more and more ambitious. “The project got away from us,” says Reese. “We spent more on furniture than we wanted. Then the price point of the food had to be higher. It didn’t feel like a Tiki bar. It didn’t make you feel like you were in the Caribbean. We just missed the mark.” Reese adds: “You don’t want to overbuild. That’s a huge lesson for us. Be good and busy and small.” The advice might well apply to downtown Tucson, too.  Megan Kimble is the editor of Edible Baja Arizona and the author of Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food.

edible Baja Arizona 


112  May/June 2017


Skills for self-sufficient living & eating

Two Flowers to Eat Celebrating summer by harvesting squash blossoms and artichokes. By Amy Belk | Illustrations by Adela Antoinette


e love them fried, stuffed with cheese, baked,

steamed, and in our soups or salads. Squash blossoms are every bit as delicious and almost as versatile as the fruit that they father. I say “father” because most of the squash blossoms that make it to our mouths are male flowers. Female flowers are just as edible as their male counterparts, and some say more flavorful, but they’re often left on the plant to produce fruit so that we can have our blossoms and eat squash, too. If your plants are already producing a glut of fruit, harvest some female flowers for a taste-test of your own. In this case, try some of the flowers with the immature fruit attached—you won’t be disappointed. Female squash blossoms are easily distinguished from the males once you know what to look for. The male flowers often bloom first, appearing on long, thin stalks that twine through the plant’s foliage toward its outer boundaries. Female flowers are generally larger and grow on shorter, thicker stalks that are closer to the plant’s center. The stalks of male flowers are the same thickness from the base of the flower to where the stalk attaches at the stem, whereas a distinctive bulge is often visible where the female flower attaches to its stalk.

You can also see the dead giveaway of a tiny squash beginning to develop at the base of the older female flowers. An immature fruit can be enjoyed along with its blossom, but it won’t continue to develop on the plant if the flower is harvested. Eat the blossom and fruit now or leave them both on the plant to make a mature fruit. You’ll want to leave female flowers and at least a few of the males for a good squash harvest later on. If you can’t tell males from females from the characteristics mentioned above, you can put on your botanist hat and take a peek into the flowers themselves. In the center of each blossom there will be one of two structures: something that looks almost like a little flower with several structures growing around a central opening (the stigma, a female flower organ), or a single structure that looks something like a mascara brush (the anther, a male flower organ). There you have it: your next great party trick. Harvesting blossoms just before or just after they open is ideal. If left too long on the plant, the flower’s texture can change, and the petals become even more tissue-like and hard to work with. Cut the stem about an inch below the flower to leave yourself an easy handle. Give each flower a little shake and make sure that any

edible Baja Arizona 


insects inside the blossom have a chance to escape while you’re still out in the garden. Blossoms that were harvested before they were open can be cleaned and prepared by gently teasing the petals apart with a toothpick. Because the smallest amounts of pollen have the potential to cause an allergic reaction in those with sensitive pollen allergies, the structure in the center of each blossom that distinguishes male from female (anther or stigma) is often removed before cleaning. Wash and dry your blossoms and use them immediately for the best flavor, or wrap them in a damp paper towel, put them in a plastic bag, and store them in the refrigerator for a few days. The most commonly encountered squash blossom at farmers’ markets, grocers, and in restaurants is zucchini, although all squash blossoms (summer and winter varieties) are fair game. Smaller blossoms are easier to fry; larger ones are easier to stuff. Zucchini’s medium-size blooms work well for either treatment, but they’re not the only squash blossoms you should be eating. When you try a new kind of squash, make sure to sample the blossoms, too. Another flower that we enjoy eating is the artichoke. Technically, it’s the bud that we harvest, well before the large purple or white flower opens. The fleshy bits that we love to dip in butter and scrape onto our tongues are not leaves or petals but bracts, with tender pieces of the artichoke heart at their bases. Bracts are different from the plant’s true leaves, and they generally serve another purpose. In some plants they help attract pollinators, while in others they may offer the bud protection from bruising or extreme temperatures. 116  May/June 2017

In the case of the artichoke, a stout thorn adorns the tip of each thick bract, making it clear that the plant’s bracts serve to protect the developing flower. They’ll become tough like the armor they’re meant to be as the bud develops. For more of the tender, meaty bits, it’s best to harvest artichoke buds early when they’re still tightly closed, before the bracts begin to separate. Harvesting time begins in early spring across much of Baja Arizona. Warmer temperatures may have given some of us an early start this year, and those at higher elevations may still be eagerly watching buds develop. Once they’ve bloomed, they often take a rest and go dormant through the hottest months of summer. If you’ve made room for one or more of these giant thistles in your garden then you already know what a statement they can make. An artichoke plant can reach about four feet tall by six feet wide with long, spiny, silvery green leaves that arch gracefully from its center. Each plant has the potential to sprout several flowering stalks that will yield several artichokes per stalk. Seeds are sown outdoors in fall or indoors in the winter, and most of us plant new starts or crowns in February or March (though you can plant them in fall to get a jump on spring growth if freezing isn’t a concern in your garden). It’s possible to get a modest harvest the first year, and each plant will keep producing for several more years. In our climate, artichokes are perennials that produce well for four to seven years, but most plants will need to be divided every few years, after new artichoke plants start to sprout up around the original plant. To divide, separate the little offshoots from the mother plant once they’re around eight inches tall. Push a shovel

straight down into the soil between the mother plant and the sprout to separate them, and then straight down into the soil in a circle around the sprout. Try to avoid disturbing the roots of the mother plant as much as possible, but get as much of the sprout’s roots as you can. Replant the sprout in another garden bed or in a container to share with a friend. The showy artichoke flowers and the pollinators that they attract help to alleviate the sting of a missed bud harvest. Artichokes are in the aster family, which means that they’re cousins of the sunflowers, and they bear huge thistle-type flowers that reach up to seven inches in diameter. Those of you still wearing your botanist hats might be interested to know that, like other plants in the aster family, the large “flower” that you’re admiring is actually a cluster of many small flowers on a flat flower head. Each purple or white tube of the thistle is an individual flower capable of producing its own seed. When we’re preparing to cook an artichoke, the “choke” that we remove from the center is the group of undeveloped flowers that would bloom if the bud were left on the plant. Although the flowers are fun to see, keep in mind that allowing an artichoke plant to flower will reduce its eagerness to develop new buds, so forgoing the flowers will help you keep the food production going. You’ll likely be rewarded with a second harvest in fall if you can remove the flowers before they start to produce seed. Gardeners in our part of the country are often excited when they hear about how heat- and drought-tolerant the artichoke plant is. It’s true that this Mediterranean native prefers full sun, unless you’re growing them in the lower elevations of Baja

Arizona, where they’re a little happier through the summer if they get some afternoon shade. It’s also true that the artichoke doesn’t need much water to produce some buds, but you’ll get a higher yield of buds with more tender bracts and hearts if you give your artichoke plants a good, deep drink on a regular basis. Plants that must be tough to survive will produce tougher buds, and fewer of them. Besides giving them a fair amount of space and a moderate amount of water, it’s a good idea to make sure your artichokes have adequate drainage. They don’t mind regular moisture, but they don’t like to sit in soggy soil for too long. Test the drainage of a particular spot before installing new plants by filling the planting hole with water, letting the water drain away completely, and then filling it up at least one more time. If it takes longer than a day for the water to drain away after the second or third fill then you’ve got a drainage problem, so it’s best to pick a different spot if the drainage can’t be improved. Mulch your plants well to protect their roots if your garden gets cold in the winter, or grow them as an annual if you’re at a higher elevation that experiences longer periods of freezing temperatures. All you need are 90 to 100 frost-free days to make at least a few tasty buds.  Amy Belk is a garden writer and photographer, a certified arborist, and a certified nursery professional who has been learning from her garden for 16 years. She and her husband homestead on a little piece of the desert in the heart of Tucson.

edible Baja Arizona 


118  May/June 2017


Rain to Table Part 2 of a 3-part series.

Growing native plants—and native foods —with rainwater. By Lisa Shipek Illustrations by Adela Antoinette


nstalling a rain garden should be a rite of passage for

living in the Sonoran Desert. When you do, you’ll transition from a city dweller to a desert dweller taking part in the intricate web of water, soil, plants, and wildlife that make our desert community distinct. Someday soon, rain gardens will be the essential, basic infrastructure of any landscape in Baja Arizona. If you install a rain garden in your yard today, you may be the first on your street. But then sit back and watch other basins, berms, and swales pop up, at neighbors’ and friends’ yards. The water-harvesting mania catches on quickly, and for good reason. It makes sense, and we get instant gratification when rainfall soaks into our basins to grow lush native gardens. If you take a walk in the Sonoran Desert, you will see a rich diversity of trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and groundcovers

thriving in a wild setting. These plants grow on rainfall alone. Picture your yard. What native diversity could thrive on rainwater? Rain gardens provide the structure for water to be captured and naturally irrigate your plants. It is the most inexpensive and practical form of water harvesting, so it’s a great starting point. Rain gardens are also an effective way to harness rainfall to grow native edibles and tap into local abundance for your table. I’ll give you some basic pointers in this article. To learn more, consider attending a rainwater harvesting rebate class with Watershed Management Group or Pima County Cooperative Extension/Smartscape Program. By attending this class you also qualify to receive Tucson Water’s rainwater rebate—up to $500 for rain gardens.

edible Baja Arizona 


There are four basic principles to keep in mind when planning a rain garden: 1. Rain gardens need plants to work. 2. Rain gardens need mulch. Organic is best. 3. Make ’em big! Capture as much water as possible. Your soil can store a lot of water. 4. Rain gardens should reduce your water use, not increase it. Plants are a functional element of rain gardens, just like the soil, mulch, and structural rocks or pipes. In order to infiltrate rainwater, you need plant roots in the ground to create space for the water to move through the soil. They create a living system in concert with the soil, organic materials, and microbes, also known as the soil food web. Landscaping with native plants is a great way to increase wildlife habitat and extend the Sonoran Desert into the urban environment. But in the spirt of our theme, Rain to Table, let’s step it up and choose native plants to create a food forest. You can have your shade and eat it, too. Plant a mix of native shade trees with edible beans or pods (velvet mesquite, blue palo verde, desert ironwood). Then plant your midstory shrubs featuring plants like wolfberry, desert hackberry, chiltepin,

120  May/June 2017

oreganillo, and cholla. Fill in your groundcovers with native wildflowers to add color and fun. Native bunch grasses are an important plant to place in basins. Though not edible, they help create a porous, organic soil to soak up and infiltrate with their dense root system, and they don’t mind being flooded by water. If you do nothing else, use organic mulch in your yard and apply liberally. The mulch is an important element in a rain garden, helping protect the soil from erosion, reducing evaporation of moisture in the soil, and adding organic material into the soil. The best organic mulch is what is produced at your own house, from your own plants. So start by allowing organic material to stay on your soil and prune materials and drop them in your basins. You can also get free organic material from tree-trimming companies or purchase it from local companies like Tank’s Green Stuff. Make those basins big. This doesn’t just mean deep. You want them to have substantial capacity so you can make them broad as well. Basins will fill in with organic debris, so you’ll want to make them larger so they have substantial capacity over time. There will often be more water than your basin can handle, so you need to plan for safe, controlled overflow. Make sure to direct your overflow if possible to another landscape area, instead of a hardscape or the street.

