Monday, August 29, 2011

Going New Places, Completely By Accident

In life there are often those things that you should do, and then the things you do instead. This weekend I did the instead. I should have been studying for the GRE, doing dishes, laundry, bathing my dog, mowing the lawn, cleaning out the basement, grocery shopping and finishing up my grad school application. Instead, I drove out of town with a friend and went on an adventure.

{Columbia Hills State Park}

{Protected Grasses and a Lone Tree}

The original plan was to check out the petroglyphs along the Columbia River. But thanks to some slightly off googlemap directions we wound up in the middle of the Columbia Hills State Park. The river side part of the park was originally a Native American Village, a site which Lewis and Clark camped at during their expedition west.

{Not exactly "wild" life, but life none the less}

{Moth or Buterfly....cannot find identification}

{Tree in a working ranch}

The park originally included the camp (an attempt to preserve history), the petroglyph site and Horsethief lake. From the information I can find the actual public park area is a little over 3300 acres. But from what we discovered this weekend it is a bit bigger. Probably due to a commission in 2003 to include donated land from the Dalles Mountain Ranch at which time the whole area was named Columbia Hills State Park.  



The Crawford ranch was built in 1878 by Willam N. Crawford, his son John C. Crawford was a Washington Sate Representative and later a Senator from 1915-1921. I couldn’t find all the information about the ranch that I would have liked to.

{Mail box still stands}

{Crawford Farm House}

{Peeling Details on the farmhouse}

{Grapes still growing on the garden side of the house}

{Pool buit by the Crawford Family}

{The pools is still home to gold fish}

  But in 1975 Pat Bleakney  became the third and final owner of the 6,123 acre ranch that was then named Dallas Mountain Ranch. In 1993 the ranch was returned to public domain and in 2003 it was joined with the river side property to become the now state park.

{Dallas Mountain Ranch}

{More Ranch Outbuildings}


{Old Wagon}

The park is a huge expanse of native grasses and dwelling species. I have never in my life seen so many grasshoppers and giant bees. The raven population was out of this world, we saw a few deer and we even found signs of others animals (scat and jawbones) we were guessing canine or possibly medium sized wild cats, though we saw neither (sadly but probably luckily considering how far out were we).

{Bird of Prey Nest}

{Bleached out Jaw Bone}


We under estimated the elevation of the hike, the heat of the day and lack of tree cover. As well as the population of Rattle Snakes and Ticks. So plans to go back in the fall are in action. As we were following my phones horrible directions we accidently stumbled across the ranch buildings and a hiking trail which the Columbia Hills State Park web site fails to mention. I wouldn’t suggest going if you don’t have a tough mountain vehicle, the gravel road looks unassuming but quickly becomes quite steep and rutted. In fact on the way down we both were surprised we had even made it up in the first place having, caught up in the joy of adventure, not realized the grade of the road or the size of the rocks we were driving over.

{Looking back along the trail}

{Oregon from Washington}

At any rate, having shirked all of my responsibilities turned out to be a great plan, as did following some bad directions. We discovered a new place to hike, an abandoned turn of the century ranch, some amazing wild life and we did eventually see the petrophyphs we drove so far to find.
{Racoons perhaps?}

{Mountain Goats}

{Maybe a lizard}

I guess sometimes being irresponsible leads to great things. This weekend left me with a great sense of renewal and a readiness to finish my looming tasks with zeal. On to the week and hopefully getting many things done.

*All pictures are mine. Taken in the Columbia River Gorge August 27th 2011.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Fun Day: Lunch on the Lawn

I woke up this morning in an absolute foul mood. Having been so distraught this morning I totally forgot to pack a lunch. Much to my surprise and delight friend/coworker Z had packed too much lunch, so a pic-nicing we went. Z happens to be currently tied at number one for the best cook I have ever met in real life. So a wonderful lunch of caprese (plus green bean) salad, roasted chicken and French bread in the sun made the best possible mid-day break from work.

{phone photo}

Small acts of kindness do much to lift a weary soul. Which happened to be one current topic of conversation between Z and I. So thank you dear friend you made my day.

{phone photo}

Happy Friday All!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Non Organic vs. Organic vs. Heirloom

I often find myself getting into arguments with people about Heirloom/Organic/Farmers Market produce, like anything else the magic is in education. There are tons of great resources out there to help you understand the deep rooted differences between grocery store produces items and other produce types. And there are plenty of people out there who are willing to tell you ALL about it, if you are willing to lend an ear. But I am of a distrustful nature, I will listen all the live long day as people climb up their soap boxes, then I go home and research things for myself. I don’t have a lot of sited sources here because  I assume people who are striving to better their own lives aren’t of the lazy sort and are willing to do the leg work necessary to make good choices.  But in the interest of pointing in the proper direction here are some major differences.

