Thursday, September 27, 2012

In No Particular Order-

Random items from September's calender of chores and events-

*A couple weeks ago, my husband accompanied me on a particularly far away wedding cake delivery, after which we headed out for a dinner date. I had been hearing a lot of buzz about a new Thai restaurant so we checked it out.

This is an authentic Thai place, not an Americanized version, first confirmed by the Asian owners and carved watermelons at the door and then by the food...
...which was so fresh, with sharp flavors. Lots of mint and cilantro. This was the presentation of my trout dish. What is really great about Thai food is that it is healthy and costs about half what a good meal in any other restaurant costs. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner.

*Before the rainy season starts, there is a mad dash to finish projects that need to be done. Child labor is utilized at every opportunity. Those are roofing shingles on Sam's back. Shingles are h e a v y.

The final stage of the extreme home addition is on that To Do list- building a covered porch at the entrance door. Work on that commenced this last weekend with roof supporting posts erected. This is why I birthed boys. Five times. Boys like to do this stuff.

But some of those boys were missing tonight so I was employed to help with the roof beam raising.

Hey, dear? How do you know that I am a heavy enough counter weight on this thing and won't be catapulted into the back yard? Wait. Don't answer that...

*I finally chose a color for the new mudroom doors. It's called Gray Horse and I like it.

*It's a blessing to have friends who work private events at high end, big city restaurants. This beautiful and expensive floral arrangement would have ended up in a dumpster (what rich people do with their money) except that Sarah brought it to me! It makes me smile ( and my photo doesn't do its beauty justice.)

*We have a lot of forest fires in the area- not too close but there is still a constant, heavy smoke haze in the air. It obscures our mountain view, makes us asthmatics cough and sniffle and gives us some stunning red sunsets.

 I'm not good at low light photos but I couldn't resist this moon over the smoky mountain one evening while driving home.

How was your September?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tomato Garden Notes

Here it is, the last part of September, and I'm still waiting for my tomatoes.
We've harvested all the corn, most of the beans and cucumbers, had a good crop of basil and enough monster cabbages to feed every cole slaw lover in the valley. We're eating fresh tomatoes every day but I've only had a few small boxes of ripe tomatoes altogether.

But there are lots of green ones still on the vines. I'm thrilled with these large clusters of San Marzanos but I'm worried they won't be able to ripen before the first frost. Our weather lately has been gorgeous- in the 70's every day with blue skies and slight breezes. We've had a number of lovely dinners outside under the twinkle lights and early sunsets. But nights are getting so cold, too cold to ripen tomatoes.

I planted eight different varieties of tomatoes including the old reliables like Early Girl and Roma, but also some new-to-me kinds that I found at our local Saturday Market.  The Carmellos and Donas were described as tomatoes found in Italian and French farmer's markets. All the tomatoes are short season tomatoes, 58-70 days, for a better chance on getting red, ripe fruit before frost. This is the one thing I have learned in the eighteen or so years of trying to grow tomatoes in the Great Northwest. Forget about those meaty Better Boys and Beefsteak tomatoes that I grew in Michigan. Those varieties don't ripen on the slopes of Mt. Hood.

In the box, the tomatoes on the left are the tried and true Early Girls. The tomatoes on the right are the new varieties. The two large, pear shaped tomatoes and the green ones on the vine are the one risky plant I bought called Giant Italian Paste tomatoes. They are a 100 day tomato and I didn't count on eating any ripe ones. Surprisingly though, those two red tomatoes beat out the Donas to ripen which are a 65 day tomato. They are huge, meaty and will be great for sauce. There are not so many on the plant but I can definitely imagine that planted in a place with nice hot summers (like Italy) they probably produce abundant amounts of giant paste tomatoes for great pasta sauces. I'm glad I planted it and would plant one or two again next year.

This tomato is called a Heinz. It is diminutive but the plants have produced profusely. They are a firm, meaty tomato that have the characteristics of a roma but those romas are not ripening very well so I think next year I should plant more Heinz and less roma.

I have made numerous tomato sandwiches with the Heinz. Maybe that's why I haven't made much sauce. I'm eating too many tomato sandwiches. Is it possible to eat too many fresh summer tomato sandwiches?

No. I don't think so. As long I can get fresh mozzarella and there is sourdough bread and basil leaves, the tomato sandwiches must continue as long as possible, as many as possible.
And of course, as long as the juicy, ripe summer tomatoes last. Which won't be much longer so let's make some more sandwiches while we can! And also Tomato Tarts and some roasted tomato pasta sauce.   Hurry! before summer is over!

Wait. What?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

On the Trail of Pioneers

We had a great opportunity for a school field trip last week. It was up in the mountains behind our little homestead.

In Oregon, school students are required to learn their state history in fourth grade. We were a bit late and studied it last year in fifth grade. Oregon's most interesting history is from the mid-nineteenth century when pioneers were arriving to settle the state via the Oregon Trail, which passes through here, over Mt. Hood to the Willamette Valley on the western side. Last spring we went to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center to learn about the difficulties the pioneers faced in making the trip past the mountains. They had to choose between using the Columbia River or traveling the Barlow Road over the mountain.

Last week some hearty folks set up a pioneer re-enactment camp up on the Barlow Road. We headed out early one morning to find them.

A narrow paved road led us through the Mt. Hood National Forest, deep into the woods. This pair of deer was not a bit shy about having visitors.

