Thursday, June 4, 2020

Gateway dishes: Vegetarian comfort food

Fakey meat balls with white gravy topped with onions 
I remember tagging along with my sister as she drove all over Tucson trying to find the ingredients she needed for a healthy vegan diet. It is so much easier to avoid eating meat these days. Grant it, Dan and I aren't vegan. That's just not sustainable with our lifestyle - yet. It is so much easier being vegetarian than to be a vegan. There are so many popular dishes that are already vegetarian - pastas, pizza, gnocchi, enchiladas, burritos... There are even vegetarian tamales without lard!

My son Jeremy has been a vegetarian since he was seven, so I had lots of practice revising what the family had for dinner to vegetarian versions. Now Dan and I are moving towards a vegetarian lifestyle for our health and the health of the planet. (Though we still have fish once a week.) It's all a process. I believe that if everyone cut back their red meat consumption, that would have greater impact on the planet than a few members of  the vegan community doing it perfectly. So let's start there!

For those meat lovers out there... There are all kinds of convenient and delicious vegetarian "meats" - in addition to the large variety of veggie burgers. We were really crazy about Quorn fakey chicken products until we had them so often we got tired of them. The breaded "chicken" patties make a fast and delicious chicken parmesan sandwich using left over marinara sauce and mozzarella. Or leave off the cheese and bread (if you can bear it) for a yummy vegan version. I also like to make meat ball subs using veggie meatballs. (Gardein is our favorite). I serve 3-4 meatballs and some marinara sauce on a pretzel bun for a super quick and tasty lunch.

I have also made fakey chicken-fried chicken by adding white gravy and serving it with mashed potatoes. Yum!  A recent favorite is a twist on that. Smother the fakey meatballs with white gravy!  (For best results: Microwave the meatballs then add them after the gravy is cooked. They will be firmer and won't turn your gravy pink). Serve the gravy on a heaping pile of mashed potatoes with sauteed onions on top of that. The onions make it even more savory!  We use cow milk, but I'm sure there are ways to use other kinds of milk if you are vegan. Again, it's all a process. It can be difficult changing eating habits - especially when it comes to comfort foods. This recipe definitely qualifies as comfort food with me! Yum!

But my family's favorite veggie meat is definitely soyrizo. We like the taste better than greasy chorizo. (And who knows what goes into that...)  We are have been putting it in our breakfast burritos and tacos for years and I'm still not sick of it. Can't speak for the boys...

Stirring eggs into soyrizo 
For breakfast burritos, I saute the soyrizo while I microwave a medium size potato. Then I cut the potato in to cubes and saute them with the soyrizo. Finally I stir a couple of eggs right into that. (I call it my moist maker.) When the eggs are lightly cooked I add grated cheddar cheese on the top, turn the heat down and cover with a couple of flour tortillas (and a lid) until the cheese is melted. That also warms up the tortillas and makes them nice and moist.

Breakfast tacos are even easier - especially if you have a son to grate up the cheese and cut the avocado!  I saute the soyrizo, then stir in a couple of eggs. I serve them with slices of avocado, grated cheddar cheese and chunky salsa on a soft corn tortilla. You can fry up the tortilla if you want, but there are thick, soft varieties that don't even need frying.

Soyirzo breakfast tacos with cheddar cheese, avocado, and salsa
I know! I know! These are processed foods. Really fast food. But if you are still stewarding at home you may have the leisure to try recipes that take a little more time. There are so many fun recipes on the internet.  (Look out for them on my Facebook page too.) While I was looking up how to spell gnocchi, I discovered a fun recipe I would like to try. Maybe you can even get a Moosewood recipe book and try your hand at some very healthy vegan recipes. Definitely with the effort! There's a bbq lentil loaf I just love!

For an easy, unprocessed dish, you can always just soak some beans over night and throw 'em in the crock pot in the morning... They'll be done in time for a late lunch. Just add salt and cumin.  Or put it in your solar oven to be ready by dinner. Easy smeazy!

It's all a process. Try out these dishes or come up with some of your own. Just start. The planet is waiting.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Time to Move Tucson!

All this downtime has given Tucsonans a chance to reflect on how we do things here. When the city shut down, people drove less and air pollution decreased! As soon as the state weakened the stay at home recommendations, air quality got worse. This is a teachable moment!

