Winery party @ Cultura

A couple of weeks ago we were in wine country. It was the first wine club party at Cultura, our favorite winery in the valley. We spent the weekend with friends in Ellensburg, and the four of us headed south and caught up with other friends for an afternoon of wine tasting.

We've been coming here since Tad & Sarah's winery was known as Christopher Cellars, and we never miss stopping by for a chat and a sip of wine whenever we come through the valley. It's the most welcoming tasting room, always a good time. So we couldn't wait to bring our Ellensburg friends here.

When we arrived early afternoon, the caterers were already cooking the huge pork roast that would become part of the food that evening. The tasting room was crowded, but Tad spotted us and came out with glasses and wine bottle in hand. We sampled all the reds, then moved on to make room for the big group that had just arrived on horseback. One of these days we'll do our wine tasting this way.

At 6:00 we made our way back to Cultura, admiring the food cooking on the grill on our way inside. The party was already in gear, a lot of happy looking folks with wine glasses in hand. And we had a great time. Wine tasting was in the tasting room and outside, and the buffet was set up in the barrel room. Like us, everyone went back and forth, finally settling down in the tasting room where we picked up our wines and a special bag of chocolate goodies for the drive back to Ellensburg. Tad and Sarah throw a good party, and we're already looking forward to spring, when we'll do it all over again.


Pasture view

Yesterday we took the tractor and chain saw to the front pasture, and took down eight birch trees.

They had been damaged in a winter ice storm a couple of years ago, but they'd done other damage for years: crowded the house, blocked light from the bedroom and bathroom windows, and blocked our view of the beautiful pasture and pond, and the valley beyond our fences.

While Dave cut and hauled the trees behind the barn to be cut into firewood, I tackled the hedge that grows along the fence between lawn and pasture. When it gets too tall (and it was about 4 feet above the fence), it blocks the light into my basement quilting studio.

We worked all afternoon before collapsing on the sofa with heating pads. But it was a good afternoon's work. For the first time in years, we can see uninterrupted into the east. And this morning, I watched the sunrise light up the sky over the pasture, and could see frost on the grass all the way to the pond.

It was a beautiful sight.

    Ice storm tree damage, January 2012


Apple slices

Last weekend we came home from Ellensburg with a box of Honey Crisp apples. They're in cold storage, waiting for all sorts of yummy desserts to come from them. Of all the apples we grow in the state, this is my favorite. It has firm white flesh and a tart flavor, with just a hint of sweetness. Perfect for eating, and it's just as good in recipes.

Today was baking day: so many cloudy days in a row have brought out my nesting instincts. Dave requested apple slices, his favorite childhood dessert. This is one of the recipes my mother-in-law shared when I wrote the Pennylane Farm cookbook years ago, and I remember how the recipe card was yellowed and stained from age and use. She told me that she no longer remembered where the recipe came from, so Dave did some research. He found similar recipes of the same name that are German in origin, and linked to Chicago. So we're pretty sure the recipe belonged to Dave's great-grandmother.

As a child growing up in the windy city, Marion spent every afternoon with her German grandmother. She speaks warmly of the woman who loved her completely, and who taught her how to cook. I like to think that this much loved recipe has now been passed down through five generations.


Walk in the woods

One of my favorite walks is right here at home:  walking our private road, and walking the paths on our small acreage. Woods, pastures, the now overgrown pond... I love every foot of it. And above it all, on the crest of the hill, stands a small old farmhouse.

The road is lined with trees and shrubs and wild flowers, beautiful every time of year. The rose hips are huge, and the big maples are turning yellow. And soon the vine maples will flame red, and I'll know that winter is just around the corner.


Old trucks

At first I thought we were unlucky... the railroad museum in Toppenish was closed for the day. We looked through the iron fence and I swear my husband drooled. All the rolling stock, the restored depot, it had everything he loves about a railroad museum.

As for me, I zeroed in on the restored green and black depot truck. Trains, especially steam trains, are great. But I love old trucks. And this one is amazing.

As we got our fill of the museum yard from the wrong side of the fence, a man drove up in a truck and unlocked the gate. He was one of the restoration volunteers, waiting for gravel to be delivered. So he kindly gave us a personal tour while he waited. That made our day.

It gave me an up close and personal look at the truck, and we even got to climb inside. How cool is that!?


Foggy days

It seems to me there's been more fog this October. It's a rite of passage for autumn in the Northwest to be sure, something I look forward to each year. Fog softens the world, and masks human influences on it. It helps to hide the unlovely and makes everything mysterious. It beckons me to come out to play, to walk in the woods on my favorite trail, to take out my camera and hope to capture something of its beauty.


