Photos by Michelle and Linda
"Religion is within yourself and you don't have to go to church and you don't have to be one of those people who goes every Sunday." — Ted DeGrazia
Jordan, set out for a trip to the edge of the Santa Catalina Mountains to visit the DeGrazia Gallery and Mission in the Sun. Michelle had been to the location before to see the talented dancers of the Ballet Folklórico Tapatío perform on the grounds, and she had wanted to show me the beautiful gallery and mission ever since. Jordan and I arrived in Tuscon in the last few days of November to celebrate a belated Thanksgiving, and Maddie's and Jordan's conjoined birthdays in the first week of December.
I always forget in between trips to Arizona, just how warm it is most of the time. As usual I packed far too many winter clothes in my suitcase. It is December after all, I told myself stubbornly when I was selecting what I would bring with me. I remembered there being some cold days now and then when I lived there some years back. As it turned out, the sun shone brightly, and it was in the high seventies for most of the ten days that we spent in Arizona. My Northern California wardrobe was mostly too warm to wear, and I dragged it to Arizona and then back again for the most part unworn. This is exactly how our sister, Juliette, has made a business of purchasing the castoff woolen coats and sweaters from all the folks who move to Phoenix or Tuscon to retire from far colder climes, and suddenly realize that they may never need a coat again. Clearly, having lived in this city in Arizona before, I should have known better.
We didn't arrive at the gallery until mid-afternoon, and I a little was disappointed that we didn't arrive during a time that is optimum for taking good photos. Internally chiding myself, I had to remind myself that we were on vacation, and I certainly had enjoyed my lunch out with my sister and my son with the accompanying margarita, which was suddenly making me feel like I might need a nap on a bench in the shade of the desert flora of the Cactus Corral. The sun was shining hard down upon us as we entered the grounds. Fortunately, the gallery is cool inside because of the thick adobe walls which naturally maintain a comfortable ambient temperature.
|Etorre "Ted" DeGrazia—self-portrait.|
The gallery which was built by DeGrazia himself is housed in a beautiful adobe building designed to look like a mission. It is on North Swan Road in Tucson nestled at the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains that rise up behind the property. DeGrazia was early to embrace and pay homage to life in the desert, and to paint the magic that he found there.
His images are well-known around the world, but particularly in Arizona, where there are prints and cards that feature his colorful, often whimsical and impressionistic-style paintings everywhere you turn. They abound in gift shops and malls across the state.
The lethargic-feeling me perked up considerably once inside the gallery. The building is large and is worth seeing on its own. Although Ted's style of painting is not my personal favorite, I enjoyed the textures and bright colors of the collection of paintings and the sentiments expressed. I hadn't realized before my visit that he also made jewelry. Some of the pieces that he created are in the photos below—including a stunning bracelet set with turquoise cabs in a gold setting that DeGrazia himself wore. As a collector of turquoise jewelry it was an eye-poppingly amazing piece just fit for a king or queen.
DeGrazia built a small chapel nearby that is dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe who is the patron saint of Mexico and who is beloved in the households of we sisters. We each have our own altars dedicated to Guadalupe. This tiny chapel has a beautiful feel to it, and it was a lovely and serene way to end the afternoon by spending time in this sacred space.
|Michelle pauses for a photo in the Mission in the Sun.|
Over the years I have discovered that most people I encounter living in California generally do not understand the magic of the desert or the incredible variation in geography and wildlife contained within the borders of the state of Arizona. Unless they have spent time in the actual desert and other locations in Arizona (and I do not mean having visited a resort for a weekend in Phoenix or Tucson), they fail to have a full comprehension of the majesty and inherent drama contained within the natural landscape. Once Arizona gets in your blood, though, you will always return. You will be drawn back to the long and vibrant sunsets, wide open vistas, jagged mountains, monsoons with lightning illuminating the horizon, towering cumulonimbus clouds and the barren yet fecund majesty of the desert. Truly, Arizona does get deep into your blood, and I could feel this love of place exuding through the works of Ted DeGrazia. I understand that love, and I was deeply moved by it.
We sisters all have artistic pursuits, or at least we try to maintain creative endeavors while we trudge through our daily lives making a living and put dinner on the table just like everyone else. Ted DeGrazia's spirit lives on through what he built and the art he created. Though he died in 1982, his soul is very much alive in this place, which is a very inspirational thing for a creative spirit to see and feel. It was time well-spent to contemplate artistic passions, and see how much lasting beauty can be created in a life that is committed to self-expression.
|This is a painting of Michelle's favorite church in Tucson, San Xavier del Bac.|
Michelle's Creamy Pinto Beans
|The cooked pinto beans become creamy by lightly mashing a portion of the beans.|
The key to making soft beans is to avoid adding salt or any type of acidic flavoring, including citrus juices until the beans are fully cooked. It's also really important to soak the beans in filtered water overnight.
To pick over and clean the pinto beans, grab a handful or two of beans directly from the bag and drop into a shallow bowl. Swirl the bowl which helps to detect a small rock or debris hidden among the beans. Once you are satisfied the beans in the bowl are clear of foreign matter, transfer the beans to a large colander and repeat the process until the entire bag of beans has been sorted. Then, give the beans a good rinse under cold running water. Place the washed beans in a soup pot and add enough fresh, filtered water to cover the pintos by a good two to three inches. The beans will soak up the water and expand considerably overnight.
For a larger party, I like to make a double batch of beans and prepare a day ahead of time. Like most soups and stews, the flavor of the beans only gets better with a rest in the refrigerator. Simply reheat the beans over medium heat on the stove top.
1 pound pinto beans, picked over to remove tiny stones
enough filtered water to cover beans by 2 to 3 inches
ghee, olive oil, good quality lard or bacon fat
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 jalapeño, minced (I discard the seeds because I don't want the beans to be spicy)
1/4 tsp chili flakes
1 Tbsp fine sea salt
large soup pot
hand masher or immersion blender
|The beans were soaked overnight and are now ready to be cooked.|
1. Clean and then soak the beans overnight as described in the introduction.
2. Drain the beans in a large colander and discard soaking water.
3. Place a large soup pot over medium heat. Drizzle the bottom with olive oil, ghee, bacon fat or fat of your choice. Sauté the yellow onions for five minutes. Add the jalapeño, cook for two minutes, then add the minced garlic and the chili flakes, cooking for another two minutes.
4. Add the soaked and drained beans to the pot. Add enough cold, filtered water to cover beans by 1/2-inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Stir the beans every half hour or so. Adjust the heat, as needed, to maintain a simmer. The beans should be soft in about 2 hours. The beans need to remain covered with water throughout the cooking process. Add additional water, if needed. Towards the end of cooking, pull a bean out of the pot and eat it. If it's soft, the beans are ready. If there is still resistance in the bean to your bite, continue to simmer the beans until tender.
5. Once the beans are soft, add 1 tablespoon of fine sea salt. Stir well.
6. For creamy beans, remove any excess cooking water until the liquid is just even with the top layer of beans. (Reserve the cooking water in case you need to thin the beans.) Use a hand masher and mash the beans until the desired consistency is reached. You can also use an immersion blender for this job, just make sure you don't over blend. A third option is to remove a cup of beans and whirl in a blender and then return the puréed beans to the pot. If the beans rewarm on the stove top for a significant amount of time, you may need to thin with a little of the cooking liquid or water, depending upon what you have on hand.
|Jordan soaks up some desert sun. It has been a long winter in |
Northern California where he makes his home.