Where Can You Find Good Mexican Food in Tucson?

When searching for good Mexican food last June, we went to the oldest Mexican restaurant in Tucson, Arizona, El Charro Cafe.

El Charro 1

We arrived early and were seated quickly inside. Northern Sonora-Mexican food choices and a few Tucson ones fill the menu with the typical Mexican items of burritos and enchiladas plus grilled asada, hand-made tamales, chilaquiles, and ribs. There are gluten-free options and vegan ones, and plenty of cervezas. Overwhelmed, I gave up the opportunity to eat my usual Mexican food standby, fish tacos. Instead, I elected to sample many of the menu’s flavors by sharing a taco platter and a plate of tamales with my family.

The “Charrocuterie” a la Plancha includes a large vintage platter of carne asada, carnitas ranchero, grilled chicken, grilled peppers and onions, guacamole, pico salsa, sour cream, queso casero, applewood bacon, salsa, arroz, frijoles refritos, and corn or flour tortillas.

El Charro Tacos

The tamales looked good, too, so we added an order of three handmade tamales: pork carnitas, chicken tomatillo, and fresh corn.  The flavors were rich and deep, with just enough spice. 

El Charro Tamales

El Charro opened in 1922 and is the oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family in the United States.

Trip taken June 2015.

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How to Find Gluten-Free Food on the Road

My daughter doesn’t eat gluten, not because she doesn’t like it or prefers not to, but because it makes her sick. She has celiac disease. So when we travel, we often use the Find Me Gluten Free app to discover places she can eat.

On a recent trip to Tucson, Arizona, our friends took us to a place for lunch called “Beyond Bread.” While the name sounded like it might be a good source of gluten-free food, just by walking in, we knew it wasn’t. Beyond Bread is all about the bread with a few salads and soups thrown in. While it may be fine for those who choose to eat gluten free, anyone with an allergy to gluten should beware.

After the rest of us got our gluten fix, we checked out the Find Me Gluten Free app and made a slight detour. Just a few miles down the road, we entered a green building with a cornucopia of gluten-free food – breads, sandwiches, cookies, even beer.

gluten-free options

Gluten-Free Bakery

Gourmet Girls Gluten-Free Bakery/Bistro is open for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Saturday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday.

Trip taken June 2015.

When Is a Zoo a Museum?

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona, is not just a museum. It’s a place to learn about the desert, to see desert animals in their natural habitat.

Arizona-Senora Desert Museum

I dragged my family to the Desert Museum on a sweltering day in June. The heat may have been dry, but it was heat all the same, at least 100 degrees. But we all agreed it was worth it. The museum was every bit as interesting and enjoyable as I remembered from my previous visits. 

It was late afternoon and the museum closed in just over an hour. Although the museum recommends at least 2 hours for a visit, we didn’t have a choice and knew that in the heat, we wouldn’t last much longer than an hour and a half anyway. So we paid the $19.50 adult admission fee, and entered.

Lizard

We walked along the 2 miles of trails, discovering various animals along the way. 

Big Horn Sheep

We cooled off in the gift store before leaving, hoping to return on another, not so hot, day, in the not too distant future.

Trip taken June 2015.

Back in Time near Bisbee

In Lowell, Arizona, you can go back in time for just a quick visit and just as quickly return to the future. In June 2015 we did just that.

IMG_6077

With its 1950s gas stations, Coke machines, and cars, Erie Street is just about all that is left of what was once a booming mining town in the late 1800s. Located just southeast of Old Bisbee, Arizona, Lowell was taken over in the 1950s by the Lavender Pit, an open pit copper mine.

Gas Pumps in Lowell

Now with its 1950s paraphernalia, you’ll think you’ve gone back to the 1950s, even if you’ve never been there before. 

Car in Lowell

Trip taken June 2015.

Sampling Bisbee

Visiting a farmer’s market while in Bisbee, Arizona, gave us a chance to talk to the locals and try some of their products. We saw solar ovens at work, baking banana bread and cooking a stew.

Solar Oven

We tasted salsas, cheese, and almonds, buying some chili powder and corn and cactus tortillas to bring back home. We learned about mesquite flour, a flour made from the pods of the mesquite tree.