Friends who have a beach house unequivocally dislike the fog; because they lose their view. But I love foggy days at the beach, when sounds are muffled and the fog drifts across the familiar scenes, constantly changing the view. The foghorns moan in the distance, and ships come through the passage with no other warning but the sounds of water breaking across their bows.
Fog is quiet and serene and a bit spooky, and it brings out my nesting instincts. Time to bake bread, build a fire in the woodstove, sew, and read.
I'm happy to be snug in my little farmhouse.



One bonus that came with our lake property and cabin near Hood Canal: mushrooms! I didn't even know that chanterelles existed here, until our neighbor told me about them, then took me out and taught me how to find them. I would cut a few each year and cook them, or share them with my sister. Just think of all those mushrooms gone to waste... or to my neighbors. No worries. There are plenty to go around, and everyone always shares.

This year the mushrooms came early, and in abundance. So for the first time, I actually went mushroom hunting outside of our own property. I did a bit of research first, to try and identify some good places to look. I learned that chanterelles love moss (knew that) and salal (didn't know about this relationship). Both are everywhere in the woods around Hood Canal. So are trees and hard-to-climb-over huckleberry bushes, downed trees and branches, gullies and hills, and shrubby ponds with standing water. Lots of things to make it hard to walk through the woods.

But I set out anyway with my friend Linda, armed with some tips from my neighbor. We did pretty well, considering all of the aforementioned pitfalls of a walk through the woods. But in the end, we found the most mushrooms around the well house on our property. This small shingled shed is in a small clearing that has grown over with moss and edged by salal, and underneath moss and shrubbery we found lots of the elusive chanterelles.

We each brought home a bag full. I set mine out on paper towels in the sun to dry slightly, then brushed them clean of dirt (a soft pastry brush works great), sliced them into thick slices, and sautéed them. Then I set them on paper towels to cool, and packaged them in ziplok bags small batches to freeze. They'll be perfect in recipes this winter, when mushroom hunting is just a memory.

This is about 3 pounds of chanterelles. and the largest ones are about 4 inches across. Gorgeous, aren't they? I found a couple that were about 7 inches across, the largest I've ever seen. They'd been rained on and were past their prime, but I brought them home and used them to seed a mossy area near the cabin.


Texture Tuesday

I've been out of the loop for a while; too busy with other projects. But it's fall, things are slowing down, and it's time to jump back into the weekly Texture Tuesday.

This time I chose a favorite photograph of my great-niece, taking a break from gardening to sip on a popsicle (note the colorful gardening gloves).

    The photograph is textured with Kim's Music Lovin' texture at 78% in Overlay mode


Time for a change

The trees are turning and it's time for an autumn photograph for my home page. The world is beautiful right now. in my favorite season of the year. This photograph is of a farm off Ringer Road in Ellensburg, flooded by the Yakima River. We came through near the end of the day, and the bright blue sky was reflected everywhere, and I love the contrast of blue and gold.

I'll pack away the green chrysanthemums until next year.


Fly fishing diaries | No more antiques

I learned to fly fish using antique fishing gear. My fly rod was made in the 1970s, and my reel (which belonged to my father-in-law) was made in 1958. I've been practicing with my old gear until I was sure this was something I'd be passionate about.

So after a season of fishing, I just bought my first ever, brand-new fly fishing gear. I think it was the perfect birthday present! I chose a 5-wt. Redington Classic Trout fly rod, highly recommended for beginner-to-intermediate fly fishermen. Even better, it was 50% off on an end-of-season sale (thanks, Cabela's). It was such a great deal, even Dave bought one for himself. He's going to like having both a 5-wt. and a 6-wt. fly rod. And while I waited impatiently for our fly rods to arrive, a $25 coupon arrived in the mail from Orvis. I hadn't planned to get a new reel, but this was too good to pass up. So I bought myself the highly-rated (but inexpensive) Clearwater fly reel and an extra spool.

Does new, modern gear make a difference? Stay tuned...

Fly fishing diaries | Blue ribbon Yakima

Wow, finally...  I can't tell you how much I've longed to do this: drop a fly line into the Yakima River where it flows through the canyon between Ellensburg and Selah. And today, we finally did it.

We have good friends who live in Ellensburg, and we spent the weekend with them. On Sunday we headed south to spend most of the day fly fishing. The folks at Red's gave us a few spots to check out, places with good access for wade fishermen.

