Painting by Deon Matzen (25 x 40″ Oil on board)

They, whoever they are, say that you should eat a good breakfast to start your day.  I know, you are in too much of a hurry to make it because you wanted to lay-a-bed just a little longer and now you are late.  Coffee and possibly a piece of toast while you put your coat on. How often do we omit the breakfast thing?

Now that I have retired, my husband and I eat two meals a day.  One is a late breakfast, after a leisurely cup of tea, and then around 5, and early dinner.  Needless to say, without eating for sixteen hours, we are ready for a substantial breakfast. 

Now what to have? We are not the eggs and bacon everyday sorts of people.  Most of our meals, breakfast and dinner, would seem unusual or out-of-the-ordinary for most people. Being somewhat eclectic eaters, we eat breakfasts that take only a short prep time, and are different from the ordinary fare. Dry cereal, pancakes, bacon and eggs, hash browns are seldom featured in our meals.

My husband’s favorite go-to breakfast is cornbread with sausage gravy.  One important thing to note is we make up large batches of home ground sausage and freeze it in quarter pound packages.  One of these takes about four minutes to thaw in the microwave.  We then add whatever spices are the norm for the dish we are making. For the sausage gravy I use the regular sausage spice mix that I have made ahead and stored in a container with my herbs and spices. 

You can see that a little planning ahead makes for easy breakfast prep.  Thaw the sausage, mix in the spices and fry.  How much work is that?  For the gravy, we have a distinct dislike for that white stuff they serve in restaurants or that you can get in cans.  It is disgusting! Ours is a brown gravy that features onions.  The cornbread is on the sweet side and is ready by the time the gravy is ready. Making a large batch of cornbread means we can freeze portions for the next time we have cornbread and sausage gravy.  If everything is mixed ahead, the meal takes about ten minutes to fix. A poached egg can top the mix and you are set.

I won’t get too descriptive of the other breakfasts we like, but here are some. 

How about Chinese Egg Fried Rice? Left over rice with peppers, onions, Chinese Sausage (either store bought or Chinese spices added to our own unseasoned sausage), celery, napa cabbage, Szechuan pepper, some stinky dofu, a couple of eggs and a little soy sauce and it is ready.

Waffles? We usually have plain waffles, but sometimes pumpkin with pumpkin pie spice, gingerbread, tofu, honey-wheat, or bran.  Take your pick as they are all good. Waffles with Chicken? Haven’t had the yen to try that yet.  I’m not sure about chicken for breakfast, though I  don’t know why not.

Panka? What is Panka?  It is similar to a Dutch Baby. What is a Dutch Baby? It is a large (12” in diameter) mixture of mostly milk, flour and eggs.  It puffs up like a Yorkshire Pudding which is the same recipe as are popovers, which we make for breakfast as well. It is Swedish in origin and takes about two minutes prep time and fifteen in a very hot oven. YUM!

Hawaiian Sausage with rice and a poached egg on top.  Add a little Vietnamese chili pepper sauce or soy sauce at the table and you have a great breakfast.  We use Redondo’s Portuguese Sausage. The rice is left over.  I like cilantro and green onion sprinkled over the top too.

Some days I feel like making something special so I purchase a tube of the premixed crescent rolls. Roll the dough out flat. Fill the middle third with ham or pork roll slices, add sliced cheese, cover with barely scrambled eggs.  Add whatever veggies or spices you would like and roll it up to bake.  Slice and eat as a special breakfast.  Don’t tell that I used packaged crescent rolls as this is so out of character for me.

Egg McMatzen—English muffin with ham roll, cheese and a fried egg.  Toast the muffin, spread it with Siracha Mayonnaise and you have a meal that you can run out the door to work with.  Better than MacDonald’s.

Hash can be anything.  Mostly it needs to have potatoes and onions.  Add anything else you would like.  How about left over pot roast, cabbage-sliced very thin, pasilla peppers, shredded squash (either summer or winter varieties), carrots, or any or all of the above? I like thyme sprinkled in mine along with black pepper.  Just before I am ready to serve, I add about two tablespoons of liquid, water, chicken broth, white wine or whatever you have on hand. Stir and serve with—-horseradish? Siracha? Stinky dofu?  If it is corned beef—whole grain mustard!

Bread Pudding for Breakfast? It could be left over from dessert from the night before or it could be made just for breakfast.  We make two kinds, sweet or savory. Sweet may contain sour cream or cream cheese, blueberries, dried pears, orange zest, nuts, cinnamon bread or just about anything sweet you can imagine. What about Nutella?

The savory version I make with sourdough or French bread.  It has things like onions, peppers, bacon, sausage or ham, cheese, with parmesan sprinkled over the top for baking.  Breakfast Bread Puddings take a little longer to cook and some folks mix them the night before and just bake them in the morning.

