Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fantastic Fern Fotos

One of the main reasons I live in the WV is because plants grow phenomenally.  I’m not saying it’s the only reason, but if you love to grow things this is a big consideration.  At about the end of February the WV comes alive and by May it’s a veritable Jurassic park.  I have a back yard, which I call my woodland garden, enveloped in shade and dabbled sunlight.  It is the perfect place for a fern garden, which thrive and multiply without much effort from me.

There are at least fourteen species of Pacific Northwest fern here in Oregon.  From tough sword ferns to delicate maidenhairs, ferns flourish on our moist, shady forest floor.  The toughest of these, the Western Sword Fern, grows vigoriously, in sun or shade, as ground cover on woodland slopes, bogs, and throughout the wetland.  This evergreen beauty is long lived, hearty, and massive sometimes reaching three feet tall and five feet wide.

Although I appreciate the Sword Fern and rely on it to luxuriously cover my hillside, my favorite is the pretty little Maidenhair Fern.  This one is very delicate and refined with jewel green foliage and contrasting black stems.
Although the Western Maidenhead is very hearty, the one I adore is the florist variety which is a little more picky about the cold.  But I keep coming back for more so she must be worth it.
Today I was inspired to catch the graceful elegance of this plant through my camera lens.  All of these ferns are growing someplace in the garden on my property and make it through our temperate, though chilly winters.
Enjoy the summer!
Life is good - Bye for now.  E

REMEMBER:  buy local is you can!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Basil - The Essence of Summer

Sensuous -  big, copious bunches of fresh, fresh, grown in your garden fresh aromatic basil - only available like this during the summer.  Yes - you can find it fresh in the market all year, but the whole thing about the growing of it -  passing by it in the garden and getting that aromatic whiff that entices you to close your eyes and inhale.  Ummm.  Or walking out your backdoor on Sunday morning just to pick a couple of leaves to add to your morning scrambled eggs.  And you can pair it with home grown tomatoes in so many wonderful dishes during this time of year.  This is the essence of summer in your garden. And it grows so well here in the WV!

All basils are partial to the nightshade vegetables – tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, and are indispensable to Italian, Thai, and Indian cuisines.  It does so well topped on pizza, tossed with pastas,  spooned (with balsamic vinegar and olive oil) over a platter of sliced tomatoes and avocados, or on a classic caprice salad.  Here's a recipe for you to try that just screams summer - pasta with pesto, green beans, and fingerling potatoes - a classic dish from the Liguria Region of Italy.

Classic pesto – made with garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese and pine nuts, or sometimes walnuts  - with as many pesto recipes as there are cooks.   Some say it’s best to toast the pine nuts to bring out their nutty flavor, but I have had wonderful pesto omitting that step.  

The word ”pesto” is derived from the Italian word for pounded which implies that it should be made in a mortar and pestle.  I prefer to use the food processor basically because it simplifies the making, but according to Corby Kummer of the Atlantic Monthly  (Pesto by Hand) the mortar and pestal "produce a sweeter, more subtle flavor, creamier consistency and jewel-like color", plus it adds to the sensuous pleasures of hands on cooking.  Mr. Kummer  has written a fantastic article about  the history and origins of pesto as well as some interesting facts about regional Italian culture.

You can freeze it, dry it or I have recently found an interesting new idea for preserving it, which is probably an ancient method, but new to me.  Fresh basil salt, a simple technique from Silvia Thompson’s The Kitchen Garden Cookbook, is unique and could make a wonderful gift from the kitchen to any basil lover.

Fresh Basil Salt

Alternately layer even measures of unblemished fresh basil, bits of leaves, and blossoms with sea salt in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Start and end with a salt layer about ¼ inch thick, then make the remaining layers even (evenness isn’t crucial). 

Cover tightly and ignore until the leaves have dried – usually a few weeks. 

Then stir the jar, mixing the dried leaves with the salt.  They will have darkened, but they’re quite delicious. 

Use sparingly, because the flavor is remarkably intense.

You can use this method with any herb - rosemary, oregano, chives, marjoram, thyme, tarragon, summer savory, sage, parsley – and it would be fun to experiment with a combination of herbs.

UPDATE: 8/10/2012  -  After trying this recipe I found that you should remove the lid off of the jar occasionally so that the moisture from the drying basil has a chance to evaporate.  After a couple of weeks when the basil has dried - with the lid on the jar - vigorously shake the container so that the basil and clumps of salt have a chance to mix and separate.  It's pretty good stuff after that.  E

Basil - truly the essence of summer!

Life is good – bye for now!  E

REMEMBER - buy local if you can!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lovely Luscious Lavender

On a warm summer morning a sweet scent fills the air, the bees are singing and your eyes are filled with the purple haze of lavender.  All your senses are at work - the lovely, luscious lavender is in bloom in the WV.

