Gymnocalycium pflanzii v. albipulpa, and a giant pancake


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Today started off with one my favorite weekend meals – the giant pancake from 5 Points Market & Restaurant. My eyes are always bigger than my stomach, and I can never finish it (although it’s super tasty). I’m not sure what they do it, but its insanely delicious – like, tastier than any other pancake. I’m guessing it might have something to do with the fact that its drizzled with clarified butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served with real maple syrup. YUM!

The funny thing about this photo is a actually the small plate of eggs and bacon in the back. Most people would probably assume those were my side dishes to go with the pancake. Nope, that was Kirk’s entire breakfast. You can tell which of us is really into breakfast based on this photo. Although let’s be real, Kirk ended up eating a good third of this pancake… so I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad for being a carb-a-holic.

In other news, after breakfast Kirk and I went back to EcoGro (second weekend in a row!) to check out their selection of pots. I’ve added some great new plants to my collection the last few weekends, and I’ve been meaning to do some general repotting as well (some plants have started to outgrow their current homes). So my mom and I went on a mission for some pots and had some great success. Although this was the first weekend when we’ve had triple-digit temperatures (105F or so), I decided to plow ahead this afternoon and repot a few of the plants.

Enter in my gymnocalycium pflanzii v. albipulpa:


One of the plants that needed a new, larger home was my gymnocalycium pflanzii v. albipulpa, which I bought from EcoGro about a little over a year ago. It is a fabulous cactus (and I miraculously haven’t killed it yet) and it flowers consistently – last year and this year I’ve gotten 4-7 flowers – sometimes 2-3 will bloom at once, but more often than not one bud will blossom, and then a few days later another one will open.

This is a photo of the bud that has been opening and closing the last few days (and you can actually see a new bud starting to form – it’s the purplish/pinkish bump forming on the cactus lower and to the left of the mature flower blossom):


Here’s what the flower looks like when it’s open:


It’s a beautiful cactus with generally green flesh that will start to turn more of an orangish color with tints of purple around the rib lines as the weather heats up (which you can sort of see starting to happen in these photos – especially now that the weather is warming up into the triple-digits).



Happy desert gardening!


Melocactus Conoideus


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My Melocactus Conoideus is a recent addition to my collection – I just bought it last Sunday at EcoGro, a small aquaponics shop and purveyor of unique and interesting cacti and other succulents. The photo above is actually a picture I took in the car on the way home 🙂 They only had three specimens in the store, and they were bought up like hotcakes.

This is an incredibly rare variety of melocactus (also known as Turk’s Cap Cactus) – in fact, it is nearly extinct in the wild. We’re lucky here in Tucson – apparently there is a local cactus aficionado who cultivates them from seed and painstakingly cares for the plants for YEARS until they reach this maturity – and then sells them to a few select nurseries around town.

If you’re wondering why this cactus is going extinct, check out the info on the IUCN Red List website:

Melocactus conoideus has a very small range (extent of occurrence less than 100 km2), it is known from one location, and the population is in continual decline. This cactus can be found near Serra do Periperi, in the Municipality of Vitória da Conquista, in south-eastern Bahia, Brazil. It grows at elevations of 1,000 to 1,200 m asl. Part of the population is protected, however the rest are quickly disappearing. This cactus is therefore listed as Critically Endangered.

The major threats for this species are habitat loss due to quarrying and urbanization, specifically the growth of the city of Victória da Conquista. The species survival in the wild is severely threatened by extraction of the quartz gravel in which it grows, and was formerly impacted by commercial collection for the European horticultural market.”

So yes, the cactus has been home for less than a week, and when I got home from work yesterday I had the most pleasant surprise: it was flowering!


I actually really had no idea how this thing would flower (would it shoot out giant flower buds, like many cacti do? Would it even flower at all?) I just had no idea what to expect. And then it happened. Isn’t it wonderful???