Shakshuka is great if you have overripe tomatoes in abundance.  Make a good tomato sauce or open a can that you have on hand.  Peppers, Onions, garlic etc are added if not already mixed with the tomatoes.  In a pinch you can use leftover marinara. Poach the eggs in it.  I do it in individual ramekins and sprinkle with parm. Serve with French bread toasted.

Enough ideas for breakfast?  These should get you through this week.  What shall we have next week? Or should we start over?

Holiday Magic

Boy and Dog Sculpture by Georgia Gerber a local Whidbey Island Artist overlooking Saratoga Passage

Holiday Magic

On a cold clear day in December, an old gentleman sits by himself on a bench near a bronze sculpture of the Boy and His dog, located in a small park on First Street in Langley. His extended family decided to take a trip to Whidbey Island to see the Christmas decorations and do their Christmas shopping.  Having arrived on a tour boat from Seattle, the time ashore is not long, five and a half hours, but is still tiring for him. Not being fleet of foot, he has chosen this resting place where he is comfortable sitting on the bench with the boy and his dog in bronze for company.  He can look over Saratoga Passage to view Mount Baker and Camano Island.  If it were the springtime of the year, he might also add a grey whale and her young calf to this vista but, alas it is winter.  Because of the boat ride here, he bundled up when he dressed for this foray, his wife having insisted that he wear that heavy red sweater with the snowflakes all over it.  “It is Christmassy,” she had reminded him. He is toasty warm and happy to doze on this bench until his family returns.

His wife, daughter and three granddaughters have agreed to meet him here before having lunch. Their chatter, running, jumping and hanging on grandpa has worn him down and he will have just a little rest here on the bench.  There are many folks milling about both from the tour boat and those who have traveled here by car, taking the ferry from the mainland.  Every year in Langley, the merchants dress the town for Christmas and this is the reason that his family has planned today’s event.  Lots of shops to see, great places to eat and….a place for grandpa to sit and enjoy the winter sun. Many fine artists live here on the island and every year there is a competition to see who can do the grandest display decorating the merchants’ doorways.  It is a stiff competition and the displays range from wacky and outrageous to absolutely gorgeous. Prizes are given to the winners.  This is part of the draw to come to Langley for Christmas shopping.

While grandpa is dozing in the sun, a flock of little girls race into the Boy and the Dog Park where he is sitting.  They chatter like birds and awaken the old man.  He smiles at them, giving them reassurances that he is benign.  Suddenly one little girl jumps up on the bench and stands next to him. She chatters away at him in her high little girl voice.  He continues to smile and then nods his head.  She races off and talks with her companions.  “He nodded Yes!” she said excitedly.  Soon there is a line of little girls, all dressed in their Christmas sweaters, red coats, red hats, fleece boots and smiles.  They are lined up by the bench where the old man sits.  One by one they get up on the bench and whisper in his ear.  Mostly he cannot tell what they are saying because he has taken his hearing aids out and stuffed them in his jacket pocket.  And besides, little girl whispers are really hard to understand, but he smiles and nods his head.

Soon they have all talked into his ear and they are all smiles and twirling pigtails and happiness.  He is happy too.  Their mothers are approaching from a nearby shop where one mother has stood vigilant outside the door to be sure the girls were safe.  The girls gather around their mothers and are all trying to relate their experiences all at once with lots of shrieks and squeals about talking with the old man.

He sits contentedly on his bench enjoying their laughter and joy.  Soon his own granddaughters will be there to take him to lunch.  Hummmm….he IS getting hungry.

The little flock of girls flies off up the street while calling to the old man. . .”GOOD BYE SANTA!”

Camping in Torrential Rains         

We couldn’t have expected much other than torrential rains visiting this time of year.  It is late October.  Not much happens on the Long Beach Peninsula in October except intermittent rain every day.  It is Thursday and the hot deal tonight is prime rib at the Lost Roo. 

Over the years of coming here annually, we have visited most of the interesting sites to see in this area.  We are constantly in search of new places to visit.  For twenty-nine years we came to the International Kite Festival in August.  When we moved to China, we established a sister city relationship between China’s famous kite city of Weifang and the United States national kite museum here in Long Beach, Washington. I have even been the artist who created the International Kite Festival’s annual poster.

The museum is not open except on the weekends during this time of the year and we will take our photos and some memorabilia that we have just unearthed to them, having given them most of our collection a few years ago.

