Dec 29, 2009

An End to Pogonip?

I know, I know, it doesn't look all that exciting. Just a cloudy sky above some vaguely snowy trees. But trust me: this is an exciting sight for us today. We've been experiencing the dreaded winter weather phenomenon known formally as a 'stagnant air inversion layer', more colloquially as 'freezing fog' or, as I have just learned, 'pogonip' -- a Shoshone word meaning, well, freezing fog.

Since the fog rolled in Christmas morning, we have seen neither the sun nor the sky. The fog has been so thick, and so settled-in, that it has actually been falling out of the sky and accumulating on the ground like snow, as well as the usual hoarfrost attached to tree branches, etc.

I actually had to shovel it on Sunday. Who ever heard of shoveling fog?!

Quite lovely for about a day, then we Central Oregon sunshine freaks start whining and feeling depressed. Conveniently, the fog ends less than 1000 feet above town, so skiers heading up for nordic or alpine skiing at Meissner Snow Park or Mt Bachelor hit sunshine within 5 minutes of leaving town, and come home with sunburns.

Dec 10, 2009

Winter for non-gardeners?

What does the non-gardener in the family do during the winter?  He switches from mountain biking to cyclocross (known to some as pscych(l)o-path) racing, and shovels snow as needed.  This late fall, following a back injury, the sweetheart's CX training suffered a severe setback.  Through hard work, a lot of physical therapy and acupuncture, and his own personal self-healing abilities, he is ready to participate in his age group race at Cyclocross Nationals this afternoon.  I suppose if nats were being held in say, Kansas City (3 years ago) or Providence, RI (last 2 years) he wouldn't have made such an effort.  But having these races right here in Bend has been a powerful incentive to heal and get back on his bike.  He is my hero.  (Insane, but my hero;  what else is a guy with Bicycle Disease supposed to do?)

In this photo you see him, shoveling the front deck a few days ago, during Sunday's big snow dump.  When I took this shot, he had just come out of the garage where he did some intervals (thus the garb), and was 'cooling off' while doing manly householder deeds.  Note the wooden sign to his right.

A few years ago, when he started racing 'cross seriously, a friend cut this board from a hunk of lumber as a training aid for Don.  This is the exact height of a regulation CX barricade (16 inches), which racers must get over by either dismounting and jumping over them while carrying bikes on shoulders, OR 'bunnyhopping' over them while still in the saddle.  I'm not sure what you call a 55+ year old man learning to bunny hop:  perpetual kid or nutcase.  But he did it, and this sign sits on our front deck as a reminder to keep learning new things, to never give up, and to stay young at heart.  (The other side says:  'Lift Off')

Dec 8, 2009

Greenhouse panic!

Can you tell by looking at this photo that the temperature outside is 0 degrees F? When I woke up yesterday morning, as per usual I quickly checked the indoor (in the greenhouse)/outdoor (in the carport outside it) thermometer and was shocked to see a reading of 30 degree INSIDE the greenhouse. Uh oh. And this was at 4:30 am, so the temps were still going down.

Although technically an 'unheated' greenhouse ie I don't keep it warm enough to grow orchids, I do keep a small space heater in it in the winter, hooked to a thermostat which is set at around 38 degrees. Since the greenhouse is attached to the MIL apartment's south-facing wall, it normally stays well above freezing most of the winter, even without auxiliary heat. I overwinter my geraniums and a few other tender perennials in containers, on a tiered stand right next to the wall. Other plants that will take light frost -- cymbidium orchids, a California ceanothus, potted maple and larch 'bonsai' -- are out farther from the building, next to the outside walls.

But every 2-3 years it gets really cold here, and then that heater is Life to the plants inside. Years ago I discovered that leaving a small fan on, 24/7, keeps cold (in winter) and hot (in summer) pockets from forming, and works amazingly well to keep things from freezing, even when the outside temperature is in the 'teens. But below 10 or so, that wee heater is necessary to keep things alive.