Today in Tucson: Za’atar Restaurant & Bakery


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Today was a day for patience and waiting: waiting to take my car into the dealership for servicing, waiting in the dealership lounge for a shuttle to take me to work, waiting for meetings to start at work, waiting to hear from the car dealership about what was wrong with my car (and then never hearing and having to call them instead), waiting for a ride back to the dealership, waiting in the lounge for my car to actually be ready, waiting for my dinner take-out.


Although it seemed like an insanely long day (got to the car dealership at 6:45am, got home with dinner at 7:15pm), one of the nicer parts of my day was waiting for my take-out at Za’atar Restaurant & Bakery. This is a new middle-eastern restaurant in Tucson, and is occupying the spot of what used to be a little Taqueria up the street. It’s pretty tasty, and they’ve even been featured on Tucson Foodie (my go to source for finding new places to eat around town). Za’atar has some outdoor seating, so I just sat, waited, and looked at the Catalina Mountains.


There is a Middle Eastern market next door to the restaurant. I’m guessing they’re owned by the same family since I saw one man running back and forth between the two places.


Happy Tuesday, Tucson!

Aloe Mitriformis Variegata


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I know, I know. It’s been YEARS (seriously, YEARS!!!) since I’ve written a post. A lot has happened since I last wrote, including our move into our new house in the mid-town Tucson neighborhood of Miramonte. We live in a beautiful (albeit small) 1950s adobe brick rancher, and have been making small improvements to the house and landscaping since moving in – including replacing all the outdoor plumbing, replacing all the windows, building a “greywater” drainage system for our laundry machine, installing a full drip irrigation system, and adding rock-mulch to the entire front and side yards. These have not been small tasks.

One of my largest and most fun/interesting tasks (which has been consuming my time on and off since moving in) has been a slow renovation of our landscaping. When we first moved in, the front yard had some good (yet young) plants, but in general was just pretty dusty and felt a bit barren. The back yard had (still has) a beautiful green lawn and lots of fairly water-wise flowering plants – very manicured, but not particularly interesting.

Although we haven’t made a lot of changes to the backyard, I have started a patio container garden full of succulents – mainly cactus plants. It’s actually become a bit of an obsession, trying to find the most interesting and strange desert-dwelling plants I can find. I go to all the local plant sales (one is even called the “Weird Plant Sale” at the Tucson Botanical Garden), and I have a few favorite nurseries and plant stores around town that I like to check out every couple of months. As my collection grows (and some of my finds have gone into the ground as well), I figure it’s time that I started to document my growing collection (in part so that I can keep track of the names of all my plants!).

So, I’m going to start with one of the first container plants that I bought for my little patio garden – An Aloe Mitriformis Variegata. I found it one day while I was browsing the selection at Mesquite Valley Growers, which is a fabulous place that looks like this (photo courtesy of their Facebook page):

Mesquite Valley Growers

I mean really, who wouldn’t want to buy plants here?

Anyway, this was about 2 years ago and while I was wandering around the cactus and succulent section I saw an older man putting the pot on display. It was the only one of its kind and it was overgrown in its container with offshoots (baby plants that grow from the base of the main plant). I looked at it for a few minutes and realized I’d never seen an aloe that looked like it before. Thus, my obsession with weird plants began.

The Aloe Mitriformis Variegate is a beautiful plant with variations of green and yellow striations running the length of each leaf:


In the photo below, you can see some of the offshoots – each one of these can be pulled off and will become an adult plant that will then produce it’s own offshoots. In the two years I’ve had this plant, it has since multiplied and it now 4 separate plants – each of which is now mounding with new offshoots!


Here is the 3rd plant I’ve potted from the original purchase – – – pretty soon I’ll have to start selling these plants on Craig’s list or something (or plant a few in the front yard so they can spread to their heart’s content)…


I’m actually super lucky this summer because one of the plants (#2) is actually blooming. It has two stalks full of beautiful salmon-colored flowers:


A better picture of this flowering aloe is included at the top of the post. So yes, this was the plant that started my collection. It was probably a good choice – aloes are easy to keep alive, don’t require much water, and most varieties don’t mind sitting in the scorching AZ sun – win for me!