There is an area near Long Beach and before you arrive in the village of Chinook where Lewis and Clark greeted the Pacific Ocean after their horrendous trip across America.  They spent some time there and we have visited the interpretive center commemorating this event which is located near the Cape Disappointment Light and the state park by the same name. and

Lewis and Clark and their entourage didn’t stay long, but crossed the Columbia and camped near what is now Ft. Clapsop outside of Warrentown, Oregon.  They spent the winter and it must have been a pretty terrible winter with the wind and rain that beat on this portion of the coast, some of which we have experienced on the last twenty-four hours. Their purpose for spending the winter was to resupply themselves with salt.  Salt is a necessity of life and they were out. The winter was spent boiling saltwater and scraping up the residue for the return trip to the eastern United States.  I cannot imagine how it was possible in all this rain to dry salt enough to keep.

Hudson’s Bay Company established a fort in Astoria in later years.  It also was an enclave of the Finnish people and the Wobblies(International Workers of the World).  A fictionalization of this era and a great read is Deep River: A Novel by Karl Marlantes. A former student of mine has a grandfather who is buried in Astoria who was part of this history. Many of these Finns came to the region where we are camping and you still see many Finnish names on mailboxes and businesses here.

Today we visited Knappton.  This is a region on the Columbia River where tall ships were built in the 1800s, though there is little there to recall this activity.  The spruce trees in the neighboring forests were popular for masts on ships.  To view the history of this area go to where you will learn about this area.  

Our destination in the pouring down rain today was to see the Columbia River Quarantine Station.  It was closed, but they had thoughtfully placed some interpretive materials at the gate for us to read.  I then came back and found more information on the internet.  Not sure when they are open as it is the second time we have tried to visit it. Folks coming in on ships were checked out for their suitability to live here, no disease, mental illness, previous crimes etc. They were held in this facility until these issues were cleared.

Columbia River Quarantine Station plaque

If you go to this site, you will find many folks wearing facemasks. Familiar? Not too different than today.  Check it out.

Well as the day progressed, I purchased fresh cranberries to take back home.  The harvest will be continuing for a while yet.  Great bogs are flooded with water and the berries bushes which are very low (6-8” high) are combed (today with machines but in the past by hand) to loosen the berries.  When the field is flooded, the berries float to the surface. The floating berries are scooted to one end of the bog, which is now knee deep in water, where they are sucked up by large vacuuming machines and loaded into trucks to be washed again and packed for our holiday treats.  If you visit The Peninsula, visit the Cranberry Museum and learn all about it.

Local Long Beach fresh cranberries

We partook of the prime rib at the Lost Roo and are now ready to fall asleep, well satiated.  Tomorrow we leave the area, much too soon.  I am hoping we will return in the spring or summer and maybe visit old sites of interest or discover new ones.  We will see.

Driving Down Highway 101

Highway 101 on Hood Canal
Autumn Beauty

Sounds intriguing? Sounds like fun? I must admit, it was only a small section of 101, the Pacific Coast Highway.  We are camping in late October.  Not in a tent, but we are camping in a trailer.  We started in Port Townsend, Washington this morning and have traveled to the Long Beach Peninsula, the southern and western-most region of Washington State.

The thing that has made it a special experience is this year the fall colors are spectacular.  The trees along the highway are in full color as you can see from the photos.  Part of the day was sunny which made the fall colors glow.  Most areas through which we traveled the trees hadn’t lost any leaves yet.  Some areas leaves had started to fall.  As we travelled, it was easy to see a  broad difference in colors due to the variation of the vegetation. 

In Western Washington State, we have a lot of broadleafed maple.  Some years they just turn brown and some years they turn golden, yellow and crimson. One of the micro regions through which we traveled had a preponderance of vine maples which are noted for their fall colors.  These are not native to Whidbey where I live, though I have planted several in my gardens. Another tree that is absolutely spectacular is the wild cherry.  It glows with magenta, cerise, violet, orange and yellow, a combination the really makes it stand out along the roadsides.

The foliage was not the only show of the autumn season.  We stopped at Dosewallips State Park for an al fresco breakfast. The sun was shining and we sat under an electric yellow cottonwood tree with the leaves falling on us from overhead.  Almost as nice as rose petals thrown at weddings.

While at Dosewallips we decided to walk down to the river by the same name.  We have camped in the camping area of this park many times, but today we were in the day use park as this was just a stop-over for breakfast and a little exercise in the form of a walk to the river.  The Dosewallips is famous for the salmon run that comes up the river to spawn. We were not disappointed as we had been the last time we visited.  This year we were in the middle of the run.  Salmon are splashing on the gravel bars and laying eggs for the next generation of salmon fingerlings produced by this river.

Part of the life cycle of these beautiful fish is moving into the freshwater river, laying their eggs, fertilizing the eggs, dying, fingerlings hatching, eating the remains of dead parents and eventually going out to sea again.

