Monday, November 18, 2013

Warm Springs Valley - A Pictorial

It was at the end of the most incredibly dazzlingly Fall when I last visited the Warm Springs Valley in Western Virginia. Here this rural mountain valley  is exceptional with it’s sweeping panoramic views of the Allegheny Mountains, meandering streams and rivers, clean fresh mountain air and, of course, the spectacular Fall colors.

This valley, nestled in the Allegheny’s near the Appalachian Trail, is steeped in history which reaches far back to before Colonial times.  Described as remote, wild and romantic, for over 2 centuries the region as long been prized for it’s beauty and the healing waters that bubble up in natural pools. 

The Virginia Tourism Office’s has adopted the slogan,  “Virginia is for lovers”, but Virginia is also for photography, wine, art, music and history. Yes, Virginia is all of that, but in the Warm Springs Valley you'll find a fascinating blend between the unique Appalachian mountain culture and the lowlander who has come to the valley for the waters and the recreation.  

I found it a treasure.


Sunday, November 3, 2013


This month while visiting Pennsylvania, I had the chance to visit Fallingwater, the part-time residence of department store mogul Edgar Kaufman, and designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. I was thrilled at the opportunity because not only was the setting spectacular, but I had the chance to learned about the concept of “organic architecture”.

This concept has always been appealing whether marveling at the design of moss growing on stone or the blending of textures – leaves, branches, stones, sky, water, etc.

But let's get back to Fallingwater - the house, located in a remote corner of the southwestern mountains of Pennsylvania called the Laurel Highlands, is truly impressive.  The property on which the residence was built was owned by the Kaufman family.  They wanted a weekend retreat where they could get away from the bustle and pollution of 1930s Pittsburgh.  So they handed Wright this dramatically beautiful natural landscape upon which he designed and built his most iconic example of organic architectural.

Stretching out over the top of a waterfall on a stream called Bear Run, the residence is skillfully integrated into it’s surroundings, incorporating both the sights and the sounds of it’s natural setting.  It is an engineering and architectural marvel - beautiful, inspiring, pure genius.  

My photos do not do it justice! At the time of it’s completion in 1937, Time magazine praised it as “Wright’s most beautiful job”.

The American Institute of Architects called it "The best all-time work of American architecture" and it was named one of "50 places of a lifetime" by National Geographic, besides appearing on Smithsonian’s list of 28 places to go “before you die”.

So I guess I can check this one off my bucket list.

As I said before, my photos or description do not do this place justice so I found a short You Tube video produced by CBS which really gives you a more detailed look at the house and the background of the participants in the construction of this marvel.

If you're ever in southwest Pennsylvania, spend a morning or afternoon at Fallingwater  You will be dazzled!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fall Festival Fenomenon

In the last couple of decades a new festival phenomenon has evolved during the Autumn of the year. I don't recall this happening during my childhood nor during my children's childhood, but each year bigger and more extravagant Fall festivals, pumpkin patches and corn mazes spring up - some free and some for a fee.  It has become part of our culture, sort of like the 4th of July.

These days what child doesn't make a trip to the pumpkin patch to select their favorite pumpkin, visit the petting zoo, go on a hayride or a train ride, or get lost in a corn maze?  And speaking of pumpkins - we're not talking about your regular, garden variety pumpkins anymore - no - most patches offer unbelievable variety in shape, color, and texture.

Last year I wrote a post called "Autumn, the Changing of the Guard" and I told you about a harvest festival which took place at Heiser Farms on Grand Island north of Salem, Oregon.  I was particularly fascinated by this fall celebration because of their pumpkin cannons.  These are huge cannons which shoot out pumpkins  propelling them in the air maybe 100 yards and then the pumpkins hit either a barricade (maybe an old car) or the ground and then just go splat.  It's surprisingly exhilarating to watch.  And I'm not the only one who finds this entertaining.  The place is packed. Wonder if this says much about the state of the American mind.....

Nevertheless I thought I'd attach a little video just to show you how absurd it is.
So here goes.........

Aside from pumpkin cannons (and there are many such machines working overtime in October) there is also the corn maze.  Now the corn maze has become a really big deal all over the country.

Located in Spring Grove, Illinois, the Richardson Farm boasts the world's largest corn maze and an experience your family won't find anywhere else.  This experience has something for everyone with slides, a corn bin cabin, pedal trikes and a goat walk for the little kids, and 4 separate corn mazes winding through 33 acres of living corn, a 700' sip line, ORBting (rolling around inside an huge 11foot ball), for everyone else.

East year  the Richardson family designs their ginormous corn maze in intricate detail recognizing a special or significant event. This year the design is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Beatle's first album.

