What’s Cooking at the Cafe?

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Cooking in the time of the coronavirus is about the spirit as much as the body. In the best of times, making and enjoying good food is one of the joys and comforts of life. In the worst of times, the pleasure, diversion, and comfort it brings are more important than ever.

It’s not surprising then, that people everywhere are spending more time in the kitchen since Covid-19 has transformed our world and “stay at home, save lives” measures have gone into effect.

In this post, I’ll share some of the food we’ve been making at My Eclectic Café.

A Baking Renaissance?

Let’s start with that loaf of whole wheat bread above, which I baked earlier this week.

It appears that Covid-19 may have given rise to a home-bread-baking renaissance. Flour has disappeared from market shelves in many places, per reports we’ve heard, and we’ve seen scant supplies in our own area. When we decided to bake bread a week ago, all of our local stores were out of yeast.

Fortunately, the cafe always has a stash of flour, and kind friends in Washington state mailed us yeast from their own pantry and local market to keep bread in our oven as the pandemic continues.

I made the bread above from a simple King Arthur Flour (KAF) recipe, easy to follow for even novice bakers. You can find it on the KAF website here.

While I’ve baked bread before, I was trying this recipe for the first time and would use it again. I had the KAF white whole wheat flour specified, chose the molasses option for a darker loaf, and left out the dried milk.

The bread was moist and flavorful, with a chewy, well-browned crust, made great toast, and stayed fresh for days. It was great with the vegetable soup below.

I’ve baked with several types of KAF flour for years and recommend it. Their website is a valuable source of tips, recipes, and informative articles and reviews for beginning to experienced bakers.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Central

Healthy eating is always a priority at My Eclectic Café, with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at the center of our cooking. Since the Covid-19 crisis, we’ve been amplifying that focus. It’s a good time to be vegetarian: When other foods have been swept off the shelves, we’ve found the produce section of our stores well-stocked.

Before our Southern California weather hit 90 degrees this week, we enjoyed this spicy, colorful mixed vegetable soup: cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, Napa cabbage and corn with brown rice and Penzey’s southwest seasoning (a mix of spices and herbs with the heat of ancho, cayenne and chipotle peppers).

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Such fresh, homemade soups have been a lunchtime staple — comfort food with the benefit of numerous vitamins and nutrients for staying well and keeping the immune system strong.

Salads, made with diverse vegetables or fruits, nuts, and selected proteins, have also been on our daily menu.

If you’re shopping much less often, as we are, to limit potential exposure to the virus, heads of radicchio and Napa (Chinese) cabbage are both versatile, long-lasting salad ingredients. They also go well together in a salad. Napa cabbage leaves are much more tender than those of red or green cabbage. They also have a mild, slightly sweet flavor that contrasts nicely with the bitey radicchio.

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Open the cafe refrigerator, and you’ll find it brimming with citrus fruit. We’ve eaten tons of it in the past few months, as I fought to get over a mean bout of bronchitis and the Covid-19 pandemic burgeoned.

Grapefruit, tangerines, oranges, lemons. Rich in Vitamin C and other nutrients, they’re a constant ingredient in our fruit bowls, salads and other dishes, as well as a favorite refreshing snack. I use the juice and zest to add “oomph” to my cooking and baking, especially lemon juice, which brightens any dish. The cafe is blessed to have a prolific and treasured Meyer lemon tree in the backyard.

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What’s for Dessert?

While we love dessert at the cafe, we usually keep it light and simple: fresh fruit and a piece of very dark chocolate, or that chocolate with a cup of green tea or breakfast coffee. (Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to have dessert at breakfast — especially now, when we all need some uplifting treats to sweeten the day.)

Endangered Species’ wonderfully smooth bittersweet chocolate (low sugar, 88% percent cocoa) is a favorite, always on our menu. In addition to making excellent chocolate, the company supports conservation efforts for endangered species and habitats.

