Southwestern Cooking: Mesquite

Since we’re back to the blogging business with Arizona’s second (albeit smaller) shutdown, I decided to revisit my first blog entry from the first shutdown. I attributed my dalgona coffee’s successes to having the appropriate kichen hardware available. For my first blog post in the second shutdown, I decided to go the opposite direction: how successful can I be following a recipe which calls for specific kitchen hardware but instead I work it manually? This has brought me to today’s blog post: mesquite chocolate chip cookies.

What’s mesquite? Let’s talk about it:

According to Wikipedia, mesquite is a type of small leguminous tree that is native to the southwestern US and Mexico. The mesquite tree is a common southwestern desert ornamental plant, due to its durability to survive drought. (It is also surprisingly an invasive species in its own native land.) The tree’s wood, fruit pods, and sap have a long legacy of uses with the southwestern indigenous people’s cultures, widely ranging from shelter, furniture, medicinal uses, and culinary staples. Outside the tribal nations, mesquite maintains an ubiquitous presence in southwestern cuisine.

The scent of smoked mesquite wood is known to be tangy and sweet, which has led to its popularity with smoked BBQ. Mesquite is a staple southwestern BBQ flavor that Tucson Foodie posted an article in February 2020 listing BBQ restaurants in Tucson, with many places featuring mesquite wood. Additionally, local distillery Whiskey Del Bac has a line of whiskeys where the malted barley is smoked using mesquite wood.

Mesquite flour is created from milled dried pods. It’s known to have high protein, low glycemic content, and gluten-free. Mesquite flour has a slightly sweet and nutty scent, which shows up in baked goods. It is easily accessible in Tucson, whether you mill your own dried pods with a local harvester or buy a bag of the flour from a local retailer. When I bought a 1 lb bag of San Xavier Co-op Farm mesquite flour at the Food Conspiracy Co-Op, the bag included the Tohono O’odham language’s name for it – “wihog cu:i” (wee-hawg chew-ee). After doing some research, I found the individual word translations into English:

  • wihog” is “bean pod” (Reference: O’odham Stuff)
  • While I couldn’t find “cu:i“, I did find “kui” (koo-wee) for “mesquite tree”. (Reference: O’odham Stuff)
Mesquite flour has a grittier texture than standard all purpose flour along with a dull yellowish hue (but not as yellow as cornmeal).

Let’s bake some cookies!

I was introduced to mesquite flour this past year through a local business named Arizona Baking Company, who released a mesquite chocolate chip cookie mix. I tried it out, pleasantly liked it (Lauren and I once ate half a dozen in one sitting at our office, during the pre-covid era), and decided that I was going to learn how to make them myself. I’ve made cookies before, surely I can do this too, right?

Mesquite chocolate chip cookie recipes were an easy enough find, so I made the first one I saw on Google (source: David Lebovitz)… which strongly recommends using a stand mixer. My problem: my stand mixer is currently located in Los Angeles (one of many woes in my LDR). However, the recipe says I can still do it manually. So, ready to blow some steam after a long day and very determined to eat mesquite chocolate chip cookies, I set forward to trying this recipe manually. For the blog’s viewing pleasure, I have also included in pictures from my attempt.

One of the things I learned about baking better is to weigh your ingredients instead using measuring cups. I originally bought this huge brick of Amish Country butter from the grocery store to make my own ghee, but discovered when I got home that it’s actually salted butter. I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I used it for baking. Unsalted butter is better for baking, but salted butter is fine so long as you don’t add in the additional salt listed in the recipe.
The ingredients overview shot. The rag on the bottom of the mixing bowl is for keeping the bowl in place (a tip I picked up from Serious Eats). Using a wooden spoon because we’re going manual style.
Creaming the butter required me applying many stabbing motions with the wooden spoon. This was the first step where using a stand mixer would make things easier. The rag worked well holding the bowl at the bottom.
Churned in the sugars and eggs with the creamed butter, then adding some vanilla extract.
Added in the mesquite and all purpose flour mix. The dough starts getting a bit tough to mix with the spoon.
By the time I add in the oats and chocolate chips, the dough is too difficult to mix with the spoon. This is where the stand mixer would work very well. The recipe recommends putting your hands in to mix it, so I went with it. It’s very sticky.
Final results: tastes great! My hand, wrist, and forearm are kinda sore, but these chocolate chips are totally hitting the spot. Tastes like a nutty chocolate chip cookie without any nuts incorporated.

