Thursday, July 4, 2019

A Vegetarian Fourth

Almost two years post restaurant, I rarely get the urge to cook full meals any longer. But on July 4th, I felt like I wanted to cook a really simple meal that we could enjoy on the front porch with our vegetarian neighbors, taking full advantage of Oregon's delightful summer weather.

I always associate the Fourth with watermelon and Ann had been asking me to make lentil burgers for a week or two, so I decided to build a meal around that: lentil burgers, pita, hummus, arugula, tzatziki, and a watermelon salad. I started around 7:30 in the morning with some really easy tasks, mixing up some pita dough, making tzatziki, and knocking out a quick watermelon salad.

About 30 minutes before neighbors Pat and Mary Jo came over, I baked the pita, keeping them warm under a towel, while simultaneously frying the lentil burgers which then went into the oven after I turned it off, to keep warm for dinner.

Pat and Mary Jo

"What can we bring?"
We started the evening with a stack of warm pita, a bowl of hummus, and cocktails of pomegranate liqueur and Prosecco. I think that if that was all we had to eat, we would have been happy chatting away on the front porch, hearing all the neighbors doing the same on their nearby porches.

Starters: Pita, Hummus, Pomegranate and Prosecco
I love hummus. Just ask anyone who ever worked for me at the restaurant. I probably ate it every day for lunch. I eat it less frequently now, cooking less, but I still love it. Although you can't see it, this hummus has a lot of green olives ground up with the chickpeas. I also use a drizzle of sesame oil rather than tahini. Same flavor, but easier.

For this batch destined for company, I went to the trouble of peeling all the chickpeas, six pounds of them. For regular batches, I don't peel them. The texture is really much better if you peel them, but I'm not working that hard on a daily basis. I am no longer a restaurant chef judged by the slightest nuances in food. I'm now a guy who values time with people more than time in the kitchen.

Hummus with Olives and a Drizzle of Olive Oil
Lentil burgers, black bean burgers, squash cakes: I have a love affair with fried vegetable patties of all sorts. For these, I cooked the lentils with garlic and herbs, drained them, added eggs, sautéed mirepoix of carrot, celery, and shiitake mushrooms, fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme), and panko. I pattied them out and put them in the fridge to firm up before frying.

Lentil Burgers; Local Sauvignon Blanc
Who doesn't love arugula tossed with some lemon juice, olive oil, and salt? It's one of the greatest and simplest salads.

I couldn't celebrate the Fourth without watermelon, so I made a really quick watermelon salad with feta cheese, red onions, mint from the back yard, olives, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Thank goodness for the smart plant breeders who came up with the infertile (seedless) triploid hybrid watermelons that are so delicious and easy to work with!

Call it tzatziki, cacik, or tarator, it's pretty much the same yogurt and cucumber condiment all over the Mediterranean. I've made a few thousand pounds of it in my life, always preferring the flavor of red wine vinegar in mine, rather than lemon juice. Herbs vary with my mood, but almost always include oregano, this fresh from my back yard.

Arugula, Watermelon Salad, Tzatziki

Behind the Scenes: Frying Lentil Burgers
Not sure why people think pita is hard to make. It's among the easiest flatbreads. I don't have a recipe per se, keying off the amount of water to give me final yield. One cup of water will incorporate enough flour to make 8 pita. Salt, yeast, and olive oil round out the dough, which I let rise twice before shaping into balls. After the balls rested for 20 minutes, I patted and rolled them out and into the very hot oven onto a hot sheet tray they went, three at a time, about two minutes on one side and another minute on the other.

These pita are very similar to the flatbreads and naan that I used to make at the restaurant, but I would typically put some yogurt in the dough for those. I did not for these pita, but it wouldn't have hurt.

Pita, Still Puffed from the Oven
When all was said and done, I was really tired. I no longer stand in the kitchen and cook all day and it shows. But I really am OK with that. I like the word retired in front of the word chef. It suits.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Donald's 50th

A few weeks back, Donald said that he and Terry were coming down from Seattle to celebrate Donald's 50th birthday and asked if we wanted to do a shellfish boil. Of course! We thought we were doing the do at our house and I would be cooking. But somewhere along the line, the boys rented a really nice apartment above the Methven tasting room in downtown Dundee and brought everything they needed for Terry to cook from Seattle.

