Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fruits of the Season

I love this time of year! Beginning in October, the food is wonderful, and I enjoy the holidays so much, partly because of certain foods that are not available in their freshest, most natural form the rest of the year. These are three of my favorites, and it's only coincidental that they all begin with the letter "P" (though that's kind of interesting, I guess).
 Persimmons, pomegranates, and pumpkins, oh my! There are two kinds of persimmons, Fuyu and Hachiya, and while both are delicious, they're quite different. The Fuyus, like the ones in this picture, look like squatty tomatoes, and can be eaten while they're still firm, though a deeper color indicates a deeper, sweeter flavor. Hachiyas have pointy bottoms and you must let them get quite soft (at which point you can cut them in half and scoop the flesh out of the peel with a spoon) or else they're very astringent - you've never really puckered up till you've tried to eat an unripe Hachiya! The color will change and cracks will begin to develop in the skin - just be patient enough to wait that long. Fuyus can also get pretty soft and keep getting sweeter and more delicious but you don't have to wait before eating them. The pumpkins in this picture go by different names in different countries, Muscat (or Musquée) de Provence in France, Calabaza Castiliana in Spain and Mexico. They're as decorative as they are delicious, for any of the many things you can make with ordinary pumpkin.
 We have a pomegranate plant and I thought we'd get a good crop this year at last. I sprayed them with insecticidal soap to keep the pomegranate bugs off, but then I became less vigilant and suddenly the bugs were attacking! By then the fruits were ripe, so I picked them and determined I'd caught them just in time - no harm done. The easiest way to separate out the seeds with their juicy, sweet, jewel-like surrounding is to quarter the fruit and then drop the sections in a large bowlful of water, where you can pull the seeds away from the membrane. The seeds will sink, the peels and membranes will float, and you can just skim off what you don't want and throw it in the compost.
When I was a little girl my grandmother always bought a few pomegranates around Christmas time and we just ate the seeds as a special treat. Since then, of course, all kinds of delicious pomegranate products have appeared on the market; juice is just the beginning. I still prefer them in their most natural state, though. The salad above was especially yummy, just mixed baby greens, wedges of peeled persimmon, and pomegranate seeds, with a white balsamic vinaigrette ( In fact, I think I'll make another one just like it for Christmas Eve dinner!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Sort of an Ode to Chairs

