So much has happened in the last few weeks that it is hard to know where to begin. In short, I was living in Denver, CO, spent a week wandering the desert, drove across the country, and now I'm back living on the east coast in Charlottesville, VA where my current surroundings resemble a rainforest. Things have been dramatically nomadic and I've been absent from this space for too long. Perhaps I am still not ready to explain everything, well, at least my emotions of coming back to the east coast, my mind is still deciding how I feel about it. I can however provide you with some delicious pizza recipes I have been sitting on for a few weeks (sitting on the recipe that is... sitting on pizza for that long would be, erm, um, gross). I figure you need to make these before all our beloved summer veggies disappear. The first pizza, the basil pesto one, was inspired by happyolks, she is a love and so are her recipes. I made my own version of it recalling the beautiful photos in her post. The second was concocted from a desire to use some garden eggplants and my love for baba ganoush (a spread related to hummus but with eggplant instead of chickpeas). The eggplant pizza is amazing, my definite favorite of the two, but... why do you have to pick when you can make both?
I do want to share with you the experience of camping in the desert for a week. The harshness and beauties of the desert are so extreme that I barely feel as if it happened. While you are there, the intensity of emotion and feeling is so strong, that when you look around and there is no one else in sight for miles, you kind of have to question if it is reality.
The first day was spent driving through western Colorado and pretty much, all of Utah. Utah is a drastically changing landscape. It is as if Utah decided to mimic a rubrics cube throwing on various faces of mountain, desert, farmland, and forests as easily as shifting squares of color. We ended our tour de Utah when we reached Zion National Park, but since we arrived so late in the day all the walk-in tent sites were full. In the state of Utah you can camp anywhere on public land for free and we cozied up on some BLM land near Zion. The skies were beautiful and streaked with meteors during the peak of Perseid meteor shower. Out there the skies are so huge, it appears as if the meteors last longer, their tails slowly fading out instead of quick flicks across the sky. The next day we hiked around Zion and up several miles into the canyon carved out by the Virgin River. Wading up the shaded canyon in the cool waters felt like paradise contrasting against the heat of the desert sun soaked into our skin. I couldn't help but think of pottery while rubbing my hand across the sandstone walls, layers of minerals deposited in a most unique glaze. The Virgin River: master sculptor.
WIld buffalo grazing, painted skies, and lush aspen forests were in our future at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Did you know the north rim is heavily forested? You could be lost in there for days never guessing you were in Arizona. The Grand Canyon is unbelievable... read it the way some people pronounce it with emphasis... un-be-liev-a-ble. It really is. Standing there the canyon does not only smack you with beauty but with questions of history and expanse of time. I couldn't help but envision the landscape as relatively flat with the snake of blue Colorado River flowing through it and then watch it carve and chip away the layers of earth into the vision I was seeing before me. The temperature was a pleasant 77 degrees and dipped down to 40 during the night as we slept huddled under the branches of aspen and pine, watching shadowy figures of deer grazing nearby through the window of the tent.
While driving to Glen Canyon we got sent on a very long, unexpected detour through Arizona. We will call it 'taking the scenic route.' When we reached Glen Canyon we grabbed a forest road map and picked a road the headed towards the water. The road was an unpaved dirt road that criss-crossed over several dry washes and through mini-canyons and opened up to a sandy bank. As the only ones out there; we spilled out of the car and headed straight for the water where we spent the rest of the afternoon. The sky faded into brilliant color over the lake, reflecting a perfect image of the horizon's beauty right back up to the sky as if she were admiring herself in the mirror. We decided to camp out there since we found campfire rings left behind from previous folk. We wished for no rain for the road getting back would be flooded and we'd be stuck until it dried out, and fortunately, luck was on our side. All night long I heard the excited yipping, yapping, and howling of coyotes hunting for rabbits and birds. They get especially loud after making a kill. I've camped and lived around coyotes, hearing them in the night is not a new thing for me, but I've never heard them that closely before or ever that many. I never get tired of listening to them, they are beautiful.
