Hiking at Paradise Valley

Since moving to Washington, I have not had a lot of time for doing things I enjoy, mostly hiking. Now that I am getting a bit more settled here, I have been able to find a little time to explore the great outdoors in the area. Last week I went to check out a place about 10 minutes up the road called Paradise Valley Conservation area. The trails are pretty low on the intensity scale, so I as far as getting me "conditioned" for backpacking, I will need to keep looking or start filling my pack with extra weight. The trails at Paradise Valley are great for mountain biking and I am starting to get motivated to get my bike fixed up, so I can hit the trails again. Great timing as the snow is just about to hit :)

Below is a picture of me an Jaccamo on the trial. He's my little hiking buddy.

I have been taking Jaccamo here to get his wiggles out. There are lots of logs and puddles to jump over so we get those wiggles out! Since Jaccamo is a "low rider" he gets pretty muddy though.

Red Alders, covered in moss. I really like moss so it just makes me happy to be here were everything is covered in moss.

My first hike here lasted less than 2 hours and in that time I encountered the typical overcast Washington gray sky, then it was sunny with some blue sky (as seen below), 15 minutes after that it started to hail on us. Good thing we had such thick tree cover or it could have been bad.

Thanksgiving morning my dad and I took Jaccamo out for a hike out at Paradise Valley.

Homemade Cottage Cheese: Update

Confession time, so I have not been making homemade cottage cheese as often as I would like the past year or two. What has gotten me back in the habit is the need for fresh whey. You may be asking yourself, who needs fresh whey?! The answer would be, ah me!

Those who know me, have learned that I love to lacto-ferment. A key ingredient is whey, as it is used to prevent the desired product from becoming putrid or rancid and to keep the alcohol levels down. I've mucked around with fermenting dairy (yogurt, kiefer, sour cream, cottage cheese and some day I hope to conquer hard cheeses), fruits (raspberry & wild blackberry syrup) and vegetables (sauerkraut, pickled rutabagas and garlic). I have also made several lacto-fermented drinks such as Ginger ale, which is the best thing on a hot summer afternoon, and beet kvass, which is just interesting. We have a bunch of apples right now and I wanted to try making some old school apple cider, hence why I need some fresh whey.

The times I have made cottage cheese in the past year, I had to do some improvising as it was while I was out in Connecticut and Iowa and did not have all my equipment with me. There were some changes I made that were for the better I think, as they increased the tasty factor and decreased the effort on my part factor.

The first change I made was that I stopped skimming the milk and just use whole milk, cream and all. I buy unhomogenized milk so the cream raises to the top and you have to separate it out, which is not impossible but an extra step that takes time. The result was a more palatable and creamy cottage cheese with a slightly yellow tint that comes from the beta carotene in the cream (the same thing that gives butter its yellow color) Technically, cottage cheese is made from skim milk, so maybe I shouldn't call it cottage cheese if I am leaving the cream in. Honestly, I doubt anyone is reading this so there is no one to call me out on that fact ;)

A bit of a history lesson. Back in the day before cream came in cartons, if you wanted cream for making butter or yummy desserts, you had to milk the cow and let the milk settle so that the cream would raise to the top and then skim the cream off the top. For a bit of perspective, in one gallon of milk only about 1/4 of the volume is cream (depending on the breed of cow, time of year and the cow's diet) leaving you stuck with about 3/4 of a gallon of skim milk to figure out what to do with. The usual thing to do would be to just drink the skim milk or to make cultured product that is going to store longer, so that is why cottage cheese is generally made from skim milk. Its a leftover!

Okay back to the cottage cheeese. The second change I made was that I stopped using the culture starters all together. I was off and on with them when I first started making cottage cheese but the last little while, I didn't have any on hand and I have just completely gotten out of the habit. For some things like cream cheese, sour cream and yogurt, I would highly recommend using a starters as the flavor is greatly influenced by "who is in there" but from my experience from cottage cheese making, if your using good quality fresh raw milk from healthy cows "the right guys" will be in there, so save yourself the five bucks.

Jaccamo loves to eat cottage cheese scraps that come his way. I don't get to excited or flattered that he likes it, since his favorite snack is compost and garbage!


Fall Sunday Morning Walk

Just down the street from our house is Brightwater, which is a water treatment plant for the county that they've turned it into less of an eyesore by making some wetland and wooded areas. Best part is that they've made some good walking trails, which we quite frequently use to walk our dog Jaccamo. Lately me and my dad have been taking Sunday morning walks and this last Sunday turned out to be particularly beautiful and sunny one. Fall is upon us though, the leaves are turning and the air is chilling, as indicated by Jaccamo sporting his jacket (he's got a thin coat of fur and a mild streak of vanity). Jaccamo is a good dog, most of the time, so he quite often gets to walk off leash.

This is me and my Pa, at the top of the hill at Brightwater

View from the hill. The night before my dad and I sat on top of the hill and watch a mess of crows fly over for about 10 mins or more, it was a lot of crows!

This is the view from the top of the hill looking down toward where we live. Its somewhere in that mess of beautiful trees. You can also see Jaccamo is smelling for some critters in the grass.


