Whoa Nellie

OK.  So here we were.  Driving through the Eastern Sierra Nevadas of California.  I had done some reading ahead of time, so that I kind of knew the route we were taking and also-  just in case – if there were places with food worth stopping to sample.  I did find an article in a blog about a place near Mono Lake, California that seemed interesting.  We took a day trip up into Yosemite National Park, and on the drive out of Tioga Pass we went past the Tioga Gas Mart, also the home of The Whoa Nellie Deli.  Despite the advance reviews, I was still skeptical that this Mobile gas station was really the place I wanted to stop for dinner.  From the outside, there were lots of gas pumps visible.  And lots of cars.   It also did have a very pretty view of Mono Lake, with some outside picnic tables on a lawn.  And, we were hungry after hiking up at Yosemite and I was willing to check the place out.  Even though I’d read about it before hand, I was still caught by surprise.  Very interesting looking menu (all deli style – order at the counter and wait around for your name to be called when your food is ready).  I noticed several items with huckleberry bbq sauce, something perhaps to try in the future with some of the huckleberries in my freezer.  But on this visit, we decided to try the “World Famous Fish Tacos”.   Since we often drive by a restaurant with a sign on the way to Chinook Pass (just west of Yakima) that advertises “world famous fish and chips” I don’t put much value to bragging of that sort.  But still, the menu descriptions for the Whoa Nellie Deli fish tacos sounded good – “one w/ mango salsa, one w/ ginger coleslaw served w/ brazilian black beans”.  I was game.  Wisely, I’d suggested we share one order.  When the order was ready, I was handed a huge platter with two giant fish tacos.  The mango salsa was wonderful.  I sometimes make mango salsa using a recipe from The Joy of Cooking.  It always turns out good served with steak or salmon.  I hadn’t thought about it with tacos, but it was a good combination.  The ginger coleslaw one was also good.

I ended up wishing we weren’t just passing though but had been able to stop by for another meal…. Even though it was windy and kind of cool, we enjoyed sitting outside at a picnic table enjoying both the view and the food.  The best Mobile gas station I’ve ever become acquainted with.

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Where our old clothes go after retirement…..

On our recent trip through eastern California, we visited a date palm grove.  It wasn’t far from Death Valley, and I remain (as always!) fascinated by all subjects related to food.  Oh, I also adore dates!  Eating dates must be like what drug addicts do when they shoot drugs into their veins (I’m not familiar with that, really, so I probably am not describing it right).  But dates deliver a high rush of concentrated sugar in a very delicious form.  I love them.  So I couldn’t resist seeing how they are grown.  We visited China Ranch, near Tecopa, California.  As we left Death Valley (Oh, so aptly named!), we continued driving through landscapes that looked liked very much the same….. no vegetation, blazing hot.  We followed the signs to China Ranch.  What an interesting approach!  The road went from paved to non-paved, and starting dropping into a very narrow canyon.  After several miles, we suddenly (!) entered an oasis of lush, green palm trees.  I now know where the name oasis comes from.  Such a surprise.    Notice the barren hills surrounding palm trees.

China Ranch Date Grove

China Ranch Date Grove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m originally from Wisconsin.  We don’t have deserts or palm trees. We do have very good desserts.   But I really find it fascinating to see how food I like is grown.  (why didn’t I join the FFA in high school????  I’m not sure.  But I did graduate from the University of Wisconsin’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.)  So, we drove into the date grove, and I was really surprised to find all these old clothes up in the trees.  I read up later to find that as the dates ripen, they need to be protected from insects and birds

all dressed up with nowhere to go

all dressed up with nowhere to go

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cluster of dates

cluster of dates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we wandered through the date grove, I kept thinking about all the stories there must be in the trees. Perhaps my poet son-in-law Robb, or story teller daughter Carrie,  know  how to tell their tales.   What happened to the  little girl who wore that red gingham dress?   Did the man with the striped dress shirt ever guess where his shirt ended up?  Will my pillow cases have life on a date farm after they are done protecting my pillows?  Does the Bethesda Thrift Store in Wausau, Wisconsin have a secret  program providing protection to sensitive fruits?  Are old clothes in date groves part of the witness protection program?  Well, now I’m getting silly.  Still, I enjoyed out visit.  Next time I eat dates I will have a lot to think about.

Please don’t feed the coyotes

We just got back from a trip down to the SW.  I was attending a food convention (Supply Side West) in Las Vegas (Lost Wages) and we decided to make it a vacation drive by taking some vacation days off from work.  We left Selah late Thursday a week and half ago and slowly worked our way down to Nevada by way of the eastern Sierra Nevada’s.  Several days into the drive we entered Death Valley National Park.  What a name!  What a place!!  I thought I was used to spare landscapes from our NW arid regions, but this place really is the king of sparseness.  Vast landscapes with no apparent plants or animals.  Yet we saw this road sign repeatedly:

don't feed the coyotes

don't feed the coyotes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At first it really seemed a humorous road sign, one I’ve never seen before.  (Dave thought it looked like the coyote was vomiting into a person’s hand.)  Then we kept seeing coyotes on the side of the road. We are used to hearing coyotes howling at night in Washington state.  And seeing them furtively running far away from the roads.  But in the Death Valley the coyotes were on the near side of the road, looking pretty cute to my way of viewing things.  There must be a lot of tourists who also think they look both cute and needy.  I didn’t feed them.  But it did make me consider opening a Death Valley coyote rescue facility as I really couldn’t see what these wild coyotes could possibly be finding to eat. 

