Fair Time

 

It is July and it is fair time.  I was always a pretty active participant in the fair, bringing goods and winning ribbons was lots of fun.  That was forty years ago.  The fair has changed considerably in more recent times.

It is still the fair, but it is no long run by the county and therefore not a “county” fair.  It is the Whidbey Island Fair run now by the Island County Port Commission.

During the transition from one system to another some important things were neglected, the major one being the booking of the carnival folks.  We always had the fair around the middle of August when things were hot and dusty.  Now the fair is the middle of July, much too early for an agricultural event.

What happened? When the port realized that they hadn’t booked the carnival, it wasn’t available and there weren’t any others available for the usual time frame, mid August.  What to do?  Well you need a carnival for the fair and the only one available was available way too early for an agricultural event.  They booked it and moved the fair up a month.

What were the repercussions of this sad move?  The carnival activities look ok, though this concessionaire is smaller and doesn’t have the usual Ferris wheel or roller coaster or hammer. The rides aren’t as exciting.

The biggest repercussion is the agriculture events.  How many folks in Western Washington (night temps in the 50s) have corn ready to show at the fair?  Only strawberries have ripened in time.  You should see the examples of garlic, beans, and squash.  Piddily. Most of the produce is just coming on and showing juvenile veggies is not what the fair is about. There were flowers, but they were early summer ones not late summer, a completely different collection than what we use to see.  Folks can’t get inspired to show their wares if they are still immature.

Cattle, pigs, sheep are still somewhat under their usual August weights.  Auctions bring in smaller dollar amounts.  Horses are ready any time as are the chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and such.

When I first moved to the island and lived in a Clinton beach community, the local kids and I would go on walkabout and collect shells, sea glass, seed pods, driftwood, and rocks and work on project gluing these to plywood or larger driftwood to enter the kid’s crafts.  It was fun and they treasured the ribbons given to them for their labors. Nowadays the kids are on computers or cell phones and don’t collect detritus from the beach to make beach collages.  Too bad because the exhibit was painfully lacking in interesting material.

Photography seemed to be popular with hundreds of participants, but most were just snapshots without much concentration on creating a piece of art.  The fine arts exhibition was beautiful with a variety of participants, but smaller than in past years.

The usual commercial exhibits didn’t show because the attendance wasn’t high enough—no vegamatic.

We usually go on the first day of the fair in order to see the flowers and vegetables and baked goods at their best, before the wilt and mold set in.  Baking was poorly attended, but there were a goodly number of flowers.  Vegetables were, and have been for all the years the fair  has been in July, small, and severely lacking.  It used to be my favorite department and I would always participate.  Unfortunately, this year, the weather has not cooperated especially, with temps in the 50s at night and 60s during the day and rain to damage much of the goods.

My students produced an educational project that garnered a blue ribbon.  I won two blues and a red.  Many of my students achieved the blue ribbon and some the best of category.  I am proud of them.  The judge was fair and did write critiques for them to read about their work.  It is good to compete as you put your best foot forward and work on painting harder.  The rewards reinforce their attempts. Not everyone goes home happy, but most are happy.  I will crack the whip next year to get them to compete again.

All in all, I enjoyed my work time at the fair (4 hours) as I got to see old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, many of whom I have know as long as I have lived here (almost fifty years) and one who I have known since high school.  It becomes a reunion time.  Some of the kids from the beach collage are parents and grandparents now.  It is good to see their development.  Some of the folks ask questions and one family had only lived here a week.  They were really enthusiastic about the country fair never having been to a small, old fashioned one.

I had my Fisher Flour Mill scone which I have had at the fair as long as I have lived here.  When I was a little kid we went to the Puyallup Fair, which is officially the Western Washington State Fair and had a scone at the Fisher booth.  My sister and I would collect coupons off the flour sacks all year so we could each have a free scone with strawberry jam using the coupons.  I am told the line is very long now, though I haven’t been to that fair in years, too commercial. We don’t get free ones any more, however.

Without a doubt I enjoyed myself and maybe I should work to make it a better event.  We need to keep these small fairs going, they are dying out in America and they are really what the county or country fair is really about. You should seek them out and visit.  They are truly a part of rural America.

PS:  See my award on my website https://theruralgallery.com

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Crabbing Season is Here!

crab omleteWow! Crabbing season just started and we were gifted wild Dungeness crab yesterday.  My husband, sweet soul that he is, picked it all while I was at work yesterday.  So this morning we are in for a great treat, Dungeness Crab Omelets with garlic herbed chevre cheese.  I even got busy and made quick bread cinnamon rolls to go with it.  Living in the lap of luxury!

