Monday, December 2, 2013

Seeking the Vortex

It's all about the vortex here. And crystals, and psychics, and chakras, and energy. Frankly, I heard more about the vortexes (vorteses? vorti?) before I got here than after I arrived, but I take no issue with folks looking for whatever makes them feel good, and there are a lot worse ways to do this than hiking through a canyon looking for an energy field. Or a space portal. Or whatever the hell it's supposed to be.

Christina had so much fun on her mountain bike yesterday that she was jonsing to hit the trail again today, so we drove back toward the Enchantment Resort where we'd had our fancy dinner on Thursday, and I dropped her off at a trailhead from where she could do a ride which would put her at another trailhead parking lot. I then drove ten minutes to the trailhead for the Fay Canyon hike and wandered on down the path. It's sad to admit, but after a while, all the spectacular red rocks and wide canyon walls start to look alike, and one (well, this one anyway) starts to get a little... if not jaded, exactly, then used to the beauty. Fay Canyon is a lovely hike which ends facing a sheer cliff wall. It took me an hour an a half to hike the 2.3 miles in and out. Again, the trail was really quiet, but much warmer than our first day's hike, and even though this was considered an easy one, there were very few people out.

Trail's end; click on photo.

After coming out of Fay Canyon, I drove back to the other trailhead which was on Christina's bike route, and ended up in the parking area just as she was riding through. We made a plan for meeting up again later and she continued on her ride while I headed down the Boynton Canyon trail. This one is about six miles RT and goes behind the Enchantment Resort, along a ridge and into the canyon. The beginning of the hike is spectacular and then you sort of lose the view as you end up in a more forested area on the canyon floor. But the big draw to this hike is the VORTEX. It's at the end of the trail or on the tail, or the tail is a landing site... or something (I really should have done more vortex research before I got to Sedona); whatever the deal was, I was open to it. I took some deep breaths, cleared my mind, and headed down the path.

photo courtesy of Gary 
Look, my theory is, the vortex is wherever you want it to be. We all can get there or find it whether we're in Sedona or Senegal. But still, for those who like having a framework for their spiritual awakenings, it was fun to think that this spot was extra-vortexy. It certainly was pretty. At one point, close to the end of the trail (and thus, closer to the actual vortex site), I saw a guy standing on the trail pointing his camera into the woods; he heard me approaching and put his finger to his lips and pointed into the trees. I had no idea what he was trying to photograph so I tip-toed over and whispered, "what are we looking at?" He pointed through the trees, and there, about 30 feet in front of us, was a young deer sitting in the leaves. And that was the moment my camera battery died. Luckily, the guy offered to take a photo with his phone and send it to me, and when I gave him my number, he immediately asked, "Washington?" when I started with "2-0-6..." This sparked some whispered chit-chat when I said I was from Seattle, and it turned out that camera-guy (Gary) grew up in Spokane, lived on Capitol Hill while going to Seattle U, and now lives in Birmingham, Alabama - that last fact was imparted with a fair amount of disdain, as appropriate for any west coaster who finds himself living in the deep south. More chit-chat ensued about Seattle and Sedona and the convoluted route that took him from Spokane to Alabama, all in whispers since the deer was still sitting right there, but eventually I had to get to the vortex at the end of the trail, and Gary was heading in the opposite direction so I told him that my friend and I would be heading out to dinner that night, and [unbeknownst to him, but in the spirit of the "People to Meet" title of this blog] he'd be welcome to join us. Which he did, at the Cowboy Club, after Christina and I had our spa appointments (shea butter body wraps) back at the hotel.

I didn't have high hopes for the Cowboy Club, it was smack in the middle of the most touristy area of town, but it did get good reviews on Yelp, and we were assured that it was a place the locals went. It was surprisingly good. We sat at the bar and the bartender was extremely nice and called me "sis" which I really liked, and we ordered some cactus fries and rattlesnake bites (Gary's idea) from her before our entrees. Anyone who knows me knows I have a fairly severe snake phobia; actually, anyone who knows me would be more familiar with my deep-seated aversion to monkeys, but that's only because the snake phobia is so strong that I don't even like to talk about it/them while I will happily expound on my dislike of monkeys to anyone who will listen. There were signs at all the trailheads about some sinister-looking black viper that was endangered or something - I don't know exactly what it said because I wouldn't get close enough to the sign to read it (photo of the snake on the sign was too vivid) and I tried really hard to put the thought that there might be snakes on the trail out of my head during all my hikes. So I wasn't really all that excited about eating rattlesnake bits or bites or whatever; as I pointed out at the bar, ingesting one didn't seem right when I hated them so, and also, I didn't want eating one to somehow (through the vortex) summon them to me. But whatevs, Gary ordered them, it would have seemed rude and wimpy not to try it, so I did. Tastes like chicken - HA! I felt I had to say that. It actually tasted like pork; old, over-cooked, semi-flavorless pork. So I don't need to do that again.