Finally, one of the main purposes of a rain garden is to reduce water consumption. By harvesting rain, you can irrigate your plants with rainwater instead of municipal water or well water. When you first add plants, they will need more regular irrigation to get established. Consider a temporary irrigation system, instead of investing in a drip irrigation system that stays on indefinitely. Time the planting of your rain garden in the fall to benefit from winter rains for establishment. The good news is rain gardens are affordable to install. At the most basic, you can create the rain gardens yourself by hand-digging. Find a source for free organic mulch and you can save money with native seed mixes or bartering for plants. Of course, if you have a budget, you can hire a contractor. There are a handful of great companies in Baja Arizona that can design and build a native rain garden for you. But whether you do it yourself or hire a contractor, you should know the basics, to make sure it’s done right. This is the second article of our Rain to Table series. If you missed the first article, visit to learn about local water budgeting and join the Rain to Table campaign at Using a simple local water budget calculator, you can determine how much rain you can harvest at home to plant your own rain garden. 

Passive Rainwater Harvesting: Earthworks 101 Basin: An earthen depression designed to collect and infiltrate rainwater. Berm: A raised earthen mound, often crescent shape, laid on contour, designed to slow surface runoff and increase infiltration. Swale: An elongated earthen depression with a shallow slope designed to infiltrate and transport rainwater runoff. Mulch: Material used as a surface cover for soil to reduce erosion and evaporation. Organic mulch is made up of plant materials, and inorganic mulch is usually made of rock. Native plant: A plant that is indigenous or naturalized to a region over a given period of time. Inlet: Where rainwater enters earthworks. Overflow: Where rainwater exits earthworks when full.

Lisa Shipek is the executive director of Watershed Management Group.

edible Baja Arizona 


The Power of Permaculture Since 1993, the Sonoran Permaculture Guild has taught permaculture design, practice, and big-picture ecological thinking. By Dennis Newman | Photography by Julius Schlosburg


tanding on the patio at the offices of the Sonoran Permaculture Guild, it’s hard to imagine that this place was once a poster child for urban blight. Today, it’s a living landscape of mature desert shade trees, edible plants, a garden, plus solar and water harvesting systems. But as Dan Dorsey, the manager of the Sonoran Permaculture Guild, leads a pair of visitors through the property, he paints a very different picture of what it was like here a quarter century ago. Except for a run-down slump-block home, this was a barren lot when Dorsey acquired it in 1993. Nothing grew here except for a few weeds. It didn’t help that the yard had become a neighborhood dumping ground. Some of the soil was so contaminated with discarded motor oil it had to be dug up and removed. Then there were the two abandoned cars out back, one of them occupied by a neighborhood drug dealer. Dorsey vividly remembers knocking on the window one morning and telling the dealer it was time to take his business elsewhere. When it rained, water rushed in from the back alley, down a gulch, and all the way to the street out front. The erosion undercut a corner of the house and left it exposed in midair. Where most of us would see problems, Dorsey saw solutions. “I was thinking, wow, I sure am glad all that water is running in from the alley. It could certainly be put to use to restore the place,” he says. Which is how the future home of the Sonoran Permaculture Guild became one of the group’s earliest projects, a way to demonstrate the transforming powers of permaculture design. The roots of permaculture were planted in Australia during the 1970s. Founders Bill Mollison and David Holmgren coined the term from the words permanent and agriculture. They were alarmed by 122  May/June 2017

modern farming practices, which in their view, inflicted serious damage on the environment. Mollison and Holmgren believed that by studying ecosystems and working with nature instead of against it, they could design a sustainable method of agriculture. Later they expanded the concept to include any human habitat as well as social systems such as finance and zoning. What makes permaculture different from other approaches to sustainability is that it’s grounded in three ethics: care of the earth, care of people, and fair share, a commitment to recycling and reusing resources for the benefit of everyone. While solar power, harvesting rainwater, gardening, and other sustainable techniques are part of permaculture design, the goal is something bigger. By studying natural patterns like wind direction and the movement of the sun, students learn how to create a plan that incorporates all these methods so they work together synergistically. “They’ll hear about solar panels, they’ll hear about gardening, they’ll hear about digging swales. There’s nothing wrong with that,” says Dorsey. “The problem is that a lot of people stop there and they don’t get the big picture. What permaculture has to offer is the big picture based on ecology and how things actually work. “Nature has had billions of years to work this out. Maybe it’d be a good idea to study these principles and mimic them in our own human settlements.” Over 25 years, the Sonoran Permaculture Guild has grown to include more than a dozen instructors leading workshops on permaculture design, solar power, water harvesting, growing your own food, Dan Dorsey is the manager of the Sonoran Permaculture Guild, which offers five-week courses on permaculture design twice a year, as well as ongoing workshops.


beekeeping, aquaponics, natural building methods, and introduction to permaculture. Classes are held at locations across Baja Arizona. Lately, Dorsey says more people, especially young people, are coming out of a sense of despair. He says they see what’s happening in politics, to the environment, and seek tangible solutions. “It’s an extremely dysfunctional society and I think people feel that somewhere on a deep level,” he says. “To get reconnected to these patterns and to realize you can use them to do an effective design that’s going to save you money, that’s going to make your life more comfortable, that’s going to be a more pleasant place to live. With all these things stacked in it, a light bulb goes on.” Dorsey shows his visitors the outdoor ramada that serves as a classroom. There’s also a separate office, made from straw bales and adobe, sunk four feet into the ground to moderate Tucson’s extreme differences in temperatures. When it rains, water still comes pouring in from the alley. But instead of rushing across the property, a series of swales and basins capture the water so that it seeps back into the soil and nurtures the gardens, shrubs, and trees. Dorsey reminds his guests that this renewal took a long time. It began with a 15-year plan that evolved over the years. His vision for Baja Arizona is that many of us will look to permaculture to transform the places where we live, work, and play. “We don’t need to invent anything else to take care of our problems,” he says. “The message of permaculture is that you can start right where you are. Start designing and then doing something. It’s a very optimistic message.” The Sonoran Permaculture Guild offers five-week courses on permaculture design twice a year, during the spring in Tucson and during the fall in Phoenix. One-day workshops are held throughout the year.  For more information, visit the Sonoran Permaculture Guild at or contact Dan Dorsey at Dennis Newman is a freelance writer from Tucson who has written extensively about farming and how crops become food and beverages. When Dan Dorsey acquired the property that became the headquarters of the Sonoran Permaculture Guild, it was a barren lot. Today, it contains an educational center focusing on permaculture and renewable energy. 124  May/June 2017

edible Baja Arizona 


Farm Report By Rachel Wehr • Photography by Liora K


ay and J une are some of the hottest and driest months of the year in Baja Arizona. “It’s been pretty warm these last couple of months, so things have been growing faster,” says Gabriel Montoya of In the Beginning Farms. While limited rainfall and direct sunlight offer some challenges, the heat also encourages growth. The arrival of spring varies highly throughout the region based on elevation and climate. In the Beginning Farms is located in Hereford in Cochise County, on four acres of sandy loam soil by the San Pedro River. “The last frost here is usually somewhere in April, but you never know,” says Montoya. Comparatively, the last frost date in central Tucson is weeks earlier, around mid-March. For Montoya, growing in variable conditions is all about the process. In May and June, 200 to 300 tomato starts planted inside in April will be planted in the ground. Thin plastic is then spread over the plants to warm the soil and reflect UV light. Last, the plants are covered in shade cloth draped over metal hoops. “If I do it all right, I’m planning on having tomatoes by the end of May,” says Montoya. May marks the beginning of the garlic harvest. “I planted 300 pounds, so I hope to harvest 800 to 1,000 pounds of garlic,” says Montoya. In the Beginning Farms will grow lush fields of bush beans, heirloom summer squash, okra, melons, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, sweet peppers, and purple tomatoes throughout May and June. “Most people quit growing lettuce in the summer because it’s too hot, but I’ve found a way,” says Montoya. “I order

126  May/June 2017

shade cloth and use heat-tolerant varieties, so I basically have lettuce year-round.” Lettuce typically goes to seed under hot conditions. Montoya also plants red lettuce varieties, which he says are more heat resistant. Squash, sweet onions, green beans, and some of the first tomatoes, specifically cherry tomatoes, will be sold at market in May and June. In the Beginning Farms sells at the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market and the Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park. For Cathy Mead of Cochise Family Farm, May and June are spent harvesting peaches and berries. The farm’s 12 varieties of peaches ripen at two-week intervals, stretching the fruit’s season through the summer. Blackberries, golden raspberries, red raspberries, and black raspberries will also be fruiting. Cochise Family Farms, a 40-acre working farm at an elevation of around 4,500 feet, has 600 apple, peach, pear, plum, and pomegranate trees, three acres of purple asparagus, and 15 acres of ground crops. “Most of our time is spent mowing and weeding because we don’t use chemicals to kill weeds,” says Mead. Grass and weeds are cut back to reduce the risk of fire and snakes. Ground crops grown at Cochise Family Farm include purple carrots, purple potatoes, purple rutabagas, pattypan squash, zephyr squash, zucchinis, lemon and pickling cucumbers, dill, summer squash, cantaloupes, and watermelon. “Asparagus will go into full effect in April and will continue through May and June,” says Mead. “We will harvest 100 pounds in morning and 100 pounds at night.” The farm will also be baking cobblers and

pies in a newly approved country kitchen. Pattypan, zephyr and spaghetti squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, purple asparagus, carrots, cucumbers, potatoes, purple beans, sweet peas, shelled peas, and green beans will be ready to harvest on the farm by the end of June. Cochise Family Farm sells at the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market, the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market, and the Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park and Oro Valley. Maggie’s Farm, a greenhouse and hydroponic farm in Marana, faces different challenges in the warm months of May and June. “We use evaporative cooling, which is common in the Southwest for cooling greenhouses,” says Stacy Tollefson, the manager of Maggie’s Farm. Large exhaust fans pull air through cooling pads on each end of the farm’s 11 greenhouses, while horizontal air flow fans circulate air within the structure. Maggie’s Farm will grow lettuce and leafy greens in a raft system throughout the summer. In this hydroponic system, porous net pots holding lightweight seedlings are floated in Styrofoam rafts with plant roots reaching into nutrient-rich water. Varieties include green leaf, red leaf and butter crunch lettuce, bok choy, dill, basil, and Swiss chard. Kale, beets, nasturtium, and purple amaranth will be grown in the ground. Maggie’s Farm grows cucumbers, eggplant, and tomatoes out of the crop greenhouse in May and June. The farm will be planting a whole new greenhouse of tomatoes in May, including cherry, Roma, and beefsteak tomatoes. Maggie’s Farm also produces oyster mushrooms year-round. Tollefson has gained experience in hydroponics and mushroom production as a professor at the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, and she transfers that knowledge over to Maggie’s. Farm duties include weekly pruning and harvesting of tomatoes and peppers, caring for field crops, feeding and harvesting lettuce in the raft system, making bags of mushroom substrate, harvesting mushrooms, and sporadically planting. Find Maggie’s Farm at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market. They also sell to restaurants including Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain, Canyon Ranch, and Tohono Chul Garden Bistro.  Rachel Wehr is a Tucson-based freelance journalist. She spends her free time in nature among cactus and pines.

