The Other Side/ Take me To The River, Part III 1/2

I have a fascination with this stretch of river at the Raab campground, which I’ve mentioned recently. I had a raft with me when I camped here and did some exploring across the other side of the river. Did I need the raft to get over there? I didn’t. We’ll get to that later. Looking in the photograph, you can see that part of the river has detoured to the far side and, at this point, comes spilling back into the main channel. Mind you, this is a mild winter flow. In a season of heavy precip., this river can become a powerful torrent. It rips at the banks and sends material far downstream. The summer I investigated, I found (if you’re not a rockhound, you might not totally relate) nearly 40 pounds of superior quality petrified wood, which I brought back to my raft and floated back across. I’ll have to post a picture of my best pieces soon. These are no gray, dull, and boring rocks; they are loaded with smoky quartz and copper oxides. I know that sounds a little scientific but you will see what I mean in a future post.

                Yes, this is one of my new recent favorites and, believe me, I would have been over there on the other side exploring had the water been easy to cross. But—it wasn’t. I’ll have to wait until summer, I suppose!

 

The Little Waterfall

We all enjoy the outdoors in our own specific way. I’d say that many of our favorite places are categorized by where they are at, geographically. If I said “Mount Hood National Forest,” or “Sandy River basin,” or “ Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness,” most people would know where to orient their internal map  in order to visualize where I am talking about. These are general areas of wide scope and have many points of interest within them. We can further clarify specific points on the map to give a clear idea of where we mean. But there are those places that are harder to direct people to. Mountains are generally named and major streams are as well. But what about those places that have no name? Do we just keep them a secret or would we like to share how to reach them? I have maps that show hundreds of tiny streams in the mountains. I’ve tried to find the names of some of them. It gets very tricky. This little waterfall is a great example. From high on the next ridge, this gathering of waters drains its own little section of mountain. Does it have a name? You know, I’m not so sure it does. Maybe there is a little beauty in that. After all, does everything need to be tagged and classified? I’m thinking that the absence of a name here has me enamored. It’s a very beautiful waterfall and the absence of a name imparts a sense of wildness to me. In a world where we’ve supposedly identified and named everything, I’d like to think that this one was spared.

Chili Verde/ Spanish Rice/ Roasted Kombucha Squash

Just when you thought that all I was going to post on here was my outdoor adventurism,  I have dug up a little photo food journey. I have a favorite dish I like to make that takes quite a bit of time. I thought I would share it with you and speak about it. One of my favorite dishes to make in the last couple of years is Pork Chili Verde and Spanish Rice, both from scratch.

I start by roasting off about a pound and a half of tomatillos, sliced in half, under the broiler in the oven. I also roast two Anaheim chilies, a Pasilla chilie, one or two Jalapenos, and about 5 cloves of garlic. Once everything is roasted (chilies need to be charred on the outside, cooled, and peeled/seeded), I put everything in a blender along with a full bunch of fresh cilantro and pulse just until combined and still chunky. This is the verde sauce, or green sauce, which  is the braising liquid.

 

Next, I trim the bone and most of the fat (leave some for flavor!) from a four- pound pork shoulder blade roast. I portion the trimmed roast into 2-3 inch pieces and spread them out on a sheet pan. I season well with salt (go ahead and use the good stuff; sea salt, smoked salt, kosher salt, etc.) and fresh ground black pepper. Remember, season WELL. This is an important layer of flavor to achieve. Once seasoned, I brown the pork in small batches in a large heavy-bottomed pot on med-high heat. Small batches are important to attain the proper result, which is nice carmelization, no burning, and no steamed meat. That carmelization will lend a layer of flavor that one just cannot get without taking this step. I finish this process with a big bowl of beautifully browned pork.

That heavy bottomed pan (regulate that heat to keep from burning those gorgeous brown bits on the bottom) that I browned the pork in needs to be de-glazed. Deglazing a pan takes advantage of the fond, or caramelized bits, on the bottom of a pan that is left behind after browning meat (but not exclusively meat). Many liquids can be used to do this; spirits, wine, fruit juices, stock to name a few. In the case of the Chili Verde, two medium diced large onions will do the trick. The juices of the onion that are released from the heat of the pan will easily dissolve all of that goodness; that and a wooden spoon to help loosen things up.

