One of the ways we like to decorate for the holidays is to use branches from outside. On Thanksgiving Day, my niece, Rachel, arranged some holly from her mom’s holly bush on my mantle. The holly will hold nicely for quite a while, even without water, so the branches that are sitting out, dry, will look good for a few weeks. If they dry up or shrivel, due to their proximity to the wood stove, we can go get some more to replace them. The branches in the vase have water on them, so should last even longer. It’s another way to enjoy the beauty of nature all year ’round.
We would like to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving!
Rob made a turkey on the grill, and plans to do a ham as well. The turkey is already all cut up and ready to warm, and the bone broth has been cooking all night in 2 crock pots, making the house smell warm and cozy on this cold morning. We are having about 26 family members over for a meal later today. Yesterday, several family members came over and helped clean and set things up. We plan to have a great day. We have so much to be thankful for! I hope yours is full of thankfulness, family, and joy. Happy Thanksgiving!
When the 4H club was here, Rob decided to make peach cobbler with them as one of the outdoor cooking projects. As always, the cooking projects are gluten-free, due to some allergies that some of the clubbers have. If you don’t have gluten-free flour (or allergies), just use the regular kind of all-purpose flour. It still works great. We love the gluten-free one-to-one flour from Bob’s Red Mill.
The first thing he did was grab 2 quart jars of homemade peach pie filling. We like to make our own and can it, using various kinds of fruit, like blueberries, peaches, cherries and apples. You could use an equivalent amount of purchased pie filling, of any kind. You could also thicken some sweetened, frozen fruit with cornstarch to make your own. There are many recipes in cookbooks or on the internet you could follow if you don’t know how.
Put a parchment liner in a large cast iron kettle. Put filling of choice in liner. Make topping (recipe below) and spoon over filling. Put lid on. Cover the lid with burning briquettes and put some underneath as well. Rob lit the briquettes up about 10 minutes before he needed to use them so they were nice and hot. About 15 briquettes on the top and 15 on the bottom works well. Bake for about 45 minutes, checking every 15 minutes so it doesn’t burn. When it is done, it will be slightly brown on the top and the filling will start bubbling through the topping. It is extremely hot. To check the cobbler without getting burned, use a lid lifter, vise grips, or whatever you have to get the lid off. Pot holders are a must as well.
1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1-1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup gluten-free all purpose flour (we used Bob’s Red Mill 1-1)
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Put ingredients into a bowl. Use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. (We did not have one outside, so we just used forks to smash the butter into the dry ingredients.) Makes 1 large cobbler. Serves 8-10 people.
When the weather turns gloomy and wet here in Oregon, the brightness of the falling leaves brings a glow to the day. Our thoughts turn towards Thanksgiving, warm meals in the evening, and cups of hot chocolate and tea. Today, on a wet, rainy Monday, Rob decided to cook a ham on the grill. He preheated the barbecue to 350 degrees.
Then, he made a glaze.
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup hot water
1 Tablespoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons cinnamon
He stirred it together.
He put the spiral sliced ham into a disposable foil pan, about 9″ x 13″. Then he poured the glaze over the top. He added water until it was 1/2 inch deep in the pan, including the glaze. It was covered with foil, to keep the moisture in. He put the ham into the barbecue and shut the lid. The ham was in there for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Then, he turned the grill down to 200 degrees and smoked it for an additional 2 hours. It was delicious and the family devoured it. It was so good, he may make it again for Thanksgiving, unless he comes up with something he likes even more.
Recently, friends gave us some crab they had caught on a recent crabbing expedition. They shared 4 lovely Dungeness Crabs with us. What a treat! Living in the Pacific Northwest provides us with an opportunity to enjoy seafood on a regular basis. However, to buy crab is quite expensive, so it’s a wonderful gift when someone shares.
We haven’t been crabbing for a while, but enjoy going when we get an opportunity. Rob likes to use the square cage traps because it’s harder for the crabs to escape. We do use the round ones as well. The bait we have the most luck with is chicken. Rob buys the cheapest chicken he can find and puts it into the inner bait box. If he has time to let it sit out in the hot sun, it works even better. The crabs seem to love chicken that is starting to turn bad. He has also used old fish carcasses that are sold for bait, but for us, chicken works the best.
After the traps are baited, they are tied to the railing of the dock and thrown into the water. They are left down in the water for 15 minutes, if you are crabbing with kids who can’t wait, and much longer if you aren’t. If you have the location to do it, they can be left in all night long, but we don’t usually do that. When it’s time to pull them out, the round ones must be pulled quickly or the crabs escape. The square traps can be pulled a little slower, if need be.
