December 28, 2009 - 7:05 AM
A whole cow's head, tubs of lard, pickled pigs feet, and sticks of sugar cane. This list may sound like a recipe for some kind of witch's brew, but it is actually some of the things I encountered as I meandered through Ranch Market with my mom and sister. Phoenix has been home for 20 years, but Christmas Eve was the first time I had visited this well-kept Phoenix secret.
Ranch Market is a gigantic grocery store with several locations around the valley. The store specializes in Mexican foods for both fresh ingredients (e.g. maza [ground corn for tamales] and la crema fresca [fresh cream]) and pre-prepared dishes (tamales, frijoles [refried beans], and arroz [rice]). It truly feels like you are in a foreign country when you walk in: a Mexican radio station plays through the speakers, all signs are in Spanish, and the store's clientèle is predominately Latino. The three of us walked through the store wide-eyed marveling at such wonders as the tortilla factory that cranks out thousands of variously sized tortillas every day. In the meat section there was a whole cow's head, chorizo in the shape of a pig, and all varieties of sausage. The Market also offers an entire seafood section, juice bar, bakery, and café.
Although we mainly went for the cultural experience, we were on a mission to pick up some ingredients for the carnitas (spanish for "little meats") dinner I was preparing for Christmas Eve. As the carnitas slow-cooked in the crock pot back home, we searched Ranch Market for tortillas, frijoles, rice, El Pato sauce, salsa, and tortilla chips (none of which were difficult to find). We quickly assembled our shopping list and then searched the shelves for El Pato sauce. I was somewhat surprised to find that you could buy such Americanized items as Special K or Coca Cola at the Market, but I suppose it would make it easier for Ranch Market to be a one-stop-shop for weekly grocery shopping.
We found our Pato sauce, checked out, and struggled through the afternoon salivating at the frijoles and arroz. Dinner finally arrived. I must admit that I am a connoisseur when it comes to Mexican food, but these were some of the best tortillas and frijoles I have ever had (and Phoenix is a mecca of Mexican cuisine).
I will definitely return to Ranch Market soon because I still have a hankering for some of their frijoles, and I want to try other delicious items they offer. Should you ever find yourself in Phoenix, check out Ranch Market if you get the chance. Until then, I'll be scouring Eugene for the best Mexican market in town for my frijoles fix; I'll keep you posted.
One thing I haven't shared with y'all is that I love to cook. I have mastered a carnitas recipe that you can use the meat for tacos, burritos, enchiladas, or any other concoction (I usually make soft tacos or burritos with it). I developed this recipe myself with my dad's help, and we got the inspiration from a restaurant in Flagstaff, AZ whose specialty is citrus carnitas. Make sure to give yourself about eight hours to slow cook this in the crock pot, and you'll be eating right.
1 2-3 lb. pork roast (may be any thicket cut, but I usually use a shoulder roast)
1 small white onion
1 8oz. can of El Pato Jalapeño Sauce (green can)
2 navel oranges
1 Tbsp. Cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp. Brown sugar
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Pepper
1 tsp. Chili Powder
½ tsp. Oregano (dried)
Dice the onion and place in the bottom of the crock pot. Then mix the spices in a bowl and rub the pork with the spice mix. Place the roast in the crock pot over the onions. Quarter one of the oranges and squeeze some juice over the roast and place the four quarters in the crock pot with the roast (use more or less oranges depending on the size of the roast). Cover the crock pot and let cook for 6-7 hours on low. About one hour before you plan on eating, pour the can of El Pato over the roast and squeeze half of the second orange over the roast. The pork should flake apart easily after about 8 hours. Remove the roast from the crock pot and pull apart with a fork and knife. Serve on tortillas with frijoles, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole with a side of rice and beans. Garnish with cilantro. Serves 4-6 (and you should have leftovers).
December 21, 2009 - 7:01 AM
In The Arizona Republic, blogs, television, and other media I've encountered people lately feel the need to recap the decade and break down the "Top 10" albums, movies, sports moments, electronic gadgets, news stories, etc. of the "aughts" or "zeros" or whatever you would like to call this decade. Thus, I also feel obligated to do one of these lists to establish myself as a relevant blogger that seems well "cultured" and "educated" in popular culture, current events, etc. However, I was ten years old when this decade began, so in a way this decade was a coming-of-age for me and my impressions, tastes, and interests of the early parts of the decade have changed (very) slightly. Rather than choosing one topic like music or news stories, I am going to go year by year; don't worry this will not be a 300 page post, but I will highlight the most memorable events of the decade according to me. Thus, I present to you:
The Aughts According to Peter
2000: I don't really remember much from fifth grade. I recollect Britney Spears broke onto the scene and our computers didn't crash with the Y2K turnover. George W. Bush was elected president, and I remember being absolutely outraged by the controversy. I'm curious to see how different the rest of my list may have been if Al Gore had been elected president.
