Sunday, December 31, 2006

Alice Bag Bags and Happy New Year!

As you know, I have developed a serious craft addiction over the past year. Because I had no prior experience and no sewing ability when I began, it's been a voyage of discovery and exciting in the way new endeavors always are for me. This month, I've been extra busy creating several projects for friends. I'm glad that some people have already received theirs and have written to let me know they've opened the packages, because I've been waiting to post photos of the projects on my blog. I can't find all the photos right now, so here are just a couple of them, My friend Angie starting calling the tote bag I made for her, her "Alice Bag Bag." Hmm...

Here's the rhinestone and polka dot safety pin purse I created from bits of recycled items: an old tee shirt, a belt and some scraps of fabric. I'm very inspired by the crafter's ethic of recycling and rescuing cast off garments. It's similar to what we used to do with our homemade punk fashions back in the 1970's. A big part of the fun is giving a castoff object brand new life in a new creation.

And here's a purse I created using Dawn Wirth's Masque photos of John Denny and Tomata du Plenty:

I had a lot of fun making these, even though I was learning as I went along and I made as many mistakes as humanly possible.

With 2006 coming to an end, it's nice to look back at this year's journey. I moved to a new state, met some new people, explored new places, learned to sew, took up crafting and adopted a dog.

I'm glad I tried so many new things and I look forward to next year's adventures. For the first time in several years, I feel like I'm taking one of those great road trips where I'm not sure where I'm heading, but I'm eager to go off the main highway and take the unmarked trails.

Best wishes to you for an exciting New Year that takes you off the main highway. I'd like to leave you with a couple of New Year's Eve superstitions that my mother passed along to me: Wear red underwear tonight, it will bring you good luck in the coming year. At the stroke of midnight, begin feeding your loved one (or yourself) 12 grapes, one at a time. You will get one wish for each grape (one for each month) you can swallow in 60 seconds. Don't be too greedy or you might choke on a grape!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Goldfish and The Unexpected Gift

Christmas has come and gone and it seems like every year, someone in our family gets at least one Goldfish... but I probably need to explain what the term, "Goldfish," means around my house. As my husband tells it, many years ago his uncle gave his mother a real goldfish for her birthday. It just so happened that he had been coveting this same goldfish for weeks and had been repeatedly denied his request to have it as a pet, so when Mom's birthday rolled around, guess what she got? Ever since then, my husband's family has named any gift you purchase for someone close to you because you secretly want it for yourself a "Goldfish."

This year, the Goldfish in our house happens to be a PS2 game called Guitar Hero 2. Ostensibly purchased by my husband for our 12 year old daughter because it was supposed to be "a great game for kids," it allows the player to indulge in their wildest rock fantasies, playing lead along with Kiss, Cheap Trick and Black Sabbath. Imagine a cross between Dance Dance Revolution and air guitar and you pretty much have it. It's addictive and it's one PS2 game that's definitely approved by this Mom!

We had another Goldfish this year, only this one was unexpected and practically came against my better judgement. My daughter wrote a very convincing letter to Santa about how much she wanted a puppy. The letter was so convincing that even an old Scrooge like me, who avoids the pet shop and considers herself a people person, not an animal person, had to give in.

My husband and I had known that our daughter wanted a pet for years, but truthfully we thought she was too young to care for it herself. My husband works long hours and I was just too busy to add another responsibility to my day. My daughter has matured over the years and I no longer have a day job, so things are very different for us now.

Based upon the sincerity of the letter ("I promise to be diligent and take care of it,") Santa gave us the green light. He instructed us to adopt a rescue shelter animal. We started our search on the internet and at the library, looking for the type of dog that would fit into our lifestyle. We drove all over town looking for the perfect pup, but we could not find it. It’s funny how things never work out the way you plan them. The last place we looked was the pet store nearest our house where they happened to be hosting an adoption fair. We were on our way to a birthday party and just as we were walking out of the pet shop, we spotted a crate with a cute little golden pup wagging her tail at us. We took her out for a test walk and fell in love with her. She was so sweet and loving that we decided right on the spot that this was the puppy to adopt. We brought her home later that day.

