Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Travel Log: Portland, Oregon

On Friday, I left for Portland, Oregon to participate in a large advisory committee meeting for the Wild Forest Goods Project of the Institute for Culture and Ecology (  I'll put more about that project on my work blog ( Here I want to concentrate on the fun, travel, culinary, and social aspects of the trip.

Photo of the MAX Light Rail from the TriMet website.
My friend, Robin, and I flew to Portland on United Airlines.  Flying sucks anymore, so all I'll say is that we got there on schedule.  We were given instructions by our host to take the Light Rail from the airport to downtown.  Neither Robin or I visit big cities very often, so figuring out how to work the Light Rail system was pretty comical.  We had to ask for help buying our tickets, reading the maps, determining which train to get on, etc.  Once on, however, it was quite interesting.  It starts out just like any other train, running on tracks off by themselves, but then all of a sudden, you are in the city on the streets right along with the cars, bikes, and people.  It was pretty cool!

  Photo from
Robin and I are fairly educated people who have traveled widely without any problems, but navigating Portland on foot was a challenge.  Not sure why, but we had to pull out our street maps over and over again to find our way to the hotel where we would be staying for the next three nights. It didn't get any better over time, either.  Not sure why we found Portland so confusing!
Photo of king bed room from the Hotel Deluxe website.
The Hotel Deluxe was a real treat and I highly recommend it.  It is a beautifully renovated historic hotel.  It's decorated in an old glory days of Hollywood theme and it suits it well.  The rooms are small, but well appointed.  And the renovation is astounding.  Ornate ceilings, period furniture, black and white movie photos.  Wonderful.  It has a restaurant and a lounge.  Our first dinner there was delightful.  I had crab cakes, a sizzling wild mushroom plate, and a local brew.  We also ate three breakfasts there.  They were interesting, but could have been seasoned more and the service was slow.  But, I'm willing to wait a little while for crab and shrimp eggs benedict!

Photo from the World Forestry Center website.
Our meetings were held at the World Forestry Center next to the zoo in Portland.  That was an interesting place that I wish we had more time to explore.  Very well done with detailed, colorful exhibits.
Photo from the Henry's Tavern website.
Eating and drinking in Portland was delightful.  Since I am doing research on hops, I felt it was my duty to sample as many hops products as possible.  Lunch the first day was at Henry's 12th Street Tavern.  What a treat!  Interesting interior architecture with great attention to detail.  Wonderful service.  Over 100 beers on tap.  I had the grilled wild Alaskan Coho salmon sandwich with lemon artichoke tartar on a brioche bun and a little jar of their pickle slices.  With a local beer made with Citra hops, giving it a fresh, citrusy flavor, it was the perfect welcome to Portland lunch.

We also had dinner at the BridgePort BrewPub in the historic Pearl District.  I had a juicy lamb burger with feta cheese and roasted tomatoes on a bun.  Another dinner was had at Deschutes Brewery & Public House.  We started that dinner with some black truffle fries and I had a delicious Cuban sandwich with a bit of a bite to it.
Photo of a queen room from the McMenamins Edgefield website.
Our last evening was spent at the Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon.  I don't know how to describe this place and do it justice!  This is a 1911 county poor farm that has been loving renovated into a very unique inn complex with multiple venues including entertainment, pubs, gardens, and a spa. Whimsical is the best way to describe the decor.  Even though you are very close to an urban area, you feel far removed on the 74 acre property.  There are no televisions or phones in the rooms.  There are big porches to sit on and lots of room to roam.  My only complaint was that the room I stayed in used common bathroom.  Very well appointed, but for me a bit of hassle because I kept forgetting things and having to go back to my room.  But not all the rooms are like that.  So I would definitely stay there again and just get a room with a private bath. 

All in all, it was a wonderful trip.  Next time I would like to take hubby with me and stay awhile longer, but I'm not sure he could handle that long flight. So, maybe a very extended road trip in a RV??

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Garden Update and Dinner Made with Garden Fresh Bok Choy

Onions, peas, potatoes, corn, broccoli.  The wet lines in foreground are carrots.

What a great week for the gardens.  We had steady, soaking rains earlier in the week and sunny, but not too hot weather for the past few days.  Perfect weather for growing vegetables and working in the garden.  The garden is looking particularly beautiful right now.  We are excited to have a little time to keep up with it right now.  We ate our first peas today. Broccoli is heading up nicely and the bok choy is coming on.

Peppers and a few tomatoes were just planted.

We got brave today and planted tomatoes and peppers.  Brave?  Yes, we could still get a frost up here in the mountains.  But, we have few enough of the sensitive plants in that I'm sure we could cover them if we had to.  We have eggplant transplants to set out, too, but won't plant them until we find the rowcover material.  Planting eggplant under rowcover is the only way we have found that works to prevent flea beetle damage.