The camp was set up at the exact place where the Barlow Road crossed the White River.

Oregon is proud of its heritage and its place in U.S. pioneer history.

The reenactment camp was made very authentically and the volunteers were dressed in period clothing. There were six stations set up for demonstrations of different tasks that nineteenth century travelers had to perform and the kids got to try their hand at everything.

Like making fire using a flint and steel.

This home-made contraption was for making rope.

The boys were curious about making one of these for themselves.

Rope was handy on the trail when they had to lower wagons over cliffs on the mountains.

At one station the kids got to try their hand at carding wool.

Another station focused on the archeological study going on in that area near the White River. They talked about all the possibilities for finding evidence of the people who passed through the area and the volunteer showed us things that had been found.

The final station we visited had toys that nineteenth century children played with on the Oregon Trail.

Before we left for home, we made a side trip up the mountain to a spot I had visited before.
I tweeted this photo to Ree Drummond. I thought she might like to know where this is for future reference.

We got to this section of the road, higher in elevation than the camp, but unfortunately it was closed due to a bridge that had been washed out by spring slides. We didn't make it to the pioneer woman's grave.

But we did find an artisan spring and had some pure mountain water.

We again have to recognize how privileged we are to live in this beautiful and fascinating place.

Monday, September 17, 2012

An Amish August

 There are many things recently that I have intended to blog about. Numerous blog posts have been composed in my brain and stayed there, best intentions thwarted by baking schedules, wedding cake deliveries, homeschool classes, mile-long To Do lists and simple fatigue. I have files full of photos that would kick start a few blog posts if only I had the time or energy to write them.

Photos like this one, taken on our the visit to Michigan that I made with Samuel and Peter. I stayed for a week to spend time with my daughter, her husband and our special grandsons. After I left, Sam and Peter stayed for the whole month of August. They had lots of time to bond with their nephews, help their sister with garden chores and live the lives of true country boys in a community that still farms and savors the long summer days. They spent time with family but also experienced the unique opportunity of taking part in the activities of the local Amish community.

This was the first day that the boys got to tag along with the Amish neighbors who were putting up loads of freshly cut hay. Notice that Sam and Peter are on the back of the hay wagon, feeling awkward and out of place. They were anxious to participate in the exercise of bringing in the hay in the old fashioned way, but they weren't too sure how to make friends with these odd folks.

It didn't take long though, for them to make friends. Here they are with their new best buddies, Jacob and Jonathan. These two Amish farm boys showed our boys how to get the most out of summer- fishing in the creek, riding horses, catching horse flies, eating home-made ice cream, swimming in the pond and playing in the hay mow. They made a lifetime of memories in one long summer month.

I think the Amish were a bit surprised to get to know "English" boys that were so eager and able to work. Sam and Peter were at the farm nearly every day to milk the cows and help with whatever chores that needed to be done. True friendships were forged and they had a bittersweet parting when it was time to leave for home. There were promises to write letters and plan phone calls (Amish boys are allowed to use the neighbor's phones to call friends).

The night before the boys left for home, their Amish friends paid them one last visit of farewell and presented them with shirts that Jacob's sisters and mother had made for them. Now they're hoping for straw hats and suspenders too so they can be stylin' at the next barnraising.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Weekend Wedding Roundup

Three weddings last weekend, each one unique. 

This large cake was all almond cake with almond buttercream icing. That's a lot of almond! I went to the local liquor store and bought the best Italian amaretto that they carried and used a half a bottle to flavor the rich buttercream icing. The flowers were a lot of fun because they were simple white blooms with lots of greenery including succulents and Love In a Mist seed pods.

I even had a couple fiddleheads to play with. When I arrived at the venue with the cake, these delicate, hand-made wood hummingbirds were waiting for me as special adornment. I left with fingers crossed that the icing wouldn't soften and the birds fall off.

Immediately after I left that cake on a Columbia River Gorge ridge in Washington, I crossed the ditch back into Oregon to deliver this cake-
I made many cakes in this style in 2010 and 2011 and it is classic.

My last wedding of the weekend was a pie wedding.

For the seven different flavors of fruit pies I had a code in the way I decorated them with pie dough cutouts that hinted at the fruit inside. The guests also could choose lemon mascarpone cream tartlettes.

This was the pie I made especially for the bride and groom and their cutting ceremony.
It is Rhuberry pie- rhubarb with summer berries- strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and marionberries.

I'm on the homestretch of the wedding season!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Moving Up in the World

Our kitty grew up and had kittens. Cats tend to do that. We knew it would happen and the kids especially were looking forward to it because it has been several years since there has been a litter of kitties around here. We only had one spayed female barn cat and that wasn't enough to keep our rodent population in check so we brought Mara to the farm. Remember the little kitty with the  grey chin?
She still has a grey chin and now she has a family too. About a week ago she kept coming into the house to scope out the territory. Because she loves the luxury of Alyssa's bed it looked like she was going to use it for labor and delivery so Alyssa locked her window. Smart girl. Mara gave birth in the barn like a good barn cat, right under the hay manger.

But today she decided her babies needed new accommodations. She apparently plans that her offspring will have a new station in life and not be barn cats.

I think Beatrix Potter could make something out of this.

Alyssa wasn't so sure she wanted her bed to be the training ground for this batch of kitty royalty.

But Mara kitty is very purr-sistent.