Sunday, January 31, 2010

It Always Helps…

to have a Plan B.

When the day started with rain, we thought we would have to go with Plan B for the entire day.

But then this beautiful rainbow appeared.

Neither of us had ever seen both ends of one rainbow. Fortunately, the camera was close by, so I was able to get these shots. Before I could move to a better position, the rainbow disappeared.

So, it was back to our original plan for the day.

The plan was to attend an event in downtown Tucson that began at 3:00 p.m. and to have lunch beforehand, but when we arrived at the Plan A restaurant, we learned that it would be a half-hour to forty-five-minute wait for a table. Time for Plan B.

Just across the street in the Historic Train Depot was Maynards Market & Kitchen, a member of the loose consortium of forty-two Tucson restaurants known as Tucson Originals. Quoting from their web site: “Local, independently-operated restaurants provide the soul and distinctive flavours of food that help define a sense of place. We create unique menu items that are original to Tucson and southern Arizona.

We are your neighbors! We’re truly a part of your community. We’re quick to donate our time, our facilities, our food and our staff to help local fundraising projects. We work to keep our local economy strong and reinvest for the future.

The restaurant business is our passion. Our restaurants vary from white tablecloth and upscale casual to sandwich shops and pizza parlors. We live our business, breathe it, work in it and play in it. We love the art of presentation and the look of surprise on your face when our plates come to your table. We strive for perfection in every recipe, every dish and every table setting. We feel it’s our duty to support sustainable agriculture and incorporate the freshest local ingredients into our offerings.”

Since our experiences at El Charro and Frankie’s Cheesesteaks (both members) had been successful, it was across the street to Maynards we went.

The Market features over forty local vendors that bring quality products from across Arizona to the Historic Train Depot. The Kitchen lives two lives. By day, the restaurant is an order at the counter, take your number on a stick, find a table, and sit and wait for your food and beverages to arrive kind of place. By night, Maynards becomes an upscale, sit down, full service restaurant and bar. At lunch, one can sit at a large community table in the market, sit on the outdoor patio, or, as we did, sit in the enclosed sun porch.

The lunch menu is basic and includes: the signature soup, a Butternut Squash Veloute with apple and hazelnut crème fresh; a spinach and frisee salad with red onions, blue cheese fritters, and a warm bacon dressing; a Caesar with shaved Parmesan Reggiano, lemon, and white anchovies; and a fresh fruit salad with yogurt and honey-glazed walnuts.

The calzone with homemade fennel sausage, San Marzano tomato sauce, goat cheese, and spinach sounded good, but since they were sitting on the counter under a warming lamp, I took a pass.

Chuck’s selection was the Cuban sandwich with pork, smoked ham, Gruyere cheese, grilled onions, hot jalapenos, dill pickles, cilantro, lime, garlic mayo, and Dijon mustard on an Amoroso’s roll. This was a Cuban kicked up notches. Since the pickles were of the dill variety they were instantly removed from his sandwich and onto his plate. (Just as swiftly the pickles were removed from Chuck’s plate to mine.) The Amoroso’s roll, when pressed, became the perfect roll for a Cuban. The crust developed a delicate crispness and the roll’s interior had just the right degree of chew. This was a good Cuban sandwich, and had he not had an exceptional Cuban at Café a la C’Art a few weeks earlier, might have been better received.

I chose the New York pastrami sandwich on rye with artisan kraut, Gruyere cheese and 1,000 Island Dressing. This was a unique rye bread. I am accustomed to an oblong slice rather than square. And I couldn’t detect any caraway seed. The kraut had just the right amount of “sour” – not bland but certainly not dull. The pastrami was first class – sliced thin and with just the right amount of fat to moisten the meat when heated. And I could really taste the brining spices – especially the pepper and coriander.

We both received a small serving of kettle chips (yawn) and a small serving of red grapes. My plate also came with three small cornichon.

One of the featured beverages that day was a green ginger peach iced tea. This was good but no match for the pineapple basil tea at Café a la C’art.

All in all, this was a satisfying lunch and I would return to Maynards Market & Kitchen. We give our dining experience a 4.00 Addie rating.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Butterflies Revisited

Before leaving the Tucson Botanical Gardens, we wanted to take a second photographic visit to the Butterflies in the Tropical Greenhouse.