Washington, Earring Hanger & Doggy Dish Washing

So its been way too long since I've had time to post on my blog. Things are getting a little more normal for me now, so I hope to be posting more regularly. Just as an update, I moved from Iowa to Washington in the middle of the summer. I ended up spending about a month on the road visiting my siblings in Kansas and Utah, then on to California to help my folks with the move to the great northwest. Now me and the family are pretty much settled here in Washington, I have secured some employment and have taken care of all the drudgery like licensing and car registration. I'll talk more about life in Washington later though. Now is time to talk about making earring racks.

I had me a bit of a situation with my earrings. I don't have tones of them but I had no where to put them where I could easily access them. Action needed to be taken, so I went online looking for some cheep ideas. I saw this one using an old tennis racket. I went to a second hand store, found a racket for $3 and used 3M damage free hangy things.

I am really happy with the way it turned out.

Dogs, man best friend and the original dishwasher.

This is one of the many reason I love having a dog. No need to spend all evening scrubbing bowls and pans, just put them on the kitchen floor and voila! Licked to a perfection and ready for the dishwasher.

Jaccamo gets down with his bad-self and shows off his doggie break dancing moves while doing the dishes. I call this move "the U-bend"


Perfect Summer Evening in Iowa

Saturday evening I went to a grill out at some friends house out in the country. Their place has made it into my top ten favorite places in Iowa. I wish could just sit out on their back patio for hours eating brats, listening to all manner of night critters, chatting around a smokey fire and doodling on the patio with charcoal every night for the rest of my life.

We took a walk at sunset and I snapped this photo from the back lawn. I could hardly believe that this sunset was real and that I was standing there actually watching it.

View from the backyard overlooking the farms in the driftless region

Midwest in summer has sure won a spot in my heart although it's winters will only ever have a spot next to the pain in my butt.

We walked by a pasture with Jersey calves. A whole bunch of cute little baby jersey cows! I was almost ready to jump the fence and take one home. I did restrain myself even when they were being so cute staring at us and following us as we walked down the road. (it was near feeding time so I tried not to be too flattered)

Since I graduated, I haven't had as much time to practice my doodles so I was glad to not only find an opportunity to doodle but to find one using a new medium.


Iowa Adventures 2011

Like most people I take pictures here and there on my phone. I thought it would be fun to review 2011 using some of my random cell phone snap shots.

If you were ever wondering how cold it can get in Northeastern Iowa, here is a bit of insight....

This was the temperature reading from my car on the drive to work on January 21, 2011.
Good news: there was a 30 degree increase during the day.
Bad news: the high was 7 degrees (F)

I learned one of the things to watch out for in a Midwest winter is the snow drifts. After a snow if the wind picks up the snow just blows every-which-way and can completely block out the roads and cover your parked car.

I took these photos at the end of the day when I was leaving work. My car was in the early stages of being devoured by a snow drift and I thought it was kind of nifty.

I went to run some errands up in Rochester, MN and stopped in at a Savers (it's like goodwill or salvation army) and saw this little ditty on a T-shirt

The first thing that popped into my head when I saw this was "I am sure there is some dude with a very large truck covered in a lot of offensive bumper sticks that would beg to differ" (Don't worry, I already know there is something really wrong with my brain)

Proof that the price of gas is taking is toll everywhere....

I have to say that I have never tried a DQ taco and don't ever plan on it. Lets face it, what does a dairy queen really know about tacos and what business does she have even thinking she could!? There i said it. Stick to the ice cream sister, because you couldn't pay me $300 to eat 2 of your tacos! (Wait, if I get payed 3-hundred smackers, I might eat them)

I was wandering and exploring the river trail that is next to Church in Fayette and found this turtle just hanging out.

I almost stepped on him and I have to say that he scared me stupid for a sec there. I am usually not that jumpy but I was not really expecting to see a turtle nearly 2 ft long at my feet.

Spring has sure been taking it's sweet ol' time getting here. At the end of April we had about 1ft of snow dump one day. Insanity! Finally this past week its been warming up enough so the trees could put some leaves on their sorry looking twigs. Last Sunday it was a nice and sunny day so I did some exploring around Decorah on my bike and found a nice little spring so I stopped and put my feet in for a few minutes.

Not quite warm enough for wading feet in springs, so I would have to say it was more refreshing than relaxing but still completely worth doing.

Twin Springs, Decorah, Iowa


Sometimes I fall down and it's really funny

Today was the end of my second week back out in the gardens at Seed Savers Exchange. I had spent the day driving a truck all over muddy roads on the 1000 acre farm. It was a beautiful day. The grass was greening up, trees were budding and the sun was finally making an appearance after all this rain and gloom we’ve been having out here in Iowa. There were so many reasons why it was a good day but the best days end with a funny story and boy, did I have one today.

While parking the truck at the end of the day, I had my arms full of gear and went to reach for some poles that were in the bed of the truck when I lost my footing and started to trip. I almost caught my footing about three times in a row, which I am sure only added to the ridiculousness of my situation. I faced the facts and just let gravity have her way with me. I did about 2 or 3 revolutions as I rolled down the small embankment that the truck gets parked on. I just laid there in the muddy gravel laughing. It all happened so fast but the funniest part to me was that while I was mid tumble, the song “Roll With It” by Steve Winwood (link) was playing in my head. Anyway, tragedy in my little tumble was that no one was there to witness it.

