Sunday, August 30, 2015

Rosemary Ratatouille, Roasted not Fried

            Roasted ratatouille requires less toil than frying each ingredient separately. 
I wrote this post in 2009 when the idea of cutting way back on gardening had not yet occurred to me.(It was updated in 2015 and again today.) Those were the days! Now I'm in the throes of weaning myself away from a prodigious garden. I'll miss this ratatouille. But I hear they sell eggplant at growers' markets?

Ratatouille is one of the best possible ways for turning a garden bonanza into flavorful freezable gold bricks to mine during the bleak winter. In August and September, we have so much garden glory that I have actually chased people down the road, waving zucchini and cucumbers. I leave produce in the mailbox for our rural mail carrier, and deliver cukes and zukes to the community center's "free food" area. Someone came to buy a vacuum I advertised on Craigs List, and she went home with tomatoes, cucumbers, and a spaghetti squash. Anyway. ratatouille is a wonderful way to use up a lot of summer produce all at once. 

About Rosemary Ratatouille

Rosemary isn't a huge ingredient in this recipe, but the fact that it's there to the exclusion of all other herbs is key. Ratatouille has been a favorite way to use summer bounty for years, but I usually included handfuls of fresh basil and sprigs of oregano and never even considered rosemary. I also fried each ingredient in separate batches to develop individual flavors, then combined to blend. Big pain in the arse!

But a recipe I discovered in 2009 at makes the BEST ratatouille ever. I would link to the recipe, but it no longer exists at that site, or at least I couldn't find it. This recipe is a lot less work than frying, and high temp roasting boosts the flavors. The four teaspoons of chopped fresh rosemary are key to the deliciousness of this heavenly dish.

This recipe requires 15-20 minutes of prep and 45 minutes to 65 or 70 minutes of roasting time, depending upon the pan size and the volume of vegetables. You'll need two large rimmed baking sheets or shallow roasting or broiling pans, and parchment paper to make clean-up easier.

Rosemary Ratatouille, Roasted 

2-3 large eggplants, 1-11/2 pounds
2 sweet red peppers
2 yellow peppers
3 small/medium zucchini
2 medium/large onions (not sweet onions)
4-6 cloves garlic
6-8 tablespoons olive oil, or more
4 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
6-8 large tomatoes, more if small
kosher, sea, or smoked salt to taste (smoked salt is divine!)

Preheat oven to 400
Cut eggplant, peppers, squash, and onion into roughly 1 inch chunks. Peel garlic and slice lengthwise 3 or 4 times. Combine and toss with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and the chopped rosemary. Salt lightly. Oil a rimmed baking sheet or other large shallow pan and spread the vegetables into a single layer and place in preheated oven. If you have too many for a single layer, don't sweat it. After they've roasted for 20-25 minutes you should be able to spread them out.

Line the second rimmed pan with parchment paper making sure that the paper is larger than the pan. You don't want the juices to get underneath the paper. Cut tomatoes into halves or quarters depending on size and arrange them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and salt lightly. Put in preheated oven.

Roast vegetables, turning with a spatula once or twice.

Tomatoes don't need to be turned, and they roast faster than the other veggies. When roasted, they should be soft enough so they go flat when pressed lightly. The juices may brown, and that's good. If you put tomatoes and the other veggies into the oven at the same time, the tomatoes will be ready as  much as a half hour before earlier than the veggie mixture.

This is an extra-large load  for a double recipe and required about 90 minutes of roasting at 400.  
Remove veggies when roasted. You'll know they're roasted when they're beginning to brown and are soft.
These tomatoes could have  roasted another 5-10 minutes. This batch made a good puddle of juice, which when mixed with the brown bits, was added to the other veggies.
Let the tomatoes cool. Turn each tomato half or quarter over and pinch the skin; it will come right off.  Place the pan with the roasted veggies next to the tomatoes. Carefully lift the parchment paper and pool juices and tomatoes in the center, then slide it all into the  roasted veggies to mix. Alternatively, you could use a spatula to transfer the tomatoes then pour the juices. Mix thoroughly. May be served hot, warm or room temperature.

Ratatouille freezes beautifully and is a wonderful reminder of benevolent summer during winter's churlish days.

