Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Picnic on Castle Rock

Many of my favorite summer childhood memories revolve around evening picnic adventures with my family. My dad would come home from work at the end of the afternoon, bringing dinner with him from town (Kentucky Fried Chicken was a memorable favorite), and we would drive up the winding mountain road just behind our house, enjoying the views as we climbed looking out over the Olympic Mountain range and the Strait of Juan De Fuca. Olympic National Park has a camping and day use area at the top of Blue Mountain called Deer Park, where we would follow a trail to a high mountain meadow to enjoy our dinner with the deer and wild rabbits for company. There were big rocks for climbing around on and a few stray snow patches on the shady side of trees that could keep my brother and I occupied for hours. Sometimes my grandparents would be visiting and we would bring them along too. It was a good family activity.

At the beginning of the summer, I decided it was a good time for just such a picnic to celebrate my birthday. I asked Corey to pick out a spot that was close by with good views of the Cascades, and he said he knew just the place.  I brought sandwiches home from my favorite deli after work, and we headed up to Castle Rock.

The drive to the trailhead wasn't terribly long from our place, and the hike was only a little over a mile, so it was very manageable at the end of the day.

Hot pastrami from Falling Sky Delicatessen paired with a cold beer and views of the Three Sisters with my family on a June evening was the best birthday dinner I could have asked for.

The area at the top is the site of an old lookout, and it's easy to see why. The McKenzie River valley is visible below with a clear view from Blue River to the Three Sisters peaks.

With lots of big rocks to climb around and explore for the kids, it was very reminiscent of my brother and I scrambling around up on Blue Mountain. We hung around enjoying the views for a while before heading back down the mountain to the cake awaiting us at home. It was a perfect picnic adventure.

Here is a link to the USFS page for the Castle Rock Trail:

And a link to William Sullivan's Oregon Adventures page:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Blueberry Independence Day

 Well folks, I am proud to share the achievement of a homesteading dream. Blueberry independence has been achieved. What this means is that we produced enough blueberries on our own land to freeze for the year's supply. To really understand the significance of this, you have to know that we eat A LOT of blueberries. Every July involves several U-pick trips, many frozen quart bags and a significant chunk of change thrown down in support of local farms. We eat blueberries in our pancakes. We eat blueberries in our various baked goods. We eat blueberries in our salads. We even eat frozen blueberries plain, just as they are, by the handful. We REALLY love our blueberries.


Our homestead came complete with a row of mature blueberry bushes, which was part of why we fell in love with it. Visions of blueberries danced in our heads, but we still ended up visiting the U-pick farm last year. With the move in late spring, we weren't able to do much to take care of them, and although we were able to pick a few bowls full for daily munching, the chipmunks and birds ate most of the fruit much to our dismay and disappointment. So, we got cats. We mulched around the bushes. We spent a few days over the winter pruning. We fed them with the special blueberry fertilizer from Down to Earth. We kept them weeded and watered, and we watched and waited.

 Even when we started picking a few fresh bowls to set out on the counter, I still had it in my head we would be needing a trip to the U-pick farm to stock up for the year. I really wasn't expecting to get enough harvest off our own bushes to make up our full supply.

Then, our friends came to visit for the 4th of July weekend, and we decided to spend the evening picking some berries, because it was starting to look like we had a lot of ripe fruit out there.

I'll be darned if we didn't put up 8+ gallons in the freezer in about an hour, and we had hardly put a dent in them.  It was then that I realized, we had achieved blueberry independence.

Foraging, wildcrafting, and U-picking to stock up for the year has always given me a good, independent feeling. I like knowing I have been responsible for my food, and I like supporting local farmers. The feeling that comes along with growing AND harvesting one's own supply of food, however, is much more profound. Although we grow and forage a large amount of our own food, the only thing I can really say I have had full responsibility for a whole year's supply is my garlic, and while important, that is more of a supplemental food. Blueberries are substantial, and as I said, it takes a lot of blueberries to keep my family going for a year. Of all the things I have to be proud of in life, this goes way up there near the top of the list.