Although the Richardson Farm claims to have the world's largest corn maze, sadly they have been trumped by a West Coast maze at the Cool Pumpkin Patch in Dixon, California.  Coming in at 53 acres (13 acres larger than 2007's Guinness Book of World Records layout) this year's design is bigger and more challenging than ever before.

Now the Cool Pumpkins Patch promises that this year's maze will have new twists and turns to confuse, confound and delight.  There is even a Starbucks station in the middle of the maze. Wow!  Along with the World's largest corn maze, they also have endless varieties of pumpkins, a scarecrow exhibit and last year's pumpkin-pulverized VW bug.  That's really cool!

As you can see the corn maze craze is becoming an integral part of the fall festival phenomenon. So much so that there is a corn maze website called Corn Mazes America. This site includes a directory and a Google Earth app for checking out all the corn mazes in America on GE.  They also provide services to corn maze owners such as corn maze smartphone GPS app, smartphone games for the customers, design services and, of course, the how-to book - Corn Mazes: Is there a Pot of Gold in Your Cornfield?  Phenomenal!

If you happen to live in the upper Willamette Valley there are many places to visit.  I'm just listing a few locations, so if you live in another part of Oregon go to the link listed at the bottom of the page for many more listings. And if you live in another part of the country, check out Corn Mazes America or use your browser to find a local event.

Willamette Valley Pie Company Harvest Festival open from 10/3 to 10/31 includes Pumpkin Patch, Corn Maze (some wind damage), Hayrides, Hay Mountain (with hay tube and slide) and much more.  Salem area, admission fee.

Heiser Farms open the month of October with pumpkin patch, hayrides, petting zoo, hay pyramid and slide, pumpkin cannon viewing, etc. Grand Island near Dayton, no admission fee

The Pumpkin Patch on Sauvie Island open form Labor Day to the end of October.  Corn maze, pumpkin patch, haunted corn maze, hayrides and more. Admission fee.

Fazio Farms open all of October for their Halloween Festival.  Corn maze, tractor hayrides, monster school bus, pumpkin patch, and much more.  Portland area, admission fee

Go to  Oregon Harvest and Halloween Festivals and Events to see many more Oregon listings. There are dozens of harvest festivals going on from the Oregon coast on over to Central Oregon, and from Portland on down to Southern Oregon.  Check out what's happening in your neighborhood.

Ok Jimmy, where'd you put those croissants!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Apple Cider - Happy Juice

The other day I ran into some old friends that I hadn't seen in quite a while. Once co-workers from a past life, I know how busy they are with demanding full-time careers, plus running a small farmstead outside of Corvallis, Oregon.  They've chosen this lifestyle because not only do they enjoy their work, but they also have a passion and joy for the science of turning raw food into preserved delicacies through experimentation and discovery.

All year long they're trying their hand at some new version of a vegetable pate, fruit preserve, or spicy chutney - everything from soft-fruit jams and jellies in the early summer to quince and pear pastes or butters in autumn.
I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't have lovely plum wine bubbling away in the cellar right now, clarifying to a rich beautiful rosé.

Knowing this about my friends, I was intrigued and surprised when I heard that they had gone and planted a small orchard full of apple trees for the soul purpose of making apple cider (in it's various forms).

And these apples are not your run-of-the-mill commercial varieties, but true heirlooms with wonderful old world names like Liberty, Enterprise, Ashmeads Kernel, Golden Russet, Hewe's crab apple, Wickson's crab apple, Florina, Dabbinet, and Porter's Perfection.
This diversity is important, because the best ciders are blended using juice from several apple cultivars - apples not grown for eating, but for cider making. A truly complex and well balanced cider is a blending of four main types of heirloom apples which include sweets (high sugar), sharps (high acid), biittersweets (high sugar and tannin), and bittersharps (high tannins and acids).
So I think they have this covered pretty well with their initial planting and their plans to expand even further into the future by using these trees for grafting on to new rootstock and expanding the orchard into a high density trellis system.
Their orchard management is well thought out and the first vintage of cider (Autumn 2013) is underway with enough apples to be pressed yielding close to 50 gallons of cider (mostly the hard stuff with a little fresh juice to enjoy right now).

Now hard cider is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the world today, and was one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the  USA from Colonial times until the start of Prohibition.  

For some unknown reason hard cider didn’t make the same come back that beer, wine and distilled beverages did after the repeal of Prohibition, until this last decade where it apparently is getting some attention.  One reason could be that unlike beer and grain- based alcohol, apple cider is just that, fermented juice pressed from apples and gluten free.