So I rushed out to see what was happening, and could see that, although Herbie (the 20 (30?) year-old oil-filled radiant heater) was working valiantly, he just couldn't put out enough BTUs. I grabbed the spare space heater -- one of those cheap, stand-up, oscillating ones and tried to plug it in. And promptly blew the fuse powering the fan and light. S---! Now it was 30/0 degrees and dark, and I was still fumbling to plug in the second heater. The electricians who put in this electrical plug carefully covered it with a 'waterproof' metal sheath, which alas, makes it nearly impossible to get actual electrical cords plugged in. I'm still in my nightgown at this point, not feeling the cold in my worry about my darlings, but I ran inside to enlist my manly guy for advice and assistance. He, still in his bathrobe peacefully reading by the fire, protested at first. But nobly (and this is why we are still married and madly in love after 40 years) he got up, put some proper clothes on, and came out to help.

Each of us was hampered by a different problem. After watching years of sci fi movies and shows, he claims to have become quite expert on advanced technology of all kinds. Unfortunately, since we are not on Battlestar Galactica, the Enterprise, or moving through the Stargate universe, most of what he has learned is useless. A Level Three Diagnostic did not help. The forward naselles could not be located. The inertial dampeners were offline. He was left with only a flashlight and a simple electrical cord to save the day.

I suffer from a different handicap. Despite being 60 years old, and having lived my entire life (bar a great deal camping, backpacking, and living in various cabins, Forest Service guard stations and the infamous 2 years in the pink trailer) using electricity, I still don't really ... get it. It seems unnatural and probably highly dangerous to me. In fact, I am the spiritual descendant of James Thurber's grandmother, who ....

"lived the latter years of her life in the horrible suspicion that electricity was dripping invisibly all over the house. it leaked, she contended, out of empty sockets if the wall switch had been left on. She would go around screwing in bulbs, and if they lighted up she would hastily and fearfully turn off the wall switch and go back to her (magazine), happy in the satisfaction that she had stopped not only a costly but a dangerous leakage. Nothing could clear this up for her."

This explains why I still have the uneasy feeling, whenever I plug something in, that I will be electrocuted. And fishing around in the (cold) dark bowels of the greenhouse, where there could also be huge, hideous spiders, trying to jam the 2nd heater into the plug, gives me the willies. Although I suppose the spiders have probably packed their wee spidey suitcases long since and headed south for the winter.

Anyway, the plug went in, and thankfully, that circuit did not blow. The extra heater did the trick, and the oscillating motion fills the need to circulate air. Nothing froze and this morning, despite the temperature having fallen to (so far) -7 outside, it's a balmy 38 in there. My darlings are safe.

Dec 5, 2009

Dark Days Challenge 2009-10 Week #3

Since I only found out about the challenge and joined on Tuesday, this is my first week, but since everyone else is in week 3, that's my title too. I will try to do a couple of extra meals in the next week to catch up.

I made this meal on the same afternoon I signed up. I was excited, so I decided to just go for it. I had no time to do anything fancy because I was working (at home) all day and didn't have time to go to the store for any ingredients. I already had a pot of chicken stock cooking up from the carcass from our Thanksgiving chicken, so I did a very simple dinner using that, some vegetables from my garden and a couple of seasoning bits. I guess I could just call it


From my garden: (distance traveled, about 50 steps -- damn! that's LOCAL!)
Kale -- a volunteer, probably Red Russian
Potatoes -- Colorado Rose and All Blue
Onion -- volunteer, probably a multiplier onion

Chicken bones for stock -- Pine Mountain Ranch, Bend (less than 10 miles)
Additional chicken broth -- Pacific Natural Foods, Tualatin, OR (approx 150 miles)
Salt -- oops. Here's where the 'local' fell apart. I got out all my salt and realized that, although I am no foodie, I seemed to have 4 kinds, most of it not even remotely local. I had salt from New Zealand, France, Spain and Utah. I selected the 'Mormon Salt' as being the closest to local. How far is it to Redmond, Utah? 800 miles? Good thing we get to have exceptions.

To top it off I added a spoonful of Eberhard Dairy (local, natural but not OG) -- Redmond OR (18 miles) sour cream I happened to have lying around the frig. Oh yum.