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I’ve been baking mostly breakfast muffins lately and dreaming of making other pastry, but I did try a new cookie recipe that’s definitely a keeper: cardamom-walnut crescents from The New York Times.  My co-confiné agrees.

I love nut cookies, and these are delicious: light and not too sweet, with a great texture. The recipe is adaptable and doesn’t take long to make. My adaptations: raw pecans in the absence of walnuts, olive oil in place of some of the butter, cinnamon instead of cardamom, and a light dusting of powdered sugar when completely cooled. I look forward to trying them with walnuts and cardamom too.

More baking to come at the cafe. I’m craving those anise-almond biscotti above, remembering happy pan meino and coffee breakfasts in Milan, pondering a fruit galette …

Your  Turn

It’s a good time to try new recipes, enjoy comforting old favorites, and set a cheering table. What have you been making?

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2020.

Licensable, high-resolution versions of some photographs in this post, and select images from other My Eclectic Café posts are available on Shutterstock.com. Click here to view my Vince360 Shutterstock photo portfolio.

U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Mercy Arrives at the Port of LA

USN Ship Mercy Banner-BN

U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Mercy arrived at the Port of Los Angeles this past weekend, bringing welcome aid to our city in its fight against the coronavirus. It was a moving experience to be there on site as the massive ship appeared and to watch it sailing through the channel to its berth (where it appears above).

With COVID-19 cases rapidly rising in California, and substantial impact projected for LA, our governor requested Mercy’s immediate deployment to help ensure that we have the medical facilities and assets needed here.

Mercy’s purpose is to alleviate the burden on LA-area hospitals as COVID-19 cases accelerate. It will handle other critical care cases, allowing our local hospitals to focus their resources on COVID-19 patients.

Chasing Mercy

My partner tracked Mercy’s schedule, and we planned to get to the port early to see the ship arrive. It was a perfect early spring day — mild, clear and sunny — and getting outdoors for a cheering event was a refreshing break from the fraught, quarantined life. The world seemed almost normal, except for the virtually empty Friday morning streets.

That changed when we arrived at our chosen viewing point. Nowhere to park and a crowd that made social distancing impossible. Not surprising. Fortunately we know the area well, and a short drive away, it was mostly quiet. It was easy to preserve my space, though I did have to shoot photos through a chain-link fence.

Here is a photo of U.S. Coast Guard ship “Halibut,” which led Mercy through the channel.

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Halibut is a Marine Protector Class patrol boat based in Marina del Rey, California. One of its functions is port security. Because it’s based so close to LA, the Halibut is known in the Coast Guard as “the Hollywood cutter” and is often used to represent the Coast Guard in broadcasts, television shows and movies.

Shortly after the Halibut passed by, Mercy sailed into view — a monumental presence 854 feet long and 106 feet wide.

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My partner got the best shot of the ship as it made its way to its berth in an area normally occupied by giant cruise ships.  You can get a sense of its magnitude from his photo below.

USN Ship Mercy sails in II-BN

Usually, we see one or two tugboats pushing or pulling the cruise ships into place. Four tugboats were present to assist the smaller, but less maneuverable Mercy.

As Mercy continued its journey, we headed home — or so we thought — following its path up the channel. Approaching the cruise-ship terminal, traffic was markedly different from what we’d experienced earlier that morning.

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We assumed the “No entrance” sign flashing ahead meant no public ingress to Mercy’s docking area, but fortuitously, the turnoff to the cruise ship terminal was open, and we swung in, found immediate parking, and joined the band of people heading across the street to welcome Mercy.

Celebrating a Historic Moment

Mercy’s berth was just a short walk away. As we approached the ship, we found a lively scene with a variety of people gathered, from members of the community like us, some with school-age children in tow, to professional newspeople and photographers.

Law enforcement and military circulated among the gathering. Everyone was courteous and tried to observe a reasonable amount of social distance.

A row of photographers hugged the fence in front of Mercy, tripods set up, intently focused. Others snapped away on their cell phones, waved at the Mercy team members on deck or just stood back to observe the scene and enjoy the bright, fresh morning.

