Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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.







Because I Can

There’s a lot of cross-cultural activity in our home; we celebrate it all. God is God….the way you celebrate him is man-made, whether you attend a millennium-old religious practice or dance each full moon in the meadow.

My mom was particularly concerned when I told her I was going to be marrying Graham that I would be “lost” to the Jewish people. What has happened has been remarkable and I think she might even have appreciated it all.

David Bruno's wedding photos 104It started when the Episcopal priest in Pueblo, Colorado suggested we add a few Jewish symbols into the ceremony blessing our marriage. We made a chuppah of one of my mom’s lace tablecloths and Graham stomped on a glass. The priest explained it all the the crowd and one choir member thanked me after for inviting her because she “had never been to a Jewish wedding before.” After I told her she still had not been to one, Graham and I decided to hold a Passover Seder a few weeks later.

When I was young I had protested the Haggadah we used to my mom twice. Once, after my grandfather died. He had run the Seder in Hebrew for six hours and I have to say as a kid I never got much out of it except for timing how long it took for one of my aunts to get drunk on the wine.  I suggested, since Grandpa no longer would be the one to lead it,  to find another Haggadah that would make the ceremony more meaningful.

“Oh no, she said. This is the ONLY Haggadah!”  Really? This wine stained freebie from Manischevitz?passover-haggadah-big

I raised the point again when Dan and Lisa were about 2 and 4 years old. I suggested cutting the Seder to about 20 minutes would be something toddlers could handle. I got the same response.

So, for our first Seder together with Graham, I put together a new Haggadah. I found about 700 versions on the Internet and was able to take some from this and some from that to make something that not only was meaningful to me and our guests that year and in all the years since, but still followed all the guidelines and told the story. We have it down to 4 hours now, including dinner.  Each year we invite 12-20 people to share in the experience and have a great time.photo (48)

This year our Seder will be two days early. No, I don’t expect any lightning striking me. I am leaving on April 13 to fly to New York and on the 14th, the first day of Passover, I will be on a plane with Lisa, heading to India for her Golden Birthday trip. I am sure the Universe has no issue with this, although some people may.

I’ve started preparation. Putting together a Seder takes considerable attention to detail and time.

Buying some ingredients here in the beautiful agricultural lands of Oregon at least an hour from a Jewish congregation is a bit more of a challenge than when I was growing up in New Jersey. I have called a store near the Temple in Salem and will do some shopping when we visit a friend there and eat a meal together this weekend.

One of the most needed foods at this time is matza.  Because of the restriction of eating unleavened bread, it becomes an often used ingredient for many meals.  While our local store has some matza it is not Kosher for Passover. There are more rules on that so the foods have to be prepared specially for the Passover holiday.

But I got to thinking….matza is only flour and water.  I can bake! I read several recipes, learning that the matza must be baked within 18 minutes of mixing the ingredients. This time restriction is based on making sure no leavening takes place.

So, I baked some matzah and it was edible!!!
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Not square or round like the commercial brands. The fork holes are not evenly spaced, but I bet it will be the best matzah ever in this house and in this town!




Local Wine

Prior to my marriage to Graham almost 7 years ago I didn’t know much about wine. I also had a tight budget so didn’t buy it often.  He is an oenophile, a person who loves and appreciates wine, so in our travels we made time to stop at local wineries.  As I tried a wide array of wines, I began to learn what varieties of grapes I preferred. And soon I learned that even within the same varietal, the flavor of the wine can vary based on the wine maker as well as the terroir (land and soil) and climate.a

In fact, we got to be a bit snobbish about wine but not in the typical way. We enjoyed going to out of the way wineries in areas that had small production so were not widely distributed. Even in Napa, we refused to go into a winery with a name we recognized.

So moving to the Willamette Valley in Oregon posed an exciting new phase in exploring wine. This region produces some of the best pinot noir in the world. In fact, it is the same grape as used in Burgundy, France and the climate is essentially similar. In blind taste tests the Oregon pinots win!  And now the French are buying vineyards here, so I suppose we can expect the price of the wine to go up.

Thanksgiving weekend, as well as Memorial Day weekend, are huge open house events at wineries throughout the region.  Having experienced the crowds on a typical Saturday at one tasting room in the renowned Dundee AVA, we decided we would opt to go to places that might not attract the hordes from Portland.

On Friday we headed a few miles south to the Eola-Amity Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area) and stopped at five wineries.  Dan and Lisa were with us, enjoying the experience as well.

We first went to Ilahe, set up on a hill above the vineyard. They offered 5 wines and some very nice food, including a salmon cheesecake that was superb.  The recipe was obtained by our friend Charles Price who writes a food blog, The Taste of Oregon. It was funny, but we saw a friend of Charles’ when we were there! The wine was nice, including a taste of the vintage they produced completely by hand and animal power, called 1899, but its $65 price tag kept us from buying that one.

aabWe then drove over to Kathken. Their tasting room is located in a 30-foot diameter yurt, similar to the one lived in by friends in Vermont. While we didn’t like their wine as well, we appreciated the food they were serving. We realized if this kept up we would not have to buy lunch. Lisa, who had worked in a number of vineyards in New Zealand, pointed out that not only had this year’s crop not been completely harvested, but no vine trimming had taken place yet. When Kathy was questioned, she said that the contract labor they had for picking left after only a third of the grapes had been harvested. It made us appreciate, once again, that farmers work hard and there are many factors that can actually ruin a harvest.


