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Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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Refreshing Old Ways: Sharing the Path

Those of us who remember our Beowolf readings from high school English class merrily purchased our first cup of mead at Renaissance Festivals and were rewarded with a sweet drink. Perhaps we were young and that was palatable. But  it was the last time I drank mead until I moved to Oregon’s Willamette Valley about three and a half years ago.

Living in the middle of wine country is a joy in many ways. Not only does it offer a lot in terms of oenophile enjoyment, but the countryside is beautiful.  And twice a year (Thanksgiving weekend and Memorial Day weekend) almost all the wineries open their doors, even if they normally do not have tasting rooms. It was our first Thanksgiving weekend here and avoiding a popular location with the Portland crowd, we headed up Highway 47 north of McMinnville. When we got to Yamhill we stopped, on a whim, at a meadery at Kookoolan Farms.
Yamhill Oregon Local Farm

Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor and her husband Koorosh met as engineers for Intel and purchased a  farm in Yamhill. Kookoolan Farms has evolved over time to work with other nearby farms to offer vegetables and meat to consumers throughout the region and its reputation for quality is well known. To find out more about the farm and all they do check out their website and their Facebook page.

Like me, Chrissie remembered her Beowolf and started making mead from local honey.  She perfected her craft, moving well beyond the sticky sweet stuff so many of us experienced at those Ren Fairs. In her quest, she started gathering mead from other places in the United States and from around the world. This is when I met her. We visited her mead tasting room and was amazed at the variety of tastes offered.

And why not, when you really think about it. Beer, which has the same basic components, has amazing variety. Wine, of course, varies not only by the type of grape but, as I have learned first hand, by the weather, the terroir, and the skill of the winemaker.  Why not discover the same breadth and depth with mead?

Mead has been enjoyed by people for thousands and thousands of years. It seemed to be found often in monasteries which produced honey for the beeswax to make candles. The mead was a fortunate byproduct of that task.  Today, home brewing shops throughout the country can attest to an upsurge in interest and currently there are over 400 commercially licensed meaderies in 46 states, up from 30 in 1997!  Mead is considered to be the fastest growing beverage business.

Many meaderies, like Kookoolan, are very small with only a limited and local distribution. However, there are many that have larger production and a number of bottle shops are expanding into offering a wider selection.

As interest grows, so do the number of books available on the subject. So far, however, most recent books about mead have been in the “how to” genre. Home brewing is highly popular and there are plenty of tips and lessons available to ease the learning curve.

However, as mead started becoming more popular, Chrissie realized there was something missing. Her clues came from the visitors to the tasting room. Not only “Where can I find mead besides your tasting room?” but “What would be a good dish to pair with this mead?”

She realized she had a definite advantage over just about everyone else in the field. When she went to make her lunch in her kitchen, it was fun to grab a small pour, or two or three in the adjacent tasting room and see what tasted good with the dish she had prepared for her meal. As she kept her notes, the light bulb started to burn brightly and the book concept was born.

The Art of Mead Tasting and Food Pairing (ISBN 978-0-578-18895-9) took three years to produce.  It is a joy to read…and even better to work through by cooking and tasting. Chrissie has not only explained the various kinds of meads that are available, but offered well tested recipes to pair with the various kinds.  Imagine, if you will, you have a pretty terrific chicken pot pie you have made, either from your own recipe or the one in the book.  You might be tempted to pair it with a white wine for supper, but your enjoyment can be enhanced with the right kind of mead pairing.

From spicy (check out the shrimp gumbo!) to sweet there is something in here for every palate. 

The books is also divided into regions of the world, as mead is produced everywhere there is honey. One photograph really caught my eye; it showed an archaeological find at Tel Rehov, Israel with a multitude of preserved hives. This discovery proves that ancient civilizations, this one dating back to 900 CE, had a great appreciation for bees, honey and its byproducts.

The book explains mead history as part of the Paleo world, in Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean region, northern Europe, eastern Europe, the Middle East, and in Latin America. Recipes and pairing suggestions are offered to get your exploration rolling.

And through it all, gorgeous photography. Even a simple photo of the collection of meads Chrissie obtained from meaderies around the world in the research for this book is beautiful, even as it began to overtake the floor space in their dining room.