We had a nice dinner with lots of chatting about travel and adventures and why no one should voluntarily live in Alabama if they can help it. Gary was at the beginning of his vacation in Sedona so we gave him lots of tips on what to do and see - we made a point of strongly recommending Elote Cafe (which we would have gone back to that night if they weren't closed on Sundays), and told him that the Pink Jeeps were fun and the West Fork hike was great. Christina and I wished him luck in search of the vorteses (he had said he felt a little bit of a rush at the end of the Boynton Canyon trail...) and went back to the hotel to pack.

It was a fantastic trip. Active enough for me with some spa-life thrown in, great food, clear sunny days in a spectacularly picturesque town, nice friends, and good vibrations.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bring on the Bikes (and the magazines)

By Saturday, it had been at least three days since Christina had been on her bike, and she was getting antsy [she drove to AZ from Seattle with her mountain bike, stopping in Moab for several days before picking me up in Phoenix]. Luckily, there are lots of opportunities for biking in Sedona, so off to the bike shop we went. I got outfitted with a mountain bike, the bouncyness of which made me a little nervous... I mean, why would I need a full suspension bike with disc brakes when we were just going for a leisurely, easy ride, right? Well, it started out that way, but quickly turned into a rolling single-track. Thanks to my one and only lesson in downhilling ("trust the bike; look ahead not down; keep your cranks level"), I didn't kill myself but I did end up walking the bike quite a bit while Christina rolled down crazily steep steps, peddled up crazily steep steps, and cruised around hairpin turns. Still, the scenery was amazing and it was fun (kind of) but it was a long way from my beautiful, 8-speed, Italian cruiser with the basket on the front, and the thought of falling on a cactus seriously unnerved me. We rode one crazy loop together (which for CM was probably the equivalent of a ride around Green Lake) and then she took off for more bad-ass riding while I cruised up the main trail (along with the people pushing strollers and the elderly) back to the bike shop, which is also a coffee shop, to wait for her while catching up on my New Yorkers.

Christina may have earned her 4pm massage more than me, but it's a vacation not a competition.

seriously, don't fall off the bike 
at the Bike and Bean

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Elote Cafe

"You call it corn!" Remember that Native American-looking lady on TV who translated "maize" for us in the 70s? Well, maize may be the word for the corn plant (and it turns out, that lady must have been Mayan because the word comes from the Spanish), but "elote" is Spanish for the corn on the cob street food of Mexico, and based on dinner Friday night, it's a word everyone should know. Elote Cafe is pretty much the most highly recommended restaurant in Sedona, and the hour wait for our table was worth every minute. We had the specialty of the house appetizer which the restaurant is named for, but thankfully, the roasted corn had been shucked off the cob (I've had an aversion to corn on the cob since I was a teenager - all those years of wearing braces) before being mixed with spicy mayo, lime, and cotija cheese. We liked it so much that Christina bought the restaurant's cookbook just for the recipe - and the chef came out and signed it for her! Her halibut dish was as pretty as it was delicious, and my beef barbacoa quesadilla was fantastic, but once again, we stuffed ourselves to distraction.

Red Rocks and Pink Jeeps

This is what it looks like just driving around town. 
The drive from Phoenix to Sedona yesterday was spectacular, but it was getting dark by the time we got in; Sedona in the daylight is mind-blowing. We have our share of natural beauty in the Pacific Northwest, and I wouldn't trade our Seattle sound-mountain-lake views for anything, but the high desert is such an opposite kind of beauty, we couldn't stop exclaiming about it. "Ohmygod, this is SO pretty!!" was said many times during our morning hike north of town along West Fork Creek. We crossed the creek 13 times (or 26 RT) by walking on stones and logs, deep into a wide box canyon. It was deadly quiet and really cold, but the changing light along the red rock walls was amazing. Again, I wouldn't trade the mossy greens for the brilliant reds full-time, but this was new terrain for me, and it was impressive.

After our hike, we ate our leftovers for lunch on the roof-deck of the hotel, and then checked in for our Pink Jeep tour. Pink Jeep is the oldest and most prevalent jeep tour outfitter in the area, but the town of Sedona is built, island-like, in the midst of public land, so anyone with no regard for their 4-wheel drive vehicle can go wheeling around the many trails that are open to them. Our guide, Paul, installed Christina and me and a family of five into one of the jeeps and took off for the dirt. I booked the last tour of the day in order to catch the evening light, and one again, the scenery was amazing.
town of Sedona nestled below the rocks

ancient juniper tree

Traction... capital "T"

Agave plant; tequila is just a few steps away. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Dinner of Epic Proportions

I don't know if the pilgrims ate scallops with crispy pancetta and pear; prime rib with mushrooms, asparagus, sage butter and sour cream; or bourbon glazed pork chops with red cabbage braised in duck fat as they were celebrating bringing syphilis to the new world, or whatever they were doing that night in in Plymouth when Squanto came by for dinner, but too bad for them if they were chowing down on bland turkey instead.

Christina picked me up at the Phoenix airport around 3:30pm yesterday and we rolled into Sedona around 6. By 7:30 we were at the bar at the Enchantment Resort, and at 8 they seated us for dinner. Our meal consisted of the choices listed above and we stuffed ourselves mercilessly. Our options were part of the four course Thanksgiving menu, but the desserts listed were all pumpkin-based, and given that a) no one really likes pumpkin (this is my belief, I don't care what anyone says; no one in their right mind is going to choose pumpkin-anything over chocolate torte or creme brulee or any real dessert), and  b) Christina's birthday happened to fall on Thanksgiving this year, and like any normal person, she did not want the pumpkin pie-in-a-jar (WTF?) or pumpkin gelato, or whatever the third [pumpkin] option was on the set menu, so we had a serious chat with our waiter who brought us two delectable chocolate desserts instead. Many leftovers were brought back to the hotel that night, and lunch was in the bag for the next day.

the name of the restaurant at the Enchantment Resort;
I think it means "no one likes pumpkin" in Anastazi.

scallops, panchetta, pear puree.

bourbon glazed pork chop

grilled prime rib
quite possibly the best chocolate cake I've ever had

Monday, October 7, 2013

Chicken Quest

As previously mentioned, no one loves fried chicken more than I do, so when I saw David Chang of Momofuku having a fried chicken cook-off with Questlove, drummer for the Roots, on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," I knew I had to get me some of that chicken; and since reservations at Momofuku are hard to come by, it made much more sense to go to the Chelsea Market where Quest's chicken is being sold at a little counter called Hybird, even though Chang's chicken won the taste-test.

Before we got dinner though, and after the fantastic art museum, we went back to Times Square for separate matinees. Peter asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted to see "The Glass Menagerie" with him - a new staging that was getting great reviews; I read one of the reviews which described the play as "heartbreakingly good," and decided I didn't want to pay $100 to get my heart broken. Instead, I paid $50 for a balcony seat to see "First Date" which I had heard was good, but still made a mistep by not even glancing at the reviews or I might have seen this in the New York Times:
Does any of the following sound familiar? An instant lack of rapport; a growing aversion as the minutes pass; a mysterious sense that time has suddenly stopped; a desperate hope that the apocalypse will arrive, preferably right this minute. Magnify those feelings, set them to bland pop-rock music, and you’ll have some idea of the oodles of fun I didn’t have during my evening at “First Date."
The reviewer assesses the musical as being no better than a bad sitcom with the all too enthusiastic audience acting as the laugh track for this astoundingly unoriginal story. To be fair, the majority of the audience (99% women) seemed to be totally enjoying themselves, including a young woman who was sitting next to me who "awww"ed during the poignant (and I'm using that term loosely) bits and applauded wildly just where the producers hoped she would. It's not that I'm jaded about romantic comedies or romance in general, but more that I have little patience for mediocre writing making it all the way to Broadway. I mean, would a women really harp on her 30-year old sister about her biological clock ticking away? Is that really still a thing? Do people going on blind dates really set up "bail out" calls where a friend calls 10 minutes in to fake an emergency so if the date is going badly you can leave? Wouldn't you just say "so, I'm going to leave now..." and if pressed with "why?" say, "because I want to"? It was just too formulaic with not even a hint of cleverness. Oh well, I've had worse theater experiences.

I got out around 5:30pm and took a short walk back to the lobby of the Intercontinental to wait for Peter (who said "The Glass Menagerie" was indeed really good) and we headed to the Chelsea Market.

Peter made me a fried chicken dinner earlier this year which was spectacular. He used a tedious recipe from America's Test Kitchen which turned out perfectly. I guess it's not fair to compare homemade fried chicken with somewhat mass-produced fried chicken behind a fast-food counter (although the chicken was fried fresh, we had to wait a good 15 minutes for it) but still - it was no contest. I'd pit Peter's chicken against David Chang's any day.
fried chicken from Hybird
Peter's fried chicken; it wasn't even close.
Seattle has 'Market Spice' on Pike Street; New York has 'Spices and Tease' in the Chelsea Market.


I love small museums. I don't do well at large museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I have been to one time, for about 20 minutes - long enough to run in, look at a particular painting that my friend David told me to look at, and leave. I have been to Paris three times and never gone to the Lourve (and not for the same reason David Sedaris said he's never been to the Louvre: "Why would I go to the only place in Paris where you're not allowed to smoke?" [he has since, quit smoking - good for him]), but I have been to lots of small museums where you can see every single thing on display in one visit, like the Neue Gallery on the Upper East Side, which is where we went after stopping at Rex Cafe on the recommendation of my friend Chris who lives in Detroit; his friend Peter owns the place (as much as I love getting recommendations from friends about places to visit, especially if there's a personal connection, it took Herculean effort to skip the trip to Dominique Ansel's, but we did it).

The museum had some beautiful decorative pieces on display as part of their permanent collection - furniture, silverware, glassware, and some cool paintings, like this famous one above.

But the real star was a special Kandinsky exhibition. It was a stunning collection of paintings which of course I was not allowed to take pictures of (the Klimpt is off the museum's website) so here are some from the web that we saw. Nothing reproduced could come close to doing justice to the real things, but I don't want to forget them.

me, Peter, and the baristas as Rex Cafe