128  May/June 2017

edible Baja Arizona 


salsa Six Ways Text and Photography by Jackie Alpers


be measured by the integrity of its salsa? If so, Tucson succeeds to the highest order.   There are recipes that have been passed down for more than five generations in this city that has only officially been part of the United States for a little more than a hundred years.  Salsa is part of Baja Arizona’s collective identity. Baja Arizona has an eclectic heritage and its evolution from Native American, to Spanish, to Mexican, to U.S. occupancy has inf luenced the cuisine of this region in many ways. Salsa remains a staple. The Spaniards (who had never seen a tomato before arriving in the Americas) first encountered a sauce made with chiles and tomatoes when the Cortez expedition conquered the Aztecs in the early 1500s. The rest of the world leaned about salsa (the Spanish word for sauce) from the writings of a Franciscan friar named Bernardino de Sahagún who lived with the Aztecs for more than 60 years, documenting their food and culture. Europeans brought the cilantro, along with other herbs and spices not native to the New World, and time, necessity, and creativity contributed to salsas common today. So, what makes it salsa? Chiles for sure. Tomatoes mostly, but not always. Onions and garlic usually. And tomatillos or other fruit, on occasion. Maybe some citrus or vinegar. It’s not a lot of ingredients, so the devil is in the details. The chiles hould a town

130  May/June 2017

can be raw, or roasted, or grilled. Tomatoes, fresh or canned. Green, white, or red onions … or scallions. When I first moved to Tucson from Ohio in 1993, one of the first adventures I went on with my husband-to-be was a quest for salsa. We scoured the isles of the new-to-us Southwest Supermarket searching for brands we’d never seen before. When we asked a Spanish-speaking woman standing next to us what brand she preferred, she said, “I like Pace.” Pace is perfectly fine, but we wanted something a little more … local. And we eventually found it. In the deli section, actually. They had the best fire-roasted pico de gallo salsa I’d ever had. Southwest Supermarkets are gone now, but amazing salsa remains a constant in Baja Arizona restaurants and taquerias, markets and homes. I’ve collected a selection of salsa recipes from local chefs and salsa artisans. There are classic salsas from two of Tucson’s oldest Mexican restaurants, El Charro and Lerua’s; a farm-fresh salsa using locally harvested cholla buds and saguaro seeds from Bean Tree Farm; a roasted pico de gallo from Adela Durazo’s Poco Loco Specialty Salsas, a favorite local farmers’ market vendor; a classic red blended salsa from Penca Restaurante; and a blackberry salsa from the new wave salsa queen, Maria Mazón of Boca Tacos.  I found the tortilla chips pictured with this article at Tortilleria Arevalo, a farmers’ market stand conveniently located right next to Durazo’s. 

Penca’s House Salsa Penca’s salsa is so addictive that people claim to drink it like some kind of chunky veggie smoothie. It’s a classic blended red salsa with a medium kick of heat.


1 32-ounce can diced roasted tomatoes 2 poblano peppers 3 jalapeño peppers 2 serrano peppers 3 habanero peppers 1 yellow onion 3 garlic cloves

1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped, about ½ cup 1 chipotle pepper 1/4 cup of blended oil 2 tablespoons lime juice 2 tablespoons crushed Mexican oregano Salt and pepper, to taste


Toss peppers, onions, chilies, and garlic in oil, salt, and pepper. Spread on a sheet pan and roast for 20 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Salt and pepper to taste. Combine with the rest of the ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse. The salsa should still be lumpy, not liquefied.

Charro Steak’s Oven Roasted Salsa The Flores family has been serving salsa since El Charro opened downtown in 1922. This version comes from their newest endeavor, Charro Steak. As you might expect, based on the source, this salsa pairs exceptionally well with grilled meats.


1 16-ounce can crushed tomatoes 3 fresh Roma tomatoes 1 onion 2 jalapeño peppers 4 cloves of garlic 1 cup of water 1 tablespoon salt 1/4 cup cilantro


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roast the Roma tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and garlic for 1 hour, or until black. Pull out of the oven and let cool. Combine crushed tomatoes, roasted vegetables, water, salt and cilantro in a food processor and blend until smooth. You can do this in batches if your food processor is too small. Refrigerate overnight. Stays fresh for one week.

edible Baja Arizona 


Chef Maria’s Boca Blackberry Salsa At Boca Tacos, Chef Maria Mazón serves up a selection of up to six unique and ever-changing salsas each day. I watched her invent this spicy-sweet blackberry salsa in mere minutes.

Ingredients: 2 4 1 1 1

pints of fresh blackberries dry or fresh habanero peppers tablespoon of honey cup of fresh orange juice  tablespoon of canola oil Salt, pepper, and garlic powder (to taste)


Sauté the blackberries in canola oil over medium heat until softened. Stir in the remaining ingredients and season to taste. Remove from heat, let cool, then blend all the ingredients in a food processor or blender. Enjoy with a grilled chicken or steak.

Durazo’s Poco Loco Roasted Green Chile Pico De Gallo Every year around this time chile roasters show up outside grocery store entrances and in the parking lot of farmers’ markets. If they aren’t available preroasted, chilies are now available in the frozen foods section of most grocery stores as well.

132  May/June 2017


1 pound roasted green chilies, diced (mild or hot) 10-12 firm Roma tomatoes, depending on size, diced 2 large bunches of cilantro, diced (if small bunches, make it three) 2 large red onions, diced (three if medium) 2 bunches of green

onions, diced 1 32-ounce bottle of white vinegar 3 tablespoons of black ground pepper 9 tablespoons salt


Combine and let sit in refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Before draining, give it a good stir, then drain in a colander to remove the liquid. Put in a container and serve or store in refrigerator in a sealed container until serving. Will keep in refrigerator up to three weeks.

edible Baja Arizona 


Cholla Bud Salsa from Bean Tree Farm Hearty cholla buds add a bit of heft to this salsa, and native seeds add some crunch. Aloysia (oreganillo, or little oregano) is a tasty aromatic desert herb that thrives at Bean Tree Farm. A great plant for your desert garden, it’s available at Desert Survivors nursery, a source for many other desert edible plants. Dried cholla buds are sometimes available at the San Xavier Co-op Farm and Native Seeds/SEARCH. If you want to use fresh cholla buds and barrel cactus seeds, you’ll need to learn how to harvest them yourself, which you can do through Desert Harvesters.


1 cup cholla buds 1 medium onion, chopped 2-3 cloves garlic, minced 1 quart (32 ounces) chopped fresh or canned tomatoes 1/2 cup kombucha 1 cup cilantro, chopped 1/4 cup barrel cactus seeds, optional 1/8 cup chia seeds 1/2 cup citrus juice of your choice 1-2 teaspoons aloysia (or herbs of your choice) 2-4 tablespoons prickly pear (or other) vinegar, or to taste 2-4 tablespoons minced chiles, fresh, dried, or roasted; hot or medium—your choice Salt and pepper, to taste


If you are using dried cholla buds, rehydrate according to package instructions. Roast the buds at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until slightly brown, firm, and chewy. Let cool, then chop coarsely. Soak chia in citrus juice for approximately 15 minutes or until the chia seeds have softened. Add salt and vinegar to onions and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. When chia has softened, combine with the rest of the ingredients and let stand 15 minutes or more. Taste and adjust flavors. Will keep refrigerated for a week or longer—the kombucha will continue to lacto-ferment the salsa. Add sour cream, strained kefir, or yogurt for a great dip.

134  May/June 2017

Lerua’s Salsa Mexicana Lerua’s chef and co-owner Mike Hultquist Jr. says, “This recipe was started by my grandmother Carmen Hultquist when she purchased Lerua’s. She wanted to use tomatoes year-round, but they would can tomatoes to have when they weren’t available. So this recipe was made using what she had on hand. The most important part of the salsa is using the natural juices that come from the tomatoes as well as the juice that is created. Using canned tomatoes means you have more juice, which makes this salsa much more delicious than a salsa bandera or a pico de gallo. (Which is why, in those cases, people usually add tomato juice).”


1 16-ounce jar of peeled and deseeded diced tomatoes (with juice) 1 16-ounce jar fireroasted green chiles 1 bunch of cilantro, chopped (approximately 1 cup) 1 bundle of scallions, chopped (approximately 1 cup) Chile powder (preferably from Santa Cruz Chili Company), to taste Black pepper, to taste Sea salt, to taste Garlic powder, to taste 


Combine diced tomatoes and roasted green chiles. Mix in chopped cilantro and spices. Let sit in the refrigerator for an hour or more to let the flavors meld before serving. “The longer time sitting the better it will taste,” says Hultquist. Use within five days.  Jackie Alpers is an award-winning professional food photographer and cookbook author based in Tucson. She is a contributor to publications including the, NPR, National Geographic, and

edible Baja Arizona 


f o L o h c c al Hoppin r a e S ni ess The Baja Brews pro

ject is a year-long collaboration between the region's craft brewers and Edible Ba ja Arizona. Explore, celebrate, and taste Baja Arizona's extra ordinary craft beer in the last of this six-part series . Drink local!