Every object has a story, I guess, even if it's just in its early chapters, even, I suppose, if its story so far is only of being manufactured and then shipped and sold in a big-box store. I know I often value things not so much for how they look or how much they cost, but for the stories behind them and the memories those stories evoke. Sometimes those stories go back quite a while, sometimes, as with this first chair, the part of the story I know, because it's the part I'm in, is just beginning.
On Friday Joe and I visited a shop we'd never been to before, Betty Blue's Junk Shop, on Plumer, south of Broadway,, tucked away next an auto painting shop. It's lovely, to those of us who delight in finding a second-hand store with interesting items at good prices, with a friendly owner, and Betty Blue's has all those things. We found this little rocker for just $40, and it's not even a fixer-upper! It doesn't need a thing besides maybe a little furniture polish - oh, and I'll probably be moved to create a suitably retro seat cushion at some point. Bare wood's a bit hard on the bottom.
I love chairs (you've probably guessed that), and the oak rocker above is one of the first I loved, even though when I first saw it, it was painted a sort of vomit-grayish-beige. It's been in the family for 93 years, ever since my grandparents bought it from Sears Roebuck so my paternal great-grandmother would have a chair in which to rock my grandparents' first child, my Aunt Dorthe, who's still doing well all these years later, living on her own in Kalispell, Montana. That regrettable color, which someone painted it in the 1960s, stripped off easily, which was a great relief 20 years ago when the chair was passed on to me.
This Morris chair isn't a family heirloom, though I guess it's on its way to becoming one. I wonder sometimes what will happen to the furniture we've loved if our kids don't feel the same way about it. Well, this chair's story is an example of what might happen. Many years ago, I worked as a receptionist for our small-town family doctor. One of his patients was a very old woman who lived with a paid companion in a 3-story house filled with wonderful old furniture. When she died, her son came from wherever he lived to arrange her funeral and to decide what to do with her property. He came by the office and told Mac's nurse and me that, because we'd all been so good to his mother, he wanted to do something for us, so before he called in the dealers he let us come to the house to pick out whatever we wanted at rock-bottom prices. I paid $35 dollars for this chair and just $5 for a small oak cabinet. A year or two later a local antiques dealer (noted for cheating the people he bought from) offered me $365 for it, but obviously I didn't take it. I have no idea what it's worth, but it would have to be an awful lot to persuade me to part with it - I can't imagine selling it.
This little rocker is obviously still in need of a serious makeover. Joe wants to at least attempt to strip the paint off to see what's underneath - if we don't like what we find, we can always paint it a different color, and of course, either way it will get a new seat cover. I was driving down Grant Road when I spotted this chair outside a secondhand furniture store (of which there are many on Grant Road). I noticed the color first - hard to miss that green - but it was the lines of the chair that really captured me. I pulled in and quickly talked the owner down from $50 to $35. Maybe he would have gone lower, but I guess I'll never know.
This red chair is one of the most comfortable I've ever sat in, even without a cushion. And the price was definitely right - someone had set it out on the curb for the semi-annual brush-and-bulky trash pickup (that's where the little table next to it came from as well). I decided not to do anything to the metal frame, which has been painted more than once - most recently black, but turquoise and red show through where the black has chipped.  It has, as Joe says, patina. The wood had been painted barn red and so I just repainted that and I love it. The little table was white, more or less, and it just got a coat of turquoise spray paint.  Now that the weather's cooled off (they're predicting a high of 85 today), the little shade house/ramada is a wonderful place to relax, especially in this newly repainted chair.
And now one last chair, that I think must have been my mother's or her sister's, since it was far from new when I got it. I sat in it with my dolls as a little girl, and my own little girl sat in sometimes, though we also got her a much sturdier wooden rocker. Today this little chair is battered by time and no one sits in it now except Berthe Antoinette, who doesn't weigh much and who can be trusted not to play roughly. I suppose I should have it repaired, but for some reason I don't want to see it changed. Maybe I'll look into that, though. Someday.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Muffins

It's been a long week at work. Even though we only work Monday through Thursday, those four days were intense. The good news is that the weather seems to be cooling off, down into the 80s and maybe even the 70s today, though there will probably be a few more days in the 90s before month's end.  Anyway, we needed a treat today so I made muffins, banana bran muffins, to be precise, and here they are, along with a couple of tiny Halloween table topper quilts I made a few years ago and the gorgeous mums one of my students brought me last week. I just love October!

The recipe is from an old issue of Eating Well, one of my favorite food magazines. The recipes I've tried have all been tasty, pretty easy, and healthy. I really should re-subscribe, I suppose. The recipe as the magazine gives it is at: Here's how I made them, which includes a few minor alterations:

Banana-Bran Muffins - makes 1 dozen 
2 large eggs
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas, (2 medium)
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup unprocessed oat bran 
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.

     Beat eggs and brown sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Mix in bananas, buttermilk, bran, oil and vanilla.
     Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients; add the wet ingredients and stir/fold gently with a rubber spatula until just combined. Never overbeat muffins; it makes them tough and gives them pointy heads. (I think it probably does the same thing to children.) Stir in the walnuts. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups (they’ll be quite full). 
     Bake the muffins until the tops are golden brown and spring back when touched lightly, 15 to 25 minutes (it was 18 minutes in my oven). Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Loosen edges and turn muffins out onto a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

Nutrition Per serving : 196 Calories; 6 g Fat; 1 g Sat; 3 g Mono; 36 mg Cholesterol; 32 g Carbohydrates; 5 g Protein; 4 g Fiber; 182 mg Sodium; 167 mg Potassium, 6 WW points