Other ways to use the harvest

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

North Cascades National Park with guilt, bone spurs, and a bad hip

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When I think about our three camping trips to Washington's North Cascades over four decades, spectacular peaks come to mind. And also rushing turquoise rivers, glaciers hanging on for dear life, old growth forests, profuse wildflowers in mountain meadows, and campgrounds draped in the lush foliage of the mountainous Pacific Northwest. I also remember guilt. And pain.
2014 Guilt Trip. With turquoise river. Thunder Creek Trail.
Unwelcome "peaks" in my foot are bone spurs, which I recently had removed. They'd plagued me
for years and finally got bad enough that I chose surgery over letting them take charge of my mobility. They're the reason that I wore Birkenstocks almost exclusively as described in an earlier post, Beloved Birkenstocks Bite the Dust. I've worn sandals year round for dancing, biking, and, yes, hiking mountain trails. Plus ordinary everyday life. It has not been ideal. I'm hobbling around now in an orthopedic post-surgery "shoe" hoping and praying the surgery works for the long haul. Bone spurs have been known to grow back. Mine recurred with a vengeance after an earlier surgery.
The mountains are little changed since we first visited in 1978. The Cascades is a youngish range, only 200 million years old. Eons and ages will likely pass before it starts going downhill, so to speak. The peaks won't be so pointy in a zillion years after wind and water, quakes, shakes  and glaciers have their relentless way. This is a stretch, but in 1978 we were sorta like the North Cascades—we'd been around for awhile but were still youngish, vigorous, pointy, and, well, pretty. We fit right in.

Diablo Lake is a reservoir and a major feature in the North Cascade's alpine landscape.

Family history as measured by North Cascades National Park visits

August 1978 - Poor Young Family Trip

PK and I fired up our orange and white Volkswagen pop-top van and, with our one-year-old baby boy, Quinn, headed to the North Cascades to camp and hike before veering west to visit my Grandmother Dorothea, now long gone, but who then lived in Everett, Washington.

Those were the days.  So young! I was 32 and PK, like now, was 4.5 years younger. I know. Thirty-two does not seem young. I didn't think 32 was young until I was that age and glorying in every new day. Now any time between 30 and 45 seems a wonderful age. Not that I don't like being 70, and that I don't relish life, but there is a lot less to look forward to. And there are bone spurs. And other things.

It rained. No problem! We erected the portable playpen we'd squeezed into the van, and set the kid out there in the drizzle to gurgle and coo. We have some old-fashioned photos in which little Quinn is delighted in his enclosure and kept warm by a hand-knitted blue and white cap. In another photo PK poses on a steep trail with Quinn in a funky baby backpack that would  certainly not meet the standards of finicky modern-day parents. Remember. This was 1978, long before child safety restraints were required in vehicles and child backpacks became wonders of safety and convenience. Not that we could have afforded one if they existed.

In those days we lived paycheck to paycheck, made do in a tin-can trailer where, for a time,  you could see the ground  between the metal siding and flooring. I discovered Diet for a Small Planet, which offered a sane and frugal way to eat. We  consumed countless meals based on combining beans and rice into complete proteins. I sometimes had to return cans and bottles to buy food or gas. We had trouble keeping the lights on, but we somehow smiled a lot. We had love and a beautiful baby, if not a lot of groceries.
The North Cascades are part of a young mountain range whose peaks are still pointy and whose glaciers, while diminished , continue to gouge and scour.
Then, all of a sudden, it was 1989. Hooray! We'd survived the leanest years. PK ascended the ladder at his job, and continued to do so until his retirement in 2007.
I progressed from unemployment to teaching English to newspaper journalism. I still reported and made photos for the Grant Pass Daily Courier in 1986, when, shockingly, we had another baby! I was 41. This was appalling, even to me.

 But at the same time, I felt a stirring about this child, prompted in part by a vivid dream. In the dream, before I knew I was pregnant, a magnificent but fearsome tiger was stalking around the house, trying to get in. I was curious but afraid. I awoke with a start and couldn't get back to sleep, thinking about the tiger dream.

Quinn and Chris Korbulic, June 1986

A week or so later, I bought the drugstore pregnancy test, and there it was— a little red circle closing around my future. When baby Christopher turned three, I quit the newspaper and substitute taught while developing  a writing and editing business. This turned out to be a great decision, and I enjoyed more mothering time and greater income  while serving numerous wonderful clients until I retired fully in 2013.
During our lean child-rearing years, our family recreation centered not too far from home, the Rogue River and the many beautiful outdoor opportunities afforded by Southern Oregon.
It took us a few decades to return to the North Cascades, one of the West's most beautiful and dramatic parks.

