Farming for rain?

I’m not wild about bottled water. It just seems for the most part a big waste of money. Most tap water tastes OK, and if it doesn’t, filtering it in a special water pitcher takes care of that problem.

But sometimes, when traveling, I forget to bring a water container or don’t have access to tap water and end up buying bottled water. Recently I bought a bottle from a company called Oregon Rain. I read labels. It’s just part of my background. I’m always interested in what other food companies choose to say on their labels as labeling language ends up part of my job sometimes.

This label really threw me with their description of their product. Oregon Rain calls it’s water “Virgin Water” because it has never been touched by the earth. It is “pure rainwater, harvested from Oregon Skies on sterile sheets and then filtered, and pasteurized to ensure uniform quality and purity.”

Does it strike anyone else as very odd to describe rainwater as being harvested from the skies? My grandparents had a cistern at their house (if I remember correctly) that was used to store rainwater. But I doubt they ever considered themselves rain farmers!

I read this article in the New York Times about rain water.

Who would have ever thought that it could be illegal to capture the rain that falls on your yard?

Hunting for morels

Every year we hike into areas that have wild mushrooms. I am certain that I can identify morel mushrooms. And know that they are very prized as being very good to eat.

I also know what false morels look like. And know you shouldn’t eat them.

On a recent hike into the Cascade mountains, I noticed a morel mushroom.

Morel Mushroom

Morel Mushroom

When I picked it and showed it to Carrie and told her what it was, she commented that she’d seen some earlier but didn’t know what they were. As we continued hiking I found a few more.

I also found some false morels, which I didn’t pick.

False Morel

False Morel

So I brought the morels home, let them sit in the refrigerator for a few days, then discarded them, as I always do. I keep thinking that we should give them a try, but I just am not quite ready to fully trust myself on this one. Since I’ve never tasted them, I also don’t know what I’m missing, so I’m not filled with regrets either.

Isn’t that seem odd? I’m always excited to find morels but never as excited about actually eating them.

Lupine heaven

The main street of Joseph Oregon is filled with lush plantings of lupines, columbine, poppies, and other flowers.

planter boxes on main street in Joseph Oregon

And bronze art work. There is a bronze foundry in town. I would have liked to have taken a tour, but we weren’t in town when they were open.

IMG_1838

And friendly people.  We drove in from Wallowa Lake Lodge for morning coffee, stopping at a little expresso cart.  I ordered a mocha for me and cup of coffee for Dave then went to sit at some of the outdoor tables (luckily under cover as it was raining).  A woman sitting at  nearby table struck up a conversation, saying it was too bad it was raining as the mountains are so beautiful but you can’t see them well in the rain.  We’d arrived yesterday during very nice weather so had seen the dramatic backdrop to the city.    We talked a little more about various things.  Then I returned to Dave and my mocha.  At some point a woman from inside the main building brought out a huge bowl of fresh cherries and put them on the table where the other two customers were sitting (the “locals” I’d been chatting with).  The woman at the table invited me to help myself and so I did, enjoying the first cherries of the season.  The crop is late this year in the Yakima valley, so it was very enjoyable to gobble down some sweet cherries.

Thanks, Joseph Oregon, for the beauty and friendliness.

Literary outposts

We took a short vacation trip to Northeastern Oregon. It’s beautiful country with high mountains and deep canyons and lakes and all kind of landscapes that take my breath away…..

DSCF3382

….Partly from the beauty, partly from how scared I am as I hold my breath in sheer terror thinking we’ll soon be falling off the side of the road and maybe someday having a nice little plaque placed on the side of the cliff remembering us. Don’t you always wonder when you see something like that – a small homemade memorial to lost family members who must have died in an accident on a treacherous road? Flowers placed where a car left the road, little signs with names of beloved family members.Maybe other areas of the country aren’t so direct with these reminders?

