Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cactus + Alcohol = delicious

If there's one thing I've learned since we moved to the Sonoran Desert, it's that you can garden and eat things from the ground. It just takes some serious labor and love.

I cannot just plant tomatoes, water them every other day, and expect fruit.

That's just silly and naïve. One must do extensive research!

In  fact, I am currently starting my seeds for next years garden. As it takes much love and transitioning to get them ready for Arizona's awful, relentless heat!

One thing we've really embraced this year - is making use out of our cacti. We have a beautiful prickly pear cactus in the corner of our yard that bears wonderful fruit!

What does prickly pear look like again?
There are 2 distinct parts to the prickly pear. The green paddles (nopales) and the purple prickly pears.
Harvesting these isn't always fun. You will get hairs and thorns impaled into your skin. Unless you were smart and perhaps wore gloves?
The nopales paddles remind me of something similar in flavor to green beans, asparagus, soft bell peppers, tomatillos ? (if those 4 vegetables were to mate....). You slice off the outer skin (swallowing cactus thorns is not recommended). Sautee it with oil, salt, & pepper. It is delicious! Great in salsa, tacos, salads, ect!
Finished Product:

Now for the prickly pears - there is a little labor that goes into it! We have tried jam, jelly, juice, and lemonade at the local farmers' market. Which are good. But to be honest, we aren't big jam/jelly people. And I'd probably turn the lemonade into an alcoholic beverage by the pool.
We have had prickly pear margaritas at the Marriot Star Pass resort - and loved them. So decided on making drunken prickly pears.
Step 1: Harvest your prickly pears
Step 2: Slice off the tough outer skin. (This process is amazing. They look so dry, and when you cut into them - they bleed purple liquid!
(they kind of remind me of beets! In fact, they almost taste like a sweet seedy beet)
Step 3: Quarter your pears, and place in mason jar. Fill mason jar with your alcohol of choice. We did 3/4 of our jars with vodka. The other 1/4 we did tequila.
Step 4: Leave in fridge for several days (3-4). They are a very strong fruit, so don't require quite as long to infuse!
Step 5: Strain out your fruits. Make sure you collect the liquid/juice you're straining!! Have a bowl under the colander!
Step 6: Process your fruits into a pulp.
Step 7: Back to the strainer! (or cheese cloth may work well for this, too). Your goal is to
 separate pulp from the seeds. This takes about 10-15 minutes. When it's all strained - all that will be left is clumps of seeds. That can be disposed.
Step 8: Add your pulpy liquid to your liquid your strained out earlier, and stir well. Your prickly pear infused liquor is ready to enjoy!!
(This recipe made about 6 mason jars of liquor.)
Step 9: Enjoy in your drink of choice. We added 1/2 cup lime concentrate, 1/4 cup triple sec, ice, and made a blended drink for the pool!
What I like about prickly pear - is that it's not extremely sweet. Which makes sense, when you think of the harsh tree it comes from. There are actually quite a few health benefits (and remedies) behind prickly pears. Mexican culture has used it to treat viral infections, hang-overs, GI-upset, and lowering blood sugar!
Have you ever tried cactus? What did you think?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Salt River Kayaking

Ryan and I have been living completely opposite lives lately. But I was able to finagle my work schedule around to get Saturday free, so we could have a day together. And it was worth all the finagling! We took a day trip to Saguaro Lake Ranch to do a kayaking trip on the Salt River.

We had 13 miles to kayak, and the river gets very full of tubers during the summer. So we wanted to get an early start. We were on the road by 5:15 am, and on the river by 7:30!

This trip made Ryan & I seriously consider buying kayaks. We had so much fun! I'm going to let the pictures do the talking....

We saw a variety of landscapes along the way. We started @ Saguaro Lake Ranch - which historically was the ranch that housed the workers who made the dams on the Salt River to create the various lakes near Phoenix. They provided the kayaks, and picked you up when you finished to bring you back to your vehicle.
Here I am getting the feel for my kayak & becoming "one with the water". I wouldn't say this was "rapids" - but there were some very high current areas that took a certain amount of skill! It was pretty fun!

An obligatory "selfie"

How surreal is it to be on a river, with saguaro cacti along the bank?!

Best part of this trip? Wild horses along the entire way! And since it was so quiet out, they walked right up to you! (they wouldn't let me pet them, though)

I tried to see how close I could get, and they let me right in the middle of their pack. This was the pack of males. We noticed the males and females stood on opposite sides of the river!

These were the females! I was in awe of the beauty of this. It's like they're hugging! I wonder if they are sisters?

Kayaking 13 miles was hard work on the arms, but it was so relaxing! This photo sums up how we were feeling! I am also SO GLAD we wore our keen water shoes!
We got back to our car by 1 pm, and were ravenous. So we drove into Mesa, AZ (which was about 15 minutes away) and went to Red, White, & Brew to satiate ourselves with a Pesto-Artichoke Pizza and a cold IPA! Ryan's eyes were bigger than his stomach, and he ordered the 20'' pizza. Needless to say, we have a lot of leftovers. Beer and good pizza tasted amazing after a day on the river!