Dinner using garden fresh bok choy.
Hubby was a little concerned about what we were going to do with all the bok choy we grew.  He likes bok choy, but doesn't know many ways to prepare it.  So, using the first head we harvested this season, I made a bok choy salad with lots of red wine vinegar, sesame seeds, and ramen noodles. Chicken breasts with shiitake mushrooms, banana peppers (from last year's garden), and bok choy. And quinoa with cilantro, peppers, and onions.  Yum!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

How to Cook with the Bounty You Bring Home from the Tailgate Market

This morning we visited the Mills River Tailgate Market again.  There weren't as many vendors there as last week, but we still had lots of good food to choose from and great people to talk to.  We bought a tomato and caramelized onion focaccia bread, rainbow radishes, and red leaf lettuce.  Then we went to the Hendersonville Tailgate Market on King Street and bought vegetable transplants for our garden and some shiitake mushrooms.

I was talking with a woman at the first tailgate market and she commented that she always bought so much at the market because it looked good, but then she didn't know what to do with it all when she got home.  She talked about pulling out cookbooks and watching cooking shows and all the special ingredients that she thought she needed.  I suggested that she keep it simple and just enjoy the tastes of fresh, wholesome food and gave her some ideas.

Thinking that maybe some other folks might also be struggling a bit with this question, I thought I would share what I made for dinner tonight with the bounty we brought home from the tailgate markets.  This meal took me about 35 minutes to leisurely prepare.

Corn on the Cob
Shiitake Quesadillas
Tomato and Caramelized Onion Focaccio

The corn on the cob was frozen from last year's garden. It was a bicolor corn, 'Ambrosia',  That is the best corn!  We froze it four ears to a bag.  Just bring a pot of water to boiling, add the frozen ears, and boil for 20 minutes.

For the quesadillas, I sliced the small container of shiitake mushrooms, a small onion, and two garlic cloves.  Sauteed them in olive oil and then added about 3/4 of a cup of frozen chopped banana peppers (also from last year's garden).  Seasoned with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.  Laid out four flour tortillas, sprinkled with shredded sharp cheddar cheese, spread the mushroom mix on top, folded in half, and cooked till golden brown on a lightly oiled griddle.  Cut each in half to serve.

The salad was fresh lettuce, thinly sliced radishes, a sprinkle of cheese, and croutons, lightly drizzled with a shiitake-sesame dressing (Maple Grove).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Pictures of Our Chicken Tractor

Our chicken tractor with annex. One wing is up so the girls get lots of sun and fresh air.

Many people are building chicken tractors this spring and there are dozens and dozens of plans on the internet about how to build them.  We, too, studied all those plans before we built ours.  We read every university poultry page we could find, followed all the blogs, read all the backyard chicken pages, etc.  We were assured that four to five square feet per bird was more than enough.  We were even more generous.  The total floor space of our original chicken tractor is 40 square feet.  With six birds, that is about 6.7 square feet per bird.  That was fine for pullets, but by the time the ladies were full grown, they were cramped and the pecking and other bad behaviors began in earnest.  Our chicken tractor is very well built and as predator proof as I think you can make one to be, so we didn't want to compromise the integrity of that.  We chose to add an annex that we can pull up to the end door of the chicken tractor.  It doubles the space for our six hens.  They are okay with that amount of space and most of the pecking stopped, but if I had to do it all over again (and we might build another one in a year or two) I would give them even more space.

A view of the chicken tractor with both wings down so the girls have a protected run area and an open area.

A few details about our system.  The original chicken tractor has chicken wire all over the sides AND bottom of the coop and run.  We have lots of raccoons, skunks, etc. in our area and wanted to prevent any of those mammals from digging under the edge of the tractor to gain access.  We later added hardware cloth on the top of the run area because our horse put his foot through the chicken wire trying to gain access to the chicken scratch.  Turns out that was a really good idea because two big dogs got into the pasture one day and threw themselves against the sides of the run.  I don't think the chicken wire would have held up, but the hardware cloth did.  

The annex is just chicken wire on the tops and sides.  The bottom is open so the girls can scratch in the dirt to their hearts' content.  The annex does not provide complete protection; I think a dog or coyote could get through it or work its way under it pretty easy.  But our whole system is within a pasture with a six-strand electric fence, so we feel like the girls are pretty secure during the day and when the fence is on.  Hawks are our biggest concern in the daytime.  At night the chicken tractor is secured; the end door on the run is shut and the drop down door on the coop is lowered.  

The coop part of the chicken tractor has an open area below and roosts and two nest boxes up top.  The original structure was a simple A-frame as you see in so many plans.  But the girls were really cramped for space at night. They all wanted to be on the highest roosts or in the nests and did not use the lower roosts at all.  So we put a dormer on and put the two nest boxes in that space giving more room for high roosts all on one level.  They like that much better.  It also gives us easy access to the nests, the roosts, and the ladies. So when we need to check them for mites or pick up a broody hen and move her, it is easy.  You have to be able to reach your birds!  