Non-organic grocery store produce:
1.       Most likely GMO
2.       Most defiantly picked before ripe (hence the bland taste)
3.       Usually gassed at some point during transfer to stimulate ripening like activities, which mostly just change the color of the food.
4.       Sometimes bleached, lettuces and other in ground leafy greens get bleach baths before hitting the supermarket.
5.       Grown in nutrient-less soil with the help of petrochemical fertilizers
6.       Possessing approximately 60% less nutrients than those your grandparents ate

{gentically modified to look nice, picked at the right size, gased for color and sold at your local store}

Non-certified Organic produce:
I will only trust this if I am comfortable with the seller. Organic certification is extremely meticulous and expensive, not everyone can pull it off and stay financially afloat. Generally these famers are people who take great care in growing food naturally without synthetic chemicals but who also cannot afford to keep up with the certified organic requirements. This category is a big grey area where politics start to really show. If you want to know more I suggest researching yourself, there are hundreds of books written on the subject.

Farmers Market:
I highly suggest frequenting farmers markets or upick if you can. Get to know your growers and you will get to know their practices. The best thing about produce from these sources, you know they have been picked when ripe and have avoided any bleachy baths.

Organic produce:
1.       Very strictly monitored by the government agencies
2.       No use of synthetic chemical inputs
3.       No GMO
4.       Land must free from synthetic chemical input for three years and tests must come up clean.

{Organic, its a little funky but it tastes good}

Heirloom produce:
Heirloom pants are plants grown from seeds that have stayed out of large-scale agriculture. The plants are grown, seeds collected and saved, then replanted the next year. They are cultivated through open pollination (bugs and air) and cultivated with great care. Originally these plants were saved for historical interest, but as big ag has taken over many of the worlds foods sources these plants are one of our last remaining genetically untainted food sources. Seeds can be procured at seed banks around the country and in my opinion should be support as much as possible. Plus the taste really cannot be matched, truly incredible.
1.       Non GMO
2.       Amazing taste and quality
3.       Anyone who takes the time and work to deal with expensive and sensitive seeds is going to avoid synthetic chemicals.

{Heirloom, really funky but oh so good}

Back to the real world.

Side Note/Clearing the Air

I was going through my reader articles this morning and came across a Martha Stewart DIY for an Oilcloth Lunch bag!!!!! Is she spying on me?! While I doubt very much my idea was the first in the world, I would like to state that I posted my article first, a whole three days copy right infringment here Ms. Stewart.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lazy Gardening

I love the outdoors and all things planty and green. But I am a far cry from being in possession of a green thumb (it’s more like a black thumb of wilty death). I wouldn’t say I am a terrible plant owner, I am just forgetful when it comes to watering. I have managed to keep my dog watered for 5 years but she is much more in your face about needing water. Oddly this has worked in my benefit over the years. Yes I have killed a few plants along the way. And yes I feel terrible about it.  But the ones I have managed to keep alive are low maintenance or Willamette valley natives that require very little coxing. So while the gardens around me bloom in bright vibrant colors, and mine blooms very little, I at least have the peace of mind that my garden is a tad bit smarter. I, unlike my neighbors, am not pouring chemical fertilizer over everything, spraying pesticides and wasting water. My plants like the soil, lack of summer water and changes in temperature. Native plants are  a great way to fill a garden without a lot of cost or maintence. But these plants vary greatly be region, even between my house and my parents which is less than two hours away. So finding the plants that require little work and little poisons to yourself and the environment can take time. But they will be worth in the long run.


As for non native plants there are three types that I stick to pretty regularly. Lavender and Rosemary are both drought resistant, have great home benefits and can also be cooked with. Lavender also has the advantage of being a natural bug repellant to pests like aphids, fleas and ticks. Which is a great for us outdoors types that loathe the thought of covering our plants, and our pets with toxic chemicals.  


Succulents on the other hand grow quickly and fill in spots in gardens with great texture. They are also drought resistant. Because they cover the ground so completely there are large portions of my garden I no longer have to weed. And if I want to plant something new, their shallow roots are easy to pull up and place in a new location. Easy-peasy.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Lunch Box DIY

I highly doubt summing a person up into one word is ever feasible, but there are a few words that tend strike at the heart of my every day, the most common being practicality. I like things to make sense, be easy. And whether it be time or money or materials I like to cause as little waste as possible (with the exception of my closet but we don’t talk about that).

