Eating Local in Phoenix

August 22, 2011, 12:40 am
Filed under: asides, garden | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Published April 18, 2011
Wily, the chickenMy chicken roosts in my neighbor’s orange tree. She digs in my garden, transplanting most of my potatoes while looking for worms. She ate what were to become my pole beans. She flies over the wall, squawking, if you come within 15 feet.

And, she lays perfect, small, cream-colored eggs in my neighbor’s coop.

Dysfunctional wouldn’t even begin to describe our relationship.

I held her once, shortly after she took up residence in my parent’s yard. She smelled like saw dust and feathers. Clucking softly, she was scared and warm. I loved her immediately.

We didn’t plan to be chicken owners. She just showed up one day, unannounced. It took us two weeks to realize that the rustling noise coming from the jungle of lantana and ivy draped over dead trees in the depth of the yard wasn’t a cat. We thought she was a rooster. We almost gave her away.

Wily's eggsNow the whole house comes to a standstill to watch her scratch around the yard. When it rains, she stands under the small, blooming peach tree, angry. She wades through the irrigation flood to eat bugs. She chases pigeons around the yard. She stands on the wall, staring at you with one eye, before hollering and launching herself into the orange tree for the night.

A social bird, she spends most of her time in the neighbor’s yard trying to befriend their three hens. She patiently waits her turn to lay an egg once a day in their coop. Smaller and faster than the other hens, she never shares the worms she digs up. She is an outcast.

Even though she barely belongs to us – let’s be honest, she shows up for the food and to dig in my unprotected garden – our neighbors continue to call her our chicken. Their 9-year-old son diligently brings a half dozen of her eggs to us every weekend. Feeling bad, we always send him back with something. This week it was homemade blackberry jam, last week, coupons for free french fries at McDonald’s.

Egg YolksHer eggs are tiny. Often speckled, never perfectly white. The shells are tough, the yolks deep yellow. The ultimate cycle, we eat the bugs and beans and fallen oranges she’s scavenged from our yard. Eating them is to be home.

Seeing her is to be home.

It’s a funny thing to have a chicken.


Putting down Roots
August 22, 2011, 12:36 am
Filed under: asides, garden | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Published March 7, 2011
Beans for plantingIn the midst of stress, frustration and pending chaos I find myself in the garden. Spring has always meant one thing to me – a weekend in the garden. Dry hands. Sore knees. Dirt in my ears. This is how I welcome the new season.

As a child, I both longed for and dreaded the mandatory days in the garden. Planting never ended, the shovels and trowels had to be cleaned, and the raking. Always the raking.

I can vividly remember weaving brightly colored impatiens among the roots of my favorite tree, myself becoming more and more distracted, impatient even, feeling the name was so fitting for the interminable flats of flowers. It was such a punishment, I wanted to be sitting up in the crook of the tree, watching my parents do all the work, not down on the ground myself.

plantingI was willing to suffer, however, if I could go along on the trip to Rowland’s nursery. Walking in, collecting the unruly green flat cart – with the wagon handle – pulling in through aisles upon aisles of flowers, vegetables, strawberries. It was my botanic gardens, and a little bit of it always came home with me. Scooping the fallen flowers from the ground, I would cradle them throughout the trip, my own little bouquet. I was always allowed to pick out one or two plants – and I always chose the most improbable, ill-suited plants for the Albuquerque summers. It was something of a miracle if they lasted more than two weeks. The ritual carried on for years.

Rowland’s has long since closed and I’ve lived in Phoenix for ten years now, but with the first burst of warm air, I’m back under that tree – it’s a ficus now – planting.

Today, I put in my first real garden. My parents have always had a garden – tomatoes, herbs, peppers, grapes, sometimes more, sometimes less – and I’ve always helped in the planting.

This one is something different. I picked the plants, selected for their soil preferences and producing abilities, set them into place and loosened their root balls into the freshly turned soil. I had help, to be sure, but I feel responsible for this garden, these plants, that dirt.

And now, snug in my asphalt-locked studio apartment, I am worrying about my onions, beans, tomatoes. Was the soil loose enough? Did I plant them too deep, not deep enough? Will they get enough water? What about weeds?

