Category Archives: Friends

Winter Feast

Winter holiday preparation is basically an extension of harvest time. It makes sense, since most of the holiday season takes place in autumn. Homes are turned into a kind of indoor sukkah, festooned with trees, branches, and berries. Special music is played that is forsaken the rest of the year.

And the food! People whip up more cookies than anyone could ever eat, fancy milky cocktails, roasts and pies and snack mixes to fish from little bowls while playing cards and board games.

This year was no exception for Mike and me, except in the sense that we poured it on more than usual. I’ve known for a long time that we are not typical people when it comes to expendable income. While most Americans save their money for vacations, tickets to sporting events and concerts, or weekly shopping trips to a mall, Mike and I favor quality groceries. This autumn has been especially good to us, so I’m sharing a few pictures of our bounty.

It all started this summer, when my colleague Sara asked if I wanted any apricots. I documented canning them as well as some peaches that I bought. When we had windfall apples in our yard, I made applesauce. A friend who was going on a cruise and needed to unload a bunch of half-ripe tomatoes and peppers unloaded them on me.

Late-season surprise

Late-season surprise

But here’s where it really gets good. Our friends at 6 Ranch posted a contest on their Facebook page in September. They wanted to trade a quarter beef for something. “What’ve ya got?” they asked. People offered fence-mending, firewood, maps, carpet cleaning, a weekend in Bend. Mike offered to record their family history. 6 Ranch being a “century ranch,” one of Oregon’s oldest operations, this was a smart bid. He won.

In order to store that much beef, we finally bought a chest freezer. Then, we had a chest freezer to fill, so I ordered a half-pig from Carman Ranch. The local FFA has a fruit fundraiser, so I ordered a case of grapefruit from Texas. A friend told me about a fishery on the Oregon Coast that ships tuna straight from the cannery. Done.

Beef!

Beef!

Beautiful Christmas ham

Beautiful Christmas ham

At our Winter Solstice party, people brought gift-jars of the food they had put up during the summer. Anyone who had pickles pointed out that they were “for Mike.” (They had seen my blog post.)

And then my colleague Lisa said that her significant other was in Bandon, taking orders for oysters. Not much of an oyster fan, I wondered about Dungeness crab. This is a New Year’s tradition for Mike and me. Last year, the best we could get was frozen Alaska king crab legs from the Safeway.

There's gold in them thar hills!

There’s gold in them thar hills!

A few days later, Scott pulled into our driveway with two dungies. And some still-squeaking cheese curds. And persimmons. And chanterelles. I buried my face in the box of mushrooms and inhaled the mossy, earthy scent of Western Oregon.

Wallowa County winters are long. But, we will eat our way to spring.

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Christmas Records

In 1975, I had a banner Christmas. Santa brought a Barbie Doll with a full case and clothes (even go-go boots!) and a record player. The best thing about the record player was that my parents expressly instructed my sister, Linda, and me that this toy was special and I did not have to share it; it was all mine. This meant a lot because—and you elder siblings know what I’m talking about—I’d had to make a lot of concessions since she appeared on the scene two years prior.

A Barbie case in point

A (Barbie) case in point …

The record player was orange plastic with yellow trim; it had three settings: 78, 45, and 33. The 45 adapter was built in; you just had to twist it into place. It was perfect for playing Mickey Mouse Club, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and those books that came with a record to narrate them, sounding a chime when it was time to turn the page.

I took very good care of this record player. Such good care that, when Mike and I hosted our first Solstice party in our first home, in the St. Johns neighborhood in Portland, we used it to play Christmas records we’d scavenged that summer. We timed our interest in mid-century Christmas records perfectly—their original owners were dying off, and their children didn’t want anything to do with them and sold them to us at their yard and estate sales for pocket change. By December, we had gathered a fine array.

That "Swing Bells" is really something

That “Swing Bells” is really something

The orange record player lasted two holiday parties. By then, it was nearly thirty years old. We first noticed that it was failing because everyone who was singing sounded slightly flat. The motor was losing its torque. The records started getting flatter, and more drawn out, until everyone sounded absolutely macabre. Because the motor was encased in plastic, there was no getting at it to fix it. After decades of service, the orange record player was dead. <moment of silence>

The following year’s holiday party was saved by our friend Chris, who was a teacher in a nearby school district. She was leaving school one afternoon and happened to notice that a dumpster was filled with record players. Apparently the school district had determined them obsolete and either lacked the imagination to donate them somewhere, or (more likely) there was probably some ridiculous inventory-release protocol that made dumping them into a landfill more practical. In any case, Chris looked around for witnesses and then quietly loaded a half-dozen or so into her car.

This record player was army green, industrial strength. Built to withstand being knocked off the teacher’s desk here and there. The turntable had a bit of shock absorption, which made it more difficult to cause the needle to skip by simply walking past (a definite problem with the orange one). It also had a larger speaker, so a room full of tipsy, chatting people was less able to drown out the sound.