Recently I realized I go through a lot of lunch packaging waste. Normally I use bags left over from shopping of some sort or another. But over the last couple years I have nearly stopped taking bags from stores (except for the occasional unplanned trip to the store when my canvas bags aren’t on me at the time). I have tried using canvas bags for lunch. However they are big, shapeless and prone to pitching my food around and making a huge mess. So a couple weeks ago I took on a lunch bag project that actually turned out pretty well. I chose oilcloth because it is easy to wipe down, washable in the machine and a tad insulated. So far I have managed to sit on it (with a peach inside) and not get fruit mash all over my dress (thank you oilcloth). And If something can withstand my klutzy-ness chances are its indestructible.  So I considered the project a raging sucess!

Oilcloth Lunch Bag

-1/2 yard Oilcloth
- 1 inch adhesive Velcro strip
- scissors
- sewing machine
- paper sack of your choosing (for size/pattern)
- thread to match oilcloth fabric

I first chose a paper sack size/style that worked for me. Since I work full time and go to school part time I needed a pretty large bag to carry lunch/dinner around most days of the week. The bag I made for boyfriend was slightly smaller, for the smaller bag a standard paper lunch sack would do the trick. I cut the paper sack down into logical pieces, four sides and the bottom.

Lined up my new “pattern” on the oil cloth for maximum use of material. Pinned it into place. Cut out my pieces. Removed pins and pattern. And reconstructed the bag with the oilcloth bits. At the top I did a double hand rolled hem, which my machine really didn’t like because the oilcloth is a bit waxy/rubbery and the teeth on my sewing machine kept sticking.

But minus a bit of swearing and two jumped seams it only took about an hour to make and it wound up being the easiest thing I have ever sewn.

I hope you have a chance to try this out, and if you make any modifications like adding handles or compartments please share. I would love to see/hear how they turned out.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Good Golly Miss Molly

Or as my Auntie M would say “Oy Vey” ( yes I have an Auntie M, no she doesn’t live in Kansas). The last couple weeks have been busy, stressful, and just plain insanity. Both Best Friend and Boyfriend decided to move in the same week. Both now living closer to me which is good, but owning a Subaru means helping is just a given. So my car and I have gotten a hearty work out the last couple weeks. In my own life, I also chose this as the prime moment to sign up for the GRE and apply to Grad-school. Never mind the fact that I am starting back up with my Med-school pre-reqs the day before I take the GRE. Oh, and I am also currently in the throes of switching banks and insurance companies. Yes, timing isn’t always my strong suit. With that said, posting has obviously taken a back seat lately. But given I do not eat fast food, I still had to feed myself in a somewhat healthy manner, here are a few things that came about. 

{A pic-nic meal to keep me going}

There have been a lot of quick healthy low cost meals that I have managed to sling together at the last minute while running out the door. Sadly I do not have pictures of all of them (I have talents but running and eating and taking pictures all at the same time are not chief among them).

Taco Bowl
(for when you get halfway through making tacos and realize your tortillas have mold on them)

- 1/2 cup ground meat (optional) I used buffalo because its what I had
- 1/2 cup refried or soaked beans
- 1 cup raw chopped cabbage
- taco seasoning to taste
- salsa to taste
- blue corn chips

Cook meat in skillet first if using, then add beans. When warm throw everything in a bowl and mix. It is surprisingly good and takes all about  5 minutes to make.

 {Lebanese Squash, nutty and amazing!}

Farmers Market Pasta
(for when you bought a bunch of veggies at the farmers market and have no idea what to do with them)

-1/2 cup Lebanese Squash
-1/2 cup Heirloom Tomato
-1/2 cup Shiitaki Mushroom
- 1/2 cup Chippolini Onion
- Chopped Garlic
- Whole wheat Angle Hair Pasta
- Meat of choice

I used a spicy Louisiana Sausage because it was what I had in my fridge but I think roasted chicken would be great too. Or no meat at all your choice. Throw all veggies in a pan with olive oil, sauté. Add salt and pepper to taste, if using meat add precooked meat to the mess and remove from heat when looking done. When pasta is done cooking (angle hair is super fast if veggies started at same time they should finish at the same time as well). Toss together and done. Also good with a dusting of grated hard cheese like parmesan or imberico if you eat the dairy.

