Thursday, March 8, 2018

Miller Woods

We've been holed up this winter trying to get ourselves back outdoors, but it has been a struggle with life just seeming to get in the way. We still don't have the dog situation figured out to let us hike further afield, so we're having to make do locally, hence our return trip to Miller Woods which is 10 minutes or so from the house.

We made the 4.5-mile loop on a day that was overcast, about 42 degrees, with a nippy wind in the exposed areas. It hasn't been all that wet this winter, so for the most part, the paths were passable with minimal mud.

Distinctive Form of Oregon White Oak, Quercus garryana

Serenaded by a California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica

Willows Blooming by Creek

Much Hiking Through Planted Trees
There are no leaves on most plants now, giving us much better sight lines that when we were last here in October. Despite the lack of leaves, spring is starting to spring with a few flowers here and there, a lot of buds, and an overall greening. I'm on a steep learning curve about western flora and fauna now. Everything looks similar, but at the same time, very different. We're no longer in Virginia.

Slender Toothwort, Cardamine nuttallii

Methuselah's Beard, Usnea longissima

Striking Indian Plum Blooms, Oemleria cerasiformis
Deer. There must be deer everywhere here if the vast quantities of tracks are to be believed. Annie, who always walks ahead of me, scared two small does back in my direction. I barely had time to get the camera around on them as they came pogoing by, like some big jack rabbits. I am guessing that these are blacktail deer, an offshoot of mule deer, not so much from the not-so-diagnostic black tails without the bounding white flag of the whitetail, but more so from the way that they tried to escape us, bouncing and shifting course with each bounce just like a scared mulie.

Blacktail Deer Starting to Bound

Blacktail Deer in Full Bound

Pretty Good Deer Habitat, Tracks Everywhere

Didn't Know Hills Had Official Summits

Lovely Oregon Grape Foliage, Mahonia aquifolium

Drifts of Naturalized Daffodils


The Little Pond Near the Parking Area
Here's a case in point in the whole feeling like an alien on the west coast thing. It's very early spring and in boggy ground, I expect to find skunk cabbage. What I don't expect is bright yellow blooms. On the east coast, the local skunk cabbage has a mottled cranberry pitcher plant-like bloom.

Skunk Cabbage in Bloom, Lysochiton americanus

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day: Cape Meares OR

Having come from the restaurant business, Valentine's Day has always been a thorn in my side. It's day on which Ann has wanted me to pay some special attention to her and it has heretofore been the busiest workday of my year, serving hundreds of couples celebrating the day. This year would be our first Valentine's Day together, ever.

And so I wanted to do something special. I made us some pastrami sandwiches on rye, grabbed a bottle of cold Prosecco, and we headed for the coast with the idea to go see the lighthouse at Cape Meares in Tillamook County, the county just northwest of ours. I wasn't sure that the weather would cooperate, but then, this is Oregon in the winter.

While the forecast was for partly cloudy weather with almost no chance of rain, it certainly rained for big stretches of the drive out Highway 18 in the direction of Lincoln City. By the time we hit the coast range, we could see light snow at elevation. At Grand Ronde, we turned northwest to cut through the mountains and to join Highway 101 at Hebo, where we headed north for downtown Tillamook. It was sprinkling on and off along 101 and pretty misty as we were leaving Tillamook headed west for Netarts and the coast.

The sun had just popped out by the time we reached Netarts and turned north for Oceanside and Cape Meares at the end of the road just beyond. Just as soon as we grabbed our mini-picnic out of the truck, it started raining fairly hard, so we retreated back to eat lunch in the truck. Fifteen minutes later, the sun was out again, but all afternoon, we watched raincloud after raincloud blow in off the Pacific and unload somewhere along the shore.

Cape Meares Lighthouse

Three Arches Rocks from Short Beach, Oceanside

Quite the Welcome Sign to Cape Meares
From the parking lot at Cape Meares, you can look down a straight trail and see the lighthouse. In the other direction are located the restrooms and the Octopus Tree, a very old Sitka Spruce with no central trunk. It's much more impressive in person than it is in the photo with no frame of reference for how big it is.

The Octopus Tree

Annie Contemplating Cape Lookout

Gorgeous Panorama Looking South

We Retreated to the Truck for Prosecco and Lunch

From the Overlook Looking North

Panorama Looking North

Watching the Waves Pound the Rocks

Full Grown Spruces Atop the Cliffs

Yet Another Rock
It's hard to appreciate how much swell there is in the Pacific here until you see it crash into a rock and send spray 40 feet in the air.

I've seen a bunch of Fresnel lenses (I admit to being fascinated by the optics/physics behind them) in my life, but this is the first time I've seen one with red glass. It turns out that this is the only one on the mainland and there is another in Hawaii.