Needless to say, dead salmon were present in abundance as were the ones still actively mating or moving further up the river.  It is an unusual and educational experience to be able to see this life cycle happening right before your eyes. Seagulls and bald eagles feasting on some of the remains. No fingerlings yet in site.  The water was absolutely clear and sparkling with a slight tang in the air of decaying, rotting salmon.

Another thing we noticed about the Dosewallips in this location was that there had been a terrible event that must have happened during the spring run-off from the Olympic Mountains.  It appeared that a log jam had happened on the river causing a dam which had made major new inroads to the riverbed in the region.  It looked like a massive earthworks under construction. It hadn’t stopped the salmon from returning to their ancestral home. The life cycle continued.

Because of the river making its way whichever way it felt, there was a lot of mud, clay and open ground along the riverbanks.  I was watching my footing as I didn’t want to step in deep puddles or slip on the exposed clay.  Low and behold, there was a bear foot print.  It continued down the riverbed.  Another scavenger come to the feast.  The bears love to fatten themselves on salmon before moving to hibernation. We, luckily, didn’t see any bears, just the tracks in the muck along the river.

But not only were there bears, but elk had wandered down this pathway as well.  Elk tracks mixed in with the local deer.  The Olympic Elk, introduced by Teddy Roosevelt when the Olympic National Park opened, have flourished here.  They have traveled down the mountainsides to the low land for the winter.  This trip we haven’t seen them, but we have seen them at Dosewallips in the past.  Stay clear as they can be very aggressive.

Further down Highway 101 we encountered a coyote crossing the highway.  It was just a little guy, probably “hatched” early this spring and abandoned by his mom this fall. He wasn’t sticking around for us to take pictures or even see more than about thirty seconds of his running full speed across the empty highway.

This trip, so far, we have seen more evidence of wildlife than in the past.  We are traveling just a month later along this route.  I guess most of the tourists with their chatter, and loud “toys,” have departed and things have quieted. Those who are here have settled down for the winter.

We stopped at Hamma Hamma to purchase oysters for tomorrow’s breakfast and were the only folks there.  Last time when we stopped I guess it was party time and the place was packed with the outdoor bar and oyster grill hopping with many folks. It looked like we were they only customers so far today. 

cages to be packed with oyster shells for new oysters to grow upon
Piles of spent oyster shells

Highway 101 in this region is not very busy this time of year.  We travelled down highway 12 to the next segment of 101 and found that the need for construction lumber has savaged much of the drive from Arctic to the Naselle.  Too bad, as this was a forested region where we have seen bears and coyotes. Much of the clear cutting has been replanted, but it will be another forty years before it looks like a forest again. The demand of trees for lumber to keep up with the building trade boom in the Pacific Northwest is decimating a great deal of the forests especially along this portion of Highway 101. 

Stopped for coffee in South Bend, a town that is slowly dying and watched a bow picker fishing boat set his net across the Chehalis River. He had the net across the entire stretch of the river next to where we parked.  I think there is another channel for regular boat traffic so he didn’t worry about blocking the entire leg of this stretch of the river.

Bow picker with nets across the river

South Bend is the county seat for Pacific County.  They stole all the records, deeds, etc. from Oysterville across Willapa by in the 1800’s and named themselves the new county seat.  If you ever have a chance to stop there visit the County Courthouse which has a spectacular and unbelievable stained glass ceiling in the dome.  It has faux finish painted “marble” columns painted by a person serving time in the jail there.  A very interesting place.

Well now, we are in Long Beach, Washington, the most Southwest part of Washington State and famous for its sandy beaches which stretch for twenty-eight miles and claims to be the longest continuous beach in America.  It is spectacular and also a public highway.  You may drive up and down the beach, but carefully.  We have seen cars stuck and the tide washing over them.  Bad way to get your car washed.

It is noted for its giant razor clams, cranberry bogs (which are being harvest right now), the International Kite Museum and the International Kite Festival in August. It has an Oyster and Jazz festival during the summer as well as a “Rod Run” noted for the restored vehicles that congregate here. It has some of the best restaurants in Washington. It is noted for almost eighty inches of rain a year.  The Pacific Ocean does not provide very promising waves for surfers.  Because of the breaking patterns, seldom do surfers ply these waters. It also has had the record wind speeds during a storm a few years ago with winds reaching 125 mph. Because it is so flat and has little land much above sea level, tsunamis can be an issue, though many years ago when Japan had its earthquake, the “tsunami” wave that hit this coast when I was here measured three feet.  Even a surfer would have had trouble working that wave.

