Finding Little Moments

To observe, enjoy and create in everyday life

Gathering Fruit

We are so blessed to live in an area of the country where we have easy access to dozens of U-pick farms AND beautiful views of the Cascade mountain range while picking! Over the last ten years or so, our family has established a fall tradition of heading over to Hood River, Oregon every Labor Day weekend to pick fruit. A short 45 minute drive sets us at the foot of Mt. Hood and right in the middle of Hood River's Fruit Loop.

We found that if we time this trip for Labor Day weekend, we hit the tail end of peach season and the very beginning of pear and apple season. We do have a few small apple and pear trees in our garden at home, but some are so young they are not bearing fruit yet and others bear a little fruit that we cannot always manage to beat the squirrels to. So, what we do grow at home is good for fresh eating. Our goal for picking from the orchards in Hood River is to have a large quantity of peaches, pears and apples for canning and dehydrating.

The first few years we went out for our Fruit Loop drive, we visited a variety of the farms along the loop. As traditions (or habits) go, our family has landed on our favorite farms to visit for particular fruits. We always stop at Mt. View Orchards to pick peaches and pears. Their farm also has many other fruits to pick throughout the growing season. Their orchard has Mt Hood as it's backdrop, so it is an especially gorgeous spot to pick fruit from!

The second farm we always visit is known for their apples. We love to walk the rows of the Kiyokawa Family Orchards and look at the many, many varieties of apples they grow. They grow 120 different varieties of apples, pears and Asian pears. Kiyokawa's of course has some of the varieties that you see in the grocery store like Honeycrisps, Braeburns, and Fujis. But what we love most are all of the other types of apples that you don't see as often. The Tokyo Rose, Empires and Ginger Golds are some of our favorites. This year we added in a few pounds of crabapples to try a new canning recipe!

A car load of fruit is not our only tradition. We also stop for lunch along the way, which is a favorite of our boys. For the last few years, we have stopped in Parkdale for BBQ at Apple Valley BBQ. They have a delicious pulled pork sandwich and this amazing pear coleslaw. Our last stop on the Fruit Loop is at the Apple Valley Country Store. This is the place where dessert happens! They sell some of the most amazing pies, dumplings, hand pies, and milkshakes. They also offer a wide variety of fruit butters/spreads and handmade items. We always pick up a dessert to eat on the way home. This year I chose an apple dumpling with caramel sauce. It was so, so good!
We all look forward to this trip each year. It's fun to go out and pick a TON of fruit and have some yummy food along the way. But it's after the trip to Hood River that the real work begins. I tackled the 20 pounds of peaches the day after our trip. And, I have about 80 pounds of apples and 80 pounds of pears to can and dehydrate this week. All of it will be so nice to have through the winter and spring though! Most years the boys will come into the kitchen and help me prep the apples and pears for canning, so I don't typically do all of it by myself. I guess it's more of our fall tradition!
How about you? What type of family fall traditions do you have? What are your favorite ways to preserve apples, pears or peaches?
Happy Fall!

August Happenings

We have had quite a month! When my husband and I were planning out our summer, waaaay back in the cold, wet months of January/February, he said he wanted to take time to play this summer. And, for the month of August, that is exactly what we did!
We began the month with a trip we had been talking about for YEARS...a trip to Alaska! Taking our boys to Alaska before they leave for college has been on our list-of-trips-to-take-with-the-kids for a very long time. Yellowstone was one that had been on our list, and we made that trip a couple of years ago. Grand Canyon, and Yosemite are still on the list.
The bonus to this trip is that we were able to invite Brandon's dad and his dad's girlfriend to come along with us. Gale, Brandon's dad, had wanted to go on a family trip to Alaska for quite some time. He had tried to get us to go along with him a few years ago, but with school schedules we couldn't manage it. So, this was the summer!We thought a cruise to a few cities in Alaska would be the easiest way for all of us to get a glimpse of this very, very large state. 
Our cruise ship went through the Tracy Arm Fjord on the second day of our trip. When we started out, it was a cold and cloudy trip into the fjord, but then it opened to these beautiful turquoise blue waters. Eventually, we made it far enough back into this fjord to see a very large glacier. This was one of the most amazing days of our trip!