Roasted Olives… and a new CSA!


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Last weekend I signed us up for a new CSA – one that will ultimately be closer to our new home. This CSA is through Sleeping Frog Farms, and so far our first pick-up has been successful! They have sign-ups quarterly, so right now we just started the “Winter” quarter. Although we just did our first pick-up today, I’m already liking this CSA a little more than our previous one simply because it’s located in the Sunday Farmer’s Market at St. Philips Plaza, so there are a lot of vendors to visit and there’s more than enough fresh produce to select from. The St. Philip’s Farmer’s Market is the largest in Tucson, with (according to their website) nearly 70 vendors.

Today we walked away with the following from the CSA:

  • One Pie Pumpkin
  • One bunch of Swiss Chard
  • One bunch of Cilantro
  • One bunch of Beets
  • 3 heads of Garlic
  • One bag of Spinach
  • One bag of Salad Greens

We also walked through the farmer’s market and picked up a few more items to take home with us:

  • Some spicy corn nuts, sesame sticks, and pistachios from High Country Nuts in Sahuarita, AZ
  • Herbed Garlic-Shallot Goat Cheese and Baked Goat Ricotta from Fiore di Capra
  • Roasted Green Chili Peppers – being roasted on site!

All in all, it was a good morning. Half of the cilantro has already been used to make a batch of homemade salsa – as have two of the roasted peppers. I suspect some goat cheese and salad greens will be used for salads tonight. I love that we can get fresh local produce year-round here…

In other news, I wanted to share a recent recipe that has become a favorite around here – Roasted Kalamata Olives. I first came across these at my manager’s holiday party. Just before Christmas, he invited his staff members over to his house for a wine tasting. I quickly became addicted to one of the dishes he served, and have since been making them at home. They’re great as finger foods for a snack, served with a cheese plate, or tossed with a salad. I’ve been keeping a constant supply in the fridge just to have on hand…

Roasted Kalamata Olives



  • About 2 cups of Kalamata Olives (I buy them at the olive bar in our local grocery store)
  • 1 cup of red wine (whatever your preference is – I’ve used a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Pinot Noir – both have turned out quite nice)
  • 1-2 tsps Fennel Seeds
  • 3-4 cloves of chopped/minced garlic


  • Preheat your oven to 350F
  • Toss all of the ingredients together in an oven safe dish.
  • Bake the olives in the oven for about an hour, stirring them every 20 minutes or so. You want to bake them until most of the wine has thickened/evaporated (although there should be some liquid in the bottom of the dish so that the olives don’t burn).
  • That’s it! Once they’re out of the oven, I let them cool to room temperature, and then dump them back into the plastic container I brought them home from the grocery store in. They should keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.



Highlights of 2012

2012 was a busy year. It feels nice to welcome a new year with 2013, although today is the last day of my vacation and I’m kind of dreading going back to work after so many nice, lazy, and relaxing days. Anyone have any ideas for what I could do for a living that doesn’t involve working, but still earns a good salary and benefits? Ha! Anyway, here are some highlights from 2012:

1) I got through my first year on a new job! And… Kirk and I celebrated the fact that we’ve now lived in Tucson for a year 🙂 The desert is a suprisingly beautiful and incredibly diverse environment. I love living here – this photo was taken on a recent hike in Sabino Canyon, slightly northeast of the city –


2) I read what felt like a gazillion books and discovered a new love of pulp mysteries and speculative fiction.

3) Kirk and I bought a house – a 1951 adobe brick ranch house to be precise, with a mature tangerine and pomegranate tree 🙂 We don’t yet have a good photo from the front, but here are some others:






4) We’re partially tearing apart the new house to complete some flooring renovations before we move in… maple floors, here we come!