Comments about mesquite flour: Since it’s a gluten free flour alternative, it does suffer from the gluten free baking problems where it spreads out and is flat. There is also a bit of a gooey texture to the cookies. Experimenting with the baking times, we found that increasing the time in my oven for a couple more minutes helps brown it a bit more and gives it a less gooey texture. Letting it sit out to slowly finish out cooking and cooling does help with a firmer texture. But, as always, your miles may vary based on your home oven. (I’ve learned that the reason ovens cost so much is their ability to maintain a steady, consistent temperature)

Would I do this again manually? yes, assuming my cravings are strong enough such that the physical labor doesn’t bother me. The reward is definitely worth the effort. But if I had a stand mixer, all bets are off – I’m using the stand mixer.

SONG OF THE DAY

Speaking of stand mixers, the most commonly known stand mixer is from KitchenAid. I bought a Professional 500 5QT model off Tucson craigslist back in 2015 for $100. It was barely used, making it an even better deal. According to Kitchenaid’s website, the first stand mixer was invented in 1919.

While I occasionally imagine myself being at the level of a French pastry chef, there’s nothing Parisian about mesquite. However, mesquite does grow in Texas and there exists a city of Paris, Texas.

So, with that a date and location applied to this entry’s theme, the song of the day is “Paris 1919” by John Cale:

John Cale – Paris 1919

The thrill of travel from the safety of home

While our last blog missive coincided with the “reopening” of Arizona, the global pandemic continues unabated. So, I thought it would be a good time to get into these “video games” I’ve heard so much about over the years. I quickly found out that one needs a “game controller” for the full experience, and that such game controllers are hard to find nationwide.

Even Amazon was experiencing shortages. They had none in stock themselves, but would let me pay an 80% premium for a sketchy 3rd-party seller to provide… something. I figured that if I was going to give money to a sketchy 3rd party seller, I might as well go whole-hog. I went to AliExpress.

If you’re not familiar, AliExpress is where the people who sell the junky crapgadgets on Amazon buy them (before marking them up 120% and selling them to you). It’s cheaper to buy directly from China, but parcels travel by regular mail so you must be patient. During a global pandemic, make that very patient.

The PS4-esque controller I chose was perhaps not an attempt to counterfeit Sony’s product, but certainly an homage.

Can you spot the differences? That’s right, the first one has nothing that could be mistaken for a Sony trademark. (It was also $21.40, shipped, compared to $71.72 at Sony.)

I bought it in April.

Unfortunately, it’s still not here.

I have reconstructed its journey from its likely origin within China to New York City based on tracking information.

April 23-25: China (possibly Shenzhen)

Many of the world’s gadgets are assembled in Shenzhen, a city of 23 million strategically located near foreign investment in Hong Kong (whose residents have been suffering recently, while the rest of the world is distracted with its own problems). More granular tracking locations are unavailable for the parcel’s journey within China, so I’m just guessing here.

According to the travel guide, April in Shenzhen is a bit rainy with highs around 79ºF. TripAdvisor recommends DanGui Xuan XinDou Dian for dim sum. Since most of Shenzhen’s 23 million residents arrived with the growth of the special economic zone, there are few authentic historical attractions, but you can visit a history theme park at Splendid China Park on your way to the “transit country or district” named on the tracking event log: Singapore.

April 26-June 15: Singapore

It is as Jack Sparrow says: I have never been to Singapore. My game controller has, though—for almost two months.

One of my friends from my college theater days is Singaporean, and he has returned to host a pop culture podcast for Singapore’s Straits Times media empire after graduation.

https://omny.fm/shows/popvultures-1/stefanie-sun-and-the-2000-mandopop-scene-pop-vultu/image.jpg?t=1592556743&size=Small
That’s Sam Jo on the right! We were inmates in an insane asylum together. (Unless it was a different play I’m thinking of.)

