Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Paw Dirt Doggies - Stomp Your Feet

We had another amazing old time dance at the Liberty grange last Saturday. Four fiddlers, three git-fiddles, a mandolin, piano, concertina, and spoons. Two callers and a big crowd of rowdy laughing dancers from ages 18 months to 77 years.

I had a blast harmonizing with the fiddles on my concertina, and playing the spoons. I learned the hard way that my new lighter-weight jeans are not so good for backstopping the spoons. Even though my playing spoons are wooden, my legs were on fire!

In spite of jet lag from his return trip from Armenia, Mike couldn't resist an old time dance that was right in our neighborhood. He wandered over for some visiting, relaxing with old friends in the chairs along the wall or standing in the corner close to the food and drink. I even got him out on the floor for a waltz.

Being in the grange reminded me of the old-time dances we had in Imnaha, many miles upriver from town. There is something comforting about the fact that many of the grange halls have the same building design. A big staircase and porch leading upstairs to the big hall with high ceilings and stout well worn wooden floor lined with chairs along the walls, rows of narrow double-hung windows, and a small stage, a coat room and a storage closet. Downstairs is a cavernous basement with many long tables for dining, several wood cookstoves, a couple electric or gas cookstoves, kitchen sinks and cupboards, and bathrooms (if you're lucky).

At Liberty, the outside stairs and landing are walled in to fend off winter gales and blizzards, with a recently added curtain of deer fence over the entrance to keep out the varmints, pigeons, etc. On Saturday night,  the black mesh deer fence was hoisted up to allow us inside and walking under it made me feel like I was entering some kind of medieval fortress that had raised its portcullis.

It is a tremendously good feeling to be able to gather people together for music and dance in a building that was built a couple generations back by some of the great great grandparents of people still using it. One of the things I love most about the grange halls is that they are often located out on the prairie, or up the creek, or tucked in the hills, where farmers and ranchers can be the hosts, welcoming their neighbors, welcoming folks from town, welcoming anybody intrepid enough to make the trek, homing in on the faint lights of windows peeking out of the darkness at the end of a bumpy gravel road.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Times They Are a Changing

First snow on the mountains. Garden ready to be put to bed for winter. Last of the squashes and pumpkins ripening under their blankets. Onions in the cellar. Meat in the freezer. Apples to harvest for storage and a few other odds and ends, and my part of getting ready for winter will be done! 

Last weekend I had the unbelievable opportunity to swim in the Wallowa River on the 2nd of October. It was 85 degrees in the shade and I hiked up the backway along the river from Joseph, thinking I would take a dip in the lake. 

When I reached the dam, the water was so low that instead of the usual raging torrent of summer outflow, there was a deep clear pool below the dam. I figured this was the only time I might experience both low water and hot temperatures, so I carefully climbed off the flume of the irrigation diversion and took the plunge into the icy beautiful blue-grey water. Frigid and refreshing!

That dip was enough to energize me through a hot sticky kitchen afternoon and the canning of the last of the pears. All afternoon long, my skin carried the velvety memory of that mountain water. 

Now mornings are soggy with dew and early romps through the field with the dogs result in dripping wet pant legs from the knee down. 

The new pup, Punch, (short for Opuntia - prickly pear), is well on her way to learning come, down, sit, back, and behind. Mostly she just races after the big dogs as best she can, but she is smart and if I am consistent on her training, and can keep her from having bad experiences, she will be an asset to the ranch. 

Another month and we'll have the cow herd back in the canyon. We hope to go up Pumpkin Creek this fall as we haven't used that range since the big range fires a couple years ago. I can't wait to be on the river, the frenzy of summer growing, fall harvest, and trailing the cattle, all behind us, and just the steady work of winter - fixing fence, packing salt, herding, making improvements to keep us busy. 

I know there will be long dark evenings where we are hunkered down, fires going,  reading and writing and talking, a few songs on the guitar and concertina, hot cups of tea and a last walk outside under cold and starry skies to send us off to bed. 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Friday, October 1, 2010

Oxtail and Beef Cheeks

We just celebrated Slow Food Wallowa County's first event, Dig In! 

Saturday the week before Dig In!, I got up to a kitchen loaded with produce waiting to be canned, frozen, or dried. On a whim I called Julia to see if she wanted to can peaches. She is a fruit person--that's what she told me when we met. She did want to can. So I started setting us up for peaches, honey curry pickles and apple pie filling. But after harvesting my cukes, I needed more so I called a garden buddy.

Janie said she had some cukes, but she was up to her eyeballs harvesting spuds and needed to get them in the cellar. I said I would come over and do it and she called me a "miracle from God." Julia and I went to Janie's and came home an hour later loaded with cabbage, beets, shallots, potatoes, carrots, dill, mint and a few cukes. The first produce for Dig In! 

When Friday rolled around,  I wanted to make my dishes for the pot luck while Dawson was napping.As soon as he fell asleep I started in on my two meat dishes: braised oxtail and braised beef cheeks. 

Braising stock with red pepper and tomato
Oxtail ready for braising

The oxtail was browned and then simmered in a dutch oven for 4 hours in a tomato-ginger-red pepper-carrot-onion-garlic stock.

Browning cheeks before braising

After a lot of trimming, the beef cheeks were browned and baked in an onion-garlic-black pepper-beef stock. Chilled overnight, I removed the fat and then reheated them for the potluck. Both were delicious.

Saturday of the event, I got up early and went to the neighbor's farm for apples. The neighbors came out and helped pick, parking a flat bed truck under the tree and climbing a step ladder from there. Boxes and boxes of yummy cooking apples to share.  

Some yummy produce from the Magpie Ranch
After that I went home and picked all my yellow and green beans, harvested red and green cabbage and herbs, and sorted a box of windfall Bartlett pears to take to the park. 

Around three o'clock, people came to the park to share produce and everybody talked about how delicious the different produce was and what they planned to do with everything. 

Then we had the potluck with amazing dishes, great stories, and good ideas. Monday morning, Julia and I hauled about six boxes of fresh produce to the Food Bank. It was a great way to wrap up a Dig In! weekend.

Now as an Indian Summer ripens the winter squash in the garden, I'm starting to look forward to winter and the next opportunity to gather folks and keep learning how to improve access to fair, safe, local food.  And this very moment-- I'm going to can the last of those pears! 

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef