By Ken Lamberton
University of Arizona Press 2015
After reading Tucsonan Ken Lamberton’s colorful first-person travel book Chasing Arizona, it may strike the reader that she could stay in this state all her life and never run out of adventures. Amazingly, Lamberton was able to do all of it in one calendar year. He compared it to the Big Year in the parlance of birdwatchers, and indeed, seeing all of Arizona’s “people, places and treasures” turned out to be a quest of epic proportions.
Lamberton is perfectly positioned to write such a comprehensive book on touring Arizona. A naturalist and biologist, the author has lived in Arizona most of his life, and his enthusiasm for the state is palpable, sometimes even spiritual: “Put me in the desert and I become the cholla, the spiny ocotillo, dropping leaf and bearing thorns.”
Most of the book spotlights Arizona’s desert environment, but Lamberton manages to weave in historical detail for every destination. The research that went into the book makes it much richer than a straightforward guidebook. In Madera Canyon, he gives a hearty endorsement of the cabins of Madera Kubo B&B. Then he relates the story of Ben Daniels, “a thieving, back-shooting jailbird and professional hitman-turned-lawman, Rough Rider, Yuma Territorial Prison superintendent, U.S. marshal, and Pima County sheriff” who hunted bear with Teddy Roosevelt in Madera.
True to the book’s title, Lamberton spends a good portion of his Arizona year chasing one thing or another. In Bisbee, he hunts for ghosts and craft brews. In Patagonia, he hunts for the oldest grave. In the Chiricahua Mountains, he sights the state butterfly, the two-tailed swallowtail, and visits Petey Mesquitey, known for his KXCI radio program, “Growing Native.” In the White Mountains, he seeks out the elusive Apache trout, a breed sacred to the White Mountain Apache Tribe. He looks for wolves in the east fork of the Black River, and upon seeing only tracks but none in the flesh, he waxes mystical: “They are as real as the sound of their voices through the trees, as vital as breath. Their way is as evident and mysterious as a trail of blood in the snow.”
The poetic Lamberton isn’t an island on his journey. His wife, Karen, accompanies him to the less-remote areas such as Bisbee, Phoenix, and Tucson, and his daughters, Jessica, Kasondra, and Melissa, often come along for the ride, giving Lamberton the opportunity to play proud Papa.
There is food, too, of course. Along the way Lamberton decides to hunt down the best chimichanga in the state. To keep things fair and impartial, he orders the same thing, a green chile chimi, at every Mexican haunt he encounters. Spoiler alert: to Lamberton’s palate, the baked chimis at Chalo’s Casa Reynoso in Globe are the very finest.
Lamberton’s love of all things Arizona is evident in his exuberant writing, and the excitement is contagious. Each chapter left me curious, itching to explore, taste, and experience it for myself. Lamberton set out in his first chapter to spread the gospel of Arizona’s wild and variable glories. Thanks to his tireless research, lust for adventure, and many miles in his trusty Kia Rio, he ended the year knowing that his mission had been accomplished.
By Anna Jones
Ten Speed Press 2014
Most people don’t know how to make a salad. In fact, most people don’t even know what a salad is, and that’s why they believe they don’t like salad. Even many restaurant chefs don’t have the first clue how to prepare a delicious salad. Nothing is more depressing than chilled dry lettuce leaves (even fancy organic ones) quivering beneath a wimpy smattering of sugary vinaigrette made with cheap oil. Not tossed. With maybe a cherry tomato and some shredded carrot. I shudder when I hear people order “dressing on the side.” The first rule of salad is: a salad should be tossed.
Anna Jones knows how to make a salad, and she provides the building blocks in just two pages of her revelation of a vegetarian cookbook, A Modern Way to Eat. She says to start with salad leaves – arugula, spinach, little gem, shredded kale. Add a veggie or two, preferably one whose flavor has been previously developed, like roasted squash, roasted leeks, or seasoned tomatoes. Then you need something crunchy – Jones suggests croutons (homemade), toasted nuts, pomegranate seeds, or quick maple seeds (recipe included). She suggests adding an herb, like parsley, basil, or chopped fennel tops, and finally something hearty (if you like) such as lentils, couscous, a poached egg, or cheese.
Most important, she guides the reader into the world of making homemade dressing – the most important step in reaching salad nirvana. It’s really so simple—a 2:1 ratio of oil to acid, with flavor mix-ins like miso, mustard, or capers. It’s astonishing that there’s a market for bottled salad dressing, considering how easy and inexpensive it is to make a high quality one at home. Putting a jam jar of dressing in the fridge on Sunday evening becomes a hallowed ritual you’ll thank yourself for later.
The cool thing about this book is that its design informs the way a home cook should approach dinner—not with a recipe but a blueprint. You can use what you have on hand to follow her simple maps for creating endless variations of pastas, grains, hummus, pesto, and soup. Once you know the blueprint, you can go rogue, creating your own masterpieces according to the season and your senses. This is when you truly learn how to cook.
By Hugh Acheson
Clarkson Potter 2015
“What the hell do I do with kohlrabi?” The question on the lips of many CSA members throughout the ages is emblazoned on the inside cover of Hugh Acheson’s new tome, The Broad Fork. His high-brow answer is Skillet Kohlrabi, Lobster, Fennel and Curry Butter. But he also suggests a simple pickle, and putting that on a hot dog. “This is a great culinary response because darn near everything tastes good on a hot dog,” he writes.
Luckily, even Acheson’s high-brow recipes are relatively simple to make, with a short list of fresh ingredients. Each chapter features a fruit or vegetable, and most are unconventional. Persimmons’ sweetness is paired with grilled pork belly and a spicy soy vinaigrette. Or they are cooked into a filling for Persimmon Pop-Tarts. Sunchokes are made into crispy hash and topped with poached eggs.
Fennel is a fragrant beauty that is often discarded into the trade baskets at CSA pickups, but Acheson’s preparations are right on point. His Fennel Salad with Anchovies, Lemon, and Roasted Tomato utilizes an amazing flavor profile and has a nice mushy/crunchy factor. Grits with Speck and Caramelized Fennel tones down the sharp licorice flavor of the vegetable through the magical powers of pork. (Speck is an Italian smoked ham— prosciutto would certainly work).
As a Southerner based in Athens, Georgia, Acheson can provide the last word on okra. His preparations are classics, and they are all you need to know about how to prepare this whimsical little garden gem. His instructions for simply grilling or frying are the best routes for those who eschew okra’s slimy tendencies. But Acheson’s recipes for Stewed Okra with Tomatoes, Garlic, Cumin and Peppers, and Curried Okra over Carolina Gold Rice are true Low Country classics.
For home gardeners, CSA members, and farmers’ market shoppers, this book is an admirable addition to the cookbook arsenal. Next time you find yourself asking, “What the hell do I do with _____?” Acheson has you covered. ✜
Molly Kincaid is a Tucsonan who is obsessed with tinkering in the kitchen and reading cookbooks. Her favorite foods are, paradoxically, kale and pork belly.