Crabbing season generally starts with the first of July or thereabouts.  My sister and her husband go out, and this early in the season, generally limit, which is five crab each.  That is a lot to cook and a lot to pick, so they get out their big turkey fryer kettle and the propane burner and do it in the yard, many crab at a time.  The cooking doesn’t take too long that way, but the cleanup of the boiling process takes some energy and time.

Picking is the time consuming.  Dungeness crab is probably one of the easier kinds of crab to pick, but I can only manage to clean one about every fifteen minutes. If there are several to do, you usually end up with some cuts and abrasions as a result.  The reward is you get to snack on the crab while cleaning.  We usually keep a little dish of mayo handy to dip in.

Once finished, you have this unctuous, sweet, mildly fragrant (with slight umami taste), white meat and legs that are beyond compare to any other crab I have ever tasted. Yes, it is better than king crab, snow crab or any kind we have access to.  Close in taste is the northwest red rock crab which is almost impossible to extract its meat.

Breakfast was all we had hoped it would be.  Needless to say, we ate decadently and are thoroughly sated.  Envious? You can do it too.  All you need is a boat, crab pots, a strong back to pull the pots, a large kettle to cook the crab, lots of time for picking and moments of pure joy eating.  Prep time: very long.  Eating time: minutes of pleasure. The alternative is to pay $35 a pound and worry about freshness.

We are luck to live where this is all possible.

Hobbies

“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for.” (Joseph Addison)

I am not sure that I have had time for hobbies in my life.  Gardening was always for food, not much of a hobby.  Cooking gourmet meals is just a way of life.  Camping? It is getting very difficult to locate places to stay when I have time available. Reading?  Probably.

What is a hobby? The dictionary says it is an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation, not as a main occupation.  Well cooking and gardening? Too much work and not enough relaxation or pleasure.  Gourmet cooking can take a lot of time and the pleasure of it is consumed in moments.  Gardening, real work with a nice outcome, but not much pleasure in the process and it is back breaking as well.

Camping used to be a pleasure for us.  Now, with so many snowbirds, the parks are crowded and you must plan six months to a year in advance to camp in your favorite place, which also happens to be everyone else’s favorite too.  I don’t buy green bananas, how can I plan THAT far ahead?

Reading.  I guess I would say that by the strictest definition of the word, my hobby would be reading. I spend a goodly amount of time doing it and I enjoy it and it isn’t part of my work, therefore it qualifies as a hobby.  I read about one hundred fifty books a year, sometimes more, reading most evenings for a couple of hours.  Since it interferes with work I should be doing, it really seems more like an addiction than a hobby.

Writing.  Writing is probably a hobby for me too.  My original goal in starting to write  was publishing books about my life, memoir.  I have written and rewritten and belabored the subjects ad infinitum. Am I any closer to my goals….NO! I have enjoyed doing it and it does give me satisfaction.  It does take some of my time though not as much as reading.

Overall, I guess I am such a busy person that hobbies have not really had much place in my life.  A sad thing.  One should have “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation.” as the definition required.  I still prepare gourmet meals, garden, read and write, but that is about the extent of non-work activities in which I participate.  I guess I need to find a good hobby.

Experimental Baking for the Holidays

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Not much left.  Just enough for another meal!

 

We were recently invited to dinner for the holidays.  I was to bring dessert.  What kind of holiday dessert could I make?  I decided on a cake, but a different cake than I had baked before.

I have a basic carrot cake recipe that is usually my go to carrot cake.  It is carrots and pineapple and walnuts.  I didn’t have carrots or pineapple in the kitchen when I was getting ready to bake.  I did have yams and applesauce.  Off on a new recipe experiment.  I knew the neighbors would overlook any weirdness this recipe might create.  How would the yams cook?  Would they be tough or chewy?  Would the applesauce be too moist or not moist enough?

The only way to know was to try.  I peeled and then grated the 2 cups of yams just as though they were carrots.  They even looked like carrots when I finished grating them in the food processor.  The apples I had were canned apple slices, so I processed those into applesauce.  I probably could have left some chunks, but I needed the moisture to give the batter the proper consistency.  Otherwise I made the cake just as it is in the recipe.

I mixed it up and the consistency was the same as the regular carrot cake so I popped it in the oven and it even smelled the same while it was baking. It took about the usual time to bake and I took them out and cooled them on racks just as I always do.

When they were cool enough, I was ready to frost them.  My original recipe calls for a cream cheese frosting.  I find it a little heavy, rich and cloying.  Recently I had discovered a two ingredient white chocolate frosting that is much lighter, just white chocolate and whipping cream. I used that.

When it was frosted, I sprinkled it with red sugar sprinkles, tucked in some winter greenery and I had a holiday cake to take and celebrate with the neighbors.