My hope is in your own life adventures you make room for new challenges.  Part of exploration may be of new places, but some new learning may take place in the known and safe nest of your own. Open your willingness to try not only new foods, but new  beverages too. Perhaps this concept of mead pairings will get you thinking and not only check out the book, but start checking out the shelves in a local bottle shop. At a recent visit to a local grocery store yesterday I found this.

 

 

and now I get to figure out what food will go well with it. Ahhhh, time to reread the book!
15713 Highway 47, Yamhill, Oregon 97148                                                                                                                                                                                                                             503-730-7535   kookoolan@gmail.com

 


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A Better Role Model

Several years ago I was caring for a 10-year-old while her mother worked and found she was way behind in her school work. So, instead of letting her vegetate in front of the TV, I spent at least an hour a day working with manipulatives, listening to songs and other tools to help her learn the times table. I had her help me in the kitchen baking so we could talk about fractions. She complained to mom that I never played with her. I was no fun.

In the car one day with both of them, I pointed to a traffic sign and asked the girl why it was yellow. She didn’t know. I helped her work it through by using the example of a traffic light.  The mom yelled at me “Not everything has to be a teaching opportunity!”

I disagree. Strongly.

Childhood not only is the time when most learning happens, it is easiest then. It also is a time that sets up patterns for life.

We wonder why there are so many lazy people. So many people who drink and dope. So many people who can’t keep a job because they don’t have even the skill to report on time and be responsible.  Children learn from the adults around them. 

So, yes, every moment is most certainly a teaching opportunity with children, even when we are passive. They are watching.

We want a better society…..it starts at home. You are amazed how bad kids behave today…..it starts at home. You think the clerk at the store is rude….it starts at home. Be the example you want to see.

 


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I Feel Lucky

It’s a pretty busy time, but when is it not busy in my life?  Anyway, it’s busy and I like it that way.

Today I had an appointment with my allergist to go another scratch test for some of the standard issues here. I had to be off my antihistamine for 5 days and boy oh boy I didn’t know how effective it was until now. The pokes were easy compared to my memory of the scratch tests as a kid. One of my arms got red and swollen quickly. (Thanks, Cat, who is now 15 and will probably live to 25 just to spite me.) But as soon as that was over I swallowed my antihistamine and rubbed some anti-itch cream on my arm and felt better in a half hour. I sure feel lucky.

I then headed over to the kitchen I rent at the McMinnville Cooperative Ministries. We had the first of two tests as  part of a special project for Can-Do Real Food. One of our farm partners, Keeler Estate Vineyards, has some wine that is not permitted to be sold because of some form that was not filed years ago. So, we offered to see if we could turn it into wine jelly. They gave us bottles of Pinot Noir (a red) and Pinot Gris (a white) and that jelly tasted awesome. We cookeda little more of each down and mixed with sea salt to make a culinary salt as well. I get to play with yummy food. Boy oh boy, I feel really lucky.pinot noir and pinot gris april 4

This weekend I am hosting a handcrafted artisan fair inside a pavilion at the local county fairgrounds here in town. The story of how this all got started points more to my Pollyanna attitude than my realistic view of life, but it is coming together despite a couple of setbacks. Good thing, since it is only 4 days away. We have an awesome and eclectic group of talented craftspeople.  I am going to have a great weekend spending it with artists who show their love with their abilities.  I am so darn lucky.Crafts Fair poster WEB

I got 27 emails from candidates today, most, of course, begging for money. You know, this political hoohah can be very annoying. But you know what else?  We have a system that permits us to be involved. Especially if we don’t like it.  I met a candidate a couple of years ago and after talking with him decided I would help a bit. He’s campaigning again and there I am. It is rewarding and comforting to see an honest person who is very much interested in the issues of the people in this area try to make a difference.  I feel lucky to know how to get involved and help try to make this government work for the people.

My husband Graham probably did not fully know what he was getting when he asked me to marry him. We just celebrated our ninth anniversary and were able to take a few days away “at the coast” (Oregon speak for “down the shore” which is New Jersey speak for “go to the beach” everywhere else). So despite his cold we enjoyed the beautiful sunny blue skies and warm days. He humored me to head to a good viewpoint for a sunset photo too and we headed to Tillamook cheese factory on the way home so we could get some cheese and, of course, ice cream. I know I am lucky.IMG_0679

So this evening we ran a quick errand to Lowe’s to pick up something we needed for a wood craft Graham is making for this weekend. Afterwards we stopped and he put up two signs about the artisan fair. I was off the road with the flashers on and when Graham came back to the car I planned on pulling a u-turn to head home. But there was a car, and then another and then another….three police cars, so no u-ey. I drove a tiny bit and pulled into the grange parking lot to turn around. One of the police cars also pulled in…and turned his lights on. You can imagine the expletive deleted that I was thinking. I figured we might get a ticket for putting the signs up. Nope, he wanted to check we were okay and did we know we had a taillight out? We denied it and promised to get it replaced and headed home. Oh yeah. I feel lucky.