Flash! What was that!? Life blazing past like a freaking comet

August 2014 - The Guilt Trip

Fast forward. A lot forward, to August 2014. PK and I, empty-nesters for years, retired, and solidly in the elder demographic, traveled to the North Cascades for the second time. Quinn was, and is, a grown man with a quirky little family and a doctorate degree. Son Chris travels the world as a professional kayaker with various accolades including being recognized as one of the World's Most Adventurous Men. (A tiger!) My mother, LaVone, was then 98.5 and lived a mile away. I was her touchstone and only family member close by. I was the light in her increasingly dim world. Thus guilt cast a pallor on my emotional landscape.
One of numerous glaciers in the North Cascades, this one viewed from The Cascade Pass trail in 2014.  Our hike was only 3.7 miles one way, but 3 miles with 31 switchbacks was a bit daunting for one just shy of 70 whose foot harbored peaks that look something like the mountains.  Along the way we saw marmots, butterflies, wildflowers, glaciers, and a handful of hikers. The air was hazy from the 2014 wildfires in Washington. The fires are even worse this year, and a few days ago, the North Cascades Park was closed due to fires and smoke..
It gets worse. When we left for the North Cascades and to visit relatives in Bellingham, my mom was in hospice. I didn't understand exactly why. She was 98, but I somehow believed she would live to 100 because there was nothing wrong with her. She did not have cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer's, COPD, pneumonia or any of the other afflictions that kill so many elderly. Her innards were just fine. Her doctor shook his head in disbelief at her great labs.
The Cascade Pass trail with sandals, bone spurs, and guilt 2014.
However. She did have disabilities. She could barely see or hear and was unable to walk without assistance. She needed help with every physical task. Her muscles had turned to mush. Hospice provided an extra level of attention and care, for which I was grateful. But I secretly doubted she was near death.

What does my mother have to do with a vacation to the North Cascades?
Everything. This is complicated, as are all situations that force people to decide between what they want to do and what think they should do. I struggled whether to stay close to mom or go with my mate, PK, to revisit the North Cascades. I wanted desperately to go.

Seven years earlier, PK had retired the very month that we traveled to Minnesota to relocate my then lively 93-year-old mom to Oregon. Since then, many a trip had been deferred or shortened because I felt I needed to be nearby. To his credit, he went to Spain without me. Also to his credit, he never failed me.

And so, despite the fact that my mother was in what turned out to be her final decline, PK and headed to the North Cascades. This was just over a year ago. We spent a few glorious days that included a seriously steep and beautiful hike. I only thought about my mother every other minute.
PK hiking the Cascade Pass trail in 2014, before his hip went straight to hell.
Awesome views in every direction along the Cascades Pass Trail.
So fun to see butterflies near tree line.
Columbine along the trail.

June 2015 - Bad Hip and Bone Spurs Trip

My mother passed away September 7, 2014, about two weeks after our return from the Guilt Trip. I was able to spend time with her and assuage my misgivings about having been absent for a time before her end arrived.

In late May this year, we headed out for a month-long road trip that included a family reunion in Minnesota and a return trip via Canada to the North Cascades. We were fortunate to be there in June, long before fires closed roads, obscured views, and recently, closed the park. Our journey across the USA to Minnesota and back West via Canada and the Canadian Rockies was great. Only a couple little things....PK's hip was giving him major grief and my bone spur was testing my endurance. It's not that we can't handle a little discomfort. But.....the things we're accustomed to doing, like hiking five or six miles on mountain trails, well, that wasn't going to happen. And it didn't.

View from our bad hip and bone spurs hike in the North Cascades.
We managed several short walks, and even a couple hikes that included a four-mile round trip in the North Cascades on a clear, cool and beautiful morning, a gift from the universe.

Now I am gimping around with an awkward orthopedic shoe hoping that this procedure will leave me without  peaks in my foot and pain in my step
 PK? He's  awaiting a surgery date for a hip replacement. People are always saying,  Do what you can while you're still able. Yes, do it.

There's no more identifying with the North Cascades for us. They're as young and beautiful and thrilling  as ever. We're not. Plus we're going downhill fast. No more guilt, as my mom was released from her decaying physical body a year ago. (Not that guilt can't be called into play for a number of other reasons, and I wasn't even brought up Catholic.)
Resignation has now entered the aging vocabulary. Maybe reality is a better word? If I live as long as my mom did, and I'm not sure I want to, I hope to get  another crack at the North Cascades' hundreds of miles of hiking trails.
And  also trails into other parts of a full life that are without physical landscapes.

Gotta get to it because, as we know, no matter now long you live, life is short.

Earlier posts about 2015 road trips

After Banff and Jasper, Canada has More

Banff and Jasper

Road Notes, first couple days across the Great Plains of Canada

Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Changing Times in North Dakota

Getting Along on the road, and Yellowstone Park

Riding the Trail of the Couer d' Alenes

Road tripping in the Four-Wheel Camper

Sunday, August 9, 2015

After Banff and Jasper - Canada has more!

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We stopped for lunch in the delightful little burg of Kaslo, British Columbia, which we never would have discovered without recommendations from a native Canuck. (see below). We lunched, overlooking Kootenay Lake, on baked chicken with arugula and a tart-sweet sauce on chewy sourdough bread. It wasn't just the town, or the great lunch, of course, but getting there that gave us generous helpings of Canadian backroad treats.I regretted leaving.
It's hard to beat Canada's two most spectacular western national parks, Banff and Jasper. But PK and I discovered that they can be at least rivaled as we made our way through British Columbia back to the USA.