The original recipe calls for a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flours, along with wheat bran, but I only had whole wheat flour and oat bran on hand, so I used those. It also gives 1/2 cup chocolate chips as an optional ingredient, but I decided against that and added more walnuts. If you go to the website you'll see the walnuts are sprinkled over the top rather than stirred in, as I did it. They look prettier that way but I like a bit of walnut in every bite. I just ate my first muffin, still warm from the oven, and it was very good, not overly sweet, though I imagine that, like traditional banana bread, they'll mellow with standing and taste richer and sweeter tomorrow.
     I don't know why I haven't been baking lately. I've gone back to Weight Watchers and am fairly happy with my slow but steady (sometimes stalled) progress, so that's one reason, but I looked at my favorite breakfast cookbook, Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café, and I'd figured out the points for the muffin recipes and they're within the safe range, most with a point less than these. Oh well, it's fall now, more or less, so that may be why I'm back in the baking and soup-making mood - and I intend to enjoy it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Friday Soup

Although the temperatures are still in the high 80s here and will continue to creep into the 90s for a little while yet, it feels like autumn, and that makes me want soups and stews. A couple of days ago I made an old favorite recipe that I found several years ago in Mark Bittman's "Minimalist" column in the New York Times. I'm pretty sure it was the first of his recipes that I tried; now I have two of his big cookbooks: How to Cook Everything and The Best Recipes in the World.  This fish soup is so fast, so easy, so good, so healthy, that it's a great choice for a quick, satisfying after-work dinner, especially if you happen to have cooked rice on hand and put a half-cup in the bottom of the bowl before ladling in the soup. (Joe usually makes a pot of brown rice on Sunday so we have it for lunches to take to work or quick dinners after work - with beans or curries or stir-fries and then leftovers the next day for lunch - or even for breakfast, heated in the microwave and eaten like oatmeal.)
West Lake Fish Soup - serves 4, takes half an hour

2 T. peanut or canola oil
1/2 cup peeled and chopped shallots or onion
6 cups chicken or other stock
3 T. soy sauce (I use low-sodium)
1 tsp. (at least) ground pepper
1 cup peas, thawed if frozen (I've also used snow peas when I have them)
3/8 to 1 pound plain white fish, roughly chopped (I used 1/2 pound of pollock here, 
        which is often quite inexpensive frozen)
2 T. cornstarch
2 egg whites, lightly beaten (or 1 egg, or 1/4 liquid egg substitute, which is made from egg whites)
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (or any tender green, but cilantro is best)

Put oil in saucepan large enough to hold all ingredients and turn heat to medium. Add shallots or onion and cook till golden brown, adjusting heat so they don't burn.
Add all but 1/4 cup of the stock and turn heat to medium high. When contents begin to steam, add soy sauce, pepper, peas, and fish, and cook at a gentle simmer (adjust heat as necessary), stirring occasionally, until peas are tender and fish is falling apart, 5 to 10 minutes. In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup stock with cornstarch.

Drizzle egg whites into saucepan, stirring constantly. Stir in cornstarch mixture. When soup thickens, stir in cilantro. Taste and add more pepper or soy sauce if you like. Serve immediately.

     If you don't like the idea of fish soup - and I know some folks don't, though this doesn't taste at all "fishy" in the disagreeable way some people object to, you can use chopped shrimp or leftover chicken or tofu. The basic recipe will be good with any of them.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

In a Pickle

These are the Asian pears we picked at Apple Annie's on Thursday (see my previous post). No, I'm not making pickles of them! They're just so lovely and delicious that I wanted to put up another photo of them. And now that I've done that, let me tell you what I did yesterday.
     As I've mentioned before, we gave up on our squash this summer - the yield didn't begin to justify the work (or the water bill). However, one of the local markets, El Super on South 6th Avenue just south of I-10, has great produce specials on Wednesdays; this week they had Mexican gray squash, which as you can see are interchangeable with zucchini (the peel isn't quite as dark but the flavor is, I think, superior - and I speak as a lover of zucchini) for 3 pounds for $1.
 One thing I love to make from zucchini is relish; it's always better any sweet pickle relish you can buy in a jar.  This recipe comes from the Better Homes and Gardens "Canning" book/magazine I've cited before. Go back a few posts to see a picture of the cover; it's still on the newsstands at the checkout counters in some markets here. I doubled the recipe to make 5 pints instead of 5 half-pints; it might get us through the winter. This is the recipe exactly as it appears in the magazine.