In reviewing my day I realized I left off the very best part. I heard from each of my three kids today. I feel very very very lucky indeed.

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Family Ties

Following the Christmas holiday I don’t need to tell YOU that your family is……..well, challenged.  I have one myself. I had an aunt that my mother disliked so much she never talked to her brother but, because of family dynamics, I needed to allow her to sing her warble of some song I didn’t even know at my wedding.  I had another aunt who, in the 1950s got a (whisper here) divorce and all we ever heard was “don’t come running home to us if you have problems with your husband.” Not exactly a helpful life lesson.

So, we all have less than perfect families, and if we are true to form, we don’t do such a great job at parenting. We do what we know, so unless you have sought out a parenting class, you will have a tendency to teach your children in the same dysfunctional way you were raised.

In the interest of changing that here are TEN RULES TO BETTER FAMILY LIFE:

  1. Recognize that the reason you love your friends more than your family is because your friends let you do the shit your mom and dad won’t. That doesn’t mean that shit is good. It still is shit. Your parents literally cleaned up your shit as a baby and into your childhood, but  now it is time for you to realize that your actions have consequences and you really need to accept responsibility. When you grow up, your relationships with the long term people who are on your life path AKA your family, will improve.Illustration by Nate Powell.
  2. Let go of anger. We want to be RIGHT! We want others to know they are WRONG! Let it go. It is not a helpful manner of communication. If you really feel strongly that your little sister or your second cousin is on the road to perdition, sit down calmly, maybe with a cup of lavender tea (ha ha) and ask why they feel their pathway is going to bring them the life they want. LISTEN.  They probably will not come around, but at least you’ll understand better and maybe they will turn to you when they recognize they need to change their ways.being kind
  3. Look in the mirror. Recognize your own flaws. Now praise your skills realistically. Understand that each of us is made of the entire ability spectrum. You and your buddies are not the only ones who can do things right. Even your parents get it right some of the time.looking-in-the-mirror
  4. Learn from others. Yup, even that warbling aunt of mine probably had something worthwhile to share with me……hard for me to imagine but I am remembering her with a child’s memory. If you are an adult, you can go where I was unable to perceive.learning
  5. Look at your children. We watched Home Alone again this Christmas and a few things were obvious to an outsider that the family members did not perceive. Be fair when you think over your kids’ strengths and weaknesses. Don’t have them do what YOU wish you could have done as a kid if they are not interested. Help them develop their own interests. Help them learn to read and research. Your-Kids-Look-up-to-You-for-Guidance
  6. Look at your children again. Help them learn life skills like cooking, sewing buttons and hems, how to wash laundry and iron to press a shirt to make a good appearance,  and how to swim.  A man who expects his wife or girlfriend to do all the cooking does not realize the stress that constant task causes. More importantly, he never sees her face light up in pleasure when he prepares her a nourishing meal. A man who can cook is sexy.LifeSkills-750
  7. Look at your children again. Teach your kids to change their oil and their tires. You may not be that proficient yourself. Learn it together. Your daughters too.  Watch your tendency for sexism. Let your sons and daughters learn they can access the entire array of  arts and skills.Nike-Voices-Feature
  8. Tell stories to your kids. Turn off the television and the electronic gadgets. Have one evening a month (or more) when you gather to share the stories of your childhood. Keep it as upbeat as possible. Your baggage with your parents need not be their baggage.  Tell about adventures you had when you were tested and succeeded. Tell about times you thought you could do something but failed and how you responded to that experience. Let them tell stories too. Use a talking stick to pass the right to talk around the circle. talking stick
  9. Explore together. Food is an excellent vehicle for exploration. Move away from what you know. I remember when we visited England for the first time and I asked for bangers and mash at a pub because I had read about it in numerous British stories,. The server paused and then said, “You know that is nursery food?” In other words, for little kids. That was okay, since it was a new experience for me, but it is not okay for you to turn to mac and cheese every few days. Time to learn new tricks. You are an adult now. You have control over your gag reflex and will not barf into your plate. Really. Taste new things. You need not repeat if you honestly do not like it. But your world will open when you explore the amazing variety of flavors from all over the world. 11646-learning-culture-through-food-mexico
  10. Realize, if you change your ways, your birth family members may make some snarky comments. That’s when you get to practice your smile and say, yeah! I’m doing great and I’m proud of my kids! And mean it.keepgoing


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As I started visiting small farms in West Virginia to market local food to consumers, I learned a lot I didn’t know.  And it got me very alarmed.