All these food blogs I write, yet I feel guilty wanting to feed the wild animals that I KNOW I can’t feed if they are to stay wild.

The Crush

It’s that time of year again.  Fall.  Which in the Yakima Valley brings ripe fruit.  It’s a busy time at work with new crop apples and pears and grapes all competing for time to be made into juice.  And the same story repeats itself in some of my  hobbies.  Fall means that wine grapes are ripe and it’s time for our “veterans” group of winemakers to get busy and make next year’s BOTE wine.  We first met last week to crush the white wines.  Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay this year.  We ran hundreds of pounds of grapes through the crusher/ stemmer, then through the press to get the juice the will “magically” turn into wine by next summer.  This week we crushed hundred of pounds of reds (600 or so pounds) – both lemberger and merlot.  At 22 Brix, they weren’t quite as high in sugar as hoped, but it’s been a hard growing season, with a lot of unseasonably cool weather.  These grapes will “sit on the their skins” as they begin fermenting for the next week before pressing so that they develop more red color.

So, what compels me to spend an evening for three weeks in the fall, and an afternoon in the summer, making and bottling wine?  Well, I like to drink the wine we make.  And it’s cheap, as we each kick in about $35 for supplies to bring home nearly 3 cases (36 bottles) of wine.  But mostly, it’s a fun way to spend some time with like minded folks.  As we crush the grapes, we also get a chance to mull over the day’s events, crushing the frustrations away also.  Group therapy.   Ahh.  Relaxation takes many diverse forms.

In love with huckleberries

It’s now early October and we never got out huckleberry picking this summer. We usually go up to the Wenatchee National Forest west of Yakima sometime in late August or early September to pick berries,

Sue's hands after berry picking

Sue's stained hands after berry picking

 but this wasn’t a good year. The weather has been unseasonably cold, and all the fruit – cherries, peaches, apples – in the valley has ripened later than usual. We had our eyes open looking for ripe berries early last month, but the berries were still green on the huckleberry plants we found. Which means they just won’t ripen this year in those areas. There are some areas of the state that have an earlier harvest.

 

 

Just like wild strawberries, huckleberries are a wild blueberry that are small and bursting with berry flavor.

Huckleberry plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An area in the southern part of Washington State  (around Trout Lake, south of Mount Adams) was reserved in 1932 for use by the Yakama Indians for huckleberry harvesting by a “handshake agreement” between Yakama Indian Chief William Yallup and Gifford Pinchot Forest Supervisor K. P. Cecil.  The agreement is not always respected as completely as I think it should be.  Agreements are agreements, whether made by handshake or formal written law, yet I know many people who bristle at the “Indians” getting special treatment.  I have so such problem.  I was delighted to find a Yakama Indian woman at the farmer’s market in Yakima in August selling wild huckleberries picked in this “handshake agreement” area. (and yes, I do have the spellings correct.  The city is Yakima. The Indian Tribe decided some years ago that their tribe should be spelled Yakama.  All just to confuse things, I think…)  The berries were expensive, but the gas it would take to get us to the berry fields is also costly.  I look forward to many delightful breakfasts of huckleberry pancakes or desserts of huckleberry cheesecake.  Come visit!!!

Popcorn sprouts?

Last year I was listening to a podcast of The Splendid Table and there was a part of the show where they were talking about making popcorn sprouts. Yes, like bean sprouts only using popcorn. The claim was they tasted like sweet corn. The idea bubbled around in my head for a long time and I finally tried it. Last weekend I soaked some popcorn in water overnight, then drained it and rinsed it daily.

popcorn sprouts

popcorn sprouts

They did sprout. I tried a few of the sprouts and agree that, yes, they really does taste like sweet corn. Lots of intense flavor. But you can’t eat the seeds, so it seems like it would be a chore to separate the sprouts from the seeds.  Oh – isn’t that a pretty plate?  (Thanks, Becky)

I’ll chalk this up as another experiment. The results weren’t worth much, but fun all the same. I don’t think I’ll do it again. Instead, I’ll pop the corn, add a little melted butter and popcorn salt, and enjoy it that way instead. Perhaps as Kristin suggested (for what says she might do when Neil and Alexander are in England), a glass of wine would be a good accompaniant. But I’ll keep trying. I love seeing familiar foods in unfamiliar settings.

Play with your food. My mantra day after day.