2001: September 11th changed the way I understood the world; the tragic event gave me a global perspective on politics, resources, and war. It has since lead to wars in which we are still involved, and I lost a friend which really made it hit home. This was probably the most significant event of the decade for myriad reasons and the implications that still linger and dominate today's world from politics to travel to energy. On a lighter note however, 2001 was the year the Diamondbacks won the World Series, and I will never forget being at Game 7 with my Dad. It was the best sporting event I've ever attended (and I've been to some good ones) from the eerie patriotic pride I felt as a Stealth Bomber flew over the ballpark during the National Anthem to Luis Gonzalez's bloop single off of Mariano Rivera to beat the Yankees 2-1, it was a truly amazing experience.
2002: It's incredible how memorable of a year 2001 was for me, I remember those months from September 2001-November 2001 so vividly, but 2002 is a gap in my memory. 2002 was the year the U.S. invaded Afghanistan; it was also the first year I was able to attend a middle school dance (only 7th and 8th graders were allowed to attend). Quite a disparity in my memory where my innocence was corrupted by September 11th.
2003: There was a global SARS pandemic. I entered high school. Johnny Cash died and I started playing guitar.
2004: George W. Bush was reelected. I was livid.
2005: I visited the U of O for the first time, and it was love at first sight. I made it through two more years of high school with the constant goal in mind of graduating so I could move to Oregon.
2006: A great year for concerts. My guitar playing made me really appreciate Classic Rock. This year I saw Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Steely Dan, and the Rolling Stones. In short, my life was complete.
2007: I graduated high school and moved to Eugene! My life was forever changed (for the best). I got on Facebook. My life was forever changed (for the worst).
2008: I voted in my first Presidential Election to elect our first black president, President Barack Obama. He offers us hope and pragmatism in an otherwise fairly bleak decade politically and economically. I also met my first and current girlfriend, Melissa.
2009: I was hired by Teach For America, my first real job. I spent an amazing year in Eugene (year round), and I will kick off 2010 watching the Ducks in the Rose Bowl. A pretty good ending to one decade and the beginning to another-maybe there is hope for the future.
December 20, 2009 - 10:31 PM
It's been a tough weekend in the Valley of the Sun. We had unusual highs of 75 degrees and sunny, so needless to say I was indoors all weekend sitting in my dark, damp room. In all seriousness though, the weather was absolutely incredible and I spent a good deal of time outside. This weekend I hiked both Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak (Valley landmarks), and I will break down for you, should you ever visit Phoenix, which to climb.
First off, Piestewa Peak, formerly known as Squaw Peak, sits in Northeast Phoenix. The Peak is named for Lori Piestewa from the Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona. A woman of mixed Mexican-Hopi descent, she was in Jessica Lynch's platoon when their Humvee was blown up in Iraq in 2003. Our PC- and PR-minded governor, Janet Napolitano now the Secretary of Homeland Security, rushed to right years of injustice of a "Squaw" peak (a derogatory Native American word for "broad" or "whore") looming over Phoenix, and the name "Piestewa" was hastily approved in honor of Native Americans, the armed forces, and feminist justice. The nature preserve, of which Piestewa Peak is a part, features untouched desert with numerous trails of all ability levels and distances. The Summit Trail takes you to the top of Piestewa Peak and is about 1.2 miles from parking lot to summit (2.4 miles in total). I would recommend doing the hike mid-week because it is an extremely popular trail and both parking lot and trail are over-crowded most of the time. That said, the summit offers panoramic views of the Valley, and its proximity to Phoenix make it more appealing than other hikes like Camelback.
That said, Camelback is probably my favorite hike in the Valley. However, there are two trails that take you to the summit of Camelback Mountain, so you have to make sure to find the Cholla Trail (the trail head is on the east side of the Mountain). The Mountain (as you can see in the picture) gets its name because it looks rather like a camel's hump. It sits on the edge of Phoenix in Paradise Valley, and there are some fairly impressive multi-million dollar homes nestled against the mountain that you pass on your way to the trail head. The trail is a strenuous 1.5 mile hike that gains a significant amount of elevation in a very short amount of time (approximately 1200 feet). Towards the top of the hike, one must scramble up rock faces (sometimes with gila monsters already occupying the sunny spots) to reach the summit. As the presence of gila monsters suggest, the trail is not as popular as the Piestewa Peak trail, and that makes it one of my favorites. Camelback also offers panoramic views of the Valley, but better views of Scottsdale and Tempe than Phoenix. Of the two hikes, Camelback's Cholla Trail is more fun, difficult, and enjoyable than the Summit Trail hands down.