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In the midst of the action, a newswoman and her cameraman prepared for filming.

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A bicyclist pedaling back and forth waving a large American flag exemplified the mood of quiet celebration I felt as we all converged to witness this moment in history.

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At this distressing time, Mercy’s arrival brings solace, cheer, and the hope that comes from additional readiness in the coronavirus fight. That is a mercy indeed.

Thank you to all who made Mercy’s rapid deployment to Los Angeles happen, from Governor Newsom to the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command and everyone who worked to prepare the ship for this mission. Best wishes to the Mercy medical team and staff as they assume their life-saving duties.

Mercy’s Capabilities

Stationed in San Diego when not on active duty, Mercy has 1,000 hospital beds, 12 operating rooms and nearly 1,300 medical staff and crew on board.

You can see inside the USNS Mercy, view its additional facilities and learn some of its history here.

Local Stories Welcomed

What state or local COVID-19 preparedness/relief actions are happening in your community? Please share your news from around the world as we navigate this difficult time together.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020.

Mercy docking at its berth at the Port of LA and Mercy sailing into the port, copyright Brad Nixon 2020, used with kind permission. Etymology lovers, see his related post here. 

All other photos copyright M. Vincent 2020.

Food/Photography Friday: Photography from Hell

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What to do when you feel like hell? Dream up a fun photography project and get shooting. That was my answer this week to the battering illness blues. My uplifting escape.

I’ve been fighting a mean case of bronchitis, with those coughing fits that crack like gunshots and feel like glass shattering in your chest. Recovery requires rest, but it’s not my strong point. I needed action, and doing art always takes me to a happier place.

Shooting Rabbits

With spring and Easter on the way, what better models than some playful rabbits? Here are some photos from my shoot:

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Hip-hop rabbits on pink background

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Hip-hop rabbits on blue background

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Rabbits with a loving greeting

No rabbits were harmed to create these photos.  Have a happy, healthy weekend!

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2020.

You can find licensable, high resolution versions of the photographs in this post at https://www.shutterstock.com/g/Vince360/sets/259568063. Or, click here to view my Vince360 Shutterstock photo portfolio.

 

 

LA’s Landmark Phoenix Bakery, Chinatown

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Famous for its fresh strawberry whipped-cream cake, the Phoenix Bakery has been serving traditional Chinese pastries and an increasing variety of other sweets since 1938. We visited this venerable Los Angeles institution during last year’s Lunar New Year festivities and found that it has a fascinating history.

Earlier, I wrote about the Firecracker 5K/10K Run, an annual Chinatown New Year’s event. In 2019, we were spectators, not runners, cheering the participants, enjoying the entertainment and exploring the area at walking pace. That’s how we finally made it into the bakery.

We spotted the distinctive sign (above), a throng of customers headed for the door, and a crowd already inside. It was obviously the place to be, and we joined the happy throng.

An Abundance of Cakes and Pastries

When we got inside, the small storefront was bustling, with virtually every table taken and a steady line at the counter. The cases were filled with a variety of sweets as diverse as the Los Angeles community — from Chinese almond cookies and winter melon cakes to French croissants, eclairs, tres leches cake and other international selections.

In his pastry painting phase, Wayne Thiebaud would have loved this place. Regrettably, there was too much hustle and bustle for my food photography that day, but I did manage to snap these clever Year of the Pig cupcakes:

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The counter staff were friendly and patiently answered our questions as we investigated the offerings on display. Our mission was to try some traditional Chinese pastries, so we left the other sweets for another time.  The pretty winter melon cake (on the left below) had a pleasing filling and inspired this “home studio” photo composition.

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A Longstanding Family Enterprise

One of Chinatown’s few remaining original shops, the Phoenix Bakery celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2018. Chinese immigrants F.C. Chan and his wife, Wai Hing, founded the business in 1938 when the Central Plaza was just opening.