Tasting events will feature local breweries using a different indigenous ingredient to create a special small batch. Drink beer and help benefit innovative nonprofit organizations working for food security. The final event is June 11. See p. 149 for more information. Sponsored by VISIT TUCSON and the ARIZONA CRAFT BREWERS GUILD

edible Baja Arizona 



to taste beer before it even touches your lips. Your eyes, first, take in the color, the head, the bubbles. Then your nose picks up the aromatics, the bitterness, the bouquet. And then where it all melts together—in the mouth, up the sinus, down the gullet. Taste is like love—a concatenation of factors combining to form an unexplainable totality that we, yet, strive to explain. “So are you to my thoughts as food to life,” Shakespeare wrote. To taste a beer (or whatever else you might put into your mouth) is to engage in such an extremely complex chemoreceptive/neurological process it might best be explained—in these pages, and by a nonscientist—as an act of magic. Taste, in the evolutionary sense, developed so that humans could distinguish between nutrient rich foods and rancid foods. This was before Nutritional Facts were printed on labels; it was before labels at all. I’ve spent the last year learning about (aka drinking) beer, writing this Baja Brews series about Baja Arizona breweries. I liked beer before I started writing, but I like pretty much everything I eat and drink. My palate never seemed able to distinguish or explain as much as it simply savored. Even as a writer—afloat in a sea of delicious descriptors—I’ve always had trouble explaining taste. Good food tasted … good. Great food tasted … great. And beer and wine pretty much just went down the hatch. And though often a dish would surprise, or a beer would delight, my satisfaction wouldn’t get articulated with much more nuance than “Mmm-mmm.” But then, in a sort of muscular meditation, I slowed my guzzling, swirled before swallowing, squeezed my eyes shut, and really tried to taste. And I’ve improved. I’ve learned a lot of new vocabulary. And yet, though I can now smell the difference between East and West Coast IPAs, and I can sometimes pick out notes of cacao, grapefruit pith, or wild esters, I still often forget, tilt my head back, and simply go mmm.

ou begin

eXerciSe youR palAte After a year of beer, learning how to really and truly taste. By John Washington | Photography by Jeff Smith

edible Baja Arizona 


Bad beers can taste stale, catty, papery, worty. They can taste like an electrical fire or butter popcorn. Good beer can have notes of gooseberry, mandarin, passion flower, or bananas.

Not just barley water: adding additional ingredients like dried hibiscus flowers, Colorado blue spruce tips, and Oregon chanterelle mushrooms influences the final taste of a beer.

ohn A dkisson , of Iron John’s Brewing Company, cupped his hand over the top of his glass and sniffed. “There’s a sweetness behind the hops,” he said, as if he were an investigator teasing out a suspect’s motive. I was sitting in the Iron John’s taproom, with Adkisson walking me through a PowerPoint presentation called “What the Hell Am I Drinking?” Sniffing, swirling, and sniffing again, we slow-sipped from a small pitcher of Iron John’s Pedro IPA. I was trying to mimic his sniff-and-sip motions, trying to smell and taste what he was smelling and tasting. Adkisson on his Pedro IPA: “The bitter hops are the primary component, but the malt sweetness is right there with it.” He described the beer’s “pleasant texture” that rolled off the tongue, called it “real drinkable,” and described the finish—the tail—as “nice and hoppy.” Adkisson is a certified beer judge, and, as I have reported before, according to his own count,


140  May/June 2017

he has brewed every style of beer that exists. There are about 100 individual styles of beer. But from where comes all the taste? From where spawns the high hop bite or the lip-smacking maltiness, and how does Adkisson, or any of the other brewers in town, find the desired balance between the two? Iron John’s Pedro IPA has seven kinds of hops, including Warrior hops, which, as Adkisson noted, lingered in the tail. But beer taste isn’t just derived from hops, or even just from the other basic beer ingredients—malt, yeast, and water. Additional ingredients, quality control, temperature, light, lautering, and presentation—even the shape of the glass you’re drinking from—are all factors that influence taste. In the Pedro IPA, on top of the seven types of hops, Adkisson also added almond butter to the hot mash, which, as he described, sequestered some of the “cloying sweetness,” rounded the flavors, and added a touch of nut, roastiness, and oil.

that f lavor perception begins with the eyes, but it actually begins in utero. According to a scientific study published in Current Biology, carrots, garlic, and even alcohol can all be tasted by a fetus. (How they are tasting it—carrot-tinged amniotic fluid?—is unclear to me). Given the beautiful complexity of a muscle (the tongue) built simultaneously to shove food down your throat, shape expelled air into vowels, and clean your fingers, also to be able to translate chemicals into taste—a process which took millions of years of evolutionary honing, and which has probably saved your life on at least one occasion (the time you spit out the spoiled chicken)—and also given the care with which brewers, bakers, vintners, and chefs of all kind fine-tune their skills to provide you a tasty slurp or morsel, let this be a call, for anybody who eats or drinks (and that would be all of us) to slow down another beat before you swallow, and to taste. But how do you do that? Start by smelling. The orthonasal olfaction (that’s the yogic in-breath) transports released beer bubbles to your olfactory bulb, a super-sensitive glob smack between the bottom of your brain and the top of your nasal cavity. But it’s not just any sniff you should take. To sniff better, you should sniff like a dog—quick, short, and repeated. This keeps your nasal passage from drying out, however slightly, and diminishing perception. And then you should swirl the beer—just like you swirl wine—and sniff again. Don’t sip yet! You should stare at it first. Try tilting your head, squinting a little, and then nodding. You’re looking for “color, clarity, gas release, and head stability,” according to the Beer


w ro t e

Judge Certification Program. Is there a collar—a white rim of foam at the top of your beer? If you have a moustache, will the foam stick? How stable is the head? Does it descend? How big are the bubbles? How quickly are they rising? Is the beer clear or cloudy? Basically, you want to give a weather report on the atmospheric conditions of your glass. Now smell again. You should be sniffing for three things: the hop nose—the piney, grassy, or citrus scents; the aroma—the malty, wheaty, biscuity, or papery scents; and the bouquet—the fermented sour or funky scents. As much as 80 percent of taste, you may have heard, comes from smell. Ryan Placzek, formerly assistant manager and beer school professor at Tap + Bottle, and currently working at both Pueblo Vida and Dragoon, mentioned to me the advantage beer has over other alcoholic beverages: It’s bubbly, he explained, which means you can smell it more. “A little carbolic acid makes everything sharper on the tongue.” Now, finally, take a sip. When the beer hits your tongue you activate the gustatory system, though you are limited to variations of sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami. (That old taste region map—balkanizing the tongue into taste-specific nation-states—by the way, is all wrong. You taste all tastes all over your tongue.) Now you should exhale through your nose, pulling more flavorful/scentful molecules through the back door and into your nasal cavity. Avery Gilbert, in his book What the Nose Knows, writes, “Humans are a retro-nasal species.” In other words, remember to exhale. You should do this multiple times, sniff and sip, sniff and sip. (If you like the beer, you should do this until the beer is gone.) Scott Petersen of Green Feet Brewing strives for balance in beer.

Beer can taste crisp, dry, juicy, creamy, spicy. It can taste like a wet horse blanket, and that’s not always a bad thing.

edible Baja Arizona 


144  May/June 2017

edible Baja Arizona 


aste ,

our most intimate sense, is all about geography. You can make the same beer recipe in downtown Tucson and in South Tucson, and it will inevitably taste different. I attended Adkisson’s Sour Beer lecture, titled “Infection to Perfection,” at the Hop Shop, which is the first of what David Zugerman, Hop Shop’s co-owner, hopes will be a quarterly lecture series. “Traditionally, taste was tied to location,” Adkisson explained. English beers were brewed with English yeast, English grains, and English hops, and they tasted English. Same with Belgian, Bavarian, and American beers. But taste is intimate not only in the origin of the product, but also in the consumption of it. You can see and hear light and sound from a distance. And you can touch with a swipe or smell with a sniff. But to taste you have to get real close. You actually have to place the object—the tastant—in your mouth. You have to tongue it, suck on it, breathe through it. I sat down with Placzek— I’ve found few people in Tucson who can talk about beer with such insightful vim—at Tap + Bottle to learn to taste better. We shared a flight, and he walked me through what he was tasting in each glass. The first flavor impression Placzek is looking for, he explained, is a flaw: if there’s something wrong with the beer. These are off flavors, which collectively constitute what is commonly known as skunky beer. After determining that there isn’t something wrong, Placzek steps back and does the weather report. My favorite beer we tried was Dragoon’s Unihopper on cask— which means it was served at a slightly warmer temperature, and it


wasn’t as carbonated. It felt like drinking a barley wine, and the taste, hanging around for a while in the back of the mouth, was peachy, slightly malty—like a sugar-light peach syrup with a twist of hops. At one point during our flight a man came up to the bar complaining that a beer smelled weird. It was a Modern Times (a San Diego brewery) Passionfruit and Guava Gose. The bartender stuck his nose in the glass and said that it smelled all right. Placzek dipped his nose, and said that it smelled like salt and passionfruit—spot on. I was watching experts at their trade. I asked for a sniff of the Gose. And I agreed: It smelled … good. Some brewers go for the funky or exotic, showcasing a citric note in the hops, or the sting of a yeast strain. Others, such as Scott Petersen of Green Feet Brewing, strive for balance. Located in the booming craft industrial tastescape close to Dodge and Ajo—where you can enjoy Green Feet, Ten 55, Three Wells Distilling, Yellow Brick Coffee, Iron City Coffee, and (soon) Harbottle Brewing all within skipping distance of each other—Green Feet is one of the handful of breweries to open last year that already seems like a community anchor. In pursuit of balance, even in his IPAs, Petersen wants there to be a malt backbone. And he didn’t want his barrel-aged brown ale to taste too boozy, despite being 7.4 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The Moonshot IPA, however, is what impressed me most at Green Feet. It feels more like an American ale in the mouth, but then the hops seem to blossom from the back of your throat—both refreshing and slightly biting.

Dillinger Brewing Company’s Eric Sipe (left) and Eric Rosas have been brewing out of their north side location since New Year’s Eve.

