Ideas that Come at the End of the Dry Season in the Desert

water in desert

The desert really is a different animal. Living here is far and away unlike living in an environment blessed with abundant water supply. If a plant or animal (or person for that matter) doesn’t have the capacity to survive on its own, it will die. Unless a human decides to invest very large sums of time, money, effort, and resources (often imported) in its survival. Note “survival.” “Success” takes a whole lot more.

It takes huge amounts of water to keep this ranch going. Water drawn from a well supplied by an aquifer that is being abused up and down the Baja peninsula. Every non-native plant (even many of those native to the area but usually found growing only along arroyos) needs to be soaked thoroughly twice a week. Any edibles need to be soaked twice daily. Each of nine horses drinks ten to fifteen gallons a day. Ten or so sheep drink a few more. The chickens, maybe two or three. Then there’s the water used to wash and shower and drink. Approximately zero percent of that water is rainwater. Chronic drought means the aquifer we’re drawing from has not been properly restored in years. It will rain here, but the few torrential downpours aren’t enough to keep things moist year-round.

All I can think is: what and who are really meant to be here?

For some reason I’m beginning to think a bunch of expats with resource-heavy hobbies and a swimming pool might not be it.

water in desert 2

I’m not saying my hosts are irresponsible, by any means. In fact, they are very mindful stewards of their land and the resources available to them, making a commendable effort to minimize their impact and promote the health of the ecosystem.

All I’m saying is I’m not sure the desert is a great place to do anything but live a desert life.

And that life is one that is dictated by the availability of water. Perhaps there’s a reason Mexicans tend to treat plants and animals with what appears to be disregard and (to some) cruelty, especially when it comes to food and water. Because here, it’s every living thing’s own responsibility to do what it’s gotta do to survive. In the desert, the luxury of manipulating flora and fauna to suit one’s own needs just doesn’t exist.

And I think I believe that this fundamental scarcity is at the root of Mexican culture – and all cultures borne of an arid landscape, I’d imagine. Being dependent on a resource that is seasonal and often unpredictable keeps people here cognizant of nature’s power. It puts people in their place, I guess. Which is at the mercy of mother earth and father space-time. In the US, we’re big-headed assholes who think water comes from pipes and weather is controlled by a busty bimbo on network TV. Generalization, yes. Untrue? No.

It makes me think of how difficult it is to get people at home to appreciate the seasonality of fruits and vegetables. How about we take away your water for nine months out of the year and then see what you learn about patience and thankfulness and reality?

Us water folk have a lot we could learn from the desert.

water

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Go Pig or Go Home at Alla Spina

When I do eat meat, I like to go big.  Or in this case, pig.

Last night during our first foray out to the hip, happening–you know, GQ-approved–new spot from Philadelphia’s beloved Marc Vetri, Alla Spina, there was no way I was going to resist the chalk-scrawled depiction of a pig’s head on the specials blackboard. I never pass up an opportunity to try something new. Especially when it’s a true snout to tail eating.

We were greeted by this fellow:

And, well, all I can say is that we quite enthusiastically welcomed him to the table:

So, as you can see by the lack of brains and eyeballs in that pile of debris, this experiment in “will I be able to survive when we finally make it to Mongolia for my dream trek across the steppe” was a complete and total success. Yum!

No seriously, yum. Eyeballs are delicious.

Thank You, Passionate People…I Owe You One

Sometimes the world seems cold and heartless.  And sometimes it seems like no matter which way forward you try to take, there’s nothing there but frustration waiting.

But sometimes, our lives are graced with the presence of warmth and goodness and passion – moments we too often squander hastily in some masochistic favor of “the grindstone.”

Luckily, that horrid vapid abomination of a holiday called Valentine’s Day managed to get me thinking about the people around me that spur those moments of almost tangible optimism, most of them so distractedly and unintentionally that it’s hard to appreciate. There are so many people that put so much love into what they do that just being around them and the products of their passionate pursuits makes me feel like there’s something worth living for. And here are just a few of them:

At the South Philadelphia Tap Room, Chefs Scott Schroeder and Mark Regan reign over an ever-evolving menu of specials that keeps it real with classics like fried chicken and eggplant parm, but also delves into the deep dark corners of the culinary world…and that is why I go back again and again and again. Be it head cheese, monkfish liver or just a spectacularly-prepared cevice, Scott and Mark’s dedication to serving fresh, fun, honest, diverse and delicious food has got me hooked. Well, that plus their usually stellar draft list and gang of wicked cool servers. To the SPTR crew: YOU RULE.

I learned a lot during my first visit to Le Virtù. After a long-overdue foray to their cozy bar for wine (yes I drank wine!) and an unbelievable plate of a variety of house-cured salumi, Chef Joe Cicala had the good grace to show us where the magic happens. In the nondescript basement of this quiet Italian oasis, Joe is truly working miracles. Their small in-house salumeria houses row after row of beautifully marbled cuts of meat, each seasoned simply and traditionally (as per Joe’s regular training trips to Abruzzo), dangling tauntingly, aging to perfection. Right there in South Philadelphia. It is a sight to behold. So much love. To the Le Virtù crew: YOU RULE.

Sometimes produce speaks for itself. Sometimes a farmer speaks too. One look at Culton Organic’s produce and one chat with farmer Tom Culton were enough to hook me on this Lancaster farm’s artisan goods. Like the regular table at Headhouse Square wasn’t enough, I was lucky enough to visit the farm, which Tom manages almost single-handedly. His dedication to the preservation of heirloom varietals of game and produce and his almost aggressively frank passion for living with and not on the land (not to mention his impressive collection of colorful satin scarves) is contagious. What a dude and what a farm. To the Culton crew: YOU RULE.

Here are just a handful of the other people and places that make me all warm and fuzzy on the inside because of how much they rule:

  • Catherine and Al Renzi and their dedication to Yellow Springs Farm in Chester County,
  • Jean Broillet and his unwavering commitment to the blossoming Tired Hands Brewing,
  • Marisa McClellan and her amazing preserving and lifestyle blog Food in Jars,
  • Fair Food (Farmstand) and everything they do to bring local farmers and local consumers one step closer together,
  • and so many more.

So who for you?