Being able to get close to these beauties was quite an opportunity. In addition, given that the life span of most adult butterflies is only 1-3 weeks, this is a fleeting opportunity.

As we walked around the relatively small room, we not only had to look upward for the butterflies but also downward to the dirt walkways. Since some feed off the materials in the dirt, they were dependent on our avoiding them.

When one of the staff noticed a butterfly on the ground, he picked it up and placed it on a leaf. I noticed that he used his first two fingers to pick it up rather than using his thumb and index finger.

I later learned that the tiny scales attached to the butterflies' wings give the wings their color. However, picking up the insect runs the risk of rubbing off some of these scales and dulling the color a bit.

(I believe this is a Malay Lacewing in the photo above.)

Since I had wanted to be able to identify at least some of the butterflies shown here, I started checking web sites on butterflies.

Very early in this process I learned that there are about 17,500 species of butterflies. Or 24,000. Or 28,000. (Since there were some moths in the exhibit, identifying them would even be more difficult--about 140,000 species of them were counted all over the world.)

Needless to say, I settled for the opportunity to photograph these beautiful subjects without knowing their names.

But speaking of moths, I learned that some moths never eat anything as adults, because they don't have mouths. They must live on the energy they stored as caterpillars.

Also of interest to us, was the fact that many butterflies can taste with their feet. This enables them to find out whether or not the leaf they're on is a good place to lay eggs, meaning is it the right food source for their young caterpillars.

In spite of the fascination with these little guys, we had to leave when the heat and humidity became really uncomfortable.

But despite our discomfort, without a temperature over 85 degrees most of the tropical butterflies would be unable to fly.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Gardens Within Gardens

We had come to the Tucson Botanical Gardens to see the butterflies (see yesterday's entry), but there was much more to see.

The 5-1/2 acre Gardens has been voted "America's Best Secret Garden" by Reader's Digest. It is a park that is peaceful and very "stroll-able."

The Gardens consists of 17 speciality gardens from a Cactus and Succulent Garden to a Native American Crops Garden to a Moonlight Garden. The Children's Discovery Garden (above) tells a story about a plant's life cycle with the help of two important pollinators: the bee and the butterfly.

The Sensory Patios create spaces, such as, the Kitchen Patio (left), featuring plants that would appear in that setting.

As we walked among the Gardens, we could hear the laughter of a class of young students and the questions they posed to their teacher.

Tucked into small areas in a few of the gardens were some flowers. The ones we photographed are shown here.

As we passed the Herb Garden, I thought about the routine I would be going through about this time of year back in Pennsylvania. The seed catalogs would be arriving, and I would be planning the vegetable and herb garden. I do miss that.

We thought this saying captured the value of gardening: "How could such sweet and wholesome hours be reckoned but with herbs and flowers"--Andrew Marvell.

This wall near the exit presented a colorful farewell message to visitors. Many of the pieces contained names, but it was not clear what their association was to the artwork.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Briefly, To the Tropics

What was to become known as “Tucson Botanical Gardens” was founded in 1964 by horticulturist and collector, Harrison G. Yocum, whose home gardens contained an extensive collection of cacti and palms.

In the early 70s, Mrs. Bernice Porter was looking for a way to preserve her house and gardens, and by joining with the Tucson Botanical Gardens, the preservation of the Porter property became a reality.

The first stop on our visit to the Gardens was the Tropical Greenhouse, home of several tropical butterflies. We passed through two doors before entering the Greenhouse and learned just how "tropical" it was. It took about 3-4 minutes for the fog to clear from our glasses, but it was a full 15 minutes before fog no longer formed on our cameras' lenses.

(I believe this is the Danaid Eggfly Butterfly.)

(I believe this is the Zebra Longwing Butterfly.)

For the next half hour we walked around the tropical (92 degrees and humid) exhibit, photographing butterflies.

As we wiped away the drops of perspiration, we understood one of the Garden's Core Values: "We believe that learning is a lifelong process that should be enjoyable and stimulating."

We particularly were drawn to this butterfly with the transparent wings. (I believe this is the Glasswing Butterfly.)

(I believe this is a Paper Kite Butterfly.)

"All of the butterflies in the Gardens’ exhibit are hatched from eggs and live as caterpillars in butterfly farms in tropical parts of the world. When the caterpillars change into the pupae, they are carefully counted, labeled, and packed.