Our first stop at a town was in Skagway, Alaska. Here we took a trip up to the Yukon Territory of Canada. This is an area famous for its gold rush. The landscape is absolutely breathtaking. Brandon and I had just watched a short series on the gold rush before taking this trip, so it was amazing to be going through some of the same areas we had just learned about. After our drive, we came back into Skagway and checked out some of the shops and sites in town. I found the local quilt shop and bought some fabric, and the boys picked up some souvenirs. 

For our day in Juneau, we decided to take a shuttle to the Mendenhall Glacier. We were there during the annual salmon run, so we saw many, many salmon. Knowing there were salmon in the streams, we were hoping to see a bear as well, but we had no luck that day. We did, however, see a porcupine! He was up in a tree nibbling on some leaves. We took a short hike to see Nugget Falls while we were at Mendenhall. This was another beautiful area of Alaska! When we came back into Juneau, we had a fantastic lunch of halibut and chips and then wandered through the shops before getting back on board the ship. 

Our last stop in Alaska was in Ketchikan. This was a really fun town to walk around and explore. The area pictured above is called Creek Street. The buildings are all built above this creek. If you were to look down into that creek, you would see hundreds of salmon swimming upstream.
Our family felt absolutely spoiled on this trip. We loved seeing a snapshot of Alaska and hope to come back for a longer visit in the future. We had not been on a cruise before, so it was fun to have this new experience together. Our favorite part of each day were the dinners. Not only do the waitstaff know how to make you feel special and feed you delicious food, but the time we had to slow down and enjoy together as a family was wonderful. Each evening we would spend a couple hours around the table talking about our day, past trips, what the next day had in store, and just enjoying the time together.

Our second August trip could not have been more different than our first. This time my husband and I loaded up our camping gear and headed off to the San Juan Islands. This is our third summer of taking off for a couples only camping trip while our boys are away for a week at church camp. Brandon and I had not been to the San Juan Islands since our honeymoon over 20 years ago. It was fun to revisit the area. It was also special to be able to take the time away for just the two of us. We did let our dog Sadie tag along for this trip though. We went on hikes, explored the towns of Orcas Island, rode the ferry over to Friday Harbor, and slept in. We had a wonderful few days away!

Our last trip of the summer is one of our family's favorite traditions. We spent a long weekend up at Timothy Lake on Mt Hood and camped with a few other families. None of us is quite sure how many summers we have taken this trip...some say ten, some say eleven. I guess that's the way traditions go. It's such a part of what you do that you don't even know how long you've been doing it. I do know that we began this trip with our very good family friends, the Ablins. When our kids were very little, Jen and I would meet together once a week for what we called 'home preschool.' We essentially had a mini preschool time for our kids and at the end of the school year, we decided to plan a camping trip for our families. After one trip, we decided we wanted to do it again. 
Since our first trip, other families have joined in on the tradition. Our kids say that summer doesn't count until we have gone camping at Timothy Lake. This year, all of the teens were sitting around the campfire talking about what it would be like to come back to Timothy as adults, and would that be ok. Ok? Of course! How amazing that this little trip that started in preschool has become such a part of who these kids are and what they do. I love that they want to continue the tradition with all of us after they have grown up and moved into the next season of their lives. I can't wait for next summer!

Well, there you have it. I hope you have made it this far with me. Now my boys are heading off to school. In my mind the beginning of the school year feels more like the start of a new year than January ever does. Our youngest starts high school this coming week. I cannot believe that I will be the mom of two high school boys. How lucky am I? Looking forward to a fantastic year ahead. 

Wow Your Friends...with Zucchini

Remember these two guys? The monstrous zucchini plants that stand chest high? The ones that have already produced so much and shaded out some of my herbs and tomato plants that I actually took one of them out of the garden? Well, I have found a new use for the abundance on zucchini, and I would love to share it with you!

