Dining in Middle America

IMG_4321Today we were traveling through north/central Oregon on our way home from camping.  We stopped to have lunch not far from the Washington/Oregon border.  Many of the small towns in this region are dying away. This was really brought home to me while I “dined” in the local cafe.

 

This town had one main street which was the interstate highway.  Most folks just blazed through without taking in the local color.  Since I am a painter of “vanishing rural America,” I take in everything.  This means every derelict truck, tractor, falling down barn, abandoned gas stations and more.

 

It was one o’clock and my husband thought that we should stop for a bite to eat.  This town included a diner which probably had fifty feet of frontage on the main drag, a market which has a sign painted on its side that says, “Last Market for 67 miles,” and a post office.  There was also a rock shop to purchase stones from piles of plastic boxes stacked in the yard full of rocks.  We went into the diner.

 

When we drove up an older gentleman also arrived on his lawn mower and parked beside the front entrance.  I can only assume that he either didn’t have a car or a driver’s license.  He took one of the ten, or so, stools at the counter.  There were three additional tables for four people each.  We chose a table by the window so we could watch the world drive by.

 

Not long after our arrival, another man pulled out of an alley between two buildings across the street, but since he was headed the wrong way, he went around the block and pulled up out front, well away from the sandwich sign which stated “open.”  No use blocking the information that indicated any signs of life in this little burg.

 

We ordered from a VERY limited menu, but had not received our food when three elderly folks drove up.  There were two women and a man who had trouble exiting the vehicle.  I noticed that the waitress already had the coffee or dishes ordered up and almost ready when the various customers arrived.  One she asked, “Will it be the usual?”

 

Once the group of three where located at the table next to us, the conversations began.  “Where are you from?” “Oh, I have (insert one of many relatives) from near there.”  The conversation continued in a very one-sided way telling us all about things that happened there, how long the man had farmed, how he could no longer farm, how Social Security and the local hospital managed to keep them out of the poorhouse and mostly well. One told how many times she had been married and how it wasn’t happening again.  She had outlived those husbands and wasn’t going for a third try. We got quite a tour of the local gossip and their lives, bless their souls.  They were kind-hearted and probably excited to have someone other than a local to tell their tales.

 

Not long after that a couple in their Mercedes pulled up, obviously out-of-towners as were we.  They sat at the opposite end of the bar stools from us at the third table for four. The two ladies working the kitchen and the tables took their time in the local fashion.  The menu, being limited, meant that there were little complications in producing the requested menu items. I had ordered one of the hamburgers on the menu with a cup of soup. The soup of the day was tomato basil which turned out to be heavenly.  I wished I had ordered a bowl instead of the hamburger which was just a diner burger.

 

Well, it certainly was a view of middle-America.  Looking out the window at all the derelict buildings and thinking I could spend a month here painting “Vanishing Rural American” in this town, I was happy to know that the big houses, shopping malls, and overspending ostentatious public had not found this place yet.  Though the locals had trouble meeting their hospital bills (which were forgiven by the hospital) and the town only had three of its original (out of dozens) storefronts active, I found an amount of peace here talking with folks who had grown up here, attending one room schools, raising wheat, and growing old in the local cafe with their friends.

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Summertime

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Summertime

Since it is summer and the weather is finally warm, I guess I have some excuse for not writing as often as I should.  Needless to say there are many distractions outside these days.

The yard needs mowing.  We keep it fairly long so we don’t have to water and it will still stay green.  Wonder of wonders, it has been almost a month since it last rained.  This is unheard of in maritime Washington State.  We could use a little rain right about now.  Not only would it green up the yard and wash the dust from all the leaves, it would reduce the danger of fires.  Fires are not usually a problem here, though we take precautions like burn bans and mowing the sides of the road to protect from careless cigarette smokers, but last year eastern Washington was devastated by fires.  This year already over 50,000 acres have burned by the end of June.

My vegetable garden demands a lot of time.  I had promised myself that I would reduce the size this year so I wouldn’t be driven crazy with trying to keep it up.  Also a large garden requires more water and since we must collect all the water we use for it, I probably should have reduced the size.  We are half the way through the first barrel which holds 1500 gallons.  We still have a barrel with 350 gallons and one with 2500.  Hopefully we will make it until the end of the season. I was going to plant half a row of beans, but my husband mentioned that we were just about out in the freezer and we had a whole row last year.  He doesn’t remember that we gave lots to the food bank last year but we will probably  have enough to do that again this year.

It is now raspberry season so I am making raspberry wine and jam and shortcakes.  Picking and processing them takes time.  They need to be processed almost immediately after picking or they will mold and if I don’t stay on top of the picking, the birds get them.  I am happy for them to have some, but I want the lion’s share.