When we think about independence and freedom, the first association that comes to mind is often political. The independence we celebrate on the 4th of July is one that has been fought for, paid for with lives and allows us to have many freedoms in the United States that other people still do not have. Freedom is something I value highly, and am deeply grateful to possess. There is ongoing conflict and debate over how this freedom should be upheld and maintained, and different people hold different pictures of what independence looks like. To me, homesteading is an act of independence. Self sufficiency, to whatever degree we can achieve it, means that we are independently providing something for ourselves and are therefore no longer dependent on someone else for that thing. While I am not sure we can be entirely independent, or 100% self sufficient in our modern day and age, and there is still a great importance in interdependency and community, I do believe that these acts of self-sufficiency have a positive impact on our own lives and the world we live in.

My fellow blogger, Tonya, over at Plain and Joyful Living, posted this quote by Wendell Berry the other day that really resonated with my thoughts on why we engage in modern homesteading: 

"To make public protests against an evil, and yet live
dependent on and in support of a way of life that is 
the source of evil, is an obvious contradiction
and a dangerous one.  If one disagrees with the
nomadism and violence of our society, then one is 
under an obligation to take up some permanent
dwelling place and cultivate the possibility of peace
and harmlessness in it.  If one deplores the destructiveness
and wastefulness of the economy, then one
is under an obligation to live as far out on the 
margin of the economy as one is able: to be as
economically independent of exploitative industries,
to learn to need less, to waste less, to make things
last, to give up meaningless luxuries, to understand
and resist the language of salesmen and public
relations experts, to see through attractive packages,
to refuse to purchase fashion or glamour or prestige.
If one feels endangered by meaningless, then one
is under an obligation to refuse meaningless pleasures
and to resist meaningless work, and to give up 
the moral comfort and the excuses of the mentality
of specialization."
- Wendell Berry

Blueberry independence may seem like a small step, but to me it is a large milestone.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

June on the Homestead

Yes, I know it's July. That's just how busy things have been around here. With the garden having overcome the cloudy weather and slugs, and finally starting to take off, we've been busy weeding, watering and harvesting. On top of that, I've been busy with all my off-homestead work trying to make ends meet by doing everything from handling cocoa bean orders for two weeks to repairing coffee roasting equipment to harvesting lavender. It takes a lot of irons in the fire to have a homestead and earn a living. In the mean time we have been enjoying strawberries, peas, lots of salads and blueberries (more on that soon!)

The raised beds are coming along with strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus. A few fun volunteer flowers popped up in the soil we got from our friends herb farm, adding a little extra pizazz.

After re-seeding some of the garden rows FIVE TIMES, setting beer bait traps every night, and finally resorting to Sluggo (which is still natural and seemed safe enough to beneficial insects in its granular form), I finally achieved rows of pumpkins, gourds and sunflowers. With a week of rain followed by some very hot, sunny days, things are going bonkers out there now. Not giving up does eventually pay off. I am also very glad we newspaper and straw mulched the pathways, because when the weeds went bonkers, it cut our work in half to only weed the garden rows.

My little front yard oasis is coming along nicely, with all the flowers I planted in the front flower bed starting to bloom and the small patch of lawn I painstakingly aerated, fed and re-seeded turning into a lush green carpet. I turned a small livestock watering trough into a little pond with aquatic plants and goldfish, and we have a hummingbird who has claimed the feeder on the front corner of the house as his territory. He sits on the archway above our gate and guards the front of the house. It's a wonderful spot to take a break in the shade on a hot afternoon.

All of our hard work on the blueberry bushes has paid off. We have all the blueberries we could ever want, and enough to freeze for our year's supply. This is a long time goal achieved, and I could not be happier about it.

The quail agree. They have been enjoying little lettuce and blueberry treats every day and laying us lots of tasty little eggs in turn.

Della Mae has been busy keeping the chipmunks and mice out of the garden, along with the barn cats, and doing an excellent job. She almost makes up for all the mischief she causes.