Our whole coop area can be accessed for cleaning.  The roosts and nests slide out for cleaning. About every four days, I lower the side of the coop and use a leaf rake to break up any droppings that have accumulated on the bottom wire.  We move the tractor daily.  The nests have flexible plastic sheets in the bottom that are easy to remove, wash, and replace (no wet wood).
Shade cloth on the "sun side" of the coop.
The "wings" on the run area are wonderful.  Both sides can easily raised and lowered.  The usual configuration is one up and one down.  Originally we only put the plastic on the run in the winter; that allows us to give them a greenhouse so they are protected on really cold, windy, or snowy days (without the plastic, they just stayed in the dark coop all day).  But now we leave the plastic on all year round.  Since we can raise and lower the wings easily, we can provide protection from wind and rain by raising and lowering the appropriate ones.  We have a piece of polypropylene shade cloth that we put on the west side of the run during the summer to give them shade.  The run and coop actually stay cooler this way than they did when we did not have the clear plastic on and only had a shade cloth.  The girls really don't like the rain or high winds, so this set up has worked well.

 Chicken tractor open, raised, and empty for spring cleaning. Both wings are up.

This shows all the parts of the tractor dismantled for cleaning.  On the left you see the roosts, the nest boxes, and the waterer support block.

As you can see from the photos, we have a lever system that lets us raise the heavy end of the chicken tractor.  We then have two rings on the other side that we slide a fiberglass pole through.  That is the handle we use to lift that end and move the tractor.  Because of all the additions we've made, the chicken tractor is heavy.  My big, strong son can move it pretty easy and since I am a tall, fairly strong woman, I can, too.  But my daughter cannot move it by herself.  Hubby is creating a plan to put two drop down wheels on the front to remedy that.  

All in all, this set up works great for us right now.  It is very secure and gives year round protection from predators and the elements.  It has stood up through hurricanes, blizzards, and severe summer storms.  We will redesign our next one though.  This one is too heavy and having two pieces is a wee bit of trouble.  And I'm still working on an automatic door opener for those rare mornings when I want to sleep in a little but my conscience won't let me because "the girls need to come out".  

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What a Beautiful May Evening it Is

View from the front pasture at dusk

It's been a few days since I posted an update on the farm.  We continue to have a very beautiful spring.  Good weather for growing peas, broccoli, and bok choy.  Can't wait until we can eat some of those.  In the meantime, we tenderly care for them.  We replanted some potatoes that didn't come up. Strangely, mostly in one row.  We also planted carrots and beans and we hope to seed all the rest of the crops this weekend.  We will also go to one of the many tailgate markets and pick up some of our warm weather transplants such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  If we can swing it, I'd like to get over to Greenlife Grocery in Asheville on Sunday and buy some from my research specialist who has started her own little farm and sells at the tailgate market in the store parking lot.

The blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries look strong and healthy and are covered with little fruit. We need to find some time to get them weeded soon and build the trellis.  The posts are just leaning against a tree right now!  The asparagus ferns are also coming up in abundance.  I look forward to eating lots of it next year.  We only ate a little bit this spring since we moved the plants and wanted to leave the crowns lots of energy to get re-established.

My daughter has covered the back patio and front porch with all of her containerized plants and many flats of flowers.  We are going to till up a bed for her to grow her flowers since it doesn't look like she will be back into her own place before they need to be planted out.  It will be nice to have flowers for cutting.  The rest of us will concentrate on vegetables, herbs, and perennial flowering shrubs.  We have never planted a cutting garden before.  It will be a nice addition.

The half of the front pasture that was fenced off and fertilized grew well.  Unfortunately, it still has far too much clover.  Looks like we are going to have a slobbery horse again this summer!  But there is no bare ground exposed, so we are making progress bringing the pasture back from two years of drought followed by a year of excessive rain.  Now we have the other half fenced off and fertilized. When that part is done, we are considering dividing the pasture up into thirds and rotating the animals around them.  The side pasture, however, looks fabulous.  The best grass you'd ever want to see.  So we will have plenty of good quality grazing land for our boys.

The chickens are doing well, too.  They are so funny.  I have spoiled them rotten.  Every time I go out to see them I have a treat in my hand, some bread, weeds, fruit, or veggies.  Now they expect it when anyone walks up to them and they loudly express their displeasure if you don't have something for them to eat!  Two of the Dark Cornish look like they are going broody again.  So I'm going to have to start isolating them from the nests for part of the day so the other girls can have a turn to lay.  I really like the Dark Cornish breed except for the tendency for the three we have to do this.  It's kind of a pain.

 Plymouth Rock and Jersey Giants
We use fly eliminators, parasitic wasps, as the main portion of our fly control program.  Last year we were very pleased with the way that worked for us.  We started the program on time this spring, but our second shipment arrived very late and the wasps were mostly hatched out when we opened them. We distributed them and the company sent us a new batch, but in that little window of time, the flies got pretty bad.  The flies were really annoying the horse's eyes, so my daughter put fly masks on the horse and donkey for the first time.  They both tolerated them very well.  That was, until we went to remove them.  The horse did fine, but when my daughter released the velcro on the donkey's mask, he panicked at the sound.  Now he takes off anytime we rip apart velcro.  So we are working at desensitizing him to it; one of us feeds him treats while the other rips velcro apart nearby.

The flowering trees and shrubs are beautiful around here right now.  Rhododendron, azaleas, cherries, and my buckeye.  Like I said before, this is a BEAUTIFUL spring.