My daughter named the dog Cinnamon. We took her up to Prescott to catch a little Christmas snow. I made a doggie sweater for her out of an old sweater sleeve, and she’s been helping us burn off all the tamales we’ve been eating.

She does require a lot of attention. It’s almost like having another baby. She steals our shoes and chews them up if we don’t watch her, but we watch The Dog Whisperer and try to learn from Cesar Millan and my friend Jula, who is a dog whisperer in her own right. We give her plenty of exercise, which is good for us because it’s easy to get lazy and fat in the winter when all I want to do is curl up by the fireplace with tamales, egg nog or hot rum toddies, and of course all the sweets that go along with the season: pumpkin bread, pan dulce, peppermint bark. It’s a good thing I’m learning to sew because at this rate, I’ll have to sew myself a whole new extra large wardrobe.

We think Cinnamon is a Golden Retriever/Labrador mix. That’s what it says on her adoption papers, but when you get a rescue pup, I don’t think you can be too sure. The one thing that is for certain is that this little pup has forced us all to go out on walks together everyday and has helped our family bond together as a tight pack. My daughter says she's the best Christmas gift ever and my husband and I agree that this addition to our family has been a gift to us all.

Here's hoping your Holidays are filled with unexpected gifts and happy surprises.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Too Many Tamales

Greg and I have been looking for a good place to buy tamales ever since November. At the time, we had gone to California to visit Greg’s family for Thanksgiving. We made plans to drive up to East L.A. to pick up some of my favorite tamales from La Indiana. I grew up on those. In fact, instead of formula my mom would just stick some rajas tamales in the blender for me and I was good to go. Unfortunately, we tried to do too many things the last time we drove through L.A. and at the last moment had to strike the tamal run from our schedule. Ever since then we seem to have become obsessed with finding a good tamaleria out here in Phoenix.

Let me back up here. The problem with finding a good tamal is that my family and I have recently gone vegetarian. All the wonderful tamal places that people have recommended to us make the usual red chile, green chile and dulce varieties, but no one seems to have the coveted, vegetarian rajas con queso type. So we DIY-ed it. We bought 5 lbs of masa (corn meal paste), a package of hojas (dried corn husks), some Anaheim chiles, pepper jack, cheddar and roasted corn and made our own non-traditional weirdo tamales; three types in fact, green chile rajas with onions and tomatoes, and pepper jack and roasted corn (frozen from Trader Joe's) with cheddar cheese. After we made those two batches, we discovered that we still had masa left over, so we took some of my homemade frijoles con queso and combined them with some roasted red peppers and made another batch. We ended up with several dozen grrrmet tamales. They came out pretty good. But we made too many.

With apologies to Gary Soto and Ed Martinez.

I’d always had this inexplicable fear of making tamales. My mom used to say it was hard and time consuming and so we never questioned her because she bought us La Indiana tamales. Now that those aren’t available, I’ve figured out that making tamales is time-consuming, but not difficult at all. All you do is soak the hojas (leaves) for about and hour until they’re clean and soft, spread your masa (you can buy it preparada which comes ready to go but contains lard, or you can make it yourself with Masa Harina), then you prepare your choice of filling. My tip is to cook everything that goes into the filling before stuffing your tamales, that way you just wait for the masa to firm up without worrying about whether the filling is fully cooked. We steamed ours in a double boiler for about an hour per batch.

I guess the tricky thing - if there is a tricky thing - is to spread the masa onto the leaves evenly and not to make your layers too thick so that the masa will cook quickly and evenly. After stuffing your tamales, you fold them like you would a burrito with the ends folded under, then stand them up in the top part of the steamer, but don’t let them touch the water or they’ll dissolve and you’ll have a gross tamale soup.

Finally, while you’re at the market may I suggest that you pick up a bottle of Rompope (Mexican eggnog.)

It contains a little booze, but you can add some spiced dark rum to it and sip it while you’re waiting for the tamales to cook.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Copper Queens, Synchronized Viejitas, and a Geriatric Bacchanal

Yes, it’s true...we’ll take advantage of any special occasion and use it as an excuse for a little out of town getaway. We recently celebrated my daughter’s birthday in Bisbee, Arizona, a cute little bohemian hamlet about an hour southeast of Tucson. Bisbee is quirky in much the same way as Jerome, AZ - a town which I've written about previously. Like Jerome, Bisbee was once a booming mine town (The Copper Queen) that nearly became extinct and is currently enjoying a major comeback, though some longtime residents would say it’s being gentrified.