This a very small sampling of what I took from just one of the plants. After I shredded and froze some of it, sauteed some as a side dish, broiled some with grated Parmesan and pawned some of it off to friends who didn't grow a garden this year, I have found a new and yummy way to eat the zucchini... Zucchini Cobbler! 

I am not kidding. It is delicious. My friend Sandy brought this dessert to our church group, and we all gobbled it up. People came back for seconds. I asked for the recipe so that I could make a dish of it to share at our neighborhood BBQ this weekend. You must try it!
It's super simple. Take one of those large zucchini that somehow grew quadruple in size overnight, peel it, remove some of the seeds (if its very seedy), dice it and then toss 8 cups of it into a saucepan with some lemon juice. Heat this up over medium heat until slightly soft and then stir in some sugar, cinnamon and grated nutmeg.

While you are cooking up the zucchini, make a quick crumb mixture with butter, flour and sugar. Press half of it into the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch pan. Stir some of this buttery-flour mixture into your cooked zucchini to thicken it and then pour the hot zucchini mixture into your baking pan. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture on top and place the dish into the oven to bake. 

What you end up with is a tasty dessert that tastes much like an apple cobbler.'re eating veggies for dessert! Let me know if you give this dessert a try, or if you have any other creative ways to use up the gluttony of zucchini from the garden!

Zucchini Cobbler

8 cups peeled, diced zucchini
1/2 - 2/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook and stir zucchini and lemon juice until zucchini is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and nutmeg and cook one minute more. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. In a large bowl, combine flour and 2 cups sugar. Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir 1/2 cup of butter mixture into zucchini mixture. Press half of remaining butter mixture into bottom of prepared pan. Spread zucchini mixture over top of crust, and sprinkle remaining butter mixture over zucchini. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until top is golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Third Place Winner

Last week was the annual Clark County Master Gardener Volunteer Appreciation Night. That's quite the title, isn't it? I haven't always been able to attend the volunteer appreciation event, but this year we happened to be home, so I was excited to go. I have been a volunteer Master Gardener in my county since 2011, and this last year I reached a total of 500 service hours as a Master Gardener!
As part of the event, we were asked to bring a dessert to share. Each attendee would get to cast three votes (we were given three beans each) for their favorite desserts of the evening. I had asked my husband which dessert I should bring for the contest. After much debate on our morning walk -- a pie or a crisp or my favorite chocolate chip cookies -- his final and ultimate suggestion was baklava. This is a dessert that I have made most Easters for the last ten years or so. I came across the recipe in a Sunset magazine in 2006. It is not one I would have thought to bring, because I typically only associate it with Easter. His reasoning was that it would be different enough to stand out. As usual, he ended up being right! This baklava recipe, from a 2006 Sunset magazine, landed itself in third place for the evening. It was beat out by a blueberry-rhubarb custard and some homemade eclairs.

It's a relatively simple recipe to make. You pulse together in a food processor almonds, walnuts, sugar and cinnamon. Melt a cup of butter, have a thawed package of filo dough at hand, and you are ready to assemble the dessert. Once you layered these all according to the recipe, you use a knife to cut your squares or diamonds and slide the dessert into the oven to bake. While the baklava is baking, you combine sugar, water, honey and a cinnamon stick in a saucepan and heat to make a simple syrup. This syrup gets poured over the baked baklava. The whole dish is allowed to sit for a few hours (or overnight). It's as simple as that!

I placed individual pieces of baklava in paper cupcake liners, so that they were easier to serve at the dessert table. Really the only thing missing was a strong cup of coffee to go with these treats! If you haven't made baklava before, I encourage you to give it a try! It's a simple dessert to assemble that tastes like it took more effort than you really put into it. And who knows, it might earn you accolades with those you serve it to!

Happy Baking!

