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, September 29, 2013

Tohono Chul Park, The Night Blooming Queen and Stuffed Poblano Chiles with Pepita Sauce

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

"There are no vacant lots in nature." ~Edward Abbey

"I don't want to sell the land. I don't want it cemented over. I want to preserve it."
                                                          ~Jean Wilson, former owner of Tohono Chul Park

   Thankfully there are living among us those brave souls who decline commercial real estate developers'  lucrative offers to purchase a family's prime real estate. The developer's goal, in the words of Joni Mitchell, is to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. Jean and Richard Wilson are a couple who loved their desert home and decided to preserve the land for the benefit and use of the general public. When Tohono Chul Park was officially dedicated as a desert preserve in 1980, Tucsonans rejoiced.
   Just west of one of the busiest intersections in Tucson, the park is a 49-acre oasis in the desert, with mountain views all around and wildlife scurrying about the property. It is a perfect place to take a walk on 1/4 and 1/2 mile desert loops, or to enjoy an early or mid day meal in the courtyard or on the patio. You will hear the birds sing and see the lizards scurry. I also saw a Gopher snake slide across the walking path on my last visit and a small bunny with a rather large puff of tail hop down the trail.
   Tohono Chul Park has planted the largest public collection of Night Blooming Cerus, a cactus that blooms once a year, on only one night, and under the full moon. The white blooms, as you will see in the photos below, are quite dramatic. It turns out the blooms are a much anticipated event. The Park sends Facebook alerts as to the progress of the blooms and then posts a final update the day before the blooms are to unveil themselves. In early July, the park was inundated with admires lining up to capture photos of the dramatic flowers, me included and my reluctant husband in tow.

A Night Blooming Cereus (Peniocereus Greggii) illuminated by a flashlight held by my husband.

When inquiring minds asked about my night viewing the flowers, I jokingly responded that I saw a lot of ass. I saw way more behinds than flowers because most folks were bent over taking photos.
The Garden Shop at the entrance of the La Entrada Greenhouse.
   There are three former homes on the property. The bistro is established in the house built in 1963 in the hacienda-style with a formal courtyard and fountain. The lushly planted back patio seats more people than the courtyard. Fortunately both outdoor spaces are equally delightfully locations to enjoy breakfast and lunch. Enjoy a prickly pear flavored lemonade and buy a bottle of Cheri's Prickly Pear Cactus Syrup to take home with you. The syrup is made in Tucson from fruit picked on a prickly pear cactus farm located in the Santa Cruz Valley, about 45 minutes south of Tucson.
   There is also indoor seating when the temperatures rise to the point of being uncomfortable, typically only in the summer months and approaching mid to late afternoon. Mornings in Tucson are usually gorgeous year round with the exception of the winter months when it can be quite chilly in the desert. Every couple of years, much to the delight of citizens, Tucson seems to receive a storm that scatters a light dusting of snow on the mountain ranges, palm trees and cacti.
   If you are seeking gifts, the La Fuente gift shop and adjacent La Entrada Greenhouse and Garden Shop offer unique items made by local artists. The La Entrada Greenhouse offers an interesting variety of desert plants for sale, including succulents, cacti, wildflowers, plants, shrubs and trees. The Propagation Greenhouse is open twice a year and offers buyers specimens and cultivated hybrids that are not available elsewhere in town.

The West House features a courtyard and fountain. Enjoy breakfast or lunch al fresco.

Two very large agaves near the patio of the West House.
Al fresco dining at the Bistro.
Rattlesnakes do their best to avoid humans. Do your part by staying on trails.
The Courtyard with bubbling fountain.

Do you see the smaller door within the larger door?

A "Tree of Life" made of clay. I have a gigantic tree of life made of metal in my home.
  Tucson and surrounding areas are a bird watcher's paradise. According to the Tohonol Chul Official Guide, "Thirty-eight species of birds make their permanent home at the Park while another 57 migrant species visit the Park seasonally."  The Park also features a hummingbird garden that is planted with fauna that attract hummers.
  The colors associated with the desert - yellow, orange, red and purple - are reflected in the 50 species of wildflowers that can be viewed on the grounds in the appropriate seasons. I couldn't help but photograph "each tiny freaking miracle of nature", as Juliette likes to say.