I had visions of popping a car tire on the treacherous roads we drove out on the next day, I worried we would be stuck in the desert waiting for someone to come along and rescue us. We would have to drink the melted ice water in our cooler to stay alive and when that ran out I'd be searching for yucca root and we would be half-dead when someone found us. Dramatic? Yes, but that is what my mind does. It took us 4.5 hours to go 40 miles on this dirt road until we finally reached the highway. In the beginning we drove up sandstone mountains to the top of the plateau, the view was phenomenal and terrifying. We realized it was too late to turn around and we were on this road for the long haul, avoiding loose boulders and sharp rocks. The arid landscape stretched on forever and I became very familiar with the twisted and gnarled trunks of juniper and the skeletons of creeks that resurrect during rain. We spent the day and night at Capitol Reef National Park. This place is so appropriately named, I felt like I was walking through a coral reef of red sandstone flecked with lush green plant life exploding from the river, just like tropical fish pop with colors against the unending blue of the sea. Early mormon settlers came to this place and planted acres of orchards, irrigating them with runnels from the river. It seemed surreal, a weird sort of oasis wandering under the dappled shade of apple, pear, apricot, cherry, and peach trees with the views of dry sandstone desert moving into view at the end of the rows. There is so much life and hidden history of the desert. Despite how harsh the desert is, it can be so life-bringing, so colorful. The bands and palette of reds, browns, and orange that streak through rock faces in layers. The brilliant papery blooms of flowers, the deep greens of foliage and cactus. The grays and whites of dried juniper trunks. Huge flows of green that kiss alongside the rivers, cutting the red landscape into two pieces. Pristine teals of river water paved in every imaginable color with stones sanded into smooth rounds. The skies at all times of the day; the morning with their soft glows of color, mid-day it is an idealistic sky with blues so bright and clouds billowing as if it was ripped from a storybook page, and the sunsets are vibrant bands of color growing more intense until the sun blinks out and the milky-way emerges with not a single artificial light to compete with it.
I'm continually amazed at the early Pueblo people and other Native American tribes in the four corners, how brilliant and intuitive these people were/are. At the end of our trip we got to spend time at Mesa Verde, I long to be able to live like that. I'm devastated that those civilizations ended and mystified as to why. I'm even more devastated at the ending of later Native American civilizations, and ashamed as to why that happened as someone who comes from both European and Native American descent (like many of us do). The four corners region, culture and landscape is perhaps, one of the oldest regions in the country, the most amazing, and it still feels like a secret.
Recipe (Makes two pizzas)
Pumpkin seed oil. Ok ya'll, you really should get some of this stuff. Not only does it have amazing benefits, especially good for vegetarians as an omega source, but it tastes awesome. It has a deeper, almost smokier flavor, obviously very reminiscent of pumpkin seeds. I get mine from here Mountain Rose Herbs and theirs is cold pressed, organic, and unrefined. In this pesto recipe you can of course substitute the pumpkin seed oil for olive oil, but if you get around too it, try the pumpkin seed!
Quick Dough (For 2 crusts)
Baba Ganoush, sweet pepper, and arugula salad pizza.
Eggplant - 1 small/medium eggplant.
Lemon juice - 2 lemons
Tahini - 3TB
Olive oil - about 1/4 cup plus extra for drizzling
Salt/pepper - to taste
Sweet peppers - 6-8 sweet peppers chopped into slivers
Fresh cilantro - small handfull
Fresh arugula - 3-4 handfuls
Feta - 4TB (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the whole eggplant in the oven on a baking sheet on the top rack and place another baking sheet filled with hot water on the bottom rack. Bake the eggplant for 30-40 minuets. Meanwhile chop up your sweet peppers into slivers. Remove the eggplant and let it cool until you can handle it. After you take the eggplant out, reset the oven temperature to 500 degrees. Once you can handle the eggplant, peel the skin off and discard the skin except for a few, small pieces. Add in the eggplant and few skin pieces into a food processor or blender along with juice of 1.5 lemons, tahini, and salt. Drizzle in olive oil while blending and stop when it has reached a consistency similar to hummus.
Roll out your pizza dough on a flourd surface and transfer to a baking sheet. Spread over the eggplant spread (baba ganoush), top with the slivers of sweet peppers, then sprinkle over feta (omit for vegan), and then sprinkle over cilantro. Rub the crust edges with olive oil and then bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden. Meanwhile massage the fresh arugula in a bowl with the rest of the lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt/pepper. Once the pizza comes out of the oven top it with the fresh arugula. All ready to be eaten!
Summer pesto and tomato pizza
Fresh basil - I packed a 5ounce salad green container with basil from my garden and used that much. So about 5oz weighed.
Arugula - I had a few, large, spicy arugula leaves in my garden so I threw those in. About 1 small handful. (optional)
Garlic - 4 cloves, chopped
Pine nuts - 1/3 cup
Pumpkin seed oil - 1/4 cup plus a little extra for drizzling
Salt/pepper to taste - go light on the salt since you are adding cheese to the pizza, which is salty
Cherry tomatoes - 2cups, generous, sliced in half. Feel free to use more or less.. I just purchased so many.
Fresh mozzarella - 8ounces or to preference.
Fresh pepper - cracked over top.
Preheat your oven to 500. Throw the basil, arugula, garlic, pine nuts, and pumpkin seed oil in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Drizzling in a little extra oil as needed. Taste and adjust for salt/pepper. Set the pesto aside and slice your tomatoes. Roll out your pizza dough on a floured surface, I rolled mine out to fit a baking sheet since I did not have my pizza stones in Denver. Transfer your dough to the baking sheet. Spread over the pesto, I was generous with the amount but I had pesto left over. Spread the cherry tomatoes halves evenly and then tops with tears of mozzarella. Rub the crust edges with a little olive oil (optional). Bake in the oven 10-15 minutes until the pizza is golden brown. Crack over some black pepper and enjoy!