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 12, 2010

Fideo - Calabacitas Style and the Alternate Universe of Bisbee

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

   "Goin' down to Bisbee," as people tend to say before departing for the the tiny town, is to anticipate a tumble down the proverbial rabbit rattlesnake hole into an alternate universe where time and reality are both simultaneously extended and retracted. Imagine, if you will, as you drive through Mule Pass Tunnel, the gateway to Bisbee, that you are passing through the darkness and into the light of a fantasy, an alternate mile-high desert setting for retelling the story of Alice in Wonderland.
   Bisbee's a place where anything goes. You can lay low and hide out for awhile. Afterall, hasn't everyone wanted to disappear at least once in their life? If laying low isn't on the agenda, then push beyond societal constraints and get your freak on. Everyone else seems to be doing it and you can too! You might just have your consciousness expanded (its cheaper than meditating in an Ashram in India) or have it diminished over the course of one seemingly endless night (definitely a cheaper alternative than waking up hungover in Las Vegas).

    In the final analysis, Bisbee is a study in constrasts. A bit of an enigma, if you will. The town itself is quaint, a mining town established in 1880 with original buildings standing the test of time - probably more out of habit than of interest. Mostly dilapidated Victorians dot the tiered hillsides with a few excellent restorations interspersed in the mix. On the surface, the scene is antiquated and rich with history. On the other hand, a bar stool philospher at Elmo's might remark that Bisbee is a vivid, acid tripped, stream of consciousness. Change positions and your perspective shifts too as if viewing a cubist painting or a holographic print with a tilt of of the head from left to right like a pendulum.
   Bisbee can and will likely be anything you want it to be. A relaxing three day weekend to bird watch and hunt antiques, or cast yourself as the lead actor in a weekend odessey reminiscent of a Terry Gilliam film. After a weekend in Bisbee you might have a sudden epiphany to move there, like Juliette, or decide it's time to hit the road and flee back to the city, like me.
   By the 1950's the mining industry in Bisbee declined, although pit-mining was still underway. You can see for yourself the evidence and ramifications of the industry. Head through town and you can't miss Exhibit A, also known as The Lavender Pit, a permanent abomination exclamation point on the red landscape. Pull right-in and park in the lot. Pehaps you'll even glide to a stop in front of the sign strapped to the chain link fence that reads "SCENIC VIEW". Ironic, much? Perhaps even oxymoronic.  
   The fence snakes around the circumference of the hole to prevent gawkers from accidently falling over the rim to slide down the slippery slope into the welcoming arms of Haides. The view is jaw-dropping all right and will certainly leave viewers incredulous at what havoc can be wrought by humans wielding heavy equipment. I wouldn't proclaim it scenic in the traditional sense. It's a crater, but the Grand Canyon it is not. The Pit is located near the famous Copper Queen Mine. If you've ever wondered about the details of mining, take one of the popular tours led by former miners. Hard hats, miners lamps and slickers are included in the fee.

   My view on turquoise is probably more ironic. It's okay, go ahead and roll your eyes... for all my disdain over the residual effects of mining copper in The Lavender Pit, I sure do love one of the by-products: brilliant blue stones streaked with black veins named "Bisbee Blue". The turquoise is a finite resource and the stones are highly sought after by collectors. More than likely, if we meet, you'll see my big ol' turquoise bracelet adorning a wrist. That's also something that we three sisters have in common - our love for turquoise bracelets - that we surely inherited from our Mother.

   For as many times as I've been to Bisbee over the past twenty years, on every visit I always discover something new, even if it has been hiding in plain sight for a century. Last time I was in town, my husband and I drove up Brewery Gulch to Mimosa Market to pick-up a few last minute gorcery items before driving to Juliette's for dinner. My eyes traveled over familiar sites until I registered an anomoly - and it wasn't Joe Klinger's Bark Park or his nearby home that is uniquely his. Instead, it was a well-cared for restored house painted pale yellow, perched on a hill, with the most amazing eye-catching patio. The slatted roof was supported by rust colored Amazon women formed from metal. Stop the car, I commanded while estatically pointing to the structure. I popped out of the car and snapped a few photos for future reference.
   Later that evening, I gushed to Juliette about the scultpures. Of course, living in a small town, Juliette knew exactly what I was referring to. "Ben Dale made the figures. I'm so glad he's working again," she said matter-of-factly as if that should settle the matter. After a quick scan of my brain, Ben Dale came up zeros in my mind. My gray matter produced only the name Jim Dale, the talented narrator of the "Harry Potter" series on audio books. When I gave Juliette a blank expression, she patiently reminded me that Ben was the subject of an e-mail she sent to me (albeit it was quite a few years ago.) Since I keep an archive of correspondence with my sisters, I can share with you an excerpt of Juliette's e-mail that I dug up after returning home:

   "...Out of the blue I thought about Ben Dale a few days ago. "Where is he?" I wondered. I have not seen him for at least a year, maybe more. I've known Ben Dale since I first moved to Bisbee. Or I should say I've "known of" Ben Dale - I didn't meet him right away. I met him after I'd been in town for about six months.    
   We had mutual friends that knew him from art school in Boston, and me from repping their art work. They introduced us, and we hit it off instantly. Ben owns one of my most personal and irreverent pieces of artwork, and I have commissioned him for various projects over the years.

