Come sit in the kitchen for a little food and conversation

It’s been chilly lately. Oh, it’s not like it’s Canada out there, and there have been some gorgeous days for hiking and biking, but I have been feeling an inclination to stay indoors.

Luckily, there’s plenty to do around here that involves taking off one’s raincoat and settling into a comfy chair. Last Wednesday, that involved a cooking class with a friend.

Marv and Debbie Leach offer tips and pointers for delicious soup.

Debbie and Marv Leach own McGrills, Etc. on Third Street in McMinnville, a small but well-stocked kitchen supply store. A few years back the Leaches, with a little prompting from friends, started demonstrating cooking techniques in the store. The quick, informal sessions were popular, and when some space opened up in the back of the store, they started doing more elaborate events. They’re in their fifth year of teaching classes about twice a month. Typically there are 7 or 8 students; more in the summer sessions held in their back yard.

In about an hour, all of this will be soup.

On the menu recently: Hearty one-pot meals. Bouillabaisse, Mediterranean zuppa, a quick soup-like chili served with cornbread, and a spicy pork stew. Four meals, plus a couple of glasses of wine, all for $40.

The class is perfect for beginners — the students aren’t called upon to so much as pick up a knife or wash a dish. The vibe is more along the lines of keeping a friend company in the kitchen and picking up a few tips as the conversation meanders. The recipes, like the class are informal. “All the soups we’re making tonight are designed to be made from leftovers,” so lots of substitutions will work, Marv tells us. Bouillabaisse is miles away from chili, but the principle is the same. Take fresh, local ingredients, throw in a little of this and that from the pantry, simmer, wait and eat.

Dinner comes with a few glasses of wine.

For some, the waiting is the best part. When Marv warns that the bouillabaisse is going to take a while, one woman cheerily raises her glass of pinot noir: “I guess we’ll just have to sit and drink!”

Marv starts the bouillabaisse first because it needs about an hour to cook. He starts by explaining what he’s doing. When he runs out of words and has nothing to do but chop, his wife starts the zuppa. That’s the first thing we eat, too.

 

Debbie's Mediterranean zuppa featured mainly vegetables and sweet Italian sausage.

Oh, and we eat. Four dinners each. Second helpings of everything if we want it. Each bowl is different from the last, but they’re all delicious, rolling out like clockwork. There’s just enough time between rounds to eat, take notes and talk. While pots simmer, so does the conversation. We’re here to learn to cook, but food and kitchens bring out the social side of people, and it feels more like a party than a classroom.

The vibe is fed by Marv and Debbie’s gentle humor.

While preparing the cornbread, Marv recommends a mix. “I used to buy Jiffy in high school for a nickel a box,” he says.

Debbie comes back with, “that was a LONG time ago.”

And Marv grumbles, “About 2 or three years ago.”

Box or no, it’s a fine dish. It was the “best cornbread I’ve ever eaten — like a custard cornbread,” one woman declared.

Marv and Debbie had a pan of cornbread ready to eat.

By the time we reach the bottoms of our bowls of picante pork stew, we’re stuffed and content. The class is over, but it’s a while before McGrills empties out. Classmates linger and chat.

Marv and Debbie added to the bouillabaisse meat from crabs they brought back from the Oregon Coast.

A few of them are regulars, fond of the food, the education and the friendly atmosphere.

Marv tells me about a man who came in regularly a couple of years back who “almost didn’t know how to turn on a stove. He came in for a few months then disappeared.”

I suspect he learned how to cook.

Posted in Food, Living here, Spend the day here, Wine | Leave a comment

Pick up a painless history lesson at Champoeg

A history lesson doesn’t always happen in a classroom.

Pick your activity — there's plenty to see and do at Champoeg.

Visit Champoeg State Park. Walk or bike the trails, maybe play a round of disc golf. Hunt for mushrooms, smell the flowers, admire the trees. It’s close to civilization — Newberg is minutes away — but the quiet, natural setting makes it feel remote.

The Willamette River borders the park.