My blogs started taking on a urgent tone…you MUST change your ways….until a woman I barely knew and subsequently became a best friend, cautioned me that no one listens to yelling.

So, I think I will let photos tell the story and just give you something to think about each one.

Did you know that the US government permits chickens to be sent to China where labor costs are so much lower? The chickens will be processed and then shipped back, the better for you to continue enjoying chicken at a low price.567372-usda-allows-chicken-processing-in-china

Did you know that a number of food items prepared in China, from dog treats to baby food, have been recalled because of toxic and unhealthy items?  Unless you know your farmer, you will not know where the meat was processed.

Starting in 1994 some crops were genetically modified. Within ten years it has been estimated that over 75% of the average American diet was obtained from genetically enhanced foods….plants and animals that would not occur naturally and are only designed to help with weeds and pests or other environmental annoyances to the producer.  While the jury is still out about the genetic changes in our food affecting the eater, it is already clear that the manufacturers have not obtained one of their goals: to reduce the use of chemical sprays. So, anyone eating GMO food is getting a huge dose of chemicals that are being determined, because of consumer pressure, to be carcinogenic. gmo-awareness-blog-masthead-4

In the past five years there have been efforts made in a number of states to require foods that use genetically modified ingredients to be labeled. The companies that make the chemicals, control the seeds for planting, and the organizations that manufacture and sell the food involved have poured in billions of dollars and persuaded people who are not taking time to read independently that there is no ill effect. However, in each fight the margin is getting closer and closer so now these organizations are fighting in Congress to prohibit labeling. They think the typical American is too stupid to understand and if they see an issue they will not buy the products.

Most meat that is sold in supermarkets are from animals that have spent at least a few months in what is called a animal confinement facility.  Efforts by activists have raised awareness that the automatic use of antibiotics to increase the growth rate and keep the animals from getting sick in the dirty and congested facilities have resulted in antibiotic resistance strains of bacteria that mean people who get sick may not be able to be helped. Some places have eliminated its use and are advertising “antibiotic free.” pig factory farmKS cattle feedlot

 

 

 

 

It has become illegal to obtain and show these photos, as the organizations behind it realize you might get concerned and stop buying their products. Stopping the photos does not mean the practice has stopped.

So, now what?  Well, take a few minutes and think about your own body or your kids.  Does anyone have pretty constant tummy problems?  How about immune system problems, like allergies, eczema,  arthritis, and there even has been some discussion about chemicals in conventional food related to higher rates of ADHD.  If anyone eating out of your kitchen or eating out regularly has any of these symptoms, you may want to switch a pattern of spending.farmacy

You might want to try what we did……we did a 6-month trial. We did not buy organic as our first choice, but from local farmers we got to know and understood they used no sprays and other organic practices to raise their food. We supplemented with organic products only if we could not obtain what we needed. My husband was skeptical but after 6 months my arthritis was more easily managed and my daughter’s gut issues which had bothered her since her teen years improved dramatically.

Local Harvest  is a national organization that provides information near your zip code for farms. No excuse you don’t “know your farmer.”localharvest_logo

We also discovered one more benefit….our food tasted better than what we could buy in the supermarket.  If only for THAT reason, if you ENJOY eating, you might want to run a test.

 


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Outside Looking Back In

I lived in Huntington for seven years; Graham for 20. We worked, raised my son Sam through middle and high school, and got involved in a number of places and groups where our interests and talents fit.  We planned Graham’s retirement and our move to Oregon to coincide with Sam heading out to college and we feel good with that decision. But it sure felt nice to visit Huntington this past weekend.blog-logo

One of the groups that we loved and shared our talents was The Wild Ramp. I visited food producers and wrote blogs, worked in the market each Wednesday morning, and helped on an array of other projects including sewing volunteer aprons and shopping totes, compiling the cookbook, and making presentations to other groups around West Virginia who were interested in emulating the market model. I did not serve on the Board of Directors because I knew I would be leaving Huntington for Oregon and I did not want to “leave a hole” when I left. Well, I carried the “hole” of missing The Wild Ramp with me.