The chickens are doing well and moving on without Paul Bunyan around. We are still in need of a farm rooster, but I really just want another big old Brahma. Paul Bunyan set a very high standard to follow. I am hopeful that one will come our way.

Ms. Frizzle and her chicks got moved outside to their own little coop and pen. We had tried integrating them with the flock, but one of the cats caught one of the bantams and brought it up to the house. I managed to rescue it in time, but we realized the bantams were just not big enough to be around cats yet.

They're a very pretty bunch, and I'm hopeful we might have a little bantam rooster in the mix.

The other big news is the bees. When we moved in, a colony of honeybees was living in the wall of our woodshed. They disappeared over the summer, much to our disappointment, and we were never quite sure what had become of them. This spring they returned, and now the colony is busy and thriving as ever. They don't bother us and we don't bother them, and we get the benefit of great pollination without having to care for a hive. We aren't getting the benefits of honey, but I've been told if we wanted to pry a board or two back from our shed we could possibly harvest some. With plenty of other things to do around the place, we are busy as bees, so I think for now we will just let the bees be.

Now that July and hotter temperatures are here, I'm looking forward to more of the busy hustle and bustle of summer on the homestead and all the rewards that it will bring.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Like Shelling Peas

I'm not quite sure how the phrase, "Like shelling peas" came to mean that something was easy. I personally think shelling peas is a tedious task. And still, I love it. When I think of shelling peas, I think of summer on the homestead. It's a lot of work, sometimes it's tedious, but the rewards are crunchy and sweet!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Garlic Scape Ganouj

Garlic scapes, also called garlic whistles, are one of the most useful and delicious secondary products of growing a crop that I can think of. I had never heard of them until I grew my first garlic, and began noticing them at our local food co-op that summer. At the time, I was living near Moscow, Idaho, the home of one of my homesteading heroes, MaryJane Butters of MaryJane's Farm, and got this great recipe at the co-op for a zesty summer spread made from these interesting plant parts. If you have never heard me talk about her before, she is basically like an organic farmer Martha Stewart. I have gotten a wealth of good ideas and inspiration from her over the years, including this recipe.

 When garlic plants are maturing and put out their curly-cue stalks with long, pointy buds on the end, it is time to snip them off to send energy down to the bulb. You can dice them up in sauteed vegetable dishes, substitute them for basil in a very garlic-y pesto, or just munch on them raw if you really love garlic.

If you've got a food processor, this is a great way to make something zesty and delicious to spread and dip for summer meals.

MaryJane's Garlic Scape Ganouj

2 C chopped garlic scapes
3/4 C olive oil
1/2 C tahini
1/4 tsp salt
juice of one lemon

Blend all ingredients in a food processor and serve chilled.

 Summer should be zesty, after all.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Camping on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

The longest day of the year is an excellent time to soak up the sunshine while camping out beside a lake, and the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway between Bend and Willamette Pass offers some of the finest lake camping I have yet to discover. With 14 Alpine lakes offering a range of camping options from boat-in sites, unimproved Forest Service camping, campgrounds and a couple of lodges, there is something suitable for just about everyone wanting an outdoor experience. Here is a great map and interpretive online pamphlet from the US Forest Service with a map and information on each lake:  Cascade Lakes Byway Map.

This past weekend we packed up the truck with our gear and some dinner to roast over the fire, and headed to the other side of the Cascades for some relaxing time together in the outdoors. I had discovered some unimproved campsites along a Forest Service road on the South shore of Crane Prairie Reservoir camping with friends a few years back, so we poked around until we found a perfect, unoccupied spot right on the lake with beautiful views of the Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor.

 The water was warm enough that the kids spent most of the afternoon swimming and building sand fortresses along the shore. My son, being very concerned with safety, made sure his fortress had a Tsunami barrier wall against the large waves coming in with the afternoon winds. With them being at an age where they would much rather bury their nose in a book, it was great seeing my two pre-teens having so much fun playing outside again.