Dec 4, 2009

Dark Days Challenge: Second Thoughts

Within 15 minutes of my signing up for the 3rd annual Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Food Challenge (or DDOWELFC for sort of short), it began to snow. Next my sweetheart walked in and when I told him of my fun new project (already looking less fun with the snowfall), he exclaimed: "Whoah, that's going to be tough!" ...... and all of a sudden I panicked. I quickly realized that one of the reasons for my panic was that, always the purist, I had automatically started thinking: local should be 40-50 miles, no more. And preferably, grown by me, personally. Great.

I mean, there just isn't much commercial agriculture around here. Short growing season, dry air, cool nights even in summer, sandy soil, and less than 10" of precipitation annually, most of it falling as snow. What local farmers there are grow things like garlic, peppermint, alfalfa for hay, grass seed, and a few sugar beets. We do have some good local beef and other meat animals, and some dairies. Other than that, it's sagebrush tips, juniper berries and maybe some bambi. Smudge sticks, gin and venison -- not too satisfying.

Most of what we think of as 'local' produce, especially this time of year, comes from the verdant Willamette Valley on the west side of the Cascades, which is out of our more reasonable 100 mile 'local' limit. Heck, that won't even get us to the nearest large city, Eugene, 120 miles away.

Discouraged but curious, I got out our trusty road atlas and turned to the map of Oregon. Then I located a protractor and drew in some circles, for 50, 100 and 150 miles. Aha! I realized that Eugene and its nearby agricultural bounty, was 120 miles away by ROAD, but in pure geographical map (crow) miles, it is less than 100. YES. So we get Eugene, Coburg, Corvallis, Lebanon....

And when I reread Laura of DDOWELFC's instructions, I saw that she suggests using 150 miles as 'local' for wintertime. Oh so excellent. That means we get Hood River and Medford (pears, apples), Dufur and the plains of north central Oregon (wheat and other grains), a good chunk of the Willamette Valley (hazelnuts, berries, wine, and a lot more) and a large portion of the central coast (oysters! salt water fishies! salmon! ). We get Klamath Falls, so I can keep eating my blue green algae. And can I count Dagoba chocolate, which is undoubtedly grown in some far distant, tropical clime, but is packaged in our very own Ashland? Oho, this is looking good.

More to the point, what I am discovering as I look at this map, is that, except for a few basic and obvious things, I have no idea what all even grows in Oregon. I know there are a ton of small farmers over there, in the Valley and in the Coast Range, because they bring truckloads of beautiful food over to our farmer's market during the growing season. But where they are, and what else might be out there, I don't really know. So this will be an interesting project.

Dec 1, 2009

Dark Days Challenge

I've accepted the Dark Days Challenge for the first time. Started by Laura at the (not so) urban Hennery website, the goal is to cook one meal each week between mid-November and the end of March (The 'Dark Days of Winter') , of SOLE food (Sustainable - Organic - Local - Ethical), then post about it on one's blog, with photos. I'm afraid I'm going to have to go further than our back garden, since all that's left standing is some frosty kale and chard, and that won't last much longer. But we have sources for good local produce (definition: 100 miles) and I have my closely-guarded wee stash of tomato sauce, potatoes, etc. Here's more info and the web address if anyone of you are interested in signing up. Too bad we already ate these:

3rd Annual Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge. Whew! That’s a mouthful. We just call it Dark Days for short around here.
Hope you’ll join me! Hope you’ll invite all of your friends to join us! Can’t wait to see what we all cook…

Nov 15, 2009 – Mar 31, 2010

What’s the Challenge?
Cook one meal each week focused on SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients and write about it on your blog. It’s really that simple, but at the same time, it can really be that hard.

To keep things interesting we’ll have theme weeks throughout the winter, with polls to choose as we go.

What does local mean?
Traditionally, local food challenges call for a 100 mile radius. Winter time is more difficult in many climates, especially if you’re new to eating locally, so my default definition is 150 miles. You can choose to make your radius smaller or slightly larger as you need. Typical exceptions are oils, coffee, chocolate and spices. If you’re making fewer or more exceptions, please note that on your first post.

What if I can’t find every ingredient locally?
That’s why this is called a challenge! If you can’t find every ingredient, or heck even most ingredients, please still post your meal each week. This is just as much about what we learn, the obstacles we find and the decisions we make as it is about cooking with SOLE ingredients.