Once you’ve soaked up all that idyllic atmosphere, visit the interpretive center (They have a gift shop. Doesn’t everyone love gift shops?) and learn a little bit about Champoeg’s history.

The first thing I learned is that Champoeg is an actual, factual ghost town. Not what I was expecting! Champoeg was abandoned and never resettled after a flood in 1861. The real claim to fame here is that this is the birthplace of what eventually became Oregon’s state government.

Remember that remote vibe I was talking about? Add wolves. Settlers got together in 1841 with one big item on their agenda: Not getting eaten by wolves.

I may be oversimplifying. But the basic truth is, a small group of people all by themselves in what truly was the middle of nowhere decided to put their heads together and plan for their safety and survival. They chose Jason Lee, a missionary, (not an actor with a fondness for Kevin Smith movies) to run these “wolf meetings” for them.

This disc golf basket sits at the intersection of American history and American picnicking. Seriously — there's something for everyone.

The park and visitor center at Champoeg are gorgeous. It’s peaceful, it’s quiet and I personally guarantee you won’t be eaten by wolves if you spend a day there. Or even a weekend camping. It is likely, however, that you will have a nice walk, run or ride, feel refreshed, and a learn a little bit about Oregon history.

Posted in Let's go outside and play!, Living here, Spend the day here | Leave a comment

Happy trails to you, and to my old boots. May they rest in pieces.

My hiking boots died.

There’s a sort of poetry in that, no? Like dying with one’s boots on? My boots died with my feet in them, in the middle of a new adventure. We were snowshoeing on Mount Hood when a hint of chill made itself known on the sole of my foot. (Um, hello? Excuse me? I’m a little bit of snow, and I’d like to nestle into your sock. Don’t mind me.)

My boots' last stand.

That’s OK. The hike and the company were keeping me warm. And, later, when I checked my boot out and saw that its little footwear life was over, a repair impossible, I wasn’t too sad. For one thing, I adore shopping for shoes. For another, those boots had a good run.

My dilapidated Hi-Tecs have traversed hundreds of miles of mud, pavement, gravel and grass. I’ve lost track of how many trails we hit since we left Virginia. They connected me to the ground in Virginia, Washington D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington before we got here. Those boots stomped down city streets in our nation’s capital, Chicago, Seattle and Portland. They protected my toes at Yellowstone, in the Badlands, near Mount Rushmore, on ancient volcanic rock in Idaho and a more recent deposit at Mount St. Helens.

Add to that all kinds of hikes — long and short, solo and group — all over Yamhill Valley. I may be new in town, but I hit the ground hiking.

See them? They're at the bottom of the picture, in the middle.

Like a lot of travelers, my boots settled in here. People come here from all over the country and fall in love with the million shades of green, the ferns, moss, trees, mist, mountain views, ocean access and small-town charm with big-city amenities. I’d like to think my boots liked the quiet roads and cushiony trails. They put in miles at Champoeg, the Trappist Abbey, the Brigittine Monastery and Hagg Lake plus countless streets and sidewalks all over the valley. They’ve enjoyed plenty of assistance from my bike. (Tip: Hiking boots are handy for trail riding in the rainy season.) They’ve picked up mud at wineries. They needed a new waterproofing treatment after a dip in the Cozine Creek in McMinnville.

My boots are the least interesting thing to look at on a hike around Champoeg State Park.

And, thanks to this area’s delightful active-life friendly dress code, they’ve dried out and warmed up in some lovely restaurants and chic wine bars.

Where have your boots taken you? Where do you hike and bike? What’s your favorite trail to show a visitor? How about a view that’s worth spending a morning climbing?

The public wants to know, and I’ve got a brand new pair ready to rock and roll.

Champoeg State Park, near Newberg, is a lovely place for a quick, easy hike. Where do you go when you're headed for adventure?

Posted in Living here, Spend the day here | 1 Comment

Fly me to the moon! Or to the winery, anyhow.

Ben Parker apologized for the view. I frankly have no idea why. The view was perfect.

Ben Parker

Ben Parker was my tour guide for 10 blissful minutes hovering over McMinnville.

I was a couple hundred feet in the air, hovering in a glass bubble, big silly grin on my face, snapping pictures. My joy must have been obvious.

 

Misty morning in Mac

This is not a view anyone should apologize for!

For ten bucks, any old body can saunter into the Cirrus Aviation building at the McMinnville airport on a Saturday morning in spring, summer or fall and demand a helicopter ride. Weather permitting, Allison Trimble of Jerry Trimble Helicopters will take your money, give you a quick rundown of how to be safe and sensible and, frankly, how to stay out of the pilot Ben Parker’s way.

I showed up at 10 a.m. My son and I heard her spiel, he rode, I rode, we paid and were back in the car and headed to the McMinnville Public Market a giddy half hour later. My wallet was $20 lighter. My heart was tons lighter. So was his.

 

A returns

My son returns, wearing about as big a grin as a teenage boy ever will in front of his Ma. Allison Trimble waits for me at the cockpit.

I love to fly. My granddad was a pilot. My dad flies. My little brother flies. I have a few dual hours in the cockpit of a Cessna, but I never finished my license. My son, however, was nervous. He’s never been in anything smaller than a big, commercial prop plane. No worries, there, though.

When Allison asked who wanted to go first, it didn’t take much prodding to get that kid on the runway.

While he was in the air, I asked what flying in Yamhill Valley is like. She’s of the opinion that this is a great area to be in the air, that it’s beautiful and user friendly and she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Allison Trimble's tiny helicopter, with Ben Parker at the stick, lifts off.

And visitors fly here! She’s seen it happen. I never thought of such a thing, but the appeal is obvious. There are places to land a small bird all over the valley. Land at the McMinnville airport, and Cirrus will help you out with ground transportation.

It’s hard for me to imagine a finer weekend getaway: Fly into the valley, eat well, drink some wine and spend a night or two at a B&B.

Besides Allison’s company, there are a few others around available for tours and lessons. Konect Aviation flies out of the Mac airport and advertises romantic flights. Just in time for Valentine’s Day. Beats jewelry, in my humble opinion.

There was a patchwork quilt of clouds over the valley that morning, but Ben Parker navigated through and around them. The view was magical.

Posted in Living here, Spend the day here, Wine | 2 Comments

I’m a silver lining kind of girl

It’s no secret that I love the rain. When the sun comes out after a week of clouds, fog and drizzle, and all of Yamhill Valley is out cavorting in the yellow glow, I’m slathering on sunscreen and rummaging for a hat. (Rainbows. Do Yamhill Valley natives know how lucky they are with the rainbows? I’ve seen three this month. Back east, I could go years without seeing one.)

Northwest Oregon has a rain-soaked reputation, but it’s actually pretty sunny here. Sun in December doesn’t seem to be all that rare, actually, but I’ve seen a lot of grown men walking around in shorts on those bright days. Hey, I’m always happy to find an excuse to celebrate! And then in spring in summer, there’s six months straight of warm, dry weather.

 

A December afternoon in Yamhill Valley. This region has a rain-soaked reputation, but the truth is there are plenty of sunny, mind-blowingly beautiful days peppered throughout the winter.

Those sunny breaks feel like gold when you’re working off a holiday belly, however.

So on a recent sunny day, my friend Jo and I decided to go for a nice, long, peaceful walk and soak up the sunshine. We drove out to Amity to check out the Brigittine Monastery. According to Wendy, who works there and is my new best friend because she brought me a plate of free fudge, it is the only Brigittine Monastery in the world. It’s a tiny affair — a couple of buildings, a small chapel lit by stained-glass windows and smelling of cedar and incense, all surrounded by farmland. The monks live mainly in silence. They sell chocolate — fudge and truffles — in an effort to be self-supported. There isn’t much to do at the monastery.

Which is its appeal.

The chapel at the Brigittine Monastery gets a peaceful glow from the simple stained-glass windows.