We stayed at an old lodge on Wallowa Lake. It was a charming place, and thankfully hidden from the video arcades and bumper boats and other nearby tourist junk.  From the lodge property we could watch bald eagle babies and parents in a nest high in the trees near the lodge, and ate at the restaurant one evening.  The food was OK – good but not great.  More interesting was the waitress.  I asked her something about living in this area and she told me that she worked for  a literary non-profit in nearby Enterprise, Oregon.   She said it was named Fishtrap and then told me about some of the things they did,

In my head, I’m already imagining Carrie and Robb moving to a place like this and Dave and me moving nearby to be closer to them. Then reality hits. Yes, the waitress is working for this literary non-profit. And waiting tables on the side. Food for the soul isn’t always enough to provide food to the body. Still, it’s a nice dream.

Greek yogurt for beginners

So simple …. So incredibly good.

Carrie visited earlier this week and we enjoyed a low key vacation together. We did some mountain hiking (yea! even if I did get kind of winded from the climbing). We also messed around in the kitchen. She was interested in making Greek yogurt, so we did some testing. We made yogurt like I did a few weeks– except this time I used whole milk. As before, it was just a matter of heating the milk to 190F, cooling to 120F, then adding yogurt with live bacteria cultures and setting it on the counter top wrapped in towels for 6 or so hours. After yogurt was set, we drained it for a few hours in a dishcloth set in a colander over a pan. After I had poured off the liquid I realized that I should have measured how much liquid came out – it seemed like a quarter to third of the volume but I am curious just how much it was.

After a few hours when there no longer seemed to be much liquid draining off, we used a spatula to scrape the thickened yugurt into a container and placed it in the refrigerator.

Final yogurt – thick, rich and great tasting. We ate it with granola and berries. Carrie suggested that we try it also with lentil soup or tzatziki, a Greek salad with cucumbers and Greek yogurt.

Our first batch was pretty tangy. I think it’s because the started culture I used had been around for awhile. We liked the results so much though that we made a second batch just a few days later. And this batch was not quite so tart. But still very good.

If you like yogurt, try this. If you don’t like yogurt, it’s probably because you’ve never had really good yogurt, and it’s all the more reason to try this!

wait…what are you doing?

Carrie is visiting.  Hurrah!!! Hurrah!!!  It’s so much fun to see her.  We’ve been taking her on so many hikes she is probably dreading our suggestions of what we can do next.  This morning I pulled out one of my cookbooks, The Best Recipe by editors of Cooks Illustrated.   It’s a cookbook I thought I’d use a lot but for some reason, I seldom pull it out.  I love reading it as it goes through all the different “experiments” they try in figuring out the best way to make all kinds of different recipes.  

Later in the day Carrie suggested she was in the mood for baking.  Sounds good to me!  She wanted to make cupcakes and pulled out the Cooks Illustrated cookbook to find a recipe.  I wasn’t paying that much attention as she got busy assembling ingredients and setting up the mixer.  Yup.  I see butter and cake flour, eggs and sugar…. looks promising.  But suddenly she made a comment along the lines of “hmmm.  mix until flour and butter look pebbly and about the size of peas”.  What?  Is she making pie crust or cake?  Why isn’t she creaming the butter and sugar first, adding eggs next, then flour and milk?  Doesn’t she know how to make a cake?!!!  I did my best to not stick my nose into things and tried to casually ask “oh, what are you doing?”  She showed me the recipe….  and she really was following it exactly.  When the cupcakes were baking she read to me the description in the book about how they determined the best way to make a rich and tender yellow cake.  Turns out that the way I know – creaming the butter and sugar first – didn’t work as well as a 2 stage method Carrie was using.  

So, in this case the proof would not be in the pudding but in the cake.  Yup.  Carrie was right to follow this recipe.  It really does work! The cupcakes tasted very good (except the frosting, but that’s another story that starts with not having any powdered sugar at home… and ends with a recipe that just didn’t work that well.) You know, you can always scrape the frosting off if it’s a good cupcake!

Too much to try; Too little time

I think of myself as someone who likes to cook and has tried a lot of things. But I keep being reminded of what I’ve not yet done. Earlier this year I first tried making homemade pasta, and learned from my Uncle Dick (TOG) that he frequently makes it, with great success. I don’t make ice cream, but my sister Becky does. Hers is delicious. I tell myself I don’t have space in my freezer for the kitchen tools she uses.