Eventually that record player, too, gave up the ghost. We bought an actual turntable after that. Last weekend, we had our first winter solstice party in twelve years—as I mention in this blog post we switched to summer solstice parties when we lived in the Gorge. Out came the records! There’s something special about the pop-and-gravel sound of laying a needle on a record. And there’s something special about inviting a whole mess of people to your house to celebrate the solstice. Happy Solstice, and Merry Christmas!

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Foiled by a SmartAppliance

I’ve talked up my crafting friend Ivy in Get Your Pitchfork On!. She can make anything! She made a poppyseed cake covered with daisies when Mike and I celebrated our wedding in Portland. She lines up rocks and leaves on her tables and her walls. She doesn’t just make fruit jam, she adds things like cardamom and lemon rind. She has a special egg-scrambling technique, which I have documented but haven’t shared with you yet. In due time.

In May, Ivy and her friend Ria came out to visit. Ivy brought a special gift-project: wool mittens! She had knitted them already and wanted to felt them in our washing machine. It was funny to try on mittens on a brilliantly sunny and warm day.

They're kind of big!

They’re kind of big!

Kristy Athens

Wool mittens and lilacs–not usually in the same picture

Note to Wool-Felters: Don’t try to felt wool in a new washing machine!

Ivy’s usual method is to dump extra-hot water into the drum and add the unfelted mittens, then agitate until they have shrunk down to the desired size. We bought our washing machine last year, shortly after moving to Wallowa County. It has a computer. It sounds like a arcade machine when you turn it on. The lid locks while it’s running. This machine determines the size of the load by weighing it, and if there isn’t enough in there it won’t run. It wouldn’t run.

Ivy tried a couple different methods to fool the machine into shrinking our mittens. Eventually, she gave up, hauling four sopping, still-oversized mittens upstairs and hung them on the porch rail to dry. She brought them back to Portland and washed them in a dumber machine, and they came back to us just in time for cold weather!

I hope you all have such a gifted, crafty, and generous friend!

I ❤ Ivy

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Friends with Animals

Living in the country not only gives you access to open spaces, quiet roads, and friendly folks. It also gives you access to the friendly folks’ livestock!

This spring, my friends Carolyn and Eric invited Mike and me over to see their new babies. They raise Lusitano horses, a Portuguese breed. Beautiful animals. We got the full tour—the nursery, the geriatric pasture, the young females’ and males’ separate quarters.

Baby's first hay

Baby’s first hay

This suave dude reminds me of Robert Plant

This suave dude reminds me of Robert Plant

Around the same time, we were invited over to our friend Nancy’s house to see her baby goats. We didn’t make it there until a week ago, but they were still fun to hang around with! Nancy also gave us a tour of her incredible outbuildings—an old granary that will someday soon be the most spectacular guesthouse in Wallowa County, and a heritage barn. We climbed the stairs to the second level and startled a gorgeous, snowy-white barn owl from her roost. She glided silently overhead, and was gone.

Sweet goat that tried to eat the zipper-pull on my jacket

Sweet goat that tried to eat the zipper-pull on my jacket

Nancy and Mike contemplate the hay loft

Nancy and Mike contemplate the hay loft

 

Early September boasts Mule Days in Enterprise, which includes a completely non-motorized parade. Mules of every shape and description pull wagons and haul packs down the streets of the town. But the star of the show has to be the oxen pair brought by “Bushwacker Sue.” Their trailer rivals that of any successful touring band’s.

Look at this big guy!

Look at this big guy!

Okay, okay, so Bushwacker Sue is not technically my friend. However, she did chat us up about her gentle giants. I know I shouldn’t view my agriculture-centric county as one big petting zoo, but it sure is fun to live in close proximity to so many animals.

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Apple Ball

How do you relieve stress: Massage? Herbal tea? Video games? How about smashing rotten apples?

My friends Ed and Devon live in the Oak Grove area of Portland—Milwaukie, actually—in a neighborhood near the Willamette River that boasts extra-large house lots and mature trees. Many of those trees are oaks, giving the neighborhood its name, most are pines, and many are neglected apple trees. Because these trees were left to run amok for decades, and haven’t been pruned or culled, their fruits are scrawny and wormy. While these apples do not lend themselves to fresh-eating, they still serve a very important purpose.

In 2009, Mike and I were invited to a Labor Day party at the house in Oak Grove. “Apple Ball” they were calling the party. Intrigued, we showed up with some beer and snacks.

Those of you who are up on your Get Your Pitchfork On! chronology know that 2009 is the year we sold our land in the Gorge. The sale closed at the end of July. It’s safe to say that on Labor Day we were pretty stressed out.