So now we have the tri-fecta:  verde sauce, browned pork shoulder, and sautéed onions. I combine the three back in the pan and add 2 to three cups of chicken stock, or enough to cover the pork. I bring it up to a boil and straight back down to barely a simmer. I use no lid as a little reduction serves to concentrate flavors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the sake of brevity, I won’t go step by step on how to make the Spanish rice. Simply, it is  long grain rice browned in a couple of tablespoons of oil, sautéed with onion and garlic, and combined with hot chicken stock, tomato, and oregano. I finish this dish in the oven . My results have varied. Short grain rice turns out too soft and gummy. Long grain works best for me. Sometimes a little experimentation doesn’t hurt. This batch turned out quitewell.

 

 

 

 

 

Normally I don’t include a vegetable but I had a Kombucha squash(Japanese variety similar to Acorn squash) given to me and needed to do something with it. I seeded, skinned, diced it, seasoned it, and roasted it in the oven. Depending on your tastes, there are a few different ways of affecting the flavor of a winter squash. I believe I went with salt, pepper, a little cayenne, a bit of brown sugar, and some cardamom; again, a little experimentation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No matter what can be said about cooking and the culinary arts, the best part of the process is when I can sit down and enjoy the fruits of my labor—Salud!

 

This Corner of Paradise

We’re pretty lucky to live in this land of crystal clear waters, geology born of cataclysmic upheavals, and forests teeming with life. I can’t be thankful enough to be able to roam only a short distance from home to places where I can recharge my spiritual batteries. I am no fan of fancy churches and what I see to be the attempts to show everyone else that one lives a virtuous existence. I’d rather subscribe to the ways of the First Nations of this continent and their reverence for Mother Earth. Perhaps I was born a couple hundred years too late;  perhaps not. Perhaps what really matters is if one is happy. After all, we are all responsible for our happiness; for the health of our own souls. That is the biggest thing we can do for each other; to tend to our own matters of our hearts and minds. In that way we can be forces of good in the world. I have posted a photo  of this very beautiful spot. When I look upon this frame I imagine it as a place to sit and draw in the rush of the water and push out of my mind the things that make me anxious. This is where I go to contemplate life, death, and what is God. Try it sometime. No assembly or batteries required. No electronic devices needed. No specific mindset demanded. This is something that is truly free.

Sunday Drive/Take Me To The River, part III

This Sunday (01/08/12) started out nice enough; a clear, cold winter sky blazed with sunshine. I wanted to get out there somewhere in the mountains and take advantage of it. This time, I decided to call up my friend, Dave, and see what he was up to for the day. He quickly agreed to be my wingman and we headed out with a couple of sandwiches and cameras at the ready. I figured we would take a drive up the Clackamas River above Estacada and make a big loop from Hwy 224 to Memaloose Road(Forest Road 45) and back in the direction of home. Pulling off at the Memaloose bridge, I snapped a couple of frames from the green trussed crossing.

 

 

 

I forget which campground is here but camping is no longer allowed. Years of treating the site as a dumping ground might have something to do with that.

 

 

 

 

 The Clackamas River runs swift and strong here. Memaloose Road climbs out of the steep canyon and onto a ridge that straddles the South Fork of the Clackamas River and Fish Creek canyons. After several miles of white-knuckle driving in my Supra, we ran into several inches of wet, heavy snow on the road and I had to turn it around and head back down. Plan B was now in effect.

 

 

 

My plan B was to head back down to the main river and drive up towards the Bagby Hot Springs area on the Collowash River, a tributary of the Clackamas. I remembered a place I had camped a few years ago that I really fell in love with. Raab campground has some great river frontage with lots of petrified wood, quartz, and river agates.

 

After filling up one of my pockets with stones that caught my eye, I surveyed the scene and went to work with my camera:

 

 

 

 

Artistically speaking, there are a lot of soft lines in nature. Even the lines that seem straight are rarely so. When I see the lines formed by ice crystals, however, I am reminded that nature has her own perfect geometry of perfectly straight lines.

 

 

 

 

It’s shots like this willow on the riverbank that really catch my attention. There are so many subtle differences in texture and color to keep the eye busy. I think pictures like this are every bit as interesting as the grand views of the larger landscape.

 

 

 

 

…And while pictures seldom do justice to what the eye beholds in real time and space, they can still convey a faithful idea of those textures and shapes. I have a penchant for taking these photos of stones on the riverbed. The glassy surface of the stream seems to soften their mineral texture.