5) Several good friends and Kirk’s family came to visit us 🙂

6) My parents moved here!

7) We closed out the year with our first ever hot air balloon ride over the Sonoran Desert!




8) Mid-way through 2012 I decided I need to live a healthier lifestyle, and as a result I lost about 25 lbs by eating healthier. Oddly enough, I still feel like I look basically the same, albeit less puffy 🙂

9) After a great deal of thought over the previous year, I have finally resolved in 2013 to give up eating red meat and pork (for a variety of reasons). Poultry and fish are still on the menu, for now…

10) I successfully completed a fiction writing course as part of the Writer’s Studio in Tucson this past fall.

In addition to giving up red meat and pork, I have also resolved to spend more time this year doing things just for me – on my list of possibilities: learning the art of urban beekeeping, writing more often (is there yet a year when this hasn’t been on my list of resolutions?), taking up yoga or some other type of meditative exercise, and focusing on gardening in our new house. I have ideas for a completely edible landscape. My western garden book will be hugely helpful.

Happy 2013!

Hello Again!


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Almond Biscuit

It has undoubtedly been some time since I’ve written. Summer was busy (and so hot…) and frankly I just didn’t do much cooking or baking (or at least nothing worth writing about). Now that the weather has started to change (no more days in the triple digits! Hopefully…) I’m starting to feel inspired again to head back out to my garden and spend more time experimenting in the kitchen. It’s nice knowing that turning on the oven isn’t going to send my air conditioning bill skyrocketing – or make the house a sauna…

Over this past weekend Kirk and I went to Native Seeds/Search and I bought a set of “winter garden” seeds for the low desert. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I’ll spend some time in the garden cleaning out the remnants of my summer garden and sowing the seeds for winter.

In the meantime, I’ve also started experimenting with recipes for “alternative” diets. Over the summer I set a goal of losing some weight. Although I’m not yet at my goal weight, I’ve been successful in that nearly every week since June, I’ve lost a little bit of weight. At this point, I’ve lost about 18lbs, and I’d still like to drop about 10 more. I didn’t really diet – I just made some small changes to portion sizes, started making healthier choices, and I haven’t been indulging quite as much. So, although it’s been slow-going, it feels healthy and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

One of the items that I’ve been cutting back on has been bread and pasta. That’s not to say I’m no longer eating bread or pasta (because I certainly do…), but I’m starting to look into ways I can reduce that – maybe consume more foods that aren’t so hard on my body. I don’t support any one particular diet, but I have started experimenting with using alternative flours for baking. The one that I’ve had some success with so far has been almond flour. I recently bought a book at Antigone Bookstore (in downtown Tucson) that’s completely focused on cooking and baking with almond flour. The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook (by Elana Amsterdam, who has a blog here) is really pretty great. Almond flour is delicious – it’s nutty and rich and makes you feel like you’re indulging in a big way, even though you’re not really. It’s full of fiber and protein, and low in carbs (compared to wheat flour). It’s also much higher in various nutrients like potassium, magnesium, niacin, vitamin E, calcium, and iron. Overall, I’ve been surprisingly impressed with it. I’ve never really been a “health food person” (or someone who tries alternatives like this), but I’m glad I’m getting more adventurous.

The recipe I want to share today comes from this book, and it’s for Chocolate Chip Scones. Initially, I wasn’t sure how these would turn out, but they are delicious. I used Bob’s Red Mill almond flour, although the author suggests that there are other brands that are more more finely ground – and that those usually work better. It’s on my list to try, but for now I used what I had in my pantry.

