Back Roads

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The Back Road to our Farm (the only road)

Today we will go to a potluck sponsored by the local historical society here on Whidbey Island.  The potluck is at a hundred year old community hall.  This gathering happens once a quarter and the discussion is about back roads of Whidbey.  This time we are discussing Quade Road and Goodell Road.  I assume that this is the current Goodell Road as there use to be a couple of roads named Goodell Road.

The photo above is a back road, albeit, more rustic in nature than the ones under discussion.  It is an old road to my farm where I grow my vegetables and fruit.  I have talked about growing there in former blogs.  The interesting thing about this road is it is six hundred and sixty feet down this road to the edge of my farm.  I travel another four hundred feet beyond to the garden.  The farm is ten acres of very secluded land.  About two acres is cleared and my garden and fruit trees are in this clearing.  We have farmed here for about seventeen years.  It is not where we live, but eighteen miles from our home.

We use to garden at our home, but the land to the south of us, which was fields when we moved here, have grown up into tall conifers and shaded out our garden and orchard.  Now we garden in this remote site. I love the peace and solitude this remote location affords.  About the only sounds I hear when I am gardening are the resident raven making his croaky sound to talk with its mate, an occasional airplane and the scream of an eagle who has his eye on my dachshund. I have to keep a careful eye on both the dog and the eagle.  If the eagle gets too aggressive the dog has to be in the truck.  He would much rather be looking for mice in the garden. He likes to dig in the garden with me.

The interesting thing about this back road to my garden is that once this road was frequented by trucks that hauled strawberries to the local steamboats that took the goods to larger city centers.  Until 1945 this was a strawberry farm, as were many of the farms in adjacent area.  They had their own grange in the community as well.

In 1945, for some reason, the farm was left to decay.  The folks who lived here moved out, leaving a very small house, two rooms, no plumbing, electricity, with wood heat, and never returned.  We bought it in 1988.  The house was partially collapsed and had to be taken down.  A neighbor down the street gave us a photo of what it looked like when a family lived here.  He didn’t know what happened to them.  When we bought the property, strawberries still grew here, wild, but not flourishing.

There were also two other buildings on the property and an old root cellar.  The two other buildings were at opposite ends of the property and were workers shacks.  They were about ten by fifteen feet with just studs on the inside walls.  The outsides had shiplap siding.  Where there were knot holes in the siding and the knots had fallen out, the residents (strawberry pickers and weeders) had nailed up cornflakes box tops over the holes to keep the elements and mice out.  Tin can lids were nailed over some of these as well.  The same was true of the boards on the floor.  The roofs were hand split cedar shakes from the property.

It was always fun to travel down this long road through two gates and arrive at this little part of history that we owned.  We had hoped to build here someday, but life passed us by and it never happened.  We garden and enjoy the solitude and hope that the folks who had tended there garden here so long ago watch over us and feel that we are good husbanders of their land.  It is never easy work.  Even with my modest garden, it is still a lot of work.  I can’t imagine tending acres of strawberries.  They also had goats, so maybe they provided milk and cheese and weeding for the strawberry farmers.

Now we are to an age where we have to think about the end of our lives and the farm will provide our retirement when we sell it.  The time has come and I only hope that the new owners, when they materialize, are as reverent of the land as those who have gone before.

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Hundred Year Old Apple Trees

The dish I am making for the potluck, if you are interested, is Italian Strata

Here is the recipe.

Italian Strata

Layer the following in a large casserole (I am using my lidded cast iron kettle)

Large cubed bread (day old, stale, tough) soaked in a little butter, cream and milk until soft

Finely chopped onion

Pesto

Sun-dried tomatoes

Goat cheese (chevre)

Homemade ricotta (see previous blog) with a little lemon zest stirred in

Red and yellow peppers chopped

Diced and browned lonzino (you could use bacon or ham)

I mixed five eggs with milk and poured over

Topped with shredded romano cheese

And bake until set.  Because mine is large, I am baking part of the time with the lid on and then taking off to brown for the last few minutes.

I know, I didn’t give any measurements.  It is just great to do it by feel and sight.  You can add lots of goodies or a few.  Bread is the main constituent, but it doesn’t have to be.  Just have fun.