I’m told if you’re ever in Singapore you must absolutely visit a hawker center. Singapore has the only world’s only Michelin Starred street food vendors: are Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle.

Based on my friend’s social media presence (and the 100% accurate Singapore documentary Crazy Rich Asians), it seems like a grand old time. No wonder my parcel spent a month and change hanging out.

June 15-July 2: The mysterious void

The tracking log is unambiguous:

2020-06-15 02:30:00 [GMT+8] - Depart from transit country or district 
2020-06-15 02:30:42 [GMT+8] - Despatched to OverSeas Postal Admin (From SG/SIN to US/JFK)
2020-07-02 05:08:00 [GMT+8] - Arrive at sorting center in destination country

Provided that the cargo airline did not perform aerial refueling maneuvers, I can only assume it stopped for a side trip. You know, if the 2020 SPIE had not succumbed to COVID-19, I would have been bopping around Japan at that exact time.

Perhaps it went to ride the Hakone cablecar and get a black hot spring egg? Each one you eat adds seven years to your life (or two weeks to your package ETA).

The Hakone gift shop sells souvenirs with a cat character named “Kurotamanyanko”, an untranslatable portmanteau that means something like “black eggmeow”. (Because if it’s a souvenir in Japan, it must be available in “cat”… and they sell hot spring eggs…)

I’m just speculating, of course. But that’s where I would have gone if I had two weeks to spare in the Eastern hemisphere.

July 2-present: New York, New York

New York is presently less COVID-y than our bit of the country, so I can see why my parcel chose to make landfall there. It got stuck for a while, but it’s probably dawdling in customs, or else misplaced by USPS, who the AliExpress tracking page calls the “Last Mile Carrier”. (More like last 2,500 mile carrier!)

Back when we could go to places, a place that I enjoyed going to was the Uniqlo in New York City. (Really, any of them, though Uniqlo SoHo really feels like it’s in a bustling metropolis.)

In lieu of a side trip to Uniqlo while visiting friends in NYC, this is the best I could do for this summer. I just couldn’t resist the free shipping. (Jhen knows what I mean.)

The downside is that this means yet more agonizing waiting, refreshing package tracking pages. Maybe it’ll get here first?

Should this game controller arrive, I will be sure to update you, dear reader, on its (anticipated) supreme crappiness.

The song of the day is “Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights off Taking Up Your Precious Time.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 45: Telling Stories

This is, officially, the highest numbered “run” post achieved (so far) on this blog. Jhen’s post yesterday tied with the previous record holder, Day 44 from 2015A, what we fondly refer to as The Death Run.

Arizona is opening back up. So, to some extent, is UofA research. Our lab, The XWCL, has been open because of an important project, but only for limited work on one or two things. But starting next week we’ll be able to start paying attention to our other projects, which includes MagAO-X. Still not supposed to meet in person, go to our offices, etc.

However, since we aren’t technically in a “Stay At Home”, I guess this “run” is over. It’s like when we are in the air form SCL to DFW, the telescope time is done, but we still have to clear customs and stay awake long enough to catch the 9:10 flight to TUS. You can still post if you want to, but all of our subscribers should stop expecting daily content.

So we watched “The Rise of Skywalker” tonight. Hadn’t seen it yet — after “The Last Jedi” I just wasn’t motivated enough to go see it in the theater. “Rise” was better than I expected, but still a cluttered mess as far as story telling goes. Too much happens in too many places, with not enough time in between. Remember in “A New Hope” how they actually travel? And the kids play games in the back seat to keep them occupied (there’s even home schooling). Remember how Jedi training was a thing in “Empire”, worthy of half a movie? The conflict scene between Luke and Vader and the Emperor in “Jedi” (the only movie referred to with that single word) was epic, and again was something like half the movie. The sequels just bounce around and try to show us too much with too many subplots. The middle one was especially egregious — the time between events wouldn’t work in even a small U.S. city, let alone a galaxy-scale ecosystem.

Please note: the sequels are at least watchable more than once. Let’s not drag the prequels into this.