Teaching still takes up two afternoons of my time and painting and writing the rest of my time.  I am working hard toward the goal of publishing my book about my life teaching in Beijing.  It has been a struggle and I have promised myself to have it ready for a publisher this summer.

At the moment I have three shows with over a total of forty paintings on display.  I sold one in the first week it was showing.  Yeah!  Now it is county fair time and I just took three more in for judging yesterday.  I still probably have over one hundred stored in my studio.  I should have a burning party and get rid of the old stuff, but it is summer and I would probably burn down the countryside as the MDF I use burns VERY hot.  Better save that for a winter project.

I have a lot of excuses for not keeping up with the blog, but I really enjoy it when I have a chance to do something on it.  I certainly encourage everyone to have a place to write about their day to day life.  Journals, blogs, or whatever.  I will work harder to try to keep you posted on rural living.

Have a great summer!

A Milestone

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

I heard on the radio the other day that the U. S. has accomplished a new milestone.  We have now caught up with England.  Americans spend more money eating out than they do on groceries.  I guess that is a milestone.  I am not sure what it says about us, but maybe we are more affluent?  Not as many people cook?  Too many bad cooks?  More people work full time so they have an excuse not to cook? More offerings out there that tempt us away from our own meal preparation.

I know families that haven’t eaten together in years.  I was surprised to find that a neighborhood family hadn’t sat down to a meal as a family in over eight years.  Kids off to soccer, dates, studies, etc. Mom down at Zumba and dad getting home late from work.  Often times none of them eat the same meal.

Now there is so much fast food that meal preparation is considered a bother.  Then there’s cleaning up as well.  Most folks have a dishwasher so that isn’t as bad as it use to be.  I still don’t own a dishwasher, but my husband and I pitch in together to get the clean up licked lickity-split.

Grocery stores now have full service food isles that have complete meal selections heated and ready to serve.  They also have ones that you can heat.  Restaurants now have take away meals (usually at the same price or higher) for eating at home or office.  So many things are offered at a quality that far exceeds the capabilities of the normal home cook.  Throw out the containers when done and all you have expended is money.  No wonder our dining out costs exceed our grocery bill.

For all my life I have avoided fast food.  I have also avoided prepared foods at the grocery.  My shopping trip at the grocery involves going around the outside isles of the store, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, and cash register. I have shop at grocery wholesalers.  I still (2017) purchase a month’s groceries for about $120 for two people.  These are staples like cheese, meat, seafood, dairy, fruits and vegetables we don’t grow ourselves, flour, sugar, salt, spices, etc.  This month about the only prepared item I bought was granola.  We cook from scratch.

I am an excellent cook and former restaurant chef.  This makes it difficult for us to eat out and enjoy excellent food.  Few restaurants can provide us with a meal that surpasses what I prepare at home.  Even still we manage to spend more on eating out than we spend on groceries.  This has been the case for most of my adult life, but it is easy to spend more than $120 at restaurants.  We spend that much on one dinner in a truly excellent establishment.

When I was growing up we were all in the kitchen from a very young age, helping in some way to prepare the meal, even if it was just setting the table.  I started cooking full meals when I was six years old.  It was a tough chore for someone who couldn’t even reach the counter.  I had to stand on a chair to do most of the prep and cooking, but it was a joy for us all to be together for the celebration of those meals.

I am not saying that it is right or wrong to spend more on outside dining than on what we prepare ourselves.  I am bemoaning the fact that we do not spend time, with our family, preparing and eating a meal that gives us time to commune with one another.  We do not have the bonding that preparing and eating a meal together gives. Many of those meals prepared by family were truly memorable even years later.

Cold poached salmon
Cold poached salmon with chipotle aioli, & salsa

 

Making your own

Yogurt that is.  I have given this lesson before, but this time I am including some additional photos in hopes that you will try it.  Making yogurt is very easy, but it does take a few hours setting time.  Often I make it after breakfast, but I also make it sometimes in the evening and let it set overnight so it is ready for breakfast.

yogurtFirstly, find a large clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid.  I use an old peanut butter jar.  Make sure it is clean and has some kind of rubber seal in the lid.

IMG_4015 I use a fresh unopened carton of milk for the milk.  I want to be sure it is free of unwanted bacteria.  It isn’t good to use a carton that the kids left open on the counter when you weren’t paying attention.

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Clean Jar–Whole milk

I use whole milk, but you may also use low fat or non-fat milk, whatever your preference. If you like cream top yogurt, you may add fresh (previously unopened) whipping cream.  Yum!

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Teaspoon of sugar

We like to add a teaspoon of sugar to the mix just to give the milk a little sweetness.