I have been visiting the Long Beach Peninsula and traveling down Highway 101 since 1953.  The motel when I stayed with my family still stands and is for sale these days.  We always came to clam and ate clams until my father finally got the hives.  We canned and froze them in our kitchen-equipped motel room, we fixed them every way we could imagine and ate them breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Now we go to the 42nd Street Café where I can have them for breakfast with eggs, hash browns and toast.  They are still my favorite clams to eat and nothing like the Manila, horse, geoduck or butter clams which inhabit the beaches of Whidbey.

It is a pilgrimage to come here annually and revisit all these old haunts. Sometimes we make it a couple of times, but there are always new experiences.  Hopefully we can continue for years to come.

Abandoned mill in Raymond Washington

End of Summer—Bagel Time

The finished product

Today is the last day of August, 2021.  The weather bodes of the cooler days to come.  It has rained this morning and the temperature is about 51 degrees, kind of cool—temperature speaking. It has been a strange summer if you could call it summer.  We did have a heat wave for a week in June with unprecedented temperatures both for that time of year and for western Washington, in general. We are way behind in the precipitation department however, rare in western Washington State.

We have had our annual firewood supply delivered in the spring so the wood could dry before it was needed in the fall.  About one-third is split, but I still have two-thirds left to go.  That didn’t stop me from having a fire in the stove in the house to warm up. Seldom would we need to heat the house this time of year.

The garden in slowing considerably, though I planted lettuce (two kinds) in the greenhouse hydroponic beds to harvest in late fall and if I am lucky, into winter. 

Salmon fishing season has started but we haven’t caught any yet.  My brother-in-law, however, has caught a few and we have shared in his bounty.

The blackberries are slowing and have almost vanished on my street because the county bushwhacker came and cut them all down just when they were in their prime. Now I must search farther afield.

Neighbors let us pick pears from their ancient tree which still produces abundantly. I made pear and ginger pies and stuck them in the freezer, something special for Thanksgiving dinner.

The virus is rebounding everywhere and we have had to cancel our fall camping trip.  We were going to Oregon, but it is one of the worst states for the “bug” and we don’t want to catch it. So this morning we cancelled our two and a half week trip.  Kind of disappointing.

Now it is time to think about making soups and baking bread again.  So today I whipped up a batch of bagels for dinner.  Haven’t make these in a long time and guess I just got inspired, that and I had two egg whites in the fridge and didn’t know what I was going to do with them.  Bagels were the answer, especially since I needed to bake some kind of bread today as we are out.

I remember making bagels when I lived at the beach on Whidbey (I live in a forest now). The neighbor kids use to hang out at my cabin to see what interesting things I was doing.  One day I was going to make bagels.  About six kids, ages 4 to 10, showed up and wanted to help.  It must have been summer as they were getting bored with so much time off.

I had the dough started and I make the bagels in the traditional shape, a tied knot (see photos). The kids really got into rolling snakes and tying the knots,  lots of chatter and lots of flour everywhere in the kitchen and on the dining room table.

I had the water on to boil as bagels must be poached before they are baked.  We had a couple of chairs set up by the stove for the little guys to see what was happening in the pot on the back burner.  They watched the bagels get big and fat, then we flipped them to the other side.  When we flipped them back we painted them with egg white and sprinkled all sorts of stuff.  They loved sprinkling the “stuff” and much of it was on the kitchen floor. We used poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried chopped onion, coarse salt, cinnamon sugar and whatever they could think of. Some of the bagels had rather eclectic combinations of stuff sprinkled over their tops.

Then into the oven.  About that time, one of the moms comes round looking for her kids, the youngest of the bunch. She told them to stop bothering me and go home or play somewhere else.  The smallest one, about four years old, turned to his mom while he was watching the bagels poach and said, “Mom, we can’t come home right now.  We are in the middle of making beagles!”  That flummoxed mom completely and she had to come in and see what was going on.  She laughed when she discovered the real project we were doing and was curious about the process having never known that bagels were boiled and baked.

Of course, they all took some home and raced off to see what was happening on the beach.  I was left with a few strangely shaped and strangely sprinkled “beagles” for myself and a kitchen and dining room that needed a diligent scrub.  No helpers there.

Well today is bagel making day with only sesame seeds on top.  This recipe is Kosher, but I will probably use them for hard salami sandwiches—not kosher. But the best way is to toast them until crispy and slather with butter and marmalade. Yow! Is that good, or what?

Rising on the counter
Poaching in simmering water
Moving into the oven immediately upon removal from the water to bake. Some are further along here than others.

The Fruits of Summer

Wonderful berries of summer

(This is a rant, so if you don’t like rants, you can just skip my piece. I try not to write rants too often, but occasionally one will pop up)

So here we are in the throes of summer.  Earlier, in June, it was hot, very hot.  Lots of plants had trouble coping with the heat as well as many of the people here in Washington who think 80 degrees is hot! In many cases it has stunted, sunburned or killed crops.