Baklava - from Sunset Magazine

1 cup sugar1 cup coarsely chopped almonds1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 pound filo dough (see notes)
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and skimmed of white foam, for brushing filo
Whole cloves (optional)
Spiced syrup (recipe follows)

  • Preheat oven to 325°.
  • In a blender or food processor, whirl 1/2 cup sugar with the almonds and walnuts just until finely ground (don't overprocess or mixture may turn into nut butter). Pour into a bowl and stir in remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon.
  • Unroll filo dough and cover with plastic wrap. Keep filo covered as you work so it doesn't dry out.
  • Brush bottom and sides of a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with melted butter. Line pan with 1 sheet of filo (it can extend over pan sides). One at a time, layer 7 more sheets over the first, gathering each to fit into pan and lightly brushing each with butter.
  • Sprinkle a fourth of the nut mixture over buttered filo in pan. Lay another sheet of filo on top, gathering it to fit into pan and brushing with butter. Repeat layering of nut mixture with filo sheets and butter until all nut mixture is used.
  • Layer all but one of the remaining filo sheets on top, gathering each to fit pan and brushing with butter. Lay the last sheet flat on top and brush with butter. Trim to fit pan.
  • With a sharp knife, cut a 2-inch diamond pattern about 1/4 inch deep. If desired, cut a small hole in the center of each diamond and insert a clove to anchor layers. Bake until top is golden and crisp and edges pull away from pan sides, 45 to 55 minutes. Set pan on a rack.
  • Slice along cuts, almost (but not completely) to bottom. Pour spiced syrup over baklava. Let stand to absorb most of the syrup, at least 3 hours. Cut through bottom layer and serve.
  • Spiced syrup: In a medium pan, mix 2 cups sugar, 1 cup water, 3 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1 cinnamon stick (about 3 in. long). Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is reduced to about 1 3/4 cups and has the texture of light syrup, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally, 15 to 25 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick.

Growing Day Neutral Strawberries

Are you considering adding strawberries to your garden? If so, you may want to head over to Suburban Garden Life and read about the day neutral strawberries I grow in our backyard. This variety of strawberries produces berries throughout the summer and until the first fall frost. They are great to have for picking the whole season long!
Happy Gardening!

Summer Garden Update

We have not had too many hot days so far this summer, and I am not complaining. I know it will be here soon enough. Over the last couple of weeks we even had some fantastic thunder and lightening storms that we don't typically see. Despite not roasting under the hot summer sun, our garden is doing quite well! Our blueberry patch is bursting and ready to be picked. It is a fight to get to them before the birds. Those rascals take one nip out of a berry and then move onto the next one. We still pick the bird eaten berries and feed those to the chickens. The girls LOVE blueberries! 

Our potted Baby Cakes Blackberry has set some really good fruit this year too. This was a birthday gift to myself last year. I love that we have a few blackberries to nibble on while hanging out in the backyard. Our two new trellising blackberry plants should be in full fruiting production next season, so that will be nice! 

This is a new veggie bed for us. Our raspberry patch had been in this spot for a number of years, but unfortunately they ended up with a virus that is spread by aphids and we had to remove them. So, we made use of the space and added a new vegetable bed. This one is four by twelve feet. Believe it or not, there are tomato plants behind those gigantic zucchini. I have never had zucchini grow so dang tall! I imagine they will actually shade out the tomatoes, but there is really nothing I can do about it at this point. There were some herbs in there as well...somewhere. I guess we will see if I can find them after zucchini season!

Our other vegetable beds are doing pretty well this year too. I gave up on growing green beans though. After three attempts at starting seeds and watching the birds swoop in and nibble them down, I gave up! The bed pictured above is one of four beds we added last year. This particular bed is full of lettuce, basil, beets, parsley, a few strawberry plants, and of course the zinnias. Next year, it will strictly be a strawberry bed as they will have sent out runners and filled up the bed. Yay for more strawberries! In our other raised beds we have pickling cucumbers, onions, potatoes, more beets, peppers, kale, broccoli and some brussel sprouts. I just pulled the last of the sugar snap peas (the ones that survived our dog eating them) to make room for the cucumbers to start climbing the trellis. And, once the rest of the onions are finished, I will throw in another crop of some sort. I just haven't decided yet.

