Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wedding Beef Cheeks

Arrowhead ranch barn
Yesterday Steve and Joella got married at Arrowhead Ranch. Audrey read the hillarious Book of Love poem by Stephin Merritt. And Rose read the serious Pablo Neruda love Sonnett #17. Great herds of clouds lumbered over the mountains and across the prairie, churning up drenching bouts of rain and dripping trees. And in between the towering white shouldered beasts with their dark flanks, blue autumn filled the sky as still and patient as paint on canvas. And I thought, well Steve and Joella got the rain, but they got the clouds too. 

For the wedding supper, I braised a dutch oven of beef cheeks. It's a special dish we usually only have at harvest time. The bittersweet harvest of our beautiful steers. I'm thankful for the skill and compassion of the mobile harvest service. I'm thankful for the healthy animals we raise that feed so many families. And I try to show respect by using as much as we can, like the beef cheeks. Which I had never cooked until a few years ago.

Dales Mobile Harvest 
One of my heroes

Trimmed beef cheeks browning
Ready for veggie roux and wine braise

First I trim the cheeks, brown them and then braise them in wine, with roux of cooked down veggies. Hours of slow, patient cooking rewards us with a rich and tender dish fit for a celebration.  A long marriage is kind of like a braising cut of meat, that complicated web of muscle, tendon and fat that takes patience and time to meld into something worth savoring.

The vegetables at the wedding were no less delicious. I tasted Mary's first slaw of the summer from her own beautiful and perfect cabbage (grown under netting), with her first green pepper so fresh it seemed to burst when she sliced it. And tiny yellow tomatoes that you could eat by the handful, and fat red tomato slices lolling in fresh basil leaves.  
Morning harvest
This morning I waded into the garden, searching under the sprawling squash plants to find the cucumbers. I was rewarded with enough for another batch of honey curry pickles.

I first learned to make these with Linda Donnelly, from the Old Fashioned Recipe books our husbands gave us for Mother's Day. The husbands had gone to town for supplies. When one of them saw the books on sale at the merc, they had the brilliant idea of purchasing us each one. It was my first Mother's Day gift.

Honey curry pickles

These pickles are zippy, crunchy and perfect on sandwiches. I hope to make enough this year to give some away, maybe for a wedding gift.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Paradox of Summer

 When I started grad school I left Mike and the three kids back in Wallowa County and headed to the U of Iowa in Iowa City. I rented a room in house with three other adults, and soon after my arrival something happened that told me, "You're not in Oregon any more..."
The beginning of one of many fires
My roommates had watched a movie that included a scene with firefighters eating a meal at a large camp. They asked me,"Why were those people all wearing yellow shirts and green pants, like some kind of uniform?" "Because they are firefighters, it's nomex, fire retardant clothing."  "Firefighters? You mean firemen?" "No, firefighters, you know like for wild fires..." No they didn't know.
Sara mowing toward the Pumpkin Creek Cabin

The concept of wildland fires was outside their experience. No waking up to smoke so thick you can't see more than a half mile. No worries that fire will race over the ridgetop to consume the winter range you depend on for your cattle, destroy your pain-stakingly constructed fences, burn up your home, threaten your cattle, or threaten the lives of people working to fight the fires.
Mike is really fast with his scythe

It's a paradox, one of the most beautiful and fun times of the year with blissful river swimming in rushing rapids and deep pools, the harvest of berries, fruits and yummy vegetables. The wonderful feedback from customers ordering more delicious Bunchgrass Beef shares.

Golden plums at Magpie Ranch

And then the worry, hundred degree temperatures, forecasts for wind gusts up to 50 mph, thick smoke in every direction, the reality of climate change that increases our fire frequencies, challenges our actions and decisions, and brings people we love into dangerous situations.
Hoses and sprinklers

Fire pumps
Sigh. We do what we can for fire protection at the ranch. We enjoy each moment of summer fun. We give thanks for the hard work of fire fighters and we pray for a change in the weather, for no wind, for cooler temperatures, for rain.

Sara cools off on 100 degree day

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, Home of Bunchgrass Beef