Sunday, September 25, 2011

Oregon Bounty: Fauna, Fruits and Forage

"Bounty always receives part of its value from the manner in which it is bestowed." - Samuel Johnson

The second weekend in September, Travel Oregon hosted food bloggers from around the country for their celebration of the bounty of Oregon called "Full On Oregon." As their "Ask Oregon" Ambassador for the Columbia River Gorge, I was invited to join a few of these guests on the "Fauna, Fruits and Forage" excursion. The day included stops at Trillium Lake to forage for wild edibles, lunch at Timberline Lodge prepared with fresh from the forest ingredients and paired with Hood River wines, and topped off with a visit to McCurdy Farms in Hood River where they grow pears in bottles.

For part one of our adventure, John Kallas, PhD, author of Wild Edible Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate led us on a hike along the shores of Trillium Lake and taught us about many of the foods the forest has to offer, some of which were quite tasty.

John Kallas with Mt. Hood and Trillium Lake in the background.

Here we learned and tasted a variety of wild plans., including some of which I knew like Thimbleberry...

Thimbleberry in the hand

...others I had seen, but had no clue what they were, let alone that they were edible. I tried smooth yellow violet leaves ( which tasted a bit like arugula) and wild ginger.

There were some other plants I was quite familiar with but until this day, I had no idea you could eat them, like Indian Paintbrush and Fireweed.

Following our successful forest forage, we continued on to historic Timberline Lodge. Executive Chef Jason Stoller Smith prepared us a lunch of what he termed "Alpine Cuisine" featuring some of the wild edibles we had just tasted along the trail. Each of the five courses was paired with a different wind provided and presented by Robert Morus of Phelps Creek Vineyards in Hood River.

Mount Hood reflected in a glass of Phelps Creek Fleur de Roy Rose of Pinot Noir.
My favorite dishes were the heirloom tomato and smooth yellow violet leaf salad with wild ginger vinaigrette..

...and souveed elk tenderloin with turbo whipped potatoes, thimbleberries and volcanic salt.

No meal would be complete without dessert. Chef Jason served us the most perfect one of fresh local peaches, vanilla olive oil powder and toasted pine nuts with wild pineapple weed ice cream.

I wish this flavor of ice cream was available in the store!

As a mother of two  young girls, it is not often I get to enjoy such "grown-up" meals and therefore don't consider myself much of a "foodie". That being said, between the magnificent atmosphere of Timberline Lodge, the beautifully presented dishes, and tasty wine, this was an extraordinary meal I will not soon forget. Thank you Chef!

Chef Jason Stoller Smith, Mount Hood in the background.

The drive was the perfect opportunity for my food to settle before I arrived at McCurdy Farms in Hood River to tour the orchards. Here the folks from Clear Creek Distillery explained the process for turning this...

.... into this!

Eau de Vie de Poire (Pear Brandy in a Bottle)
After a stroll through the orchards, we were treated to some of their spirits, including tastes of pear brandy and a particularly good cranberry liqueur.

Pear brandy poured

It was a beautiful late summer day, spent in the shadow of my favorite mountain, where I sampled a food bounty that only Oregon can offer. Can you get any closer to heaven??

Mount Hood through the windows at Timberline Lodge

Disclaimer: Travel Oregon provided  all the goods and services for the Fauna, Fruits and forage excursion free of charge to me. This blog post, however, was written only so I could brag about such an exceptional experience.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

California Redwoods Part 2: Big Trees, Elk and Ewoks????

"Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is." - Yoda

On another tip from the woman at the "Tour Thru Tree", we continued south on Highway 101 to take the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway to what she called the "Big Trees Wayside". Now, when I hear "wayside" I think of ocean beaches or other water access. There was no water here, just a beautiful trail through the giant redwood trees.

As we arrived and gathered our camera gear for the short hike, I looked at Odessa, age 4, very seriously and said "Watch out for Ewoks!" (If you are a Star Wars fan, you may know the California Redwoods posed as the Forest Moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi.)

Odessa shook, "I am scared of Ewoks!"

"Ewoks are very friendly, unless, of course you are a Sith Lord" I replied.

"I don't want to see an Ewok!!"

Now, I hadn't told her this to put fear into her. I just thought it would be a fun little joke to start the hike. I will tell you, I have never had her be so well-behaved on a hike, anywhere. She held my hand almost the entire time, peering around the huge trees, expecting an Ewok to jump out and surprise her at any moment.

Is there an ewok in here?

Sage, my 10 year old, on the other hand, thought it was quite amusing that her sister was finally afraid of something and took every opportunity she could to mention Ewoks. It was a rare opportunity to torment her little sister that doesn't often present itself.

Eventually, Odessa did get over her fear of Ewoks and both girls enjoyed the hike, marveling at the trees. Some trees had hollows so big they were more like caves than play places.

My girls and I playing in a redwood tree.

