I explained a few weeks ago that I’ll be spending the next two years in Placitas, N.M., a city about halfway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. My sweetheart, aka Shorty, is a nurse, and she made a two-year commitment to a hospital in Albuquerque.
My column will continue to run in this space, but after this week it may sound a little different. You see, for the last five years I’ve syndicated “Flash in the Pan,” which means after it appears in the Independent a slightly altered version runs in other newspapers, from Memphis to Monterey Bay, San Antonio to Anchorage—over 50 papers in all.
With my moving to New Mexico, the Independent will now run the syndicated version of Flash, but with one important distinction: I will keep doing a Missoula-specific Q&A at the bottom of this page. I’ll rely on my extensive network of connections and spies in and around the Garden City, and as always will welcome the opportunity to function as a conduit for local foods at home.
Indeed, Missoula is still home, even though in the short term I’ll be playing house in the desert.
It’s beautiful here. The rocks glow, and herds of wild horses roam the canyons around our house. I’ve been collecting their turds and hauling them back to the new garden spot—sometimes with the help of a good Missoula friend I’ll call Towel to protect his identity.
Towel and I wandered the painted canyons in search of “stud piles,” which are insanely large mountains of doo-doo in places that, for some reason, the boy horses choose to use repeatedly. Stud piles make collecting easy. After gathering about 1,000 pounds of wild horse crap, I roto-tilled it in, making a nice patch of fluffy and hopefully fertile soil to grow my garden.
In other news, one of the papers that’s been running my column for years is the Albuquerque Weekly Alibi. When I told the Alibi’s editor about my sabbatical here in New Mexico, she offered me the job as the Alibi’s restaurant critic. I said, “Okay.”
Each restaurant must be visited twice in order to guarantee it a fair hearing, because any restaurant can have an off night. I can review restaurants of any level, from humble taco trucks to hoity-toity haute cuisine. I can bring Shorty. I can get her drunk. I can order two desserts. It won’t suck. My reviews, which will start running in May, will be at www.alibi.com, if you want to check them out.
New Mexico will be a fun and tasty adventure, and when I return to Missoula hopefully I’ll bring some of it with me. In the meantime, when I’m not stuffing my face and writing my column, I’ll be pining for home. And here is my top 10 list of what I’ll miss most about Missoula:
10. The lilacs of spring. I only wish you could eat them.
9. Corned beef hash at Hob Nob, macchiatos at the Catalyst, apple turnovers at Le Petit, Blackfoot IPA wherever I can get it, and all of my favorite retail treats.
8. Summer sunsets on the Higgins Avenue bridge.
7. Pond hockey at Lifeline Farms, powder at the ’bowl, and all the fun and games of western Montana.
6. The Good Food Store, which has been a backbone of Missoula’s local food scene year-round for years, and the Missoula Food-Coop, which I believe will be another backbone of Missoula’s local food scene. These places are feeding good food to western Montana and supporting our local farmers. Along those lines:
4. Garden City Harvest, Missoula County Community Food and Agriculture Coalition, Montana Sustainable Growers Union (Homegrown), Western Montana Growers Cooperative and UM’s Farm to College program. All of these cutting-edge organizations are helping to write the future of food, far beyond western Montana.
3. Montana’s five week hunting season. Here in New Mexico, if you’re lucky enough to draw an elk tag, you have a four day window in which to pursue your elk.
2. My neighbors, who are all-star partners in gardening, cooking, preserving, hunting, construction projects, raising chickens, making lemon torte, and all things neighborly.
1. The farmers’ markets of summer. Ground zero of western Montana food love, and where I feel more at home and in the zone than anywhere else. Both markets will begin without me on Saturday, May 2.
While I’m gone, your e-mailed questions will be my lifeline to the Garden City. Your letters will be the rope that binds me to the mast and keeps me on a course set for home, even as the Southwest sirens sing their tempting songs of green chile, corn pollen and restaurant-reviewing expense accounts.
Ask Ari: Garden grab
Q: In light of your new residence, I wanted to inquire if your Missoula garden might be in need of an earth-loving tender. Although I have a community garden plot (soon to be graced with a Beltane pole), I am in the hunt for added gardening space as I plan to more fully embrace a seasonal, local diet this year. I would be delighted to tend your garden while you’re gone. —Opportunivore
A: Ha! Your question reminds me of that old Eddie Murphy comedy skit about the guy who got hit by a car. “Oh man, you got hit bad,” sympathizes Murphy. “Yeah, that’s terrible. I don’t think you’re gonna be needing that gold chain anymore. Or them shoes…”
In my case, I left behind a house full of housemates who are taking care of the garden. But this Saturday, April 11, is the big day to claim a new plot at a community garden—or if you had a plot last year, it’s the day to re-claim it.
Veteran gardeners should show up at 10 a.m. to reserve their plots, and new gardeners should arrive at noon. Gardens are awarded on a first come, first served basis.
For more information on the various garden locations, and contact info for the garden managers, go to http://www.gardencityharvest.org/programs/gardens.html.
Q: I am in Missoula and I need to find a kitchen to use for prepping food for a new food booth at the People’s Market this upcoming summer. I will be making some awesome fried potato burritos and french fries using as much local stuff as I can get my hands on. —Kitchen Aid
A: The Mission Mountain Market in Ronan is set up for small-scale food enterprise, but it’s a drive. Readers, does anyone know about local commercial kitchen space for rent or share?
Send your food and garden queries to email@example.com