Camping in November?

Bouchon Roast Turkey

Who in western Washington State goes camping in November? I am sitting in the John Wayne Waterfront Resort in Sequim (pronounced squim for the uninformed). The park is mostly full with only a couple of spots open for this evening.

Winter in western Washington is noted for its dreary, wet, gray weather.  Sequim, however, touts that it has 200 days of sunshine a year and today is one of them.  On my last camping trip in September, when driving through Sequim, it was not one of the two hundred and it was coming down in buckets!

Finding camping locations any time of year is becoming more difficult as there are more and more full time RV’ers, as they are termed.  They move from campground to campground extending their stays to the full limit of days allowed by each location. Some locations can let them stay as many as one hundred and eighty days while state parks limit your stay to eleven.  One private campground company will allow only a certain number of days in a row and you must locate to a non-membership campground before you can return to the membership ones.

Consequently it takes a lot of finessing to be a full time camper.  You need an enormous of patience to be an occasional camper.  We camp about once a month, sometimes for a few days and sometimes for a week and half. It has now become necessary to think nine months in advance.  That is as far ahead as you can reserve a state park site in Washington State.  No last minute camping trips anymore.

So here we are sitting under blue skies in November on the Olympic Peninsula.  It is the second year in a row that we have decided to spend Thanksgiving camping in our trailer in Sequim. Gorgeous sunrise this morning.  Cold but no frost yet.

In years past, and when we were younger, we always went someplace for Thanksgiving.  One time we cooked a turkey over a fire on San Juan Island in the Straights of Juan de Fuca.  The wind blew so hard we couldn’t get any heat on the turkey.  Finally upended a couple of picnic tables to create a windbreak so the turkey would cook.

One year we slept in the back of our Volvo station wagon and just about froze as the frost outside was white and an inch deep.  Luckily it was a two dog night and we happened to have two which we invited to share our space to keep us warm.

We have had many horrific storms in the Pacific Northwest on various holidays, The Valentines Storm, The Columbus Day Storm and, yes, The Thanksgiving Day Storm.  We were barbequing a turkey on Orcas Island that year. Before the storm started, we went for a walk and when we returned, the barbeque had blown away and we never found the turkey. We ate beef stroganoff for Thanksgiving. When we returned to Whidbey the power was out for eight days.  We hadn’t lost power on Orcas, however.

Another Thanksgiving on Orcas, the metal sign outside our cabin blew in the wind all night long making a screeching sound that did not permit sleep.  We didn’t know what it was until we could see it in the morning daylight when it was swinging in the wind.

Thanksgiving is the last camping trip for the year.  We usually do not go out again until about April which means camping in the rain.  Then we try to go monthly throughout the spring, summer and fall, even if just for a couple of days. We don’t sleep on the ground or in the back of a car, or on a picnic table in our older age.  We have a fifth wheel trailer with most of the comforts of home.

Because of the potential for heavy frost, we winterized our rig in September when we returned from two weeks camping.  So we have most of the comforts of home except water.  Winterizing entails removing the water from all the waterlines, the hot water heater and the water pump.  It’s a little more like real camping to haul a bucket water in to heat and wash dishes or to take a “spit” bath.  This campground has the luxury of a HEATED bathroom with a shower that has real hot water, so I braved the cold morning sunrise to walk the block or so to the shower and indulge in a nice hot one.

Camping isn’t sleeping on the ground and cooking over a campfire for us anymore.  I think the clincher was when I awoke to the feeling that a vampire was sucking on my neck in the middle of the night.  It turned out to only be a Western Washington banana slug. Yuk!  No more sleeping on the ground.

Chinese Halloween

Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern
Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern

I taught English at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the largest language university in China some years ago. We, of course, discussed all the holidays in America as they approached. Though Halloween is not typically celebrated in China, my students were fascinated by the idea of it. After much scurrying around, they finally found something that actually looked like a pumpkin, weighed about ten pounds, but was some type of large, yellow winter squash and wanted to carve it as we had discussed in class.  An outing was in order as I didn’t want the mess in the classroom. Off to the Purple Bamboo Park we walked with a picnic lunch and the essentials to carve the “pumpkin” into a Jack-o-Lantern.  They had a great time and a couple of students even brought along Beijing Opera Masks to wear.  It was one of the few sunny days in late autumn, and we sat on blankets and enjoyed carving and being in the sun and practicing our English.  Several strangers came by to see what we were doing and ask questions about this American custom. My students explained all they had learned in class to the casual passers by.