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Peace and the Bountiful Harvest

It is late October and I just looked out into the very dark evening after a somewhat mixed day and I see the crescent moon through the trees.  It is a peaceful sight.  There is also no wind.  It isn’t warm, but it is peaceful.  I have just gone out and gotten wood for the fire to keep us warm through the night.

I guess that we can say, officially, that we are headed to winter.  That is the thing about living in the maritime northwest.  Winter is usually at least two months before and after the winter solstice.  Why does winter start then?  We have our coldest, wettest weather before AND after that date.  I never could understand why winter officially started on the 21st of December.  We are long in the throes of winter by then.

I have just finished doing all the tomatoes I am going to do this year.  We have been hauling home buckets of them from our farm for processing.  I have made zillions of bottles of tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato pickle relish (both red and green), marinara and more. I had two large buckets left to finish today and I am hoping this is the last of it.  They do look beautiful sitting on the shelves in the root cellar.  We had thirty-eight plants at the farm and another nine here in the greenhouse.  They stopped blooming a month ago, and then we just hoped that some ripen, which they did in abundance.

Most of the preserving is finished.  The old apple trees, over a hundred years old, are just about ready to pick.  They are good keepers if I pick them while they are still in the starch.  Seldom do you find apples in the store “in the starch.”  If all the starch has turned to sugar, then the apples will start to deteriorate.  If they are in the starch, then they have a while to reach their full ripeness.  We pick them and they taste wonderful all the way until May.  I find that most of the ones I see in the store are already on the pithy side.  Many times, here in the northwest, they dump last year’s cold storage apples on us which lack flavor and are already mushy.  I love the ones we pick because they are so crisp and crunchy.

I finished freezing the green beans two months ago.  The pumpkins I grew this year are the kind that have hulless seeds. I will scrape them out of the pumpkins and clean them and roast them for pepitas for winter.  This is the first time I have grown these, so I have no experience with this.  Folks tell me that the pumpkin itself is not very tasty.  We will see, and if not then the chickens will benefit from their flesh.

We did have a bumper crop of peppers this year.  Mostly varieties of sweet peppers.  The hot peppers don’t get very hot in our climate as it is generally to cool for those flavors to fully develop.  I used a lot of them in the marinara. We did make poppers.  I make them by cutting the small  peppers in half lengthwise and filling with chorizo and covering with cheese (jack or mozz, but gooey cheese) and then baking in the oven until bubbly.  Boy, are these good.  You can serve them as appetizers, but we make a meal of them we have so many.

I am truly proud of myself this year as I actually had three gorgeous eggplant.  I have harvested two and will go get the last this weekend.  I made mousaka with one of them. Homemade ricotta, fresh tomato sauce, garden peppers, a real homegrown treat.

Well, I have ranted enough about the bounty we experienced this season.  I need to go damper the wood kitchen range where the tomato sauce bubbled away all day and is now safely cooling in the pressure cooker until morning.

I feel like I accomplished a reasonable harvest this year.  Yes, it is peaceful and I am enjoying watching that crescent moon.  Now we can bed down for winter.

 

 

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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Enjoying the Harvest

img_3498Being an avid vegetable gardener, I was very interested in a program that the local school district is doing to help children learn about food production and preparation.  It looks like it was a great success.  Go to  https://whidbeyschoolgardens.wordpress.com/ to see the results.

We did have a wonderful year for the vegetables.  We have been giving lots to the local foodbank and friends. The tomatoes were especially productive and we have definitely eaten our fill.  We also have several dozen bottles of various tomato products sitting in the root cellar shelves.  The Brussels Sprouts are just ready now as we have just had our first frost (a very late one this year) and now they will be sweeter to eat.  The leeks are wonderful too.  We will have those fresh all winter.

The gold nugget squashes are sitting safe from mice and rats and we can eat those for the entire winter.  They will probably be gone by spring and we must have had about fifty of them.  Gave quite a few away too.  We like these in particular as they are just the right size for two people.  Though I like baked squash, hubbards and their kind are just too big.  I have tried baking them and putting them in the freezer, but it is just too much, so we have settled on the gold nugget.  They are sweet, very yellow and are also suitable for making pies.  I cut them in half and fill with sausage or sausage and cornbread dressing, or just with butter and brown sugar. Yum.