How can we expand travel options so more people can walk, bike, or take public transit? How do we improve reliability of travel time, particularly as we grow? Do you have an idea about how to make our streets safer? Do you have suggestions for areas that could use tree-lined sidewalks, biking trails, shaded bus stops, and traffic signs?

Your help is needed in shaping the City’s vision and action plan to answer these questions and more. Together, we can create the city we want to live in.

The City of Tucson is preparing a city-wide transportation master plan that will create a mobility blueprint for the City’s future in a rapidly-changing world. The plan will be innovative, creative, and inclusive. By working together, we can commit ourselves to create a mobility future that works for all of us.

The outcome of the planning process will be a document that informs the Mayor and Council’s decisions in the very near future about policy, resources, and how welcoming and livable our city is to visitors, residents, and business owners.

Join Sustainable Tucson's next virtual Topical Issue Meeting to learn more about the Move Tucson public input process and how you can make your voice heard on a more inclusive  transportation plan. 

Tuesday, June 9th, at 6pm

Join with Google Meet:

Join by phone‪: +1 252-696-1240‬ PIN: ‪465 615 840‬#

The City of Tucson has been hosting town meetings to introduce their mapping app. This app is so cool. You can click on specific areas and add your own suggestions about what should be included there (like sidewalks, biking trails, green infrastructure, shaded bus stops, safer crosswalks, etc.)

Do you know of an area of town that needs any of these features? Do you have your own ideas? This is your chance to share them!

Jana bringing glass bottles to Ward 6 before the pandemic 
I personally ride the bus, so I see the need for more stops, later running times and more shade. Right now you can't get everywhere in Tucson. I've heard stories of people getting stranded because they didn't realize that the bus stopped running so early. Imagine being stranded on a cold night. If we are going to get more people to ride the bus instead of driving all over town in single-occupant vehicles, then we need to make it accessible and comfortable. I shared that opinion on the survey. Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas too!

Here is a link to the website with the transportation survey and the interactive map app.

Have fun!


Friday, May 29, 2020

Powered by the Sun. And Beans

By guest blogger Sergio Avila*

Time at home can help feed some creativity, or at least allow some leisure time to try new things. Some people are gardening and/or cooking at home; some are working out, painting or playing an instrument. In my case, it has been a time for trying, learning and even experimenting, and I acknowledge it is a privilege. A few weeks ago, I decided to dust off my solar oven and cook some meals while taking advantage of the longer, warmer days. This time has allowed me to experiment with my cooking, new recipes and also to share with other people who haven't considered cooking with the sun. 

The solar oven (also known as 'sun oven') is a box made of wood, metal or another material, lined with insulation on all, but one side; with a small door to insert cooking pots and pans, sitting on a metal plate at the bottom. The box is open on one end, but covered with a glass to allow the sunlight to heat up the metal plate. The way this works is by heating up the metal plate where pots sit (like your stove) while also keeping the heat inside the box (like an oven) while it sits directly under the sun. Sometimes people add metal “wings” over the box to capture more sunlight. In my case, my solar oven is large so the sunlight comes in through a glass window; temperature inside can get up to between 250 and 300 degrees F. 

It's important the solar oven rotates to always face the sun with the glass side. There are many ways of doing this, from just moving the box with your hands, adding wheels or even a solar sensor that will rotate the box when shaded - which I saw once while visiting Tucson's Festival of the Sun, an annual solar potluck and exhibition at Catalina State Park. 

Generally, vegetables are the easiest to cook. I like to cook beans (black, pinto or tepari beans), lentils, calabacitas (a dish made with squash, onions and other veggies.) Pre-soaked beans will cook in around 3 hours, and with enough water, they can stay there a little longer. Once I made Mexican rice and I was pleasantly surprised! I'm not much of a baker, but sugar or oatmeal cookies would be easy to make.  At the Festival of the Sun I saw people cooking meat, ribs, cakes. I think this takes practice, and knowing your oven well, but it's worth the try. You can even use it to boil water, make sun tea or dry fruit (though this requires air circulating).

