We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

San Xavier del Bac and Indian Fry Bread - Traditional and Gluten-Free

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

The White Dove of the Desert: Mission San Xavier del Bac
   San Xavier del Bac Mission, also known as the White Dove of the Desert, is the first architectural building I recall making a lasting impression on me as an adolescent. I was about ten years old on my first visit. I recall buying a postcard that captured the Mission showcased against a sky set aflame by a vivid sunset. I pinned the card to the framed cork board that hung in my bedroom. I carried the postcard with me through the years. At the end of my high school years, as all good things eventually come to an end, I outgrew the cork board. The postcard along with many other "valuable" souvenirs from my childhood are now kept in a keepsake album tucked in my closet.
   I have returned to the Mission repeatedly over the years by myself and with guests. It is in my top three destinations for out-of-town visitors along with The Desert Museum and DeGrazia Gallery In The Sun. I usually visit the Mission in conjunction with a visit to Tubac and I always try to work the timing so upon our return to Tucson we are near the Mission before sunset. The most spectacular sunsets I have seen have been in the desert, in particular, in and around Tucson. To see the setting sun as a colorful changing backdrop to the stark white Mission is something to behold indeed.

   The Mission is the oldest European structure in Arizona and became a national historic landmark in 1960. In 1692 Jesuit missionary Father Kino visited the Santa Cruz River valley and in 1700 founded the San Xavier del Bac Mission. A second settlement, Tucson, was established around the same time, which in modern day terms, was near the base of "A" Mountain. The original church was frequently attacked and finally destroyed by Apaches in 1770. 
   Construction on the present church began in 1783. Fourteen years later the church was completed in 1797. To give these dates some context, the Arizona territory was established in 1863. However, it wasn't until 1884, with the Gadsden Purchase, that the territory, along with mission, transferred ownership from Mexico to the United States. The purchase guaranteed a route for the southern railroad to the Pacific Coast. 
   The Arizona territory joined the Union and became the 48th state in February of 1912. As of 2013, the mission has been fulfilling its original purpose for over 216 years by serving the religious needs of parishioners, Catholics of the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

   The church itself is a fine example of Spanish Colonial architecture. I have whittled away hours simply taking in the beauty of the statuary and examining the details in the frescoes. I am always intrigued that Our Lady of Guadalupe is absent from the murals. This is particularly surprising because Guadalupe was credited for ending a deadly epidemic in Mexico City in the year 1737. Seventeen years later, Pope Benedict XIV approved her patronage and assigned a feast and mass in her honor every December 12th. Therefore, by the time the mission was complete in 1797, the veneration of Guadalupe was strong and growing, which has carried on over the centuries with vigilance, particularly among women. 
    At the mission, the Patroness of the Americas, as Guadalupe was declared by Pope John Paul II, is paid tribute with one painting hanging near the large mesquite doors in the church, a carved wooden statue by the museum entrance, a tiled representation in a courtyard and a unique iron sculpture in the garden. Her graceful figure is depicted on the most favored candle - as evidenced from all her candles placed throughout the small chapel and in the church - from the wide array available for purchase in the gift shop. The lighted candles fill the air with the unmistakable heavy and humid fragrance of hot wax. The smokeless flickering flames provide a soft glow to alcoves and the transfixed saints made of wood.

   If you are in the mood to take photos, or desire time for quiet contemplation, arrive at the mission as early as possible to avoid the inevitable crowds that begin arriving in the late morning and throughout the afternoon. The church is open from 7:00 to 5:00 daily. At sunset, surely one of the best vantage points is to climb the small hill next to the mission in hopes to see a vividly painted sky as a backdrop for the white washed architecture. As a reminder, folks flock to Sunday mass and it is the busiest day of the week. There is also a vigil on Saturday's at 5:30 p.m., so plan your visit accordingly. 
The shell, a representation of pilgrimage after the patron Saint of Spain, is 
replicated throughout the church.
Guadalupe is given a place of honor in a side garden beside a Palo Verde tree.
   Unfortunately relatively little is known about the people who designed, built and decorated the church. No records exist, except for information perhaps related to the architect. It is believed that the vibrant frescoes were completed by a minimum of three artists, all whom remain anonymous to this day. The church is assembled from adobe bricks and it is widely believed that Native Americans supplied the labor.

