In the company of women

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I was thinking I was having trouble getting motivated to write during the Yahoo holiday because I’m spoiled by almost instant approval and pay, plus some extra hours I picked up at the day job…but I’m realizing as I sit down tonight working on my interview with The Voice finalist Beverley McClellan, who I interviewed only a couple of days before my phone interview with Grammy nominee Linda Chorney, that talking to two such extraordinary women artists who have carved their own path for so long (aged 42 and 51 respectively) and gone through the adversity of sticking it out as artists without compromising themselves…has completely blown a fuse. Serious overload. In a good way, but…overload. But I’ve flipped the breaker switch and getting back on track now, albeit a bit slowly.

It’s also got me thinking a lot about the importance of the “Hail Mary,” as both sort of did their own versions of them, with last ditch efforts that paid off. I think there is definitely a story in there beyond an interview with one or the other, but about being women who have sacrificed any kind of conventional life to live as an artist, and not giving in to that pressure we all get – but especially women – to settle down and raise a family and give up our “silly dreams.” The key phrase in that sentence being “give up.”

Luckily, for those of us of a certain age, my independent poll conducted that week of exactly three women over 40 shows that 3 out of 3 of those women really don’t give a shit what other people think. The one good thing about getting old.

And speaking of extraordinary women artists of a certain age:

Pack your bags: Audio books and Kindle Fire

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As a bibliophile living on the road, I love my Kindle Fire for keeping a virtual library of books and magazines at my fingertips, not to mention music and movies. But it has it’s limitations for the heavy traveler. Sometimes I want to get my book fix on a long cross country drive, which is where audio books come in.

They’ve created and opportunity to catch up on all those great books I want to read while I’m in the car. N0t that you need to travel to use them — they also work great for you multi-taskers out there who like to play on your computers all day. Like, say, photographers who spend endless hours slaving in Photoshop and Lightroom who can reap great benefits, as well.

And even if you don’t travel, next time you move and have to haul all those books, think about how nice it would be to carry them in a little tablet. Sure, I love the feel and smell of old books, too. But sometimes you just have to embrace the new technology and go with it.

If I can learn to love audio and ebooks, so can you.

If you want to try audio books, check out Audiobooks.com for a great signup deal: Right now if you signup and download the app for your iPad, iPhone or Android, you get a free book and a free 7-day trial to see how you like it. Would you rather be texting, or listening to a great novel?

(That should be a rhetorical question.)

Here’s a sample of what to expect, including new releases and many genres to choose from.

The great outdoors: Moab, Utah

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“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”

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Edward Abbey called Arches National Park the “most beautiful place on earth” in the opening to his memoir, “Desert Solitaire,” drawn on his time as a ranger there. Few who have visited Arches or its the nearby parks around Moab, Utah, would argue that point. Trails and traditional campsites allow visitors to enjoy this majestic setting, but to fully embrace its rugged beauty, the adventurous leave the beaten path for primitive camping.

Arches National Park

Plan on walking at least a mile to set up primitive camping in Arches National Park; all visitors must make camp at least one mile from any road, designated trail and any named arches on the USGS maps. Keep campsites out of sight of those areas, as well. In addition, further restrictions prohibit camps within 300 feet from of any archaeological sites or non-flowing nonflowing water, and 100 feet from flowing water. The main park road cuts right through the middle of the park, so meeting the requirements provides a bit of a challenge. Permits are required for all primitive camping and may be purchased at the visitor center, To protect the fragile environment in the park, all campers must follow “Leave No Trace” principles to leave the area as they found it. The maximum group size is 10, but smaller groups are strongly encouraged to reduce environmental impact.

Canyonlands Camping

In the nearby Canyonlands National Park,  campers need permits for all overnight backcountry trips. You may reserve them in advance, unlike Arches National Park. But like Arches, all primitive campsites must stay outside a one-mile radius of roads, and at least 300 feet from water sources or archaeological and historical sites, with river corridor camping as the only exception to the rule regarding water sources. No wood fires are permitted at primitive campsites except along rivers, and pets are not allowed. Permits expire after seven consecutive days on at any one site.

BLM Lands

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) operates many primitive campgrounds without water or facilities in the Moab area and charges no fees. Most cannot be reserved in advance. Check the BLM website to find maps and more information about the individual campgrounds. Guests may not stay more than 14 days in any 30-day period. Note that you may share these sites with RVers, who love the free “boondocking” on BLM lands.

Food and Water

You’ll find no drinking water in the backcountry around Moab, save the occasional flow from outside the parks where livestock graze, which needs boiling and purifying to be potable. Even if you do follow those precautions and drink that purified water, don’t expect it to taste good. One way or another, plan for at least one gallon of water daily per person, which person — a gallon weighs eight pounds. If you plan to cook, bring in a camp stove as stove, because few of these areas allow fires. Use extra caution when lighting stoves during high winds and keep any flames away from dry grass, as fires grass. Fires in this arid region can catch and spread quickly.

Leaving No Trace

The old saying goes “Take only photos, leave only footprints.” To practice “leave no trace” camping principles, either bring a portable toilet system or dig a “cat hole” four to six inches deep and at least 300 feet from any water source. Toilet paper and any feminine hygiene products must be packed out, as well. Swimming or washing up directly in pools violates these principles, but you may collect water in a clean container and use it for washing at least 300 feet away, using bio-degradable soap only. An ecological consideration particular to this desert climate involves taking care not to disturb living soil crusts with misplaced footsteps. The crusts, which look black and bumpy or red and smooth, consist of living cyanobacteria, lichen, fungi, algae, algae and moss. Try to stay in dry washes or on rock as you hike to and from your site to avoid destroying this soil-enriching life form, as well as setting up form. Set up your camp itself on a rock foundation.