So, realizing that cider's time has finally come, a lot of experimentation is taking place among cider makers who are integrating hops (hoppy cider), barrel-aging (whiskey and gin), and producing dessert ciders akin to ice wines.

In the last decade several ciderworks have popped up around the Willamette Valley, as well as throughout the Pacific Northwest, and there are some long established cider houses along the East Coast and in the Heartland of the US.

But if your in the Valley this weekend be sure to stop by Two Town's Ciderworks in Corvallis.  They'll be celebrating their 3 year anniversary this Saturday, October 4, serving their flagship, seasonal and limited release ciders, along with live music and local food. It'd be a great way to introduce yourself into the cider world, if you haven't already, and have a little fun too.

Also, the city of Portland boasts it’s own Bushwacker Cider Bar, with 7 varieties of cider on tab and a 100+ available in the bottle.  They have everything from run-of-the-mill cider for $2 a bottle to house made cider, artisan cider made with ginger, and ciders from England and beyond at $4-15 a bottle.  Best to try the sampler to find the one you really like first.

Given what's going on in the cider world today, I think my friends are really on to something with this artisanal craft cider making endeavor.  And I'm looking forward to them going prime time!

Lastly, for those really interest in the history of cider, check out The American Cider Book by Vrest Orton and Cider: Hard and Sweet by Ben Watson.

Stay thirsty my friends!  Evelyn

OK Jimmy, where'd you put those croissants............

Friday, September 27, 2013

Love, Love, Love Oysters!

Love, love, love oysters and if you're an oyster lover you understand the pleasure of slurping down a sweet, briny, fresh, raw oyster.  The taste of the ocean in one slurp!  I eat them with a little horseradish and a squirt of lemon, other times a little cocktail sauce, or maybe just a dash of hot sauce. 

True a raw oyster might be a bit much for some (especially an oyster newby), but baked, grilled or fried -  they’re always delicious. A favorite of mine is to dredge them through a mixture of Panko and Italian bread crumbs - a quick sauté in melted butter mixed with olive oil, then a little lemon, tarter or cocktail sauce - but go easy on the extras, you don't want to ruin the purity of the flavor.

Now if you’ve never tried oysters, I recommend that you go out and enjoy some fresh oysters somewhere and if you don't like them, never eat them again. But don't worry about it for there are tons of people who consider them to be one of the most delicious foods on the face of the earth and they’ll be happy to enjoy your portion.

For the truth with oysters is  – you either love them or you hate them.

So if you love them and want to be an oyster aficionado here are a few things you need to know.

*  Never say "oyster juice", say "liquor".  This is the natural liquid inside the oyster - it is precious and should taste amazing when consumed with the oyster when eating them raw.  It's part of the oyster slurping experience.

*  Never say "salty", say "briny".  They mean the same thing except briny eludes to salty like sea water salty and it just sounds better.

*  Never say "water", say "terrior".  Terrior is a set of charactistics of a certain place, like climate, geology, and geography which impacts the flavor of what is produced there.  Just like wine or cheese, oysters reflect the characteristics of the area they are grown in - the terrior.

*   Nothing pairs better with oysters than a nice dry sparkling wine. Whether it's Champagne, Cava, or Proscecco - oysters and bubbly enjoyed together are one of life's most decadent pleasures. 

*   Oysters are aphrodisiacs and scientists agree!  Read this article from The Telegraph and you'll see what I mean.

*   Remember the r-month rule - especially with raw oysters.  It's true that now a days oysters are perfectly safe to eat anytime and if you're cooking them you probably won't notice the difference, but raw oysters really do taste best coming out of the cold waters of the r-months.

Aside from the market or in a restaurant, there’s no better place to enjoy these fabulous bivalves than directly from the farmers along the Oregon and Washington Coast.  Yaquina Bay on the Central Coast of Oregon is the most convenient for me, so when I take a trip to the coast I  try to make a stop at the Oregon Oyster Company located on the bay in Newport, but you could find them farmed at many bays and inlets up and down the coast.  If you want the freshest (and when it comes to oysters, that’s what you want), the brackish waters in the back bays are where you’ll find them.

A Little Bit of History 

Along time ago the West Coast was populated by the small, but succulent Olympia oyster – a species harvested to the brink of extinction more than a century ago.  The decline originally started with the 1949 gold rush in California. San Francisco was in it’s hay day and the Forty-niners devoured the delicious mollusks by the bushel.  At that time they were abundant and the only oyster species that populated the West Coast from San Francisco up through the Puget Sound. 