We walked around our friends’ house to the backyard, where we could hear everyone congregated. In addition to the usual murmur of voices and music, I kept hearing a high, metallic tink! sound. As we rounded the corner, a smile lit up my face. Our friend Ed was pitching rotten apples to one of his neighbors, who obliterated each one with an aluminum baseball bat. I couldn’t wait to get in on this!

Once it was my turn, I picked up the bat and faced Ed. He pitched an apple, and tink! it exploded, and then rained apple-shrapnel on us and anyone who had ventured too close. This was great! This was cathartic! This was exactly what I needed!

2009: Action shot!

2009: Action shot! Please note flying debris in upper-right corner of photo

The following Labor Day was the same story. More rotten apples. More silly giggles.

2010: Apparently, I was still using “tutu therapy” (https://getyourpitchforkon.wordpress.com/?s=tutu)

2010: Apparently, I was still using “tutu therapy” (https://getyourpitchforkon.wordpress.com/?s=tutu)

Last year, Ed and Devon understandably decided to take a break from throwing this huge party. I was sad to lose my opportunity to take out some aggression on unsuspecting apples, but we were preparing to move to Wallowa County, and I was in the middle of a yard sale.

Throughout the month of August this year, at our house in Enterprise, I have been dealing with windfall apples from two trees in our backyard. I’ve gotten a few crisps and a batch of applesauce out of the deal, and also buckets of windfalls too damaged to salvage for food.

And then, Ed came for a visit. We have a wooden bat, which makes a duller sound, but it did the trick.

Look at that form!

Look at that form!

I know that a lot of people enjoy Apple Ball, but I’m pretty sure no one enjoys it as much as Ed or I. I submit this video as evidence.

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Surprise Imnaha Apricots

As I’ve chronicled in previous posts, I have been struggling to get my kitchen groove back ever since we had to sell our land in the Columbia River Gorge. I never been much of a cook, but I had developed skills in baking and canning while on our land. When it went, so did my desire to carry on in the kitchen. Until I have my own house and garden, I imagine this will continue—I’m not heartbroken anymore, just waiting to settle in again.

However, a couple of weeks ago my colleague Sara (who has a great blog about her grass-fed beef operation) brought in to the office a box of apricots. I could feel my canning fingers get twitchy. I got home with those beautiful fruits and easily located our old country-living bible by Carla Emery on the bookshelf. It felt good to crack it open again. I had notes in the margin about canning peaches, so even though I’ve never canned apricots I had an idea of what lay before me.

Imnaha beauties!

Imnaha beauties!

 

You "can" always count on Carla

You “can” always count on Carla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hauled the canning equipment from the basement and tried to estimate how many jars I would need. I put them and the lids (which I still had from making jam last year, happily) in the dishwasher to get them going, and started washing and cutting apricots. I didn’t bother to peel them, like I would have done with peaches.

I prefer to pack fruit with water rather than simple syrup (sugar). I’ve found, at least with peaches, that the water turns into a delicious “liquor” that is as much a treat as the fruit itself.

IMG_3670

Ready to can

IMG_3677

Ready for February!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wax poetic in Get Your Pitchfork On! about the joy of opening a jar of peaches in the winter. This February, we will have vibrant orange apricots, grown in the nearby Imnaha River Valley and picked by a friend, to brighten a cold winter’s day.

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Athens Sisters Tame the Wild West

I had to go to Portland on Thursday because I’ve been accepted into Oregon Humanities’ Conversation Project roster. More on that in a future post! After I put this in my calendar a couple of months ago, my sister called to see if she could visit the same weekend, as it’s right before her birthday. At first I thought it wouldn’t work, but then …

“Why don’t you meet me in Portland, and we’ll drive out together?”

So, she did! She hasn’t been in Eastern Oregon much, so we made a lot of stops. The first was supposed to be The Dalles, but on the way I realized we were passing Mosier. Mosier + Summer = Cherries. Change of plans!

Good day for driving

Good day for driving

Cherries!

Cherries!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love that Mosier has this roadside stand, from which they peddle mountains of cherries in little paper sacks. I bought a pound of Bings and a pound of Rainiers. I took a few steps and realized that was not nearly enough, turned around, and bought an additional four pounds!

When we finally hit The Dalles, we were ready for lunch at the Baldwin Saloon. Whenever I go to Portland I gorge myself on Japanese and Indian food, and any kind of seafood. Wallowa County is great for local meat (especially grass-fed beef), handmade chocolates, and rye whiskey, but has some gaps in its repertoire. So the obvious choice was the bouillabaisse.

We stopped in to say hi at Klindt’s Booksellers, where I signed copies of Get Your Pitchfork On! at last year’s book fair, and found my book in their front window display! Pretty great.

Yum

Yum

Klindt's Booksellers

Klindt’s Booksellers!