Well the dark days of winter are here and some days I am not sure the sun has even come up.  Today we will have sunrise at 7:48 a.m. and sunset at 4:15 p.m.  Not a very long day, especially when you almost need flashlights during the day.  All the lights are on in the house just to help us stay awake.

I am on my way out to chop firewood again.  With this cold snowy weather, we have burned quite a bit of wood to keep warm.  Now it is time to warm myself working outdoors splitting it.  It is something I have written about previously in this blog and something I do enjoy.

Happy Holidays and keep warm!

 

A Frosty Morn

ringneck-doves

Just came in from feeding the animals.  It is cold again this morning.  It was colder yesterday morning at 22 degrees, which for Western Washington, is cold.  Since we have rather high humidity, the cold is more penetrating.  For those who live in the mid-west, they probably would consider these temps a heat wave. Ha!

Everything is frozen outside, so the first thing I had to do when getting suited up to meet the weather challenges was to fill a large bucket with very hot water.  The doves, the baby chicks and the molting old hens all need to have their waterers unfrozen.  I also filled the birdbaths with warm water as the poor wild birds have no place to drink.

We have one baby dove who is just now fending for himself and I was worried that he might not make it through this cold.  This morning he is huddled in a corner trying to keep warm as his mother has now abandoned him since he can feed himself.  He was fine and jumped right in when the feed was provided.

The ten chicks, which are now two months old, are very hardy, but today I gave them their first cracked corn, which helps warm the chickens from the inside out.  The also got fresh bread, which they chased all over their pen.  The cold doesn’t seem to faze them.

The old hens, however, felt the cold.  Why do they choose to molt just when the weather turns cold.  Molting, as I have mentioned in earlier pieces, is the process of losing all their feathers and growing a new set, which means they are not laying any eggs.  So we are between eggs with old ones molting and new ones too young yet.  I hate buying store eggs.

The plantings in the yard look sad, especially the rhododendrons that lower their leaves as though dead or dying.  This is the way they look in the heat of summer when they are in dire need of water.  I always hate the look of them in this cold.

I know when things thaw that there will be lots of mud because the frost has pushed up around the stones in all the pathways making crunching noises as I walk out to do the chores.

The advantage to all the trouble above is THE SUN IS SHINING. It is a trade off.  If we have sunshine, we have cold weather.  If it is in the 40s then it will rain and be grey.  Yesterday and this morning, we can bask in its warmth and enjoy the vitamins it gives to us, though begrudgingly in winter.  Makes me feel perkier already.  Amazing what a little sunshine can do for your mental health.

Guess I will go for a walk and enjoy it.  Never know how long it will last.

Cowboy/girl poetry

I just recently returned from vacation.  While I was wandering around Eastern Washington, I happened on a cowboy poetry event.  I learned of it the night before and I am especially fond of cowboy poetry because it rhymes and has rhythm.  I get flummoxed by  poetry that doesn’t have either.

Well the upshot is, I wrote a poem the next morning and my husband coerced me into reading it at the event. It is my first venture into cowboy/girl poetry. Mine was simple, neither complex nor elaborate.  Some produce epic poems with long tales to tell, but here is mine, such as it is.  I think that much of the subtleties were lost on the audience.  I guess you need to be a farmer or rancher to understand some of them.

The Rancher’s Wife

 

Work from dawn to setting sun,

The rancher’s work is never done.

Milk the cow, geld the bull,

Ranching life is never dull

 

Pick the beans, gather eggs,

Clean the barn, repair the rigs.

Mow the field, bale the hay,

What to do rest of day?

 

To the bank to make a deal.

We need to buy another wheel.

Try to keep the wolves at bay.

And live to fight another day.

 

Little sleep at night from worry.

Get up early and start to hurry.

Line crews up and needs their grub,

Scrub laundry with lots of suds.

 

Now its time to mend the fence.

How can those beeves be so dense

As to lean and pull and ravage them?

We could just lock them in the pen.

 

Calves get skinny and horses founder.

What business plan could be much sounder?

Sheep need dippin’ and chicks are pippin’,

The ranch wife’s life ain’t coffee sippin.

 

Traded satin for Sorrel boots

Long and far from my roots.

College never taught me this

But hard work brings me bliss.

 

In the heat of sun or the chill of snow

We are out at sunrise, on the go.

Rain and sleet, sweat and chill,

To give up ranching, ‘never will.