In the pupae stage of the butterfly life cycle, no food is required so they can survive the two or three day trip to Tucson. Once they arrive at the Gardens they are housed in a climate controlled environment which allows them to emerge naturally from their pupae. They are then transferred to the Greenhouse" (Butterfly Greenhouse information).

One of the Greenhouse staff described the process of leaving the tropical setting as thorough as passing through airport security. Because of the risk of some of the butterflies spreading disease if they escape the Greenhouse, we were scanned and checked before leaving the tropics to insure that we had no butterflies attached to our clothing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Beam Me East, Mr. Scott"*

No, unlike Captain Kirk, we didn’t have access to a transporter to beam us back to Philadelphia. But for one hour we felt as if we were back and eating at Tony Luke’s. We were at Frankie’s South Philly Cheesesteaks in Tucson, AZ – a mere 2,000 miles away.

Frankie Santos came to Tucson from Philadelphia, where he grew up in a neighborhood row house (row houses are in the city and townhouses are in the suburbs) on the corner of Third and Porter Streets. When Frankie retired in 2003 and moved to Tucson, his two objectives were to play golf and to open his own restaurant that would bring a great cheesesteak to Tucson.

You walk into Frankie’s Cheesesteaks and are immediately transported. Along one wall are a cluster of posters depicting Center City and City Hall with the statue of William Penn on top, South Street and Jim’s Steaks, Boathouse Row (where the universities and rowing clubs store their shells), and a collage of well-known Philadelphia buildings. On the wall next to our table was an autographed photo of Jerry “The Geator with the Heator”** Blavat and a promotional poster for WIBG (Wonderful World of WIBBAGE)*** a Top Forties AM radio station. (I preferred their arch rival – WFIL.)

Painted on the wall beneath the counter where you place your order are likenesses of the shops of Pat’s Steaks and Geno’s Steaks. And above the counter were the names of famous steak shops--Dinic’s, Tony Luke’s, Jim’s, Chubby’s, Jim's, and John’s along with Scarcone’s bakery,.

And on the back of the staff t-shirts is a keystone (Pennsylvania is known as the Keystone State) containing the words “You’ve Got A Friend At Frankie’s South Philly Cheesesteaks” and the image of the Liberty Bell.

Frankie’s menu has it all. You have your plain steak, your cheesesteak, your pizza steak, your cheesesteak hoagie with lettuce and tomato, and your South Philly cheesesteak with broccoli rabe. You have your chicken cheesesteak and your South Philly chicken cheesesteak. And on your steak sandwich you can have Cheese Whiz, American cheese, or mild provolone.

You have your Italian hoagie (capicolla, Genoa salami, mortadella, Parma prosciutto, sopressata, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, oregano, balsamic herb vinaigrette). You have your roast beef or roast pork sandwiches plain or Philly Style with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe.

If you are from Philadelphia and need a taste of home, this is the place to go.

Chuck, being a purist, ordered the plain cheesesteak—no fried onions, no fried peppers, and no pizza sauce—with provolone cheese. I, wanting to replicate my favorite Philadelphia sandwich—Tony Luke’s Roast Pork Italiano (roasted pork, sharp provolone, sautéed broccoli rabe)—ordered the pork sandwich “Philly Style.”

My craving was not to be satisfied. They were out of pork!!! So I settled on the roast beef “Philly Style” with hot peppers on the side.

The first thing you need to know about a hoagie or cheesesteak is that the bread/roll is of vital importance. No fluffy bread here. The roll has to have enough density and chew to hold up against the meat juices or – in the case of a hoagie – the oil. But the roll can’t be as dense as Italian semolina bread. And the crust can’t be too crisp. The best description is that you know a good steak/hoagie roll when you eat one. And Frankie’s has their rolls specially made in Philadelphia by Amoroso’s Bakery.****

The meat in Chuck’s cheesesteak (certified Angus) was chopped and not left in whole slices and had good beef flavor. He did think that the meat was a bit dry, and he didn’t like the cheese under the meat instead of on top of the sandwich. But all in all, this was a very good cheesesteak.