Beer can taste like stone fruits, vegetables, or grass. It can taste like goat’s ass, an orchestra performing on a midsummer’s night, a Springsteen song. 146  May/June 2017

D illinger B r ew ing C ompan y , Eric Sipe and Eric Rosas (both Tucson natives) along with John Ritter, have been brewing out of their north side location since New Year’s Eve. Their best seller has been their Serrano Seduction, a wheat ale brewed with serrano peppers and Hatch green chiles, which is less spicy than you might think, and tastes, as Sipe described, like “a green corn tamale” in a glass. I sipped on a Serrano Seduction as I sat next to two first time Dillinger patrons, Morgan Zerbe and Amanda Marchioni. I asked them to try to describe the taste of Serrano Seduction for me without using the word pepper. We all put our heads together, and struggled: “At first you know you’re drinking beer,” Marchioni said. “And then,” Zerbe added, “that pop of flavor.” It was something “vegetal,” we decided together, sharp on the tongue. The tastiest of Dillinger’s beers is their Public Enemy Imperial Stout. “I’m a stout drinker,” Sipe admitted. “I like the super viscous ones.” Ritter, who won a gold medal for a similar recipe at the Great American Beer Festival in the ’90s, uses black malt to give the stout a smoky, almost charred flavor, which pairs nicely, according to Sipe, with a cigar. The flavors in this beer are complex, round, deeply and darkly fruity—imagine figs and plums under the blanket of night. If you think fancy descriptions of wine and beer are all highbrow hogwash, you are not alone, but you are wrong. The human world is constructed around vision, not olfaction and gustation,

A t

but that doesn’t mean our capacity to taste is meager—it’s just not exercised enough. Mary Roach, in her book Gulp, wonders why it’s so hard for a lot of people to find words for flavors and smells. “For one thing,” she answers, “smell, unlike our other senses, isn’t consciously processed. The input goes straight to the emotion and memory centers” of the brain. Roach goes on to explain how smells and tastes are neglected in our visual-centric lives: “No one … would say, ‘Go left at the smell of simmering hotdogs.’” Instead, we say, “Go left at the tall brick building.” Here’s a challenge: try to give someone directions from Borderlands to Thunder Canyon—both downtown Tucson breweries—with only gustatory or olfactory cues. I pour myself a glass of Iron John’s The Golden Spruce, a Belgian Dubbel brewed with fresh Colorado spruce tips, and try my best to taste. I sniff, stare, do my weather report, sniff again, and finally take a slurp. It tastes a little bit like Christmas. Besides the spruce tips, as I read on the bottle, there is also cinnamon and orange peel. Can I taste that? Or am I only imagining it because I know? Taste perception, I know, yields to visualization. Flavorless green food coloring brings out mint flavors. A sommelier’s suggestion plants notes of clove in your head. A cicerone’s whisper convinces you your beer tastes like orange peel. Can you identify the gooseberry solo? Maybe you can. But, even after all the flavor thinking, after writing about beer for a year, I will still nod along to your elderflower, your toffee, your apple peel or vanilla.

Dillinger Brewing Company’s John Ritter measures out the components of a tasty brew.

Beer can taste cloying, astringent, milky, or skunky. It can taste like childhood, the desert, an island, or just a Friday afternoon.

John Adkisson of Iron John’s Brewing is a certified beer judge; according to his own count, he has brewed nearly 100 styles of beer.

Humans are hedonic creatures, at least as far as taste is concerned. We eat what tastes good. This is true of animals generally, though, judging by my cats’ diet—salmon kibble and lizards—preferences are species-specific. Innately, most humans like sweet things. Beer, however, isn’t usually sweet. Beer, coffee, and other bitter drinks usually take time for people to learn to enjoy. The education in bitterness is known as “mere exposure effect,” which is when, due to repeated experiences, typically in favorable social settings (at a coffee shop or a brewpub), we acquire appreciation. So, if you tried a beer and you didn’t like it, try again. If you read an article and you didn’t like it, read again. Taste takes 148  May/June 2017

time. Slow down, breathe, take a sniff, go left at the whiff of rosemary, right at the draft of pizza, right again at the fume of creosote, and stop at the hint of hops and malt—you’ve found your local brewery.  This is the last in a series of six articles exploring local beer and brewing. Visit EdibleBajaArizona. com to read previous articles. John Washington is a writer and translator. Visit or find him on Twitter @EndDeportations.


The Point of a Neighborhood Bar At South Tucson’s Saint Charles Tavern, Elizabeth Menke and Churchill Brauninger are working to build a diverse neighborhood bar for anyone and everyone. By Luke Anable | Photography by Andrew Brown


B r au n i n g e r is trying to make SoDoTo a thing. “South of Down Town … So-Doe-Toe,” he explains, obviously pleased with himself. “This is Churchill ’s ridiculous new hash tag. It’s utter nonsense, he’s obsessed,” says Elizabeth Menke. Brauninger and Menke own and operate the young but old-feeling bar Saint Charles Tavern in South Tucson. Smart and sarcastic, the couple is fully aware that the branding of a developing neighborhood is just that, branding, the type of thing that savvy developers tend to promote as a prelude to rising condos, but they’re also well aware of—and sensitive to—the complicated politics of hurch ill

150  May/June 2017

gentrification. As a result, they’ve committed to the simple ethos of creating a place where everyone is welcome. “It’s effortless for us,” says Menke of the diversity of the crowd at Saint Charles. “More than anything, we hear our regulars comment on it, this diversity. We don’t have to fly the flag of ‘we love everybody!’—of course we love everybody—but it’s not necessary for us to say so. It’s just how we always knew we would run our bar, as a safe place for anyone and everyone.” Elizabeth Menke and Churchill Brauninger own and operate the young but old-feeling bar Saint Charles Tavern in South Tucson.

edible Baja Arizona 



he couple rebuilt the Tavern to be versatile, accommodating, and enduring— constructed from solid materials without too much conceptual spin. During the day—Saint Charles opens at 10 a.m. in true corner bar fashion—retired military and veterans hold court. They are a slow and steady drinking bunch who appreciate the consistent hours and low-key setting. Many of these veterans and retirees used to drive across town to now-closed bars like Famous Sam’s and are happy to now have a place in the neighborhood. In the early evening, Saint Charles fills up with the after-work crowd: teachers and city employees alongside blue collar, light industry workers. As the sun sets, truckers and bikers start to trickle in. The latter, pivotal to the Tucson underground in its various incarnations over the years, have largely disappeared from the downtown landscape and their presence here is a clear sign of the bar’s gritty authenticity. At this point, on a recent springtime Sunday evening, a couple of Priuses are parked next to a handful of choppers and what appears to be a live-in Econoline. Around 10 or 11 p.m., a younger crowd of industry folk find their way in. They are getting off work at downtown cafés Diane Bombshelter is a St. Charles regular and an artist; and restaurants, looking to get out of the she made this mural on the St. Charles patio. area for a drink before heading home. Colleen Toshner, a part-time barista at Exo Roast Co. often comes to Saint Charles because of its enk e wa s bor n in Tucson, left when she was 11, unaffected atmosphere. “The service aspect is very humble and and, after moving around, eventually settled in San giving and generous, from server to what is being served to Francisco for a decade before returning to the desert where it’s being served,” says Toshner. “You can have something with her sweetheart (“she brought me, too,” jokes Brauninger) fancy if you want it and you can have something basic, too. with the intention of opening her own place. She struggled to South Tucson isn’t very pretentious and everything they made find her place as “a big girl in her 30s” in the Tucson bar scene, in there feels very personal.” but eventually found her way to La Cocina, where Brauninger When I asked if there was any tension between, say, the was helping to reboot the restaurant and bar run by Jo Schneider. 26-year-old hipster and 65-year-old biker or third-generation While at La Cocina, Menke and Brauninger met the owner of South Tucson resident, Menke and Brauninger laughed. “The another neighborhood spot in northwest Tucson. The owner, facing bikers think it’s fascinating, they love them [the hipsters]—it’s a terminal cancer, was amiable to the idea of passing the mantel to window into a world they’ve only seen on TV,” says Menke. In a Menke and Brauninger, but, after years of laying the groundwork, way, everybody is people-watching everyone else and that seems the deal fell through. Heartbroken, Menke and Brauninger ended to work pretty well by way of introduction. On Wednesdays, up in the parking lot of the long shuddered Paddock Bar at Fourth Saint Charles pushes the main room’s immense, nearly Nordic Avenue and 26th Street—the future sight of Saint Charles—after an tables aside to host a local tango group that gives free lessons. evening with Jill Brammer, co-owner of the fabled Che’s Lounge. This happens at the same time that prominent biker organiza“We pulled into the parking lot and she told us the story of the tions are holding court at the bar and a young gay professional Paddock Bar. It was her secret bar when Che’s was in the planning drinking group is colonizing the patio. “This cross-pollinating stage and she needed to get out of downtown and we were looking of tribes is always happening here,” says Brauninger, pausing as at it now with the windows blown out and in all states of disrepair, Menke continues: “Everybody deserves a chance. We just made people squatting there. We were in here the following morning,” a space which is accommodating to everyone, which, of course, says Brauninger, his voice revealing wonder even still at how quickly is the entire point of a neighborhood bar.” and, in hindsight, smoothly the bar took shape.


152  May/June 2017

edible Baja Arizona 



oday , South Tucson appeals to a wide array of people: developers who are eager to work with the relatively less-regulated and more-accessible City Council; young restaurateurs hoping to integrate a new business into a historically vibrant community of Sonoran restaurants; entrepreneurs who hope to own their building; artists and musicians looking for studio space close to downtown with lower rents. Tucson musician Gabriel Sullivan was recently scouting warehouses in South Tucson for studio space, surprised at the ever-widening radius around downtown with prohibitively high rents. He frequents Saint Charles because it is one of the few places where he can see his friends and also “run into my aunt’s boyfriend who is an older mechanic in the area,” he says.

For Parker Arriaga, who has been running a DIY venue up the street on the border of Tucson and South Tucson for years, the working-class aspect of South Tucson is its primary appeal. “There’s no pandering here,” he says. “When you open a business, you open a place where community is built and people come together, not a place where you manifest your ‘concept’ and then cater to whiny elites.” As polemical as Arriaga can be, this could, nonetheless, prove to be a meaningful way of distinguishing between community development and gentrification. The roadblocks and delays that Brauninger confronted when building out La Cocina and The Dusty Monk in Tucson were nonexistent here. “Dealing with the Tucson city bureaucracy is truly Kafkaesque,” says Brauninger. “The beauty of South

The neighborhood of the neighborhood bar. (Clockwise from top left): From left, Sal Hernandez, Manny Delisy, and Joe Palomino; co-owner Churchill Brauninger; Nadine Roselle; Joe, sitting at the bar.

154  May/June 2017

Tucson is that the person you talk to is always the same person down the line.” From day one, Brauninger and Menke were at City Hall, discussing the needs of the community with City Council members and getting advice from a host of city officials who would all eventually find a welcome local meeting spot at Saint Charles. Still, in such a small community, there is a palpable suspicion of outsiders. “Because it’s such a microcosm,” says Jennifer Parlin of the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension in South Tucson, “the University and others have, historically, come in and said, ‘Here are the changes you need to make,’ or ‘Here’s a study we’d like to do,’ and then haven’t been there for the long haul. So in the beginning there is a lot of suspicion ... and I think for good reason.”

