Sunday, February 23, 2014

Exploring Arizona: Papago Park Hike

I'll admit, since we moved to Arizona six months ago, we have done almost zero of the many amazing things there are to do around here.  We are homebodies, and there's no shame in that.  Jonathan's favorite thing to do is go out to eat, and even then we don't often venture outside our go-to places.  I don't hate spending Friday night at home watching a movie.  But it is a goal of mine to get out and do more things that there are to do in the area.

So I'm starting a series on the blog called Exploring Arizona.  I can't promise we'll do anything exciting every week, or even every month, but I am making it a goal to take day trips, explore new places, and find some bright things in this great state.  Especially while the weather is nice!

This morning, since I have a puppy who thinks he will die if he eats breakfast later than 6 am, I decided to get a jump on the day and take him for a long walk with the sunrise.  I planned to go to a park right down the street, but spur of the moment decided to be different and explore a new place.

Papago Park is big city park that lies at the intersection of Phoenix and Tempe.  It is home to several easy-to-moderate hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Gardens (both those are on my list of places to explore).

The hike we tackled was the Eliot Ramada loop, the longest trail at about 2.7 miles.  It is listed as easy/moderate.  The first half of the loop was paved, winding uphill through the distinctive red stone formations.

Remy was a little hesitant at first exploring a new place (like mother, like dog), but once he got going he loved it!

Just got some new shoes - had to try them out!

Phoenix in the distance

This was a great hike to start the day with.  I can't really say I've been hiking in a long, long time, but I love exploring desert landscapes and being up with the sun.

If you're into that kind of thing, there is a health and wellness section of the loop with different outdoor exercise equipment and instructions.  Who doesn't want to swing on these rusty handlebars?

The second half of the loop winds around a golf course and is not paved.  I remembered halfway through I should probably watch for snakes -- can't be too careful!  There were lots of birds to see and hear of the backside of the trail, which I loved.  It was the perfect hike for less-than-a-foot-tall Remy, with a good amount of up and downhill (I think I was on the bike section) but nothing too strenuous.  

Overall, a successful outing!  There are many more things to do in Papago - can't wait to explore them all - next time with my nice camera instead of just my iPhone!

Saturday, February 22, 2014


A few weeks ago we celebrated Jonathan's birthday by having a few friends over.  I made shrimp and sausage Gumbo for the occasion - a family recipe.  I would say secret, but it's really not rocket science.  Besides, I cheat and use a roux starter from a jar instead of taking the time to make my own roux.  A roux - for those not acquainted with Cajun cooking - is essentially just oil and flour mixed together and cooked until it turns light or dark brown.  It thickens the liquid slightly and provides the rich, nutty taste for which gumbo is famous.  Using a roux starter saves me the time of standing at the stove stirring.  I'm not really even tempted to feel like a lame cook for taking this shortcut, because roux starter or not, this gumbo is a crowd pleaser.

I started with a few tablespoons of roux starter (or good old fashioned stirred at the stove roux) in a mixture of half water, half chicken broth (about 6 cups).  I let it simmer for about 20 minutes, while we peeled and deveined a bag of frozen shrimp.  I despise deveining shrimp.  Gumbo can technically be made with just chicken or sausage, the gumbo my grandma made growing up always had shrimp, so I never skimp on the seafood.  
Also while the roux simmers, I chop up some good andouille sausage, an onion, bell pepper, and most importantly, okra.  You can't make gumbo without it.  In fact, the word gumbo may originate from an old word for okra.  I got mine at whole foods, since sometimes you don't see it at your usual supermarket.  
All that gets thrown in the roux pot and cooked at a low boil for about 30 minutes.  A little salt doesn't hurt.  
It's easy to make and feeds a small army when ladled over white rice.