Two hours later: Pendleton. I passed the drive-time singing along to old cassette tapes, and was glad to take a break to show Linda the requisite sights of the site of Ye Olde Round-up.

Hamley's, of course

Giant cowboy boot in front of Hamley’s, of course

By the time we got to La Grande, almost everything was closed! We walked up and down Adams and pressed on–we were starting to want to get to our destination. The drive into the Wallowa Valley was marvelous. It’s fun to share such a beautiful place with someone you love. Happy birthday, Linda!

The remnants of the road trip

Remnants of the road trip

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Diane Sward Rapaport’s Home Sweet Jerome

One of the Classic American Stories is that of “cool” people—artists, anti-establishment politicos, and other bohemians—finding ignored or abandoned places and revitalizing them, until they become so popular that the cool people can no longer afford and/or abide them.

Jerome, Arizona, is one of those places. I’ve never been there but, during my two-month residency in Harney County in 2010, I became friends with two refugees, Diane and Walt. They had moved to Jerome in the 1980s as refugees of another fantastic-turned-overwrought scene, 1960-70s San Francisco, where both were in the music business.

Diane was a generous host when I knew only a handful of people in Harney County, and we stayed in touch. She provided comments on parts of Get Your Pitchfork On! and I consulted on a few bits of her new book, Home Sweet Jerome, about the mining town-turned-hippie town-turned tourist destination that she and Walt still hold very dear. Diane donated a piece about grasshoppers to the GYPO blog, which continues to be one of my most popular internet-searched posts! Even if you don’t have a personal connection with the town itself, Diane’s story captures a generation perched between the Old West and the Modern Age, with lots of pot-smoking and under-the-cover-of-night shenanigans. Check it out!

Diane Sward Rapaport;  photo by ML Lincoln

Diane Sward Rapaport;
photo by ML Lincoln

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Winter Gardening

Most gardeners spend the autumn months putting everything “to bed”—pulling any remaining dead plants; mulching; maybe planting some garlic bulbs for the following spring. Not Niki Jabbour! For her, winter is just another gardening season.

Niki is the author of Year-Round Vegetable Gardener from Storey Press. We exchanged books a couple of months ago, and I’m glad we did! Niki has worked out an impressive system of cold frames, row covers and hoop houses that keeps her in fresh food all year ‘round. The clincher? She lives in Nova Scotia. First-frost-in-October-and-last-frost-in-May Nova Scotia.

Year Round Veg Gardener CoverYear-Round Vegetable Gardener is organized by season and then by crop (vegetables and herbs), making it an easy reference. She covers all the usual suspects, and also some cold-hardy greens I’d never heard of, like mibuna, claytonia, and mâche. Well, I’d heard of claytonia, but only as miner’s lettuce, and I’d only seen it wild on our land in Washington.

Jabbour spent the time to get photos from all seasons to demonstrate what she’s talking about. She also includes the gardens of a few neighbors to present the widest variety of strategies possible. Photographs explain how to build some of the coverings shown.

The book has an engaging layout and a friendly, encouraging tone. Pull-outs and sidebars provide her favorite seed varieties, when to plant in relation to first and last frost, and other hints and tidbits.

Now, the rest of us have no excuse not to grow fresh food all year.

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Cooking with a Good Altitude

Mike and I are just getting settled, unpacked and back to the business of living life. The house we’re renting has a well-appointed kitchen, so we (read: Mike) were looking forward to digging in. I even started planning my first pumpkin pie in years!

But, something was wrong. Things were boiling over constantly, even on low heat. We thought the stove was just extra-powerful, or maybe propane had more heat than natural gas or electricity. But then oatmeal took 45 minutes to cook. What was going on?

We mentioned it to one of Mike’s colleagues, Jon, who is also new to the area.

“I know,” he commiserated. “I tried to make bread the other day, and it was a disaster. I have to figure out how to adjust for this altitude.”

Altitude! I remember reading about this on cake-mix boxes and canning instructions. Our house is at approximately 4,300 feet—quite a jump from Portland, which is a mere 50 feet above sea level. Even our house in the Columbia River Gorge had no issues.

Breakfast oatmeal became brunch oatmeal

Breakfast oatmeal became brunch oatmeal

I did some research and learned that the main difference is air pressure. Same as a pressure cooker makes things cook faster, elevation, with less air pressure, makes things cook more slowly. It also lowers the boiling point of water, meaning you need to add more because it starts evaporating before the food is finished.

And that’s just cooking—baking is a whole ‘nother story. Jon’s bread quickly went awry. “It rose like crazy,” he said, “and then collapsed. The loaves were like pucks.”

Turns out that you have to add more dry ingredients, except leavening agents like yeast. Less of that. This website is pretty thorough about guidelines.

I’m a bad enough cook as it is; I hope that I can survive adjusting for altitude!

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