The chickens love when I cut the grass. It's like a salad bar for lunch! They also are great for snacking on any of the slugs I gather from the garden. It is hilarious to toss a slug into their run and watch them chase each other around to see who gets to eat it. Lucky for them, finding slugs here in the Pacific Northwest is not so difficult, so they all end up with a treat!

I found one of our kitties, Bubs, hanging out between our grapes and apples this afternoon. He is looking quite perturbed at having to wear his collar. But, with all of the fledgling birds I have seen in the last few weeks, I don't want to risk him catching one of them. This silly collar has drastically reduced the number of 'gifts' he has left at our back door. If your kitty is a naughty bird catcher too, you can make a fabric collar for him in less than ten minutes!

Our summer garden has also been full of insects. Some of them are admittedly pests, but then others are beneficial. Like this beautiful Painted Lady Butterfly. I watched it flit from the rhubarb to the blueberries to the flowers while I watered the vegetable garden this afternoon. It finally stayed still long enough for me to snap a photo of it. 
On the whole, I think our summer garden is off to a great start. I  can't wait to start pulling in some of the beets and cucumbers to pickle them, and I need to start picking the blueberries and getting them into the freezer (or a dessert!). In a few short days we will be overrun by zucchini, and you may find me sneaking them onto my neighbor's doorstep in the middle of the night. I can't wait to see what the rest of the summer brings to the garden.
How is your garden doing this summer? Hopefully you have had more successes than complications! It seems that every year is a bit of an experiment. It's one of the things I love about gardening!

Summer Knitting on the Back Deck

I hadn't thought I had made much progress on my sweater this month, until I looked at photos of where I was last month. I might just be wearing it this winter, if I keep working at this rate. That is an exciting thought, and it keeps me plugging along. I have found the perfect time for knitting this summer is in the afternoon on my back deck. 
If I am not sitting on the deck knitting, you will probably find me there reading. This month I re-read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I read this years ago when it first came out, and I loved it then. Netflix released a movie based on this book last year, and it was beautifully filmed. Watching the movie made me want to read the book all over again. I happened to find a copy of it in our library's second hand book section, so I picked it up to read. I loved this book just as much the second time around!
One other book I have been enjoying this month is Anne of Green Gables. I had read it when I was younger, and it has been fun to come back to it as an adult. Instead of reading it though, I have been listening to an audio version of it presented on Craft Lit. I had never listened to any of the classic literature recorded on Craft Lit before, so this has been a treat! I love that Heather leads you into each chapter with information that might be helpful to know...defining no longer used terms, explaining social customs of the period, etc. And the woman who narrates each chapter has the perfect storytelling voice for Anne of Green Gables. This podcast is a perfect combination of an English class and book club. I am really enjoying it!

Here is where you will find me in the afternoons! Our back deck is covered, so I can sit in the shade and knit or read quite comfortably. I have a few potted plants set out on the deck this year, and they are filling in nicely. My husband had taken the time to refinish our deck furniture last month, so everything is looking really nice. 

This Astrantia flower (or Masterwort) came home with me one afternoon this month after I had a mammogram. It seemed appropriate that after a procedure like that, one should be rewarded. So I picked up a cappuccino and headed to the nursery. I bought three of these plants, one pink and two white. They are all planted near the back deck so that I can appreciate their beautiful flowers.

A few years ago, we shortened our deck which allowed me to increase this ornamental bed. I am loving all of the layers and different shades of green as the different flowers, shrubs and trees mature. Thankfully most of these plants have proven to be tolerant of our dog Sadie walking through them.

At the corner post of our deck is this Jasmine. My boys bought it for me as a Mother's Day gift seven or eight years ago. It started out as a small vine about two feet tall, and now it has grown to the top of the post and is inching it's way along both sides of the roof line. If you look at the top of the Jasmine, you will see a small, red birdhouse. This spring we had a pair of chickadees nesting in there. It was fun to watch the pair of birds flit back and forth, first building their next and then bringing food for their young. The three little chickadees fledged in June, and we were lucky enough to be home to watch it happen. What clumsy little fluffballs they were!
I am loving my afternoons on the back deck. It's a peaceful spot to hangout by myself or with family or friends. How about you? Do you have a favorite spot to sit and knit or read on a summer afternoon?
~ Linking up with Ginny's Yarn Along