The implication is that what Menke described as the neighborhood’s “absolute graciousness, patience, and support,” may have had an equal and opposite incarnation had the bar taken a less egalitarian and open approach. Local developer Ron Schwabe, who has experience managing properties in South Tucson, compared the City of South Tucson to Barrio Hollywood, an enduring, majority Hispanic neighborhood north of Menlo Park, often prospected by regional developers as downtown Tucson grows. Here, rapid gentrification has been mostly thwarted by a communal hesitancy to sell property rooted in multiple-generation family businesses and home ownership. “It’s hard to get any critical mass in these communities,” says Schwabe. “You may buy one property but

(Clockwise from top): From left, Fabian Delisy, Dorthy Campos, Pat Peralta, and Rachel Delisy; Cliff Gabbard; co-owner Elizabeth Menke.

edible Baja Arizona 


you’ll never convince the neighbors to sell.” This “is hard if you’re looking to put something together [as a developer] but is special, too,” he says. “It protects the neighborhood from gentrifying really quickly.” And while Schwabe acknowledged the buffering effect of strong community ties on major, top-down development, he also admitted that there was a certain inevitably to the changes happening as downtown continues to grow. “On the other hand, all you have to do is look at a map to kind of see where things are going.” Parlin, who has been running a nutrition education program called The Kitchen Garden for the past five years, describes the residents of South Tucson as particularly proud of their community as a whole and defensive of how it develops. “It takes forming individual relationships to begin meaningful dialogues. The hope is to help guide the change that is going to come regardless,” she says. Echoing Arriaga, Parlin comments on the need to empower and support locally owned businesses: “Ideally those who have strong ties to the community are those with the opportunity to lift it up.” At the end of the day, Menke and Brauninger took an abandoned, dangerous building and converted it into a fixed, viable, tax-generating business. And while Menke and Brauninger are not residents yet—they are planning their move to South Tucson—their “come one, come all” approach has allowed them to integrate into the community in an organic and meaningful way. “Owning this bar is the gift of my lifetime,” says Menke, and so, she says, it should be a gift to the neighborhood as well. 156  May/June 2017

“The beat cops and sergeants, the chief of police: all of them asked if we were going to put bars on the windows and we said no, and they told us it was a mistake,” says Brauninger. “But the premise is that is if you treat people like prisoners they’re going to treat you like prison guards. In fact it’s the neighborhood people who are the most vigilant about taking care of this place. It’s respect, and it’s the reason that, despite being a freshly painted, big white building, it’s still the only place without graffiti on the block.” This neighborhood bar is nothing less than a mindset and lifestyle for these career bartenders. The organic synergy between people and place that unfolds at Saint Charles requires work that is daily, intentional, and nonglamorous. Indeed, it takes dedication to the idea that a neighborhood bar is a deeply public space and must therefore both accommodate and reflect that community. “It’s the opposite of a shtick,” says Menke, “which, you know, becomes a shtick, but whatever. “Gentrification is the magic bad word, and it sucks to be the supposed face of it,” says Menke, whose demeanor after a career of conversations behind the bar is ever-candid, giving and confident, “and I have to remind myself that we’re just local, we’re just entrepreneurial, we didn’t kick anyone out: we built a place for everybody.”  Saint Charles Tavern. 1632 S. Fourth Ave. 520.888.5925. Luke Anable is a Tucson transplant, natural wine protagonist, and beverage consultant for independent restaurants.

edible Baja Arizona 



A Future in the Ancestral Mesoamerican culinary traditions spanning millennia have influenced the gastronomic heritage of Baja Arizona. By Bill Steen and Gary Paul Nabhan | Photography by Bill Steen


acos , tostadas, burritos, sopes, menudos, cazuelas, enchiladas, licuados—the typical foods of modern Mexico that are familiar in the borderlands—are but one set of spinoffs of an ancient Mesoamerican diet. Since the mid-20th century, two kinds of Mexican diet have been diverging from one another. One is deeply traditional—think tamales, atoles, pinoles, moles, tepaches, caldos, and nopalitos—while the other is industrially processed and globalized, high in saturated fats, fiber-free flours, and sugars, and low in protein. This is true whether we are in the metropolitan markets of Mexico City, the tropics of Yucatán, or the arid borderlands of the north. And yet, there is enormous interest in the healthful variants that undergird the entire range of Mexican traditions, if only because so many Mexican-Americans in the United States are suffering from the harms perpetuated by industrialized fast-food versions of this diet. According to research by the World Health Organization in 2012, Mexico surpassed the United States (and all other countries) for the most obese people per capita. This crisis has prompted Mexico’s activist-scholars to initiate a thorough and far-reaching effort to return to the original structure and composition of a traditional diet. It is their hope that the reappraisal and revival of a Mesoamerican diet will soon begin to reduce the number of people suffering from nutrition-related diseases not only in the tropical heartland of Mexico but also in the arid reaches of the U.S./Mexico borderlands. Among those activist-scholars are crop geographers and ethnobotanists Daniel Zizumbo and Patricia Colunga of CICY, the Center for Scientific Research in Yucatán. They are among the researchers of the Mesoamerican diet exploring how obesity and diabetes ever gained such a strong foothold in a country that is internationally celebrated for its food diversity. The problem, they say, is the deviation from a set of diverse food preparation and cooking traditions that have served indigenous Americans well for more than 10,000 years.

158  May/June 2017

These time-tried preparation and cooking strategies include nixtamalization, or adding alkaline sources like ashes to soften corn kernels, cooking on red hot stones, toasting or popping seeds, pit roasting or steaming meats and vegetables, and “cold cooking” of shellfish in acidic fruit juices and vinegars as ceviches. Colunga and Zizumbo are alarmed at historic declines in the consumption of legumes, nutritious pseudocereals like amaranth, chia, huazontle, diverse leafy greens, many succulents like cacti and agaves, and the beneficial microbes in fermented traditional foods and beverages. But they are optimistic that these cooking techniques and diverse foods can return to Mexican hearths and tables. “Our future is in the ancestral,” says Colunga. “We are revaluing, reviving, and recreating elements of the Mesoamerican diet. Why? We feel it will be essential to surmount the dire issues of diabetes, obesity, and loss of biocultural diversity in our region.” Their findings suggest that Mesoamerican cultures developed traditional cuisines that were not only extraordinarily diverse in their food species but in preparation techniques as well. But as Colunga and Zizumbo are careful to state, their work is not about a single “miracle food,” but about a “diverse agricultural ecosystem that sustainably generated a balanced diet by combining both wild and domesticated foodstuffs” through healthful preparation techniques. You can’t just eat a few of the foodstuffs prepared with modern kitchen utensils and expect the same results. Direct engagement in cultivating a diverse milpa ecosystem—not just eating a few of its seed crops in a reductionist manner—is part of their message. Their shorthand summary—the future should build on the ancestral—does not mean that we should literally copy the ways that the Mesoamerican diet was once implemented. Instead, we must work on combining these ingredients in a variety of preparation techniques to capture their synergies. A vendor in a Merida, Yucatan, market sells a traditional Mayan lima bean roasted in embers and hot stones.

edible Baja Arizona 


A vendor sells ground pepitas (squash seeds) in a market in Merida, Yucatan.


rchaeologists and linguists have surmised that some orally transmitted recipes in Mesoamerica may reach back as far as 10,500 years. As such, UNESCO has recognized the Mesoamerican diet as a source of intangible cultural heritage, or patrimonio cultural, of global significance. That preceramic heritage of food cultivation, popping, pit-roasting, and steaming, extended into what we call the borderlands, generating one of many traditions that contribute to Tucson’s designation as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Along with Ensenada in Baja California, Tucson is one of two UNESCOdesignated cities of food found within what many of us refer to as the desert borderlands. Although used in different ways by cooks and archaeologists, the term Mesoamerica refers to the subtropical and tropical regions that extend south from the desert edges of North America all the way to Panama. It is one of the four oldest primary centers of plant domestication in the world. The field research done by Columba and Zizumbo shows that the Mesoamerican diet was based on a series of crops—including corn, squash, beans, chile peppers, tomato, and tomatillos—that were integrated into an agroalimentary system called milpa cultivation. Corn provided carbohydrates and energy; beans were the principal source of protein; and squash seeds were the main source of fats, while chiles, tomatoes, and tomatillos supplied vitamins and minerals. At the time of the Spanish arrival, this system was complemented by other cultivated species as well as more than 70 wild plant and animal species. The diet was primarily vegetarian but one in which species like turkey, deer, wild boar, iguanas, a wide variety of insects, insect larvae, and worms such as the meocuilin (agave white worm) provided complementary sources of proteins and fats. Some of the most ancient methods for preparing foods

160  May/June 2017

included the popping of seeds on hot slabs, the use of three-stone hearths, earth ovens, cooking on embers, sun drying, and using deeply carved stones as vessels for fermentation. This diet most likely began with the consumption of ground grains; pit-baked agave heads and stalks; and fruits and seeds of mesquite, prickly pears, and oaks. Metates of stone were used for grinding foods, often followed by soaking them in water with ash. More than any other food, corn was the central component of the Mesoamerican diet. Early varieties of wild corn roasted directly in embers produced popcorn. Pinoles were made by roasting and grinding corn kernels, dried beans, and other seeds into fine powders. Diluting these ground substances with water produced the earliest versions of what we now know as atole, a thick porridge-like drink. Soaked overnight in water, ground into a paste, and mixed with salt and chile, this drink was traditionally called atole blanco and frequently consumed with roasted squash or agave. For atole agrio or sour atole, the kernels of black corn were soaked for several days until they acidified and then mixed with panicle, a powder made from the seeds of a wild squash. For this beverage, the corn was washed with ash to remove any bitterness, sun dried, roasted, and ground with a little salt. Ground grains were also mixed with fermented fruits to make beverages like tepache and tesguino, the fermented beverage originally made from corn masa and ground, cooked agave pulp. At some point, the alkaline-based process of nixtamalization became an integral part of the Mesoamerican diet. Nixtamalization refers to cooking and soaking dried corn kernels in lime water or ash to loosen the hulls and soften the corn for grinding. The structure of the corn changes, freeing up the nutritionally rich niacin and the amino acid tryptophan so they can be more easily absorbed. By balancing the amino acids, more

A variety of tortitas are sold at the El Tlecuil food booth at a market in Tepoztlan, Mexico. Mesoamerican ingredients include wild greens (quintoniles), jicama, Jamaica flowers, rose petals, squash blossoms, chia gorda, squash seeds, sunflower seeds, corn, agave flowers, and grasshoppers.