I do follow the second law of thermodynamics very closely in my kitchen. I pride myself on being a good scientist! Ha. (yes, yes, go back and review your physics to remember that the second law of thermodynamics states that, in a system, a process that occurs will tend to increase the total entropy of the universe. Which is just a fancy way of saying that all things go to disorder, including my kitchen.) Why fight science?

My experiment this past week was making yogurt. This is an example of “how simple can something be?” I read an article in the New York Times called They Do the Work, You Reap the Yogurt. It made me think “now, why am I buying yogurt if it is this easy to make and also probably makes something better than I can buy?”. So I gave it a try. Basically, take whole milk, heat it up on the stove to 190F, cool to 120F, add 2 tablespoons of yogurt with live bacteria for every quart of milk, and let it sit overnight.

If you don’t already have one, get yourself a simple kitchen thermometer. I use a Taylor instant read thermometer.   41MHAD7EDZL._SL500_AA150_Not only for making yogurt, but checking when my bread is done, when the chicken is cooked enough, and even to see just how hot the kitchen is!

I put the yogurt mixture in a glass quart jar and wrapped it in a large towel. It sat overnight on my countertop and in the morning – voila!! – yogurt. Good tasting!  Especially if you make yourself a bowl in the morning with some homemade granola and fresh berries.  Yum.

Copper River Wild Salmon

Costco can be a dangerous place to go shopping. They have wonderful food, but the price might be steep by the time you buy the quantity that everything is sold as. We were there Saturday and I couldn’t resist the wild Copper River sockeye salmon from Alaska. It only appears once year for less than a month and then it’s gone. I had to buy several pounds for the two of us, and it wasn’t cheap. (But I paid just under $10 a pound, not the $35 a pound referenced in this Seattle newspaper article). We cooked part of it last night. Oh my…. was it good! Well worth the splurge. We don’t go out to eat in restaurants much, so I consider this a reasonable compromise.

Here is the recipe I used, and have used many times before this:

Charred Sugar-Crusted Alaska Salmon

Serves: 4

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:
Dry Sugar Rub:

2 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp chili powder

1 tsp black pepper

1/2 Tbsp ground cumin

1/2 Tbsp paprika

1/2 Tbsp salt

1/4 tsp dry mustard

Dash of cinnamon
______________________________________________

4 to 6 skinless Alaska Salmon fillets (4 to 6 oz each)

2 Tbsp canola oil

1/4 to 1/3 cup hot Chinese-style or Dijon-style mustard, if desired.

Directions:
Blend all ingredients for Dry Sugar Rub. Generously coat one side of each Alaska Salmon fillet with mixture.

Heat oil in large heavy pan over medium-high heat. Carefully place salmon fillets in pan, seasoned side down. Cook about 2 minutes to sear; turn fillets over. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking 6 to 8 minutes. Cook just until fish is opaque throughout.

Serve salmon with mustard, if desired
'Sugar Cured Salmon1

Last night I cooked the salmon as described in a pan on the stove. But I often make it on the grill and it’s even better that way.

I make this rub in the amounts listed, but only use part of it when we fix a few salmon fillets. The rest I just store for future use in a small container that originally held a “Tom Douglas Rub with Love Salmon Rub” for Etta’s salmon. Tom Douglas has several Seattle restaurants, including Etta’s, where Reed and Nancy treated us to dinner back in 2000 at the end of a visit with them to the San Juan Islands. Etta’s Salmon rub is not quite the same as this recipe as it is based more on brown sugar and smoked paprika. It’s good, but I actually like the recipe I use better. Perhaps next time I should try it with brown sugar?

The meal was rounded out with small red potatoes and
Dutch baby beets from our garden. The beets were delicious. I hadn’t planned on harvesting them yet, but when we returned from our vacation we discovered the leaves all brown and drooping. I don’t know what happened (the heat got to them?) but was pleased that even though we couldn’t enjoy the greens the roots were good.

Simple pleasures. Well, not so simple really. The salmon was expensive, and all the beets we so lovingly nourished only made a single meal, but still. A pleasure all the same.