The Chan’s original idea was to create a community gathering place, producing traditional Chinese pastries and cookies not locally available at the time. Beginning with Chinese almond cookies, winter melon pastries and seasonal moon cakes, they branched into a variety of other, culture-spanning sweets.

In the 1940s, Mr. Chan’s brother joined the business and created its signature fresh strawberry whipped-cream cake.  The cake gained a reputation, and in the 1970s, the company website notes, the bakery became famous throughout LA for making this “not so Chinese” cake.

After more than 80 years, the bakery is still owned and operated by the Chan family, with second and third generation family members in various roles.  It continues to enjoy a loyal following,  from generation to generation,  and to be the traditional “go-to” place for that special cake for birthdays, weddings and other celebrations.

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That Timeless Logo

There’s a story behind the Phoenix Bakery logo and mascot as well. Celebrated Chinese-American artist, Tyrus Wong,  designed the charming, shyly smiling boy with the red-ribboned package behind his back.

A highly skilled and versatile artist Wong had a long and varied career. Perhaps best known for his role as lead production illustrator for Disney’s 1942 film, Bambi, he continued to work in a variety of media well into his 90s.

Happy Lunar New Year to all! May 4718 be a sweet year for you.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. Photos copyright M. Vincent 2019–2020.

Bakery history sources: https://www.phoenixbakeryinc.com/ and 2018 LAist article by Liz Ohanesian on the 80th anniversary of the business.

The Phoenix Bakery is located at 969 N. Broadway, Los Angeles 90012, adjacent to Chinatown’s Central Plaza.

Food/Photography Friday: Cookie Predator Invades California Cafe

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Welcome to Food/Photography Friday 2020. If you’re new to the series, you’ll find the kickoff post here.

By the look of today’s international news, we could all use some whimsicality and humor to start the weekend, so I’m doing my part with some fanciful food photography. I hope you’ll enjoy this harmless predatory visitor to the café.

No holiday gift is safe from an avid photographer, and the toppings on these cookies were so — well, over the top — I had to put them into a photo shoot. I took a few serious shots, the cookie plate on a festive holiday table sort of thing, then hastened to have some fun with the lion ornament among my props.

 

He and this wild version of Italian biscotti — their icing chunky with nuts, chocolate or caramel chips, and sprinkles — seemed made for each other. I imagined him prowling down a rocky road of these textured confections, investigating, and taking bites here and there.  Hence, the cookie predator.

Enjoy the weekend, maybe take a news fast, and create something for fun yourself.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020.  Photo copyright M. Vincent 2019-2020.

 

A Poem for Year’s End. Wishes for a New Year’s Beginning.

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About the Poem

I’d never heard of New Mexican writer, Pat Mora, until I came across her 2018 book –– Encantado: Desert Monologues –– a wonderful collection of poems inspired in part by Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. She had me at the first two poems, Señor Ortega and Encantado, the poem you’ll find below.

Encantado is a small, fictional city by a river in the southwestern United States. Its name means “enchanted” in Spanish, and its diverse inhabitants include many of Hispanic heritage. Their touching stories are told in first-person, with the themes of loss and departed loved ones running through the poems.

Part of the town’s enchantment is the spirit world, an integral part of the community. We learn about some of the spirits from those left behind, who mourn a wife, a husband, a grandmother, a beloved aunt. In the Day of the Dead poem, we hear their voices, as they return to Encantado — “in we drift …”

They speak of gathering annually at the river, and “later drifting again through familiar dusty streets and rooms … through sounds of the living, patting heads we love, comforting the attentive.”

A Visitation of Spirits

For many of us, the last days of the year are a time of feeling particularly close to special family members and friends, long ago or recently departed, who have influenced our lives in profound ways. While they’re always in our thoughts, we may feel their presence more keenly during the holidays because we have more opportunity for reflection.

My partner vividly remembers his English grandmother leading the assembled family and grandchildren in singing her traditional Christmas song. In her honor we sang it on Christmas morning. The evening before, multi-generational family members, gathered on the other side of the country, surprised us with a serenade by phone.