Although Crane Prairie Reservoir was our pick for this trip, there are quite a few other wonderful places to visit along this Scenic Byway. Wickiup Reservoir, pictured above, offers some great campsites out on peninsulas and even seasonal islands that you can reach by boat or canoe. I have many fond memories of camping trips there and have had abundant migratory bird sightings including pelicans, bald eagles, loons, great blue herons and various waterfowl. Aside from the many undeveloped campsites, there is one particularly nice developed campground next to a crystal clear spring that flows out of the ground and forms a little creek that feeds the lake, and an excellent hiking trail along some lava flows. Wickiup and Crane Prairie are the best bets for some seclusion, as they are the largest and farthest from Bend.

The next major lake heading north in the chain is Crane Prairie Reservoir, where I felt fortunate on this trip to see a flock of white cranes flying over the lake. We also encountered loons, a bald eagle, and several other bird species. I saw a lot of folks out on the water enjoying fishing and boating, so I assume it must be a good spot for that too.

Lava Lake and Little Lava Lake (pictured above) offer beautiful mountain views, nice campgrounds and good boating. I think the grassy shores of Little Lava Lake are the perfect spot for a summer picnic.

From here, as you drive towards Bend, there are several other lakes with campgrounds, getting progressively more crowded the closer you get to civilization. One of which we passed called Devil's Lake that was bright turquoise blue and had a lot of paddlers out on their watercraft. Some people had set up boat-in campsites on the far shore from the highway that looked like a lot of fun. We stopped and had a picnic lunch at Sparks Lake (pictured above) and that looked like the happening place for paddlers from Bend to spend a Sunday afternoon. The campgrounds looked nice and I hear there are great boat-in sites there as well. My son reported that the swimming was fun, but cold.

Nothing beats a campfire by the lake at the end of a sunny day playing in the water. I feel fortunate to have so many good camping lakes nearby that offer enough variety where I can still have my secluded campsite without neighbors, and other folks can have their lodge experience and day of boating with friends. Since there truly are all different kinds of campers out there, it is good to know that on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, there is something for everyone.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Give Me the Banjo

"Give me the banjo...When you want genuine music -- music that will come right home to you like a bad quarter, suffuse your system like strychnine whisky, go right through you like Brandreth's pills, ramify your whole constitution like the measles, and break out on your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose, -- when you want all this, just smash your piano, and invoke the glory-beaming banjo!"

- Mark Twain, "Enthusiastic Eloquence," San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle, 23 June 1865 

We have been having some great banjo experiences lately, between some excellent shows by our favorite banjo duo, The Lowest Pair, and discovering a documentary that came out of The Banjo Project, called Give Me the Banjo, narrated by another excellent banjo player, Steve Martin. Both are worth knowing about for any old-time or bluegrass music fan, or anybody just plain curious about this American instrument.

This week I had the wonderful experience of attending my first house concert, and what better than to have it be my favorite band? It was nothing short of amazing having a front row seat on a comfy couch in a backyard, with two outstanding banjo players making music under a pear tree strung with lights. It was a completely intimate, focused musical experience with a small audience who were there for the sole purpose of listening to these musicians. While I do enjoy a good, rowdy hoe-down from time to time at our local watering holes, it is also good to just listen to the music.

Here is a little more about The Lowest Pair from their website:

"The Lowest Pair is a quirky, old-time roots influenced duet, featuring the high lonesome harmonies of banjo pickin' songsters Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee.  They perform both traditional and original music, often nestling-in somewhere between.  Arkansas born, and homesteading in Olympia, Kendl is a solo artist on indie record label K Records and was one of the founding members of the popular string band The Blackberry Bushes.  Palmer hails from Minneapolis, MN and is the front man of high energy festival favorites bluegrass outfit, The Boys n' the Barrels.  The two met in early 2013 and began discussing the idea of collaborating.  Shorty thereafter they hit the road with their banjos and an old guitar.  A few months after the duet formed they teamed up with Dave Simonette of Trampled By Turtles to record their debut record "36¢" put out by Team Love Records.  They are road warriors with a city folk front and back porch sentiment.  This dynamic duo is turning heads across the country."

Although I haven't had much time to play these days, I am still feeling rich in banjo.