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

     Poblano peppers are perfect for stuffed chile preparations and are generally rated as medium heat. With that being said, a word of caution. I have eaten the stray hot - even very hot - poblano on more than one occasion. Some years ago on Thanksgiving, Juliette added some roasted poblanos to her stuffing and just about blew everyone's heads off. I think that might have also been the same year she rubbed Emeril's Cajun spice on the turkey. It was the hottest Thanksgiving on record, if you know what I mean. I'm not one to drink milk with any meal, but a tall glass could have been a candidate over wine at that celebration. That's the trick to kill lingering burning mouth - eating some type of dairy product. Milk will do. So will ice cream, but not sorbet. As the saying goes, to be forewarned is to be forearmed, so give those chiles a taste test before adding to a big pot of soup, stews, chili con carne or stuffing!
   When a poblano is dried, the name changes to either Ancho or Mulato. Anchos are dried green poblano peppers and are an important contribution to Mexican sauces such as enchilada and mole. Mulatos are dried red poblano peppers that have a smoky flavor.
   You can also exchange one pound roasted, cubed chicken or turkey for the turkey sausage.  Of course, you can avoid adding meat entirely and have a wonderful vegetarian meal or side dish. I think leftover mashed potatoes also make a winning substitution for the rice in this recipe. Speaking of rice... my favorite white rice is Jasmine. I follow the directions on the package and thoroughly wash the rice before cooking. If I choose to cook the rice in the rice cooker, I simply decrease the water called for by 1/4 cup for a double recipe. In the brown rice category, my favorite is medium grain for its softer texture. If you really wanted to, you could substitute quinoa for the rice, in which case, cook the quinoa in a rice cooker so it doesn't get overly mushy which can happen on the stovetop; just don't decrease the water proportion on the package's cooking directions. Regardless of whether I am cooking rice or quinoa in the rice cooker, I always add about 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt in with the water.
   This recipe is based upon one authored by Barbara Chernetz featured in Cooking Light magazine, October 1994.

Leftover mashed potatoes are outstanding as a filling.
6 fresh poblanos, about 3 ounces each
2 tsps olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 small red bell pepper, diced
black olives, cut into rounds, optional
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 pound turkey sausage, casings removed
2 cups cooked white rice, brown rice, quinoa or leftover mashed potatoes
olive oil cooking spray
about 1/2 cup cheese: shredded cheddar or Monterey, crumbled feta or Ranchera
7-ounces plain Greek yogurt or sour cream, if making stuffing mixture with rice, optional

For the sauce:
1/3 cup salted hulled pumpkinseed kernels (shelled pepitas)
1/3 cup shallots, peeled and minced
1 small jalapeño, minced
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 18-ounce cans tomatillos, drained

Mexican Crème Fraîche, optional
1/4 cup fresh cilantro or Italian parsley, roughly chopped
additional cheese sprinkled on top of tomatillo sauce
salted hulled pumpkinseed kernels (shelled pepitas)

Garlic, shallots,  jalapeño and pepitas are added to the tomatillos.
The gas grill is set to high.
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut a lengthwise slit in each poblano; discard seeds, leaving stem intact. Blanch poblanos in boiling water for 2 minutes; drain and let cool. Alternatively, the poblanos can also be washed, dried, slathered with oil and roasted under the broiler or on the grill until each poblano is charred on all sides. Put charred poblanos in a bowl, cover with a heavy towel, and steam for a few minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove skins, cut a lengthwise slit in each poblano and carefully remove and discard seeds, leaving stem intact. Do not wash the chile! If a few errant seeds remain, it is not a big deal. The remaining charred bits of skin add great flavor.

Charred and ready to steam for about 10 minutes.
Remove and discard the charred skins and seeds.
I added cooked turkey sausage and shredded cheddar to leftover buttermilk mashed potatoes.
To the cooked Jasmine Rice I add caramelized onions, sliced black olives, shredded cheddar, and plain Greek yogurt.
2. Preheat a skillet over medium heat until hot. Add oil then onion, bell pepper, garlic, salt and pepper. Sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add turkey sausage, using a spatula to crumble, and cook the meat until it is browned and cooked through. Remove from heat and stir in cooked rice.
3. Spoon about 2/3 cup rice mixture into each poblano. Place stuffed poblanos on a baking sheet coated with olive oil cooking spray, and lightly coat poblanos with olive oil cooking spray, too.

Sure I could use my knife skills, but I prefer to quickly process the garlic, shallots and jalapeño in the food processor.
Using canned tomatillos in this recipe is perfectly fine (and way easier).
Drain the tomatillos before pureeing. There is no need to reserve the canning liquid.

4. For the sauce: In a food processor, fitted with a steel blade, with the machine running, first drop the peeled garlic cloves through the feed tube. Then add the shallots and jalapeño. Stop the machine, and add the drained tomatillos and pepitas. Process until finely ground. Pour mixture into a saucepan, and place over low heat; cook about 5 to 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently.
5. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake stuffed poblanos at 350°F for about 30 minutes. Drizzle each poblano with sauce and serve. Garnish with additional shredded cheese and pepitas, if you like. Pass remaining sauce on the side. Serves 6.


1 comment:

  1. Some of the finest and most magical images of the Queen I've ever seen! I wish I could have been there this year. Lovely photos of a much-loved place, thank you!


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