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

Our 52-Hike Challenge 2017

On January 1, 2017 as Ann and I were headed to Harper's Ferry WV for our first hike of 2017, Ann told me of something she read about on a hiking site, a 52-Hike Challenge in which participants strive to make 52 hikes in a 52-week period. She asked if I might be up for it. Why not?

Our real challenge is that I work 6 days a week and 7 days some weeks. That leaves fewer than 52 days a year for hiking especially if you factor in days off for sickness and really bad weather. In any case, challenge accepted for the calendar year 2017 and this is our saga.

Update November 30, 2017: We're definitely not going to make our goal this year. With Carter going off to college in early August, we lost our dog-sitter on Sundays, making it really hard to get away. Then we spent a month closing the restaurant and packing for our move to Oregon and another two weeks driving across the country. Then we spent a month getting established at work and then finding and buying a house. That brings us up to the end of November and still no dog-sitter. Here's hoping that we find our routine and can get back to hiking soon.

Hike (click through)
Oct 14, 2017
Oct 10, 2017
Aug 20, 2017
Aug 13, 2017
Aug 6, 2017
Jul 23, 2017
Jul 17, 2017
Jul 9, 2017
Jul 4, 2017
Jul 3, 2017
Jul 2, 2017
Jun 25, 2017
May 21, 2017
May 14, 2017
May 6, 2017
May 4, 2017
May 3, 2017
May 2, 2017
May 1, 2017
Apr 30, 2017
Apr 23, 2017
Apr 16, 2017
Apr 9, 2017
Apr 2, 2017
Mar 19, 2017
Mar 3, 2017
Feb 26, 2017
Feb 19, 2017
Feb 12, 2017
Feb 5, 2017
Jan 29, 2017
Jan 1, 2017


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Neskowin Beach OR

Carter is out on Christmas Break visiting with us and we wanted to show him the Oregon Coast so we headed out to Highway 101 at Lincoln City and then just north to Neskowin where Neskowin Creek empties into the Pacific.

Hawk/Kiwanda Creek

Looking Across Neskowin Creek

Rough Surf and Cold Wind

Wind Patterns in the Sand

Proposal Rock Right

Sea Flea in Chuck Track

So Sunny, Shot at f/36

Sun, Fog, and Trees

Merganser in Neskowin Creek


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Willamette Mission State Park

There are days and hikes that sometimes never go as planned. Today was one such that we both wish could have been a do-over at some other place. Being brand new to the area, we still don't know where to hike and we are finding that you can't get from point A to point B with any speed. There is no road infrastructure here so even though we should be only minutes from the Coastal Range, all drives are at least an hour and with about a four-hour window between dog walks, there is no profit in driving over two hours just to walk about two hours.

Making the best of a difficult situation, Ann randomly picked a destination called Willamette Mission State Park near Keizer, about 45 minutes from the house. The site of the first mission in the Oregon territory, the park is also home to one of the largest cottonwood trees in the country, if not the largest. Some historical sites and an awesome tree? Not exactly the mountains, but it could work for a quick flat-land hike.

On approaching the park, however, things started to go really south. First, there was a long line of cars and school buses at the entrance. We would get into the park to find dozens and dozens of school buses, hundreds of cars, and pack after pack of high school kids. Awesome! We spotted a ranger, asked her what was going on, and ultimately bummed a trail map from her after finding out that it was a local high school cross country meet that had all of the more interesting part of the park closed to the public. We almost turned around. We should have turned around.

Trying to make lemonade from our lemons, we headed south up the river along the riverside path that wound in and out of the woods and grasses. Soon enough, we had got away from the crowd, but the hiking was dull and uninteresting.

Stones Along the River Bank

Fox Sparrow in the Grass

Slough on the Willamette River
The further upriver we got, the wilder it got and as we skirted along a little slough shooting off the river proper, I heard a bald eagle give its signature call. I looked up to see one cruising the far side of the treeline along a pasture when another came across the river to join it. Soon enough, a large hawk joined the group and started harassing the eagles.

Bald Eagle, One of a Pair
Just after this and about 2.5 miles into our 4.5-mile hike, I heard Ann scream like I have never heard her scream before. She was crying and slapping at things I couldn't see and it took me a few seconds to understand that she was being stung by some insect. I went over to grab her by the hand to try to get her to run away down the path when all of a sudden, my leg felt like someone had shot a flaming hot nail from a nail gun into it. She would be stung four times and I would be stung three times before I could get her to run with me down the trail. When we got safely away, I found a dead yellow jacket in her shirt. We were in intense pain for the next 30 minutes and would not be pain- and itch-free for a week. Damn, those things hurt!

Needless to say, our day was pretty much ruined and we finished the remainder of our walk without a lot of enthusiasm.

Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare

Purple Jimsonweed, Datura stramonium

White Jimsonweed

Jimsonweed Seed Pod
All along the hike, we kept spotting a plant that looks like a Lonicera with white berries that resembles Doll's Eyes back east. It turns out to be Common Snowberry.

Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
All in all, a pretty miserable experience and not great hiking.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Miller Woods, McMinnville, OR

For our first hike in Oregon, we found Miller Woods, a 130-acre tract just west of McMinnville where we could have a quick walk while not stranding the dogs at home for too long. We walked 4.5 miles on an undulating track through fields and woods, with one brief climb of a couple hundred feet. In other words, it was flat.

The hills just west of McMinnville, approaching the Coastal Range, are an intriguing mix of deciduous and coniferous woods, some containing old growth. I saw some vast Western Red Cedars, Big-Leaf Maples, Oregon White Oaks, and other Hemlock-looking trees. I can't wait to spend some time out in the woods figuring out what all these western trees are.

Pasture at Miller Woods

Hiking Under an Oregon White Oak

Crown of a Huge Oregon White Oak

Under a Big-leaf Maple

Big-leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) Leaf

Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea

So Not Virginia Anymore!

Ferns and Moss in the Understory
We had descended into a creek valley covered in old growth trees and were just making our way up a hill through a stand of planted Ponderosa pines, when I caught movement just ahead of me as a Great Horned Owl turned its head directly at me. I don't know that I would have seen it if it hadn't moved. It is most unusual to see an owl being active at high noon. They're usually crepuscular to nocturnal creatures and you hear them much more often than you see them. I was really excited for Ann as this was her first owl.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl on the Wing
It being mid-October and us being mostly in the woods, there weren't a lot of flowers to be seen. We saw a few cranesbills, a few purple, white, and yellow asters, and not a whole lot else. I'm really looking forward to spring and learning a whole new set of flowers. The Pearly Everlasting above is one flower that I do recognize from back east.

Random Yellow Aster

Another Pasture

Small Pond on the Property
Given that it was high noon and that we were having typical Oregon October weather, sunny one moment and raining the next, we didn't see a lot of birds. As we arrived, we saw one accipiter flying away from us and now and again, a Scrub Jay would yammer at us from the brush. Most of the little birds were limited to Oregon Juncos. We did hear a pair of Flickers talking back and forth to each other and flying from fencepost to snag to fencepost. I finally got a halfway decent picture of one on a snag. I did get to show Ann the golden blush of the feathers (Yellow-shafted) as the birds flew, which is a totally different look from the red blush of the eastern ones (Red-shafted) that we're used to.

Yellow-Shafted Flicker

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. Mich...