We continued south along the parkway. There were several meadows along the road with signs that indicated elk frequent them. We lamented to each other that maybe were were too late in the year and they had moved on (much like the elk that winter near Jewell, Oregon).

Enjoying the drive through the trees, we happened upon one last meadow where a small group of cars had pulled over and people stood alongside the road with cameras in hand. Out in the tall grass, just barely visible in the waning sun, was one lonely bull elk. We pulled over and joined in on the photo opportunity.

The elk was not standing in the greatest of places. The sun was setting behind him, but an opportunity to see such a glorious animal out in the wild should not be missed. We stood there snapping pictures, hoping maybe a few would turn out okay as we was slowly making his way across the meadow.

Suddenly, behind me, I heard what sounded like a tree falling in the forest. I looked back, expecting to see a log tumbling down the hillside, but saw nothing so I returned to the scene before me. That is when my husband called out to me "Honey, look behind you!"

There he was, yet another impressive elk on the other side of the road, having just emerged from the forest. He stood there majestic, with almost no fear of the humans taking his portrait. He made his way across the road, jumped two fences, and joined his comrade out in the tall grass. It turned out we got out elk show after all.

Losing the light, we returned to Highway 101 and turned north for the first time during our trip. Mill Creek Campground, deep in the redwood forest, became our home for the night.

We enjoyed a classic camp dinner of beef stew, followed by a dessert of s'mores next to a roaring campfire. Instead of horror stories, we regaled the girls with tales of Darth Vader, the evil Emperor Palpatine, and the Skywalker kids who defeated them with the help of the Ewoks. (Parts of the story embellished for maximum effect.)

The next morning I was awoken by a very excited Odessa.

"Mommy, I saw one. It smiled at me!!" she exclaimed.

"Saw what?" I replied, groggy before my first cup of coffee.

"An Ewok!! It smiled at me through the window. They sure are friendly."

This was the final morning of our mini vacation and time was passing too quickly. After our morning coffee and breaking down camp, it was time to head towards home. Our route would take up back through Crescent City and onto Highway 199, also known as the Redwood Highway.

The temperature climbed steadily as we left the ocean air of the redwoods and headed inland. As the road traveled next to the Smith River, there were many places to get out of our vehicle and enjoy the river. A quick stop in just one such place found us dipping our feet in the water and enjoying the change in scenery.

We were surrounded by a different type of redwood trees here, madronas. These trees actually shed their bark, showing the bright red wood beneath and are one of my favorites.

Crossing back into Oregon, it felt good to be back "home". Yes, we still had many miles to travel, but California always seems like such a foreign land to me. Seeing the "Welcome to Oregon" sign warmed my heart, as there is no other place in the world I would want to live!!

Plan Your Own Visit:

Redwood Coast Driving Tours

Redwood National and State Parks Campgrounds

Oregon/California Redwood Highway

Thursday, September 15, 2011

California Redwoods Part 1: A Whale of a Good Time

"Trees go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!" - John Muir

After our wild time outside of Bandon, we continued south to pop in for a visit with my uncle outside of Gold Beach. What was supposed to be a few hours of chatting turned into an afternoon of swimming and lounging next to his pool followed by an exquisite barbeque dinner of freshly caught Rouge River Salmon.

Too full and relaxed to continue, we spent the night here. The next morning we managed to tear ourselves away and continue our journey down the Oregon Coast towards Redwood National Park in Northern California.

Whaleshead Beach near Brookings, Oregon

We made a brief stop in Crescent City, just south of the Oregon/California border to admire Battery Point Lighthouse. Only accessible at low tide, our timing was off, but we still captured a few images from shore.

Seagull with Battery Point Lighthouse in the background.

Our next stop was the Tour Thru Tree in Klamath. Obviously, the RV was too large to drive through, but we thought we might stop and get a few pictures of other cars doing what we could not. I popped into the gift shop to inquire about walking up to the tree and also ask about some other unique photo opportunities accessible by RV. I was given instructions on an easy drive with easily accessible hiking trails when I decided to ask about what else was a can't-miss.

Have you seen our whale yet?


She proceeded to show me a newspaper article from that day's paper detailing the story of the California Gray Whale that had swum up the Klamath River a couple months earlier and decided not to leave. In fact, it was continuing to put on a show right under the Highway 101 Klamath River Bridge.

I hurried to the RV and gave my husband, Jon, the information about walking up to the travel thru tree. It was going to cost us a $1 each to just go up and gander, but he was willing to go do it.

"What else did you find out?" he asked as he unbuckled his seatbelt.

"Well, apparently there is a whale stranded in the river just up the road."

Before the words had finished coming out of my mouth, his seatbelt was refastened and the engine was started.

"Let's go!!!" he replied and off we went.