Jo and I spent a few silent moments in the chapel, had a pleasant chat with Wendy, petted half a dozen cats — the monastery’s most visible and sociable residents — and went for a walk.

Amity is quiet and small, and you don’t have to drive far past it to be very much out in the country. The monastery is a perfectly lovely place to park and go hiking along dirt and gravel roads. The view is incomparable. Moss, ferns and trees are an excellent cure for stress. And that idyllic view is framed with hazy blue mountains. On a sunny day, a day with miles and miles of visibility, you absolutely must get out of the car and go for a walk. Try to drive through beauty like that and you’ll wind up in a ditch.

A statue of Mary glows in December sunlight.

So, no, there isn’t much to do at the monastery. But somehow Jo and I spent a few delightful hours out there without a moment’s boredom.

These are osage oranges. They're all over the ground near the monastery.

Posted in Food, Living here, Rain, Spend the day here | 3 Comments

Evergreen’s airplane exhibit is world class

I can’t remember my first ride in an airplane, but I will never forget my first turn at the stick. My grandfather had a little red Cessna 150. He piled a couple of phone books on the seat so I could see out, and once we were up in the air and a safe distance from the little New Jersey airport, he let me have a turn at the controls. I was 8.

My dad was about that age when he started flying. My brothers and I took flying lessons when the other kids were taking piano lessons or playing sports. Our vacation travel was often done in a rented Cessna. Dad’s the kind of guy who pulls over to watch a plane fly overhead. We played Go Fish with cards that featured silhouettes of military planes like the ones issued to civilian spotters during World War II. Dad’s an airplane nerd.

So, naturally, when my parents came for a pre-Christmas visit, I was pretty excited to take him to Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.

Spruce Goose

Hughes' Flying Boat, aka the Spruce Goose, takes up most of the airplane exhibit at Evergreen.

Dad’s a civilian, but he worked for the Navy. I lost track of how many planes in the collection he said that he had flown, ridden in or knew someone who had piloted one. He was in nerdvana. Dad’s in his 60s, but he was running around Evergreen like a hyperactive two-year-old. He had a story for every display. The docents, instead of telling us about the planes, patiently listened to him.

Dad

Dad was so excited by the blue Beechcraft Staggerwing that he's actually blurry.

Nobody batted an eye when he hopped a rope and scampered up to the bomb bay of the B-17 and popped his head in. It was nifty to see up close, he said, but he’s glad he never had to be a part of its flight crew. “The various gunners must have felt really exposed in combat,” he said. If anything went wrong, those guys weren’t going to make it.

Dad being eaten by a B-17

The docent in charge of the B-17 was charmed enough by Dad's enthusiasm that she let him hop the rope and poke his head into the bomb bay. This is what my father looks like when he's happy.

He spared the docent the story of locking himself in the radio room of a C-47 to escape his barfing Air Force ROTC classmates on a trip to Florida for spring break. He did mention that he’d been allowed to fly it for a few minutes. Cool, huh? That’s one big bird.

Not as big as the Spruce Goose itself.

Guts

This is the inside of the Spruce Goose. That mannequin is life-size, kids. This is one big bird.

That’s the big draw at Evergreen. That alone is worth the price of admission. There’s no way to adequately describe how vast it is. It’s like an apartment building lying on its side. Heck, it’s like an apartment complex. You couldn’t park it on a football field unless you removed the goal posts. If you walked across the wings from port to starboard, and then realized you left your cup of coffee on the port wing tip, you’d be irritated because your coffee would be cold by the time you got back. It’s big, OK? Huge. Most of the other aircraft at Evergreen fit neatly nestled around it. The Spruce Goose exhibit includes a model made for “The Aviator” movie, a documentary film, a lot of text explaining various details, and, for a little extra money, a chance to get your picture taken in the nose.

Wing

That gray bar across the top of the photo? That's the port wing of the Spruce Goose. Half the museum fits comfortably underneath those wings.