When I was a kid growing up in Redmond, Washington, it was rural countryside.  Large vegetable gardens and orchards were the norm and folks of this small rural community (700 people) were mostly small dairy farmers producing their own fruits and vegetables. 

Our five acre farm had a number of apple trees, most of which grew wild from seedlings.  We used them for applesauce and made spiced applesauce cake as a regular staple for dessert.  These small apples were also used with wild blackberries to make cobblers. They tasted fine and our horses thought that they were great treats, even though they didn’t have a lot of eye appeal and were small.

On the old Bel-Redmond Road there was a ten acre peach orchard.  When the peaches were ready, we would take our truck over to purchase several lugs (a box of 28 pounds of peaches) from the farmer who owned the trees. The redolent fragrance of peaches could be detected for several blocks before getting to the orchard. Unfortunately, that only lasted a few years when an early frost killed all the trees by bursting the trunks which were still full of sap. A very sad situation as these were the sweetest, freestone peaches I have ever eaten.

We had cherries and a plum tree (which I didn’t care for as the skin was VERY sour.) It was probably a self-sewn seedling as well. Of course, we had raspberries and strawberries and wild blackberries, all of which we took advantage.  We made cobblers and jams and syrups and pies.  What glories the summer fruits could bring.

This morning we had peaches for breakfast.  Though I sorted through the fare at the grocery to find something ripe, it was still a disappointment, no flavor and cling-stoned fruit.  Freestone peaches are hard to come by these days.

My rant is this:

Why must we sacrifice the delicious flavor of summer fruits in order to make shipping easier?  Remember the red delicious apple from the 50s and 60s? It was delicious.  Now it is a tough, bitter remnant of its former self, looking gorgeous in the display but with a skin that is more like leather and terribly bitter.  I refuse to purchase them.

I have an acquaintance that is developing apples for market.  He tells me that firstly, the apple must be shippable.  What happened to flavor coming first? Isn’t the most important thing about food THE FLAVOR? What good is it if it tastes inferior, like this morning’s peach.  Are we growing this stuff to produce what I consider to be chicken feed or garbage?

Avocados are hard as rocks and only about half of them ripen to the point of being edible. The other half just turns black and tastes terrible.  If you eat it too green, it doesn’t have flavor.

Melons are too green to develop any flavor by ripening on the counter in your kitchen. Strawberries are often pithy and lack flavor or sweetness even though they are gigantic and gorgeously red, but dead in flavor. Pineapples will ripen after purchase so they are a somewhat safe bet.  Mangoes often turn black inside instead of ripening. Green tomatoes that have been “fumed” to make them turn red, they are still green tomatoes lacking flavor and aroma.

Why don’t we grow food for taste instead of shipability?  It is no wonder people don’t eat their five fruits and veggies a day, they don’t taste very good.

red apples on brown wooden crate
Are they ripe? Cling or freestone?

Day Two of the Chinese New Year

Vase with decorative Bats

Did you know that the Lunar New Year starts on the dark of the moon?  When the new moon arises the New Year will start and continue to bloom until the full moon, the last day of the celebration, known as Lantern Day.

In China, where I use to live, there are many rituals associated with various of these fourteen days.  Before the New Year starts, your house must be cleaned thoroughly because for the first five days of the fourteen, you must not take anything out of your house.  To remove even dirt is to throw out good fortune.  This applies to anyone who has passed away during these five days. We saw many, many funeral processions one day while traveling and I thought perhaps there had been a terrible calamity.  They walked along the roadsides in long lines carrying the deceased to their final resting place.  When I commented on this, my student told me of the first five day rules. Very strange.

On Lantern Day, the last of the holiday, steamed rice flour balls are served to replicate the full moon.  These are like mochi for those of you familiar with that.

The Chinese have a lot of rituals and beliefs (some are superstitions) that are pervasive in many of their lives, mostly with the grandfathers and grandmothers.  Younger people tend to dismiss much of this as we also see here in America.  The young tend to put aside the beliefs of the old.

Today it is snowing pretty hard in the maritime northwestern United States on Puget Sound.  A rarity.  We seldom had snow in Beijing—too dry in winter. It is 29 degrees outside which generally would be too cold to snow here. So maybe this is ominous and maybe not.  I don’t know if the Chinese would find it so or not.

Being so unusually cold for our area, the birds have trouble finding water to drink.  I put out very hot water which will help them for a few hours.  Snow has covered all their food, so I toss them a few bread crumbs, or as is the case this morning, left over pancake crumbs.

