Perfect Design

Last year, Stacy dug up, or “lifted,” the entire dahlia field up at the farm. Then she spent hours dividing, cleaning and packing the tubers for storage. In the spring, we tore apart the watering system, tilled the soil, rebuilt the irrigation and replanted the best tubers from previous years along with some new ones. Even though Stacy did most of the work, I admit, I wondered if it was worth the effort. When the plants were slow to grow up and flower–normal, we learned for lifting years–I wondered even more.

But now, as the flowers grow bigger and more vibrant each day, I find it hard to even walk by without stopping to marvel at their incredible patterns and colors. They light up even the gloomiest autumn weather and brighten the house whenever Stacy brings home a handful for the kitchen table. As U-Pick flowers, the dahlias also help supplement our ¬†farm income, and hopefully brighten other people’s homes as much as ours. Was it worth all the work? Absolutely. But I’m happy we don’t have to do it again this year.


Autumn Bouquet

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Early fall rains, beginning back in August, have us off to an excellent start in the mushroom department. Of course, this weather hasn’t been exactly conducive to great firewood drying (if only I’d stacked it all inside the shed a little earlier…) but as with most things in the natural world, it’s a give and take. So for now, we happily take the mushrooms.

Especially after last year’s disappointing season, the kids and I have been enjoying our time in the woods the last few weeks. I think what I really like is that mushroom hunting is ultimate low-tech pursuit. No gear to haul, no tides to wait for, nothing, really, at all, to prep or clean up. Just walk into the woods and start looking. You can make it an all-day expedition, or a quick-strike one-hour mission between, say, morning yard projects and the Seahawks game.

And then the buttery, delicate flavor of fresh chanterelles. Stacy made “chanterelle Marsala” the other night, with a light, creamy sauce and linguine pasta. So good! Enjoy the season.


Long Winter Ahead?

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Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed signs of heavy weather coming? I’m not sure what this means, but the Douglas squirrels around our house are working with much greater urgency than usual, even for this time of year. The pair that lives at the head of our driveway seem to be in constant motion, hauling fir cones up and down trees, digging new stash holes, packing food away with manic intensity. Between hauling trips, they pause only to tear apart fir cones, stuff their faces, then dive back into work. It’s fun to watch, but also makes me wonder about what they might know.

Of course, we’re in the midst of a gorgeous Indian summer here–93 degrees yesterday, warmest day of the year–so winter seems too distant to even consider.

Still, those squirrels sure seem to know something. Guess we’ll have to check back on this post, say, in April, to know if the squirrels were right. But it can’t hurt to be prepared. And on that note, I better go stack some more firewood.


Giant ‘Mater

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Hey Captain Brian, this one’s for you!

In the world of heirlooms, ugly is king. And this behemoth–weighing in at just under three pounds of juicy, gnarled splendor–reigns supreme. Wish we’d grown it, but almost as good: we won it at the local farmer’s market by guessing its weight. Our own tomatoes got a late start this year, so now we’re racing frost and rain to ripen. In the mean time, we’re happy to support our fellow farmers and stuff our sandwiches with “foraged” ‘maters from the farmer’s market. Delicious.

 


Fish Into Food

This time of year, we spend almost as much time processing fish as we do fishing. Add in all the clean up–of boat and fishing gear, fish boxes, ice chests, smoker racks, brine bins, etc–and the whole enterprise nearly becomes a full-time job. But the results are more than worth it. Nothing fancy in our preparations, but it feels like a pretty luxurious diet.

The first picture above shows king salmon chunks just out of the brine, air drying before going into the smoker. Next to that is a plate of king collars, or kama, (an underutilized but delicious, fatty, part of the fish, and Skyla’s favorite) just out of the smoker. And finally, a bowl of salmon caviar just starting to marinate.

On the salmon caviar, or ikura, I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite part of a salmon to eat. The individual eggs pop in your mouth with a savory, incredibly rich flavor that’s perfect on rice or with cream cheese and crisp, rosemary crackers. Or, as the kids often prefer, by the spoonful straight out of the jar. Even people who think “Yuck! Bait” generally change their minds once they try these little jewels.

Recently, I’ve been getting requests for the recipe. So, if you’re a fisherman or have access to fresh salmon, here’s how I do it:

The best quality salmon caviar starts with, obviously enough, a fresh female salmon. I bleed and ice the fish as soon as it’s in the boat, then clean it carefully to keep the eggs clean. The eggs are removed in their skeins and blotted with a paper towel.

In the kitchen, I take a one-foot square of quarter-inch hardware cloth (galvanized screen), and push the eggs through it and into a bowl below. This separates the eggs from the membrane and leaves you with a bowl of individual eggs. Give the eggs a few rinses with salt water (I just sprinkle some kosher salt on and add cold fresh water to the bowl) and drain by pouring the eggs into a seive.

Put the clean, drained eggs into a bowl and add 1 tsp soy sauce, 1.5 tsp sake (rice wine), and 1/4 tsp kosher salt for each cup of eggs. Cover and refrigerate for two or three days. Then you can either eat them immediately or divide up into small jars and freeze. For higher food safety, the freezing process is recommended, but the texture of the thawed eggs isn’t quite as good as fresh. Still great, though. And we eat quite a bit both fresh and frozen. Enjoy!