Unique Red and White Fresnel Lens

Another View of the Lens

Another Look at the Rocks

Dramatic Backdrop for Sitka Spruce Cones

Pink and Green Sedum oreganum

Three Arches Rocks, Rainstorm Behind

Oceanside From Cape Meares

Annie Looking Out to Sea

One Parting Shot

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Friends for Dinner

We're finally settling in to the point where we can start entertaining again. So, Annie invited Valerie and Michael over to dinner. Michael's our insurance agent and Valerie and Ann had connected via a women's group to which they both belong. Long story short, Ann invited them over and let me run with a menu, mostly. She wanted to reprise the mushroom crostini that we had at New Year's Eve and I decided to keep dinner itself very simple: focaccia, an arugula salad, and porchetta. And a little plate to accompany a bottle of Port for dessert.

Thanks to Valerie for taking some of the photos below and giving me permission to use them here. Go have a look at her blog, V. Estelle Travel. It was so awesome to have someone else take pictures for once, but it looks like we both forgot to take people shots and bottle shots! Oh well, you'll have to trust us that a good time happened!

Chanterelle, Shiitake, Leek, and Taleggio Crostini
I couldn't find dried porcini to make the crostini, so I went with fresh chanterelles, which given all the rain we have had, were in really good shape. We had a bottle of Prosecco with the crostini.

Grinding Pork Trimmings for Sausage
I'm still looking for a good supplier of pork. Alas, the best I have found so far is from Carlton Farms out where we used to live in Yamhill, but it is definitely not the Berkshire and Ossabaw x Berkshire I was used to working with in Virginia.

"Porchetta" Ready for the Oven
I would really have preferred to make my porchetta with a suckling pig or a side of pork belly, but that would have been overkill for a dinner for four. So I faked it by butterflying a top loin and stuffing with a fennel sausage that I ground from rib and belly trimmings.

Slicing the Porchetta

Focaccia and Barbaresco
Focaccia has got to be the world's simplest bread to make. I started it first thing in the morning with a very tiny amount of yeast and cold water and let it rise all day. The first rise took about seven hours. We served Barbaresco with dinner and Michael and Valerie brought a wonderfully rustic Chianti Classico that we had as a second bottle.

Annie Making the Salad Dressing

Arugula with Clementines, Red Onion, Pine Nuts, and Ricotta Salata

Valerie's Plate with Salsa Verde on the Porchetta
I love a sharp salsa verde with pork to help offset the fat. This was parsley, anchovy, garlic, capers, red wine vinegar, and olive oil, all chopped together by hand for texture.

Blue Cheese, Candied Hazelnuts, Dates, Pinot Noir Syrup
For dessert, I had a bottle of Port that I helped blend at the winery and so I threw together a really simple port plate of Gorgonzola-like local blue cheese, local hazelnuts that I candied earlier in the afternoon, a pitted Medjool date, crostini from my focaccia, and a red wine syrup that I made from over-the-hill remnants of Pinot Noir from the tasting room.

This was the first time, other than Thanksgiving, that I have really cooked a nice meal start to finish since I left the restaurant back in August. It felt really good to get back in the saddle again and I really enjoyed getting head down in the kitchen again to knock out all the components of this dinner. It's not like the restaurant where we would have premade batches of salsa verde, salad dressing, candied nuts, crostini, or red wine syrup ready to hand. In that sense, it was an awful lot of fun to create a dinner totally from scratch. And an awful lot of fun to share it with Michael and Valerie.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve at Home

Why would you want to spend New Year's Eve at home?

Considering I have worked the prior 15 New Year's Eves as the chef and owner of a restaurant, the answer to that question ought to be obvious! If I never see the inside of a restaurant on New Year's Eve, that will be just fine with me. And of course, Annie was over the moon to have me at home. So we headed to the grocery store to see what we could find. I was in a seafood mood, but there's no good seafood in any grocery store around here. The best we could do was to grab a pound of Dungeness crab, wicked expensive and to my East Coast-born and -bred palate, not as tasty as blue crab. So I decided to do a crab risotto.

While standing in the store, Annie started describing an appetizer that she wanted, "something with mushrooms, gooey, and sexy!" Instantly I flashed on a mushroom crostino, so we got some dried porcini, some fresh shiitakes, and a small piece of funky Taleggio cheese to finish the mushrooms with.

Pashey Sparkling by Trisaetum

Leeks and Shiitakes

Porcini, Shiitake, Leek, and Taleggio Crostini

Who's Happy?

Risotto in the Works with Pancetta

Mise: Pancetta, Goat Cheese, Crab, and Chives

Dungeness Crab Risotto with Pancetta, Chives, and Goat Cheese

Miller Woods

We've been holed up this winter trying to get ourselves back outdoors, but it has been a struggle with life just seeming to get in the w...