A very rare thing has happened on this second day of celebration. A very small bat was ensconced on my welcome mat this morning when I got up.  The bats of my area are very small and I almost stepped on it.  Brown, and about the size of a fifty-cent piece, I almost missed him.  Luckily it didn’t bite the dog on his way out for morning ablutions in the snow.

I doubt that the bat flew there as it is so cold, but he is a furry thing. Perhaps it was hanging in the rafters of the porch and fell down.  I cannot surmise.

But…Ask any Chinese person and they will tell you that I will now be blessed with a year of good fortune.  Bats are respected animals in China.  The word for Bat and Good Fortune are “fu.” So the bat is considered a VERY lucky sign.  The five bat symbol reflects the five elements, earth, wind, fire, metal, air and the five types of happiness, good luck, health, long life, tranquility and wealth.

How it ended up on my porch on the second day of the New Year would be considered very auspicious, so for the coming year I will consider myself to be a very lucky person.  I will not rush out and purchase lottery tickets, but then again, maybe I should.

Five Lucky Bats

Chinese Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year Thoughts 2021 (4719 on Chinese calendar)

Tonight sounds like the lunar new year.  The fire is popping in the wood cookstove.  Either the sound is popcorn or firecrackers.  We have celebrated the lunar new year alone, just the two of us.  It is during the time of the Covid-19 virus and we are isolated still. In China, this is a time for family get-togethers.  People travel, against all odds, hundreds of kilometers to be with their family and loved ones. This year it may not be so.

For us today is the 11th of February.  It is New Year’s Day in Beijing, their time, or New Year’s Eve, our time.  I guess it doesn’t matter much which you celebrate.  My postmaster lady says today, the 11th is new years, but it is strictly proscribed by the phase of the moon.  Since it is snowing, I cannot see if it is the dark of the moon, so thus we celebrate today, lunar eve or lunar day, whichever.

I lived in Beijing and celebrated the new year in San Ya on Hainan Island in the Bay of Tonkin, a number of years ago.  We still celebrate it here on Whidbey, many years later.

Tonight we have had a dinner of jiaoza, ma po dofu and bang bang chicken.  It is a small celebration and we have managed to eat about half of it.  We used to have many, many dishes, but we can no longer keep up the tradition of at least two dishes per person.  Our appetites are smaller.

Before the period of isolation we would have at least a half dozen friends over with at least two dishes per person.  Not possible at this point in time even though both of us are now vaccinate twice.  Too many of our friends have not gotten vaccinated yet.  They must still stay even more confined than we are.

So it will be a quiet evening, no firecrackers,  no events, just the quiet passing of another year.  We are happy, we have fond memories of our time in China and celebrating the advent of a new year.  This year is the year of the Ox, a strong symbol. We will continue on tomorrow, be it New Year’s Day or the day after. We hope that all our friends still residing in China can celebrate with their family and friends, even if that option was not available to us.

May the new year bring quiet, peace, happiness, prosperity, contentment and fulfillment.

Happy New Year–xīnnián hǎo

Ma Po Dofu

(Note: The table cloth was one I had sewed while living in Beijing)

In Honor of the Chinese New Year

One Day In Winter

Deon Matzen

© Copyright 2019 by Deon Matzen

Photo of Beijing University Pagoda.
Pagoda in Beijing

I could say it was a cold, snowy, wintry day, but that would not be accurate as it seldom snows in Beijing. It was cold, very dry and wintry, cold enough to go ice skating on the lake at the Summer Palace. The ice there was about fourteen inches thick. It was COLD. It seldom snowed, but when it did there was gridlock that was unimaginable. Mostly everything is covered in a rime of frost. Winter was cold in Beijing. If the wind was blowing it was colder still.

I don’t remember my destination that day, but it entailed taking the bus to the subway rather than riding my bicycle. It was too cold with the wind chill factor to breeze on my bicycle down to the subway. The buses were always a good place to warm up as they were very crowded with lots of folks leaning against one another. I counted six leaning on me on one such ride. The windows were pretty steamed up but I could still see the world outside by wiping it. It was like a steam room in the bus. Outside everything was covered with a dusting of frost.

This day, in spite of the crowd, I was given a seat, which happened frequently, my being the only foreigner on the bus and a white haired one besides. People wanted to talk with me so often they would give me their seat. I felt very guilty when the person was much, much older than I, but because of my white hair, they thought I was old.

On this particular day, I had an aisle seat just behind the conductor in his small cubical, who monitored the door toward the middle of the bus. In the first seat behind the conductor was an older woman with a small granddaughter. She picked up her granddaughter and indicated I should take the seat next to her while the little girl sat in her lap.