If the crabbing is any good at all, there will be a trap full of little and big crabs. All of the little ones usually scurry off the dock and back into the water. The big ones are grabbed, carefully, and measured with a crab measuring stick. If a crab meets the length criteria, and is a male, it is a keeper and is placed into a bucket, and the trap is re-baited and the process starts again. Crabbing is usually best when the tide is changing.
When we are finished for the day, the crabs need to be cooked. We throw the live crabs into a pot of boiling water that has been salted with rock salt for 20 minutes. After removing them, they are cleaned, and then put on ice immediately. Then they are ready for cracking and eating, or sharing.
Cracking takes a while. It took about 1-1/2 hours to crack out 4 crabs, using a fork, and I got about 4 cups of crab meat. We’ve spent many an afternoon at a picnic table in a campsite, cracking crab as a group when many have been caught, especially if the catch was big! It’s just too much for any 1 person to do alone. If a crab had a claw that could not be conquered with a fork, I used a small glass with a super heavy base and smashed it lightly to crack the shell, then picked the meat out. We ate about 2 cups for dinner, and I froze the rest. It won’t be as nice after freezing, but I don’t want to waste any. Crab is rich and we can’t eat huge quantities at one sitting.
The way we enjoy crab the most is in Crab Louis salad. We make a base of lettuce and greens, and put cheese, hardboiled eggs, tomatoes, or whatever toppings we have on, and then cover it with the cracked crab. We like Thousand Island dressing with it. That way we get to experience the flavor and enjoy every succulent bite of our hard-earned crab!
Recently, we did some logging in our small wood patch. It is our responsibility to burn the piles. They are huge. They are wet. There are 15. We are under a time crunch so new trees can be planted this winter. Wow! What a challenge. Here’s what we did.
Rob started early this morning. By around 10 a.m., pile #1 was starting to burn a bit. Ja’Ana got some marshmallows and hot dogs and started roasting. This time, she used a roasting stick made from an old coat hanger. Pile #2 was sulking along.
By noon, pile #1 was ablaze. Pile #2 was not, so we both continued feeding the small flames with small branches, larger sticks, dry old lumber, cardboard boxes, and Rob was using a propane weed burner. It began to burn merrily and we thought it was going to go. Morning turned into afternoon. We decided to not try to start other piles, but to concentrate on the 2 we had going. Rob pushed them together with the tractor. Pile #1 was now blazing. #2 died out again. Tomorrow’s another day!
Both piles were piled up by the same loggers at the same time. Both are wet wood. Both were started at the same time. The conclusion we came to was that #2 was too loose. For a pile with wet wood to burn well, it must get really, really hot–hot enough to dry out the wood and let it burn. When it’s too loose, it burns up the pine needles, small branches, etc. too quickly and the larger pieces cannot get started because they are not hot enough. Also, pile #2 had quite a bit of dirt in it, which does not burn. The plan tomorrow morning is to start on another side, pile up a bunch of dry wood, get that going, and hopefully, #2 will burn. We expect that #1 will burn itself out during the night and Rob will push the remainder together in the morning.
Roasting marshmallows is one of the easiest activities a person can do with kids. It’s also one they beg to do, usually because they love to eat the sweet treat when it is roasted. But, sometimes, it’s just about getting to hang around near a fire with a legitimate reason to hold a stick over it, usually with quite a bit of extra poking at the coals. We have built a fire and let visiting cousins or friends enjoy the experience on many occasions, roasting hot dogs, sausages, marshmallows, and even popping popcorn over the fire. It’s a lot of fun for kids who live in town, or don’t camp, to get to experience the thrill of getting that orb of goodness to just the right place–golden brown, but not burned–while not letting it drop into the fire because it got too soft in the process. One Easter, we lit a fire and roasted Peeps after our meal. It was memorable and fun. The kids loved it, and I noticed that quite a few of the adults who joined them seemed to be having a good time as well.
The first thing to do when you roast marshmallows, or any other food over a fire, is to get a fire going. We have a fire pit in our back yard, which we use frequently. It is surrounded by rocks and is a safe distance from our trees. We don’t use it during the dry part of the year, usually late summer and early fall, because we don’t want to have any chance of wildfire. Here in the part of Oregon where we live, it is often plenty wet to build a fire, so we get many chances in the course of a year. When it is too dry, we use the barbecue for our outdoor cooking. We also have a portable metal fire pit that can sit on our driveway if we need to use that. Of course, when we are camping, we build fires in the designated fire pit that is provided in our campsite.
