Hell’s Canyon

 

Monty gazing out over the mountains of Hell’s Canyon

“The grandeur and originality of the views presented on every side beggar both the pencil and the pen. Nothing we had ever gazed upon in any other region could for a moment compare in wild majesty and impressive sternness with the series of scenes which here at every turn astonished our senses and filled us with awe and delight.” Benjamin L. E. Bonneville, an early explorer of Hell’s Canyon, wrote about the place I was getting ready to spend two weeks camping and hiking.

Sunset from the Cougar Basin campsite with a view into Oregon.

The area has seen much since white men entered its waters, from its early days of exploitation for copper and gold ore to inciting national division in the 1950s and again in the 1970s on damming the river to present-time recreational pursuits. For many years Hell’s Canyon was hailed as the deepest canyon but that is now contested. Regardless of the numbers, I was about to walk into a place of no outside contact. Not that this is a new experience as I have been solo hiking sections of the Continental Divide Trail for a number of years, but this time was different. I was heading into the area with three mules, three dogs, my friend I call the don and his brother. Would Hell’s Canyon live up to its name and reputation? What hellish fate might await, i wondered?

Could it be anymore perfect for a Texas girl than to have PURPLE bluebonnets?
Okay, technically a cousin to bluebonnets but that can be overlooked.

Obviously I have lived to tell the tale. And share some photos…

the don and his mules

Monty had never been around mules so it was with some slight trepidation that he was introduced to them. He did live through the two weeks but only through the grace of God who looks out for little white dogs.He was disbelieving these creatures were not just big dogs thus he continued to try and befriend them by getting too close to their feet. He would also try to insert himself in the mule train between two mules if I was riding a mule so I ended up in the saddle about 100 yards and then walking the remaining 18 miles into camp the first day. Monty did finally learn, mostly anyway, not to get underneath the mules and would walk very close to the back of the last mule. Thankfully the mules were very patient with this city boy who was just learning the ropes when it came to mule packing. Monty and I had that in common on this trip. One mule was particularly patient with me as I learned to halter and saddle and lead the mules and even let me braid his tail.

Monty learned to stay out of the mule train and trailed along behind. Can you see his tiny white body there?
Otis sporting a fancy tail-do. Definitely a sassy ass!

Hells Canyon will extract its pound of flesh, no doubt ’bout that. Just so you know, there are TWO different manifestations of poison ivy in these parts. There is the normal, vine-trailing-on-the-ground type found in moist areas like near creeks and under trees. Then there is another type that does not resemble a vine or a bush. This nasty and tricksy mo-fo is a stick about three feet tall with lovely white to cream dried-looking berries on it. At least that is how it looks in early spring, maybe in June it gets leaves or hairyness or something but in April it is just a lovely berry-topped stick with delicate red undertones hanging out with all the other grasses that looks like it is begging to be in a floral arrangement.

DO NOT BE FOOLED BY IT

A tricksy mo-fo , this poison ivy, growing along the trail and hillsides in very dry areas and with no leaves.

Another tip, if you are traveling with animals or some companion that goes tromping pell-mell through the grasses, DO NOT LET THAT BEING INTO YOUR SLEEPING BAG, even if it is a skinny puppy shivering in the cold night. That shivering puppy will run through the tricksy poison ivy sticks ALL DAY LONG and then, in the wee hours of the darkness, will bring all that urushiol into your bag and onto your skin. Just imagine what the results of hours and hours of laying in the poison oil will do to your skin as she cuddles up so sweetly to you. All the weight you have lost from so much lovely exercise will not be evident due to the horrible sores and swelling from the blisters and your new trail name will be Scritchers.

 

Only 6 months old, Finn already loved to run the hills all day and snuggle all night.
Three dog night. I finally learned to keep the dogs out of my sleeping bag yet they still loved to snuggle up to me. Here you can see Q, Finn, and Monty’s yellow coat.
Poison ivy legs. The rash was everywhere on my body except my upper back due to a snuggling puppy in my sleeping bag. So much for wearing skirts anytime soon.

This concludes my public service announcement.

Now for the good part, and if you heed my advice above, you can skip the icky and go straight to the good part. People tried to settle the canyon years ago and planted gardens. Most of the people and settlements did not last but some of their food-stuff is still there. If you go in early spring (as for this area, not the early spring of Houston) you will be fed well from the coffers of the canyon. the don knew of several spots where yummies were growing and shared them with me. Sadly I did not get photos of the morel mushrooms the don gathered and then cooked in butter on the wood stove (yes, for real. this is my life now) but i promise they were exquisite. The same day as the mushroom gathering, he showed me where asparagus would grow. Only a few stalks were showing then but when I went back a week later, JACKPOT!