Chocolate Chip Almond Scones (makes 16-18 smallish scones)

Almond Biscuit3


  • 2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1/4 cup light agave nectar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate (I actually used some leftover hershey’s mini chips that I had in the freezer)


  • Prehead your over to 350F.
  • Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats (like silpat)
  • In a bowl, combine the almond flour, salt, and baking soda.
  • In a smaller bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil, agave nectar, and egss.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to mix until everything is well incorporated.
  • Fold in the chocolate.
  • Using a medium-sized cookie dough scoop (the author uses a 1/4 cup measure), drop the dough onto the cookie sheets1-2 inches apart.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes (give or take a minute or two) – until a tested comes out clean.
  • Let the scones cool for 30 minutes, and then serve!

Almond Biscuit2

When I ate one of these Sunday night fresh out of the oven, I thought I was going to eat an entire cookie sheet of them. They really are delicious. Kirk was also pleasantly surprised. So in the end this one is going into the recipe box and I’m sure it will make a repeat appearance in our house.

Tucson CSA – February 15, 2012


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Tucson CSA - February 15, 2012

It was that time of the week again yesterday, and we are absolutely overloaded with produce. I hate to admit this, but we actually had to toss a few items we had leftover from the last two weeks to make room in the fridge for the new produce we got this week 😦 Yet another reason why I should start composting. At least then I wouldn’t feel so obviously wasteful.

I know that I haven’t written as much in the last two weeks – things have been busy! Contrary to what you might think, I have actually been cooking a fair amount. I made some dip using leftover dill, I roasted A LOT of greens, braised some Belgian Endive, made cupcakes for work, and made a cake for Valentine’s day. Oh yeah, and we made two great batches of homemade salsa. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing all this cooking at night – hence no good pictures, which means no posts.

On top of that, I’m working on refinishing a table! It’s a really ugly table, though, so I’m not really sure why I’m spending so much time on it. I guess it’s a good practice project 🙂 Maybe one day I’ll find some really nice furniture to refinish, and then I’ll know what I’m doing. Thus far I’ve learning three things:

  1. Sanding the existing finish off of a table is really hard work, even if you use a power sander (but it’s a good workout)
  2. Sanding anything is really messy business. Dust will cover EVERYTHING. You will have no idea how much dust can get stuck in your hair until you take a shower… (I’m such a girl…)
  3. Our elderly neighbor Pat and her dog Bonnie think I’m pretty cool for using power tools in the driveway.

On that note, let me tell you about the interesting stuff we got in our CSA share this week!

  • Belgian Endive – a nice big baggie
  • Romanesco Cauliflower – this is perhaps the most gorgeous vegetable I’ve ever seen!!! See the photos below…
  • Green Garlic
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi – three big bulbs
  • Lettuce Heads – 2 of them!
  • Shungiku – edible chrysanthemum!
  • Sourdough Bread
  • Yukina Savoy –  sometimes known as “field mustard” or “turnip mustard” and apparently has a slight “mustard-y” bite and the pepperiness of a good turnip; from what I’ve been able to discover, the leaves can be cooked like spinach or added to stir fry.

So the weekly challenge starts again. Already tonight we each ate salad (using up some of our lettuce and two leftover watermelon radishes, along with some feta cheese, sunflower seeds, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar) and tuna. Exciting, right? I’m hoping the creativity kicks in this weekend.

Happy almost weekend! (and check out this amazing cauliflower! It’s almost a shame to eat it…)

Romanesco Cauliflower

Isn’t that Fibonacci sequence amazing?

Romanesco Cauliflower

Tucson CSA – February 8, 2012


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Tucson CSA - February 8, 2012

It’s amazing. We only started participating in the CSA at the beginning of January, and I can’t believe how much the crops have already started to change in the past 4-6 weeks! I have to admit, I DO NOT miss having piles and piles of seemingly never ending greens (although I do have a lot of fennel fronds).

Instead I have a stockpile of fennel bulbs that I need to use up. We also have a couple of heads of broccoli, and some cauliflower (not to mention a giant head of cabbage, some turnips, carrots, and radishes. Oh yeah, I’m also overflowing with fresh dill…).

