Thursday, February 21, 2013

Snow! in Tucson!

Years can go by without snowfall in Tucson.

So when the rain turned to snow late yesterday morning, I just had to let the kids go outside for a bit; the school where I teach has a significant number of students from Africa--this girl from Ethiopia had never seen it snow before yesterday:

The mountains all around get dumped on several times each winter, but to have the snow level drop down to 2500' or 2000' (600m-760m)--the last time that happened was six years ago, before my wife and I moved here...SNOW IS ALWAYS A BIG DEAL IN TUCSON!

So--as it began to accumulate, the only sane and humane thing to do was to let the class go outside for a quick snowball fight:
(I got one in, too; the students weren't quite quick enough to get me back...and then the bell rang...)

Such a change--just the day before, the high temperature here was 70 degrees.

After school, I went home to change into hiking boots, then went up to Sabino Canyon. The sun had come out and was already melting the lower-elevation snow--that happens so fast in the desert:
...but then the clouds began to roll back in... 

Before I could hike back to the car, a sleety mix began falling.

...and back home, by dinnertime, it had begun to snow--AND stick!--again... 

...unusual to see oleander, cactus, mesquite and yucca frosted with the white stuff...

There was no guarantee, though, that it would stick around until the morning...
...but I set the alarm early just in case (today and tomorrow are school-holidays in Tucson--the Rodeo/Fiesta de los Vaqueras is in town)...

When I woke up this morning, there was still a bit of snow on the patio, so I put my coffee in a travel mug and got in the car, betting that the higher elevation Rincon foothills might still be covered in snow. For years I've wanted to see the rare spectacle of a saguaro forest covered in snow, and Saguaro National Park East is only about a 15-20 minute drive from where we live, so I hoped that last night's snow hadn't melted yet...
...and when I got there, I got my wish:

I got there right before the sun rose over the Rincon Mountains.

Looking back over the NE part of the Tucson basin, 
toward the Santa Catalina Mountains, still covered in clouds:

The ocotillos had just begun to leaf out last week--now blanketed...
 ...but not for long; as soon as the sun rose over the ridge, 
I could hear the drip drip of the snow melting all around me...

For me, a teacher, having today off from work--the timing couldn't have been more might have been overpoweringly tempting to call in sick had today been a school-day... a giant pitchfork, the saguaro's shadow...

By the time I got back to the trailhead parking lot, the melting was well under way...

So ephemeral...

Snow in Tucson.

(How many years before the next time?)

[For iphoneograpic-scenes of yesterday's and today's 
Tucson snow, click here.]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bulgogi-Torta?! ...and every February: the African Art Village

My wife and I went to a new spot to eat a few days ago--"Umi Star:"

Call it what you will--KoMex, Mexicorean, Korexican, Asian Fusion--it's gaining a foothold in the Desert Southwest. In addition to the Tucson food-truck scene, you can now get sit-down fare at Umi Star, just five minutes north of the University of Arizona. And it's more than just tacos. 

"Tortas" are the logical next step in marrying NE-Asian and South-of-the-border tastes, now that galbi (Korean beef short-rib) tacos and kimchi-quesadillas are becoming mainstream tastes in several cities around the country. Here at Umi Star, "bulgogi" (tender marinated beef) topped with a fried egg are at the translated heart of this Mexican sandwich standard. 

"Tater Todd's" (rice wrapped with red snapper, garlic aioli, then baked and served with a soy chili plum sauce) are a tasty tapa...

...and the Sushi-burrito (wrapped in almost fluorescent soy-paper) is another winning invention.

The small-but-airy space has a hipster-maritime feel--appropriate, since "umi" means "sea" in Japanese...and while my wife and I were enjoying our food, tastes from another island--Cuban pork--were roasting away...(Plus, sake is half-off on Thursdays!)

And remember, you heard it here first: kimchi is the new salsa...

Last Friday, after work, I went to the the African Art Village:

Every February, for about two decades now,Tucson becomes a gathering place for artists and vendors from all over Africa: for a couple of weeks, a tent city pops up and about a hundred vendors set up shop. 
 Associated with the six-decade-old tradition of the international Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, this is one of the largest gatherings of its kind in North America.

A small outdoor kitchen serves up Lamb stew, rice and plantains so you can get a taste of West Africa before or after browsing. 

I love the abstract faces on the right. This particular tent was run by a guy from Burkina Faso;
he really opened up when I spoke to him in French. We chatted for a few minutes; he explained that these statues are from Sudan and that he's just not finding any more of their kind any more...

...and some crocodiles from Côte d'Ivoire:

There's something for almost everyone--from strands of beads for jewelry-makers to monumentally-sized sculptures, and of course, tie-dye clothing. Furniture from Mali, textiles from Burkina Faso, totems from Sudan, sculpture from Côte d'Ivoire, Zulu baskets, reproductions of Bénin bronzes and masks from across the continent--all in one place.

The rest of the year, 
it's a nondescript desert lot behind a Waffle House 
adjacent to the Interstate highway--
but every February, it's a polyglot bazaar.