Asparagus growing in the wilds of Hell’s Canyon. Can you believe the luck!?!

I gathered a quart ziplock bag and nibbled on quite a few stalks as I gathered and only took about 20% of what was showing. There is also an area where watercress grows and we enjoyed fresh greens pretty much every day of the trip.

Watercress growing along a creek just waiting to be made into a delicious salad.

Can you imagine a two-week camping trip with fresh asparagus and watercress and mushrooms? and all cooked over campfire or woodstove. Hard to believe yet I offer photographic proof.

Watercress salad with beets, coconut, and mango. The latter two were rehydrated since I have yet to find a mango tree in Hell’s Canyon.
Cooking asparagus over a campfire. Also on the menu this evening was polenta with tomato sauce which you can see in the background.

Monty was his usual majestic self and struck a pose on every rock formation he saw. Truly, I do not pose him and rarely do I even try to arrange a photo. Mostly he gets his vogue on and waits until I finally realize I should take a picture. He even photo bombs and, as usual, his version is much more interesting than my own. Do you think Ansel Adams might come back as a photogenic master in a dog body?

Monty photobombing as I try to shoot landscapes. As usual his version is way more interesting than my boring ol’ flower picture.

I’ll put more photos at the end of this post. At the time every single view was breathtaking and so I have tons of pictures of Monty posing with some dramatic view.

As you may know, I am a former city girl who has decided to try a completely different lifestyle. I am learning so much every day! For example, do you know where the antlers for those awesome chandeliers in hunting-themed lodges come from? Out here it is a hobby to collect the ginormous antlers that are shed naturally every spring by the elk. the don and his brother engage in antler hunting and I began a little hunting myself.  I was better at finding asparagus.

“Glassing” the hillside looking for antlers.
I spy an antler!
Here is one of the smaller antlers. Some were almost as big as me!

Fresh mint- perfect for adding to salads and also to a bit of rum
Waiting for snow to melt and getting a suntan at the same time
Still waiting
Dinnertime in Hell’s Canyon
A fresh and cold spring at just the right height for bottle filling. Hell’s Canyon will extract its pound of flesh but will also provide
Another awesome view of Sheep Creek
Spider on flower. I was so intrigued by this little guy hanging out in the flowering bushes just waiting for bugs
I forgot my hat one day and ended up making one from my bandana and some of the branches from the bush behind me. The branches were to make the brim and I have to say this worked out very well for the entire day!
Rose hips. Reminded me of chinese lanterns
Pictographs!
Curious Otis
the don and mules near suicide point. Can you see them on the trail?
My boy
A view into Oregon
Bear claw marks on pine. I promise, Mom, I never saw any bears this trip!
Brain freeze

Monty near Old Timer
Monty on the mountain

I don’t need inspirational quotes
I need coffee

 

Terrific=tenebrific^10

Do you ever feel mopey?

I tend to be rather bright and cheerful with a touch of aggression to keep things interesting. Moping and somber are not my natural state, but every now and then I will indulge in a bit of melancholy. Sometimes it can be due to a specific incident or situation, sometimes it will just show up without invitation and hang out for a bit. Today I decided to schedule some time to just let the blues hang out with me and I have even been a very good hostess to my forlorn and dispiriting friend. I have served up every high-carb instant food on hand, which isn’t much actually, before moving on to the game of “What’s my ratio?”

In case you need a refresher on this game, it’s typically played either on long car trips or when all alone in the house. You take two edible items and mix varying ratios to find the perfect-for-you combination. It can be an almond-to-raisin mix (3 raisins to 1 almond for me), Tabasco-to-orange slice (for real, it’s good and again is a 3-1 ratio), and today it was a PB to J ratio.

I’m rationing my few remaining slices of g-f bread until I get to Seattle and can get more, besides when moping you can’t just start jumping around all energetically and start making yourself good peanut butter sandwiches or you will ruin the whole point of the wallowing in misery. If you live with other people, you should totally NOT double-dip the spoon between tastes. That would be germy. So let the dog lick the spoon clean in between tastings; they have clean mouths and all that (don’t argue with me, argue with Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel as they are the ones who confirmed it). HOWEVER, since I do not currently reside alone in this house and I do share my food items with others, please take note of the following photos which offer photographic proof of clean technique.

Well, clean-ish. I really should have put the lids on the jars before doing any tasting if I was going to follow proper lab technique. Oh well…

Another advantage to this clean technique is you can actually compare ratios side by side whereas double-dipping requires memory and guessing estimates. And if you are going to start using words like “ratio” to describe what you are doing, then probably you should go ahead and spring for washing the extra spoons in the name of scientific research.