We went out to dinner with them Tuesday night at Pura Vida in McMinnville and then they spent all Wednesday morning running around and all the way into Portland to buy the ingredients for dinner. We showed up at 5:30 as Donald was finishing up making the appetizers and Terry was working away on the shellfish.

The Donald

Terry Prepping the Small Lemons

We brought a bottle of Champagne and a nice Chardonnay to go with the lobster while Donald and Terry kicked in two local sparklers and a bottle of Pinot. Of course, they brought Riedel Champagne glasses with them from home!

One of Many Dead Soldiers

Always a Party When These Two are Together

Getting Suited Up for Battle

The Boys Never Forget Anything

Lobster, Clams, Potatoes, Sausage, and Corn
After the delicious feast that Terry prepared, we cut the cakes. Ann started baking a cake for Donald before she realized that he was making his own. We had way too much cake!

Pastry Chef Donald Made His Own Cake

Annie Made Donald a Cake Too
Donald's cake had marionberry jam and lemon curd between the layers and was frosted with buttercream. Ann's cake was lemon with blueberries and was frosted with lemon marionberry cream cheese frosting and topped with lemon rind and mint and Johnny Jump Ups (violas) from our garden. Both cakes were delicious.

I Can't Believe I Ate All This

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Cape Lookout

When the girls were visiting in June, we drove the three capes on the coast near us, starting with Cape Meares in the north, stopping at Cape Lookout in the middle, and then down to Cape Kiwanda to the south, just above Pacific City. On our mini-tour, we turned into the parking area for the Cape Lookout trailhead with an idea that we might go see the cape, but the hike was 2.4 miles each way and we were running out of time. So, Ann and I put that hike on our to-do list for the summer.

This summer has been dedicated to landscaping our yard. We bought a brand new house on a bare lot in November of last year. Once the rains let up in the spring, it was game on in turning the stark naked lot into gardens. With the planting of the bulbs last week, gardening season is pretty nearly at an end. Moreover, rainy season should kick off any time now.

Gardening at its fall hiatus, we decided to take advantage of a sunny, clear fall day to head to the coast and hike the 4.8-mile out-and-back trail to Cape Lookout. As you can see in the "sunny" photo below, the gorgeous sunny day lasted until about two miles from the coast when we drove straight into clouds and fog. Such is the nature of the coast.

It has been so long since we hiked that it was kind of weird scrambling around to find simple things such as water bottles and a day pack. After leisurely coffee, we loaded lunch and water into my pack and jumped in the truck for the coast. As the crow flies, we are just under 39 miles from the Cape Lookout Trailhead parking lot. Two and a half hours after leaving the house, we arrived at the coast.

We have had to resign ourselves to the fact that you cannot get anywhere fast in Oregon. This is partially an infrastructure issue (lack of good roads) but more a terrain issue. We have some pretty gnarly mountains, the Coastal Range, between us and the coast. We decided to take a route that we hadn't before, heading west up and over the mountains from Carlton, just north of us. We knew the route would be slower than taking highway 18 towards Lincoln City, but being new to the area, we are still looking around.

We didn't count on 2 and a half hours slow, though. The roads are good for no more than about 35 miles per hour sustained speed and the twists and turns stretch the route to about 70 miles, rather than the 39 that the crow flies. The scenery was gorgeous up past the two reservoirs that slake the city of McMinnville's thirst. Down the western slope of the mountains, naturally, the road was closed for construction. We ended up backtracking several miles to get around the road closure, losing at least a half an hour, probably more.

At Cape Lookout, Pacific Ocean Way Below
The Cape Lookout trailhead is just north of Sandlake, named for the active dune system that stretches inland from the shore. Seeing that much sand in the middle of the Oregon shore is a bit disconcerting, sand not really being a big feature of our rocky shores. Cape Lookout is a long, narrow, rocky promontory that descends from about 900' at the trailhead parking lot down to about 450' two and a half miles out in the Pacific Ocean.

