Travel Planning

The summer is all about gardening and hanging out in the Pacific NW. The Olympic track and field trials. A little camping. Bike rides. Ball games. Foster dogs from the shelter. Canning salsa. Golfing with friends. Drying apples. Making fig jam.

And travel planning.

Looks like we are going to spend two months in Mexico this winter and I can’t wait. It will be our longest trip to date. Yes, I get anxious leaving home for that long, but soon after the plane takes off, I put it behind me and turn toward the adventure. We are planning to start our trip near Ixtapa with some (scary for me) surfing lessons administered by an encouraging long-time seldom-seen friend. Following Ixtapa, we will take an 8-hour bus trip to Guadalajara to spend time in Ajijic, a town on Lake Chapala. That will be followed up with some more nights on Lake Chapala, either Chapala itself or Jojotepec, or the hot spring spa at San Juan de Cosala. After, we will board the bus to Puerto Vallarta and the boat to Yelapa.

Love that Yelapa place! I look forward to seeing friends, playing croquet, relaxing on the beach and eating well.  We will spend a month there and I will still be sad to leave.

After Yelapa, not sure, but likely a car rental and drive down to the Mayto/Tehuamixtle area for a few days of super-quiet remote beach time. Or a a spell in the mountains (via bus) in Mascota and Talpa. We will finish up the trip with some big-city activities in Vallarta and head home to springtime in Oregon.

It can be frustrating to try to figure out logistics — where to fly in, which places we can go by bus, what fits in before and after our Yelapa reservation, searching AirBnB and other lodging sites. It’s also fun and exciting. We enjoy our enjoy travel three ways: planning and anticipating, the trip itself, and then the memories. A way better payoff, to my thinking, than a buying a big screen TV or a fancy car or a bigger house or cable TV or more stuff.

Says the woman who bought a new dress last week …. (See prior post)…

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Stuff vs travels: struggles of a minimalist wannabe

I have been flirting with minimalism (voluntary simplicity, living with less, whatever) for years. We (I) don’t need so much stuff. I learned that from clearing out 80 years of my parents’ stuff when they passed. We live in a small (by American standards) house; we don’t have new cars or new furniture; and I try to resist the lure of consumerism. This lack of buying and debt helped us to retire early. When I do have the urge or need to buy, I head for the thrift store or online used-clothes shopping. I prefer travel, experiences, decent wine, and donating to charity. Though I have a long way to go, I try to walk my talk. (And luckily, my husband has the same values.)

This past winter, in Mexico, I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I had thought it sounded too cutesy for me but a friend recommended it. And now I recommend it. After our Mexico trip, I “Marie Kondo”d my closet and started on the rest of the house. I got rid of half (or more) of my clothes. I got rid of boxes of books and other stuff.

Marie Kondo says to pile up ALL of your clothes in order to sort and tidy. I did it -- it works.

Marie Kondo says to pile up ALL of your clothes in order to sort and tidy. I did it — it works.

Not pretty! But I did it!

Not pretty! But I did it!

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Plastic Bag Omelets

An inconvenient thing about camping is messy pans and no running water. A breakfast with almost no clean up? Plastic bag omelets. You will need one heavy-duty ziploc quart-sized freezer bag for each person.

Bring a pot of water to boil on your camp stove.

You can prepare these before you leave home and pop them in your cooler. Or prepare them on-site.

For each omelet, scramble eggs (2 or 3) in a bowl with a fork. Add some salt and pepper if you like. Pour them into the plastic bag. Add your favorite omelet ingredients. I am partial to a combination of chopped spinach or kale, feta cheese and olives. My husband likes some grated cheddar, chopped onion and bell pepper.

Once all the ingredients are in the bag, press out as much air as you can and then seal it up.

Put the bags into the pot of boiling water and lower to a reasonable boil.  Cook about 13 minutes. To test for doneness, remove a bag and kind of squish it — put it back in if the eggs are still runny (or take it out if you like runny eggs).