The resulting taste?  Fantastic.  Ever as good as the carrot version and more “holiday” in the ingredients.  I think the next time I make it I will add dried cranberries (craisins), as well, to make it even more festive.  Not only is it good for the December holidays, but appropriate for Thanksgiving too.

The results just reinforced for me, experiment! You will have a new product that doesn’t require a special trip to the store ( I had all the ingredients on hand) and tastes great.  Try it sometime.

Crabbing Season is Here!

crab and cheese breakfast
Here we have the breakfast muffin with crab, poached egg and cheese.

Saturday was the first day of crabbing season here in the maritime Pacific Northwest.  One of nature’s bounty waiting out there for us to pick up and eat.  Though it sounds easy and, at the beginning of the season, is abundant, it is more work than it would seem.  There is a reason why picked Dungeness crab is $36.95 at the fishmarket.

Firstly, you must have a boat which is seaworthy.  You can go out in a kayak, and I have seen a few folks do it that way, but it would be dangerous.  Pulling a pot up from the bottom of the sea takes some effort, a lot of lead weighted rope and hopefully a pot full of crab.

Luckily for us, my brother-in-law has such a boat with a winch to haul up the pots.  I have gone out with friends, invited because I was strong enough to grab the buoy marking the line and strong enough to raise the pot from the ocean’s floor.

My brother-in-law’s first haul on the first day was a full pot, filled with all males, all legal size.  You can only harvest the males and only five a day per person with a state wildlife permit. In two days, he and my sister limited and shared their abundance with us.

Next you need a large pot with a heavy duty burner.  A turkey fryer set up works well.  You can boil about 4-5 crab at a time.  Then the cleaning when they are cooked.  Plunge them into cool water to cool them.  Peel off the main carapace and clean their second-hand dinner from inside.  Rinse well.

Now you are ready for the hard, time-consuming part, picking the crab.  Yesterday I picked, and picked, and picked.  We had crab for dinner and the chickens got the shells (a good source of calcium for them).

We netted about two pounds, about a quart, of picked crab.  Last night we had crab melt sandwiches, hot.  This is an English muffin with crab in mayo covered with melted cheese.  Breakfast was almost the same with an addition of a poached egg and fresh tomato.  We still have lots left and our next choice will be crabcakes with red pepper rouille. Yum!

After reading all that, some of you probably will go to the fishmongers and buy the picked crab and consider yourself lucky to have it for $36.95 a pound.  Well you enjoy it and hope it is as fresh as ours.

Crab season is upon us.  It doesn’t freeze well and turns grey if you can it, so eat it while it is fresh and say thank you to mother nature for providing such a superb delicacy.

Food dislikes

Breakfast Welsh Rarebit
Poached egg on English muffin with crab cake and sharp cheddar sauce

I am an omnivore.  I eat gluten, lactose, nuts, soy, red meat, white meat etc.  You get my point.  I try almost anything.  I may not choose to eat some things a second time, not because I especially dislike them, but I choose to fill myself with foods that I enjoy.  If I am going to take in calories, they are going to be delicious calories.

When I lived in China, we had a policy of eat and don’t ask.  In all the time I lived there, there were only a couple of dishes that I would not order again.  If my students ordered them, I politely took the first bite as is required of the honored guest, but because there were so many dishes on the table, no one noticed if I didn’t help myself to more later on.

One of the dishes was duck feet in mustard oil.  I don’t mind duck or chicken feet at all and have had some truly wonderful dishes prepared with them.  The problem with this dish was the mustard oil.  I understand now how mustard gas can kill.  The oil was truly nasty stuff.

The honored guest always gets the eyes of the fish when steamed Li with scallions and ginger is served.  I eat these, but they are not a favorite.  They have little flavor, it is just the eye-dia.

Another dish which was offered to me at numerous festive dinners where I was the guest of honor was coagulated duck blood.  This is about the consistency of soft jello, difficult to pick up with chopsticks as it is jiggly and very soft, the cubes breaking easily.  Nothing worse that staining the front of you blouse with duck blood.  I ate it everytime it was offered, but I opted out of it on following turns of the lazy susan in the middle of the table.  No one noticed as there was so much food.  Duck blood is not cheap as it is hard to keep fresh.  My students, wanting to impress me, would order it as a special dish.

There is a somewhat humorous story about duck blood that happened to my husband when his students took him out for an end of term celebratory dinner.  I quote it from my manuscript below.