Whenever I’m happily immersed in cooking, my Italian grandmother, who taught me so much, is there. A favorite memory of growing up is spending time in her kitchen: learning to bake the fragrant anise biscotti she made every Christmas, stirring a risotto, absorbing the approach of a joyful, instinctively creative maker who lovingly transmitted her knowledge and passion to me.

These departed spirits, and several others, were very much with us during our quiet, contemplative holiday time. It kept me returning to this poem and Mora’s book, so fitting for a season of remembrance and reflection. 

Encantado

The last nights of the year,

kind, departed spirits return

to Encantado as stars,

meander

down dark streets and hallways,

peer into windows,

congregate around cribs,

again leave glowing glints

of themselves;

intertwine with our dreams,

shine on bare boughs,

pines, and cactus spines.

— Pat Mora

I hope that your own “kind, departed spirits” were with you at year’s end, bringing happy memories and inspiration.

New Year’s Wishes

Thank you readers, followers and friends for visiting My Eclectic Café last year and for your thoughtful comments and encouragement. I’ve enjoyed discovering and following your work and look forward to what you’ll create this year. Best wishes for all good spirits in the new year.

Copyright M. Vincent 2020. Photos copyright M. Vincent 2017-2020.

Encantado is from the poetry collection Encantado: Desert Monologues, copyright Pat Mora 2018, published by The University of Arizona Press.

 

Food/Photography Friday: A Visit to the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson

Center for Creative Photography Tucson

In the last post of this series, I wrote about my trip to Tucson, Arizona, in July. A highlight of the trip for me and my partner was our visit to the University of Arizona Center for Creative Photography.

About the Center

In 1975, legendary American photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984), along with Dr. John P. Schaefer, then University of Arizona president, cofounded the Center for Creative Photography. Adams also entrusted his entire photographic collection and archive to the Center’s care. The archives of other masters followed, growing to a current 270.

Adams’ and Schaefer’s shared vision for the new institution was to create an educational, collecting, preservation, and exhibition facility that would include the work of many photographers. Today, the center holds more than 110,000 works by over 2,200 photographers and is recognized as one of the world’s premier academic art museums and study centers for the history of photography.

Why Arizona? While Adams’ work is closely associated with California’s Yosemite Valley, he produced a wide range of work throughout the American West, including photos of many iconic Arizona places –– among them, the Grand Canyon, Mission San Javier Del Bac, and Saguaro National Park below.

Landscape

Known for his striking black and white landscapes, Adams published some of his first color work in popular travel magazine Arizona Highways in the mid-1940s. He continued to sell photos to the publication in the 1950s.

We had a lot on our Tucson agenda, but for us the Center was a “must see.” We happily spent a goodly part of an afternoon there, seeing and absorbing as much as possible before reaching that saturation point that even the most intrepid museum goers experience.

If you’re an enthusiastic photographer or photography fan, you’re sure to find stimulation and inspiration in the Center’s collection and special exhibitions.

The Exhibition:  A Portrait of Poetry

On our July visit, the special exhibition was an intriguing portrait project by photographer and poetry lover, B.A. Van Sise.  Mr. Van Sise’s family lineage goes back to groundbreaking American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892), and the project was in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth.

Also an homage to Whitman’s masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, the show comprised about 80 photos of contemporary poets, primarily a who’s who of Pulitzer Prize winners, Poet Laureates and Chancellors of the Academy of American Poetry. Among them was one video portrait of acclaimed poet Sharon Olds.

Adjacent to each poet’s portrait was the text of one of his or her poems. Per Van Sise’s treatment of his subjects, each portrait was, as the Center noted, “at once a likeness of the poet, an evocation of the poem, and a presentation of a visual narrative fashioned by the photographer.” That tripartite quality created a thought-provoking experience.

We saw many familiar poets in the show, such as Nikki Giovanni, Joyce Carol Oates and Rita Dove. There were also several new discoveries, and we each made a list of poets to pursue further.