   I always enjoy the cactus garden, especially when the cacti are in bloom. The xeriscape garden decorates the entrance leading to the small chapel that is located next to church. I was pleased to capture the photo (below) of a bee approaching a fuchsia tinted cholla blossom. To capture the moment with my 85mm lens, I had to stretch - and I mean stretch as in cartoon style- to lean over the swagged chain link "rope" that serves as a barrier between the concrete path and the garden. In fact, I metaphorically kicked myself later for not bringing multiple lenses, but I embraced the challenges of working with a prime lens. On my next visit I will also include a longer focal length lens to capture the paintings around the dome which is 52 feet high and is supported by beautiful arches and Romanesque-styled squinches.

Iʼitoi, the Man in the Maze, is the creater God of the O'odham people.
   I have a friend who has the Man in the Maze tattooed just below his neck. Now, whenever I see I'itoi, I am reminded of Chris. We are all collectively navigating the maze of life. The metaphor certainly resonates with me.
I adore the sacred heart decorating this statue's chest.
Antique milagros (religious folk charms) are on exhibit in the museum.

   The Mission always seems to be under perpetual restoration. The work continues as funds are available. Unfortunately, the church has experienced fund-raising set-backs due to the recession. The Save America's Treasures program, a public and private partnership through the National Trust has ended due to Congress repealing the program. In 2005, the church received $250,000.00 from this program for restoration of the West Tower. At the state level, the Arizona legislature repealed funding for the Arizona Heritage Fund and subsequently a promised grant of $150,000.00 was rescinded. This is why in the photos the west tower is pristine and the east tower is visibly in need of work.
   The mission has an outreach program asking for support from folks like you and me for donations in continuing the restoration and preservation of this important historical site. Please visit the Patronato San Xavier website, a not for profit organization, for more information about the restoration projects and to donate. Collection boxes are also on-site to receive donations.

The view looking out San Xavier's "back door" is towards Tucson.
Farmlands are planted and tended near the Mission.

     The mission is about a fifteen minute drive from downtown Tucson and is accessible from its own exit on highway 19 which feeds into a narrow two lane road that is bordered by farmland and tended fields. The first view of the White Dove of the Desert is from a distance and the church looks miniature against sloping hills and vast sky. From downtown Tucson there is low-cost round-trip public transportation option to San Xavier by bus.

The parting view from the car's side view mirror.

Indian Fry Bread - Traditional and Gluten-Free

My husband said he needed to take a nap after he nearly finished the plate he assembled.
My daughter Maddie tucking in to her hearty lunch.
   Indian Fry Bread is a fixture at the Arizona State Fair and numerous county fairs. Fry bread is also made fresh on the grounds of San Xavier del Bac by members of the Tohono O'Odham tribe. The fry bread is typically consumed two ways: savory as a basis for taco toppings (this is also known as a Navajo Taco) or sweet by smearing the hot fried dough with butter and finished with a healthy drizzle of honey. The puffy cooked dough can also be served unadorned as an accompaniment to a soup or stew.
   The traditional preparation is a quick mix of all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt and water. Sometimes quick rising yeast is added to the mix more for taste than leavening power. Really, any good dough will work well whether home made or purchased. For an excellent yeasted version, look no further than the Freshly Made Thin Crust Pizza Dough on our site. Prepare the pizza dough through step 5 and separate into dough balls about 5 to 6-ounces each. Flatten each dough ball and fry on each side in super hot oil. It's as easy as that!
   Following are non-yeasted quick mix doughs for both traditional and gluten-free versions.  

For a yeasted version, shown here, you can make an excellent thin crust pizza dough.
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional flour for dusting
1/4 cup baking powder
1 Tbsp sea salt
2 cups (or a little more) filtered water or room temperature whole milk
high heat oil for frying, such as safflower oil
Special Equipment:
small rolling pin
Garnishes for Taco:
carnitas or shredded beef or leftover and shredded Danny's Beer Butt Chicken
shredded cheese such as cheddar or Monterey or crumbled cojita or ranchera
shredded lettuce
sliced black olives
chopped tomatoes and/or Salsa Fresca
fresh slices of avocado or Guacamole
sour cream or Mexican Crème Fraîche
Garnishes for Sweet Bread:
room temperature butter
runny honey, or maple syrup, or powdered sugar, or cinnamon sugar

Maddie and I couldn't resist trying a sweetened version with butter and honey,
which was little bit of heaven here on earth.
Ahhhh.... just look at that nice "Michael Bublé" on display 
(this terrible joke always makes my daughter roll her eyes).
1. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add 1-3/4 cups water or milk. Knead until soft, not sticky. Add additional liquid, if needed. Knead for a total of about 5 minutes. Cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

2. Portion the dough into 5 ounce portions. Sprinkle flour an a square piece of wax paper. Place one portion of dough on the paper and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough ball into a 1/4-inch thick disc, about the size of a tortilla. Repeat with all dough balls, stacking the flattened dough on top of each other layered with wax paper to avoiding sticking.