On a side note, one of my top choices for supper power would be to have “Appropriate Theme Music” play at important, awe inspiring, or exceptionally comical moments in my life. It could be awesome and a great thing for all mankind!

Just a look at the aftermath

One more just to make my Momma proud. And Yes, I had to get creative and use my bathroom mirror to take a few backside shots.


Roasted Garlic & Artichoke Dip

While working in both the preservation and commercial side of seed savers, I’ve been blessed with lots of free garlic. An abundance of something free has forced me once again to seek culinary inspiration, so that I can get rid of the stuff before it goes bad. There is really not too much to this recipe, but I’ve been slowly perfecting the recipe for the past few months (admittedly, I have not been working diligently at the task). The first attempt was more of your run-of-the-mill plain old roasted garlic. My second attempt, I stepped it up a notch for a church potluck and added sour cream and parmesan cheese to the roasted garlic. On the third attempt, I went all out for a potluck and a friend’s house and add sautéed mushrooms and artichoke hearts to the recipe. I also took the leftovers to share with everyone at work and I had a few people ask for the recipe so I decided to post it.


  • Roasted Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Artichokes hearts (about 1 can, coarsely chopped)
  • Mushrooms, minced and sautéed in butter or olive oil
  • Shredded parmesan Cheese
  • 1-2 spoonfuls of Sour Cream
  • Sea Salt & Pepper (to taste)

First step is to roast the garlic. You can do this using whatever method you prefer. I have been peeling the garlic by hand before roasting, mostly because I have been using leftover garlic from work, which has the occasional rotten clove so roasting the whole clove in this case, not optimal.

Tip: A friend from work showed me a really fast way to get the skins off the cloves using salt and a bowl, jar, or any container with a lid. Just separate the cloves from a couple of heads of garlic and put them in the bowl or jar and sprinkle with 1-2 spoonfuls of salt. Put the lid on the container and shake vigorously for a minute or so. The majority of the skinks will come off and congregate at the top so that you can just pull them out. Any skins still left on the clove can be easily removed by hand.

I roast the garlic by putting approx. 1 quart of garlic (you can use more or less garlic depending on how large or strong of a batch you want to make) in a glass container. Drizzle garlic with olive oil and cover with aluminum foil (or a lid). Place in the oven at 275-325 degrees F until the cloves are soft enough to mash easily with a fork. If you would like the dip to be a bit more on the spicy pungent side don’t overcook them, but if you want it to be slightly mild and sweet, than leave the cloves in the oven for just a little bit longer until they get slightly caramelize.

Mash roasted garlic until the texture suits you and let it cool (just until it is not scolding hot). Add sautéed mushrooms, chopped artichokes, sour cream, and parmesan cheese in a ratio that suites your personal fancy. Then add salt and pepper to taste. The salt really enchases and blends the flavors together, so I usually make sure to add the salt as I go along. Otherwise I’ll stand there thinking it needs more cheese or sour cream but really it just needs more salt to bring everything together. You can serve with it with fancy crackers or sometimes I use it as a spread on my sandwich.


Ruta-Toot-Toot Egg Salad

It seems like I am more likely to post a recipe, if I happen to come up with some incredibly stupid name for it. They just come to me, I can't stop myself. It's like an incredibly ridiculous and useless gift. My mom always use to tell me that I was "full of it!" Although she still has yet to indicated the proper pronoun that she had in mind, I gathered based on her tone and the intensity of her eye roll (and yes, I mean eye, the singular form of the word, that is her gift) that it was not the noble kind of "it."

A few weeks ago at work we had a bean tasting and pot luck. We needed to update some of the descriptions for the eating beans we sell, so to help stratify the work and for an excuse to have a party, we each took home a different bag of beans to cook up. We were instructed to cook them up plain and set aside about 1 cup for the taste test and then get creative with the rest.

The night before the potluck I had no idea what to do with my "Good Mother Stallard" beans. While I was cooking the beans, I was also making up some egg salad for my lunch when I had a crazy idea to just add the beans to the egg salad. It seemed just crazy enough to work so I boldly went with the impulse. I thought it was a pretty yummy dish, but felt it was a bit risky and likely that no one else would feel the same. I prepared myself for the high likelihood that I would be taking home a lot of leftovers. Too my surprise, people actually ate and liked it. Over all the potluck was a complete success. It was one of the most creative potlucks I've ever been to and I stuffed myself so much trying everything that I didn't even eat dinner that night.

I started out with 6 hard boiled eggs, couple of spoonfuls of Mrs. Clark's mayonnaise, little bit of pickle juice, fresh or pickled dill, half an purple onion (chopped), 1-2 cups of cooked Good Mother Stallard beans, and to put the "ruta" in ruta-toot-toot I chopped up and added some pickled rutabaga spears I had made back in November. I know not everyone is going to have Rutabagas laying around, let alone know what they are, but I got them for free and have only really come to enjoy them when pickled and added in things.