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Tucson travel includes tasty stops

Continuing on our trip out West, we made an overnight stop in San Antonio. Of course we ate at our favorite place, “La Gloria.” I know we should try a new place there, but we just love sitting out in the heat on the patio with the mister blowing, and having our beer and tacos! The food is fairly cheap and good, so it is a must for us. My husband is now into guayaberas for summertime dressy casual and Garden and Gun recently had an article on a local producer in San Antonio, Dos Carolinas, so we also paid a visit. It is about a block from La Gloria. And we bought two.

We did our next stop in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and stayed at the Lundeen Bed and Breakfast. This place was filled with southwestern art and the hostess was a charming lady who had lived there for 50 years, running a B&B for 30 of them. Her husband was an architect who had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright and she was full of stories about her husband (he died last year) and the famous people who had stayed at the bed and breakfast. A charming visit and a very nice breakfast. Her husband had designed the Double Eagle Saloon and Restaurant in the historic area of Las Cruces, Mesilla, so we felt obligated to have a drink there. The bar had wonderful chandeliers and was rather glamorous in a late Victorian style, and the drinks were terrific. They had 50 different kinds of margaritas! But we ate at our perennial favorite, Andele which is also in Mesilla where we had posole; where we first discovered posole actually.

On to our destination of Tucson. We stayed at our favorite place, The Arizona Inn. Very good rates in the summer and such a nice place to relax. Our daughter was married there last year so it will always be a special place. We did something new on this visit and drove up Mt. Lemmon where it was a cool 59 degrees and 9,000 feet up. Quite a difference to the 100 plus in Tucson. Great views, and in winter one can ski—the most southern ski area in the U.S. The city of Tucson is sprawling but you have the mountains surrounding it so a great city for good views.

Our favorite place to visit in Tucson is the Desert Museum. It is a no-miss if you are in the area. We have been several times in the past. Our daughter is a member and we got free tickets. We spent about four hours roaming the area which is full of exhibits: animals, birds, and even fish, and of course reptiles. We visited a presentation on two different venomous ones: the rattlesnake and one we did not realize as venomous, the gila monster. His bite won’t kill a healthy adult but he will hold on tenaciously and painfully. You might wind up in the ER with him still attached. My husband loves all the flora of the desert. It is amazing how varied and colorful it is. And I always spend some time in the shop and usually buy.

Tucson is not really a foodie city but we know a few places. The Arizona Inn has a great bar and the bartender even remembered our drinks from the past visits! We do like breakfast there on the patio. Get our coffee, read the paper in the library and go for breakfast. An omelet one morning and tacos another. We usually have tamales at Tucson Tamale at least once. We tried two new restaurants this year. One was a winner, Downtown Kitchen, a new restaurant by a James Beard Award winner, Janos Wilder.

 

From the cookbook, Savvy Southwest Cooking by Janet E. Taylor

Tortilla Soup

Serves 4-6

Soup:

2 cups quartered tomatoes, or use canned tomatoes

½ sweet yellow onion, coarsely cut

4 garlic cloves. Cut into pieces

½ cup roughly cut cilantro leaves and stems

½-1 serrano chili, cut into tiny pieces

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon oregano, crushed to release flavor

4-6 cups chicken broth

Sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Garnish:

3 corn tortillas

Olive oil to rub on tortillas

½ ripe Haas avocado, sliced, peeled, and chopped

4-5 pinches of feta cheese, for each serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (for the tortilla strips, which you will prepare while the soup is cooking).

For the soup: Using a food processor, place the tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, and serrano by pressing the pulse button a couple of times to assure even chopping; then hold down the button and release a couple times until the tomatoes and onions are finely chopped or almost minced. If using canned tomatoes, don’t process them with the other ingredients.

In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Carefully scrape the tomato mixture into the hot oil; sauté it for a few minutes, add the oregano and stir to combine. Continue sautéing, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, start preparing the tortilla strips (still keeping an eye on the mixture on the stove). Either spray the tortillas with olive oil or put some oil in the palm of one hand, rub your palms together, and then rub the tortillas. Cut the tortillas into thin strips and space the strips, without touching each other, on a cookie sheet; bake until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, and reserve for garnish.

Back to the soup: stir in the chicken broth and bring the soup mixture to a boil; taste, adding salt and pepper as needed. Turn heat to low and simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Ladle into individual bowls and top with tortilla strips, avocado pieces, and tiny pinches of feta cheese.