{Patty Pan Squash is great cooked down into tomato sauce}

Pie Crust Remake
I also took a normal pie crust recipe and substituted in whole wheat flour and coconut oil. By doing so I opened up a world of pie like foods with one simple crust. By cooking down some tomatoes and patty pan squash with onions and garlic I created a quick calzone like pizza pie. I also filled some left over pie-crust with homemade jam for some hilariously large disaster like pop tarts that I am now calling a jam calzone because no human size toaster could take the giant pastry. But despite my inability to properly judge sizes when I am cooking, they were still quite good and very tart.

 {The more sucessful of the pocket pies}

{The poptart epic fail}

For a more sucessful go at homemade pop-tarts try Deb's over the Smitten Kitchen.

That’s all I got. Stay tuned for a DIY lunch bag instruction. But not yet, I have to get back to my real job. Tah-Tah for now.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Going Wild

As I have already mentioned I spent about half of my first 18years in Alaska. Like most people who spent time in Alaska, my family and I ate wild. It isn’t uncommon for a friend or even a friend of a friend to swing by your house or in my case more often than not the boat with fresh wild food. I recall eating octopus that some friendly gents at the cannery caught on their off time, deer meat and bear sausage shot by some friends in the Native village near the cannery, fish, various berries and plants. When we moved to Oregon I remember my mother having an edible mushroom book and spending weekend hikes on the lookout for morels. But I realized a few years ago while on a hike with a friend how uncommon this type of life style is.

A couple years back while walking up a rather large hill with a  group of friend I subconsciously pulled some small red berries off a bush and began eating them. When I looked at my friends and saw their shocked faces my first instinct was “Is there a bear behind me?”, being from Alaska this was a normal response but we were hiking in Oregon rather close to decent sized town and they all just laughed at me. After a few confused few minutes on both parties I managed to work out that the concern was actually with the berries, Coastal Huckleberries actually. But they didn’t know that. Or if they had any recollection that there were in fact edible berries in the coastal range in Oregon they in no way knew what they looked like or would be confident enough to eat a large amount of them. I assured them all it was fine, but they refused to eat them and fearing perhaps a berry induced spontaneous zombification they kept an eye on me the rest of the day.  The whole hike I kept thinking how funny these people were, being terrified of some innocent berries no bigger than a pencil eraser. It was only later that I put my background and my confidence in eating wild things in perspective. The terrified friends weren’t the weird ones, I was.

{July 2011 Astoria Oregon}

Being weird is fine by me, but that is beside the point. The whole experience made me realize how seldom most people get to eat wild foods. In hindsight I am a little in awe of how amazing it was getting to eat so many different foods that have never been touched by human intervention (other than cooking it). These pure organisms, that evolved over millions of years being perfected for their environment by their environment has resulted in some amazingly diverse and unique foods. And the taste really cannot be matched by anything cultivated by humans.

Huckleberries for example are a diverse group of plants from the family Ericaceae. The plant grows all over the North America in different environments and thus has a varying look and flavor. In Nova Scotia the plant grows in bogs and have a blackish color. Huckleberries growing in eastern Oregon and Washington are Mountain Huckleberries, they are large, blue and very sweet. My favorite Huckleberries are the small, tart, red berries that can be found in the coastal range of the Pacific Northwest. They like cool, damp, acidic soil and because of their specific needs have managed to thwart my every effort to grown them in my back yard a mere 40 or so miles from their native home. But every plant is adapted to a certain environment when you poke and prod and breed a plant to grown in a place is doesn’t naturally grown in you wind up with a totally new plant, that bears slight resemblance to its wild cousin but tastes worlds apart. In the case of a wild Huckleberry if bred to grown on the eastern side of the Oregon coastal range you’ve created essentially a  blueberry.

Currently the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde are trying to protect the remaining wild edible plants of the northwest. Sadly in the last 70 years or so most have been killed off by development. As sad and staggering as the number of extinct wild plants in the Willamette Valley is, there are still many more to be enjoyed and protected. If you even have the opportunity to eat something wild do so with reverence and joy. It’s a rare experience to taste such amazing foods, one that hopefully with last.

{July 2011 Astoria Oregon}

*Trivia about Huckleberries - The Coastal Native tribes not only ate and dried the berries for year around eating. But they also used them to bait their hooks because the relative size and color so closly matched salmon eggs.

Though this is in no way an endorsement to go out and eat the next plant you find. Talk to experts, read up on plants and ALWAYS respect the native habitat. And if you aren’t 100% confident in what you are picking do not pick it. Oregon doesn’t have a lot of poisonous animals but are plants can be pretty wicked.

{July 2011 Astoria Oregon}