If you are a do-it-yourself kind of person, there are many plans to build your own solar oven online; a quick search should give you lots of results, ideas, and photographs. You can use mostly recycled materials, and might need to buy a piece of glass, a metal plate for the base, and the insulation that covers the walls. If you want to invest some money and buy one already made, that's also a good route and you should find many alternatives.

In Tucson, you can experience the flavors of solar-cooked food and learn about appliances and solar arts from Citizens for Solar and the Solar Guild. Their annual Solar Potluck, co-sponsored by Catalina State Park, is an educational, family-friendly event to learn about solar cooking, energy conservation and other topics on sustainability.

A little practice will help you estimate cooking time, amount of water or other details for successful, delicious meals. In years past I left food cooking, went to the office and came back to a ready pot of veggies or lentils. Solar ovens can be used at home, at the work place, the park, or even during camping trips. I like the solar oven because I can cook some meals with little supervision and zero energy. My solar oven also provides me with the opportunity to show and tell, to share ideas for sustainable alternatives, and inspire others to create their own. It makes me feel independent and taking advantage of a resource we enjoy in Arizona pretty much all the time. 

Sun’s out. Solar oven’s cooking!

*Sergio Avila is a wildlife biologist and conservationist, an immigrant, a trail runner, and a desert dweller. He works as Local Outdoors Program Coordinator with the Sierra Club, and is a Commissioner in the City of Tucson’s Commission on Climate, Energy and Sustainability, and a Society for Conservation Biology Board member. He can be found in Twitter and Instagram @Sergio_concolor

Monday, May 25, 2020

Spineless Prickly Pear Brunch

As Dan and I steward in place, we are enjoying the desert bounty already growing in our own backyard - our spineless prickly pear! My friend Duane tells me this isn't prickly pear pickin' time... But our spineless prickly pear is ripe for the pickin'!

You can identify this variety by the yellow flowers, pink and burgundy fruit and the new beaver-tail shaped pads with little curved conical green leaves. 

For the past few weeks Dan has been harvesting the ripe, burgundy colored fruit and making delicious prickly pear syrup. You can watch our "how to" video here.

Dan holding the fruit with tongs and brushing off spines 
Meanwhile, I have been harvesting our nopales and preparing them for breakfast and snacks. This has come in real handy since we aren't going to store as often in an attempt to avoid the crowds during the pandemic! We don't really have to tend the cactus like I do with our other edible plants. Though Dan occasionally dumps some kitchen rinse water on them when they are looking really desiccated.

harvesting the younger pods with bbq tongs
Lately I have been harvesting the new pads. FAIR WARNING: the word "Spineless" in the name is misleading since under the curly leaves are white spots with tiny spines that can stick to your fingers or tongue if you're not careful. I got one in my finger that was irritating me to no end last night. The younger pads are darker green and smaller (averaging 5 inches) than the older pads that appear spineless. The older pads are tougher and not as tasty. 

younger prickly pair pad with leaves ready to be harvested
Here's how I prepared the pads...

First, I put them in a plastic bowl to keep them from moving around as much. I hold them still with salad tongs as I scrape off the leaves and those sneaky spines under the leaves.  I found it easiest to use the grill scraper we had in a bbq kit. You can also scrape them with the blade of a knife - but then you can't use the bowl to control them. 

Next, I rinse off the spines with water and and pour it out over on the cactus. (We try not to waste water since we live in the desert.) 

I found that the spines on the edges of the pad are difficult to scrape off, so I use the salad tongs to hold down the pad while I cut off the end and the sides of the pad. 

Then I cut them into pieces. 

Finally, I rinse off the nopale pieces to get rid of the rest of the spines and to rinse away the slime. Notice that I am doing it outside to keep all the spines out of my kitchen. 

I don't like to waste anything, so I pour the slime water around my potato plants. I hope they like it. 

These pods produce a lot of slime. (Think "Ghost Busters.") They need to be rinsed off several times until most of the slime is gone or you lose patience. 

Then I dice an onion and saute it with the nopales. 

sauteing them produces more slime
You can eat them like that on a tortilla. But we added tomatoes, potatoes and eggs to make a yummy scramble. I microwaved a potato while I was cooking the nopales. When the nopales were cooked (tender and lighter in color) I  removed them from the skillet, added a splash more olive oil, and fried the potatoes. I added the nopales and chopped tomatoes, scooted them to one side of the pan and scrambled 3 eggs on the other side of the pan. Finally, I stirred it all together. 

nopales scramble! Yum! 
Meanwhile, Dan blended some prickly pear syrup, lemon lime seltzer and spiced rum to make a prickly pear cooler to have with our nopales scramble. We enjoyed a yummy brunch on the patio with a lovely view of hummingbirds pollinating our prickly pear blossoms. More fruit to come! 

