Culinary Postcard: L.A. to Arizona’s crusty bread and Navajo tacos

LAcollage

Elliott Shaffner and Fred Turko are eating their way across country from Los Angeles, Calif., to their new home in Richmond, Va. Elliot watches the I-10 overpass and L.A’s downtown skyline recede in the distance. / Photos for AFR by Fred Turko

Armed with her grandmother’s cast-iron skillet and a jar of bacon grease, Elliott Shaffner and her boyfriend Fred Turko tossed Eduardo (a feisty 10-year-old chihuahua) and Byron (a 13-year-old beagly mix) into their 10-year-old Toyota and struck out for Richmond, Va., where family – and the food Elliott grew up with – await.

Over the next few weeks, they’ll send us culinary postcards, snapshots of what they ate, who they ate it with and what it means to the place they’re in. Follow them here and live on Twitter at #eatingourwayhome. Slideshow photos are by Fred Turko.

arizona-stamp-2 We’ve loaded up our 2003 cobalt blue Toyota Matrix – me, Fred, the two dogs, Grandma Janie’s cast-iron skillet and my bacon drippings — and made it to Phoenix, Ariz. Our first stop: a meeting with the legendary Chris Bianco, creator of what is purported to be the greatest pizza  outside of Italy.

The pizza is great, but we were focused on bread. We met Chris for a tour of his café, Pane Bianco, where his brother Marco bakes the bread and mills the wheat that they grow and from which they make their own flour. Yes, they do it all. And remember, we’re in Arizona where you’d be more likely to think good tacos than good bread.

After our tour, with tastes of biscotti here and gelato there, Chris sat with us and talked about what inspires him, of which food is but a slice. He talked about rectangles, triangles and circles. Pizza is circle, a slice is a triangle, the space is a rectangle. Nothing is permanent so everything should be on wheels (which are circles). Wheels are circles. Everything in Pane Bianco is on wheels.

He sent us on our way with hugs, a bottle of chilled rosé from his restaurant (the label is from a painting of a rose that his father gave his mother), and told us to pick out one of the loaves that had just come out of the oven – the one that “spoke” to us.

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And back on the road we went – to infinity: The Grand Canyon. We got there in time to watch the sunset, crack open the bottle of rosé and eat that beautiful fresh bread with some Italian cheeses we picked up in Flagstaff. And yes, the bread was remarkable – mouth injuringly crusty on the outside, yet moist, airy and filled with beautiful air pockets on the inside. I have goose bumps even writing this.

winslow

Fred Turko is standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Ariz. / Photo by Elliott Shaffner

The next morning we were on the road early Fred slowed down and pulled off into a small town. We had been driving down the main drag, Route 66, when Fred turned to me and flatly explained, as though it was quite obvious), “I want to be standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.

Oh, of course.

We pulled over, leashed up the pups and went to find The Corner, which was not hard. After Fred posed for the obligatory I-was-here photo, we began to wander and stumbled across the 15th Annual Standin’ on a Corner Festival. We found a vendor selling tacos on Navajo fry bread (unusual even in L.A.), wandered back to the car and had our lunch.

bird As we sat in the sun, noshing on this new kind of taco, I looked around and remembered Chris Bianco’s words on unexpected beauty. I looked down at my pizza-shaped taco loaded with meat, cheese, tomatoes, green onion, lettuce and salsa with the fry bread glistening with hot oil. I thought about how I relish this singular adventure with Fred and our dogs. I looked up and saw a bird fly above us. And it was beautiful.

More to come from the road …

road

Makes 6 breads

Navajo Fry Bread

Fry bread is a common Native American flat bread and can be eaten alone or with various toppings. This recipe is adapted from The Pioneer Woman website.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder (slightly rounded teaspoons)
  • 3/4 cups milk
  • Water as needed to get dough to come together
  • Vegetable shortening or lard for frying

Instructions

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt and baking powder and salt. Continue to stir with a fork as you pour in the milk; keep stirring for a bit to get it to blend. Add just enough water (about 1/4 to 1/2 cup) to get it to come together. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it rest for 35 to 45 minutes.

When you're ready to make the fry bread, heat about 1 to 2 inches shortening/lard in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Grab a plum-sized piece of dough (or larger if you want larger fry bread) and press it into a circle with your fingers. Place it on a clean surface and begin pressing in the center and work your way out, stretching it as you go.

When the circle is about 4 to 7 inches or however big you want it, carefully drape it into the skillet. Allow it to fry on one side until golden brown, about 1 minute, then carefully flip it to the other side using tongs. Fry it for another 30 to 45 seconds.

Remove the fry bread to a paper towel-lined plate and allow it to drain while you fry the other pieces.

Serve warm.

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One Response to Culinary Postcard: L.A. to Arizona’s crusty bread and Navajo tacos

  1. Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
    Domenica Marchetti October 9, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    I thoroughly enjoyed this dispatch from the road and look forward to the next installment. The photos are wonderful. Thanks for sharing them Elliott and Fred. I can’t believe that I hadn’t heard of Pane Bianco and I’m glad to know about it. I had, of course, heard about that famous corner in Winslow, Arizona. I thought I should share this link to a version by Jackson Browne, who co-wrote the song with the Eagles’ Glen Frey (It’s the first track on Browne’s second album, For Everyman). Yes, I grew up in the ’70s.