 

Surprisingly, my visitor was still disconsolate after the game of “What’s my ratio?” That is when I decided to produce this pièce de résistance of pathetic food-for-one: mug cake.

 

To be fair, cooking for one is not really a pathetic enterprise but a show of love and devotion to one self (purposefully using one and not one’s; I had to write that since I can’t use (sic) in this situation although you could if you quoted me). ANYWAY, mug cakes have been in my family for a number of years now and I love finding recipes for them. Biggerbolderbaking.com has a recipe for a PB&Banana mug cake that is really good. I mostly followed her recipe but then, since the jelly was still out, I placed a dollop on top of the cake before microwaving it. I used plain oats and ground them in the coffee bean grinder to make the oat flour, as she suggested. Turned out perfect!

 

I have to say, it was really yummy! I added a cup of crazy-strong French press coffee and the  mix of carbs and caffeine were the perfect snack for me and Ms. Dolorous (1).

Alas, my moping time has come to an end. My schedule requires I move on with my life and get to the next thing on the list. Thank you for visiting, Ms. Dolorous, do come again sometime. Actually, I kinda knew Ms. D would be leaving soon when the fork I grabbed for the first bite of cake turned out to be a salad fork and I was like, “No way, you will put that atrocity back and grab a proper fork for eating cake, young lady!” When one has the energy to give a rat’s ass about which fork is being used, the blues are on their way out, for sure. Not that we actually have salad vs dessert forks here at the farm, though, now that I think about it, why the hell not? THIS TOWN IS NAMED FORKS!

Definitely check out Gemma’s blog on mug meals and let me know what you think. I’m looking at that pizza in a mug recipe next! https://www.biggerbolderbaking.com/gemmas-mug-meals/

Did you know that tenebrific is a synonym for moping? Isn’t that the most anti-onomatopoeic word ever? It should mean terrific to the power of 10 or tenebrific=terrific^10. That will be my platform for 2020, “Make tenebrific great again!”

(1) I *know* it should be “Ms. Dolorous and I” but that totally loses the alliterative effect I was going for, and artists can get away with grammar faux-pas in the pursuit of expression

Alchemy

Meditation is the alchemist
Transforming putrid shame into joyful rapture
Dust swept under the rug becoming sparkles of gold as I sit

I was inspired by a recent meditation experience to write the poem above. If you have read any of my other posts, you will no doubt know that I am a big proponent of meditation. Not for the relaxation that occurs when sitting on the meditation cushion, although that is nice, but for the transforming effect if you let what is learned on the cushion to occur in the rest of life. Maybe it is a result of critical thinking skills, being able to take what is learned in one arena and apply it to not-previously-seen arenas. In school those are the hardest tests, when the teacher makes you really think about what was learned and apply it creatively versus just spitting back a particular powerpoint slide. In life, it is also about taking what we learn and applying it creatively to a situation. In doing so it builds a trust in one’s self that allows you to believe you can handle the next thing that comes. And the next thing, and the one after that, even if you don’t know what is coming, you know you can handle it. Boy, there is so much less worry when living this way!!!
What you may or may not know about me is that I love rules. I am a big believer in knowing the rules and then, with creative thinking, deciding which rules can be broken. It isn’t until one has mastered the rules and can maneuver within them that one begins to know which can be broken to achieve a certain result. Now this does encourage an understanding of the difference between a law and a rule. Laws cannot be broken. Gravity is kind of a law, as is pretty much all of physics and chemistry and organic chemistry and math. A carbon with only 3 bonds is going to be one unhappy guy, that is something you can count on. Rules aren’t so rigid but are a pretty decent framework for living if you don’t want to think about stuff all the time. You should not eat dessert before dinner is a decent rule, because you are hungry and might overeat the sugar and then undereat the salad. There are times that you should break this rule and eat the cookies, dammit, like if you are getting ready to menstruate and you deserve a congratulatory cookie for getting up and not spitting venom at any object in your path. That totally deserves a cookie or two. And a glass of wine. And quit looking at the clock because, really, that is how addictions are made. But you don’t go and break that dessert rule ALL the time or else it loses its effectiveness when you need it. Like crying wolf. You don’t want the new normal to be one devoid of rules because then when you do have a wolf attacking your sheep no one will show up and you will probably get eaten, and if the wolf is getting ready to menstruate and thinks of you as a cookie, then it will probably eat you first and go for the fuzzy sheep afterwards. And then where will you be? If you were lucky enough to be like Jonah and eaten by a whale, then you would stand a chance of surviving to tell the tale and probably be an internet sensation since you’d no doubt have some great video footage of the whale tummy and being puked up on the beach of Nineveh. But you wouldn’t survive in a wolf’s stomach.
“Squirrel!”
Actually I have no idea how crying wolf relates to meditation but maybe that just proves the alchemy part in the poem I wrote at the beginning of this post. Yes, that is EXACTLY what alchemy does so somewhere my brain is making connections and I just have to trust the path and not be so doggone worried about knowing in advance where it leads. Never place limits on what can be by demanding to know the future because how could one even IMAGINE such a connection?
I have some possible big changes coming up in my life. Not that I haven’t been living with big changes the last couple months anyway, and changes that I could not have imagined have occurred just because I trusted in the ability to try and even to fail and get back up and start going again. Failing and then getting going again is dust turning into gold.