Van Sise’s book based on the expansive, three-year project — Children of  Grass: A Portrait of American Poetry — was published in September 2019.  See the Resources section below for more about both.

Exploring the Center’s Collection

The Van Sise show was absorbing, and it took some energy to get through it all, but we made it and pushed on to the adjacent gallery for a related show of items from the Center’s collection: selected photo illustrations that noted photographer Edward Weston (1886-1958) provided in 1941 for a new edition of poet Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.  

In the same gallery, we viewed other Weston photos and poked through drawers of various Ansel Adams materials –– personal photos, letters, and other memorabilia, tools he used in his studio, contact sheets. With our heads spinning, we headed to lunch. No time for more this trip, but we look forward to next time.

Planning Your Visit

Located on the University of Arizona’s urban campus with convenient parking nearby, the Center is free and open to the public. Its many offerings include free guided tours, research capabilities, and small-group viewings of items from the collection. Contact the Center for scheduling requirements.

For more information about the Center, directions, hours and current exhibitions:  https://ccp.arizona.edu/home.

Van Sise Project Resources

To learn more about photographer B.A. Van Sise, his range of work and creative projects, see: https://bavansise.format.com/ 

For an interview with Mr. Van Sise about his photo book, Children of  Grass: A Portrait of American Poetry, containing many of the photos we saw in the Center’s exhibition above, see: https://petapixel.com/2019/11/27/an-interview-with-photographer-b-a-van-sise/

The Van Sise exhibition opened at the Center in June 2019, and his related book was published in September. To find the book, including at an indie bookstore in your area: https://bavansise.format.com/children-of-grass

Copyright M. Vincent 2019

Center for Creative Photography photo copyright Brad Nixon 2019, used with permission.  Saguaro National Park photo by Ansel Adams is in public domain.

 

Food/Photography Friday: A Photographic Tale of Two Cities, Part II

MV S5647-680 Saguaro NP Tucson

This year, in search of our next home in the U.S. West, my partner and I revisited two cities we’d found appealing on earlier travels and took a longer, closer look. In Part I, I wrote about our stay in Eugene, Oregon in cold, rainy March. Part II takes us to a sunny Sonoran Desert clime in high summer.

Tucson, Arizona

On the East Coast, they’ve got “The Big Apple,” New York City.  Here in the West, we’ve got “The Baked Apple,” Tucson, Arizona. At least that’s what one witty local journalist calls it in its summer season, when temperatures regularly soar to over 100 degrees. If it’s not an established nickname for the city, it should be.

Could we handle the heat and thrive? Finding out was a major goal of our stay in July. At first, it quickly drained our usual energy. Day one was the worst –– like a slow motion prowl through a scenic oven –– but we kept going anyway and got acclimated fairly soon.

Starting the day’s exploring early is a must to beat the most intensive heat. Fortunately, we’re morning people, and it helped us make the most of our time, despite necessary breaks to cool off.  It was also great for desert hiking and photography.

Saguaro National Park

On our earlier trips to Tucson, enjoying the beautiful natural environment was our primary focus. We loved Saguaro National Park and couldn’t wait to get back on the trails. That’s the park in the photo above, taken on this year’s morning hike –– lush and green under a fabulous western sky.

The park is named for the iconic Saguaro cactus below, a well-known symbol of Arizona and the American West.  These giant cacti grow only in the Sonoran Desert.

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Saguaro National Park is comprised of two sections, East and West. Our hike was in Saguaro East, also known as the Rincon Mountain district. It’s the older section, with mature Saguaros that may be more than 200 years old.

Summer is monsoon/rainy season in Tucson, and the desert was blooming. This prickly pear cactus is full of ripe, red-violet fruit growing from the edges of its fleshy green pads. The sweet “pears” are edible as well as the pads (the Mexican vegetable “nopalitos”).

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The University of Arizona

Tucson is home to the University of Arizona, with the associated cultural benefits –– another thing we like about the city. Its Center for Creative Photography, co-founder Ansel Adams, was a highlight of our trip.