Bear statue on the south end of the Klamath River Bridge

Quite a crowd had gathered to take in the whale and her performance in the river. In fact, police were on hand for crowd control. I was very nervous walking on the narrow bridge, especially with my youngest daughter, Odessa, as traffic was continuing to zoom by. We took up our positions on the bridge and watched in wonder as the whale swam and spouted below us.

Walking on the Klamath River Bridge
Whale swimming in the Klamath River

Eventually my nervousness about Odessa staying still on the bridge got the best of me and we returned to the RV while Jon and my oldest daughter, Sage, stayed behind to continue taking pictures. Just after Odessa and I left, we missed a black bear who has swum across the river towards the whale. Unfortunately, the zoom on the camera lens was just not powerful enough for my husband to capture the image. At least it wasn't clear enough to distinguish the black dot as a bear's head.

Can you see the bear?
Sadly, just a few hours after our visit, the whale died. We were clad we got to see her, but saddened that she didn't find her way back out to sea. Click here for the entire story on the Klamath River Whale.

Whales and bears were not the only animals we got to meet on this trip. Odessa got to meet an Ewok, which I will tell you about soon. Stay tuned!

Plan Your Own Visit:

Klamath Tour Thru Tree

Battery Point Lighthouse

Redwood National and State Parks

Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wildfire Sunset

Smoke from the Dollar Wildfire, burning near the town of Parkdale, Oregon pushed in to the Portland Metro Area Saturday, causing skies that appeared overcast and smells reminiscent of camp fires hung in the air.

A side effect of all the smoke was an incredible sunset. The smoke changed the way the light reflects, therefore causing the sun to appear red.

Red sun at sunset.

Not wanting to miss this natural phenomenon, I grabbed my camera and headed up to Crown Point for a front row seat for sunset. Apparently I was not the only one with this idea, as there were at least a half dozen other photographers there with their cameras and tripods.

Vista House at Crown Point just before sunset.

Mother Nature certainly didn't disappoint, even though I am saddened at the cause.

The wake on the barge traveling down the Columbia River almost looks like it is on fire.

Please everyone, send positive thoughts to those fighting the fire and hope that soon our beautiful Mount Hood will stop burning.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Walking on the Wild Side - West Coast Game Park Safari

"And now," cried Max, "let the wild rumpus start!" - Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are)
West Coast Game Park Safari bills itself as the “World’s Largest Wild Animal Petting Zoo.” Located just south of Bandon (and not to be confused with Wildlife Safari located inland near Winston, Oregon) billboards heralding its presence dot Highway 101. The outside appearance of the place is a little lackluster. There's really nothing more than a large wooden fence bordering a gravel parking lot and what appears to be a double-wide mobile home which serves as the gift shop. There are so many “tourist traps” along the Oregon Coast, it sometimes hard to tell an actual quality attraction from someplace that isn’t worth the time or money. From first appearances, this looks to be the latter.
I am not a zoo person. Generally, I dislike the crowds that such places bring and prefer the thrill of seeing animals in their natural environment, when you are surprised to see one rather than having them served up to you on a silver platter. However, my husband loves being able to get close to the animals and photograph them, no matter their environment, so we took a chance and stopped here.
You enter through the gift shop (like so many other “tourist traps) and pay your admission. It cost about $50 for my family of four to gain entry. Once we exited to the outside and passed through two security gates (to keep the animals in) we entered an almost magical land of free-roaming goats, llamas, donkeys and deer. 
I don't think the donkey is quite sure what to think of O!
My girls were especially thrilled with the deer. While we see them often in our travels, we have never gotten close enough for much more than a few quick pictures, let alone to touch and feed one. They are a bit skittish, much like their wild brethren, but if you are slow and gentle, they will let you near.


 As we wandered the grounds, there were the requisite caged animals, ranging from big cats such as lions and tigers, to monkeys, buffalo and bears. 

There seemed to be something from just about every corner of the world, including a few things we don’t have here at the Oregon Zoo. 
Not sure if I should be scared or laugh at him....
While exploring, there were periodic announcements over a loudspeaker system about special hands-on opportunities with baby park animals. One such “encounter” was at the “nursery” and featured more common baby animals such as a raccoon and a skunk that had lost her smell.
Fiesty baby raccoon. He wouldn't stay still to get his picture taken.
The biggest highlight of our visit were the tiger and African spotted leopard cubs. Getting to pet them and watch them play so closely was a definite treat that everyone in my family enjoyed. Yes – they are just as soft as they look.


Jon and Odessa getting up close to the leopard cub.
Another gratuitous baby animal drinking a bottle picture.

My biggest tip for visiting here: Bring your own hand sanitizer. There is a hand washing station provided, but the animals wander through the park and the only place to clean up is near the entrance. Luckily, I always carry a small tube in my camera bag for just such occasions.
In the end, it ended up being well worth the price of admission and we will definitely stop again next time the next time we are on the Southern Oregon Coast!!
Plan your own visit: