Friday, May 21, 2010

Meeting morels

Odd as it may seem, old as I may be, I had never cooked a morel mushroom until yesterday. That's despite the fact that these exotic forest delicacies are apparently profuse in Oregon woods and are ripe for the picking. Two problems. Didn't know where to find them, and am married to a man who's fungi phobic. Why bother? It would be like traipsing to the woods to harvest a Christmas tree with no place of honor for it in the home.
Thanks to friend and fungi lover Dr. Mike Amaranthus, PK was included in a spring morel hunt in the forests shadowed by Mt. McLoughlin, southern Oregon's most prominent peak and site of frequent mushroom sweeps by the Ammo clan. Success!
According to Ammo, as he is affectionately known, there are 25 morels in this photo, which he took. Right. It takes a trained eye. So PK returned home with a jog in his step and a bunch of grimy looking shrooms in his mesh bag. Here's what they looked like, absolutely fresh. Not more than a day emerged from the fragrant forest duff, according to Ammo.

Most are considered "black" with a "blond' or two thrown in. PK was convinced this paltry amount  was sufficient for two meals. That was his mushroom aversion speaking. I could see maybe one meal just for me, despite my morel inexperience. I rushed to Google to see what the hell to do with them, starting with cleaning.

Directions ran from "never, ever get them wet - just clean with a soft brush — all the way to "soak them overnight in salt water to drive out the insects and worms." We went the middle road with a quick rinse in a sieve and then a shake to scare out critters, which we did not notice, if they were present. I chopped them coarsely, and sauteed dry, as friend Gail suggested. They released a copious amount of fragrant liquid.  Our first morel-centric dinner went something like this.

Saute coarsely chopped morels in a dry pan until liquid releases. Remove morels from pan.
In another pan, quickly saute in butter thinly sliced steak. Season with salt and pepper and remove from pan. For two people I used about a half a pound of top sirloin.
Add more butter to the pan and pour in mushroom juice. Careful not to get any of those bugs or pieces of grit in the pan! Reduce mushroom liquid by half.
Add a slosh of dry sherry and a couple cloves of minced garlic to  the mushroom juice. Cook a couple minutes til fragrant. Mix in a couple tablespoons of sour cream. When well blended, add the cooked mushrooms and the steak until warmed.
Serve over steamed rice or noodles, or if you're a carb nut like me, a pile of cooked spinach.
I'm now a morel fan and I think I'm not the only one in the homestead.

Whining about the weather

We bundled up the tomatoes, covered the peppers, mulched, as best we could, the potatoes and protected flowers with pots. We'll be doing this for the next two nights.
From a local newspaper:

Believe it or not, drivers may actually have to worry about driving in snow on Friday going over mountain passes in the region. The National Weather Service says an unusually cold air mass will move through on Friday, with "brief but heavy snow showers bringing snow levels down to around 2,000 feet at times."

The snow may be heavy enough to stick on roads for several hours. The cold air mass will linger over the area on Saturday as a series of storms move across the region, continuing the same pattern of potential snow below 2,500 feet.

Siskiyou Summit south of Ashland could see heavy snow, along with Highway 140 to Klamath Falls and 62 to Crater Lake.

Low temperatures are predicted in the mid-30s by the NWS for Grants Pass, but outlying areas such as Cave Junction, Williams and Evans Valley may see temperatures dip to freezing Friday and Saturday night.
We live in a cold pocket on the valley floor. It's a low-lying area that collects frost. and our low temps are often a couple degrees below the predicted. I'm sure we're not the only gardeners staring in disbelief at the skies and wondering, is the global warming thing a hoax? (Compelling arguments exist to that effect. ) Our rule of thumb is "don't put frost-sensitive plants out before May 10." But May 20, 21, & 22? Come on!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tourist territory 2 - Applegate Valley, Oregon - Wine etc.

It's Mother's Day 2010. Sister Monette and niece Lisa, hardy Minnesotans, are visiting. First order of business: have dinner (at noon)with mother/grandmother LaVone, 93, at her abode, the Rogue Valley Independent Retirement Living.  Whoever thinks that their parent(s)will end up in a retirement community? I didn't, but then I was in  la la land about aging. I still am, at least about my own progression toward the grave, but I have a better grasp of what's going on with my mom. That woman is getting old!
But for her age, she's doing famously. She takes one medication, probably superfluous, and has no complaints other than deafness and muscle atrophy, the later of which we are combating with exercise. By "we" I mean that she does the exercises and I nag. I believe she'll live to be 100. I don't mean to gloss over her hearing loss. Being left out of conversations is a terrible curse for somebody who hates to miss anything.
LaVone, Monette & Lisa
The place she lives is good. Really good. It is for independent seniors, that is people who don't require assisted living or "memory care." Most important: rent includes three chef-prepared meals a day, all of them good to better than good, and numerous daily activities. Score for Mother's Day dinner on a scale of scale of 1-10: 8. And it cost just $7 per guest. Then we headed out on the Applegate Valley Wine Trail.
(Click photo for larger view.) Late in the day May 9, 2010, along Kubli Road, the Applegate  Valley, Oregon.
It was a blustery day, and time was short, but my guests loved the pastoral scenery so much that we were compelled to stop numerous times for my sister to snap photos. There are close to 20 wineries along the Applegate Wine Trail, but due to time, my reluctance to drink and drive, and my mother's frailties, we stopped at only two: Fiasco Winery & Artisan Faire and Schmidt Family Vineyards.