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warming in the microwave

Now you need to warm the milk.  There are several options for this.  You may warm the milk in the jar with the lid on in a pan of warm water on the stove, but be sure that you don’t break the jar.  I use the microwave and for a quart of milk, it takes one minute to bring up the temp to lukewarm (no higher than 90 degrees).  It should feel warm to your finger.

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If this is the first time for you to make yogurt, or you have exhausted your old batches, then purchase a small plain carton of yogurt with live cultures from the grocery.  We like the Greek Yogurt because of its wonderful taste which is transmitted to the new batch you are making.  If you have made a batch, be sure to save some, at least a quarter cup, for the new batch of yogurt.

Stir the new package of yogurt or the quarter cup you saved from the last batch, into the milk thoroughly.  Screw the lid onto the container tightly.

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This photo shows the cooler/thermos that I use to culture the mixture.  It is an Igloo drinks cooler.  You need one that will hold the jar plus at least a quart of hot water.  If you do not have enough water, it will take a long time to culture the yogurt as it will cool too fast.  Refrain from adding boiling water.  It is sufficient to use the hottest tap water you have in your kitchen.

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I have placed a spacer in the bottom of the cooler so the lid will sit up a little higher in the container.  I then fill with the hottest tap water I have up to the edge of the lid of my yogurt container.  Screw on the top of the cooler.  The lid of my cooler is uninsulated, so I put a kitchen towel over the top to insulate it.

IMG_4023Now comes the waiting.  Usually this will take about six hours.  Longer is OK.  What you want to see is yogurt that is thick and creamy.  Remember it will be a little thicker after chilling.  If you want to make quark, you can pour the entire contents,  into a colander lined with cheese cloth and let drain. Remember to save 1/4 cup of yogurt for your next batch.

This yogurt is smooth and creamy with no pectin or gelatin.  It is not real thick, but you can allow it to drain through cheesecloth if you prefer the Icelandic variety of yogurt which is almost spreadable.  If you are making quark, let it drain for several hours, covered to avoid mold spores getting into it.  Then add basil, thyme, oregano or other herbs to make a nice dip or spread or if you want you can use cinnamon, nutmeg and a sprinkle of brown sugar and granola.

We eat it soft with granola, bananas and apple chunks for breakfast or in smoothies.  It also makes great tzatziki.  Enjoy!

Experiments in Painting

Poor Reception

As most of you know, I am a painter, an artist, a teacher.  I try to stay focused on being an oil painter, but sometimes I go off and experiment with different media (types of art).  Recently I had a show in Langley and showed some work that was an offshoot in a different direction.  I sold eleven pieces.  This made me ponder.  Was I working in the wrong medium—oil? Why was the new medium so popular, was it the subject or the medium? Or is it the price?

I am still asking myself these questions as I now have just hung a new show at the Flower House Café in Bayview on Whidbey Island.  I will see what kind of response these pieces receive in the new location.

My experiment is with encaustics, a form of painting on a rigid substrate with wax.  It is a very old technique, but one that is new to me.  I have experimented a little in the past, but not tried to sell any until last summer when I did a series on crows.

I know, crows are popular subjects and maybe the popularity of the paintings was because of the subject and not the medium.  Crows are the thief that stole the sun according to northwest native legend.  They have always been mysterious.  People actually like them, city people.  Farmers like me find them a nuisance. They get into the chicken house and steal the eggs, they steal the kitchen scraps I give the chickens, they eat the friendly garter snake which is a beneficial member of my garden’s ecological community, they steal bird eggs and baby birds.  They steal shiny objects (like the sun). They are messy. They wash their “kill” in my birdbaths leaving body parts and entrails to pollute the water. Yuk! Right now they are fighting over a rabbit carcass in the street. I can hear them inside my house over the howl of the wind outside.

Be that as it may, they were popular paintings and sold well, so I have created more and they are showing until the beginning of June at the Flower House Café (http://www.bayviewfarmandgarden.com/flower-house-cafe.html).

Since encaustics have drips around the edges and I like the look of the drips, they become problematic for framing.  I mount them on a painted black board to feature the irregularities of the edges.  It works for me and keeps the framing costs to a minimum, thus I can sell each piece cheaply, which may be another reason why they sell so well. My oil paintings need to be framed and are considerably more expensive.  We will see how it goes.

If you have a chance, be sure to see the show.

Easter

easter 2017

Easter use to be a religious holiday.  When I was growing up, we went to church every Sunday morning and evening.  Easter was a time of special significance.  Now we can no long call them Easter Egg Hunts.  They are now just Egg Hunts that happen prior to the day of the lunar month that holds Passover.  Passover is on the full moon and Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon.  Easter egg hunts now happen on the Saturday before Easter.

With the secularization of religious Christian holidays, society has brought about many changes.  Santa is now the symbol of Christmas as are the bunny and eggs of Easter.