While I do enjoy desert hiking and the different scenery and wildlife the Valley of the Sun offers, I must say I prefer the Willamette Valley with lush greenery, rivers, and bounty of lesser-traveled trails.
December 14, 2009 - 10:31 AM
Growing up in Phoenix it was always annoying having the snowbirds coming to town this time of year, but now I pride myself on being one. Since last New Years, I have spent about 72 hours in Phoenix (my hometown) for a quick weekend over Mothers Day, and I am very excited to be back. The last two weeks in Eugene have been bitterly cold (highs in the low 30s), so it's great to be back home thawing out for a few weeks.
As I enjoy this nice 65 degree day under a bright blue sky, I will take this opportunity to compare and contrast Phoenix and Eugene head-to-head to see how they fare in several different categories.
1. Winter weather: As I mentioned, it's been unusually cold in Eugene lately, but the typical winter weather in Eugene is fairly temperate but rainy. Phoenix winters are the reason we have a tourist industry: highs in the high sixties and sunny. Although it was in the low 60s and drizzly this weekend in Phoenix, the forecast looks very promising. I have to give the edge here to Phoenix (although when we discuss summers that's a different story).
2. Transportation: Eugene is a nicely sized town with decent public transportation and excellent bike trails. In addition, anything you want to get to in Eugene (grocery store, U of O, parks, movie theatres, etc.) are a short distance of no more than a couple miles from anyone. This is not the case with Phoenix. You need a car to get anywhere because the city is extremely sprawled, so biking is a limited mode of transportation. Phoenix prides itself on its new light rail system, but it has very limited stops and is not a practical mode of transportation yet. The air quality in Phoenix is also far worse than Eugene. Without a doubt, Eugene's commitment to biking and public transportation make it far superior.
3. Holiday cheer: Eugene looks wintery. There is no snow (yet), but it is cold so scarves, boots, hats, etc. are appropriate. Coffee, tea, and cider make sense this time of year. Some neighbors put up Christmas lights and shops begin to adorn themselves with holiday decorations. Phoenix, on the other hand, is a desert. The warm weather hardly suggests a winter wonderland, so people have to make up for it in other ways. People wrap Christmas lights around their houses and thirty foot palm trees to compensate for the lack of holiday appearance. This is a tough one to call because Eugene feels like the holidays minus snow, and Phoenix compensates a lack of weather with gaudy yet clever lights (not in the slightest friendly to peoples' carbon footprints). I'll call it a draw.
4. Winter fashion: People in Eugene are bundled this time of year, and rightfully so. Oregonians stay warm under hats, scarves, heavy coats, and gloves. This is appropriate considering the weather. Since I have been home I've been wearing shorts and a t-shirt since this weather seems incredibly warm to me. However, I notice many people wearing jeans and sweatshirts, and in more formal occasions scarves, hats, and boots. This is ridiculous. Just because fashion sources tell us it is "seasonal style" doesn't mean you should wear it if it is not climate appropriate. Eugene wins this category hands down.
It's difficult to say one place is better than the other since they are so different. However, I think Eugene is a better fit for me. That said, I am very content being in Phoenix with friends and family. Now it's time for me to go outside into the sunshine and put up some Christmas lights.
December 11, 2009 - 10:35 AM
The best concert I've been to in a while hands down. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros rocked WOW Hall so hard that my ears are still ringing the morning after. Rolling Stone named Edward Sharpe one of its "Artists to Watch 2009," and their psychedelic folk rock mixes, as Rolling Stone suggests, "Arcade Fire with The Mamas and the Papas." The ten piece band pumped out a rich and elaborate sound with guitars, bass, piano, trumpet, tambourine, drum set, bongos, and accordion.
The sell out crowd was really into the concert (of which all my roommates were in attendance), and we danced and sang along all concert. The band responded to the crowd's energy to put on a raucous, energetic show. The band ended their set with a calming, beautiful song "Om Nashi Me," which put me in a state of mind more resonant of a Eugene that existed 40 years ago. After we called them back to the stage for the encore, they invited us all on stage for their last song. Everyone on stage and the remaining fans in the audience all sat cross-legged as Alex Ebert, the lead singer, crooned the final tune. It was awesome to sit between the trumpeter and the guitar player, and I shook hands their hands and thanked them for a great performance as we walked offstage together. It was a rare experience and fantastic way to end a wonderful concert.
After the show I approached Alex Ebert and asked him how he like Los Angeles, where the band is from and currently located, because their music seems so apart from the mainstream Los Angeles scene. He joked, "I don't like the air. There are some good people there though."
I asked him if he saw himself in the longterm. He responded, "I want to go to New Orleans for awhile. It just seems like a cool place." I am excited to see if they make the move and what inspiration they draw from a rich cultural and musical city-could be a good thing for Edward Sharpe fans.