Wines at both were good—southern Oregon wines are emerging as world-class, after all—but Fiasco's warm attention to guests, including an impromptu primer on wine tasting, far exceeded the (in) attention we got at Schmidt's. We bought wine at both places, however. I'm sorry we missed  the other wineries, and I hope that local friends will get together, as we've discussed, and hire a driver for a day of wine touring. Actually, it would take three days to visit all the wineries in our local Rogue, Illinois, and Applegate valleys. If you have the time, they have the wine.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Southern Oregon - tourist territory - Rogue River

First a disclaimer. I am an unapologetic southern Oregon booster.
How'd I get so lucky to accidentally land here? Staying put, however,  has been one conscious choice after another since 1971.
Rogue River High School kids painted this mural, which greets anybody who swings into Rogue River  off the freeway.
(Click on the pic for full view.)
My Minnesota sister and niece visited for a week in May. Niece Lisa, age 48, hadn't been here since puberty, and she arrived loaded with a pent-up desire for Oregon-scapes. I was on. We started in my backyard - Rogue River, then moved on to the Applegate Valley, Grants Pass, It's a Burl, the Redwoods and the Oregon coast. I'll get to those later. It was a great week of being a tourist and seeing this part of the world with fresh eyes.
PK and I have lived a mile outside this small town for 35 years. It has its charms. One of them is this mural, and also the local non profit formed to finance additional murals. Supporting public art is a good sign in any area, and particularly in a small rural town.
Sara at Rogue River's Soup Station
Jalapeno burger with cilantro mayo. Wow.
The Soup Station is another local gem. Honestly, its culinary offerings rival the best in the Rogue Valley. Maybe anywhere. Surely, it is a regional highlight. Chief (only?) waiter, Sara, announced during our dinner visit a few days ago that "she was having a heart attack." That was, of course, an exaggeration, but she was flying around there like crazy. Word is getting out about this small family operation that makes almost everything in-house from quality ingredients, and somebody in the kitchen has "the knack" resulting in  entrees that are cooking-show quality. I had a cream cheese-stuffed chicken breast topped with chipotle raspberry sauce. My sister had a jalapeno burger on a pepper cheese bun. Yummm. The place doesn't have a website. You'll just have to go there.
A Rogue River view from the Greenway.
Another local plus is the Rogue River Greenway, a trail that starts under the bridge a mile from our house and will eventually connect Grants Pass to Ashland, with numerous communities in between, a motorized-vehicle-free distance of about 50 miles.  PK is on the Greenway Foundation board, as is good friend, Gail Frank, and like many others, they're working their backsides off to create this huge benefit for locals and visitors alike. In the meantime, the Greenway provides a six-mile round trip from Rogue River to Valley of the Rogue State Park and back. Walk, run, or bike. Don't forget the camera. And if you're a road biker, consider Ride the Rogue on September 18, 2010. This is a quality event (with an unbelievable spread at the finish) attracting over 1,000 riders and many locals who choose the family walks and rides. Me? I'm going for 65 miles.
Other great stuff about Rogue River:
Main Building Supply . Yes, it's a hardware store. No, it isn't a tourist attraction per se. But if you ever want to meet retail staffers who apparently have Ph.Ds in customer service, go there. People travel from other area towns to shop for feed and seed, nails and paint etc. just because of these people. And it's just one block from the Soup Station.
Yoga teacher Denise Elzea doing one of her famous poses.
Yoga at the Community Center Annex, Mondays and Fridays @ 8 a.m.
$7 drop-in and $6 if you buy a punch card for 10 classes. The class is about 75 to 80 minutes long. Because I've done yoga for about 10 years, and the last six with Denise in Rogue River, I too can do the splits! And many other poses that strengthen and flex. Having this class a mile from home is a definite quality-of-life bonus.
The Rogue River Library is also a bonus, along with the hand-carved totem pole out front done by local carver Larry Johnson.
Next: Mother's Day at Rogue Valley Retirement, and a wine tour in the Applegate Valley.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Noah's coming. Is everybody ready?