She acknowledged me with a nod of her head and a greeting of nihao which I returned, it being one of the few Chinese Mandarin words I knew. Almost at once she began chattering with me, thinking I understood what she said. I explained in sign that I did not speak the language. “Oh, too bad’” she indicated in return. We smiled a lot at each other and I greeted her granddaughter. Several times she started to initiate conversation and then would realize that I didn’t understand. She was eager to communicate with me.

While I lived in Beijing I kept American pennies in my coat pockets so I could give them to children who were willing to speak with me. Often they would sing me a song in English that they had learned in grade school. The pennies were a great way to make new friends, bribe them. I pulled out a penny and asked grandmother if it was OK for the girl to have one. She replied “Yes.” (in Chinese). The little girl was delighted and gave me a shy smile, leaning into her grandmother’s heavy coat to peek at me.

Grandmother tried to communicate with me to see who I was. Along with pennies, I kept business cards in my pocket as well. The nice thing about the cards my university provided for me to use was they were English on one side and Chinese characters on the other. Grandmother now knew who I was and why I was in Beijing.

After sitting a few minutes in silence, I hear “AAAA!” Grandmother was incredulous. She was looking at my feet. I wear sandals year around. In Beijing, sandal season is June to September. Wearing sandals was a great icebreaker for conversations as strangers would come up to me in the street and point at my feet and ask if they were cold, often by using charades, they hugging themselves and shivering while I waved my hand in front of my face as though I were hot. Grandmother must have been perusing my attire when I wasn’t looking. She was astounded that I would wear sandals in winter and worse still with no socks.

She grabbed the sleeve of the conductor who was standing in his cubical at the door and pulled it to get his attention. She was jabbering a mile a minute and pointing out my feet to him. He looked on curiously. In pantomime I indicated that my feet were not cold. Meanwhile they had alerted all the passengers who were nearby. I held my foot up in the aisle so everyone can see my turquoise blue sandal.

Meanwhile the bus continues down the street. I was sitting quietly watching the scene when I thought I felt a bug crawling up my pant leg. It was winter and cold and I was surprised there were bugs out and about in the cold. I reached down to dust it away and bumped into grandmother’s hand. She was trying to raise my pant leg. She looked at me, though somewhat guiltily, and asked me to raise it. I smiled and did so. She leaned way over and looked up my pant leg to see my purple long winter underwear. She sat back in her seat with a very satisfied smile, nodding her head and gave me the thumbs up. I passed the test. I wasn’t as tough as she thought.

An interesting afterward: the next day I received an email from a woman whom I didn’t know, thanking me for my kindness to her mother and daughter. It seems that the grandmother had a big story to tell when her daughter got home from work. Grandmother had produced my business card for her daughter to read. The daughter felt she should write and tell me how much our time together had meant to her mother. Grandmother felt she had not been able to adequate express it to me and since her daughter spoke English would she please write and tell me.

Just one of my wonderful experiences while living in Beijing.

I am a Painter

Writing became a hobby for me a few years ago. I had been living in Beijing and decided to turn my journal and newsletters into a memoir of my time there.  Amazing how things can morph into a whole different entity.  Now I write about all kinds of things, memoir, travel, cooking, camping, and more.

But…I am primarily a painter. Since 1995 painting has been my career and along with teaching painting. In March of 2020, I “retired” involuntarily because of the virus. Now there’s more time in my studio and less in the classroom, more opportunities to paint.

Starting at the beginning of this year, I have completed seven pieces and I decided I should share a couple of these on my WordPress Blog.  Now you can see my true vocation.  Here are my three most recent pieces.  If you would like to see more, please go to my website at


Dog #180

The Dog is a portrait commission. Pet portraits are my bread and butter.  This is the one hundred eightieth dog commission I have completed. I have completed cats, pigs, horses, and ducks. It was the first of these three just completed. I chose to paint her with luminescent shadows, not grey or brown, but turquoise, hot pink and a golden yellow. Hopefully you will feel that this little white-haired friend glows.


The horses were from a photo that I have had for about ten years. I would look at the photo and then put it away. I have continued to do that many times over the ten years, too hard. Recently I challenged myself to do something hard. If it turned out badly, paint over it. No one would ever know. So the horses (the second of these three paintings) were a challenge. Since the colors are so unusual, I was unsure if I could pull it off.


The third painting, and the most recent I painted, was also a challenge, the Solitary Heron. I wasn’t sure if I could pull off painting all those sticks for the nest. It also was a very different color scheme, almost colorless, shades of grey, not my usual style. Though the paint used to make the greys were hot pink, turquoise and golden yellow (similar to CMKY in the printing business).  I don’t use black paint in my work.  I mix black from other colors.

It was exciting doing all three and I didn’t have to repaint the challenges at all, only look carefully and decide how to make the brush do what needed to be done.