For today's cooking session we used pizza dough which went a little crazy in the hot oil
which yielded airy, pocketed bread.
3. Head about 1 to 1-1/2 inches of high heat oil in a large frying pan, such as cast iron. The oil should be very hot, about 180°F. Carefully transfer one disc to the hot pan being careful not to splash oil. If you do accidently splash, like I did, you might not want to be wearing flip flops (like yours truly). Cook until golden brown on both sides, about 90 seconds to 2 minutes total time. The second side will cook faster than the first.
4. Garnish the hot fry bread as desired and enjoy immediately. Serves 6 to 7.

While Maddie and I were working together we decided to quickly make homemade guacamole.
Gluten-Free Fry Bread
   This recipe exceeded my hopes and expectations. Gluten-free baking can be tricky, but after a year and a half at giving it a go, I finally feel like I am intuitively making decisions that yield terrific results. I am extremely careful in how I approach measuring gluten-free dry goods. I hesitate providing measurements in cups, because I believe it necessary (and easier) to weigh finely milled gluten-free flours and starches. I use the tare function on my scale and quickly measure each ingredient into the same bowl, one on top of the other. Gluten-free baked goods tend to absorb more liquid and need a healthy dose of leavening power. For additional information on gluten-free baking visit Gluten-Free Baking Primer: From Alcohols and Vinegars To Flours and Starches.
   I am also delighted to report that this dough is really easy to work with. Typically with gluten-free pastry dough, it is necessary to roll the dough thin between two sheets of wax paper to prohibit sticking. Not here. I dusted the board and lightly dusted the top of the dough with Mochiko before patting out each ball of dough. I didn't even need a rolling pin. I found the best way to transfer the flattened dough was to use two evenly sized metal spatulas side-by-side to lift the dough. I dipped the top of dough first into the oil and then immediately started pulling the spatulas towards me to free the metal from the dough. Careful! The oil will fervently sizzle against the raw dough.

Gluten-Free Fry Bread ready to be garnished and enjoyed.
170g or 1-1/4 cups brown rice flour, I use Bob's Red Mill brand
205g or 1-1/4 cups white rice flour, I use Bob's Red Mill brand
120g or 1 cup tapioca flour (tapioca starch and tapioca flour are the same thing)
165g or 1 cup Mochiko sweet rice flour, plus additional for dusting
2 scant tsps xanthan gum or guar gum
61g or 1/4 cup double-acting baking powder, preferably aluminum free
20g or 1 Tbsp sea salt
3 cups room temperature whole milk or filtered water
high heat oil for frying, such as safflower oil

Special Equipment:
heavy, deep sided skillet for frying such as cast iron
2 metal spatulas, preferably about the same size

The mixed dough is sticky and the consistency will lighten as it sits and the 
baking powder begins to activate.
Can you see the difference? The dough is lighter for resting 30 minutes.
It is now ready to be portioned, flattened and fried.
1. In a bowl, whisk the dry ingredients until mixed well. Add 3 cups of milk about 1/2 cup at a time. I poured with my left hand and worked the dough with the fingers and heal of my right hand until the ingredients came together and the dough no longer felt dry. Add additional liquid, if needed. The dough will be and should be on the sticky side. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. It's important to let the dry ingredients really absorb the water or milk, so don't skip the resting of the dough.

2. Portion the dough into 5 ounce balls. Lightly sprinkle Mochiko flour on a counter or cutting board. Sprinkle the top of the dough with a little flour. With your flour dusted hand, quickly flatten the ball into a 1/4-inch thick disc. I staggered the work, frying each disc while I patted out the next. I imagine you can stack flattened dough on top of each other layered with wax paper to avoiding sticking. This might be good "do ahead" prep for a party, but I'm speculating as I actually haven't tried it.

3. Heat about 1 to 1-1/2 inches of high heat oil in a large frying pan. I use a deep sided cast iron skillet. The oil should be very hot, about 180°F. Carefully slide one disc (using two spatulas to support the dough) into the hot pan being careful not to splash oil. Cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute on the second (the second side will cook faster than the first). Both sides should be puffed and golden brown. I like to drain the hot fry bread on paper towels for a minute before garnishing and serving.
4. Garnish the hot fry bread as desired and enjoy immediately. Makes 10 and probably serves 10 hungry people as well.

In front of the mission customers line up to buy freshly prepared Indian Fry Bread.

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