We also enjoyed touring and photographing the attractive campus with its old red-brick buildings, green, shady lawns and groves of trees.

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That’s the Women’s Plaza of Honor in the foreground in this photo.

The first university in Arizona, “Old Main” opened its doors in 1891. In its early days, it stood in the middle of a desert. Now it’s an island of green in the heart of the city.

Historic Neighborhoods

On a prior trip, we toured Tucson landmark, Mission San Xavier del Bac, on the outskirts of the city. This time, we focused on the historic areas downtown: El Presidio and Barrio Historico.

The oldest neighborhood in Tucson, El Presidio was founded in 1775, when Spanish soldiers and settlers built a walled fort there. Barrio Historico dates from the mid-1850s as settlers spread out from El Presidio.

I especially enjoyed photographing the colorful old houses and buildings in these areas. Here are some of my favorites.

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A well-preserved El Presidio building displays the intersection of modern and traditional. 

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Bright colors and decorative details are a hallmark of the city’s downtown historic districts.

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A dwarf poinciana tree’s fiery orange flowers pop against a blue adobe wall in El Presidio.

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Barrio Historico: Old adobes often have shared walls to protect against the heat.

Mount Lemmon

No trip to The Baked Apple would be complete without an escape to Mount Lemmon, a refuge from the heat for locals and visitors alike. The steep, curving road goes up to a 9,000-foot elevation in a diverse outdoor recreation area with pine forests and panoramic views.

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We didn’t get to the top on our drive, but we didn’t need to: Starting at 110 degrees in Tucson, the temperature dropped to the 70s as we climbed, with open windows, reveling in the cool, fresh air.

What are some of your favorite travels this year? Will you be off for one more trip before 2019 comes to a close? If so, where will you go?

Copyright M. Vincent 2019. All photos copyright M. Vincent 2019.

Food/Photography Friday: A Photographic Tale of Two Cities, Part I

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As 2019 draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the travels my partner and I took this year to two very different cities in search of our next home in the western United States. In March we spent about two weeks living like locals in Eugene, Oregon. In July, we did the same in Tucson, Arizona.

We’d visited each of these cities before and found many things to like, so we wanted to take a closer look. We went to Eugene in winter to see if we sun-loving Southern Californians could handle the cold, wet, often gloomy weather. For Tucson, we chose the height of summer to test our ability to thrive in the unrelenting seasonal heat.

I’m grateful for the time we had to explore each town, visit with friends, enjoy several side trips and have wonderful opportunities for photography. In this post and Part II, I’ll share some of my favorite photos from each trip, starting with Eugene.

Eugene, Oregon

“Track Town USA” is Eugene’s nickname, and the running community was among the things that attracted us to the city. That’s Pre’s Trail in the photo above, a broad path four miles long that commemorates legendary University of Oregon runner, Steve Prefontaine. Located in Alton Baker Park, it draws numerous runners and walkers every day.

Hiking in the scenic outdoors, close proximity to the Oregon coast, and university-town cultural/educational offerings also attracted us to Eugene.

A fascinating part of the city’s history is the Shelton McMurphey Johnson House, a Victorian-era mansion that sits on a hill overlooking downtown.

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In the front garden to the right, notice the bright yellow daffodils that we saw everywhere in Eugene this March as winter moved toward spring.

Built in 1888, this commanding landmark, now a museum, is named for the three successive families who lived there. Learning about their daily lives and the antics of the spirited children who grew up in the house is a fun part of the tour.

The facade exemplifies the ornamental details of Late Victorian Queen Anne Revival style architecture.

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Side Trips

The Pre’s Trail photo dates from our summer 2017 visit to Eugene. Winter 2019 was a different experience, but we still had some sunny, if damp and chilly, intervals. Our luckiest weather break was the day we headed to the coast to see the Heceta Head lighthouse, which I wrote about earlier here.

This historic lighthouse, circa 1894, is a magnet for photographers, and you can see why.