Fly fishermen say that if Washington assigned labels to the fishing rivers in the state, the Yakima would be a blue ribbon fishing river. Maybe the only blue ribbon river in the state. I don't know about that... I'm still a novice. But I can say that fly fishing in the Yakima canyon in the fall is a pretty special thing. The cottonwoods and willows are turning autumn gold, and the river is deep blue as it reflects the sky. We spotted eagles and hawks soaring above the river, and there's an eagles nest in a row of tall pine trees just below the Roza dam. Best of all, we saw a big herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep on the far side of the river, and they stuck around long enough for a photo shoot.

Dave and I started out fishing the river near milepost 10. And even though neither of us got a nibble, it was a perfect spot to try out our new Redington fly rods. For me, the novice, it was perfect for fly casting practice. I love my new rod! It's responsive and I can feel it load as I back-cast, which helps me get into a rhythm. It's so much better than my antique Fenwick.

We were fishing the eastern bank, out from shore about 20 feet in knee-deep water. The river flows pretty strong here and the footing is full of boulders, so I took it easy on my first time on the river. Not wanting to get too far from shore (and not wanting to tangle my line in the bushes), I came up with a technique that worked for me:  Cast upstream, and let my fly drift past me as I let out more line. Strip the line in, then cast it left to right upstream, touch the surface, then go back to my usual back cast. Let out line to get some distance, and do the whole thing over again. I don't remember having anyone teach me how to do this; it just seemed a natural and easy way to present my fly to the whole range of river in front of me.

There were two men fishing across the river from us. The water was too deep to wade there; maybe they hiked downstream to this spot, or they were dropped off from a boat. They were waist deep  right at the shoreline, so they had deep pools to fish. We saw them both land fish, saw one of them take a dunk and lose a fish, but they didn't give up. When we left to fish another spot, they were still there.

We worked our way up the river, ending up at a series of deep pools near milepost 19. I didn't care for the muddy beach that sucked at my boots, or that I couldn't walk out very far because of the drop-off. But I caught a fish here: a slim 4-inch trout that couldn't resist my spangly elk hair caddis fly. He bit, came to my hand, and I released him back to the river.

We finished up our day of fishing at another stretch of the Yakima, closer to Ellensburg off Ringer Road. The river here is fun to wade; the bottom is smooth rocks and pebbles, easy to walk on. I caught three more tiny fish, 3-4 inches long. I later joked that if you lined up my four fish end to end,  they wouldn't have added up to one legal fish. No matter. These little guys were fun to catch, and easy to release.

We fished until nearly 5:00, not wanting to leave the river or the coming on of evening. I kept wading to shore to pull out my camera to take pictures; it was so beautiful as the sun went down behind the hills and the light swept through the cottonwood trees. A deer came down for an evening drink, and startled me. Upstream, I watched an osprey fishing in the ripples just past Dave. It was a beautiful time of day to be on the river.

This is the fly that caught fish for me today. Thanks to Red's for recommending it... it was truly
the magic fly for the day.


My cat is deaf

James, my dear, sweet American Shorthair cat, has gone deaf. We didn't notice at first; she's always been very good at ignoring anything she wants to, at any time. But she kept disappearing into odd corners of the house and howling, something she's never done before. And it finally dawned on me: she howls because she can't hear herself... and maybe if she cries loudly enough, she'll be able to hear. It breaks my heart.

So life at home has changed. I still call her name, expecting her to lift her head and look at me. That's one habit I'm sure I won't be able to shake. I talk to my cats, always have.

It's been three months now, and she's gotten used to her deafness. She always knows when it's dinnertime (I don't have to call her now), and she puts herself to bed every night. And thank goodness, she no longer startles me by howling from the far reaches of the farmhouse.

And she's still my beautiful James.


Sign collection

I grew up in a town with an old central core of brick buildings, and I think that's where I learned to love advertising signs painted right on the brick. My current home town has a lot of signs and murals, but few are in their original, faded state. Most have been repainted, or are new.

One thing we always do on road trips is look for the original main street of each town we pass through. That's where we'll find the original brick buildings and the best architecture, and with luck, I'll find signs to photograph. In the small British Columbia town of Greenwood, I found two more for my collection. Greenwood is a cool town, with an old customs house, massive coal mine tailings along the river, a tall brick smokestack, fanciful iron fences, and lots of antique houses.

As we turned down a side street that headed downhill to the main street, I spotted this awesome salmon advertisement. There was a delivery truck parked in front of it, so we parked and walked through town, got cold drinks, and waited for it to leave. The wait was worth every minute.