Onion BulbI can’t explain my transition from passionate eater to idealistic gardener (I planted eight short rows of onions, planning to braid and store them for the winter), but I can say that it feels wonderful. There’s dirt under my fingernails and plants in the ground and a tangible feeling of accomplishment. And I feel calm. Spring is here.

Carnitas with Slow Cooked Beans
August 22, 2011, 12:28 am
Filed under: challenge, recipe | Tags: , , , , ,

Published February 1, 2011
OrangesIt’s not saguaro cactus, warm dry air or even the various take-out places ending in ‘bertos. No, for me, the Valley of the Sun is defined by orange trees. They are the markers of the seasons and the bearers of sunshine in winter. At their most simple, they are a joyous fruit.

And yet, come February, most residents of the Valley can’t get rid of them fast enough. They, along with lemons and grapefruit, start appearing on office break room tables with the somewhat motivating incentive of “free.” There are drives to donate the fruits and fear-inducing local TV stories warning of roof rats. And if that isn’t enough, someone eventually complains about the fruits rotting underneath the “decorative” orange trees and a clean-up drive is organized.

And then, suddenly, it’s spring and you can smell the orange blossoms from the freeway.

But before we reach that wonderful week in March, I’ve stumbled upon a recipe that uses up a handful of those oranges along with some of the fresh, new produce coming into market.

Pork CarnitasCarnitas is a wonderfully simple dish that is very easy to dress up or down. Serving it topped with an orange reduction and accompanied by slow cooked beans makes you look like a kitchen genius (when, in fact, it takes very little effort).

Shopping for this meal prompted my first trip to the Meat Shop. I frequently purchase from them, typically at Phoenix Public Market or Tempe Farmer’s Market, but I had never been to their store.

It turns out that Fridays and Saturdays are their Fresh Days – where you can watch them carving your cut of meat through the glass window. I was so carried away by it all that I left with not only the two required pounds of boneless pork shoulder but also lardons, breakfast sausage, rashers and a large bone.

Finishing the slow cooked beansThe unsung hero of this meal, however, was the beans. Left in a crock pot for four to six hours, it’s the addition of fresh tomato, onion and bell pepper at the end brings a lightness to the dish which compliments the mild flavors of the pork.

Combined with the fresh tortillas from Phoenix Public Market and oranges from my parent’s orange tree, this meal bridged the gap between two seasons – celebrating the winter oranges and the new, crisp arrivals.


Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food

Carnitas2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, crushed
8 cups water
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup milk
Zest of 1 orange
12 torillas
1/3 cup goat cheese
1 small bunch lettuce mix, preferably with some varieties mixed in

In a large dutch oven, or similar type of heavy pot, combine pork, garlic and water. Season with salt and pepper. Cover pot and bring to a boil, once boiling reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes or until pork softens. Drain well.

After about 20 minutes, start in on the orange reduction. In a small sauce pan, bring 2 cups orange juice and orange zest to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low until sauce is just simmering.

In the dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Once shimmering, add pork, 1/2 cup orange juice and milk. Stir occasionally until liquid has evaporated and the pork is browned about 10 – 12 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

By this time, the orange sauce should have greatly reduced into an almost syrupy mixture. If not, bring to a rapid boil until thickened.

To make mini tacos, layer lettuce, pork and crumbled goat cheese on a warmed tortilla. Top with a drizzle of orange sauce.

Slow Cooked Beans

Adapted “Tia’s Beans” by Lorraine Glazar from Valley of the Sun, The Farmers Market Cookbook

Slow Cooked Beans2 cups dried pinto beans
1 qt water
Pork bone or 1 strip bacon
1 small jalepeno
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp chile powder
1 tomato, diced
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1 tsp salt

Rinse beans well with warm water, being careful to remove any bits of dirt or rock.
In a large slow cooker, combine beans, water, pork bone, jalepeno, carrots and garlic. Cover top of slow cooker with aluminum foil and lid. After 1 hour, remove the jalepeno. Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours.

One half hour before the beans are done add Worcestershire sauce, chile powder, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, bell pepper and salt to taste. Stir gently and continue cooking at high heat in slow cooker for remaining half hour.