This year it's running through February 17th.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Mi-yeok mahn-du"--I think I've invented something

"Mi-yeok mahn-du"--translates from Korean as "seaweed dumplings." As far as I know, in la cuisine coréenne, no such recipe exists. Until now. The other evening, I experimented and my (Seattle-born-and-bred) wife proclaimed it a success. But first, some background...

"Mi-yeok-gook:" Seaweed-soup.
Growing up, it was one of my favorite things to eat on a cold day...Mom's home-cooking--not something I tried to explain to my classmates at school at the time; fifth-graders in Georgia would have been grossed out by slimy strands of greenish-black kelp swimming in steaming brine, right?

And the name--"mi-yeok-guk"...more like "me YUCK gook" to the untrained ear--sounding too much like a racial slur...

But today--with Korean-Mexican fusion food-trucks cruising the streets from L.A. to the East Coast to Tucson, and with Korean-galbi-marinade-spray ("spray?!) for sale at Safeway (at Safeway!?)--"kimchi is the new salsa" (I'm claiming that quote as my own, by the way) and Korean-food is no longer an inexplicable food from a country no one can find on the map. (Thank you, ahem, Psy and Samsung.)

So--miyeokguk, come on out of the murky shadows and take your place among the great soups of the world.

And yet, the texture of the seaweed--for the unitiated, it can be scary. I mean, take a look at the dried miyeok (wakame in Japanese):

It IS kind of scary...
...and then when you reconstitute it:

It's like what you would grab if you were to put your hand
down along the sand while walking along the beach at low-tide, no?
 A couple of summers ago, while in Sokcho, S. Korea,
I went for a walk along the beach one evening and saw this
hearty 'halmoni' (respectful term for 'grandmother/older woman')
gathering some miyeok...

...which she then proceeded to sell  
to a guy who'd come, with his daughter, on his bike:
              ...and then off they rode, kelp in hand, homeward-bound:

Okay, back to Tucson.

So--since the seaweed can seem scary to some
a while back I thought--
what if you just take the seaweed out of the broth,
chop it up, wrap it up in wonton wrappers,
like traditional gyoza/mandu, 
and then just put the dumplings back in the broth to finish cooking?

My mother, on one of her visits,
said something to the effect of 
 'hmm, that's never been done...' 

Why not?
Perhaps there's a reason...or perhaps there's not...
I needed to know.

HERE's a basic recipe for the soup;
what follows below is my variation, turning 
miyeok-gook (soup) into miyeok-mandu (dumplings).
Basically, you just make the soup, but instead of leaving
the seaweed in the soup, halfway through the process you remove it,
chop it up, then use it to make little dumplings, which you then
put back into the soup to finish cooking.

As you saw in the photos above 
(and as you can read in the above link),
you have to soak and rinse the seaweed...

Also, minced garlic and thinly sliced beef sirloin are needed:

You start by sauteeing the minced garlic and beef in sesame oil in a the bottom of whatever pot you're going to use to make the soup in:

After the beef is mostly done, add the seaweed:

Sautée for a few minutes until the seaweed begins releasing some of its juices into the pot...Then add water (some add beef broth) and bring to a boil. Add soy-sauce to taste--do NOT add salt.

For my dumpling-variation, do NOT cut up the seaweed--you want long strands so that you can take them out easily after a few minutes of boiling:
Shake off as much of the broth as you can before letting the miyeok cool just long enough so you can  chop it coarsely--I included some of the beef from the pot of soup:
 It's traditional to have some seafood in the soup--often oysters or mussels...I thought some clams would add some more briny flavor and seafood texture... I chopped some up (already cooked) to add to the seaweed/beef/garlic mixture.

And these are the wonton-wrappers--you buy them frozen; thaw them overnight in the refrigerator.

Put some of the seaweed/garlic/beef/clam filling in the middle of the wrapper:

Dab the edges with water (or egg-white) and seal tightly...and after a while, you'll end up with a tray of these miyeok-mahndu:
 (To keep them from sticking, place the dumplings on a floured baking sheet before cooking them.)

Bring the soup in the pot back to a boil, then reduce the heat--
if you put the dumplings into soup that's boiling too rapidly, the dumplings will fall apart.
Place the dumplings in the soup, and once they float,
cook for an additional minute or two--
the filling is already cooked, so all you're cooking
is the dough of the dumpling-wrappers--
and of course, you want the seaweed/garlic/beef/clam filling hot...

When the dumplings are done, the wrappers become
almost translucent;
you end up with with these 'packages' of 
oceanic nutrition in a simple yet hearty broth: 
The seaweed is safely contained in the dumplings;
no strands of kelp to slurp like
giant green/black noodles.

What do you think?

 Mi-yeok-mahn-doo chahp-soo-seh-yo
In other words--bon appétit!

(Incidentally, all photos for this post taken and edited on the iPhone5, 
except for the photos from Korea,
which were taken and edited on the iPhone4.)