Downtown Bisbee.

It’s a good thing that hippies went around taking over these old run down ghost towns and transforming them into artist colonies. Although I did my share of hippie bashing when I was a punk, I’ve got to confess that there are many values that punks and hippies share. Building a Peace Wall in Minuteman country is simultaneously punk in its defiance and hippie in its lovey-doveyness.

Peace Wall, Bisbee, photo credit SliceO'

Bisbee Hippie, photo credit Fano Quiriego.

Bisbee is an off-kilter, slightly seedy, edgy, funky place. We made the mistake of staying near the historic Brewery Gulch, which lived up to its name and got very loud about midnight. If you want a good night’s sleep in Bisbee, stay a bit off the main drag, there are lots of really cute and cool inns. On the way out of town, we drove through Lowell and took these pictures. They should give you an idea of how the entire Bisbee area is really frozen in time.

Lowell, Arizona.

Just southwest of Tucson is the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation of San Xavier del Bac, where my husband insisted we stop to check out the Mission and its legendary fry bread. If you’re thinking of that sugary, sticky stuff you get at Knott’s Berry Farm, think again. This Indian fry bread is closer to a chimichanga. It’s a fried flour tortilla, but light and crispy like puff pastry. Slathered with homemade refried beans, gooey cheese and topped with salsa, they were INCREDIBLE. I am drooling on the keyboard just thinking of them. We stood together in the desert courtyard of the Mission with the chilly wind blowing the scent of pine wood smoke around us and we devoured them. It was an Arizona moment to remember.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, photo credit: Jim Frazier.

On the way out of the Mission, we took this photo of the local cemetary:

Mission San Xavier del Bac cemetary.

Closer to home, my family’s exploration of our new home state of Arizona continues. This past weekend, we took in two very different Christmas celebrations in the Phoenix area. The first was a free Christmas lights event hosted by the city of Glendale, which is a suburb to the west of Phoenix and nothing like the Glendale in Southern California. Downtown Glendale, AZ has a quaint little historic district with lots of renovated houses from the turn of the last century, many of which have been turned into specialty shops. They were all decked out for the holidays. Unlike many Olde Tyme places, Glendale works its heritage without limiting itself to peddling antiques. There is a little something for everyone. Horse drawn carriages pulled visitors up and down the streets and the park in the center of town was filled with families enjoying the sights, sounds and - yum - flavors. We gave in to the green corn tamales and chocolate dipped cheesecake and enjoyed the synchronized square/line dancing of a group of seasoned ladies, endearingly named the Hot Boots because they all wore white cowboy boots. Their press release states that “they perform at various nursing homes in the area.” Maybe Punkoustica can open for them on their next gig. We watched them from above the outdoor amphitheater and could really appreciate the kaleidoscopic effect of their routine. It made me remember that I want to take up square dancing when I get old. I'd better start soon!

And speaking of old age...on Sunday, we went to the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden to check out the Noches de las Luminarias festival, an annual event with paid admission. My husband had read that it was a wonderful event with the gardens decked out in Christmas lights, “Exquisite Dining” and entertainment. Bah, humbug. It was a geriatric bacchanal, with all the wild fun that implies. Not to be ageist, I consider myself an old person, but let’s just say that the event was mostly attended by people who enjoy strolling (many with walkers) while sipping fancy wine from plastic cups and listening to mellow music. Really... mellow... music. The musicians were so-so, at least the ones I endured. They made as many mistakes as rock musicians, but with none of the showmanship or sense of humor. It made me long for the square dancing ladies from the previous night. Those viejitas were on! They did not make any mistakes and yet did not take themselves very seriously. If I were Busby Berkeley, I’d be all over that. Most importantly, they looked like they were having a blast.

I guess I’m just more of a down home type at heart. I’ll take Indian fry bread and high stepping old ladies over gourmet grazing and mellow minstrels any day.