Zucchini Relish
5 cups finely chopped zucchini (5 small)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions (3 medium)
3/4 cup finely chopped green sweet pepper (1 medium)
3/4 cup finely chopped red sweet pepper (1 medium)
1/4 cup pickling salt (I used Morton's Kosher salt - never use iodized salt for pickling)
Cold water
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1 or 2 drops green food coloring (optional)

1. In an extra-large non-metal bowl, combine zucchini, onions, and sweet peppers. Sprinkle with salt, toss gently to coat. Add enough cold water to cover vegetables. Cover and allow to stand at room temperature for 3 hours.

2. Transfer vegetable mixture to a large colander set in the sink. Rinse with cold water; drain.
3. In an 8- to 10-quart stainless steel, enamel, or nonstick heavy pot, combine sugar, vinegar, the 1/4 cup water, celery seeds, turmeric, and mustard seeds. Bring to boiling, stirring until sugar dissolves; reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 3 minutes. Add drained vegetable mixture and, if desired, green food coloring. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Ladle hot relish into sterilized half-pint (or pint, if you double the recipe as I did) canning jars, leaving a 1/2" headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids.
5. Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (start timing when the water returns to a boil). Remove jars from canner; cool on wire racks. Makes 5 half-pints.

*Note: I chopped the zucchini and peppers by hand for this relish because I like the look of the neat little squares. It took a little more time than using the food processor, but I'm happier with the result. (I did chop the onion in the food processor.) Here's the 1/4 cup or so that was left after filling all the jars,
 and here's one of the jars. I think it's just lovely. Of course, if you've followed my canning adventures, you know  I tend to think anything that's put up in a jar like this is just lovely! The turmeric gives it that wonderful golden glow, as well as terrific flavor.
 Relish isn't all I made yesterday. Joe loves bread and butter pickles, and zucchini make amazing bread and butter pickles. Again, I think they're much better than those you can buy. I'm going to give you that recipe too, but first a note - well, almost a rant - on ingredients.
     First off, I'm never quite sure what recipe writers mean by small, medium, large, etc. The relish recipe says 5 small zucchini chopped will yield 5 cups. Okay, maybe, but you'd better measure to be sure, especially if you want to fill the designated number of jars.
     But 3 medium onions to get 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions? Really? The next picture shows the 1.4+ cups thinly sliced onion I used in the bread and butter pickles. (I'm giving you the recipe as it's in the book; I increased it to get 7 pints instead of 5, because a canning kettle holds 7 jars so it makes sense to me to go ahead and can 7 jars. We like the stuff. We'll eat it or maybe give some away at Christmas.)
 So, my point is, again, measure! I don't know where the BH&G cooks found their puny onions, but I got well over 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onion from just 1/2 of a large white onion! (The candle helps to dissipate the onion fumes so you don't weep so much - some onions are so strong I've thought I might go blind!)
     Many Mexican cooks prefer white onions over the usual yellow or brown ones, and El Super also had them on special, 5 pounds for a dollar on Wednesday, Miercoles de Frutas. (El Super also has Jueves de Carnes, meat specials on Thursday only. They have all the usual stuff plus cuts you're unlikely to find at Fry's or Safeway, and the meat section is so clean you could probably eat raw meat off the floor, if you were so inclined!) El Super also has specials on produce and meats, etc. that run all week.
     Now here's the second part of my diatribe on ingredients, particularly spices. Everything you see below except the cayenne, which is just there for illustration purposes, went into yesterday's pickling projects. I had to go to the market for celery seed and I would have bought yellow mustard seed too, but it was ridiculously expensive and I already had brown mustard seed at home (it's in the jar with the gold lid, next to the cayenne). Less than an ounce of McCormick celery seed cost $4.69 at our neighborhood Albertson's, though I could have paid more if I'd bought Spice Islands or one of the other brands. Mustard seed was the same price, give or take a dime, so you can see why I didn't buy any.
There are much better and often more interesting places to buy spices and herbs. Even in Albertsons and other mainstream groceries, there's usually a Hispanic section where they are sold in cellophane packets, like the cinnamon on the far left (89¢ at Food City) or the cayenne on the right (69¢ at Albertsons). The big 8-ounce jar of Turmeric was $1.99 at the 17th Street Market here in Tucson, which carries Indo-European spices, etc., as well as Rani Indian spices and seasonings. The Rani brown mustard seeds were $1.69 for 3.5 ounces, compared to nearly $5 for less than an ounce of McCormick! Not everything comes in the cellophane packets but more does than you might think, and if you run out of, say, ginger, keep the jar and refill it from the packet. I also like to shop at LeeLee, a huge Asian supermarket in NW Tucson (at Orange Grove and La Cholla) that carries all kinds of spices, etc. (and much, much more), including the Rani line and I think the Indo-European line as well, but if you don't have access to such stores, at least look in the Hispanic section before shelling out the big bucks for tiny quantities.
      Okay, now back to pickles. This is the recipe as published, to make 5 pints of:

