Then I saw a dark snow cloud that our road was heading into and looked at my tennis shoes
The idea came randomly. It was the beginning of November and last year I didn’t have a Christmas tree as I was in between homes, staying at a tiny rental studio, where my bed and my puppy’s crate were the only pieces of furniture. I did my best decorating the room with an abundance of lights making the whole space look practically like a huge tree with no gifts under, however.
This year was a bit different. I became a proud millennial homeowner. Had to have a real tree. Why not spice it up I thought. So next was the thorough search of the tree permits and zones and confusing phone calls to the forest service departments and rangers but eventually, I found a district I needed and soon enough was standing in a line tucked between trucks in front of the closed gates of the Tonto National Forest Supervisor’s Office.
Then the magic began. We all parked and rushed to the doors. All flannel shirts and boots. I got my longed for the tag with a map and some other print outs full of instructions.
It was about 70F that day and little spoke of winter. Not until it did. It was a year of El Niño. The first snow fell early in the higher elevations. But then I saw snow topping the peaks of the Valley of the Sun. My friends who live in North Scottsdale were eagerly posting photos of the cactuses cover with snow and shoveling in their driveways.
We were also taking photos while sipping our iced drinks at the local Top Golf venue. It was oven air and those heaters made it feel like Summertime.
So when I was told to pack for the camping trip to cut that tree down and that it was going to be cold — I thought “Arizona cold” and packed my sweats along with the short running socks and a pair of trail-runners.
Then we drove. The road took us through the greyish- mountain tops and down to Payson. We started out late and the sunset was imminent. We skipped fast food stops as I had a grand dinner plan. I bought a huge cast iron pot for cooking on a fire. I realized it was a bit much of the volume but it was the only option at a local outdoors store. It fit the whole bag of rice.
The dish on the menu was called ‘plov’. It is a popular Middle Eastern dish and common in Ukraine especially when it comes to the outdoors cooking. You start with throwing some lard or fat in the pot, sautéing onions and chopped carrots, stew meat and then you evenly disperse the rise so it covers the meat, pours water so that comes two- phalanges above the rice level and stuff the whole garlic in the middle. You also spice it with a generous pinch of salt, pepper, coriander, onion and garlic powder and maybe some parsley and sumrac. But the key is barberries. They are traditional small red berries that are extremely tart but great in cooking and they can soothe a sore throat or act as a sedative. They are also very rich with vitamin C. YOU CAN NOT MIX RICE UNTIL IT’S DONE.
So here we were finding the best out of all campsites (as we were the only ones at this campground), in pitch black snow blizzard. The winds were about 40 ml/hr. Our tent was a huge six- one where one can stand up easily. Dogs were confused. The chocolate lab found a deer carcass. The husky was just chilling in the snow. My fingers lost any feeling as naturally, I didn’t grab the gloves. But eventually, the tent and the cover were up.
Next was the fire. Everything was either wet or frozen and a lighter was working for a split second. Yet after some substantial skill and patience (but more so the magic of the workshop blue paper towels from Lowes) the fire was going. Really curious what they soak those towels in now.
Next, I chopped up the meat, onions, carrots, fat. The pot fits the whole bag of rice in order to at least thinly cover the rest of the layers. I realized I grabbed the brown rice too on accident so here we were shivering in the snowstorm and waiting for the healthy rice to cook.
Jameson did help. And soon we were eating our authentic Uzbek plov, getting covered with snow from the paper plates. It was the best plov I had ever made.
At night I put about all the hand warmers we brought into my sleeping bag and socks. It really helped.
After making some oatmeal in the morning and taking the dogs for a short stroll I realized that the hand warmers melt the snow stuck to my shoes and get them soaked wet.
We headed for a tree search. Perfectly sized, just a touch crooked, we took a pic with it and stuck it into the bad of a truck. Mission accomplished, seat warmers on and lesson learned.
So last week when I went to get my tag again, I put on a proper flannel shirt, and put some warm sock on the bring along list.