Kirk and I apparently need to take it up a notch. I feel like we’re eating a lot of veggies, but I think we can handle more. If we don’t want them to start going bad, we need to eat more veggies! That’s going to be my mantra through the weekend. Folks, this is going to vegetable weekend. We’re getting behind in using up all the produce, and pretty soon we’ll be out of room in the fridge. It’s time.

This week, we picked up the following in our share:

  • Belgian Endive
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Chioggia Beets
  • Collard Greens
  • Escarole
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Red Lasoda Potatoes (from the freebie bin – not part of our “official” share)
  • Peasant Bread

Although this is a lot of food, I do have some good idea for using some of it. I’m thinking of making a dill-based dip of some sort (this using up some dill), and then slicing leftover carrots and radishes for diping into said dip 🙂 I also recently saw a recipe for braised Belgian Endive, which might be worth a try. On that some front, I saw another recipe the other day for fennel au gratin – could be tasty as well. Beets… hmm… instead of borscht I might try pickling them! Or I could just roast them, dice them, and have a nice side-dish for a piece of salmon or something.

Does anyone have any good ideas for how I could use up my fennel fronds? I’m thinking of trying a fennel frond pesto, and freezing some of it. What do you think?

Butternut Squash Bisque


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Butternut Squash Bisque

Yipee! I have another successful soup recipe under my belt! I’m not a huge soup person – it’s never something I get cravings for. But I’m starting to think that maybe I just really like smooth, blended soups. I loved my Chioggia Beet Borscht, and now I love this Butternut Squash Bisque.

I had two butternut squash sitting on my counter for the last few weeks. I initially wanted to bake something with them (I was considering an old-fashioned butternut squash pie – like a pumpkin pie, but not), but then I decided that I should probably eat healthier 🙂 Kirk and I have been eating a lot of greens the last few days, and when I got home from work tonight I just didn’t like the idea of having yet more greens for dinner. I looked over at the counter, saw the squash, and decided on soup.

I saw this recipe in a book I picked up a Bookmans last night, “Dishing Up Vermont” by Tracey Medeiros. It stuck in my mind, and is the main reason why I looked at my squash and decided on soup. The ingredients are simple, and together they create an incredibly flavorful soup. I couldn’t believe how creamy it was given that it doesn’t actually have that much cream in it. Overall, I am very pleased. Kirk didn’t want soup tonight (he took one for the team and sauteed more greens for his dinner), but I’m hoping he’ll try it tomorrow and like it 🙂

In other news, I have some other projects (in addition to cooking) that I am starting to get into. Once I’ve done a little more with them, I’ll definitely share more info. I will tell you this, though: it involves using my shiny new jigsaw!

Butternut Squash Bisque (modified from Dishing Up Vermont)

Butternut Squash Bisque


  • 4 cups of Vegetable Broth
  • 2lbs Butternut Squash (this could be one large squash, or two small squash. I had two small squash, and they actually weighed about 1.85lbs)
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted Butter
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh Ginger
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh Garlic
  • 1/4 cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 tsp Nutmeg
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • Minced Chives (to garnish)


Butternut Squash Bisque

  • Slice the tops off the squash. Halve them lengthwise, ad scoop out and discard the seeds. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler. Cut the peeled squash into 1-inch pieces.
  • Place the squash, broth, salt, and 1 Tbsp butter in a soup-pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until squash is fork tender, about 15 minutes. about 5 minutes before the squash is done, toss in the ginger and garlic.
  • Working in batches (or using an immersion blender) puree the soup in a blender. If you use a blender, be careful to allow the steam to escape while blending – you don’t want to create a kitchen mess when the steam builds up and blows the top of the blender off 🙂
  • Transfer the puree back to your pot. Add the remaining two Tbsp butter and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring to combine the butter. Slowly whisk in the cream and nutmeg and heat through.
  • Add pepper to taste, and garnish with chives (if you want to…).

Butternut Squash Bisque