Celebrating My Little Sister

Last weekend I went on an adventure with ten other girls to Venice Beach. We were all gathering together to celebrate my little sister's upcoming wedding. I must admit that I was a bit nervous about this weekend trip, well nervous may be an understatement. I honestly felt like an insecure 15 year old all over again. I didn't know which clothes to pack, I only knew a handful of the girls attending, and I didn't know if I would stand out as the older, married mom of the group. But I should have known better. My sister is an amazing person, so obviously her friends would all be amazing as well. The weekend ended up being a great time, and all of my worries were for nothing. Isn't that normally the way?

I am probably the only one on the trip whose pictures of the weekend included more plants than people! I was fascinated with all of the beautiful plants that I saw while walking around Venice. I often was lagging behind the group because I had stopped to take a photo of a flower. Or, I would make some of the other girls stop to look at a flower. They all humored me whenever I geeked out about a particular plant, like the Bird of Paradise above.

The weather was beautiful while we were there. It was warm and sunny, but not too hot. Many of the neighborhood streets where we stayed were lined with trees. There were trees loaded with lemons and oranges in people's gardens, which was a sight for the PNW girl to see. The local Jacaranda trees were in bloom with their purple blossoms...somehow I did not manage to get a picture of them! They were the first tree I noticed when we landed in Los Angeles as they were in bloom everywhere.

I loved how people could fit so many plants with such vibrant colors on their tiny lots. The variety of succulents, cacti, flowering vines and other plants were amazing. I loved seeing plants that I can only grow indoors as a houseplant (like Jade plants) being grown outside in people's gardens. The jasmine was in bloom while we were visiting as well, so it made our walks to the grocery store or out to dinner smell divine!

And even though my weekend was filled with gorgeous plants and amazing murals and delicious food, the most important part of the weekend was why we were all there. We were there because of my beautiful sister, Jessica. She is someone who gives so much to others and rarely asks for anything for herself. So it was fun to be able to spoil her for a change!
Jessica is one of the most fun-loving, thoughtful and generous people I know. She is creative and adventurous. She knows how to love others deeply and show it. She fights strongly for what she believes in and doesn't give up...sometimes it's good to have a stubborn friend on your side! It's not often that one finds a best friend in her sister, and I am lucky it has happened to me! I wish her and her future husband Dave the best in these years to come. I know that she will pour all of the love and adventure and generosity...and stubbornness into their relationship to make a beautiful and strong marriage.
I love you sis!

Teens in the Kitchen

For about a year now, our oldest son has been gathering friends in our kitchen every other Tuesday night to cook a meal together. It began last summer with his friend Loryn (that's her in the photo above) and their common interest in cooking. She had wrapped up her first year of a high school culinary program, and Jackson had found that he really enjoyed cooking meals. So for the summer months, they decided that they would plan a meal, ride their bikes to the store to shop and then prepare the meal together. Once they had a rhythm down, they began to invite a friend or two over to join them for the meal. They had such fun that they carried this tradition through the school year. 

It's been great fun to watch all of these teens learn how to cook new foods. Some weeks are quite involved, like the night they decided to make pasta from scratch, and other nights are simple meals like tacos or breakfast for dinner. Either way, they always have fun and make a tasty dinner!
There are a few squabbles between Jackson and Loryn, but they are good natured about it. Loryn has been learning to prepare food in a commercial kitchen at her school and has been taught how to properly cut foods or set up stations. Jackson is a "home cook" as he will tell her, therefore he doesn't "have to follow all of those fussy rules." The two of them go back and forth like a pair of siblings, and it is humorous to witness.

I hope this is something they continue through high school. They are learning not only the skills it takes to prepare a meal from start to finish but also how to practice hospitality. It has also been a great way for me to get to know Jackson's friends better. The teens like to visit while they pull together that night's salad dressing or share about their school day when we sit down at the table to eat. 
I can't wait to see what they cook up next week!