  I can't even tell you what prompted me to wonder about Ben - where he is, and what he's doing. It was just suddenly there. It was just a feeling that something essential had gone missing, and in my internal subconscious inventory of friends I realized it was Ben. For those of you who are not blessed with the knowing of Ben Dale, I will tell you a few things.
   Ben is tall, slender, and has brown eyes that when focused on you give a sense of vulnerability, a sense that he gets the joke before you've told it. You will not have any secrets from Ben. He's an old soul. He is one of the most gifted artists I've ever been blessed to know. His artistic heritage is strewn across Bisbee. The post office bulletin board. The bus stop at City Hall. The gates at Goar Park. The copper angels off of Subway Street, etc.

   I once had the most horrible blind date of my life in Bowie, AZ. I walked into a house that had no functioning floors or toilet, and what I noticed was the doors. It was obvious to me that they had been painted by Ben Dale. It was the only redeeming factor of my blind (and shall remain nameless) date - the only thing I remember fondly. My date proved to be an egocentric loser has-been (who was much too old for me), but I have to admit he had great taste in doors. I wish he'd valued indoor plumbing, and solid floors as much as he did his doors, but c'est la vie.
   I digress. I walked into "Your Thrift Shop" this afternoon. Unless I am on my way to work, I cannot drive past the local thrift shop without stopping. It's an addiction worse than cigarettes. This also explains why I am not currently able to walk into my garage. Anyway, when I turned the corner into housewares there he was carefully inspecting an antique toaster. Not the electrical kind. The kind you set on a wood stove, a gas burner, or a camp fire. I did not say anything. I just stood there, and took him in, trying to figure out if he was a figment of my overactive imagination. He stood in the isle quite oblivious to me, being caught up in his inspection of the toaster. Suddenly he paused, stood still for a moment, and then turned to look at me. A slow smile spread across his face and revealed a gleaming gold tooth that was unfamiliar to me. Ben Dale with a pirate aspect - nice!

   So there was missing in action Ben Dale. In much the same flesh I'd last seen him in. Still tall and slender. Same soul penetrating eyes. Only the gold tooth was different, and he seemed to be carrying a bit more of the weight of the world on his shoulders.
   We exchanged the usual niceties. How are the kids? Where are you living? What are you doing artistically? We discussed politics briefly. George sucks was the general consensus... neither one of us is happy about the state of world affairs.
   I was quite disappointed to hear that Ben is not doing his artwork. He is currently living in Double Adobe, caring for his family, building a house, and tending to their goats, chickens, ducks, etc. He seemed happy. I couldn't help but feel sad that someone with Ben's genius for art was not using it. He says it doesn't pay, and I've known that to be true. In a bad economy the first thing people can live without is art. It's true. It's still sad.
    I just wanted to say how happy I was to see Ben. Glad that he is happy, and finding peace as a father, husband, and farmer. And I guess I want all of us to wonder when we pass by his legacy of art scattered throughout Bisbee - why someone this talented is not able to sustain a living as an artist? I find it mind numbing that Ben Dale has resorted to being a farmer because being an artist doesn't pay, while boys in the NBA are making millions of dollars. Can someone please explain this to me?"

      Needless to say, I am a fan of Ben Dale, too. His art is simply amazing, and I'm happy he has found his way back to the torch. Sooner or later, the muse appears and the artist must acquiesce to the creative urge! I know this feeling in my own small way and it is impossible to ignore. The world is definitely a more interesting place with Ben Dale's art in it.
    After a morning of baking bread and pizza dough, we spent the afternoon wandering around Bisbee with our daughters visiting our favorite shops and galleries on Main Street (The Horse Hotel Antiques,VaVoom! and Sam+Poe Gallery with a pass through door into PanTerra). Our minds inevitably turned towards dinner. We vascillated between eating in or reserving a table at our favorite local restaurant Cafe Roka. In the final determination, Juliette offered to  make a simple meal to eat al fresco on her 100 year old porch. The challenge, since Juliette chose to accept it, was to rummage through her pantry and refrigerator to whip up a meal as if she were a contenstant on Top Chef who intrepidly confronts the Mother Hubbard's Cupboard challenge head-on.