In the evening we put the carved pumpkin with a candle inside in the lobby window of our apartment building and all my other classes came by to trick-or-treat and have cookies, beer and whiskey in our apartment.  While the students were there, several children of the other language teachers in the building came by to trick-or-treat as well.  One didn’t speak English, so my Chinese students taught her how to say “trick or treat” in English.  There were lots of giggles and smiles and excitement when they got goodies at our door. They had improvised costumes as they had heard we were celebrating this  American holiday in our apartment. Luckily I had baked LOTS of cookies.  The chocolate chunk ones were a real favorite with gingersnaps running a close second.

In China, Tomb Cleaning Day would be the closest in intent to Halloween, similar to All Saints Day in Mexico.  The family will come to clean the tomb, offer burned paper money and food, and eat a picnic.  So in a way, the students could relate to the Halloween tradition.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern

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

The Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner

The year sure went fast and now we are in the year of the dog.  Being a dog lover, this is a good year.  Ours is getting old, but it is his year.

Anyway, we have been eating Chinese food now for a week and loving it.  We hadn’t had a big dinner, with many dishes, for a while so we decided to invite friends and serve a bunch of dishes.

Recently on KNKX in Seattle there was a discussion on their “Food for Thought” page that was debunking the fact that you can’t make decent Chinese dishes at home.  I agree, you can make wonderful dishes at home.  I find the only drawback with making them at home in the US of A is getting the raw materials.  There is a wonderful grocery on the mainland where I can occasionally shop, but I am seldom likely to get on the ferry at $14 to go there just for groceries. Still, they don’t have everything that I used to get down the street when I lived in Beijing.

But it IS possible to make good Chinese dishes at home. Here is the menu from our 4715 year of the dog new year’s eve celebration.  Typically you should serve at least two dishes for each of the number of people attending.

Snow peas fried until crispy

BBQ pork with hot mustard (red pork)

Pork Jiaozi (dumpling with sweet and spicy sauce)

Porcupine balls

Char Sui Baozi (steam buns)

ShuMai ( two kinds: crab and also shrimp)

Steamed pork bones with hot peppers and fermented black bean

Eggplant with peppers and potatoes

Lacquered chicken with ginger/scallion oil

Cucumber salad with black vinegar and cilantro

Coconut gelee with red almond happiness character

Walnut cookie

It was a lot and we did have leftovers.  It was a great meal and very reminiscent of our meals in China, maybe not the banquets, but adequate enough for us to feel very good about it.

If you are hesitant to try making Chinese food at home, I would suggest you start with one dish plus rice.  This way you won’t be overcome trying to do quick, stir-fried cooking all at the last minute.  When we chose our menu, we only had a couple of items that had to be made just before serving.  Many of the items were in the steamer cooking so didn’t require a “dance” to bring it all off.  The eggplant dish could sit for a few moments without harm.  We were not rushed.

One website I like to refer to is The Woks of Life for recipes.  They show step by step photos of the processes for each dish with clear instructions.  Sometimes they have ingredients that are unavailable to me, but I can generally find something to substitute.  That is the beauty of this type of cooking. Another site that I have just found, due to the information on KNKX, is Chinese Cooking Demystified at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC54SLBnD5k5U3Q6N__UjbAw.  Check those out and take on the challenge of Cooking Chinese dishes.

 

Good Food

Recently we went camping and one of the places we were sure to stop on our way down the coast was Westport, Washington.  Westport is a key charter fishing port.  There are tons of charter fishing boats as well as private fishing boats, crabbers, ones who fish for salmon, halibut and much more.

This is a very small town which has only a small business district with lots of restaurants for fisherman who are staying there to eat.  We were there once when we had a medical emergency and we would have had to travel a very long distance to get help according to a local clinic.  Either we would have had to go to Pt. Angeles or Astoria.  We decided to deal with it ourselves.  This tells you that the services in this town are skimpy and mostly related to charter fishing.