Omelets being cooked

Omelets being cooked

When done, open bag and slide omelet onto your plate. Use the hot water in your pan for your dish washing.

Caution: make sure plastic bag does not get holes melted into it by the camp stove! This can lead to water leaking into your eggs, a sad, but still edible, outcome.

Served with a little salsa and tater tots leftover from prior day's lunch at Takoda's.

Served with a little salsa and tater tots leftover from prior day’s lunch at Takoda’s.

So gorgeous

So gorgeous

First camping trip in … a long time

We took off on Wednesday to spend a few nights in the woods. The weather prediction was iffy, but we had cleared our calendars and decided to go anyway. We drove east on Highway 126, stopping at Takoda’s for lunch to fortify ourselves. Our original plan was thwarted when we learned that Highway 242 is still closed for the winter (evidently scheduled to open on June 20).

Instead, we ended up at Coldwater Camp on Clear Lake. After setting up our tent and tarp and pulling the pizza dough out of the cooler to rise, we started a walk along the lake. The lake lives up to its name as it is incredibly clear. So many shades of deep and bright blue, really lovely. We kept walking and ended up going all the way around, which turned out to be 5 miles.

Setting up camp

Setting up camp

Clear, clean, cold water

Clear, clean, cold water

First night’s dinner was dutch oven pizza and kale cooked in a little butter. Dessert? Need you ask? S’mores! I think it is the only time we ever eat marshamallows.

Dutch oven deep dish pizza

Dutch oven deep dish pizza

The rain held off until we were snug in our tent and we heard it off and on throughout the night. The next morning was rain-free, however. We made our plastic bag omelets with a side of re-heated tater tots (leftovers from Takoda’s). We packed up our lunch and headed out along the McKenzie River trail. A little chilly, but rain-free. Due to our lack of map and a disagreement about which way to go at one point, out hike ended up being very long. In fact, it was the longest I had ever hiked — 15.5 miles. We were dang tired when we got back to camp just as it started to drizzle. Our box of garnacha tasted perfect (highly recommend the 3-liter box of Vina Borgia!).

Wine is very important when camping

Wine is very important when camping

McKenzie River

McKenzie River

The drizzle let up and we did an easy dinner of bean and cheese burritos, salad, and more s’mores. We had rain again overnight. Unfortunately, it didn’t let up in the morning. We ate our oatmeal under the tarp and and we packed up all of our items in the rain.

An excellent first trip and we were super lucky with the weather. Can’t wait to go again!

Nightfall

Nightfall

Recent kitchen happenings

Cherry season is happening.  When it does, we drop everything and go pick them.  We picked about 15 pounds yesterday and hopefully will get more as more fruit matures.

The world's best cherry pitter (on loan from great friends)

The world’s best cherry pitter (on loan from great friends)

Our hens have been laying well lately and I thought chocolate mousse would be just the ticket to use up some eggs.  And it was.  And was much easier than I thought it would be — melted some dark chocolate, whisked in egg yolks and a little vanilla and salt, then folded in the whipped egg whites.  Firmed up nicely in the fridge.

Our hens have been busy lately

Our hens have been busy lately

Chocolate melting on an improvised double boiler

Chocolate melting on an improvised double boiler

Folding egg whites  into melted chocolate/egg yolk mixture

Folding egg whites into melted chocolate/egg yolk mixture

Eggs were also used in some fresh pasta lately.  I started with sauteeing some onions, garlic, garlic scapes.  Then added a bunch of spinach from the garden and some diced tomatoes I had in the fridge.  Then, some cream cheese.  (The heck with making a roux!). Loosened it up with some pasta water and added my noodles.  Easy and delish.

Homemade noodles, rolled by hand, quite thick

Homemade noodles, rolled by hand, quite thick

Noodles added to an easy creamy spinach sauce

Noodles added to an easy creamy spinach sauce

Do you know dolmas?