Our next stop was about a mile away, basically on the other side of the ridge. Cubanismo is owned by a family of Cuban-Americans who exhibit a sense of humor with their offer of toilet tissue. However, it was also the priciest place we encountered. Not only was it charging $10 a tasting, but I was charged $5 to “enter” even though I was, at most, taking a small sip from Graham’s glass. They explained that they had lice music and so I should consider it a cover charge. They had advertised Cuban food, but charged $6 more for that.  If you wanted water that was an additional dollar. We can appreciate the fact that hosting an event costs money. We understood that the usual tasting fee was double and were willing to pay that, but the attitude of this place was amazing. The band was very good. The food was okay. The wine didn’t need to come home with us.

aWe then headed over to CherryHill, where there are still cherries grown. This winery had the best view and very friendly staff. The wines were very drinkable and reasonably priced. We are debating joining the club there. One perk it offers that is not typical, is a free night at the cabins on the property.viewa

And finally, we reached Amity Hills and were blown away with what we experienced. The tasting room was well staffed with cheerful people, all eager to explain and share. Apparently, they had decided to bring out the “library”, all the wines that were still stored from all the years of production. One of the oldest wineries in Oregon, the first wine was bottled in 1977.  An older gentleman who owns a vineyard stopped by with a bottle of wine that Amity Hills had made from his grapes after the winery that had contracted for his grapes that year refused them. The wine maker at Amity Hills took some challenged grapes and made a gold medal winner out of it. They popped the cork and we all got a taste of what is currently valued at $300 a bottle.  Not including that bonus, they offered over 20 different wines to taste and a discount if three bottles were purchased. We’ll be going back to that winery!


By that time the sun was setting and it was time to head home.  Saturday we will head north and visit a few wineries, a farm that makes mead, a sake distillery and a cheese creamery. And yes, I will be the designated driver.


Olive Oil in Oregon

Ventabren windmillWhen I think of a place where olives grow I tend to think Provençe or Italy. Localities in those areas continually compete for the prestige of the “best” olive oil.  On a visit to the south of France I stayed in a medieval hilltop village where the ancient windmill still provides the power to press the olives. Our hostess actually was Italian and said the local olive oil was acceptable but she preferred her home village oil. Apparently, olive oil, like wine, chocolate, coffee and so much more, has so many nuances of flavor that appreciation can be improved with tasting.

I realized, once again, how much of a Mediterranean climate we enjoy here in Oregon. Not only are the Pinot Noirs competitive with France’s Burgundy wines because both growing regions are at the same latitude, but the wet winter and dry summer climate are the same.DSC_0031

And so, understanding that Oregon can also support olives is a natural next step.  There are a number of hardy varietals that can grow in this climate zone as far north as British Columbia.

Red Ridge Farms is located about ten miles from my new home and less than an hour from Portland or Salem.   I enticed Graham to go there this past Saturday because they also have a winery and, like me, he was interested to find out what the quality of the olive oil would be for our own kitchen.

Located in the southern section of the Dundee Hills, Red Ridge started out as a nursery and it is very apparent that the organization continues this side of the business today. Not only are the grounds beautiful, but they have a greenhouse and a large number of plants for sale.logo


The primary part of the business, however, is the Durant Winery.  Starting with their grape cultivation of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris over forty years ago, they began producing their own wines in 2003. Graham enjoyed his tasting there.Red Ridger

The Oregon Olive Mill began in 2008 and over 13,000 olive trees have been planted on about 17 acres. They have a number of  varietals planted including Arbequina, Leccino, Mission, Pendolino, Koroneiki, and Picual, and are experimenting with a few others.  Much more than just “black” and “green”!

Visitors are encouraged to actually “slurp” a taste of the olive oil that is produced there. Bread is offered to clean the palate.

Two blends are produced from olives grown in California as well.


The olive harvest typically takes place in mid November. We were told that as the pressing occurs the place smells great, even better than when the grapes are crushed, because of all the floral notes in the olives. DSC_0019 There will be a post pressing festival, Olio Nuovo, where people can come to enjoy tasting the new harvest, traditional Italian bruschetta and the latest Durant Vineyards Pinot Noir.  This will be held November 22-24 from 10-4 and you know we will be there!

The grounds are suited for special events and there is a guest suite and a cottage available for overnight accommodations.




View from the Deck

Domaine Druhind

Saturday’s wine tasting at  Domaine Drouhin in Dundee Hills, Oregon.  Did you know that the climate and soil here in this part of Oregon is similar to the Burgundy area of France?  Did you know that in blind taste tests that the Oregon Pinot Noir wines have come out ahead many times?