protein from the corn is made accessible. Once ground, the corn becomes pliable dough called masa and is used for making tortillas and tamales as well as other South American foods like arepas. An astonishing range of shapes and flavors of tamales can be found across Mesoamerica, some baked, some steamed. Bean tamales, a Mesoamerican classic, were made by stacking multiple layers of corn masa and beans and wrapping the mixture in large leaves of arbol del tamal. Tamales de ceniza were made by soaking corn overnight in water and adding the wood ashes of the tepame tree, an acacia. Perhaps this was the historical antecedent to nixtamalization. Clearly, corn was the central ingredient in the Mesoamerican diet. The packaged corn tortilla found in supermarkets today bears little resemblance to the Mesoamerican corn. Mexican farmers continue to grow more than 40 distinctive varieties of maize of varying kernel sizes, textures, colors, and growth characteristics, each of which is represented by many more place-based varieties. In contrast, most corn masa that is prepared in the United States and much of Mexico is made from hybrid corn under the Maseca label. Estimates calculate that over 90 percent of the field corn (but not sweet corn) grown in the States is genetically modified and much of the corn consumed in Mexico is either 162  May/June 2017

bought from the United States or potentially contaminated by it. Even in Mexico, restaurants and stores that nixtamalize non-GMO corn and then daily prepare their own masa are rare. To our knowledge there is only one masa harina prepared from non-GMO corn on the market in the United States (Bob’s Red Mill). Corn is but one element of the Mesoamerican diet. With time, distinct ethnic and regional variations of this basic diet appeared in the cuisine of the Maya of Yucatán, the Aztecs of central Mexico, and the Zapotecs of Oaxaca. The introduction of an even greater variation of foods and ingredients by cultures from around the world contributed to what we think of as the Mexican cuisine of today. Reintroducing elements of the Mesoamerican diet begins with the preparation and consumption of foods that are relatively free of saturated fats, refined sugars, and overly processed flours. That’s where the many chefs and home cooks who work with Colunga and Zizumbo come in. Their process of exploring, reviving, or adapting nearly forgotten food cooking techniques has been called ecoculinary restoration. Of course, north of the Mexican border we have seen parallel interests emerge among indigenous chefs and others of mixed ancestry. For decades, innovators and educators have

Tlacoyos made from blue corn masa, stuffed with potato, in Chignahuapan, Tlaxcala, Mexico.

been exploring foods that include both Mesoamerican and Native (North) American ingredients, as well as traditional preparation techniques. In Sonora in particular, at least a half dozen well-known chefs have been hosted by Seri Indian cooks to explore fresh ways to both revive and innovate their cultural community’s traditional foods. These visiting chefs have encouraged several Seri village cooks and caterers to promote not just their native foodstuffs but traditional cooking techniques for use in intertribal feasts and cultural exchanges. One such feast of local foods occurred in Punta Chueca, Sonora, in February of 2017. More than 60 native leaders of Seri, Yaqui, Mayo, Guarijio, Tarahumara, O’odham, and Mayan ancestry sampled cholla cactus fruit, fish, shellfish, and other foods prepared for them by Seri caterers, following workshops on the value of such foods for diabetes prevention, food sovereignty, and biocultural conservation. Over the last two decades, at least 400 Seri individuals have been locally trained, mentored, and supported in gaining at least part of their annual wages from conserving, sustainably harvesting, monitoring, preparing, and promoting these diverse foods. These activities are now one of the three most important income-generating activities in their communities.

Closer to home, many wild and cultivated foods from Arizona are also undergoing renewed use by indigenous communities, such as flint corn pinoles by Ramona Farms in the Gila River Indian Community, to mesquite pod flour processed by the San Xavier Co-op Farm of the Tohono O’odham. Cholla buds and Pima lima beans are among the many native foods being eaten in these communities. These foods are also part of health education and diabetes prevention programs that will help keep today’s children from suffering from diabetes and obesity as they become adults. To be sure, there is no clear formula to reclaiming the Mesoamerican diet, or any other traditional cuisine. Each community does it in its own way. More than anything else, Colunga and Zizumbo remind us that the original inhabitants of Mesoamerica found means to be nourished by a diet that they describe as “diverse, nutritious, and balanced in its composition.” They urge us all to do the same.  Bill Steen and his wife, Athena, are founders of The Canelo Project, a nonprofit organization in Santa Cruz County dedicated to “connecting people, culture, and nature.” Gary Paul Nabhan is senior contributing editor at Edible Baja Arizona.

edible Baja Arizona 


A Day in

Baja Arizona



Benson By Saraiya Kanning | Photography by Chloé Tarvin


our neying east from Tucson on I-10, many think of Benson as a convenient stop on the way to grander destinations in Texas, New Mexico, and beyond. Stop for a bite to eat, gas up, get out. Or peer from the window of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, assess the smattering of buildings, the yellow grass, the reflective gray of the San Pedro River, and think it an uneventful place. This unassuming desert town, however, offers surprising adventure. Known as The Hub City and Gateway to Cochise County, Benson made its debut as a train town. The Southern Pacific Railroad, which arrived in 1880, developed Benson into a terminus for transportation of mining and ranching materials, including copper from southeast Arizona. By 1924, multiple Southwest railroads led to Benson. Though no

164  May/June 2017

longer a railroad nucleus, Benson continues to serve as a popular interstate rest stop and, for those in the know, a distinct tourist destination. To reach Benson’s best known attraction, Kartchner Caverns State Park (2980 AZ-90), follow I-10 east from Tucson, take Exit 302, and follow AZ-90 south for nine miles. The park sign and a dirt road will appear on the right. Take a 90-minute, subterranean tour of the Rotunda/ Throne Room and discover a water-sculpted underworld while park guides share information about the stunning, and sometimes eerie, formations. This half-mile walk showcases glittering stalactites and stalagmites formed by the steady drip of water through rock over tens of thousands of years. Formations include moon milk, cave bacon, and soda straws hanging from the walls, true to their names in appearance.

In some places, stalactites and stalagmites have grown long enough to connect, forming columns. The tour culminates with lighted views of Kubla Khan, a 58-foot tall column. A movie in the visitor center details the discovery of Kartchner Caverns. Two spelunkers, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts, crawled for several hours through narrow portals, sometimes no wider than a coat hanger, following a stream of warm air and the smell of bats, until they found the rooms. Indoor displays tell the cave’s history, including a life-size replication of a giant pig-nosed Shasta ground sloth whose 80,000-year-old bones were discovered deep in the caverns and whose death will forever remain a mystery. If you’re tempted to pet the shaggy sloth’s fur, it may be time to move on to Forever Home Donkey Rescue and Sanctuary

(360 E. Rockspring Road). From I-10 through Benson, take Exit 306 toward N. Pomerene Road, which turns into North Cascabel Road. After 14 miles, turn left on W. Rockspring Lane and follow the sanctuary signs. Schedule your visit with owners John and Tish Hiestand at They welcome individual and group visits to tour the sanctuary and interact with donkeys. Forever Home unofficially began in 1997, when the Hiestands bought Blackjack, a bushy Poitou-mix destined for the slaughter house. They acquired other donkeys to provide company for Blackjack and soon became a home for donkeys with physical and emotional complications. Some were injured after being used for rodeo roping practice, others were victims of neglect. Today, the Hiestands’ herd of 17 donkeys includes the original Blackjack.



Donkeys are less reactive than horses, patient, and great around children. “They’re extremely good companions,” says Tish. “More like dogs than horses.” Visitors are invited to pet the donkeys while learning their names and stories of survival. “They’re a very unappreciated animal, considering civilizations have been built on their backs,” says Tish. When asked what she likes best about donkeys, Tish mentions their personalities: “They go toward life. They still appreciate people, even when they’ve been mistreated.” The donkeys at Forever Home are gentle, eager for an ear pet, and even more eager to nose your backpack for snacks. To take this adventure indoors, head to Singing Wind Bookshop (700 W. Singing Wind Road) by following I-10 W to Exit 303. Drive 16 miles down North Ocotillo Road and turn right on West Singing

Wind Road. The bookstore sits in a cluster of buildings down a dirt road to your left. Winifred Bundy has run the bookstore on her private ranch for about 40 years. In addition to stocking two rooms with books organized by every topic imaginable and specializing in Southwest subjects, Bundy hosts book talks and history lectures at her ranch. Leaving the bookshop, take Ocotillo Road south and turn left on Fourth Street. Park by the Benson Visitor Center (249 E. Fourth St.) and view murals painted by local artist David Quarles. The panels depict railroad construction, mining history, and local flora and fauna. Mules carry cartloads of ore, a Union Pacific freight train chugs across an arid landscape, and a roadrunner stands beside a budding barrel cactus. Quarles’s detailed strokes tell the story of Benson’s



birth and development. (For a backstory on each scene, visit BensonVisitorCenter. com.) View more of Quarles’s art across the street at Quarles Art Gallery (234 E. Fourth St.), where oil and acrylic paintings of wildlife, landscapes, and portraits line the walls top to bottom. For lunch or dinner, drive about a mile west on Fourth Street to Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant (723 E. Fourth St.). It’s easy to miss: look for a yellow house-turnedrestaurant tucked away from the road. Inside, terra cotta and turquoise walls are hung with folkloric art. This family-owned restaurant specializes in dishes inspired by traditional recipes from La Paz, Mexico. Enjoy spicy albondigas soup, Popeye’s spinach enchiladas decorated in zigzagging white sauce, or Baja-style shrimp tacos, with beans topped with a saguaro-shaped chip.

Whatever the order, you can expect mouth-watering decorative flair. Destination or pit stop, don’t forgo a visit to the Gateway to Cochise County. Nowhere else in Arizona will you find Benson’s combination of caves, docile donkeys, bookstore-ona-ranch, and artistically presented Mexican food.  Saraiya Kanning is a freelance writer, silk painter, and birder living in Tucson.