We're lucky to have a Canuck buddy who clued us in about out-of-the-way places as well as popular attractions. Everybody knows that advice from a like-minded and well informed "local" is way better than shucking through a guidebook and agonizing over a thousand choices. (We did consult a guidebook, Lonely Planet's Banff, Jasper and Glacier National Parks, and found it useful during our time in the parks.)

Our friend Gordy Longhurst has lived in Oregon for decades and is a US citizen, but still thinks of himself as Canadian, which is preferable, in his view, to being American. He's a rabid hockey fan and former player and is also keen on skiing, so his enduring love for his native country is easy to understand. After hitting some of the high spots, so to speak, of the mountains and meadows of his youth, I know why he loves Canada.
That's Gordy on the right, living it up at Oregon's Mt. Bachelor, one
 of his favorite stateside ski spots.
Our return trip actually started in the town of Jasper, which bills itself as "the wonderful and formidable." Egads. Imagine the rumpus that must have erupted amongst that small town's population when formidable became part of the town's tagline. Tourism marketing gone wrong? We turned around in "formidable" Jasper and returned to Lake Louise, driving back over the Icefields Parkway rather than the longer route Gordy recommended, to reach another small town, Revelstoke, where we spent the night.
PK traced the route out of Lake Louise back to the US as he and Gordy conferred during pre-trip planning. The redline tracing to the north was part of the recommended route but involved a couple extra days that we didn't have. 
Gordy said we had to see Takakkaw Falls, so we turned north off the Trans-Canada Hwy for a short but steep climb passing the roiling convergence of two glacier-fed mountain rivers, the Kicking Horse and Yoho.
This is a seriously steep road to the falls with a couple of switchbacks that require many vehicles to back up and reposition to make it around the bend. Trailers and big RVs not recommended!

          Takakkaw Falls tumbles 836 feet, not counting the  top section. It is Canada's
          second highest waterfall. The walk to its plunge pool was a paved stroll through
          a fragrant pine forest. 
Not too far down the Trans-Canada Hwy we ducked off the freeway again to see the natural bridges of the Kicking Horse River, a Canadian Heritage River. When I say "freeway" don't think of LA or Seattle or I-5 through Oregon. The Trans-Canada Hwy between Calgary and where we exited at Revelstoke offered stunning surprises one after another. As I mentioned in an earlier post about Canadian travel, we enjoyed a continuous peak-studded panorama for days on end.
This road cut  on the Trans-Canada Hwy isn't mentioned in the guidebooks, but it is impressive.
Gordy talked up Revelestoke, British Columbia, and we made a point to stay overnight. (At the Regent Hotel, very good.) But it was a Monday and pre-season (school was still in session) so that downtown wasn't quite buzzing yet. The area is gorgeous and is a year-round outdoor playground. Looked like great skiing, biking, rafting, hiking and so on. 
Photo of Revelstoke courtesy of the Internet's screenshot technology.
Our one-night stay offered just one indelible memory—the Colombia River flowing through town, so young and muscular, fresh off the Colombia Icefields. We crossed the Historic Revelstoke Bridge, the old-fashioned kind of bridge where you can see the rushing river through the grating.  
The next morning we were off on our last couple of days in BC, roaming amidst so many lakes and rivers, mountains and valleys, we couldn't keep them straight.

We took the free Shelton Bay ferry to Galena Bay, then east via 31A to Kaslo. That's our Four Wheel Camper on the right and two identical rental RVs to the left. Canadian roads were glutted with rental RVs. Highway 31A was one of our favorite backroads ever. Narrow, winding, hilly, and practically deserted, amidst lush scenery with lots of lakes and streams and numerous small groups of cyclists on road bikes. We took notes to plan a return trip, thinking a bike route could be cobbled together with 31A and various rails to trails routes. Maybe someday. After lunch in Kaslo, where I wish we could have spent the rest of the day and night, we continued to Nelson along Hwy. 31 and our thoughts of a longer road bike trip in that area were dashed. The scenery was fantastic but the bike-unfriendly narrow busy highway was not conducive to cycling dreams. 
This welcome sign pretty well shows the recreational richness of this area, which is well worth another visit. It's a great area not quite up the national park standards, but perfect for backroad sightseeing and opportunities to see what life is like in rural British Columbia. If we go again, we'll do so before school lets out in early summer or after it resumes in September. Our final Canadian camp was at a provincial park on Christina Lake. The camp host told us  that all sites were reserved starting the next day, when school let out, until the second week in September, when it resumes.

Earlier posts about Road Trip 2015

Banff and Jasper

Road Notes, first couple days across the Great Plains of Canada

Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Changing Times in North Dakota

Getting Along on the road, and Yellowstone Park

Riding the Trail of the Couer d' Alenes

Road tripping in the Four-Wheel Camper