DSCF5747As lifetime members I have stayed as closely connected as living on the west coast permits. I read the blog and Facebook pages. I’ve ordered a few items, including ramps, which Shelly Keeney graciously mailed. I planted those ramps in as close a setting as I could find…at high elevation in a stand of deciduous trees…on a farm about 15 miles from where I live. Next spring we will carefully harvest enough for one dish to share with the farmer. I have worked with a group that wants a year round indoor market, but the commitment needed to get it beyond the planning phase proved too much. I think they have a lot of places where they can buy organic food and do not fully understand the benefits of more greatly supporting local farmers.

Last Saturday I spent five hours back at The Wild Ramp. I got to poke my nose in just about every corner of the new market and greatly admire the new space. I noticed the new items offered for sale since I moved and also missed a few I hoped to find. I bought tee shirts and coffee mugs and more and I’m sure my purchases helped the cash register take that day!  DSCF6590

Most of all, the best part, was connecting with the people. I chatted with shoppers, asking all those “pesky” questions I always asked: How did you hear about The Wild Ramp? How often do you shop here? Why? How do you tell others about the market?  How much do you usually spend? The answers continue to be interesting.

  • Many people still believe that The Wild Ramp is an organic market. There is one certified organic farmer but overall, It is not. But we know our farmers and if you want food that is grown without chemicals, you can find it here.
  • There is a belief before entering the market that it is expensive, more expensive than local supermarkets. Overall, it is not. Or maybe, I should say, it depends.  If you buy prepared foods, buying whole foods and all the ingredients you need to prepare a meal can be higher. Once you have a pretty standard pantry of common ingredients, buying whole food tends to be less expensive. In addition, whole foods are not loaded with chemicals, so if anyone in the family has some allergies or arthritis or skin rashes or digestive problems, staying away from food additives can make a huge improvement in health. Periodic cost comparisons of prices at The Wild Ramp and local grocery stores show that costs are comparable.
  • The market’s items continue to be chosen as local gifts for people who live elsewhere. I know I used to…and once again….had gifts in mind with some of my purchases.

Of course, some of my friends knew I would be there. It was a great emotional rush of hugs and laughter, playing catch-op and extending invitations to come visit. For foodies, Oregon offers a continual feast. I noticed as I shared stories with some that we seemed to be local gluttons: fresh salmon and oysters, olive oil, wine, hazelnuts, and all local produce and protein sources we had found. (The Wild Ramp’s effort to help Huntington experience the 30-Mile Meal could be limited to 15 miles in the Willamette Valley.)DSCF6593

It was working with the farmers and other food producers for The Wild Ramp that my awareness of the importance of local food grew. In today’s world, where food is sourced or processed in counties that do not have the same compliance record with food safety, where produce prices in the supermarkets will be rising because of the drought in California, identifying and supporting local farmers who produce healthy food is even more important.

So, as I laughingly admitted to Gail Stoll Patton, even in Oregon I still talk about The Wild Ramp as “my” market. And Gail, in her wisdom, replied, “It IS “your” market. And it is “mine” and it belongs to each and everyone who helps it operate and shops there.” No truer words. Be proud, Huntington, you built it, and you support it.


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Serendipity

Not once did I consider it an April Fools joke but we have no idea how the photo showed up on Graham’s Facebook feed last night.  Kentucky State University has a mobile fruit and vegetable processing truck that visits farms in season to help them preserve their harvest.KSU mobile fruit and vegetable kitchen

Finding no info to take me specifically to the person in charge, I emailed the head of the agricultural school at KSU, dropping The Wild Ramp market experience to give me local “street” cred (more like farm cred).  And now we are setting up an appointment for me to go look-see!

Why the excitement? Two factors. In case you missed it, I am setting up a business here in Oregon to help small farmers preserve their surplus fruits and vegetables. AND we will be in Kentucky for Graham to do some forensic business in May, less than an hour from where the KSU research farm is located in Frankfurt!!Can-Do Company Logo Final

WOW! Life is good!  Now, who can I get to help me write a grant application?