Now that's what I call stewarding in place! 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Help needed mapping activities along the Santa Cruz River

The Soronan Institute can use our help in Mapping Activities along the Santa Cruz River

This interactive map and survey about the Santa Cruz River will help answer these questions: Where along the Santa Cruz River do you visit? Why do you choose to go there? What improvements would you like to see? Community responses will inform future management decisions about how to enhance and improve the Santa Cruz River.

Anyone familiar with the river may participate, though we are specifically looking to hear from residents of river communities. This includes the areas of Nogales–Rio Rico, Amado–Green Valley–Sahuarita, and the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Feel free to share.

- Posted April 30, 2019

Contact with questions.

Actividades de mapeo en el río Santa Cruz,

Este mapa interactivo y cuestionario sobre el río Santa Cruz ayudará a responder estas preguntas: ¿Qué sitios a lo largo del río Santa Cruz visita? ¿Por qué elige visitar estos sitios? ¿Qué mejoras le gustaría ver en estos sitios? La opinión de la comunidad informará la toma de decisiones para un mejor manejo y gestión del río Santa Cruz. Si tiene alguna pregunta, por favor contacte a

Cualquier persona que conozca o este familiarizada con el río Santa Cruz puede llenar este cuestionario, sin embargo buscamos conocer la opinión de las comunidades aledañas al río Santa Cruz en específico, incluyendo los residentes de Nogales–Río Rico, Amado–Green Valley–Sahuarita, y el Distrito de San Xavier de la Nación Tohono O’odham.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Time to Imagine and Create a Better Place

I've been meaning to blog about wildflowers, but got distracted by the Corona Virus and worrying about how will it affect our efforts to make Tucson more sustainable in the face of climate disaster. 

It is disheartening to read about the hoarding of toilet paper and bottled water - because that means more carbon sequestering trees will be cut down and more single-use plastic will end up in our landfills and the ocean. But mostly because it reflects how our consumer society deals with crisis. Instead of pulling together as a community, we are elbowing our neighbor out of the way to grab the last package of toilet paper (making a shortage where there was none.) 

To be more resilient (or even thrive) as climate change progresses, we need to pull our community together and work towards shared goals. Obviously we aren't there yet.  But...what if we think of this first response as a test run that we can learn from?  An opportunity? What if we take advantage of our free time by reading up on sustainable solutions (like rainwater harvesting) or even trying out a more sustainable lifestyle

We finally have time for a leisurely walk, smelling the bountiful wildflowers along the way, or to enjoy being outside tending our yards in this lovely weather. We can finally  take precious time with our kids teaching them how to bake bread or grow their own food in a garden.

The other day Dan and I observed where the rain fell in our yard and adjusted our basins and berms to better direct the water to our native trees. We planted some dill and basil in our kitchen garden. Dan even baked some Irish soda bread for St. Patrick's Day.

A while ago I wrote this poem about a joyful way of living and being. At the time I realized many people are so busy just trying to survive that they don't have the time to enjoy these simple pleasures. But there was a time when only one person in the family had to have a job - so what happened? What if we adjusted our priorities?  What if we were all paid a living wage? What if we reconsidered our consumer lifestyle and spent more time in nature?  Just imagine...

Imagine this place…
Where we live in harmony with nature
Landscaping reflecting the natural beauty of the Sonoran desert
Instead of gravel and cement - agave, mesquite, palo verde flourish
Rainwater washes down roof tops to nourish fruit trees and fill aquifers
When we no longer obstruct the flow but go with it
Rivers surrounded by cottonwood and oak

Imagine this place
Where we live in harmony with others
Nurturing, inspiring the individual gifts everyone has to share
Instead of TV and Youtube - family, neighbors, community connects
Supporting local farmers, artisans, craftsmen, passionate entrepreneurs
When we no longer obstruct the flow but go with it
Talents developed with encouragement and love