Bread and Butter Zucchini Pickles
3 1/2 pounds medium zucchini
1 cup thinly sliced, halved onion (1 large)
3 Tbsp. pickling salt
Crushed ice (I don't have an ice crusher; I think the cubes worked fine)
2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. celery seeds
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric

1. Wash zucchini. Slice off the stem and blossom ends. Cut zucchini crosswise into 1/4" thick slices. Measure 12 cups zucchini slices.
2. In an extra-large nonmetal bowl, combine the 12 cups zucchini slices and 1 cup onion slices. Sprinkle with salt; toss gently to coat. Top with 2 inches of crushed ice. Weight down mixture with a heavy plate. Allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours.
3. Remove any remaining ice from zucchini mixture. Transfer mixture to a colander set in a sink and drain. (Note: it doesn't say to rinse! I didn't, and the pickles were perfect.)
4. In a 5- to 6- quart stainless steel, enamel, or nonstick heavy pot, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, turmeric, and peppercorns. Bring to boiling, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add zucchini mixture. Return to boiling, stirring frequently; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

5. Ladle hot mixture into hot, sterilized pint canning jars, leaving 1/2" headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids.
6. Process filled jars in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes (start timing when water returns to boiling). Remove jars from canner; cool on rack.

They will look like this:
While I was finishing the bread and butter pickles, Joe made a run to the store and came back with these:
It's certainly nice to be appreciated!

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Trip to the Orchard

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Rory, who lived with her mommy and daddy in Tucson, Arizona, where it gets very, very hot in the summertime. So one day their friends Joe and Vicki decided it would be nice to take a drive over to Willcox, Arizona, where the elevation is higher and the temperatures cooler, and where Apple Annie's Orchard ( is, to see what Apple Annie had to offer and just to get out of town for the day.
 When they got to Apple Annie's, the nice lady told them where the different kinds of fruit were and gave them wagons and buckets and they headed out to look for some peaches, and they found lots of them. The lady had said they could sample all they wanted, so all four grown-ups and Rory probably ate more peaches than they ever had at one time in any of their lives, and picked lots more to buy to take home.
 After they'd picked all the peaches they wanted, they headed over to another part of the orchard to look for apples and Asian pears. Rory was tired of riding in the wagon so she got out to explore.

The Asian pears were just as abundant and just as delicious as the peaches! More tasting and more picking followed,
and Rory also found some Bartlett pear trees. By then her face was sticky with peach juice and bits of Asian pear, but she was very happy.

Even though it was cooler in Willcox than in Tucson, it was still plenty warm. They looked for apples, but not very hard, because it was getting to be lunch time, and besides, it's still early in the season. There will be more apples in a few weeks. They did try some Criterion apples like this one, and found them sweet and tasty.
 After purchasing the fruit they'd picked, as well as some jalapeño chocolate fudge in the gift shop, they went to Apple Annie's other site, where you can pick your own vegetables (the pumpkins won't be ready for another month) but the grown-ups were feeling lazy so they just bought some flying saucer squash and other summer squash, green beans, and tomatoes from the big walk-in cooler. Rory tried to shut her mommy and daddy in the cooler but Vicki and Joe talked her out of it. And then they all got back in the car and drove into town where they had lunch at Big Tex BBQ restaurant, which is actually a bright red converted railroad car, where the food was hearty and meaty, and where the staff were exceptionally nice.
      Then they all went back home to Tucson, happy and with full tummies. When Vicki and Joe got back to their house, they found that some of their perfect peaches had gotten a few bruises, so Vicki blanched those, peeled and sliced them and tossed them with a little lemon juice so they wouldn't turn brown (they were so sweet they really didn't need any sugar). Next morning for breakfast she microwaved some whole wheat pancakes that happened to be in the freezer and she and Joe topped them with nonfat sour cream, a tiny sprinkle of brown sugar (just because it's so nice with sour cream), then put the warmed peaches with their juices over it all. And it was very, very good.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Flora and Fauna of Mt. Lemmon