Oh yeah, I wanted to show you some sights from the farm.

Here is what I do every morning. I am one of the best fire builders. The wood is fresh cut and wet and green, not good for making fires but I have developed a system or series of systems that lets me succeed as long as I am patient and attentive. The wood stove has water jackets on each side of it that circulate heated water through the floors and help heat the basement bedrooms. I guess because of the water jackets taking up space, the firebox is not big enough to be able to stoke enough firewood to keep the fire going all night so every morning I build a new fire. It is kind of a relaxing way to wake up.

Next I go for a walk. It might not be immediately in the morning but sometime before mid-afternoon I head out. The snow lately has called me out to walk and enjoy a real winter. Monty loves all the freedom of walking without a leash and sometimes I bring a guest’s dog along.


In between fire-building and walking is some work or other, maybe bookkeeping or maybe farm chores or fixing something that is broken. There are lots of things broken and some I can fix on my own. And finally I decide what to cook for dinner. I am fortunate that I like to cook and the grocer in town is acceptable and Amazon delivers. It is a little hard because I do not have a full kitchen with all the spices and accoutrement my old kitchen had but that just makes me more creative. And flexible. Did you know that for some recipes baking powder can stand in for baking soda with no appreciable difference. But coarse-ground cornmeal, which is great for polenta, cannot be used as is for a breading on stuffed jalapenos. I will try grinding it in the coffee bean grinder next time and I suspect the hint of coffee taste will be a pretty yummy addition. and if it is not, then a little extra sriracha-mayo dip will take care of it. I enjoy taking my time fixing dinner. It is a nice chance to have me-time as the cooking kitchen is separate from the main living area and kitchen-prep area.


Sometimes guests or neighbors will join us for a dinner party and that can very interesting. Unless all the guests are avid fishermen which means the discussion devolves to types of hooks and such. Those are the nights I go to bed early. Sometimes we have very personable and interesting guests and I get to learn all about other parts of the country, what their work and lives are like, how they see the world. Those are my favorite times. It helps fill the void left by not being in the salon and talking with all my interesting and fascinating clients. Shoot, now I am thinking about some of them and there is a catch in the back of my throat for those I love dearly and miss so much. Sometimes I wonder if I am selfish and foolish for chasing this dream. But sometimes I talk with a dear friend and I can feel the love is still there even if I do not get to lay eyes or hands on them right now. Breathe in loneliness, wistfulness, missing you…breathe out warmth, compassion, understanding, ever-abiding love. Meditation is the alchemist.

Perseverance

Perseverance.

I only just noticed the word “sever” is within the word “perseverance.” I think that, in light of what I share today, you will agree that it is good to have only noticed that academically now and be so grateful that all my fingers and toes are still where they are supposed to be.

Part of what I want to share is the complete infatuation I have with this dream-life of rural, off-grid living. I actually enjoy the physical work of feeding a wood stove for warmth. I like learning new skills, especially physical skills (I really don’t like learning new computer program skills) and so the chores around here are ways that I get physical motion as a part of my whole day, not just 30 minutes at the gym. The main house where I am staying is very nice and big with lovely skylights and Alexa to play any music I desire so I’m not roughing it that much. After a day of being outside, I feel so gratified. After a day of working a computer screen, I feel like a day in my life was stolen.

Chopping wood is something I have never done before. I never swung an axe before a few days ago. I have to say that for me it was not a terribly natural thing. An axe is heavy! Learning to lift it over my head and then swing it down in the same place over and over took quite a bit of practice. My very patient teacher would encourage me by saying, “Good swing! Now hit it again in exactly the same spot and that log will split wide open.” He would even show me, “See, hold it like this and then let your hand slide down as the axe comes down.” And he could actually hit the log in the EXACT SAME PLACE EVERY TIME. For me, hitting it in the same place meant just hitting the top as opposed to the side or missing the darn log altogether.