It is estimated to take about 1,500 Olympia oysters to fill a gallon jug so as San Francisco Bay’s supply ran out, the industry soon move northward to harvest hundreds of thousands of “Olys”  for shipment back on down the coast.  

It only took a few decades to wipe out these natives in along the West Coast and the industry foundered until the early 1900's with the importation of the Pacific oyster from northern Japan.  This and the delightfully delicious Kumanoto (also from Japan) are the two main species grown commercially on the West Coast today. 

The Pacific grows faster and larger than any other species, and has a sweet, mild taste (some say salty cucumber taste) while the Kumanoto’s grow agonizingly slow, but are praised for their sweet, clean taste with a hint of honeydew. YUM…

As far as the little Olympia oyster is concerned there has been recent interest and some success in re-establishing the species in several California and Oregon bays as well as in Washington's Puget Sound.

You can learn more about this amazing bivalve and it’s place in the history of the Pacific Northwest by visiting the Oregon Public Broadcasting website.  They did a great piece called “The Oysterman” as part of series of programs for the Oregon Experience.  It’s a great story with wonderful vintage film footage and photos.

*** Photo Curtesy of The Island Grill & Raw Bar
****Photo Curtesy of The Food Network, Cooking for Real

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Falling Slowly

Last Spring I attended a music recital at an academy for musically gifted young students in Denver.

The program offered everything from opera to jazz and culminated with a poignant rendition of a song called "Falling Slowly".

The piece was beautifully preformed as a duet by two of the academy's faculty members and was accompanied by the sweet sound of a tenor ukulele.
I was so impressed by the sound the came out of that ukulele that I promised myself I'd learn to play that music or die trying.  Well, it's been 5 months now and I'm dying trying.  Being a novice ukuleleist, this project has proven to be challenging to say the least.
But isn't it strangely unexplainable how there are certain songs which come along every so often and just blow your mind with their perfect combination of lyrics and melody? Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is one of those songs, along with several of Adele's creations, and I can't leave Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" of my list.

So now I've included "Falling Slowly" to my list, for it is a song that has compelled me to joyfully work far beyond my abilities.
Of course - you may already know all this - but after I first heard the music in Denver, I did some research and found that the song came out of a low budget, foreign indie film called Once - a movie that took around 3 weeks to film on a $100,000 budget about an street musician working in Dublin, Ireland. Along the way the movie and the song have won myriad awards on the international scene and in particular, the song won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Achievement in Music Written for a Motion Picture, Original Song.

Wow, "Falling Slowly" came out of nowhere and won an Oscar!

Now recall this was a really low budget, small time, foreign, independent film. Basically one of hundreds produced and distributed every year.

But there was evidently something very special about this story for in 2012 it was transformed into a musical production on Broadway (yes-Broadway) and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, winning 8 of those nominations including Best Musical.

Now that's an amazing rags to riches story. Should I say "only in America"? (Although it was written and produced in Ireland)

Check out the video below of the song "Falling Slowly" written and preformed in harmonious collaboration by Glen Hasard and Marketa Irglova.  After hearing it you too may want to include it in your musical repertoire if you haven't already!

But for now - enjoy. . . . .

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tomatoes and Other Stuff (UPDATE!)

What again!  Not more tomato stuff!  

After washing, blanching, chopping, freezing and saucing what seemed like a bushel of tomatoes the other day, I still had a bunch of plum tomatoes sitting on the counter looking like they wouldn't last through the weekend.  I decided to oven roast (or dry) the few that remained - so, if you happen to have some Roma or Marzano (any plum variety) tomatoes sitting around, and you've made enough sauce or paste to last a millennium here's a way to use them up.

I'm really happy with the way these turned out - call them roasted or dried, they're worth fixing up this way.  I recommend you try at least one batch.   While it's true that there are many recipes on the internet to follow, I simply sliced my tomatoes length wise (3 slices per tomato making 4 pieces), and put them on a rack after I brushed them with olive oil and pressed garlic (a little salt and pepper helps too).  I prefer to finish them off with a slight drizzle of balsamic vinegar - although you can season them with many other herbs or spices depending on your taste. Again you will find many renditions of this process on the internet, and they all seem worth trying

Once they've been appropriately seasoned, put them in a 200 degree oven for about 4 hours (check every so often).  I like them fairly dry but a little gooey - slightly caramelized.  You can freeze them (will last for 3 months) or simply pop them in the frig (2-3 weeks).  Some cover them with olive oil put I don't know if that's necessary.

They are a delicious addition in sandwiches, any kind of pasta, dressings, pizza, scrambled eggs, etc., etc., etc.  They're fantastic to have around when you need a little extra something.