This is wonderful daughter-in-law, Heather, soon to deliver our first grandchild. Noah. She doesn't look so happy here, but I know that she is. And son Quinn, too. I love the fruition about to occur, and also the great sense of humor demonstrated with the watermelon comparison. I wanted to post here a column I wrote nearly 24 years ago when I was bursting at the seams with son number two, Chris Korbulic. But I can't find it.
Here's what I remember. I was 40 years old. I was barrel-sized. Our little Grants Pass Museum of Art had scored an exhibit by Judy Chicago, The Birth Project. I was just days from giving birth. I was alone. I went into this exhibit, which was in peaceful Riverside Park with the Rogue River flowing past, and felt like all hell had broken loose.
I was surrounded by powerful birth images, women split by lightening bolts, women with life surging, bursting, exuding from them. Women experiencing life recreating itself. Women at one with the universe. Women caught in life's current whether or not they accepted the flow.
That's one of the biggest lessons of giving birth. It is about life going forward. It is not at all about the mother. And certainly not about the father. It is about the baby wanting out, and the moment he or she emerges, that is another person completely separate from the mother and father who created, without any instruction or impulse other than desire, a new life. Love and nurture all you want. That baby will be who he is from day one. And who he wants to be.
Back to Judy Chicago. As a voluminously pregnant woman, I was part of the exhibit. Others in the museum averted their eyes. From me. Did they really want to look at the real thing? Apparently not.

A few days later, we had a new baby. In those days, ultrasound fetal-sex discovery wasn't the norm. I thought we'd have a girl, whose name would have been Amber. Given my age, there was a reasonable chance that our child would have Down's syndrome or some other impairment. But this big baby squirted out, perfect. A nine-pound marvel swimming his way into the universe. Which he is still doing.
Natural childbirth, that is unmedicated childbirth, was all the rage during the 1970s and 80's. I didn't miss a thing either time. I don't recall that it was all that bad. Intense, but in a way to savor, if you can manage it. I was fully alert and aware during the birth of both of our sons. Those moments are peak experiences, the most compelling and pivotal experiences of my life.
All I can say is that having children has been joyful, illuminating, stimulating, revelatory, fun, frightening, and full of lessons.
PK and I hover on the perimeter of this coming event. Welcoming a grandchild adds a whole new dimension to having given birth to Quinn so many years ago, and to dancing at his wedding, and rejoicing in the news that the family will grow. Hello, Noah. I love you already. Whoever you are.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

In with the new, out with the old

We think of spring as being all new life, pop-out-of-the soil vegetative wonders. But spring is also the end for some dear friends. Kale, for example. The kale we planted in the fall served us well, and in March and early April it got all pumped up out there in the raised rows despite the dastardly cold and rain and wind and hail. God, I love kale. Not just for how it tastes in stews and stir fries, but for who it is: incredibly tough, sweet, beautiful to look at, and a nutritional powerhouse.
About a month ago, in preparation for spring crops, and in response to the kale plants going into reproductive mode, I advanced upon the kale plot with a sharp knife and a tall kitchen garbage bag and laid waste. The harvest filled the bag.
The kale patch was maybe five feet by two or three feet. A tiny piece of earth, really. But still, after a long winter, we are kale-infused and green-tinged from this small plot, and we also have freezer bags of kale for ..... when? December, January, and into mid-February, the garden dormancy times in Southern Oregon.
Also rousted from the soon-to-be-spring garden was the volunteer red lettuce, which entwined in its bountiful exuberance with weeds to make a colorful patch. A healthy garden is loaded with volunteers, and it's kinda sad to cut em down to make way for the next generation. We always have volunteer lettuce, flowers, dill, and lots more, but end up either routing or relocating them to make way for the new delicacies.  Such as onions. Onions are usually cheap at the grocery store, so why grow them? Too many reasons to list, but just let me say "caramelized." We planted four or five varieties, some sweet with short-storage expectations and others meant for long life in our cool back-porch cupboards.
Onions ready to start the garden game. They always win.
And here are potatoes properly treated and dried for planting. Unfortunately, the day after the onions and potatoes initiated the spring garden, the sky cut loose with more rain, wind, hail and on and on. It pelted the garden for several days with sufficient force to loosen onions and many had to be replanted. As for the potatoes, the potato gods say not to water them until they push through with shoots. They could be rotting out there. We'll see.
Tomato plants surrounded by geraniums, which have been blooming for months. Waiting in the wings. Everybody's itching to go outside.
In the meantime, unseasonably cool and wet weather continues, and in the solarium, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and flowers are getting leggy and impatient and aphid-threatened waiting for their moment in the sun. Spring. It's coming. I know it.