“….Bob tasted this one dish, coagulated duck blood, which was one he didn’t especially care for and had had before.  He went on to the next dish after surreptitiously rinsing his mouth with beer.  As continued eating, one of the other students took a taste of the duck blood.  The student made a terrible spitting noise and hacked the mass onto the floor, stood up and started yelling.  The duck blood was spoiled.  When Bob came home he said, “If I die tonight, I want you to know I ate spoiled coagulated duck blood.” The students were most apologetic.  I guess it might be a good idea to have a guinea pig to do your tasting for you, but that is not the Chinese way, the honored guest is the guinea pig, going first and dies first, if it is bad.  Bob didn’t even get sick.”

Now we mostly prepare our own Chinese dishes and we choose only the most delicious to eat.  When we can find ingredients, we prepare them at home for ourselves and we omit the mustard gas (oh, I mean oil), the eyeballs of animals including fish and coagulated duck blood.

There are two foods that I WILL NOT EAT, never.  There are only two.  One I don’t run across but occasionally.  Parsnips are on my HATE list.  I will refuse them if you offer them to me. There is not being polite here.  I even hate the ones that come in those chip bags of mixed vegetables. It isn’t the texture or the appearance, but the taste that you sense in the back of your nose.  When I was a young girl, I had several surgeries.  These entailed putting you to sleep by putting a cone over you face and drizzling ether onto the cone.  Parsnips taste like that smell.  Ether made me throw up and parsnips make me gag.

The other food I dislike and will not eat is runny eggs.  I do run across this often. If we eat breakfast out, I almost always order scrambled eggs as they will usually be completely cooked.  I would eat a runny white, but a runny yolk tastes like….well….coagulated duck blood.  It tastes like blood. I love eggs Benedict.  Do you think I can convince the cook of the meaning of petrified?  Never.  I always have to send them back while my table mates eat their meals before they get cold.  Once at the local café, I sent them back twice and they were still soft.  I kept the fruit bowl and told them to cancel the eggs Benedict. What don’t they understand about petrified?

Now when I go to that local café, the cook gives me the stink eye and hopes that I don’t order anything with poached eggs.  I would rather green yolks than soft orange ones.  It’s too bad, because this is a dish that I would not make at home as my husband is not partial to it and it is too much work just for me unless I am making crab cakes eggs Benedict, in which case my husband will eat those with me.

I am an omnivore.  I will eat almost anything and I am willing to try anything at least once.  Try it, you might like it.

 

A Treat in Winter

IMG_4503It has been a while since I wrote, but winter can be a busy time.  The wind blows and the branches fall and cleanup has to happen.  The critters in the woods come out and attack the chickens and measures need to be taken to make the chickens more secure.  I lost two of my hens to a Cooper’s hawk.

It snowed twice this past week here in the maritime Northwest, an almost unheard of event for late March. It wasn’t traffic-stopping snow, but snow none the less.

The woodshed was almost empty as the weather has been colder than usual with more fuel needed for the woodstove, so I have been working on a new batch of wood, splitting and hauling.  But we ARE keeping warm.

It is also time to do all the tax stuff since the two of us have businesses that require complicated tax forms.

Gee isn’t winter fun?  Well it is, and I am just giving excuses for not writing. We do have a new customer for our card business and we have been preparing a new line of cards as well.  I had three dog portrait commissions in recent weeks too. That is always exciting.

Right now the wind is blowing like mad outside (22 mph) and the temp is in the low 40s.  I just started the stove and will put on breakfast shortly.  Winter is also the time for comfort food and last night I made one of our favorites, ravioli.

We have always made our own pasta and, in more recent times, even have a hand-crank machine to roll and cut the dough.  I made large sheets and cut out round ravioli with the device I mentioned an earlier blog.

IMG_4505Last night, however, the ravioli was a real surprise, even for me who can usually anticipate how it will taste.  I took a bite and was truly amazed at the wonderful flavor.  I made homemade ricotta to which I added homemade marinated sundried tomatoes, pesto, toasted almond meal and porcini mushroom powder plus a whole egg.  Wrapped this up in the pasta.  For the sauce, I opened a can of homemade marinara that I made last fall and added homemade cubed lonzino (a Portuguese version of prosciutto).  Sprinkled it all with parm. Served it with a Whidbey Island Winery Sangiovese. The first bite’s flavor just burst in my mouth. I was totally surprised.  I made this last time without the almonds and porcini, but they made all the difference.  Luckily I made enough so we will have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.  What luxury.

I know it sounds like a long complicated process, but having made the lonzino, marinara, pesto, marinated sundried tomatoes last summer at different times, I had all these items on hand.  The ricotta only takes about ten minutes to make and is half the price of the store bought (I use the whey for bread making or soup stock).  There are benefits to planning ahead.

I took a couple of photos, one of the ravioli airing before boiling and one of them finished in the bowl, but, oops, I had eaten a lot before I remembered to take the photo.  It was soooooo good!

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