I have been transported to the southwestern US, where humans spend time plotting their lives around the merciless oven in which they live. And it is, at the same time, stunningly beautiful. Now in Tucson, I am surrounded by mystical mountains, cacti of all shapes and sizes, and cute flat-topped houses fit for the desert in their dusty brown.
My dear old friend Nina is in love with this town, where she’s lived for six years now, and she has been taking good care of her wilting northwestern friend over the past few days. By feeding me, most importantly. This morning brought us to “the best breakfast place in town,” Little Poca Cosa, a hip, colorful little joint that serves up fresh Mexican for breakfast. With a server that called us “girls” and treated us like her daughters or nieces (she hugged and kissed our cheeks on the way out!) the ambiance is perfectly homey. And the food was just plain to-die-for. Mango-key-lime-mint juice, freshly squeezed, and water with a slice of orange started it off. And then a plate bursting with a colorful salad, Mexican rice, oranges, and…a luscious tamale. Slightly sweet masa with green chili and melting white cheese tucked inside, it was the best tamale I have ever had! So rich and plump, the last bite almost got away from me. To top it off, a pot of pinto beans stewed to perfection and fresh corn tortillas on the side. We left full but not stuffed, and very happy.
After retrieving bikes from home and cruising over to the U of A campus, we made plans for dinner with Nina’s girlfriend. Hoping for something cooling, I suggested tabouleh, to which Nina and Adria added falafel, tzatziki, and chapati (in place of pita). After a requisite nap under the mercy of the swamp cooler at home, Nina took me to the best place to get such things in Tucson: The 17th Street Market, where Asian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, (and more) food stores are happily housed under one roof. Distracted by the adorable sushi plates, exotic ice creams, and mysterious sale items, we eventually managed to find everything on our list, and headed back out into the heat.
While Nina tended her beloved garden (including some hardy pepper plants that have weakened but not yet given up under this sun), I started in on the chopping for tabouleh. Nina made the cool, garlicky tzatziki, and with plenty of sitting breaks inbetween cooking next to the heat of the stove, we managed to produce an impressive shmorgasbord of middle eastern tastes. With the spicyness of the falafel, the coolness of the tabouleh and tzatziki, and the comforting fresh chapatis, we ate happily and praised ourselves for a job well done. Warm and full and sleepy, it’s time to retire and sleep to the tinkling of the swamp cooler.