Imagine this place
Where we live in harmony with the dirt
Harvesting nourishing heritage crops for everyone to share
Instead of teaching lack and fear - we teach love, justice, environmental respect
Restoring local rivers, aquifers with berms, water barrels, catchment basins
When we no longer obstruct the flow but go with it
Desert crops sprout in the dirt, roots reaching for the

Imagine all the time
Time to live in the present, fully alive
To soak in the brilliance of our sunsets during an evening stroll
To feel the wind in your face as you coast down a hill
Time to take in the fragrance of creosote after the rain
To toast the spectacle of monsoon storms with your love
Time to dig in the garden with your children
To settle back and watch things grow
Time to share your harvest at a neighborhood potluck
 To paint, to read, to bake, to sing, to dance, to play…

Imagine floating on your back, you are part of the flow

Imagine this place

You don't have to go it alone. Join our community on Facebook. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Steve K Champions Plan to Use Glass that Would Have Ended Up in Our Landfills

While attending a Mayor and City Council meeting in support of green infrastructure funding, I caught the tail end of their discussion on what to do about our threatened recycling program. Apparently, the city is losing $3 million dollars a year. They discussed ways to save money. One way was to cut down pickups to twice a month. (That change has already been implemented.) They also discussed the high cost of storing glass bottles until they can find a buyer. It was suggested that they throw that glass in the landfill!


I couldn't help but blurt out, "No! Find a use for it!" Not exactly council meeting decorum, I know. But there has got to be a purpose for that glass! In Mexico they used to melt down glass bottles to make glassware. A local artist uses colored glass to decorate her cement candle holders. Since we are running out of sand, couldn't we use glass to replace it in cement structures?

When arriving at the Ward 6 Office for our monthly Sustainable Tucson meeting, my husband pointed out the new sidewalk made out of cement with sand from crushed glass!

When I mentioned the sidewalk to our Council Member Steve Kozachik, he gave me an impromptu demonstration of the glass crusher he had used to make the sand for the cement. He insisted that I try it myself. It was pretty fun.

crushing bottles with labels on them
Steve said that even the cement workers who put in the sidewalk thought it was a crazy idea to use sharp glass.  But any concerns were eased when Steve let me feel for myself how soft and fine the glass sand is.

One of the things I love about Steve K is how responsive he is to his constituents. As much as I'd like to think that my outburst inspired Steve, it was really Val Little who approached him with the idea of using the glass to make sand. She had seen it done in other countries during her travels abroad. Steve got right on it. He surfed the web and found a glass crusher for $6,000 then got the go-ahead from city manager Mike Ortega, who agreed to purchase it for a “pilot program.” 

When I asked Steve why he took on this project, he explained, "We're losing over $3M annually in our recycling program. We have to devise some creative new ways to do the whole reduce/reuse/recycle thing. This is just demonstrating that to city staff."

He told Arizona Daily Star, “What I’m doing back in the garage is really, really (low) retail scale to show the environmental services people that you can scale this up and we can do this on a commercial level. We can create our own secondary market and maybe even make a few bucks."  The sand will be used for monsoon sand bags/mortar mix/filling alley potholes/cover at the landfill/trench lining...anything sand is used for.

I was grateful to have a place to bring the kombucha bottles that were piling up on my back porch. I coudn't bring myself to throw them in the trash when they would just end up in the landfill.  So I brought a few with me when I went to the Sustainable Tucson meeting at Ward 6. 

If you were wondering why the Ward 6 garage smells like a brewery, it is because Steve first approached bars on 4th Avenue to supply him with bottles. He is currently arranging for more drop-off locations around town. In the meantime, you can drop them off in the blue bins in the back parking lot of the Ward 6 office anytime you're in the neighborhood or attending a meeting there. No need to take off the labels, but please help Steve out by removing the plastic and metal lids and dumping out any liquid beforehand.  

What's next? Steve has the city setting up multiple drop off sites around town, buying a commercial scale crusher, and letting Republic Services know that we're not doing business as usual in the recycle world any longer.

So drop by the Ward 6 office anytime with your glass bottles and to thank Steve K! 

The Ward 6 Office is located at 3202 E 1st St, Tucson, AZ (behind the Walgreens on Speedway across from the Loft Cinema.)