It's a pretty easy stroll for the first half a mile or so of trail, staying high up on the southern side of the cape, going past a plaque commemorating the loss of a WWII B-17 that was flying too low in the fog and smashed into the side of the hill. There's a decent section of old grown forest here, primarily Sitka spruce and hemlock. By east coast standards, it's really surreal being hundreds of feet above the ocean.

Plaque Commemorating Crash of a WWII B-17

Annie vs Hemlock
We were both taken by a very handsome fern all over the ground under the trees, the Deer Fern. It's not a fern we have noticed before, it's range in the US being limited to the Pacific Northwest.

Deer Ferns (Blechnum spicant)
Back on the east coast, we have about three species of Oxalis that we would see more or less commonly, but nothing as big and as green as these Oxalis oregana, the so-called Redwood Sorrel, that were growing in patches everywhere.

Our Own Native "Shamrock," Oxalis oregana

Hemlock Roots Were Tricky
Once through the old growth forest and having meandered to the north side of the cape and back again, the trail climbs a bit and emerges on the tops of the southern cliffs. I had seen warnings about how exposed the trail is, but I have been on a lot worse.

Cliff-top Trail is Exposed in Places

Those Cliffs are Tall and Steep

Small Cove from Way on High

Looking Back at the Beach

Hard to Tell This is About 400 Feet Above the Ocean

Annie Taking in Wells Cove

Neat Rock Formation
Wildflowers were scarce as is normal for this time of year, but we did notice the open cliff faces and tops covered in a small shrub festooned with white tufts, which after much digging through the internet and my books, appears to be Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis. Not sure why it was so hard to find, but it is conspicuously absent from my main reference.

Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis, Hanging on a Cliff

Detail of Baccharis pilularis
I was really happy to see a late fall friend that I recognize from our jaunts on the East Coast, a denizen of neglected places everywhere, Pearly Everlasting. It's a handsome and underappreciated plant.

Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)

Salal Still in Bloom! Gaultheria shallon
I was quite surprised to see Salal still in bloom in mid-October. I always think of them as blooming in spring, but here was a big patch standing in full sun with southern exposure just blooming away at the end of the season. Right next to and intermingled with the Salal was a plant that I recognize from my yard, the Evergreen Huckleberry. This is one of the tiny bare-root natives that I planted in the early spring for the tiny evergreen foliage and its exuberant copper-colored spring foliage.

Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum
We finally arrived at the very western point, a couple of miles out in the ocean, about 450 feet above the water and a great spot we hear to watch Grey Whales on migration in the spring. We're going to have to do that as Annie has never seen a whale before. I have been lucky enough to see a Grey Whale with baby in tow heading north just under the Point Reyes lighthouse down in California.

While there were no whales to been seen or anything else moving except for some minuscule shore birds below us, at least there were a pair of ravens playing about and croaking at us and each other.

We had Aerobatic Company/Beggars at the Point
Just before we headed back, I spied this hardy rose facing due west at the top of the cliff where it must surely take the full brunt of all the winter storms that the Pacific has to dish out. We tend to think of roses as these genteel flowers of home gardens, but they are truly tough as nails residents of some pretty hardscrabble places.

Roses Are Hardy Plants, 400 Feet Atop a Sheer Cliff Face
From the point, we reversed course and headed back up the hill to the car. Given that we haven't done any hiking in a long time, our old legs held out pretty well, but we were reminded that if we are going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail here in a few years, we've got a good bit of conditioning to do.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Lack of Blog Posts

The lack of blog posts this year can be summed up quite simply: new house, no landscaping. Here's what's been occupying all our free time this year.

December 2017

October 2018

October 2017, The Day We Signed the Offer

May 2018, Rock Walls Going In

May 2018, Porch Swing Hung

September 1, 2018

April 2018

October 2018, Fence Stained and Sun Sail Installed

Mid August 2018, Living Wall Scaffolding on Garage

Mid September 2018, End of the Sunflowers

Side Yard Partitions are Installed

Annie's American Flag, Planters, Bird Bath, and Feeders

Why Bask in the Middle of the Poppies?

A Vegetarian Fourth

Almost two years post restaurant, I rarely get the urge to cook full meals any longer. But on July 4th, I felt like I wanted to cook a reall...