Bibs Farmers Market

Hungry for lunch, we moved on to Old Bisbee, a touristy part of Bisbee with plenty of interesting and touristy shops on its winding Victorian streets. After salads and sandwiches at Cafe Cornucopia, we tried on hats, talked to beekeepers, looked at jewelry, and sampled more salsa before heading back to our hotel, wishing we could stay for the outdoor concert to be held that evening.

Trip taken June 2015.

Blueberries in Gloucester

When a friend first gave me her recipe for blueberry crisp, I had never heard of Annisquam. For some reason, I thought Annisquam was some place up in Maine.

It’s not – Annisquam is a beautiful waterfront village in Gloucester, Massachusetts. We visited one of its private beaches with friends on a beautiful summer day.

Annisquam

The next day, I realized where I’d heard the word before … in the title of one of my favorite recipes.

I’ve made Annisquam Blueberry Crisp with fresh blueberries in August and with frozen ones in January. I’ve made it with wheat flour and with gluten-free flour. Though the texture may vary slightly depending on the type of flour, it’s always yummy. The port is the secret ingredient.

Blueberries

Enjoy!

Annisquam Blueberry Crisp

4 cups blueberries (or two 10-oz packages frozen, thawed)
1/4 cup ruby port
3/4 cup sifted gluten-free flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

Combine blueberries and port in a well-buttered, 1 quart baking dish. In a separate bowl, combine flour and brown sugar. Add butter, cut into bits and blend until the mixture resembles cornmeal. 

Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the blueberries and bake in the middle of a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream. 

Serves 6 to 8

What Did You Do This Summer?

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted any of my travels. Here’s my answer to that childhood ubiquitous question.

Spring blurred into summer, beginning technically on June 21 but really on June 2 when I traveled to Tucson for an outdoor family wedding. The weather was hot, we wore shorts and ate blizzards from Dairy Queen in the town of Sierra Vista, Arizona (stay tuned for more details on Bisbee and Tucson).

Dairy Queen

In June, we took a trip to Provincetown and walked Boston’s Freedom Trail. We said good-bye to our Chilean exchange student, wondering when we would see her again, glad of the excuse for a future trip to South America.

In July, my family was consumed and overwhelmed with learning about and planning for my daughter’s through hike of the Long Trail. We explored Vermont – Manchester, Waterbury, and Stowe and hiked through the Green Mountains.

In August, we recovered from our Vermont travels with trips to the beach on Boston’s North Shore, bike rides, kayaks, and swims in local ponds. We listened to music at outdoor festivals, visited farms, ate lobster and pizza, and grilled. We picked flowers and basil and went for a ride in a plane.

Watermelon

Now that fall is quickly approaching, I’m scrambling to get a bit more summer in. I need at least one more trip to the beach, and many more kayaks, bike rides, and outdoor swims. I need to shop at more farmer’s markets, eat lots of tomatoes, fresh corn, and peaches, grill vegetables, make fresh salsa, gazpacho, and zucchini bread.

Farmers Market

When the hot summer days cool off, I want to be ready. Ready to say good-bye to the heat and welcome sweatshirt weather and apple picking season, when I can still ride my bike and make apple crisp, and slowly get ready for fall.

Trip taken Summer 2015.

dipsea News, Breaking dipsea News and More: Marin Independent Journal

ca-195dipsea News, Breaking dipsea News and More: Marin Independent Journal.

I’ve been lucky enough to be a spectator at two of the oldest running races in U.S.: the Boston Marathon (2nd oldest road race) and the Dipsea Race (oldest trail race). You’ve heard of the Boston Marathon but have you heard of the Dipsea?

The Dipsea Race was started in 1905 when a group of runners decided to run the trail from Mill Valley, California, over Mount Tamalpais, to Stinson Beach. That year, 100 people ran it. Now only 1500 people are lucky enough to run the steep and treacherous 7.4-mile race every year.

As a child, we would wave good-bye to my dad at the start of the race then drive 10 plus miles along the windy roads, through the fog, hoping to reach the finish before he did. It was a tough balance – driving fast enough but not too fast or we would get car sick. Then we’d park and run to watch him finish.

