If you run in circles supporting local businesses, the arts, balanced living or sustainability initiatives in Arizona, chances are you've run into Monika Woolsey. She's the Director of Marketing for Chow Locally, a co-organizer of Get Your PHX/Phoestivus holiday markets, and founder of a hormone health organization (hopefully soon to be non-profit) called inCYST, which focuses on treating hormone disorders with food and complementary medicine.
With both sets of parents descending from farmers, she really believes in "the power of healthy dirt." She thinks that "if you live and eat sustainably, you greatly increase the probability that you're going to be healthier than if you don't. A big part of that is eating what is growing pretty close to home. Fortunately, in Arizona, we have a great mix of Mediterranean diet-friendly agricultural climate and a treasure trove of exotic, delicious, health-beneficial native foods. We have such an opportunity to be a marvelous food culture here--visitors to Phoenix really should be seeking out nopales, mesquite, cactus fruit, and tepary beans the way they ask for salmon in Seattle and gumbo in Orleans."
She's almost an Arizona native having moved here when she was only 9 months old from Germany. She grew up on the west side of Phoenix and spent her teenage years in Tucson. Some of her favorite food memories from growing up here include: "weekly trips to Schreiner's with her German mother all the way back in the '60's," getting lost in the cornstalks of her Mississippi-raised grandfather's backyard, banana splits at the Carnation Dairy, the smell of burning grapefruit peels on processing day at the old Squirt factory, fresh shrimp cooked on the beach at Rocky Point and her annual apple gathering trip to Oak Creek Canyon.
College and her professional career took her around the country including time in Ithaca New York, Boston, Chicago, Boulder and the Bay Area.
"Between living in so many cities and loving to travel, I've eaten in a lot of places. I am often teased by friends for always, at the mention of a city, having a recommendation for a place to eat."
We were curious about what she would choose for a perfect food day. Will she splurge or stick to a nutritious and balanced day of meals?
Here is Monika Woolsey's perfect food day:
I had a hard time narrowing down a perfect day, as I rarely eat the same thing twice. It's all good and a "repeat eat" could mean not getting to try something else new and fun! The only thing I couldn't fit in here somewhere was a good glass of Malbec. That's ok, I'll save that for another perfect day!
Breakfast: A late summer visit to the Mar Vista Farmer's Market (West Los Angeles). I'd start off by sharing nutella and spinach crepes with a friend, cruise through the dozens of different pluots at the sampling table, then finish by tasting one of each of Patricia Tsai's stone ground chocolate flavors over at the Choco Vivo booth. Better yet, plop me at a farmer's market I've never visited (Istanbul, Seattle, or somewhere in Provence, and just let me explore. I'm guessing that I might be the only person whose entire bucket list is farmer's markets I'd like to try!
Morning: An strawberry agua fresca or orange/nopales juice at Ranch Market here in Phoenix. So refreshing on one of those summer days so hot and dusty the theme song from "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" won't stop looping through your brain.
Lunch: Lunch would definitely have to be anything cooked in a fishing village along the Baja Coast. For three years, I was the interpreter coordinator for the Flying Samaritans, a charitable group that conducted free medical clinics in fishing villages in Baja California Sur. The people we helped were not allowed to pay us for our services, so to show their gratitude they would always fix us lunch. And lunch was always whatever they pulled out of the water that morning. It could be dorado, or it could be lobster, usually served with fresh cabbage and drizzled with fresh lime juice, served up in homemade corn tortillas and coiffed with a frosty Negro Modelo. But whatever it was, it was always fresh, it was always prepared with love, and it always hit the spot.
Afternoon: Café con leche on a Costa Rican beach.
Dinner: Get Tucson folks living in Phoenix together and they will invariably gravitate toward discussing one of life's big mysteries, which is why is it that Phoenix can lie so geographically close to its southern neighbor and (1) not have a single person who knows how to make those paperthin armpit tortillas Tucsonans take for granted and (2) not dry their meat on the roof? Both of those can be found in a carne seca burrito and tastily washed down with a perfectly mixed margarita on the patio at Casa Molina. When friends visit Phoenix and have an extra day for a road trip, I always send them to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Casa Molina patio, and both invariably earn rave reviews.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Dessert: Fresh berries picked on a hike in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, or fresh cherries from my mother's Onkel Gustav's tree on his German farm. No better way to end a day than with juice-stained lips and a belly full of summer fruit.