Safety

These remote camping areas around Moab give campers dramatic views of towering rock formations and sweeping sunset views, vistas, but can be hazardous to the inexperienced and experienced alike. Know basic topographic map reading map-reading skills and come prepared for whatever temperatures you may face during your visit. The most common safety issues relate to dehydration and careless hiking or climbing, especially on slickrock and sandstone. The former is easier to climb than descend, and the latter can crumble or and tends to get slippery when wet.

Exercise caution by shaking out and checking clothing, bedding and shoes for unwanted visitors, such as scorpions, black widows or rattlesnakes; never reach into dark places blindly to avoid bites and stings. Thunderstorms pose a serious threat to backcountry campers and hikers. Do not take refuge under rock overhangs or in caves, but proceed directly to your vehicle. If your hair literally stands on end, quickly  remove any metal objects such as pack frames, squat near the ground, and cover your ears. Sudden thunderstorms can turn a dry wash into a raging torrent in a matter of minutes, so avoid setting up camp there.

Sunday dinner: Fried green tomatoes

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Now, being a recent transplant to the south, proper (Arizona is technically a southern state, but not really a “southern” state, if you know what I mean) I’ve been embracing my new-found cultural heritage. And from a culinary point of view, you simply cannot be properly southern without eating — and making — fried green tomatoes.

If a menu offers it, I gotta have it, everywhere I go.

Lest I go broke eating out and ordering appetizers all the time, I figured it was high time to give it a go myself, despite my culinary limitations.  And let me be clear here, just because I’ve started a food blog, that doesn’t mean I fancy myself a cooking expert. Far form it after 47 years of bachelorette-hood. But with my determination to overcome my microwave dependence, I’m going to learn to cook if it kills me.

And given my culinary skills, it just might.

But I’m experimenting with different recipes for this classic southern comfort dish, and while there are a million ways to prepare it, this is the general idea. Ironically, the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” was playing this weekend on HBO. I highly recommend watching it whether you saw it many years ago or never have, and I have to read the book, which I am sure is much better than the movie, like they always are. Kathy Bates is hilarious as a frustrated housewife taking women’s self help classes to try to give her life some meaning and get her husband’s attention from the TV.

That poor woman has the worst luck with husbands in her movies.

But the movie centers around the story of two friends who open up a cafe in 1920’s Alabama to make  a new home for themselves as sort of fringe characters —  Ruth has left her abusive husband and although it’s never clearly stated, Idgie seems to be a lesbian in a time where that probably didn’t even have a name. The cafe also becomes home to a cast of characters, from a drunk they take under their wing, to the black folks that eat out back.

It’s a movie about a lot of things… the power of friendship, overcoming tragedy, and how groups of misfit people can come together to form their own family, amongst other things. And as they always say on those food competitions, cooking with love. And like they always say on “Chopped” when their dishes are torn apart by judges, they “cooked it with love,” like that somehow makes up for it.

So I say unto you, I hope you like this, but if you don’t… I cooked it with love, bitches.

Start with three to four firm green tomatoes. This could be a challenge to find unless you live in the south or have your own garden.

Slice them up to approximately 1/2 inch thick slices:

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Set up on plate or bowl with your wet ingredients of one egg and a half cup buttermilk (You can use regular milk if you don’t have buttermilk), and another with your breading mix. This is where most of the variations come in — I’ve seen various mixes of cornmeal, flour, panko crumbs and bread crumbs. But so far, my favorite is 1/3 cup each of flour, cornmeal and plain bread crumbs, with a healthy dose of pepper and seasoned salt, to taste. If you want a little heat, add a pinch or two of cayenne or Cajun seasoning.

Yeah, I know that’s not very precise, but I won’t be confined to such mundane things as measuring spoons with my new culinary emancipation. At least not on this. I’m free at last, I tell you!

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Then dip in the wet bowl (bowls being much better but plates showing it better for photo purposes), the one more time in your dry mix. Voila, that ‘mater is ready for fryin’.

For frying oil, I recommend peanut or even coconut oil to minimize the damage, but if you’re on a budget, I mean really… we’re talking about fried tomatoes, so so-called healthy oils aren’t going to make it wholesome, now are they? The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond recommends adding some butter to your oil in her pork chops recipe, which seems like a swell idea for my fried green tomatoes, as well. So I recommend 1/2 cup oil and one tablespoon butter heated on medium heat. Then carefully add your tomatoes so you don’t splash yourself with hot oil.

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Fry for 3-5 minutes before turning, cooking each side to a golden brown.

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Thank goodness for long lenses so I didn’t get splattered with hot grease in the name of art.

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Most people serve these up with some kind of sauce or remoulade, but like the fried green tomatoes recipe itself, you’ll find about a million variations for the special sauce. I like this one from Simply Recipes or this buttermilk dipping sauce from the Neelys.

Want a handy, dandy visual reference? Or just like pretty food pictures? Pin this to your Pinterest account for reference:

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Mmmmm, these are tasty. What’s your favorite variation of fried green tomatoes?

Travel photo of the week: Garchen Institute

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The Garchen Institute in Chino Valley, Arizona is one of my favorite places to get away from everything, including TV, internet and even conversation at times, as some of the people there have taken vows of silence. High above the Prescott Valley, all you hear is the sound of the Buddhist prayer flags in the strong winds that blow on the mountain where the retreat is located.