Like Chuck, I thought that the roast beef in my sandwich was a little dry, but unlike Chuck, I had a small cup of au jus to pour over the meat. And I think that Frankie was a bit skimpy on the broccoli rabe. I like lots of garlicky broccoli rabe. My request for the hot peppers on the side was a wise one. These peppers, fried and very thinly sliced, were very, very, very hot. Too hot for even me. Fortunately, each table had a container of hot cherry peppers and peperoncini and I used the latter instead.

If Forefather’s Gourmet Cheesesteaks (in Tempe, AZ) warranted 4.5 Addies, then Frankie’s earns a 4.0 Addie score. Chuck claims that I shouldn’t deduct for the lack of roast pork, but I say, “Yes, I can.”

*Contrary to popular belief, Capt. Kirk never spoke the immortal words “Beam me up, Scotty.”
**Geator: like a gator that snatches its prey, he snatched kids to listen. Heator: rhymes with Geator and just as you would turn down the heater when it gets too hot, parents would yell “Turn that guy (on the radio) down.” So, Geator with the Heator. (It was the 60’s; what can I say?)
***This always reminded me of the late George Carlin’s routine about the inept disc jockey who worked for WINO Radio (slogan: Wonderful Wino).
****Frankie’s also has Tastykakes (including Butterscotch Krimpets and Kandy Kakes) and can order Hatfield’s scrapple for you. (But why would you want it?)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gallery in the Sun

We were not familiar with Arizona artist Ted DeGrazia, but all of the brochures highlighting local attractions of Tucson urged visitors to tour the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, e.g., "celebrating the centennial of acclaimed artist Ted DeGrazia."

As we drove onto the dirt road leading to a parking area on the outskirts of Tucson, we saw a large number of established cacti and other desert plants and wondered if the Gallery was an outdoor sculpture garden. The surrounding area was residential, so it seemed that the homes had sprung up around the gallery.

In fact, Ettore (Ted) DeGrazia (1909-1982) and his wife had moved to this isolated 10-acre property at the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the early 1950s to escape Tucson's spread. We found a few trails leading from the parking lot, one of which led to a chapel. Following a regional tradition of building a chapel or shrine in thanks for the land, DeGrazia's goal was to design and build a mission.

DeGrazia and his American Indian and Mexican friends, using traditional adobe bricks crafted on-site with what he termed “sun, sand, and sweat,” built the Mission in the Sun in 1952 in honor of Father Kino and dedicated to our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico.

One unique feature of the Mission is its open-air ceiling.

We met one of the staff at the Mission, and he said that the Mission is used regularly and that a relative of his had recently been married here.

The floor of the Mission is made of large stones and the benches are also stone. The altar was covered with photographs and other personal objects and prayers.

The walls of the Mission are graced with DeGrazia’s murals.

This is the entrance to gallery. Around these doors and around archways elsewhere on the grounds are metal flowers.

Two close-ups of these flowers are shown in these next two photos. These flowers are created with a few cuts along the sides of soda cans, some bending of the metal, and some paint.

This photo shows his studio. The spider and its web create an interesting door (right side in the photo).

There are six permanent collections of paintings that trace historical events and native cultures of the Southwest. Many of his paintings are watercolor representations of American Indian or Mexican peoples.

DeGrazia’s artwork gained international fame when his painting ‘Los Niños’ (not shown) was chosen to be printed on a UNICEF greeting card, which went on to sell millions worldwide in 1960.

One exhibit room has the Stations of the Cross done in watercolor. To us, the use of watercolor presented the scenes in such a way that conveyed a sense of salvation.

In contrast, an adjacent exhibit room displayed acrylic paintings of the Stations of the Cross. To us, the colors used in this medium vividly represented the suffering and death of Christ.

After working briefly in the copper mines around Morenci, AZ, in his early 20s, DeGrazia hitched a ride to Tucson with his trumpet and $15 in his pocket. This old trumpet, which had been hanging on this cactus which had grown around the tubing over the years, reminded visitors of this other artistic interest.

This statue in the courtyard was another example of the wide range of the artist's interests.

Even though there are rotating exhibitions that display some of the 15,000 DeGrazia originals housed at the gallery, including oils, watercolors, sketches, serigraphs, lithographs, sculptures, ceramics and jewelry, in 1976, to protest inheritance taxes on works of art, DeGrazia hauled about 100 of his paintings on horseback into the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix and set them ablaze.

We wanted to learn more about Mr. DeGrazia.