When I was growing up everyone would dress in their finest for Easter Sunday.  Some folks only attended church for this day.  I guess they felt this was the most important Christian holiday.  It is the only one that falls consistently on a Sunday, thus it is easy to attend church on the holiday.

In the town where I grew up, Spring break coincided with the week before Easter.  Because some students needed time off for Passover and some for Good Friday, it was just easier to make the break the week before Easter.

Having learned to sew at a young age, Spring break always included making some new clothes, back then, dresses, as we seldom wore pants in public.  I always took the opportunity to make a new Easter dress for Sunday.  This ensemble almost always included a hat, the Easter Bonnet.  No one wears hats as a decorative accessory these days.  Hats are functional, the keep the head warm or hide the loss of hair, not decorative.

I loved hats and made a few of those as well.  When I was in college, it was still common for women to wear hats to church and special events.  I made one which was especially my favorite.  It consisted of a pheasant feather skullcap-like hat with three long tail feathers raked to the right side and back.  It featured a black tight-fitting veil that came down to my nose with black dots woven into the quarter inch holes in the netting.  It was gorgeous and I wore it until the feathers were too tattered to continue.  The long, tail feathers were replaced several times before the hat’s demise.

Easter morning always included an elaborate breakfast.  My mother liked to make eggs goldenrod.  This consisted of a base of toast on which was poured a white sauce made with the addition of chopped hardboiled egg whites.  Over this you would place egg yolk which had been forced through a sieve creating a fine powder of egg yolk over the entire dish.  It was good and we had it with fruit.  I almost made it this morning (Easter morning) just for old time’s sake, but the idea of the white sauce with boiled egg whites just seemed to blah.  I opted for a Pecan/Coconut Coffeecake, which is my husband’s favorite, and scrambled eggs with green onion.

Easter now is a turning point in the seasons here in Western Washington State.  It is about the time to clear out the greenhouse and start the seeds for plants which will be set out in the middle of May.  I plant late.  The plants do better than ones started early which languish in the cold soil and produce produce* the same time as mine. This Easter is intermittent sunshine and clouds and it is fifty-one degrees.  If we still had bees, they would take their purging flight today.

I sent my husband to the grocery to purchase lettuce for dinner and discovered that the price was $5 a head.  Horrible and probably caused by the fact that California has had so much rain.  It beats the lettuce into the mud and makes it inedible.  We will start the hydroponic lettuce bed today in the greenhouse and in a few weeks have $500 worth of lettuce.  I WISH! We will have the lettuce, but the price will have probably fallen at the grocery by that time.

This morning on my way to the woodshed to get wood for the stove, the cacophony of birds really told me of the joy of Spring and Easter.  It is hard for me to take the religion out of this holiday. Though I did not attend church this morning, the woods behind my house are a sanctuary for me and for the birds that sang so wonderfully this morning.  Though I didn’t make a new dress for the holiday, I do try to make life new with the renewal of spring chores.  Soon I won’t need the firewood to warm the house; soon the birds will have lots of little ones; soon the plum and apple and pear trees will burst into full blossom.

Ah Easter, a wonderful time of renewal.

 

 

*Chinese students of mine, here is a good one.  Notice the difference in pronunciation but not spelling.  Also a difference in meaning.

 

 

An Inspired Breakfast?

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An Inspired Breakfast?

Sometimes you get inspired to do something silly like make an extravagant breakfast.  This happened this morning.  I had purchased a bag of nice, sweet red peppers.  I had a can of homemade marinara in the refrigerator.  The pullets have started laying eggs, so I could be generous with eggs.  Why not make something special, although it was the middle of the week and not Sunday brunch.

I started by chopping the top off of the red pepper and microwaving it until it started to get soft.  I had supported this in a custard cup as I was afraid the whole thing would fall apart before it reached the table.  I think, when it was all completed, that it probably would have supported itself.

Next I put some sharp cheese in the bottom of the pepper.  I partially cooked some of our homemade pork sausage, about a tablespoon per pepper.  Next crack in a fresh egg.  This was topped with more cheese and homemade marinara.  Just a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and popped did continue to cook while it sat.

I put it into the 400 degree oven.  My husband likes his eggs medium and I like mine will done, so I put them in for differing lengths of time.  I was unsure, but his took about fifteen minutes and mine a few minutes more. Let it sit (rest) for a minute or two before serving as the container was so hot.

I served them in the custard cup, but he eventually lifted his out so it was easier to eat.  He suggested that next time I make a boat out of the pepper by cutting it lengthwise and then preparing as above, placing it in a gratin dish instead of the custard cup.  I will try that next time.

I did It was a yummy breakfast served with homemade onion rye bread and fresh oranges.  Elegant!