The main thing about the sequels that drives me nuts is that they don’t make any sense from a high-level galacto-political sense. I don’t understand why there is a “resistance”. What are they resisting? They won the rebellion, so aren’t they the government now? Sure, sure, you can say they are resisting the First Order. But that’s just it — doesn’t that just make the resistance the military of The New Republic? Why do they never have help? Where’s the actual regular Republic Navy? This is a whole thing that is never explained to any level. Part of my complaint derives from having read Zahn’s “Thrawn” novels when they first came out, and were supposed to be canon. The takeover of The New Republic was part of the story, and well told. The whole expanded universe included this. Characters we know, like Wedge Antilles, are big shot Admirals — not gunners that Lando digs up somewhere. Leia is occupied with politics and governing a galaxy, as you’d expect.

I’m not all complaints though. I think Rey is the best character* of the entire Star Wars universe. Her story is incredibly compelling, and Ridley is fantastic at being the naive reluctant Jedi, and then better at being the badass when her time comes. No spoilers here, but I’ll just say that “Rise” brings the 9 part Skywalker saga to a fitting conclusion, true to its real beginnings in IV. (*Mando is shaping up to be pretty amazing too, from a different point of view).

And, the music is as good as always. Here’s “Rey’s Theme”, by John Williams:

P.S. For future historians, yes, our count is low by one day by the usual rules of run-post-counting on our blog.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 44: Award-winning Video Game Music

This may surprise people, but did you know that a video game theme has won a Grammy award? In 2011, the main theme of Civilization IV, “Baba Yetu” (Swahili version of The Lord’s Prayer), won a grammy award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s). The composer is Christopher Tin and features the Soweto Gospel Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Here’s the song, it’s a great listen (despite the video game graphics of 2005):

Christopher Tin feat. Soweto Gospel Choir and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Baba Yetu

This song also made to America’s Got Talent in 2018, where it was awarded the Golden Buzzer:

Angel City Chorale Choir – Baba Yetu – America’s Got Talent 2018

Before starting my PhD, I was living in Los Angeles and I found out that Christopher Tin had a small classical recital one Friday evening in Santa Monica. I attended it with Aldo, and we met Christopher Tin afterwards (he is super nice!). I own a copy of each of his albums, “Calling All Dawns” (which also won a grammy in 2011 for Best Classical Crossover Album) and “The Drop that Contained the Sea”. My favorite song from his second album is “Waloyo Yamoni”, which translates from Lango (Uganda) into “We Overcome the Wind”. It’s also features the Soweto Gospel Choir, just like with “Baba Yetu”.

Christopher Tin feat. Soweto Gospel Choir – Waloyo Yamoni

SONG OF THE DAY

Christopher Tin has a new album coming out this August. I supported it on Kickstarter when it was announced 2 years ago and it became the highest funded classical music Kickstarter ever. I’m hoping they’ll do a west coast (particularly Los Angeles) live concert for this album in the future, so I can go attend it in person. Therefore, the song of the day will be the first song that has come out for this album, which also happens to be the main theme for Civilization VI:

Christopher Tin – Sogno di Volare (“The Dream of Flight”)

To be honest…I don’t play any of the Civilization games. Never have been a turn-based strategy player. Now, if you want to talk about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I’m totally in.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 43: Spicy danger noodle

According to wikipedia, there are 22 species of venomous snakes in Arizona. One of these snakes that is shared between AZ and my hometown in Texas is the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. If you’ve never seen one in the wild, it looks like this:

Image credit: me

If you’ve never seen one in the wild, you are like me 2 hours ago. I went for a little hike this afternoon and stumbled upon this guy in my path right before I got back to my car. Fortunately, I saw him before I was upon him, even though he was off the trail when I first saw him and was a bit hidden. So we managed to stay a respectful distance from each other. Here he is blending in well to the desert flora:

So it’s rattler season in AZ folks, watch where you step on the trail.


Update: I have acquired a hedgie-cam and can now spy on my animal while I’m asleep, which is when they’re most active. Last night I caught her pushing the toilet paper roll on her head, which is a classic hedgehog move. Enjoy:


The song of the day, for no particular reason, is Ok Go’s The One Moment.