Sunday, October 9, 2011

Out for a stroll

It's early Sunday morning and unusually "crisp" for this time of year: still only in the 50s. We savor this break from the heat and gladly put on our sweaters for a walk or stroll in the morning's gentle light. Yesterday, we walked along the Rillito River which, I must describe for non-Arizona readers, is without water for all but the heaviest of monsoons or mountain snow run-offs. This year, because the rains lingered in September, the vegetation along the banks is deep green and we spotted late blooming yellow flowers and black-eyed Susans bobbing along the mesquite and palo verde bushes. Dogs and their owners were pounding the sand and a red-tailed hawk lifted along the thermal drifts.

This morning, as I sit and write, it is the parade of our neighborhood dog walkers strolling by--some retired couples or singles, a few early rising UA students, all with a dog or two on leash, enjoying this brisk autumn air.

I am watering my lazy morning glory so that her blue blossoms will last a bit longer into this season. I think that vine has become a symbol of this year for me. It planted itself next to a dying oleander and began its climb up the dead branches a couple of months ago. It is now filling out that empty space with huge leaves and blossoms and surprises me every day with its persistence growth. I like to think its endurance represents my spirit and so I water it to keep it widening its arch across the back patio.

Is there a tree, a plant, a flower or vine that symbolizes your growth or spirit this year? And have you tended it, and yourself, well?

Monday, October 3, 2011

La Cocina Restaurant Cantina and Coffee Bar

Do you want to savor a succulent pulled pork (or pulled chicken) and gouda sandwich that my husband, the conference-traveler, says "is the best since I ate in Tennessee?" Start a meal with a soft, thin quesadilla (here served without green chilis per my request), with sides of chunky quacamole and salsa? Or you can pick another item: there are many more choices on the menu from La Cocina, located at 201 N. Court Ave./Old Town Artisans in Tucson. The owner, Jo Schneider, also owner of Bentley's Coffee and Tea which I reviewed earlier, has a gem of a location just footsteps away from the Tucson Museum of Art, Public Library and government offices and parking was easy for us to find (after 5 p.m.) on a side street.

We visited her place on Thursday night before we went to Cinema La Placita. It was a lovely early autumn evening so we sat outside and enjoyed the golden light in the plaza and watched the trees change color as the sun set. As darkness unfolded, twinkling lights came on and so did local musician Stefan George who played his acoustic guitar and sang vintage ballads to us and others gathered for a fine meal. La Cochina offers gluten-free menu options, a wide range of veggies and protein in the form of chicken, tofu and tilapia. Her breads (such as the ciabatta which my hubby said "hugged the pork perfectly") comes from the Tucson Bake House.

Service was attentive, friendly and paced so that we could enjoy the music and our meal. If I had wanted to, I could have leisurely shopped the galleries and shops, but I will do that on another night. We saved room for dessert and so glad we did: a fudge-icing brownie that Jo described aptly as "chocolate on steroids." She told us it was a homemade recipe and the "birthday cake of choice" by her two sons.

Jo is dedicated to making La Cocina a downtown foodie success and she is open seven days a week with brunch on Sundays. Her commitment to the Tucson community goes back thirty years and we Tucsonans and visitors need to do our part to keep this gem glowing in downtown Tucson. So visit La Cochina next time you are in the area and say "hi" to Jo as you settle in for a taste from her kitchen.