 

 

 

 

The river tumbles down a narrow chute. I experimented a little and shot this with no flash. The next frame is with flash. While the frame with flash displays life-like color, I thought that this view represented a feeling of the low-light conditions of near-twilight.

 

 

 

…Although, I’ll have to say the colors in this frame are phenomenal.

 

 

 

Dave got in the spirit of things and snapped a few frames for himself. I don’t often include people in my photographic efforts but I am finding that sometimes doing so can accentuate the primary subject by providing some frame of reference.

 

 

 

 

On that note, I’m going to end this post with a favorite shot of mine for the day. Salmon are a huge part of this ecosystem. The nutrients that their spawned carcasses give back to the river supports the larger community. I saw these bones and I had to smile, knowing that this signifies the connection between death and continued life. See you next time!

The World Awakes at a Campsite

                 Instead of photos this time I am going to paint a picture in your mind of a place; no place in particular. It’s just a mental picture of the scenery I crave.

                The morning air starts to move a bit. It’s cool fingers trace soft patterns across my nose as I begin to see the world around me in the bluish tint of dawn. What has been an exercise in seeing with my ears in the dark gives way to dynamic beauty that only the eye can sense. Olive greens become brighter and brighter until they are no longer dull but vivid and verdant to me. I draw in a long breath, savoring the sweet smell of damp mosses and spicy cedar. I almost want to hold it in for awhile, as if I would never smell it quite the same in the next breath. But I don’t. I know that each inhale will bring more interesting aromas from the waking forest.

                A raven wheels overhead and caws. It’s black shape seems from the spirit world as it calls for the days life to stir. Other glossy black figures swoop in and out of the canopy of evergreens, calling in tones similar to each other yet subtly distinct. I can’t say when the first ray of sunshine burst over the mountaintop. I don’t think one can ever discern when that first beam travels to the eye. It just does. That’s what makes us humans small in the scheme of things. I rub the sleep from my eyes and stride to the edge of the mountain stream. Crouching on my haunches, I reach down and cup the pure waters in both hands and splash it on my face. Any remaining grogginess leaves me in an instant and I fill my canteen cup.

                I toss some tinder on the embers of the fire that has kept me company in the night. It soon speaks to me with crackles, pops,  and hisses. The fragrance of sweet wood smoke fills my nose. Not wanting to betray any of my barista skills, of which, I have none, I sprinkle a proper handful of coffee grounds into my canteen cup and balance it on the hot rocks at the edge of my blaze. Soon, I fill my campsite with the aromas of my brew and I think of how Juan Valdez only picks the ripest beans.

                Now it is time for bacon; sweet, salty, smoky bacon…

Oneonta Falls, Columbia Gorge

So I don’t have any stories about some huge epic hike I have taken but I do have a short trail that I go out to at least once a year. It’s a secluded waterfall just shortly after Multnomah Falls on the old highway. As soon as you pass Multnomah its five to ten minutes on your right and can be very hard to notice unless you are looking. When you find a parking spot right by the side of the road and approach the canyon entrance to the path there is a huge log dam that first needs to be tackled. This dam looks pretty intimidating and can be especially if it is wet. I believe a person actually slipped last year and drowned trying to climb over. Once you tackle it the path is a few small beds of rock and the rest a running creek through so you are definitely going to get wet. continuing down the path the canyon gets tighter and has this Indiana Jones feel to it, really kind of a trip. When you start to hear the waterfall there is a point where you have to completely submerge half your body into water and there is really no way around it. When I went last year there was still a lot of run off from the snow and you couldn’t even touch the bottom at this point and the current was intense, you really need to be a decent swimmer to get through. The hardest part is when you reach the end of the water there is this big log you have to climb over, last year I was so cold and tired I couldn’t pull myself over but had gone to far to give up so I gathered all of my strength and got it done. As soon as you get over the log you are home free, just taking another minute or two you approach the waterfall. Last year just standing on the rock bed right in front of the fall with the spray misting across you was almost a religious experience. So overwhelming that I can’t even describe in words. Last year the waterfall was pouring to strong to swim under but if you go when its a little more calm you can climb the rocks around the side and jump right in the waterfall sinking deep maybe around ten feet or so. So if you ever want to have a little adventure and cool off this next summer spring I highly suggest taking the time to find this location.
 
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        The preceding was a guest post on my blog from Sam Cook, a friend of mine and fellow student from Oregon Culinary Institute. Thanks Sam! This is a favorite of mine as well.