This brave bird was quite determined to snack on the Desert Lupine even though I was acting like a paparazzi.

Penstemon, also known as beardtongues (really?), bring gorgeous color to a garden.

Mallow flowers require little water making the plant a perfect blooming addition to a desert landscape.

Golden Columbine thrive in the desert and will attract butterflies to a garden.
Delicate Parry's Penstemon lightly dance on a breeze.
I liked this repeating combination of pink flowers against a pink wall.
Cholla (pronounced choy-ya) and lupine on a sunny morning at the Park.

The Santa Catalina mountains form a backdrop for these white spikey flowers.
I am partial to agaves.
Art imitates nature.
   There's no telling what type of wildlife you might spot on the grounds; everything from reptiles to mammals. Similar to my advice when I wrote about the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, for a walk around the Park, it is wise to slather your entire epidermis with high SPF sunscreen. For best results, place a wide brimmed hat on your head and wear closed toe shoes. Carrying water with you is also a good idea.
Desert Spiny Lizards are friendly but skittish.
I was walking down the path minding my own business when this gopher snake decided to cut in front of me. Sheesh!

A view inside the La Entrada Greenhouse.

   The Mission of Tohono Chul Park is, "to enrich people's lives by providing them the opportunity to find peace and inspiration in a place of beauty, to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert, and to gain knowledge of the natural and cultural heritage of this region." I say, mission accomplished.

Roasted poblano chiles are quite tasty stuffed with rice and sausage or leftover mashed potatoes.

Stuffed Poblano Chiles with Pepita Sauce

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Linda's Hatch Chile and Cheese Soufflé (Gluten-Free) and How To Roast and Peel Fresh Chiles

by Linda

"The chile, it seems to me, is one of the few foods that has its own goddess."
                         ~Diana Kennedy, author of The Art of Mexican Cooking

My Hatch chile and cheese soufflé being lifted from the oven. Hot and bubbly goodness...
Hatch chiles grown in California arrive in markets at the end of summer.
   Diana Kennedy, author and authority on Mexican cooking has this to say about the chile, "The chile, it seems to me, is one of the few foods that has its own goddess. In Mexican cuisine and lore, this “Respectable Lady of the Little Red Chile” is a deity that represents the chile’s everlasting significance in the ritual life of the culture. Losio, the Zapotec god who looks after newly sown crops, also takes an interest in the chile. And in Pahuatlán, Puebla, Otomi Indians believe in chile plant spirits that protect the seeds and the harvest."

   Hatch chiles are a variety of chile that hail from the state of New Mexico where they are grown in the Hatch Valley. Since the flavor of these chiles is rich and usually on the milder side (you can get a hot one from time to time, so beware) they are prized for their intense and deep flavor. Hatch chiles are also grown in California where they are harvested starting in late summer. Roasting them intensifies the flavor, and if you are not able to pick them up freshly roasted from your local farmer's market, the following pictorial will show you how to easily do this at home. There are many way to accomplish roasting the chiles and removing the skins, but the method that I illustrate below has become my favorite.

Hatch chiles roasting off the side of the highway in September ~ Benson, Arizona.
   This Hatch chile and cheese soufflé makes a great side dish for grilled meats. In developing the recipe, I wanted something simple and gluten-free. I love it alongside grilled Tri Tip. Add a salad or fresh veggies and you will have an end of summer supper that will celebrate these chiles that are only available fresh for just a few weeks in August and September. I love to reheat the leftovers (if there are any!) the next morning for breakfast.

Hatch Chiles: Simple Instructions for Roasting and Peeling

The roasted chiles are ready to be peeled and seeded.

Place fresh chiles on a sheet pan lined with parchment.

I like to rub a little olive oil on them before they go in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes.

When finished the chiles are puffed and brown in spots. These are ready
to rest in a brown bag before peeling.

This step makes peeling chiles a snap. Put hot chiles in a brown grocery bag.

Fold the top of the bag down and allow the hot chiles to steam
inside for about 30 minutes or until cool.

The cooled chiles can now be peeled. Remove stems and seeds along with the peel.

The peeled chiles look like this. Do not rinse them with water to remove seeds because that will remove flavor. Do not worry about a few seeds. You will never know
they are there in the finished soufflé.
Linda's Hatch Chile and Cheese Soufflé
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