Howard Hughes was hoping he had designed the future of flight. So far it looks like he was a little wide of the mark. But a stroll through Evergreen offers a pretty tidy and concise lesson on the history of flight. Look at the airfoils, Dad said. First he indicated the replica of the Wright Flyer. Then we turned around to inspect a few more of World War I vintage. Circle that Spruce Goose and you’ll see a whole spectrum of wing sizes, shapes and placements.

I wish I could lend you my dad for your tour. He’d like to go back and have another look, too. But you don’t need him. The text on the displays is comprehensive and informative, and there are friendly and knowledgeable docents all over the museum. Dad’s recounting of the assassination of Admiral Yamamoto and the role the P-38 Lightning played in it was entertaining, but Evergreen’s version is pretty good account, too.

It wasn’t only the war planes that captured Dad’s attention. At the end of the tour, standing at the entrance, I asked him what his favorite part was. He smiled and pointed up. We were standing right underneath a bright yellow Piper J-3C-65 Cub. “I really like to fly them,” he said.

Piper Cub

Dad's right. Piper Cubs are super fun to fly.

Know a pilot? Get that person to Evergreen. It should be easy — the McMinnville airport is right across the street. Fly in. Tie down. Go play. The collection is extensive and carefully curated. At one point, Dad said that the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. looked a little shopworn by comparison.

High praise indeed.

Posted in Living here, Spend the day here | 2 Comments

Gift with purchase — priceless

I was having a glass of wine the other day with a woman who told me the sad story of a friend’s store dying. She was regretting not having shopped there more. A buck or two here and there wasn’t worth the loss of a carefully selected collection, a fun atmosphere and the knowledge that she was supporting her community, she said.

I’m all for all of that. I’d also like to add that buying from your neighbors means purchases come with neighborly advice.

In my haste to pull up stakes and leave Virginia, I left my pizza stone in the oven. Disasters! How have I survived since August? Yamhill Valley is getting chilly, which means it’s prime time for baking. Wine Country Kitchen is just a hop, skip and jump from the Discover Yamhill Valley secret bunker and they have everything. Seriously. Everything. It’s like the wardrobe that leads to Narnia – much bigger on the inside than it seems like it could be on the outside.

One thing they don’t have, though, is a pizza stone without a glaze on it.

I was about to up and leave without asking for a plain one, but Joyce Harris behind the counter saw me considering and wondering and threw in her two cents. Those are pretty good, she said.

I told her I was used to the plain kind and that I was concerned about the crust. I use one all the time to make pizza, she said, and the crust is good – thin and crisp.

And then she offered me her recipe.

I topped Joyce's dough with some home-made pesto, sliced tomatoes and all the last bits of cheese in the house.

I bought the stone – for precisely the same price I would have paid at Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table – took it home and made Joyce’s recipe.

It didn’t go well. I had to e-mail her and ask for her help. She got back to me the next day and set me straight. So now I have an unexpectedly good pizza stone and an unexpectedly good pizza recipe and a new source for kitchen advice. Win-win, no?

Joyce’s pizza dough

  • 1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over water.  Let sit for 5 minutes.

In a food processor, pulse the flour and salt, then pour in the oil and yeast mixture until a ball is formed.

Continue mixing for 30 seconds, adding just enough flour until it no longer is sticky.  Place in oiled bowl, cover with dish towel and let rise 40 minutes in a warm place.  Punch down.  The dough can be frozen up to three months or used within four days.

“I make the pizza on a peel sprinkled with a little corn meal, then slide it onto the heated pizza stone in the oven.  However I have also made the pizza on the cold stone and then placed it in the oven to bake. Either way works well.

I get two thin-crust pizzas from the recipe.  One pizza is enough for two hungry people with a side salad.  I usually bake mine at 450 until the cheese is bubbly — around 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on it because no two ovens are the same.   Making an Italian pizza with fewer toppings and with or without tomato sauce is my style.  Try experimenting.  Sometimes I fold it in half and make a calzone.”

It was a success. And by success, I mean my son ate practically the whole thing in about 10 minutes. Bow down before my culinary prowess!

Posted in Food | 6 Comments