But, as with anything, practice makes… well not perfect but better. And of course, yoga finds its way into even the most mundane farm chore.

Wish you were here!

P.S. My teacher says this wood is from an alder tree. I say the darn thing is obviously a Kevlar tree. Notice how the axe just bounces off the log? C’mon, what kind of wood could do that?

Winter Holiday Soul Food aka Eggnog

Eggnog, ahhhh, that delectable holiday beverage.

A friend posted on a social media site his preparation for eggnog using Alton Brown’s  AGED eggnog recipe. I was intrigued by the recipe but, not being one who handles dairy well, I decided to make it dairy-free. It has been quite some time since I made eggnog and I didn’t remember there being bourbon in it but Alton has never led me down the wrong path before so away I went to the liquor store to get the tremendous amount of liquor his recipe demands.

As an aside, Alton, you should totally invite Monty and me to your place for a throwdown on eggnog.

Having played with dairy-free eating recently, I decided to try coconut milk in place of the six (6!) cups of various forms of cow milk, each richer and fattier than the last. Alton uses milk, half-and-half, and heavy cream (sooooo, why not just use milk and cream, isn’t that what half-and-half is?) but he must be a mutant to be able to digest that much cow milk at his age. For me, and most humans who are not meant to digest lactose as adults, this is a recipe for disaster, bloating, and other activities not meant for company unless you are the proverbial grandpa booming out, “pull my finger!”

However, I am not willing to sacrifice the thick and rich smoothness to get dairy-free. Truly, if your eggnog is watery and thin as tears, why bother? So I bought just about every can of coconut milk in my local grocer and chilled them. It took a little over 4 cans to get the thick cream that had solidified at the top of the can to the 2 cup level but, lucky me, the coconut milk was on sale! For the remaining 4 cups of milk-analog I used a mix of almond milk and the coconut milk remaining from the cream separation. Everything else is as Alton prescribes and I have to say, this eggnog is just what the doctor ordered.

Below is my adaptation of Alton Brown’s recipe for aged eggnog. Both he and I use raw and unpasteurized egg yolks and we are still standing. The high alcohol content of this beverage pretty much sterilizes everything BUT if you are concerned or have immune system issues, by all means do what is right for you and use pasteurized egg yolks. You can also wash the eggs while in the shell to make sure no chicken poo gets into your eggs.

Chill 5 cans of coconut milk overnight, NOT the light version- this ain’t diet time. After they have chilled, open the top and scrape the thick cream off and place into bowl, repeat with each can until you have 2 Cups of the thick cream to replace the heavy cream. Reserve the remaining milk for the 2 Cups of half-and-half that Alton uses. You can see in the photo below how the cream is thick enough to hold the spatula upright.

In a mixing bowl beat 12 egg yolks, 2 Cups of sugar, and 1 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg (yes, fresh does makes a difference). Beat until the egg mixture is pale and comes off the beater in ribbons like egg noodles. I spilled some sugar trying to get it into the mixing bowl. This is why we can’t have nice things…

In a separate bowl combine 2 Cups almond milk + 2 Cups heavy coconut cream from above and 1 Cup remaining coconut milk from the separation of the cream (but don’t toss the rest just yet because you might need more if the mix is very thick), 1 Cup EACH of Jamaican rum, bourbon, and cognac, plus about ¼ tsp of kosher salt.

Slowly stir in the milk mixture to the egg mixture. If it seems a little too thick, add more of the reserved coconut milk.

Pour into jars and place in refrigerator for 2 weeks or more. You can drink it right away but it does develop over time. I’m not a believer in the age for a year thing but a couple of weeks or a month is great, if you can wait that long. When ready to drink, shake the jar very well to reincorporate any separated coconut milk and cream, pour into desired tankard drinking glass and grate some more fresh nutmeg on the top. Truly, the nutmeg balances the flavors miraculously. Don’t skip the fresh nutmeg.

This recipe makes quite a bit of juice so I recommend taking a scientific attitude and tasting the ‘nog every day or so, just an ounce or two, and see what you think about the change in flavor as it ages. I might also add some vanilla and/or almond extract to make this even more interesting, and probably replace some of the bourbon if planning to drink it right away.

Below is a link to video of the liquor tasting as well as a tasting of the freshly made eggnog. I’ve been handing out tastes to everyone I know so I’m not sure how much is going to actually make it to Christmas. Not a bad problem to have!