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Even the approach is special as you walk up the hill with the buildings in the distance among the trees.

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We were so fortunate to be able to photograph it on a bright, dry day in a week of rain!

On our country-roads drive back to Eugene, we spotted this old railroad bridge and stopped to take some shots.

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We learned it’s the Cushman swing-span railroad bridge, Mapleton, which crosses the Siuslaw River near Florence. One of its three spans rotates to allow boats to pass under it. Built in 1914, the bridge has keepers’ quarters on top for those who operate its rotating drawbridge.

I enjoy photographing industrial landscapes and got another chance when we visited our friend Lori in Portland. After brunch and the Saturday Market, she gave us an energetic tour of the surrounding area that ended up with dinner in Oregon City.

That’s where I got these shots of the industrial area on the Willamette River near landmark Willamette Falls.

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George Abernethy Bridge, spanning the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn.

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Oregon City’s Blue Heron paper mill, site of various operations since the 1830s, closed in 2011.

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West Linn’s landmark paper mill, closed in 2017 after 128 years in business.

Other meetups with friends took us to Phoenix (near Ashland) and Jacksonville, Oregon, and Centralia, Washington. In Jacksonville, I spotted this sweet, petite historic home with its multi-story birdhouse.

MV C5053-LR Old house Jacksonville OR-680

That ends the Eugene, Oregon tale. Stay tuned for Part II, Tucson, Arizona.

What were some of your favorite travels this year?

Copyright M. Vincent 2019.  All photos copyright M. Vincent 2017-2019.

Food/Photography Friday: Fuyu Persimmon Photo Shoot

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I love creating still-life photos with beautiful seasonal fruit, so when I saw this perfect Fuyu persimmon in my local market, I grabbed it and got to work.

Fuyus are a bright symbol of autumn, arriving in mid-fall and lasting through the winter months. Their shiny skin ranges from golden amber to a deep, pumpkin-like orange.

This one stood out for its rich color and exceptional smoothness and gloss. Firm and unblemished, with its leafy green cap intact, it was camera-ready.  To create a distinct autumn vibe, I looked for props with complementary textures, patterns and hues.

About the Fruit

Two types of persimmons are commercially grown in the U.S. and sold in markets across the country: the Fuyu, which is the focus of this post, and the Hachiya. Both came to us via Japan, where persimmons are the national fruit.  Both are in season now.

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From first bite, I found the Fuyu delicious, as well as visually appealing. If you’ve seen them in your area and wondered about them, I encourage you to give them a try.

Called fuyu gaki in Japan, Fuyus are mildly sweet and taste rather like an apricot or pear, with a slight hint of cinnamon. They can be eaten at any stage of ripeness. In the early stage, they’re firm and crisp, great for slicing and eating like an apple (peeling optional) or added to salads –– their subtle sweetness pairs well with peppery arugula, for example. As the fruit grows riper, it becomes sweeter and softer.

In their varying stages of ripeness, Fuyus are used in chutneys and salsas, salads, desserts and baking.

Beware: If you’re unfamiliar with persimmons, don’t confuse the Fuyu in this post with the Hachiya, that other Japanese variety in season, or you may have a very unpleasant experience.

While Fuyus can be eaten crisp, Hachiyas cannot be eaten until they’re extremely soft. Bite into one before it’s ready and you’ll encounter a bitter taste and an astringent effect that can make it difficult to swallow. It made me avoid Hachiyas for years.  You can distinguish the two by their shape: Compared to the round, tomato-shaped Fuyus in my photos, Hachiyas are elongated and acorn-shaped.

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U.S. readers, Thanksgiving is around the corner. Maybe go a bit rogue this year and add Fuyu persimmons to your feast? You’ll find many appealing recipes online, from salads and chutneys to apple-persimmon pie.

If you enjoy Fuyu persimmons, what’s your favorite way to eat them?

Copyright M. Vincent 2019

Persimmon photos copyright M. Vincent 2019