If you have grapes growing in your yard (or VINEyard), you should declare it “dolma season!” To heck with the mushy and expensive jarred grape leaves, you’ve got them fresh on the vine right now. If all you’ve got is jarred, no problem. Your dolmas will still be fabulous.

The finished product.  Recipe makes 40+ dolmas.

The finished product. Recipe makes 40+ dolmas.

I have been making these a long time and they are always popular at potlucks, office parties, etc. I must give recipe credit to a fellow on the outskirts of Philomath named “Mad Ed,” a jack-of-all trades who grows most of his own food and weaves baskets. Ed knows his dolmas.

Here’s the recipe.  (Typed at the end in case you can’t read it.)

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These are a little time-consuming to make. The mixture doesn’t take too long — chopping the onions and juicing the lemons are the hardest part (hint: zest the lemons before juicing them and use the zest for a creamy lemon pasta sauce, a pound cake, or other fabulous creation). The time consuming part comes in rolling them up. Crank up some music and do it. You won’t be sorry.

With fresh grape leaves, blanch them in boiling salted water for about 2-3 minutes and then plunge into cold. Drain and use. For jarred, blanch about 30 seconds (no salt needed in the water), plunge into cold, drain and use.

And, people, fresh lemon juice is a must. Don’t even think about that bottled stuff. It will just taste nasty and ruin all the time you spent making these.

Chopping onion

Chopping onion

Lots of lemon juice

Lots of lemon juice

Cooking the mixture

Cooking the mixture

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Dolmas

Saute in a large pot, over low heat:

1/2 cup olive oil,

3 small onions, chopped fine

5 cloves chopped or crushed garlic

When onions are soft, add:

2 cups water

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 cups Homai (sushi) rice

1 T salt

1 T dill seed

1 T finely chopped fresh parsley

1/2 c pine nuts

Bring to a boil then reduce heat, stir, cover and cook until rice is done (will be a little al dente; may need to add a few more tablespoons of water).

(See notes above regarding preparing fresh or jarred grape leaves.)

Using about 2 T mixture per leaf, roll.  Drizzle dolmas with olive oil to make them shiny.  Serve.

Hiatus and happiness in the kitchen

Jeez, what has been up with me?  We did a ton of great travels in December, January and February and I haven’t posted anything.  I swear, I will get on it.

In the meantime, I am in my happy place when I am in my kitchen.  When I travel, I miss cooking and baking and have been making up for lost time.  I’ve been cooking:  carrot soup, lots of curries, pizza, paella, pasta pie, shepherd’s pie.  I’ve been baking:  lemon bars, vanilla cake with lemon curd topping, cheese cake with (last summer’s canned) marionberry pie filling, and (today) chocolate chip cookies.

I joke with my husband that chocolate chip cookies are the only baked good he likes and I get sick of making them.  Luckily, he also likes cheesecake and brownies.  But really, chocolate chip cookies are IT, and they must NOT contain oatmeal.

I found a recipe online years ago when I was surfing the web at work (don’t tell anyone) and I wrote it in my day planner on the page for March 12.  Everafter, I think of these cookies as March 12 Espresso cookies.  I have changed them since then, a little, and have also figured out how to make them without dragging the Kitchenaid into it.  The trick there is to melt the butter, whisk in the sugar and then the egg.  Then let it sit a minute, then whisk again.  Repeat, and then add your other stuff.

The espresso powder is the secret ingredient.  These cookies don’t taste like coffee (I would know, as I HATE coffee) but there is a subtle extra flavor.  That said, if you don’t have espresso powder, the cookies are still great.

What else?  Instead of a cup of brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of white, I do 3/4 brown, 1/4 plus 3 T white.  And I chill the dough before forming cookies and baking.

That’s me, in my happy place, baking and cooking in my kitchen.  I swear I will put up some great travel stories and photos soon.image

My husband likes a little bit less chocolate, so there is only a cup of chips in here — and today, some pecans.

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