There are however several places here for the gourmand. One of the best is a seafood shack for purchasing oysters, scallops, mussels, all kinds of fish and more is located here.  We purchased our usual pint of yearling oysters and ate oysters for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a couple of days.  These quarter size delicacies are extra ordinary.  Doused with a little panko and lemon zest and fried in browned butter there is nothing better.  For breakfast, fried bacon, onions and oysters in scrambled eggs with home fries on the side you are really eating high on the hog.

The other place that is near and dear to our hearts is Bay City Meats.  These folks are the best source for sausages and meats.  We bought Mulligans, linguisa, chorizo, breakfast sausage, landjager, and more.

We have been home for about a month now and we broke open the chorizo for dinner tonight.  It was exquisite! Spicy with just the right amount of fat.  The stuff they sell locally is about 75% fat. Yuck.  This was just perfect.  I made chili sauce with guajillo chilies by roasting them in a little oil and then blending with boiling water, garlic and grilled tomatoes.  I put the chorizo, chili sauce and grated cheese in tortillas and spread with sauce and cheese on the top.  Just the right amount of heat and aromatics to make a dinner that was over the top.  I can still taste it and the house has this wonderful aroma.

Luckily we still have tortillas, sauce and some fried chorizo left to make migas for breakfast.  Our version is to take the chili sauce and poach eggs in it.  I will fry tortillas, dip them in the chili sauce, place the poached egg on top and cover with chorizo and more chili sauce and cheese.  Boy I am hungry already and it is still evening.

When we were on this camping trip we also found in Twisp, Washington a source for elk burger, so we had elk burger spaghetti and elk burger pastitsio last week, but those are for another blog.

Take care and enjoy.

A Celebration of Life

IMG_4323For the past several weeks we have been glamping in our trailer, traveling down Washington state, through coastal Oregon and down to the Redwoods.  This is a trip we have taken, with purpose, twice before.  The first time we made this pilgrimage was for our honeymoon and a celebration of my just having finished a three month round of radiation therapy for breast cancer.  We did the trip in our car, staying in motels along the way.  The second time was five years later with our small travel trailer.

 

This time we have a larger trailer, though it is the same length, it is a foot wider and the “slide” is two feet wider than the one on the old trailer.  We are “glamping.”  You can look this up on the internet, or you can read an old blog of mine.  We travel with a kitchen that is well stocked and sleep in a comfortable bed.  Remember that now I am twenty-one years older than the first trip, I have survived breast cancer a second time and am six years out. This is definitely another celebration.

 

This evening I am sitting on the shore of Soap Lake, Washington, enjoying a beautiful sunset of cerise, rose, gamboge, and cerulean.  (Can you tell I am a painter?) It is warm and dusky and the sky is beautiful.  I have one more night after tonight before I must return to my usual regimen.  I used to come to this lake when I was a little girl.  We would stay in one of the fifties funky motels here which featured a tub with two sets of faucets, one with fresh tap water and one set with hot and cold water from the lake.  This lake is known for its “waters.”  We have carried the waters back to friends for such things as eczema, colitis, hair loss and more.  It was famous around the turn of the last century (1900) for its healing powers.  Tonight I have seen a woman dressed in attire which appeared to be from Pakistan or India approach the water, bow and wash her face in the waters.  Children slash unconcerned about the medicinal qualities and note that they can float better here.

 

I guess that we choose to revisit these waters as it is a pleasant basin in which to relax and enjoy a little R & R.  We had a picnic of cheese curds, landjager, pepperoni, cheddar, asiago and spinach French bread, grapes from my student’s garden, tomatoes from my garden and more with a glass of French wine, while watching the sun set over the far hills, reflected in the waters of the lake.

 

It is dark now, but the sky is clear and the city park where we are camped is quiet and the stars are reflected in the waters.  The breeze has picked up and by morning it will probably be forty degrees though it was seventy this afternoon.  No matter, the crisp morning only serves to make the waters more beautiful. I am thankful to be here twenty-one years after the first celebration to celebrate again.

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Soapy surf the next morning as the wind blew from  the north and frothed the “soap” (read minerals ) in the lake.

 

 

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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