The "Other" Chowder

I think that one of the best things that any city, town or region has to offer is its farmers' market.  The market in Tucson is very similar to those we have experienced in Tuscany and Provence - it is a feast of purveyors who move from day to day to different plazas in the region.  In a city of one million such as Tucson, all these sites are "in the city," while in Europe they are in small towns across the region.  In either case, they are often one-half to one hour apart, to ensure that all areas are served. 

And, whether you are in Europe, South America or the Southwestern United States, the best things about any market are the vendors unique to that market, that region.  Our Tucson market boasts:
• a fascinating woman from Bolivia who has studied folk medicine around the world, shares her knowledge to help others and makes the most incredible vegetarian and chicken salteƱas, as well as her locally-inspired tamales,
• a stall that sells items from Native Seeds | S•E•A•R•C•H, a local organization with a mission to conserve, distribute and document the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seeds from the Southwest,
The Desert Oasis Soap Company that produces perfectly scented soaps, as well as gourmet dog treats,
• a tent from which one can purchase tomatoes raised in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences by students learning about hydroponics and hybridizing,
• a woman who makes amazing tortillas from mesquite, amaranth and wheat flours,
• a chile roaster, roasting poblanos, Anaheims, jalapeƱos, and all variety of bell peppers, and
• a knife and scissor sharpener - and who would not need this? - who is still seeking his princess (seriously, he has a sign right next to his sharpening wheel saying "Still seeking my princess...")

When we go to the market in St. Philip's Plaza on Sunday mornings we are in heaven.  And the best part about it?  It is year-round!  That was always the saddest thing for us in New England - the end of the market season as autumn took its grip.  Here, we are enriched with a never-ending supply of produce that is in season.  Sure, there are times of year when the pickings are slim but, at this time, there are so many things in season that I find it hard not to buy way too much.  We went today for tomatoes and corn and came back with them plus melons, apricots, peaches, eggplant, sunflowers, arugula, dried strawberries and a lemongrass plant.


Lemon Mint Ice Cream

Growing up in a suburban development had its advantages.  There was very little traffic and in summer we would take off on our bikes, not returning home until dinner.  The woods behind our house held all sorts of possibilities.  Building forts.  Hunting for salamanders and tadpoles.  Searching for (but never picking) Lady Slipper orchids.  After supper, we congregated in the street and marked out a playing field for kickball.  There were a dozen or so of us close enough in age to make it work and we played until it was too dark to see.

Every year, to celebrate the end of school, the neighbors organized a block party.  The street was cordoned off with sawhorses, tables set up end to end, and families gathered with an array of baskets and Tupperware containers.  While this was all very pleasant, the high point of the evening was the ride to the Big Scoop ice cream stand.  The family across the street owned (and still owns) a construction company, and Mr. R. would drive home a monstrous dump truck for the occasion.   Parents and children piled into the open bed and off we went, barreling down Route 1 and screaming with glee.  After pulling into the dusty parking lot - where do you park a dump truck? - we clambered down to buy our cones, no doubt oblivious to the spectacle we created.  We were convinced this was THE best adventure ever and once home, Mr. R would raise the truck bed slightly - as if to dump us out - for one final thrill.  More screams and laughter!  I can't imagine this happening today but so glad to have this happy memory.


In a Pickle

Doreen and I will often chat as our respective blog deadlines grow near.  "I haven't the vaguest idea about what to cook or write!" one of us will say.  The other, always supportive, will respond, "It will come to you at just the right time."  Well, we both cook and write all week long, but often the two don't intersect.  And then comes the photography component of all this.  It can be exhausting just to think about!  It takes exquisite timing to make sure the food is perfectly coiffed, angled, lit and ready for its close up.  And, even then, it can be iffy.  Last weekend I photographed a steak sandwich, and no amount of styling was going to convince the camera that the sauce wasn't a brownish gelatinous ooze.

Two weeks ago I told Doreen I was "in a pickle" about what to do.  Then Mom's tomato soup came to mind and the proverbial pickle was consumed.  While at the market buying the tomatoes, I spied piles and piles of Kirby cucumbers – pickling cucumbers – and I had the idea to make one of my favorite summertime treats.  So we came home and started to make pickles.  But first, we needed some sustenance; we also bought additional heirloom tomatoes and some fresh mozzarella at the market and made ourselves a little Insalata Caprese.  With a little basil from our  garden, a drizzle of our best extra-virgin olive oil and a glass of wine, we had the perfect lunch.  Could anything be better?

Each type of pickle has its place – a dill spear alongside a sandwich, a slice atop a burger, chopped sweet pickle relish in tuna salad – but my favorites, just for their sweet and sour flavor, and fresh crunch, are bread and butter pickles.  They're an old-fashioned pickle and, according to some online sources I have seen, date back to the Depression.  Another source cited that they were as 'common on the table as bread and butter,' thus their name.  I am not sure about those "e-facts" concerning these pickles, but their popularity during that era rings true – they were the favorite pickle for both my parents in their youths, which would land these pickles smack-dab in the middle of the Depression.


What's Happening

Hello there - I hope you had a wonderful, relaxing Fourth of July holiday.  Last Saturday night my oldest friend since third grade came for dinner.  It has been incredibly hot, so we ate a light meal of chicken with cilantro / spinach rice topped with cumin yogurt (recipe in a future post).  Nancy read my tarot cards (things are looking up!) and at 9pm we walked down the hill to view the fireworks.  A little slow at first, but the finale was terrific and now the tourist season is in full swing.  If you're out and about in Portsmouth, here are a few things that may be of interest . . .
  • The musical "Peter Pan" is performed every Thursday through Sunday at Prescott Park on the Piscataqua River, June 25th through August 22nd.  Concerts every Wednesday.
  • Talented jewelry designer Rebecca Alden Fortier has a beautiful new blog where you can see examples of her stunning work.  Or go to Worldly Goods and be tempted in person. 
  • Recently I had a fantastic meal at Cava - a wine and tapas bar tucked into Commercial Alley.  Sit at the bar and order the chef's tasting menu.  Trust me on this one.
  • For those who love putting pen to paper, Gus and Ruby Letterpress is an elegant little shop now located in Market Square.    
  • Overnight Art 2010 is a public art competition resulting in a temporary outdoor art exhibit from June to October.  Take a stroll around town to view the six pieces - this year's theme is "Bridges", inspired by the public debate surrounding the bridges that connect Portsmouth with Kittery.
Until next time,
- Doreen