I thought all I would have to offer today would be flora, as I haven't had much luck getting good photos of animal life on the mountain, but as you will see in a bit, yesterday I was pleasantly surprised.
     Our hike wasn't an unmitigated pleasure, but on balance it was worth every bit of discomfort - and I experienced quite a bit. As I was pulling my gear out of the closet, Joe misheard and thought I'd said I needed new boots. "No," I said, "I love my boots. They're fine." But in fact, it had been quite a while since I'd worn them, and I'd forgotten that I'd pulled out my supercool expensive insoles to put into some sneakers a few months ago. We don't wear our boots on the drive up, and I didn't realize till we were probably halfway up to Marshall Saddle that I was hiking with no insoles at all (thick socks and general distraction kept me from noticing right away). But I survived.
     We took the Mint Spring Trail from the end of Carter Canyon Road 1.7 miles up to Marshall Saddle, then came down Marshall Gulch along the creek, 1.2 miles to the picnic ground at the end of the extension of Summerhaven's main street, which probably has a name though I don't know what it is. From there it's a little over a mile back to where we parked the car.
 Though the damage from the 2003 Aspen Fire is still evident, recovery has been dramatic, with aspens, in fact, leading the way, along with locust trees. The Ponderosa pine seedlings are looking good, many of the 3 or 4 feet tall now, and of course ferns and other flora came back very quickly.
 A year or two ago we got lots of elderberries from this bush, but they're not quite ready yet. If you look closely, you may be able to spot some dark umbels of berries, but also lots of blossoms still. I've loved elderberries since I was a kid growing up in Idaho and was so happy to find them here in Arizona,

along with Indian paintbrush.

We've had some good monsoon rains so there are lots of fungi on the mountain, most of which I'm afraid I can't identify.

 The fungi in the following two photos are the same kind, the first very small, the second much larger. They were also much pinker in the flesh than in the photos.

 The mushrooms above were as big as dinner plates and had apparently grown up through and around the dead twigs.  The bright orange fungi below were tiny, the biggest bits no larger than my thumbnail,
 which was also about the size of the caps of these little yellow mushrooms (note their size in comparison to the pine needles).
 Woolly mullein is softer than toilet paper and more environmentally friendly, should you find yourself in need.

Shortly after we began the hike down from the saddle we spotted this little guy, who was only about an inch long. We see them often up there, but have never had one sit still so patiently to have his portrait taken.
Likewise these yellow-eyed or Mexican juncos, whom we see so often along the trail we've come to think of them as its guardians or maybe a welcoming committee. This one wasn't bothered at all by us, keeping busy almost at our feet until we'd taken all the pictures we wanted. As you can see in the second photo, it's been banded. Maybe that's why it let us get so close.

In the rocks rising up along the stream, we find tiny secret gardens like this one of moss and lichen, fern and oxalis, things we can't easily sustain in our desert gardens  below.

The water is very clear; its golden cast comes from the tannin it leaches from the roots of oak trees.

It was after 5:00 when we started down the mountain, and we could see that it was raining south and west of Tucson (in fact, it had rained at our place on the far west side). We stopped at Windy Point 
to look out at the mountain-ringed bowl that contains our city and to marvel at the skies that changed as we gazed at them, 

and then, as T.S. Eliot says, it was time "at the end of all our exploring . . . to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time," because that is how it always is, or should be. And so "We shall not cease from exploration," whether in our back yard garden or on the back side of a mountain, near or far away.