   By the time we arrived, the Fideo was simmering happily on the stove, and we stepped outside anticipating sunset, lingering there to enjoy the declining heat of the summer day with the onset of twilight. We saw Juliette's neighbor park her car across the street. We sponanteously invited her to come wine and dine with us. She joined us a few minutes later as the sky turned to navy and then to black velvet. The Fideo was a hit and we all gobbled up our portions and some went back for seconds. Our chatter and laughter floated on the bouyant summer air. Stars shone brightly, not dimmed by the echo of city lights.
   The next morning we checked-out of The Canyon Rose Suites and met Juliette and her girls at The Bisbee Breakfast Club in Lowell, situated a few doors down from the Co-Op and on an outer bank of The Lavender Pit, for a hearty meal before heading to Tucson. On the way out of town we stopped by High Desert Market that is directly across from the Copper Man Statue on Tombstone Canyon Road. I picked up a pound of my favorite coffee, Old Bisbee Roasters Guatemalan Huehuetenago (try to say that three times fast).
   I also bought a bottle of Keeling-Schaefer "Three Sisters Syrah", an outstanding wine that will silence any doubts as to whether great red wines are being produced in Southern Arizona. Follow that bottle with an offering from Dos Cabezas Wineworks and you might just convince yourself to take a tour of the region's wineries.
   In a  few weeks, along with the aforementioned wine and the coffee, you'll also be able to buy Juliette's out-of-this-world breads at both the High Desert Market and the Co-Op. Coincidently, Juliette's bread tastes great with both coffee and wine. Try it you'll like it!
   So much more can be said or not said about Bisbee, but as Juliette would say, that's all I have to say about that... for now!

Fideo Calabacitas Style
   Although we tend to think of fideo as Mexican in origin, according to Wikipedia, it is actually hails from Spain. The word Fideo is Arabic in origin from the Muslim communities of the Iberian Peninsula.
   Calabicitas is a cooked squash dish that typically includes roasted green chiles and tomatoes, corn, garlic, onions and finished with a liberal sprinkling of Mexican cheese. Kraft, Kirkland and other cheese manufacturers offer packaged Mexican Cheese Blends, but they taste bland and more often than not, the cheeses are tossed with flour to prohibit sticking, which also acts to diminish flavor. Instead, buy good quality cheeses and shred by hand - it really doesn't take that long. Or, use the indispensible food processor and a shredding disc to shred the cheeses more quickly. The flavor is noticeably better - we promise!
   Juliette boiled shrimp in Tecate beer with two crushed cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of red chile powder, drained and sprinkled with fresh lime juice. Taking an extra step to brine the shrimp before any method of cooking ensures great texture. The Fideo is also a great way to use leftovers, including meatballs, diced or shredded chicken and cooked, crumbled sausages or sliced chorizo.

7 ounce package Fideo Cortado Fino (Vermicelli)
2 Tbsps oil, divided
6 cups homedmade chicken stock or canned chicken broth
1 15-oz can red enchilada sauce (Las Palmas recommended)
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
1 4-oz can diced green chiles (or about 4 fresh roasted)
2 ears fresh corn, boiled and cut from the cob
1 15-oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes (or use fresh roasted)
2 Mexican grey squash (or 1 zucchini and 1 yellow crook neck), roasted and chopped
1/2 head garlic, diced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Mexican cheese blend (typically a mix of equal parts Monterey Jack, Cheddar and sometimes Provolone or Mozzerella)
shrimp, chorizo or meatballs, if desired
fresh limes, quartered for garnish

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil on medium high heat. Add fideo and stir constantly until browned (be careful not to burn!). Add about 4 cups of the chicken stock and the enchilada sauce, and reduce heat to medium. Stir occasionally.
2. In a cast iron pan with remaining oil, caramelize onions over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for two more minutes. Add to fideo along with the green chilies, corn, squash, and tomatoes.
3. Add more chicken broth as necessary to keep it somewhat liquid. Cook over low heat for about 15 minutes stirring often. Add a cup of the cheese and stir until well blended.
4. Serve in bowls and top with more cheese, and top with with meat or shrimp, if desired. Servings: 6


  1. You guys do THE best blogs and your photos are "drool inducing". Bisbee is the home I am away from right now, living in Mazatlan, so this was a good 'un. Loved the bread and pizza making, as well. Super blog, super sisters, and super sizzlers.

  2. Hola Zoe! Muchas Gracias! With some, errr, joking aside, sometimes writing a blog can seem like a lonely endeavor. The eternal question reverberates: is anyone listening? Occasional comments of endearment keep the gas flame burning, the pot simmering, the... you get my drift. Back to the story board! Thanks again, Michelle


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