In the past twenty years lavender farms have been cropping up all over the WV establishing a new industry in agri-tourism for Oregon, giving locals and visitors the chance to visit Oregon's fragrant countryside at it's best.  A list of all the lavender farms in the WV is available at the Oregon Lavender Association  website.  Check them out, there's bound to be a farm close to you.
Aside from the incredible views of rows of lavender and the intoxicating scent that fills the air, there are many reasons for visiting a farm when the lavender is in bloom.  These farmers are usually avid gardeners and maintain the farmstead grounds like miniature botanical gardens as well.  With meticulously groomed gardens and the magic of the lavender fields, the farms are a photographer's paradise, and an inspiration for any fellow gardener.
One very such place, only a mile from where I live, is the Sundance Lavender Farm.  They will be open to the public on Saturdays all through July (Lavender Festival time here in the WV). Just outside of Salem, they cultivate a couple of acres of lavender and sell various lavender products from the little lavender cottage situated on the property.   Aside from farming lavender they also produce and sell various lavender infused jams and jellies at the downtown Portland Farmers Market on the Park Blocks every Wednesday and Saturday.

So if you are looking for something to do over the weekend, you might take a drive out to rural Oregon and check out the lovely, luscious lavender.

Life is good - bye for now!   E

Don't Forget:  Buy local when you can!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Little Cannoli Bakery - sweets for the sweet

There's something exciting about walking down into the basement of the Reed Opera House and surprise - you find the sweetest little bake shop in Salem.  And just across the corridor from the tattoo parlor!  
No overpraising the sumptuous goodies in this place, which are all prepared by hand and freshly baked with loving care every morning.  A particular favorite is the chocolate eclair - a double treat - melt in your mouth delicious and a feast for the eye as well.  

Last week visitors arrived from out of town so I knew just what to do to get those grateful "oohs" and "aahs".  A little trek down to the Little Cannoli Bakery.  And I will add that it worked, we devoured the little gems with gusto.

Tucked away in the basement of the historic Reed, this little enterprise can be hard to find, but the search is worth the effort.  Intimately charming with true old world ambience, the shop boasts stain glass windows surrounded by old brick walls. There's a small seating area where you can enjoy a drink, pizza or, of course, the real reason for coming down the stairs.  The owner is always pleasantly happy to greet you too!

So when in Salem, if you need to satisfy that sweet tooth, this is a good place to try.

Life is good - bye for now.  E

REMEMBER:  Buy local when you can!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Napoleon's - French Creperie and Gelatoria

Because my grand daughters were with me this week we decided to have lunch at the best little French bistro in Salem.  Once a simple little gelateria and creperie shop inside the Reed Opera House, Napoleons expanded into a full size eatery about eight months ago.

The place is perfectly located on the lower level of the Reed, right on the corner of Liberty and Court. The atmosphere, food and wait staff are delightful - a fantastic place for lunch with friends or family. Our waitress was very pleasant, attentive and efficient.

The decor is wonderfully French, cozy and comfortable in this historic vintage building.

Classic French onion soup is served everyday (it's delicious) and the pizza is really quite good with a wide array of choices, although I do prefer a thinner crust. Try the Mediterranean it was delish with basil pesto!

I might add that the galato is the real thing - authentic and, oh my, if you're a chocolate lover it's the best.

For the girls this has become our special place. So add this to your list of good places!
As for the Reed Opera House - this building is home to an interesting array of eclectic shops - from the tattoo parlor to the Little Cannoli Bakery which I will tell you all about in my next post.

Life is good - bye for now! E

UPDATE 10/5/2013:  I regret to write that Napoleon's has closed their doors, evidently they have been closed for some time, the space being taken over by a hat shop.   It's too bad - Napoleon's really was a nice place for lunch.  All I can say is "DARN".


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

DAY ONE - The Good Life

Welcome to the first of hopefully many posts on the good life in the Willamette Valley.  This is my first experience with a blog so bear with me as I have a lot to learn about taking photos that will warm you heart, and making life sound as good as it is in the WV.

I'd like to write about some of the amazing things going that you may not know about like good places to eat or interesting events happening around the valley.  One thing for sure - Summer here couldn't be better.  Right now we have lavender blooming in the fields, blueberries ready to pick, apples growing on the trees, flowers everywhere, incredible art, and dungeness crab.  So there's a lot to talk about and did I mention the cherries ready for harvest?  It might be nice to hear from you about some places you might find amazing here in the WV.

It's a fantastic place, especially in the Summer - and the temp is only going to be 78 today - so take that Eastern Seaboard!

I thought I'd start today with showing you a couple of pictures of the incredible German Pancake made with my granddaughters this morning.  It is the best, most amazing delicious pancake in the WV - made with apples grown in the Pacific Northwest.   Recipe would follow if requested by any of you.  So I'll sign off with this as my first posting.  

Oh - I can't resist throwing in a picture of the lavender blooming in the WV now.  It is lavender festival time here so if you have a chance visit a lavender farm, they are open to the public and you can pick all the lavender you can carry.

Life is good!  E