We’d watch Dad and the other runners straggle in, bloody and muddy, many getting sick just before or after they finished. I heard stories of those never ending steps (676 steps and as high as a 50 story building), runners coming up fast from behind, slipping on the mud, and taking short cuts. There was no doubt that the race was a grueling one.

My dad no longer runs the race, but my brother does and so does my sister-in-law. They’ve run the single Dipsea, the Double Dipsea, and even the Quadruple Dipsea. An old friend of my dad’s will run it this year for the 45th year in a row. Due to various running injuries, I’d given up the idea of ever running it myself. But a few years ago, on a crisp December day, I ran the course. Not from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach but from Stinson Beach to Mill Valley. I didn’t run the race, but I did run the course. I ran down the steps instead of up them.

For more information on the race, read the website above or check out this article. http://www.runnersworld.com/trail-running-training/tough-love?page=single

Hiking in Marin

One of my favorite things about Marin County, just north of San Francisco, is its accessibility to hiking. Within an hour or less from urban life, you can be hiking on challenging trails with a view of the ocean or in the shade of redwood trees.

On my last visit to Marin, a friend and I went for a hike in the Tennessee Valley area of the Marin Headlands.

Trail head

It was a blustery but sunny day. We hiked along the Tennessee Valley Road to the confluence of the Old Springs Trail and took a left, eventually turning on the Wolf Ridge Trail toward Hill 88.

MH Trail

What was once a former Nike Missile Radar Station, Hill 88 is now graffiti covered buildings with incredible views of the city.

SF View

After exploring Hill 88, we hiked back along the Wolf Ridge trail, wondering about the cannon we could see far below (but without the time or the inclination to discover it for ourselves).

Instead we headed back down the Coastal Trail, toward Tennessee Valley Road and our car. Soon we were back in civilization, eating tacos for lunch (see Tacos in Sausalito), and going about our day.

For a map of the trails in the Marin Headlands click here.

Trip taken: January 2014.

Do You Plan Your Wanderings?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Happy Wanderer.”

I’m a planner. I admit it. But whether or not my children believe me, I wasn’t always one. When I traveled to Ensenada, I let my friend plan our weekend. When I traveled to San Felipe, I went with the flow. On my trip to Australia, we were free and spontaneous. We chose where to stay and for how long, money and a flight home our only boundaries. Even my first trip to Paris and Zurich were simple – I stayed with friends, brought guide books, and decided each day where I would be a tourist.

But then I had children. And the world became more crowded. I discovered that summer camps would fill up before spring. With a child with food allergies, spontaneity was difficult and wrought with disappointment and a hungry child. Slowly, I learned to plan. And now, I always plan.

My hesitation and anxiety about traveling to South Africa was lessened by learning more about the country, where we could and would go. Planning has allowed me to avoid long lines and eat gluten free at Disney, visit our sponsored child in Lesotho, camp at Pawtuckaway State Park every summer for years, be led by a tour guide through Gettysburg National Park, and visit the Senate on a trip to Washington.

But I still love spontaneity. And while doing a little research before traveling to a new place helps me to find the special and unique, or avoid those well traveled and touristy, destinations, spontaneity allows us to change course. To listen to recommendations from other travelers or discover new places ourselves.

Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have attended a hearing for Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, watched the surfers in Half Moon Bay, or listened to the Wave Organ in San Francisco. I wouldn’t have spent the night in a treehouse, picked strawberries in Pescadero, gone hiking with the Hobart Bushwalking Club, or danced Nia in Santa Barbara. Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have met Terry from England who later invited me to her wedding in Athens. I wouldn’t have stayed with the dairy farmer in Auckland or gone hot air ballooning outside of Alice Springs.

The travel world is so different than it was – the internet provides information and access to so many places, and apps like Yelp can allow a little bit of spontaneity with less risk of disappointment. You can read about where to go and what to see on blogs and share your experiences on social media.

But there’s nothing quite as freeing as just setting out, doing what you feel like doing at the moment, eating when you’re hungry, and being ready to just let things happen.