After the fire is going well, it needs to burn down to coals, at least in places. If everyone is too eager to “roast,” as we call it, and the fire is still blazing, things burn. Our children like to roast marshmallows every single day when we are camping, sometimes twice a day. They would happily have marshmallows for breakfast as well, but we draw the line at that and won’t let them! A lot of the time, they just eat them plain, roasted to a golden brown, crispy on the outside, and soft in the middle. Often, they burn them, but seem to like them anyway. The marshmallows can be roasted on long sticks that have been sharpened on the end, but usually we don’t use those because they have to be made from green wood and we don’t want to cut a lot of branches off of nearby trees. We have quite a few metal sticks of various sizes that we use. We always carry them in a pouch made years ago from an old pair of jeans. Another option, when we don’t want to pack those, is to use the small Fire Fork. It attaches to any stick that is found laying around and is compact and easy to carry along.
Sometimes, they make S’mores. The traditional way to make them is to roast a marshmallow and sandwich the hot, roasted treat between two graham crackers, including a piece of milk chocolate, and that’s the way our family enjoys them the most. The chocolate melts with the heat of the roasted marshmallow, creating a warm, gooey, mouthful of bliss. Recently, Rob and Patsy got creative and tried something new. They made a S’more using peanut butter cups instead of plain chocolate bars. It turned out great, and I’m sure many other kinds of candy would work as well.
One of the most interesting things I like to do is to watch wildlife. Recently, our family has been treated to the privilege of watching this Pileated Woodpecker, who has decided to settle into a tree very near our garage. For hours, our new-found friend can be heard tapping, pecking, even hammering on the dead tree he has chosen. According to the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, this woodpecker likes to eat carpenter ants. It hammers holes into the dead wood, and then uses its extremely long tongue to get the ants out. After reading the description in the guide, I decided that this must be a male, because the male has more red on it then the female and is brighter, and more showy, as male birds often are. This bird is certainly bright and showy! His red crest shines out with a brilliance that is not equalled by the bright yellows and reds of the changing leaves that surround him during this time of year.
At first, the bird was wary, furtively scooting to the back of the tree whenever one of us came outside. Now, he is not so cautious, and just continues his staccato feast when we walk nearby. The only thing that seems to unsettle him anymore is when the cats creep too close. Somehow, he seems to be able to tell that we love the fact that he is eating carpenter ants, but the cats just want to eat him.
I don’t know how long he will stay. Probably until the ants run out or until he finds another dead tree loaded with insects. I hope it’s for a while, though, so I can continue to enjoy his presence and share it with the children. It’s a privilege, indeed, for them to grow up surrounded by such a sign of how the Creator made each animal and bird to fulfill its part in this world, and I’m glad we were treated to such a display.
Bird watching can be a good activity to do with kids. It helps if you can capture a photograph of the bird so the picture can be examined closely and compared to the descriptions and photos in the bird guide. It’s like a treasure hunt, each one searching for the right match, until one calls out “It’s this bird. I’m sure of it!” Then comes the inevitable arguments until everyone agrees on the name of the particular bird. This can take quite some time at our house.
It is helpful to have a bird guide, a digital camera or phone, and binoculars. If a child, or adult, wants to keep a list of birds they have found, an album could be made to put the pictures in. Also, there are books that are sold for people to list their “finds” in, if a list is what’s desired.
Our family would not be considered hard-core bird watchers. We occasionally try to identify birds that cross our path in our daily routine. It has been a fun, frugal and entertaining hobby for many years.
In September, we went camping at Lost Lake, near Hood River, Oregon. The weather was spectacular and the fishing turned out to be good as well. Rob was having success with Rainbow Power Bait one morning while we were there. On that morning, he caught a 8-10 inch trout, and Becky caught one as well. Then, the morning was filled with excitement as he was able to pull in a huge one, which measured out at between 19 and 20 inches in length!
We had so much fun camping and fishing!
Tonight we made a grilled squash and apple packet. Earlier in the day, Becky peeled and cut 2 small butternut squash from the garden. The pieces were put into a zip-topped bag and placed in the refrigerator. They will keep for a few days that way and will be very convenient for meals.
2 cups butternuts squash, cut into chunks
1 apple, cut into chunks
1-2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon butter
Place a double layer of foil on the counter, about 15-18 inches in length. Place squash and apples onto the foil. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon on top. Dot the top with butter. Securely fold the foil into a packet. Place on a heated grill. (around 350 degrees). Grill the packet for 20-30 minutes, checking at the 20 minute mark, and grill until the squash is softened. Makes 4 servings.
We served the squash and apple grill packet with pork burgers for dinner tonight. It was a perfect autumn meal!