1. View of Benson from I-10. 2. Justin, a miniature donkey

from Forever Home Donkey Rescue and Sanctuary. 3. Mi Casa Restaurant specializes in dishes inspired by traditional recipes from La Paz, Mexico. 4. Enchiladas Bandera from Mi Casa Restaurant. 5. Mural by David Quarles on the side of the Horseshoe Café. 6. The Singing Wind Bookshop.

edible Baja Arizona 



Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture Edited by Martha Hodgkins Princeton Architectural Press 2016

Review by Debbie Weingarten


s the aver age age of the American farmer creeps ever closer to 60, we find ourselves in a serious pickle. Consider this: There are more farmers over the age of 75 than there are between the ages of 35 and 44. If you work in agriculture, or if you think about it on the regular, you can wet your finger and stick it up in the air, and you will feel the looming questions like a strong breeze: What will happen to the 573 million acres (70 percent of our nation’s total farmland) expected to change hands over the next two decades? What will happen to the farm infrastructure—the barns, the mills, the butcheries, the good livestock expertly bred over decades? And what of the precious knowledge and skills tucked inside the brains and bodies of our older agrarians? Will there be enough young farmers to take the reins, to steward our farmland, to grow our nation’s food? These questions are the fire and the urgency beneath a new anthology, just released by Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. In Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future, 36 wise and influential farmers, writers, chefs, and food activists (including Edible Baja Arizona’s own Gary Paul Nabhan) dish out advice and inspiration for those aspiring to farm for a living. Some of them were young farmers themselves, conflicted between choosing a life built on logic and one built on heart. Mary-Howell Martens, a grain farmer from upstate New York, writes, “Once, not very long ago, I was an innocent suburban Long Island teenager working at a children’s community vegetable garden, gleefully shocking my family by declaring that I wanted to be a farmer.” The authors were prompted with a single question: What would you say to young farmers who are setting out to farm now? While the responses vary in tone and advice, there is a strong echo of the foundational importance and necessity of farming. “Farming is the oldest profession, and young people should be highly recognized for wanting to become farmers,” writes Ben Burkett, a fourth generation African-American farmer from Mississippi. Nancy Vail and Jered Lawson, the cofounders of Pie Ranch, write, “If there’s one job in the world that offers the chance to save humanity on the planet, it’s yours. No pressure.”

166  May/June 2017

But there is also a strong dose of reality in these pages. Mary Berry, an eighth generation Kentucky farmer and founder of The Berry Center, begins her letter with notable disquiet. “After a couple of months of starting and stopping this letter, I have three dilemmas that I keep running up against, and so I will just tell you what they are. The first is a general reluctance to encourage you to take up what I know to be an incredibly difficult, demanding, and sometimes heartbreaking way to make a living.” Indeed, the economic and physical realities of farming rear up in these letters. “You have to have faith that it is your calling because undertaking it does not make much economic, social, or political sense at all,” writes Nabhan. Again and again, the authors remind our young farmers that they will likely not be particularly well-off—at least, in the financial sense of the word—with the money made from farming. There are, however, practical tips given for making a modest, decent living. Live frugally. Stay home; don’t go out if you can help it. If possible, extend your season. Don’t buy equipment if you can borrow it. Plant on time. Develop healthy relationships with mentors. Don’t buy a 400-acre farm if you only intend to grow on 20 acres of it. Know how long it takes to complete certain tasks, and price your product accordingly—as Joel Salatin writes, “How long does it take to gut a chicken? Put away a dozen eggs? Plant a foot of carrots? The numbers should be on the tip of your tongue for the things you’re growing and the procedures you’re doing.” Ultimately, young and beginning farmers need allies throughout the food system. And that means chefs, nonprofit advocates, land activists, experienced farmers, grocers, and so on. After all, we will only be successful in creating food system change if we think and act as a system, wherein the parts rely upon one another to make the machine go. If you are an eater of food, you are central to this conversation, to the sorting out of these challenges. As a community, we must create opportunities for our young farmers to succeed—physically, economically, and emotionally—for our entire society is built in the chaff of agriculture. Reading these essays feels a bit like listening to a series of toasts at a wedding reception. There are moments for chuckling, for personal recognition, for raising one’s fist in resistance to the status quo, for drop-dead seriousness. Letters to a Young Farmer is a collective toast to the perseverance of youth and spirit, and a whole lot of hope for the future of our food. Clink. Debbie Weingarten is the co-founder of the Farm Education and Resource Network and a writing partner with the Female Farmer Project. She loves coffee, nectarines, and monsoon season.


Q&A with Dan Barber Interview by Debbie Weingarten

I’ve heard you speak about the importance of relationships in a farming or ecological system. What role do human relationships play within food and farming systems?

I’d challenge anyone to show me an example of a thriving agricultural system that’s not supported by an equally thriving community above ground. It’s impossible to separate the two.

As you know, two-thirds of all farmland in the United States will change hands in the next two decades. While there has been a resurgence of young and beginning farmers, there are very real systemic barriers to their entering the industry, including lack of access to capital and land. What does this say about our current food system and/or agricultural policies? What needs to change? Right now, we’re at a kind of inflection point: consumers are increasingly moving toward better flavor, nutrition and sustainability, but the food system, and the agricultural forces behind it, haven’t caught up. The good news is that big companies know that the way they’ve been doing business isn’t working. I think that means we’re going to see more systemic changes to incentivize young farmers and reward better methods of production.

When we consider the health of the food system, should we also be talking about the health and well-being of our farmers? As an indicator, what does it mean if our farmers are not thriving—financially, emotionally, physically? The measure of sustainability can’t just be the health of the soil: It’s the health and resilience of the whole system. What’s more essential to that than the well-being of our farmers?

As a chef and a restaurant owner, how do you think restaurants can best support young and beginning farmers, especially during those first exhausting, precarious years? How can chefs and restaurateurs help to ensure that local food is not just a flashy trend? We’ve already benefited from the dialogue that’s begun between chefs and farmers. But to truly move this conversation forward, we chefs have to go beyond being just end users and start participating in the process from the ground up. How can chefs and farmers influence one another’s decisions in the field and 168  May/June 2017

the kitchen to maximize ecology, economy, and flavor? Can we imagine a way of eating that not only supports good agriculture, but also adds value to the whole system?

What role does transparency and honesty play in the advertising of local food on menus? In a world where food fraud is unfortunately alive and well, how can consumers ensure that they’re actually eating what restaurants claim to be serving? Being greedy for good food is one way to do it. People are discovering—or maybe rediscovering—that the food grown in the right way is invariably more delicious. It’s made us more demanding about our food—we want to know where it comes from, how it was grown. But we still need to do a little more work to educate ourselves about the nuts and bolts of agriculture, and to ask more questions.

It’s easy to get tired, burned out, or wonder how on earth we can make real change in the food system when, for example, Monsanto’s agricultural lobbying dollars totaled $4.6 billion last year. I know I would benefit from your best dose of realistic hope for the future of food and farming in this country. Are you hopeful, and why? And how is the next generation of farmers uniquely equipped to change the way we grow and eat? Put simply, we don’t have the resources to sustain the current structure of how we grow and consume food. By virtue of necessity, we’re moving toward a system with more diversity and fewer chemical amendments on our farms, diets that are more in tune with what our locality can provide, and improved livelihoods for our farmers.  Dan Barber is the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and the author of The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food (The Penguin Press 2014). Barber has received multiple James Beard awards including Best Chef: New York City (2006) and the country’s Outstanding Chef (2009). In 2009 he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. Visit to learn how Arizona is faring in recruiting and supporting young farmers in an interview with Letters to a Young Farmer contributor Gary Paul Nabhan.

edible Baja Arizona 



Store-Bought Jam By Katherine Pryor


e gathered the fruits carefully, using our T-shirts and the edges of dusty towels to separate the round red bulbs from the green flesh of the cacti. They were covered in tiny needles that could sting the skin for days. We were four girls wearing bikinis—impractical attire for gathering the fruit of a cactus, but what teenage girl is ever truly practical? We’d ditched school for a chance to sun ourselves on hot rocks along the creek, but spotting the ruby globes sparked something in me, and I convinced my young friends to help me harvest them. I had seen jars of prickly pear jam on the shelves of tourist shops, wedged between bottles of hot sauce and stuffed jackalopes. I had no idea how to make jam. Still, the notion of self-sufficiency must have appealed to me even then, the notion that you could find a food growing wild and transform it into nourishment without the aid of machines or middlemen. I did not possess any knowledge of how to make jam, just an innate desire to do so. I’ve wondered at times if there was such a thing as blood memory. Do we long for the things our ancestors knew and valued? The desires to build a fire, hunt an animal, or make jam from the fruit of a desert plant have been rendered irrelevant by modern conveniences, yet we still build and kill and create. Was my adolescent urge to make jam a genetic hand-me-down from my greatgreat-great grandmother’s desire to store the fruits of her Kansas homestead garden for the harsh winter ahead? Perhaps the urge was passed to me by the sigh my great-great grandmother must have sighed when her wagon train stopped to settle in the high desert of Utah, where the sight of wild fruit, no matter how inconveniently packaged, must have felt like a gift from above. The impulse may have come from a source as recent as my grandmother’s summers working the peach canneries of the Sacramento Valley during the Second World War, converting peaches into bottled sunshine that could be shipped around the globe.

170  May/June 2017

Regardless of the why, my friends and I picked the fruit of the prickly pear, filling large two-handled plastic bags as we walked back to the car we’d parked in a dirt pull-out. I presented them to my mother as soon as I got home, feeling every bit the great provider. She, of course, had no idea what to do with them, being from the wave of feminism that viewed the kitchen as a prison rather than a pedestal. She bought our jam in jars from the grocery store. We left the bags on the kitchen counter, unsure of what to do with my impulsive harvest until the fruit began to rot. I fought the impulse to pick after that, knowing that although the desire had been passed down, the knowledge had not. I left the fruit where it grew, hoping that someday I would be the kind of woman who could harness a harvest and turn it into something that would last. Decades have passed since that bikini-clad foraging bonanza, but the desire to transform the fleeting ripeness of harvest time into something more lasting has not. Through the years, I’ve assembled a handful of skills to make my family tree of grandmothers proud. They would marvel at my freezer and stocked pantry. They would smile kindly at the gardening efforts of someone who need not grow her own food to survive. Yet I’m sure a gentle berating would be unavoidable, as I have grown into a woman who still does not know how to make her own jam. Each summer I intend to, and then the season’s bounty ends up elsewhere: a dinner party, a gift to a neighbor, or the aforementioned freezer. As a child of the West, my blood memory continues to serve me, but there is also a lineage I feel safe leaving behind. Perhaps my Arizonan mother is right. Perhaps store-bought jam is good enough for me.  Katherine Pryor is the author of the children’s books Zora’s Zucchini and Sylvia’s Spinach. Learn more at or connect on Twitter or Instagram @readyourgreens.

Edible Baja Arizona - May/June 2017  

What's Next for Downtown Tucson? • Salsa Six Ways • Tasting Baja Brews • Incarcerated Cooks

Edible Baja Arizona - May/June 2017  

What's Next for Downtown Tucson? • Salsa Six Ways • Tasting Baja Brews • Incarcerated Cooks